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BLUF:  New manager would appreciate advice on how to address significant performance issues when MT Trinity has not been rolled out (yet).

I’ve been with my company 10 years in a different department; 6 months ago I was promoted to lead a team of 28, comprised of 3 managers and 25 customer service reps.  Although the 3 managers each have their own teams, making the 25 customer service reps my skips, our company culture is such that the role of the manager is mainly to assign work.  Performance issues have historically been handled by the person in my role.  Oh, by the way, I have NO PRIOR MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE.

Fortunately, I discovered MT 2 months ago; just started rolling out the Trinity with the three managers—literally, just started O3s this week.  They are excited that I’m taking an interest in their development beyond just how well they can assign work to their teams.  I’ve already prepped them that my expectation is that they will roll out the Trinity to their teams, as well & they are receptive to broadening their roles.

In the meantime, there have been some significant performance issues with one of my skips over the past month, resulting in 4 monetary write-offs, escalation to my boss, and possibly even loss of a mid-size client (going out to bid largely because of service they received from this employee).  From what I gather, this employee has had similar issues in the past on a smaller scale, but they were never addressed by the former director (maybe a verbal warning, but nothing beyond).   Now the issues are escalating and the skip has been conditioned to zero accountability.

I need to take some kind of action—I really can’t wait until the Trinity is fully rolled out because I don’t want the skip to think that I approve of the behavior.  Although the behaviors I’m seeing have been tolerated by the previous director, they are not acceptable to me.  What I believe is really needed is coaching.  The issues are systemic—multiple instances of assorted ineffective and unprofessional behaviors (for example, rude email communications to internal and external customers and clients; failure to perform required duties; incorrect information provided to customers; circumventing his manager and me to try and cover up mistakes).  I have been addressing each incident as it arises, but not with MT feedback.  I’ve intentionally not provided feeback using the MT model because I don’t want it to be diluted when the Managers roll it down to their teams.  Maybe this is the wrong approach, but given the magnitude of some of the issues, feedback alone seems too small. 

I have reason to believe (based on past behavior) that this employee will not be receptive to feedback or coaching regardless of how it is given.  He routinely calls in sick the day after he's been given any type of less-than-positive feedback and he gave his former manager the "silent treatment' for several weeks after he refused to do an assigned task and the Manager raised his voice to the employee within earshot of other team members (note: in that instance, the manager was reprimanded for raising his voice, but the employee was not held accountable whatsover for refusing to do assigned work for no reason other than that he didn't like that he was told to do it, rather than asked to do it).

My question is two-fold: 

  1. Should I proceed with the MT coaching model with this employee, even though they haven’t had one-on-ones and feedback yet? 
  2. And if so, what role should the Manager play in coaching?  He is currently only assigning work to this employee (his direct/my skip), but my vision is to broaden the scope of his managerial responsibilities to include rolling out of the Trinity to his team, thereby addressing performance issues that would have been handled by the person in my role in the past.  The Manager agrees that the behaviors of the skip need to be addressed and I’m sure will be a willing participant in coaching. 

I’m new here and would value the opinions of experienced managers.  If there are any clarifying questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.  Any advice is both welcomed & appreciated. 
 

Thanks in advance,

AB

acao162's picture

If you want to empower your management team, here's a great opportunity to do it.  Essentially, be in the background but not in the room.  My boss did this for me with a problem direct & I learned so much from the experience.

I suspect that you want to dismiss the employee but don't have the documentation to do it?  Or, is it that you don't want to screw up the MT process & are therefore paralyzed about what to do next?

My advice:  Roll out MT to everyone else.  Use whatever tools you have currently with the company - written documentation, coaching plan, whatever to deal with this person.  It is likely your manager needs to have a frank performance based discussion with this person.  You can help them by role-playing so they are identifying behaviours that must change.  Don't allow one bad apple to derail your entire MT plan.  And, don't ignore bad behaviour just because you aren't ready for the Manager Tool.  Simply use what you've got to deal right now.

Best case scenario - your manager learns to manage, his direct improves performance.  Worst case scenario - the manager learns to manage & his direct leaves.  This is a win-win, it's just hard to see it that way.

AB_76's picture

 Thanks for your thoughtful advice, ACAO162.  Although this situation is not entirely resolved (it will be a long process of coaching this individual), I wanted to give an update.

My direct & I met with this skip last week & laid out the behaviors we'd seen over the past 30 days and what we needed to see going forward to meet company standards.  We discussed how HE could do better in the future.  While the only idea he had on how he could improve was that he wanted to be able to ask other teammates for help, the mere act of meeting with him, setting expectations, and telling him that HE would be accountable for improvement seems to have helped. During our meeting, he started to make excuses for his poor performance (everything from being overworked to having an undiagnosed learning disability), we simply told him that poor performance wouldn't be accepted any longer.  We acknowledged that it had been in the past, and that it would not be acceptable going forward.

Believe it or not, he did NOT call in sick the next day, is not giving me or his manager the silent treatment, and is behaving more appropriately towards me than he ever has in the past. I'm not under any delusions that the problem is fixed--he's been with my company 7 years and had altercations with everyone who has managed him & several of his peers.  But I feel that being honest with him about the path he was going down & that only he had the power to change course was the right thing to do.  And he might even respect us a little more now that he knows he'll be held accountable.  Regardless, at least my cards are on the table.

Thanks again!

Amy

KTatley's picture

Delegation:

 

The description of your situation (not the problem performer) sounds like an ideal opportunity to delegate the management of performance issues to the individual managers. You will learn from Manager Tools that managers are responsible for the performance of their team members.

 

In fact I believe the current situation is actually an example of reverse delegation (there is a cast on this) – performance management of their staff should already be a part of your manager’s job descriptions or otherwise I would argue they are not proper managers. This would be supported by coaching as per the other post. This will not be an overnight solution and is not risk free – therefore I suggest that you describe what you are doing to your boss plus the logic supporting it to secure his buy-in.

 

Underperformer:

 

Firsly one observation: the behaviours you describe should initially be addressed with feedback – coaching comes into play not when the direct is being negligent in the performance of their duties but only when they do not know how (ie. They don’t have the skills to know how to respectfully deal with customers or they do not know how to prioritize and manage their workload) The clue would be when giving them feedback in the 4th step you ask them to commit to future improved performance (eg. Something like “Will you make sure that all of your required duties are completed) – they might say something like “I can’t” or “That’s too much” or “I can’t keep track of everything happening” or if they are hesitant, or seem unsure – you may need to tease this out of them – you could try “Is there anything you are unsure about in committing to completing all your duties?” This could help identify the need for coaching in prioritization and workload management. I suspect that the underperformer is quite capable of not being rude to customers but don’t take for granted the skills that you have in other people.

 

However having said that, the underperformers behavior is probably caused by one of two things: Intrinsic bad attitude (question if you want to try to fix this) OR dissatisfaction from prior bad management and lack of relationships (including a mismatch of personality types – a high S managed by a high D can result in these passive aggressive behaviours) – and actually the way to fix this isn’t Feedback but by building a relationship and understanding why they are upset, why they respond badly and by building trust using One On Ones. To differentiate between the two – find out if the underperformer has always underperformed – if they used to be good and then deteriorated this could be in the category of “has potential but has been badly managed, needs fixing”

 

Any problem you face you must determine the root causes – otherwise you will be fixing the wrong issues. There may be a really simple solution like moving the underperformer to another team. Try to understand if your problem is the non-performer (fix them – which sounds like skipping a level) or a manager with a non-performer (this requires work on/with the manager).

 

But going further, the underperformance needs to be parsed into its constituents: 1. Urgency & risk 2. Underperformance 1. Urgency & risk: The Manager Tools recommendation around speed centers around the mantra that as far as people are concerned you must “Go slow to go fast”. The logical thought test they apply is just think how long things have been the way they were, therefore it cannot hurt to take a few extra weeks to do it right instead of running the risk of failure. Fair but maybe not very comforting advice to you in your situation.

 

Recommendation: acknowledge you have a problem and share this with your boss plus the boss of the non-performer. Before instituting any of the Manager Tools techniques you can takes measures to mitigate risks – these fit under the general category of close supervision aka take direct control ie. You or the underperformers manager can do things such as: review email communications before these are sent to the client, keep daily track of tasks on the on the underperformers to do list. Also re-iterate the authorization/communication lines with him and others that he may bypass you to (if he circumvents a manager – this may fit into the category of a dismissible offence if it does something like bypass accounting controls or authorization protocols).

 

Be clear this is a temporary solution, it is not pleasant, it is not the right way to do things long-term, it is very inefficient. The only reason you do this is because the benefit (the avoidance of risk of losing a client) is more than the cost of these additional actions – only you can make the judgment on how much close supervision to do vs risk of losing a client.

 

The underperformer may protest however, this is one of the few areas that you insist on your solution using role power if necessary because it is impossible to be effectual if you are bypassed. There is an additional risk of doing things this way might damage relationships when you want to build them – be clear that you love your staff and want them to all do well but your style is your prerogative and performance standards are non-negotiable in your strive for excellence.

 

When you communicate the performance issue to your boss and the manager, include the plan to deal with the issue – now for this plan I believe you have two options:

Option A

Use this as a coaching opportunity to develop the manager. This is a slower process, requiring a little extra time. You will need to closely supervise the process, prepared to slow things down if necessary. You may even have to delay until the trinity is rolled out to the managers. Only consider this if you believe the manager is capable or consider shuffling the underperformer to your best manager. Remember this is not you rolling out the Trinity to your team but it is working with your manager to fix the problem, using elements of Manager Tools. This advice could be considered contradictory to the Manager Tools rolling out the Trinity guidance and so you need to think of it in the following context: Manager Tools does not have to start at the top and be rolled downwards – if a mid-level manager discovers Manager Tools and starts using it that is fine. So try to emulate that scenario. When you rollout Manager Tools to your team – this particular manager will of course be more advanced.

 

Option B

Take over direct management of the underperformer yourself – this is also not ideal as it is another form of reverse delegation. The only reason to do this is because the problem needs immediate attention of sufficient importance that this has become a “big ball”, big enough to justify being a top 5 priority of yours. This is done to prevent any chances of crossed lines of communication and only as a stop gap measure if one of your managers does not have the necessary skills/experience and cannot be coached these in the time required.

 

2. Underperformance:

Whether Option A or B, there is a cast on “Late stage coaching model” aka “How to fire someone” for more detail. As you describe it, it is clear that the individual is currently performing in a way that is not acceptable. There are only 2 answers to this and maintenance of the status quo is not one of them: they will either have to 1. Improve or 2. Find another role.

 

Firstly as a basis, do not assume the fault is entirely theirs. If the individual was not well managed in the past it is understandable (but still not acceptable) that they might display these negative behaviours. With great power comes great responsibility (and legal exposure), before dismissing someone you have an ethical responsibility to take them through a performance improvement process (and you might have a legal exposure if you do not).

I will not try duplicate the cast here as I will either be too long or miss details – I recommend you listen to it and also the cast on systemic feedback – essentially the process is you first give feedback on the fact that performance is below the required standard. Because initially some cases of below par performance are insufficient to dismiss someone. If performance improves then problem solved. If not you continue to give feedback of unacceptable performance (which establishes a pattern) plus feedback on the failure to change – these form the basis for dismissal if there is no improvement.

 

One more thing – giving feedback in a non-Managers Tools method.

The purpose is to be effective – it doesn’t matter how you do this – if wearing a clown suit while giving feedback makes feedback work then it’s not stupid. What is the purpose of giving feedback unless you are relatively sure that the feedback is going to be effective. If you are using another system that doesn’t have a good basis for securing future improvement then what you are doing is not giving feedback but pretending to and wasting time. The rollout guidance is to wait, your situation is you say you cannot. At this point I’d be willing to bet that Mark would say something like “Trust me, the business has managed for so long without feedback a few more weeks will not make a difference”. In the meantime you will be gnashing your teeth and feeling exposed in case there are more incidents. Waiting for full rollout will take long indeed by the time you’ve rolled out to your team and then they in turn have rolled it out to their teams. And don’t think it will be as simple as telling your managers to rollout Manager Tools – it takes time for people to buy in and learn these things, perhaps they don’t listen to podcasts. This just further shows how structurally wrong your organization is – your managers should be responsible for their team’s performance. Work on fixing this. In the meantime wait as per the guidance or consider using the starter feedback model (drop the 4th step) or manage the underperformer directly so you don’t need to wait until their manager gets to feedback in their rollout. And C.Y.A. – cover your rear – keep performance logs, maintain reporting of kpi’s and secure the buy in of your manager in what you are doing

AB_76's picture

 Thanks for your insight & recommendations, KTATLEY.  There is a lot of truth to your comments.

Regarding structure problems & reverse delegation, you're absolutely right.  Really appreciate the time & thought you put into your post.  It's giving me a lot to ponder.

Thanks,

Amy