I work for the federal government and I was recently selected to be a first line supervisor.

I have listen to a majority of the podcasts and they are GREAT!!!. While I understand the feedback models of dealing with those difficult personel... I do have a question.

My question is..... does anyone have ideas on how to effectively deal with government workers that you would like to fire because of insobordanation, but can't because of the bureaucratic red tape involved?

I have heard how Mark & Mike have discussed feedback... example was how BOB, the difficult worker was be a problem ... but unlike the corporate world... in the Governement it is not so easy to deal with those that are problem children.


jhack's picture

Congratulations on your promotion!

Have you listened to the "How to fire" and "Late stage coaching" podcasts? If not, you really should....and if so, please let us know how the steps outlined in those casts are not going to work in your situation.


mjmcgraw's picture

First Thank you John...

No I have not gotten to those yet, but I will make them a priority.

I will say that he is not a poor performer.

The former team lead that I am replacing quit after this particular direct stood in their face pointing and yelling at him. Not once, not twice but three different occassions. The management for whatever reason would not take care of the situation, so the old team lead quit. I have spoken to others on the team that witness this and gave their accounts to the upper management, but they did nothing.

So as I begin my weekend with my first day coming up this monday, I am full of anxiety about this hostile person.

Would maceor a taser be out of the question? I am just kidding Mark & Mike. :D

jhack's picture

[quote="mjmcgraw"]stood in their face pointing and yelling at him. Not once, not twice but three different occassions. [/quote]
That's performance, and it's not good.


sklosky's picture


Congrats on the promotion.

From what I've seen, the fundamentals are the same.

Interestingly enough, the Federal Government is a not for profit organization. Think about it . . .

I get the sense that your "in your face, yelling" direct report is on the high D side of life. I think immediate feedback is necessary. I get the sense that if this person believes they can "get away" with this behaviour on your watch, they will continue.

Good luck,

ehyde111's picture

I agree with the previous comments. I'd like to add this. Whatever happens, stay calm. I would think this person would want nothing more than to get into a shouting match. ALso, if you've listened to the feedback casts, check out the more recent [u]Shot Across the Bow [/u]cast. It may help you out also.

Best of luck.

juliahhavener's picture
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To add an opinion to the pile:

Feedback to this employee will be critical. Important items to remember: feedback is breathing, it's easy, it's a potato chip. AFFIRMATIVE feedback is equally (arguably more) important than adjusting feedback.

When he reacts appropriately, give him feedback. When he does something small right, give him feedback. When he reacts inappropriately, give him feedback - ask him for change.

One on ones will help you know him well enough to 1) mitigate situations where he might react poorly and 2) give him feedback that will be important to him. They will also give you the opportunity to coach him on effective behaviors AND give him the opportunity to tell you his frustration points before he's yelling and pointing.

Personal experience: My team lets me know when they don't get enough of my time. At that point, they will explode because they haven't had the chance to tell me all the little things, they build up, and people get upset. When they have the chance to drop the potato chips, I don't get the avalanche. I don't know if this will apply to your new direct, but it's something to consider.

Mark's picture
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First things first: I wouldn't want to be you, having successfully done everything right and gotten someone fired by dotting your i's and crossing your t's, and then have them bring up in court that you suggested using mace or a taser on this person.

Folks, these kinds of jokes are NEVER funny, and often actionable.

Second, there is no difference between the corporate world and the government when it comes to firing someone who is repeatedly unprofessional and violent. I've seen it done many times, and all the rumors are just false. Find me one manager who has done what they're supposed to do and can't fire won't be able to. The reason managers think they can't fire folks is they're not willing to do what they're supposed to do, and that means working for quite a while with a poor performer and doing their very best to help them get back on track.

One on Ones and feedback are what is called for. If this person DOES get in your face, step BACK. Stop talking and put your hands at your sides. Then ask politely if you can give her feedback. THEN call HR and either write up a report or file and forward an MFR noting her violent and threatening physical behavior. Everybody, even managers, have a right to be free from physical threats. THIS BEHAVIOR is what can get her fired.

One on ones and feedback. Don't judge her based on the old behaviors, and give her positive and negative feedback (politely, kindly, smiling, shot across the bow when necessary) when you note behavior you want to stop or continue.

Keep good notes, and keep them all together with your one on one notes.

She'll either change or you'll be able to fire her.

Good luck and keep us posted.


sholden's picture
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I have to echo a lot of what is already written here.

I'd recommend also determining who your HR rep is and start building a relationship with that person.

This was a suggestion in previous podcasts and re-enforced at the conferences. Since I have followed through on the recommendation I have not had to use it for situations you are in but in hiring. And it has paid off tremendously.

Best wishes on your new position.

Steve (another Federal employee)

agreen's picture

I have been away from the forums for while - up to my eyeballs implementing MT techniques.

For the last 6 months I have been working very hard with a particular employee who, prior to listening to MT, I had "decided I wanted to fire". Listening to the podcasts about late stage coaching the point was made very strongly that if you do have to fire someone, and you are professional about it, it is almost a failure of you as the manager to do your job effectively. This comment really got me thinking about how I was approaching it and what responsibilities I had in the situation.

For the last 6 months I have been conducting O3's, coaching, giving feedback and delegating like mad with this employee. Despite nearly two months of systemic feedback nothing has worked. Deadlines missed, no responsibility for self-improvement and starting to cause serious issues with the rest of the team.

This week just gone I contacted our HR manager to have the conversation about starting the formal disciplinary process. When I produced the notes of conversations and laid out the MT framework I had been working within I got stunned silence. I think what really got the HR manager onside and supporting the process was the amount of positive feedback that has been given (and noted). The HR manager said many managers miss this critical part in the process. I got full support and was told it was now a straightforward case of following the organisational disciplinary process and termination.

I agree wholly with Mark's comments. I complained about not being able to terminate someone, but then I wasn't prepared to do the hard work not only in documenting things, but more importantly in sincerely helping someone anyway I could to improve. It is more work than I ever could have imagined, but I know I have given and supported this employee in every way I possibly can. I can only hope that I will see behaviour change, no matter how small, before we get to termination.

And the punchline of course is that I too work in government ....

I am not sure how these sort of timelines here compare to the private sector but from my experience the process can and does work.

juliahhavener's picture
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Alex, good for you!

The last time I took this kind of situation to my HR manager, her question to me was 'why didn't I see some of this sooner?' In other words, instead of six months' effort, she would have preferred I use the same effort, but consider formalizing the process a few months earlier in addition to the late stage coaching. Of course, my reason for not doing so was that there HAD been improvement relatively consistently, just slowly, which I had documented as well. An egregiously unprofessional customer interaction was the reason we were talking then.

I had a discussion with a consultant about this particular situation - she pointed out that in all things it's really skill or will at issue. In some cases where the skill is there (your coaching and feedback has done its job), formalizing that documentation will either stimulate the will to change (improvement to stay in the job or to find a job that better suits them).

FWIW, this employee really has turned it around. They implemented the improvements needed consistently and continues to improve. I'm VERY pleased with where it is now.

mgingras's picture

[quote="mjmcgraw"]...does anyone have ideas on how to effectively deal with government workers that you would like to fire because of insobordanation...[/quote]

Hi all,

I work in State government and have found that the MT methods work very well dealing with all aspects of managing staff.

To the extent that we have to prioritize our management efforts, dealing with insubordination is always right near the top of the list.

In every instance where we've addressed insubordination --- particularly 'legacy cases' of public insubordination --- I underestimated how much adverse impact the insubordination had on the organization.

The potential for dramatic improvement --- including full-on culture change --- is high when you deal effectively with even a couple of key insubordinate staff.



Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


Thanks for sharing your experience. I remember your earlier one, and my comments, and am glad you dug in and did the right thing. It's hard, of course, but you did it and did it well, and it's a lesson you'll never forget. Please join the chorus of those who can say, "hey, you CAN do it, but only if you step up...and you can do that!"

Well done, and thanks again.


James Gutherson's picture

I agree with what has been said here but would add that you talk to your HR department about getting some support, this is part of their raison d'être. There is plenty of training around about dealing with difficult people.

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

I'll freely admit that I don't apply the tools perfectly, and I don't always follow M&M's recommendations. (Since I don't want to generate any cardiac events, I won't explain how I use Instant Messaging, for example.)

With that disclaimer, I find the MT approach, particularly the core elements of one-on-ones, feedback, and coaching very effective even with people you can't fire.

One of the the guys on my Wavefront team can't be fired, period. He has tenure. Short of doing something criminal, he has a job as long as we have an Observatory, and probably a couple years after that. He doesn't report to me anyway -- he's matrixed to me from Science Division. And he is a very smart guy who responds well to feedback, particularly when I focus on the effect his work has on future science.

Two of the guys who do report to me are nearly fireproof.

One has been at the Institute so long he's part of the culture, and has a status basically equivalent to tenure. So we meet every week to talk about progress and objectives. He coaches me on observatory operations, and I coach him on project management.

The other fireproof guy is an astonishingly bright, remarkably effective systems engineer with limited social skills. If I walked in and told my boss "him or me," almost regardless of why, my boss would probably tell me "Well, it's been nice working with you." I give him lots of feedback on his presentations, and we plot negotiating strategies that pay attention to where stakeholders have common interests.

I do have one guy in my branch (not fireproof) who is not responding to feedback on some key issues. His ex-boss (there was a reorg - it's complicated) tells me that she had similar problems around the same issues. I may be revisiting the late-stage coaching 'casts in the Spring.

My point is, despite the lack of a neon sign on my forehead that says "I can fire you!" the Manager Tools techniques are still working for me. I recommend them.


jhack's picture


Thanks for that post. If we take our management responsibilities seriously, then firing someone should be a rare event even in places where it's too easy to do so (yes, such places exist).

Our job is to get the highest possible performance from our people, and to find roles for them where they succeed.

If we do our jobs right, and the person is just not a good fit, they'll almost always figure out that they should move on. And we can help them with that, too.