I have been managing a direct report, whom I inherited, for several years now. The person works in a position where he must have excellent writing and communication skills. Writing and editing other people's work is a large part of the job. It's not all we do, but it is a part of our daily work, and we are in a small team where no one can be exempt from this job requirement.

English is this person's second language and he makes consistent grammar errors. I have given extremely specific feedback about this to him on many occasions, and it's been part of every performance review, but the same exact errors are part of his every communication, both written and oral. He recently asked for a promotion and I realized that unless he works on this, I don't feel comfortable supporting it. At first, he seemed willing to work on this, and even to go for tutoring, but then he started saying he feels "singled out" and even discriminated against, and that my feedback is causing him a lot of stress. He even flat out said he disagrees with me that he needs to work on his grammar, and that I am "wrong" that he needs to work on it (really an insubordinate statement). This is after I yet again sent him numerous, specific examples of the errors he is making in his writing. I am concerned that he is making errors on our clients' work.

At this point, I feel stuck. I think I have to do a Performance Improvement Plan with a deadline on it, and if the person refuses to get help with this area of his performace, he has to be let go.

I have reviewed job descriptions of many similar positions at other organizations and they all state that excellent communication skills, and even excellent grammar and spelling, are essential job requirements. Therefore, I don't believe I'm discriminating here. 

sooraj.kamath's picture

Hi purplegrrl, your assessment is appropriate and you have done everything correct. In fact it's a common problem across the globe. To begin with your direct cannot decide on which skills he is evaluated. This doesn't mean the direct can be assessed on a totally irrelevant skill, but communication skills in a primary language are right up there and non-negotiable. The questions I would ask you are this

The first question is: If promoted, is communication a core part of the person's job in the new promoted position?

If yes, then what you are doing is already good enough. If no, i.e. communication is just a supporting aspect of the person's core job, then, 

The second question is: Is the person so highly competent in his core job at the next level, to the extent that it can compensate for the missing communication skills?

If yes, then it might make sense to give him a bit of a leeway. If no, then again what you are doing is already enough

The final question is: What is the risk of losing the person? is the person or the market sitaution good enough that he can bag a better offer? If yes, what is the likelihood to hire a better person? If the likelihood is good, then really your direct doesn't have much leverage against you and you have nothing to worry about.


mrreliable's picture

Yes, you are discriminating against this person. Not because of race or nationality, or any other covered trait, but because he lacks skills to do the job.

In my opinion the word "discrimination" has been bastardized over time and is assumed by a large part of the population to be an inherently negative word. Of course, discrimination because of race, etc., and other specifically listed factors is socially and legally unacceptable. But there should not be a negative connotation to "discriminate" based on performance standards applied equally to all employees. Professional sports teams discriminate against player who aren't good athletes. Music fans discriminate against people who aren't good musicians. Restaurant patrons discriminate against establishments that don't serve good food. You have the right and the responsibility to discriminate based on an objective evaluation of job performance.

I don't see any way to salvage the situation other than a PIP. He should be not only willing to accept tutoring, but be willing to accept that tutoring is the only way he's going to keep his job. He's clearly drawing a line in the sand and pushing back aggressively. He can win and no longer be held to standards, or he can do what is required of the position.