I need some advice.

When I joined my current employer, I ‘inherited’ an employee that has certain job responsibilities she clearly isn’t qualified to handle. Specifically, she’s a department manager with supervisory responsibilities but, after discussions with her employees, others within the company that have observed her, plus my own observations, I’ve concluded that she shouldn’t be a managerr. She communicates poorly on all levels and, worse, intimidates her employees and others with regular emotional outbursts.

I have been giving her feedback and some coaching over the past few months, and there has been a little improvement, but not enough and not quickly enough. She admitted she’s not a great supervisor but blames it on the company (lack of training) or bad hires.

I’ve just completed the chapter in Peter Drucker’s “Effective Executive” that talks about the importance of building on strength rather than weakness and the epiphany for me was that there isn’t any strength to build on here. She has none of the traits that I would want or expect to see in a manager. Had I been here, I would never have recommended that she be promoted into a managerial position.

I’m at a loss as to how to proceed. Intellectually, it makes sense to use the late stage coaching model, but I seriously doubt that I'll be successful, no matter what I do. Just like some people don’t have the requisite skills to be software developers, others simply won’t be capable managers no matter how much feedback and coaching they receive.

I'm disappointed in myself for not making better progress with her. At the same time, I fear we'll soon lose good employees from within her department and, worse, much of my attention is on her rather than on other aspects of my job, including developing the strengths of my other direct reports.

Any recommendations?

AManagerTool's picture

Your not doing anyone any favors by vascillating on this. She is "in the wrong position" and knows it. Seriously, use the late stage coaching model that Mark recommends and manage her out of there.

Mark's picture
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This is a simple situation where the actions are straightforward... and emotionally difficult.

Hopefully, when you say you've been giving her feedback over a period of a couple of months, you're talking about 20 or 30 such instances. That gives you some sense of what you'll need to do going forward.

Try to put it out of your head that she won't work out. That thinking will be picked up by her, and if she sues, she will be able to point out enough behaviors of yours that someone may feel you're just doing what everyone else is - documenting her impeding termination.

Further, it will make you a lot less motivated to help her get to success.

Look, I'm not saying it's going to work. Plenty of times I've done this and the outcome is pretty certain.

But that doesn't change the fact that the sun will come up tomorrow, but you won't spend one second today thinking about it. Approach this initiative with all the vigor you would if you were trying to save a "keeper." if it doesn't work out, it will clearly be her failure, without your complicity.

Ratchet up the feedback, start coaching her on managerial skills (like professional communications and respect), and be candid with her when she fails where she is headed (the late stage model).

When she does yell or is abusive, that kind of feedback, in today's sensitive workplace world, needs to be swift and direct and unequivocal. If employees feel belittled or harassed, you have a responsibility to stop it so that the company doesn't get sued.

Do your best, so that you can put your head on your pillow each night. Her previous performance keeps the spotlight on her for now.

Good luck, and keep us posted.


gdbrowning's picture

Thanks for the [u]great[/u] response, Mark. The advice is dead-on. Although it isn't the easy out I was hoping for, it's the encouragement I need to take the tough--but correct--road.

JD Burkholder's picture

Mark, is there a standard form you have for documenting feedback? As you said, we must be careful not to appear to be making a case for termination, but view people as "keepers." All I can think of is to create a Word doc for each person I manage, and then with each interaction, slap a date and explanation on there.

Is this what I should be doing, or is there a better, more standardized form for documenting communication (both pos and neg) with an employee?

itilimp's picture
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There's a link on the front page, left-hand side to the feedback form.

JD Burkholder's picture

I see the worksheet for the one-on-one interaction, but nothing for recording continuous feedback - hence, documenting the case for support or termination of an employee. If I'm missing what you are seeing, please post the exact link so I can check it out. Thanks!

Mark's picture
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No, there isn't a form for feedback, and that's part of the concept of feedback.

First, feedback ought to happen so regularly that it would drive us all nuts keeping track of it. Remember, it's like breathing, not holding your breath.

Second, you can use anything your want to keep track when you feel it's necessary to do so, like in late stages coaching (with which I would agree, of course). Then, just scribble a note on a post it note, or at the bottom or on the back or right in the middle of a one on one form. Or, send yourself an email quickly. I prefer the post it notes, because I just slap them on the front of the direct's one on one notebook, and then go on the weekly document in there.

Is this making sense?


JD Burkholder's picture

Thanks Mark. Subconciously, I probably wanted to hear the fact that I do NOT keep track of each feedback interaction. For me, I've attempted to go the paperless way (and back up religiously), so I will immediately call up a Word Doc for the specific individual and make the note (date stamp and details of convo w/ background). I plan on adding a sub-folder for each direct that is named "Feedback," then "O3." This way I will keep track of our O3 records and then files of other documentation.

I have another spreadsheet for the overall picture of when projects are completed, which I will have open during the O3's.

One question for you...if you have the time and it's a simple process, can you make the O3 worksheet a PDF with forms that I can type in results? If not, I was thinking of making a similar Word Doc so I can type as much as needed, but you have given me the start I needed. Thanks!

gdbrowning's picture

I did as Mark suggested--I put it out of my mind that my under-qualified employee wasn't going to work out. I approached the situation that she was an average manager that genuinely wanted to get better but didn't know how. My job was simply to give direction, feedback and to be her coach. Her job was to become the best manager she could be.

The first thing I asked (okay, required) her to do was to institute weekly one-on-one meetings with her staff. After a little pushback ("My door is always open, so they can talk to me whenever they want"), she agreed. I gave her the MT format (it works), asked to see her meeting notes and sat in on the third meeting she had with each of her employees.

I was stunned. She was great! Her relationship with her employees has changed completely. They're a team now--no more yelling!

The second piece was to coach her towards a better understanding of the people part of being a manager--communication, delegation, etc. Again, after a little pushback during our "identifying resources" meeting, she chose the reources she felt good about and took ownership. She signed up for two classes and has already been through the one on communication. I was VERY pleasantly surprised that the main focus was on the DISC model. Here's the cool part--she came back and shared her class experience AND her DISC profile with her employees. And gave them the opportunity to take the test themselves.

The bottom line is that she is now at a point I wish all of our managers were at. Sure, she has room for improvement (so do I) but she now seems genuinely interested in becoming even better than she is. And this whole process has taken one month. And about 6 hours of my time. Wow.

Next up--coaching on delegation.

Thanks, Mark (and Michael).


Mark's picture
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Hey hey! Success is sweet, isn't it? Congratulations for getting this manager back on track. When I went back and read your initial post, it reads like a story of someone completely different.

One on ones, feedback, and coaching: The Management Trinity.