I have an assistant manager with little promise of being a Manager. He has been an asst. for about two years and has been demoted and promoted in this time. He has been given an oppertunity to work as a Manager in Training for about 3 months with very little success. He has been through lots of feedback and coached for sometime now.

We do not want to fire him because he has become a good asst. manager. He has been very loyal to us through the hurricane (south east Louisiana). He just isn't capable to run a store. How do you tell someone this without them quitting. We can still use him and will not fire him because of this. [/quote]

Mark's picture
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It's a great question. Give me a chance to put my thoughts together and I will post something tonight.


Mark's picture
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I'm sorry this has taken me so long. No excuse but poor time management.

While I'm comfortable accepting your assertion that he has been given plenty of feedback and coaching, I'm just going to say I've been in 100-200 situations with clients that told me that very same thing and it was clear that while THEY thought that, the actual delivery was pretty darn vague, not behavioral, and in the end ineffective. So I encourage you to look hard at that part of this equation.

There are some things I'd still like to clear up, though. Is this person saying he wants to be a store manager? What does he say about his previous failure?

And... putting that aside, our principle is that every person deserves to be coached and given opportunities to improve, so I would be coaching him and continue to give him feedback. These are things you do whether he wants and/or is worthy of a promotion. That's just basic performance management.

Would I tell him that he isn't capable of running a store? NO. Because he may be, somewhere else, or with a breakthrough. Would I tell him he hasn't earned a promotion? YOU BET. I'd tell him I'd like him to get promoted, once he shows he's capable, and up until now he hasn't shown that (data, data, data at the ready).

I'd tell him he's a great assistant, and that's an important pre-requisitie, but he hasn't made the higher grade yet. Detail (for the hundredth time) the things he has to be able to do that he hasn't done well. Continue to coach him, because those things will make him a better assistant.

If he asks you point blank whether he CAN get promoted at some point, tell him YES.. IF he does what you've asked. If you like, go on to tell him that most other assistants manage to make the jump in a lot less time, but you're not going to tell him no. (Really, how many organizational resources are wasted in this way? None.)

So, my answer is you CERTAINLY don't fire him (unless you have an up or out policy). I can't imagine going there. And, I don't think you tell him he "can't" be promoted, but that it will be hard.

And I'd give him lots of positive feedback on how well he does his present job.

Here's another subtle way my approach might be different. If he asked me about going elsewhere, I'd discuss that candidly. I'd tell him the pluses and minuses, for you, him, and your firm. And if he DID leave, I'd tell anyone what a great guy he is, and how hard he was to lose, and I'd stay in touch with him, as encouragement and as a lifeline for him to come back to.

Hope this helps.


esanthony's picture


How often do you do O3's with this person? I have found in the past that most people who want to be managers are capable. It is MY fault if I havent given them the tools they need to make the breakthrough that Mark mentioned above.

I have experienced very similar situations and in some of them it took changing MY way of doing things in order to coach them more effectively. I am not sure exactly what I did but adjusting my coaching to match their personality probably had something to do with it. I would bet that Mark and Mike could relate this to the DISC model somehow.


mauzenne's picture
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I cringe a bit when I heard that he isn't "capable" of running a store. Now, that may in fact be true. Perhaps he has some genetic flaw that truly makes him incapable. However, given that he was put in an asst. mgr position and a manager-in-training, I suspect he doesn't suffer from flaws that make him incapable; instead he simply isn't exhibiting the required "behaviors". For me, a not so subtle distinction that makes me feel perfectly fine about telling him, as Mark suggests, that he absolutely *can* be promoted ... he simply needs to do x, y, z, etc.

Shortly after Mark originally consulted for me, I had a manager with a number of years in his current grade who had been wanting to be promoted to "senior manager" for some time but just couldn't seem to get through the ceiling. He mentioned this at a skip level to me and we scheduled some time together afterwards. He made the "mistake" of asking me for feedback ... "why can't I get promoted?" Needless to say, this opened the door for a series of very meaningful discussions. In the end, we laid out a number of *very* specific and detailed behaviors he would need to exhibit before we would promote him. "Exhibit these behaviors on a regular basis, and I *will* promote you." To his credit, he worked hard on it for 9 months and (with frequent feedback) modified his behavior. I promoted him and he continued to perform incredibly well.

My point? When I took over the organization, I was told the X was a good manager, but incapable of more senior responsibilities. Obviously, not so.

One additional point (and we *do* need to do a podcast on this some day) ... Mark has the incredibly rare ability to observe and describe someone's behavior in *very* specific terms.

"Mike, you seem annoyed."
"No, Mark. What makes you think that?"
"Well, you're sitting there with your arms crossed, your head is tilted approximately 35 degrees to your right, your breathing is markedly shallow and low in your chest, your eyes are to up and to the right, your eyebrows are furrowed, and you're tapping your right pointer finger on your arm. Usually, when you do this, you're annoyed. Am I reading you wrong?"
"Ok, well maybe I *am* annoyed ..... "

Now, maybe we're giving potential managers feedback on different levels of behavior, but are we giving it in this level of detail? If not, our feedback is not effective. Of course, I'm just restating, in 10 times as many words, what Mark said ... I simply believe that, for most of us, we rate the quality of our feedback way too high. Improving our ability to give *detailed* feedback is a [b]huge [/b]opportunity for improving effectiveness.

Mark's picture
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CLASSIC! If you ever wanted a glimpse behind the scenes of Manager Tools, this is the best vignette EVER. ROTFL!!!!!

Can you even IMAGINE being my partner and being subjected to this kind of unnerving scrutiny?

Mike puts up with me everyday, and I sure appreciate him for it. And, he gives you a glimpse here of how good a manager he is.


lenny-5's picture

Thank you all for your comments.

This asst. Manager has tested me in my management skills. Our buisness is pretty basic. Out of the 9 hours he has to work, he only has to put in 1 hour of manager work. All of these things are on a daily checklist for him to do. He just forgets ( so he says) about the list. This list has been in our company for over 3 years. Nothing on this list takes more than 15 minutes each to do. The rest of the time he should be with the crew leading them.

We give weekly reports to the asst managers detailing the 5 strengths in our company. Paperwork, Training, being on time, attitude, and leadership. This is reviewed with the asst. by the manager and then signed.

All I want and need for him to do is follow the sheet. And he forgets every week. But, he is loyal

Mark's picture
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Boy, it sure seems to me then that he's NOT doing his job, notwithstanding any discussion about a promotion. If it's a series of daily tasks, and he's not doing them, then he's not doing his job.

Loyalty is good, and we want that. I would say that if you're not going to fire him - AND THAT'S FINE WITH ME AS LONG AS YOU UNDERSTAND THE TRADEOFFS (loss of great assitant mgr AND reduced poisiton available to develop others), then he presents a great opportunity for you to practice your coaching and feedback skills.

I would recommend daily feedback both about what he does well, and what he misses.

And, I would be looking for others who could do the job.


Brent's picture

Thanks for the topic, Lenny!

Have you asked the assistant manager why he keeps forgetting to do the things on the list? What's his reply to that?

bonwelliii's picture
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Just a note of thanks for the original idea of the forums, and how truly timeless they are (another hallmark of MT).

And it is great to read Mark and Mike's interactions, esp. "back in the day."

As the timestamps will attest - it's been a phenomenal ten years - and the best is yet to come!