We have a mission-critical set of duties within the company that has always come under criticism and scrutiny.  In the past 10 years we've had 10 different people perform those duties.  Five of those people were fired.  Another left after a few months.  Yet another left mid-day and never came back.

Those duties were absorbed by my department about four years ago.  In that time four people, including myself, have performed them.  One passed away and another I had to let go for health reasons.  The current person performing those duties is now also under fire.

She has good numbers.  Her attendance is good.  Her deliverables are on point.  Of the 700 jobs she processed last year only two were reported delayed.  She's within budget despite the fact we've not had a price increase in 3 years.  Measurable scrap rates are below expectations and last year she beat the projected costs on key materials by 10%.

No one seems to care that her overall perfomance is good.  I keep hearing vague things from all directions about her "lack of attention to detail". "she just doesn't seem to care", and my favorite, "I just don't think she's a fit for us."

I've asked people repeatedly to come to me with their concerns so I can address them.  I've gone to people and directly asked them what behaviors are driving these impressions.  Not a single person has come to me to discuss it.  They seem to prefer a campaign of whispers.

When I was on vacation the vice president and another department head went to the owner to try to have her fired.  They'd not spoken to me once about it despite the fact I've directly asked them to come to me so I can help.  On my return I sat down with the VP to discuss his concerns and impelemented a number of improvements as a result.  The other department head never responded to my request.  Then last week the same VP dressed me down in public as soon as I walked in the door.  He cursed at me and attacked her "poor performance" openly.  When I looked into it I discovered it had not been her error.  SHE SHOULD HAVE CAUGHT IT and was counselled about it.  I showed her how to catch the error in the future and added some flags to the paperwork to make it more obvious.

No one bothered to look to see what really happened.  They leapt immediately to the conclusion that she was at-fault and then responed in an entirely unprofessional way.  I'm at sea as to what to do about this.  There's blood in the water and despite her overall good performance I believe I'm in danger of losing her.  They're looking for reasons.

The owner has had my back so far.  He apologized to me personally.  He sees what I see in regards to her performance.  But the VP is his son.  The situation has many facets.

What would you do?  Part of me thinks that as a manager I should formulate a professional response (which is why I'm asking for your help.)  Part of me thinks I can't out-manage this.  10 people in 10 years.  One person fired on average every other year.  Does anyone have any suggestions for how I can get the rest of the company engaged in positive changes?  If they force her out should I go too?  I'm not keen on the idea of putting another human being into that meat grinder and certainly have no intention of climbing in myself.

Any feedback is welcome.

pucciot's picture
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This sounds like the position of the Teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts


This sounds like a long term multi-faceted issue.

I recommend that you "own" this !

I can't attack each of the issues right now...


To get started :

Do you have any written expectations about this position ?

Do you have written evidence of the failure to meet those expectations ?


If not, please start working with her on that right away.

Let her know that you want her to succeed at the highest level of the job.

Let your management and team know that you will be working on clear achievable benchmarks of performance with her.

And that you will give it ---   6 or 9 months of scrutiny.


I recommend that you focus the conversation about the results for the team.  (not about her as a person)

We all want accuracy from this position (no matter who is in the job) because it is important to the company .....

Explain the whole upstream - downstream of these results.


I recommend that you "own" this !

Make it clear what YOU expect.  Make it clear what error rate you find acceptable -- 85% ?  90% ? 95% ?

You are the supervisor - you set the expectations.   

If you say that 85% error rate is acceptable -- then it is not her that they have a problem with ... it is YOU.


Yeah - I am sorry to say that you are in the middle of this.

You are in the position to try to coach her into better performance, or let her go.


You are in the position to justify the results and outputs from your people, repairing team relationships


When they talk about "fit"  there seems to be other relationship issues at play here.

She may not be interacting with the team very well - besides the poor working results.

You may need to take note of other specific behaviors that she is exhibiting when dealing with the team.


Often, better team behaviors will make up for shortfalls in the results area.


Good Luck.





NLewis's picture

I totally agree I need to own this.  I'm just a little lost as to how I can do that if I can't get people to divulge specifics.

The position already has metrics and she's meeting all of them.  Every single one.  Some she's exceeding.  

If people were coming to me saying "she's making X mistake over and over"  or even "she made X mistake" then I could hang my hat on that.  I've gone to them and asked them to please tell me what behaviors are leading to their conclusions.  I can't get people to respond.  It's mostly non-specific frustration and generalizations about her performance.  

When I do get specifics and dig into them it's often a conclusion that the person leapt to based on negative bias.  Prior to this week I had 5 specific accusations.  I looked into all of them.  3 of them were completely spurious.  Two were situations where she didn't do anything directly wrong, but she could have performed better (i.e. caught someone else's mistake).

I accept that if 3 people say you have a tail then you better turn around and look.  It's the history of the position that concerns me.  Did we really hire eight people in 10 years that had tails? 

There's more going on here.  I suspect we're burning through people so fast that they haven't had time to build an internal network.  This is the only position in that has deliverables at all levels.  A typical position here has to please 2-4 people on a daily basis.  This position has to please five times that many.  One or two people get disgruntled and the gossip starts.  With no network the gossip spreads and bias against the person's performance begins.   We get rid of that person.  We hire someone else.  The cycle starts again.  

I've already re-written the job description to emphasise "Highly charismatic.  Must have a demonstrated ability to build professional networks quickly".  

Taking your advice to heart, I will  work with the owner to develop a "here's what we need to see to reach the conclusion she's a poor performer".  Then we'll take it to the complainers.  So far he's as befuddled as I am.   I'm open to suggestions as to what we should be looking for over-and-above the historical metrics for the position.



pucciot's picture
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This sounds like a difficult situation.


Folks seem to think that it is that position’s job to find other people's mistakes.

Well then 

Is that true ?

If so then you would need to measure and make that part of the job.

If not, then ask folks to back off.   -- In short, manage their expectations.


*** Ask each of those people this question ***

"John, I can see that you are unhappy with Julie's service.   

She wants to do a great job for everybody.  

What do you think we can do to make sure that we set her up for success. "


Can you think of any way to help her build relationships. ?

Can you schedule a party or a mixer ?

Ask her to be the Bartender (joking).

Staff Luncheon ?  Talent show ?

Team Building Charades ?


Whatever it takes to get this person in a place where she can just socially interact with people so that they can see her as a human being.

And Coach her in small talk.


Good Luck