Demoted in Two Weeks
Thinking about it is harder than doing it.
I asked Fred (not his real name) for the secret to successful leadership and he talk about dealing with tough issues.
The way you address poor performance defines leadership.
Demoted in two weeks:
Fred took the CIO position of a large – highly visible and political – organization. Two weeks later he demoted a long time manager. Fred doesn’t look, sound, or act like an ogre. He’s mild mannered, even keeled, and smiles easily.
When I asked Fred for insights on dealing with tough issues he said, “Do it quickly.”
7 steps for quickly dealing with performance issues:
- Gather facts.
- Seek counsel if necessary.
- Make the decision.
- Inform all concerned parties.
- Don’t dance around issues.
- Get to the point quickly.
- Move forward.
It sounds harsh, but dealing quickly with performance issues is compassionate.
The demoted manager knew he was in over his head. He thanked Fred, stayed with the organization, and returned to the role he most enjoyed.
7 Tips for dealing with performance issues:
- Act with compassion not anger.
- Discern what’s best for the organization and the parties involved. Do they want a job or do they want to make a contribution?
- Push toward positive performance more than against negative. Define problems – focus on solutions.
- Determine if development is appropriate. Will you be glad if the under-performer is with your organization six months from now?
- Explore expectations. Are they fuzzy?
- Explain what progress looks like, if the under-performer stays with your organization.
- Follow through quickly. Long timelines drain urgency. If an issue is important enough to bring up, it’s important enough to address quickly.
“I should have dealt with it sooner.” (Overheard by a leader who put off dealing with a tough issue.)
Delay increases worry, stress, and frustration.
How can leaders answer their fear of dealing quickly with performance issues?
When is delay the better option when it comes to tough issues?
This crucially important for most HR people and the executives also.it is very timely for me personally. Thanks.
Thanks Abraham. Best for the journey.
An interesting post. Gather facts is very important in dealing with under performance issue. It is even more important to gather data on specified parameters. Once collected, there should not be any space to influence it. It is necessary to find out the source of information. Leaders should be careful about the reliability of source. I say so because of my own experience. When organisations ask for information about employees, there are many incompetent people hurry up to provide information based on what they feel. They provide information in mutilated form. Actually they get opportunity to develop relationship with the leaders. So, it is crucial to test the reliability of the source.
Secondly, I agree with you that “The way you address under performance reveals your leadership”. There are people who manage to stay in the organisation for longer time even without performance. They also become very close to some key people. They play key role in creating perception about competent people. They know that their ability to put others down can make them safe.
I think it is better to delay when you do not enough evidences. When you have enough evidences, then delay shows intention.
There are people who are smart enough in fudging. Leaders should have expertise to catch hold such devils. While dealing with under performance, leaders should know the limitation of systems and people. Many times, not all that is visible good is right. It could be opposite as well. Leaders should see invisible that can influence performance.
Good point Ajay. If you witness the performance issues that’s one thing. If you “hear” about them but don’t have evidence in front of you as to the original expected outcome and that person’s clearly defined role, then caution makes sense.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. Great addition to a challenging topic. Gathering information is one thing. Validating it is another.
I suspect the pervasiveness of NOT facing tough issues and hoping they will solve themselves is why the Peter Principle is a real and well know thing: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle
Thanks James. I’m glad you brought up the Peter Principle. Although I don’t know the specifics of the situation in this post, I suspect PETER had something to do with it.
It’s critical to know all the facts when it comes to tough issues, a simple over sight can cost one unnecessary pain and suffering, both financially and mentally.
Thanks Tim. Absolutely. Glad you added your thoughts today.
Great advice but when you’re middle management in a large company there are HR boundries, policy and culture that you must wade through which tends to slow things down.
Thanks Calvin. Perhaps dealing quickly with performance issues means starting the process early. Thanks for jumping in.
In two weeks, Fred knew everything about that manager’s performance, and the causes behind it? And knew that the manager could not be helped into better perfromance through coaching or training?? I find it hard to believe this was a great action showing true leadership.
Thanks Ann. The two week timeline is quite surprising. I didn’t ask specifics but assumed that some issues are so obvious as to warrant such actions. If I sense reluctance on your part, I don’t blame you.
Two things make this story interesting to me. One, is the temperament of the leader who is taking this action. He’s definitely not rash. The other aspect is the outcome of the radical action.
This post is spot on when it comes to church culture. “Delay increases worry, stress, and frustration.” That definitely sums it up for me.”
Thanks Dean. Nonprofits represent special challenges when it comes to confronting performance issues. I fear that ineptitude prevails. There is justified concern for people’s feelings. But, perhaps that concern becomes the cause of mediocrity when taken too far.
Great post Dan. I (and many of my colleagues) really enjoy your posts.
Tell me, what do you do if you are in Government and cannot ‘part ways’ with disengaged employees like you can in private enterprise. I have a friend who is the principal of a government school and has a very competent staff member. They do their job perfectly. However they have zero people skills, cannot work with others. They are toxic and do not buy in to the values of the school. This person has been through 8 team members who have declared they cannot work with them. If it was a private company they would have been moved on long ago. However, they have a permanent position and a job for life… any advice here? Thank you.
Thanks Troy. I feel the pain. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic solution? Ugh! Here are some ideas.
When you can’t get rid of toxic people:
1 – try minimizing them by moving them to the sidelines as much as possible. Keep them “busy” but doing things that don’t matter. Don’t put them on teams or assign them to projects that really matter.
2 – If you have several toxic people that you can’t get rid of, concentrate their toxicity by putting them all on team. Don’t spread them around.
3 – How about promoting or reassigning them to a role where their toxicity is a strength?
4 – Team them up with someone who compensates for their weakness.
5 – Ignore them and tell everyone else to do the same.
6 – Allow their input but don’t give them decision-making power (except on insignificant things)
7 – Confront them. How about a group intervention? If your friend doesn’t have the power to fire them, I hope they don’t have the power to get your friend fired either.
8 – Don’t fear them.
9 – Spend most of your team with people who have buy in.
10 – Keep moving the people who do buy in into roles of power.
What ideas do you have?
Gather facts but include the person being affected. Blind siding somebody without getting both side of the story is not a healthy way for an organization to approach the problem. Too often the problems do not reside in just one person. Sometimes dysfunctional traits in an employee is a reaction or symptoms to an unhealthy work environment.
Thanks Michael. Involving others in another interesting aspect to this conversation. Fred’s action seems unilateral. I didn’t ask him about it. I can add that he had a long and successful career with the organization where this happened.
One advantage is it establishes an expectation that everyone is expected to perform well.
In the large governmental organization I am in unilateral action is how problems are often handled by many supervisors. They gather “facts” and then take action. Typically the affected party is unaware until they are hit with sanctions and never asked for their side. It’s brutal and reenforces mistrust. Communication is the key. Mistrust will be inserted in the absence of communication. Good topic Dan. Good post Michael.
Thanks Norman. Glad you expanded the topic.
>> When is delay the better option when it comes to tough issues? <<
When there is a convergence of issues in an employees life (I think) its appropriate to allow space (delay) and support. Remembering that work is an important part of like, but not all of life. Death in family, marital issues, financial pressures,, these are all human issues that arise.. they are seldom timely! Providing some time and a path can be a high value step — and allow an otherwise good performer to "get back on his/her horse.." Restoration of an otherwise good performer inspires them, and the group. Setting expectations and not allowing open-ended delay is critical.
Thanks Ken. You’ve added yet another important aspect to this conversation. I sense your compassion. In this case, compassion may be a force of motivation in a person’s work experience.
Why was the long time manager a manager?
“he demoted manager knew he was in over his head.”
A common problem but an avoidable problem.
“He thanked Fred, stayed with the organization, and returned to the role he most enjoyed.”
I love it, but had management known what they were doing they could have avoided the problem.
Thanks Bob. Perhaps one of the challenges is promoting someone and having it not work out…it’s hard to back track, especially when you have legitimate concern for the person’s career.
Employers tend to reward their best performers with promotions. If a newly promoted employee fails to do his new well the employee should be encouraged and allowed to return to the position where he had job success. This should be made clear prior to the promotion. Of course if the employer hired and promoted based on competence, cultural fit, and job talent they would have few bad hires and fewer promotions that do not work out.
Thanks Bob. You remind me of the value of people changing jobs within an organization on a regular basis.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just act based on performance alone without having to concern ourselves with Affirmative Action or litigation issues? . . . something to think about.
Thanks Dianna. I suppose abuse has resulted in regulation. But, regulation seems to slow everything. Cheers
Dan, I am becoming increasingly convinced that you are mining our organization, like some fly on the wall- for topics! Another one that hit home, my friend! Best, Lori
Thanks Lori. Your comment affirms that in some ways we grapple with similar challenges. Best for the journey.
I have been guilty of waiting too long to take action with a problematic situation or an employee who is not a good fit. I want to share a funny story. I read this book on vacation in Florida one time and saw many traits of my colleagues in it. This book reflects the values of those who work hard at looking as if they work hard. I believe they are fooling some people. Get wise to their tricks for $3.95 at Amazon.com. “Hardly Working: The Overachieving Underperformer’s Guide to Doing as Little as Possible in the Office.” http://www.amazon.com/Hardly-Working-Overachieving-Underperformers-Possible/dp/0689874774.
As usual, a thought provoking post – thanks. While it’s one of the nice things about bringing in a consultant who can identify, usually within a couple of weeks, what the issue are and where they track back to, it’s also interesting to think about how a culture of addressing things within a shorter time-frame might be supported.