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Need your expert advice on how you would handle the following incident involving a team member that although had agreed to come to work on a weekend (the whole team was scheduled to do the same) decided instead to go out to Disney with his girlfriend. Poor decision or insubordination?

Background:

We've been working for several months on this big web development project and have finally reached the end of out testing phase and were planning on going live within the next weeks. For that, the team agreed that we had to use a weekend for the 'go live' in order to minimize disruption during the week (heavy traffic during the week and very little during weekends).

During a meeting on Monday, the team started to discuss the logistics for going live during that coming weekend when a key team member notified us that he already had plans for the weekend. We then all agreed we could wait for the next weekend to go live in order to accommodate this key team member. Early the following week we restated our goal of using the weekend to go live and all agreed.

The Friday before the 'go live' weekend things weren't going as smoothly as we hoped, and we were all glad we had the weekend to work things out. As we started planning the logistics of who will do what and when, that same key team member that asked us to postpone the 'go live', notified us he was going to Disney with the girlfriend that same Friday night and wouldn't be back until Sunday evening. I was out that day on a customer visit and got a call from the supervisor (reports to me) telling me of the situation. I thought "there's nothing we can do, I'll deal with it on Monday when he's back".

The Feedback

On Monday I met with the employee that had been absent from the team effort during the weekend and after asking if I could give him feedback, told him "Bob, when you commit to working with your team on a project and you bail out last minute, here's what happens: the team gets demoralized because a key member is not around while everyone else is putting their best effort to finish the project; the team loses their trust on you; and I (you boss) lose my trust on your commitment not only to the project but to your own job."

At this point he started to explain that he was planning on working through the weekend as planned, but his girlfriend surprised him with tickets for Disney and something else and so he couldn't get out of that situation. He also tried to alleviate the situation by saying that he had a laptop with him and cell phone and people could reach out to him in case they needed his help and that all his part of the work had already been done.

Result:

I'm seriously thinking about replacing this employee since in my mind now we have a trust issue and if I can't trust an employee to do his/her job, this person can't continue to work for me. Am I wrong?

Your Thoughts:

Any advice or comments? Am I being too strict or should I cut this person some slack?

Thanks!

AManagerTool's picture

As with anything, it depends. Is this a pattern or was this the first time he did this? Was this the first time anyone spoke to him about something like this? Why did you have to give the feedback and not your direct (Supervisor)? Shouldn't your supervisor have been more aware of what is going on with this team member?

There are alot of factors to consider and we can't judge for you. This is why they pay you the big bucks!

If it were me, I wouldn't give feedback to my supervisors direct report. I would give it to my direct (supervisor).

thaGUma's picture

From the info given:
1. Pre arranged personal engagement
2. Un controlled personal engagement

Unless you have reason to believe this employee is causing delay then you need to cut him some slack. You are asking for out of hours work. Guess what ... this is exactly the time people think they should arrange personal engagements.

Work out a way of moving forward with out them or find a way of compensating for weekend working.

US41's picture

I have faced this same situation.

* You need to do a better job of stating up front in advance of a deployment that your team is not to schedule any plans for the deployment weekend or the following weekend and that weekend work will be expected. A month or more in advance. Three months is best. Be clear as to what is excusable (death in the family) and be ruthless in requiring that all traveling vacation off the grid be scheduled, approved by you in writing, visible in your outlook calendar as a free-time all day event, and not impromptu.

Set clear boundaries to enforce.

* I think skipping out like he did is beyond the feedback level. Despite the above, he agreed to participate, and then he blew it off. It is not a mild behavioral change over time you are looking for. This is not about interrupting someone, raising your voice, or other long-term changeable behavior. This is more serious. I'd have sat him down and given him a pretty hard talking to about skipping out. Then do the first bullet next time and set up some tripwires to create a no-excuses environment around your deployments.

jhack's picture

This is, indeed, beyond feedback. It's not a career ending move, however, and could become a topic that allows you to discuss with him his career choices.

The situation you describe would imply that your relationship with him needs work. He should have known how this would affect you, the team, and his prospects. It is an indicator of "professional maturity." (or lack thereof)

You should consider coaching him on handling conflicting demands on his time. He probably saw this as a "no win" situation and chose personal relationships over work. When you have a good relationship with your direct (through one-on-ones, etc, and over time), you can discuss his work/life priorities, and coach him on how to manage them (like making sure his important personal relationships know and respect his work schedule, and vice versa).

John

jael's picture

I manage projects these days with no direct reports, but I managed software developers for years. Not showing up for a deployment just isn't done unless there's a catastrophe, death or serious illness involved.

While I wouldn't be considering replacing someone immediately, skipping out on a deployment to go to Disney would definitely get him a warning and probably affect his annual review. I'd also be talking to his supervisor about ensuring priorities and schedules are crystal clear.

fchalif's picture

I agree with Tool that the person he reports to needs to provide communication to the Disney visitor. I also agree with John and US41 that this is beyond feedback. It is a very serious breach.

Here's my recommendation on my next steps.

[quote]The Friday before the 'go live' weekend things weren't going as smoothly as we hoped, and we were all glad we had the weekend to work things out. As we started planning the logistics of who will do what and when, that same key team member that asked us to postpone the 'go live', notified us he was going to Disney with the girlfriend that same Friday night and wouldn't be back until Sunday evening. I was out that day on a customer visit and got a call from the supervisor (reports to me) telling me of the situation. I thought "there's nothing we can do, I'll deal with it on Monday when he's back". [/quote]

1. I infer that the staff member reports to the Supervisor, since he called the Supervisor to report that he was going to Disney. If he reports to you directly and did not call you to inform you directly, then I think he committed two breaches.

2. The staff member's Manager (you or the supervisor) must be familiar with his performance and usual behavior? The Manager thus needs to know this employee so as to assess the behavior in the context of that employee's overall time with the Company.
This is important to judge the severity of the instance:
Is he young, in his first role, family issues, etc. etc.
i.e. the kind of stuff you learn in the O3s and through interaction and observation.

3. Determine from Item 2 whether he clearly knew that what he was doing was hurting the team? The Manager needs to write a recommendation for the next action. The recommendation must be logical, i.e. if he is very young and immature, then give him a break but explain the rules for the future. Refer to actual behavior from the past that supports the conclusion.

4. Assess the conclusion drawn in item 3 and make a decision! Remember that there is no decision without communication.
In this case, if he is not dismissed, communication will need to be made to the team about future requirements.

PS: If this Disney visitor is an experienced web site Development participant, then he needs to go. There is no way he does not understand the importance of the team and of the weekend.
You judge and decide.

jael's picture

[quote="fchalif"]3. Determine from Item 2 whether he clearly knew that what he was doing was hurting the team? The Manager needs to write a recommendation for the next action. The recommendation must be logical, i.e. if he is very young and immature, then give him a break but explain the rules for the future. Refer to actual behavior from the past that supports the conclusion.[/quote]

The OP didn't say how much experience the team member had but referred to him as a "key team member". To me, that infers this isn't his first deployment, but I could be wrong.

Norwood's picture

Thank you all for your comments. When people like you spend time to provide recommendations to questions like mine, it makes the whole discussion forum a much better place!!! I love this site :)

Here's a few more details about the situation:

1. The Supervisor in question is indeed this person's direct supervisor and the supervisor reports to me. For the purposes of this project, however, the supervisor's role was just another team member, and all were reporting their progress etc. to me.

2. The 'key team member' that skipped to Disney is not a newbie, but is far from what I would consider a senior developer. He does have a maturity issue and has acted in childish behavior before however by us giving him feedback he was improving.

3. I agree with a previous post about how software projects usually work.. if you have a deployment, it usually doesn't matter what day of the week or what time you have to work, especially if it is agreed beforehand.

Let me also bring up an issue that was touched upon in one of the first comments to this post. What is your overall opinion of asking employees to work overtime or during weekends?

In my company if you are a salaried employee the general rule is that you work until you get your job done. Yes, regular hours are 9 to 5 and theoretically is a 40 hour week job but for everyone that's not hourly, it is expected that you will use whatever time available in the week (meaning off hours too) to get the job done. I rarely ask my team to work extra and most people do it when they feel necessary.

How do you handle off hours work at your jobs?

Thanks again!

fchalif's picture

Norwood,

Here is how we address overtime for non hourly paid staff and it varies based on their level:
- non hourly paid staff such as clerical or supervisory staff get a stipend which varies based on whether it is a week night, a Saturday or Sunday. It is couched as a reimbursement for meals, transportation, etc.

- Senior Management does not get any stipend, they get bonuses and annual increases based on performance; extra hours are expected

As far as the Disney visitor is concerned, thanks for the additional info. I recommend you press your supervisor for a written document about his and the Disney staff's behavior in this instance, with a clear recommendation required by him on the next steps. Since there is prior history with the individual, the future of the team needs to be considered carefully. That supervisor will likely work with that staff member again, and this event needs a clear resolution so that the future behavior can be clarified to all.

It sounds to me like you are not planning to let him go! Is that a fair assessment on my part?

Norwood's picture

Fchalif, I wasn't planning on letting the employee go until now... I must say that this event was an eye opener and has brought into light that a behavior I thought was corrected may not have been after all!

As I mentioned, this employee is not exemplary and has shown bad behavior in the past, so I am thinking carefully about whether it's time to take a drastic step and replace this person.

The Supervisor, who would have to coach the employee and do the performance review is leaving the company (the position has been eliminated), and now he will report directly to me. I'll then be at a better position to make an informed decision.

fchalif's picture

Wow, is there a chance then that your supervisor was a little relaxed when the Disney individual called him to say he would not show up for the weekend?

In any case, the future behavior of that staff member will have a lot to do with your interaction with him. You have all the data, but as far as I can see, it can go either way as far as the recent instance is concerned.

You have to make a call about what's good for the team and what this person's role can be with it.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

If this was the first time the employee had done this sort of thing then I do not believe that it would be reasonable to sack him over it. Certainly he should be given strong feedback and for it to be taken account of in his review. Make it clear that his behaviour was unprofessional, will impact his future advancement and, if repeated, could lead to his dismissal.

On the other hand, Mark has often said that "Family comes first". I'm not sure how 'Girlfriend surprises you with tickets to Disneyland' fits in with that but I think that it should be at least a mitigating factor, in particular as the employee believed that his part of the work was complete. I've seen people skip out of deployments with much lesser excuses.

Also, you haven't said what the supervisor said to the employee when he informed them of the trip. Do you know? If they gave the employee the OK to miss the deployment then it's clearly the supervisor's responsibility.

Stephen