Forums

Sorry this is VERY long but here it is:

Here I am in my first role where I directly manage someone – and it’s a difficult situation. For my report is entirely unsuited to the task.
Not only can she not manage even the simplest of administration tasks with consistent accuracy, but there are no signs that this will change.
Any feedback to improve the situation is greeted with a stream of excuses, and it is clear that as the fault is never with the report then the need to improve is not hers either. Feedback that has included the observation that why x, y or z went wrong is not the issue, but the need for it not to happen again is the only consideration doesn’t work either, as this seems to be interpreted as “well no blame, no need to improve then” rather than the desired improvement in behaviour.
As if that isn’t bad enough, this report shows no indication that she can ever grow into other aspects of the job at all. In IT Support a need for problem solving and adapting existing knowledge to try to identify and therefore solve the issue is basic to the cause. Here we have someone who responds to anything new by insisting that if she as not seen exactly this sequence of events before and has received detailed instruction on how to solve the problem then she can not be expected to do more than pass it on. And then with no belief that she should get the details.
Her skill levels are non-existent. After 8 months in the job she still has to be shown how to rename files, and every task no matter how simple has to be shown time and time again.
After three months this staff member should have been let go. But she had accused my predecessor of bullying her, so she was given another chance. Another month went by but still they did not get rid of her. HR would not allow another month on trial, so she was confirmed in the post and I was taken on as her line manager.
After three months it is clear that she will never make it in the role she has. So I am left with having to go through the lengthy process of getting rid of her - with both my line manager and the IT director keen for her to be replaced ASAP.
And now she’s been on sick leave (for which she is unpaid, by the way) for a month. No sign of her returning but also no chance of getting a replacement in.
And I am left overworked, having to do her job as well as mine at a time when we have just taken over another company so are already stretched to the limit. My own duties are suffering, our customers (internal) are suffering and there seems no end in sight.
All the coaching models carry on as if any one can be turned around, but here we have someone who just does not have the spark, the mindset much less the ability to learn the skills she needs to progress in a career in IT. Or if she does, I don't have time to tease it out.
HELP.

US41's picture

Feedback, one on ones, & coaching. Set a 90 day performance goal with measurable, time-based objectives. If she fails to meet it, take all of your one on one notes to HR and say, "I've documented for 90 days. Will this do the trick?"

There is a large chance they will allow you to to remove her immediately after having followed such a process and having kept notes.

RE: Notes - make sure you make notes of things you ask "provide blah blah by 10/31, and make sure you follow up "Asked for blah blah on 10/31, delivered 11/15. Or, asked 10/31, asked again on 11/7, 11/14, 11/21, & 11/28. No delivery.

You'll either turn her around with your follow up and record keeping, or you will eliminate her. (more accurate: she will eliminate herself or turn herself around).

jhack's picture

You should also listen to the three "late stage coaching model" podcasts (aka, how to fire someone - not really...) from Feb and March 2006. They will very useful for your situation.

John

WillDuke's picture

In your one-on-one meetings with this direct, make sure you clearly specify the consequences of non-performance. She deserves to know that if she doesn't perform she'll be let go. Document these conversations! She will know you're serious, and as a bonus it will help you when she claims unjust termination or at least unemployment.

As for feedback, just keep adjusting it upwards.

* When you don't complete a task a.... (she has excuse why it isn't her fault)
* When you don't accept responsibility... (It's someone else's fault)
* When I can't count on you to complete tasks...

And for growth, feedback on that.
* When I have to repeat instructions to you...
* When you don't take notes...
* When you don't take ownership for new issues.

Then, feedback on not following what she promised in the previous feedback. (This only works if you follow the feedback model all the way through. They have to come up with their own proposed altered behavior.)
"When you don't change your behavior like you said you were going to in your previous feedback it makes me think I can't trust you. It makes me think you're not serious about this job."

Now that being said, the previous management, and maybe you too, deserve some of the responsibility here. If she thinks she can just pass new problems on it is because she has been allowed to. Don't allow her to. Development is part of the job.

"This is something new, I don't know how to solve it."
"Okay. How are you going to find out?"
"Well, I thought you'd do it."
"I'm not. I'm confident that you can solve it."
"But I don't know how."
"So how are you going to find out?" (sounds a little like coaching?)
"I don't know."
"IT is a fast-changing field. Learning new things is key to your success here. What kind of resources could you go to?"

You don't need to be clever or manipulative. Some people are very good at manipulating conversations; it sounds like she is. Just don't lose track of why YOU are having the conversation. And, stand tough. Don't let a direct bully you into an uncomfortable situation.

staflea's picture

[quote="US41"]Feedback, one on ones, & coaching. Set a 90 day performance goal with measurable, time-based objectives. If she fails to meet it, take all of your one on one notes to HR and say, "I've documented for 90 days. Will this do the trick?"

There is a large chance they will allow you to to remove her immediately after having followed such a process and having kept notes.

RE: Notes - make sure you make notes of things you ask "provide blah blah by 10/31, and make sure you follow up "Asked for blah blah on 10/31, delivered 11/15. Or, asked 10/31, asked again on 11/7, 11/14, 11/21, & 11/28. No delivery.

You'll either turn her around with your follow up and record keeping, or you will eliminate her. (more accurate: she will eliminate herself or turn herself around).[/quote]

Thanks for this. If she ever turns up to the office (she's been off for a month so far) HR have agreed I must meet with her to set out specific targets that if she fails to deliver on will lead to the next stage of disciplinary procedure. I'm waiting for her to accuse me of bullying her! Yes, she is that unpleasant to deal with.

Document, document and document again! Excellent advice. As to coaching? She's responded to nothing. Se goes on a course and comes back no better at all. I show her how to do something and a week later she's asking again. The frustration is she should never have been confirmed in the job but she manipulated the "bullying" accusation to keep a nice salary she does not begin to earn.

My frustration is that it'll take me up to 6 months to get rid of her and in the meantime my own performance is suffering as I have to do her job as well as my own. Grrrr.

staflea's picture

Duke - this is wonderful advice. Clear and detailed - perfect Manager Tools! I will be printing this out and re-reading it frequently.

Thanks to all who have (or indeed will) respond. This community is such an invaluable resource and an inspiration.

bflynn's picture

[quote="staflea"]If she ever turns up to the office (she's been off for a month so far) HR have agreed I must meet with her to set out specific targets that if she fails to deliver on will lead to the next stage of disciplinary procedure. I'm waiting for her to accuse me of bullying her! Yes, she is that unpleasant to deal with.

Document, document and document again! Excellent advice. As to coaching? She's responded to nothing. Se goes on a course and comes back no better at all. I show her how to do something and a week later she's asking again. The frustration is she should never have been confirmed in the job but she manipulated the "bullying" accusation to keep a nice salary she does not begin to earn.

My frustration is that it'll take me up to 6 months to get rid of her and in the meantime my own performance is suffering as I have to do her job as well as my own. Grrrr.[/quote]

For coaching, remember that coaching doesn't have to be a course. It can be a book or even one-on-one training. That training does not have to come from you. Think of coaching as teaching the employee how to get better themselves.

Given the history, I would move straight to late stage coaching. Be clear with this individual that she has three months and no more. Use the "serious smile". Tell her "Your job performance has not been up to the standard. This is serious and it cannot continue. Over the next three months, you and I will work toward your improvement. If it does not improve enough, at the end of three months, your employment will be ended. I will help in whatever way I can, but I consider you to be primarily responsible for your work."

Remember that the purpose of this IS to give her a chance to get better. It is not to begin walking her out the door. If you're thinking the latter, she will pick that up. And if you're reached that point, you don't need three months. You can document that in 2-4 weeks.

Brian

US41's picture

[quote="staflea"]Document, document and document again! Excellent advice. As to coaching? She's responded to nothing. Se goes on a course and comes back no better at all. I show her how to do something and a week later she's asking again. The frustration is she should never have been confirmed in the job but she manipulated the "bullying" accusation to keep a nice salary she does not begin to earn.

My frustration is that it'll take me up to 6 months to get rid of her and in the meantime my own performance is suffering as I have to do her job as well as my own. Grrrr.[/quote]

Be careful not to assume the worst before you have even gone to work on her. If you are determined to fire her, that will be the outcome, and you might hire someone that goes sour anyway and be right back at square one. Interviewing isn't perfect.

I prefer to enter into it assuming the coaching will work magic with them and hope things go well. But I keep records and assign dates etc in case it doesn't.

ashdenver's picture

[quote="staflea"]I show her how to do something and a week later she's asking again. [/quote]
I have run into people like this. It may be a learning disability rather than stubbornness or refusal to learn. Regardless of the reason, I think the behaviour can be addressed unilaterally.

"I showed you that last week. Where are your notes?"

"Have you checked your resources?" (We have a huge library of processes online.)

"What have you tried to do already to fix this?"

Turn it back to her rather than giving her the answer on a silver platter. "Teach a man to fish" and all that. Make her work for it. Let her learn that coming to you isn't the easy answer it's always been. Allow her to find out that you really do expect her to learn and you expect her to take some level of responsibility for that learning.

Of course, it's helpful if you can be proactive during some of this. The first time she says "how do I ..." tell her "I'll wait until you're ready to take notes before we review this together."

Keep in mind, too, that this way is somewhat painful in that we're teaching rather than answering. The process is longer and thus more frustrating for all sides concerned. But if she does eventually learn, think of how happy everyone will be that she's accomplished those things? If she doesn't learn, you can rest easy knowing you gave her every opportunity to learn through your patient tutelage and she made the decision to refuse to learn - that she essentially quit or fired herself.

bflynn's picture

[quote="US41"]Be careful not to assume the worst before you have even gone to work on her. If you are determined to fire her, that will be the outcome, and you might hire someone that goes sour anyway and be right back at square one. Interviewing isn't perfect.

I prefer to enter into it assuming the coaching will work magic with them and hope things go well. But I keep records and assign dates etc in case it doesn't.[/quote]

And here, you say it so much clearer than I did...Thanks for the clarification.

Brian

terrih's picture

Oooh... I have felt your pain. :cry:

[quote]Document, document and document again![/quote]

When HR was wrapping up the situation I was in that was similar to yours, the Director of HR thanked me "for keeping such good records." It's worth every pen stroke.

RichRuh's picture

[quote]When HR was wrapping up the situation I was in that was similar to yours, the Director of HR thanked me "for keeping such good records." It's worth every pen stroke.[/quote]

I agree. This is one of those times where you can do surprisingly little and still look like a hero to HR. There are enough non-Manager Tools managers that the bar is set really low...

--Rich

LouFlorence's picture

Staflea-

Think of this as a development opportunity! THis is no small mess to clean up. Also, doing it as professionally and quickly as possible will be a great credit to you.

Good luck & let us know how it goes!

Regards,
Lou

staflea's picture

An update on the first last stage coaching meeting (if you see what I mean).

The meeting seemed to go okay. She has accepted the targets and time frame she has been given - tried to kick back a bit with one but it is reasonable and that's what I explained. Lots of "when you don't do that then this happens" - what would we do without the feedback model? And at least in the meeting she seemed to get the message.

HR and my manager had both not wanted me to spell out the consequences of non-compliance as "you'll be fired" so I did it my way. "Look, you have to understand you can not continue with your current performance level - you must move on" must give her the message loud and clear.

Interesting that when she came out two people had conflicting impressions on how she appeared. My boss said he felt she had settled back to her work with a determined air but my colleague (my predecessor in the role and my equal in the structure of the department - yes the very one my report accused of bullying) felt she looked shell shocked.

The next day she had a hospital appointment - and even though they had cauterized her nose again (the reason for the sick leave - persistent nose bleeds) she did not call in sick but quietly got on with her work. She's even asking my colleague to help her learn new tasks!

But the proof will be in the targets - can she speed up, be accurate and move on?

Although I did have a coaching session a couple of days before the meeting from HR as to how best to deal with my report, and that was invaluable, I think the real confidence booster was MT - both the feedback on this forum and the MT basics. I see this as a last chance for her to improve, not the first stage in her dismissal thanks to your comments. I explained that she must see coaching comes not just from me or courses but others - and her reaction to her ex-boss is a positive step. Again from your comments and the coaching model.

Has it all changed in two days? Of course not! But at least there are signs she may have got the message - and if not I have the documentation and clear evidence I have gone through a very fair process if a P45 is the only answer.

In a month's time we'll have the official next meeting but in 2 weeks I shall take her aside again to get a progress report.

All feedback from you all is, of course, welcome.

bflynn's picture

Way to go you!

Keep the focus on her getting better. Keep that first in your mind, even though you know there's another possible outcome.

You're on the right track. Nice job.

Brian

US41's picture

You are doing a great thing for another human being: You are helping them to create the opportunity for success from what was otherwise the doom of impending failure. You have set down exactly what they need to do to succeed, and you'd be surprised how many people wish that their jobs had metrics associated with them that they could drive to succeed at instead of empty platitudes like, "You need a better attitude and to try harder."

Welcome to the top 1%: The One Eyed Men of Manager Tools. In the Land of the Blind, we are kings.

staflea's picture

My report resigned today - just as I was going discuss strategies in helping her to improve (she's already failed on one of the four points anyhow and showed no sign of speeding up), she gave me a letter of resignation. After I gently suggested she should sign it (I kid you not!) I accepted.

In chatting with her about her future plans I gently suggested that she may consider that a career outside IT might suit her better as she seemed to have some difficulty grasping certain skills (well all of them actually but I was being polite) and she denied this emphatically. She actually does not see herself as failing!

Oh well, she's off to temp and travel, so she tells me. Anyone in the Leeds area who is thinking of using a temp for tech support, let me know and I'll vet the names to ensure she's not the candidate! :)

Most of me is hugely relieved, and of course I now have to listen again to all the recruiting casts, but there's a bit of me that feels cheated to see if I could get her to respond. Perhaps not, on reflection.

jhack's picture

Thanks for the update.

And you never know - she just might flower elsewhere. It happens.

John

US41's picture

You're still a king. You confronted her lack of performance, and instead of her ending up fired by surprise, she saw you coming and was forced to make a difficult decision that was probably best for her.

No matter how you a spin it, you are a courageous manager who did the right things and the results you got were still positive.

Well done.