Dear Dan: I Never Do Enough
I am struggling at the moment with one team member. It feels like I do so much for her and it’s never enough.
I provided so much positive feedback and when I need to give corrective feedback, she can’t handle it and feels criticized. She is disorganized, constantly late, and unprepared. She is also causing other team members frustration. I experience her as very needy and manipulative.
Dear Never Enough,
This person is doing more damage than you might imagine. She’s holding your team back, wasting your time, and drains everyone’s energy. You have three options.
#1. Reassign her to a job she is capable of doing.
#2. Redesign her current job so she can succeed.
#3. Manager her out with kindness.
Option #3 seems like the only viable choice. This is the first time in a Dear Dan post I have suggested termination. Typically I accept the challenge of designing creative options for readers to consider. In this case, I suggest you begin the termination process.
If I may suggest an awkward idea. Persistent poor performance is a management problem, not an employee problem. Yes, you’ve tried to make a difference for this person, but admit it. It hasn’t work.
Stop wasting time, energy, and resources doing things that aren’t working. Establish consequences for failure that include termination.
Trying to control things you can’t control adds heat to frustration. Accept that you can’t force this person to step up. Do your best to lower emotional frustration. It’s harming you and it’s not helping your poor performer.
Ruinous compassion harms people and organizations.
Whatever you do, keep the best interest of your employee, team, and organization in mind. It’s not in the best interest of your employee to tolerate poor performance.
You have my best,
What suggestions do you have for Never Enough?
At some point every manager has to assess whether the team member is capable of performing to an acceptable standard in the role, and hence investment, or re-assignment / termination. I agree with Dan in that it is the best approach for the organisation and the individual.
Your are a leader and manager, not a social welfare worker.
Ask yourself the question .. if you knew what you knew about the person and they applied for the role .. would you hire them? This often helps you make up your mind.
Thanks Rob. What a challenging question. And I think in many situations, useful. Thanks for adding it to this conversation.
zero based thinking.. excellent suggestion.
Sometimes we see the situation so clearly we are hopeful that the employee does also and will simply self-opt out by resigning — which would be great but almost never happens. As noted, the employee is either not able to, or not willing to do the work. Either reality is unsustainable. No one benefits by keeping a poor performer in such a damaging situation.
Thanks Mary Ellen. It’s a hard decision and hoping someone else will make it feels like a good option. When you say “no one benefits” we have to include the poor performer, as I’m sure you do.
I see the point of no return based on the efforts made by Manager to help the individual as shown above. There comes a time in life we must stand on our own to feet and do what is required, if we can’t comply, then “see you later”, babysitting went out the door when we matured hopefully. “Enough is enough when the limit has been reached.
Thanks Tim. You’re surprisingly direct this morning. However, the babysitter metaphor is useful. We mistakenly think we care when in truth we may be enabling.
I have seen too much babysitting and Toleration in my lifetime “One bad Apple does ruin the Barrel”. Lack of accountability is in bad shape.
Are you (the manager) part of the problem. Your stated…”I provided so much positive feedback….
Did you mislead the employee? Were you acting too much like a friend, family member, or parent?
Should you have provided some “tough love” long ago.
What can you learn about yourself from this experience?
Thanks Paul. Tough situations are powerful opportunities for self-reflection. It’s easy for erring on the side of compassion to cross the line and become coddling. I think one rule concerns progress. Are they making progress or are they stuck and not trying.
A person making progress usually deserves second chances. But, even then, we need to have confidence they can become competent. And I suppose they need to have the same confidence.
If this behavior is allowed, eventually your star performers will get to a point where they are tired of watching this employee continue to “get away” with these bad behaviors and start looking for something different. I agree with Dan, it is time to manage this individual out. This may be the wake up call they need to get themselves together for their next adventure in their working life.
Thanks Brandi. The wake up call is important. Perhaps this person won’t benefit from a termination. BUT, the people who see that you believe in growth and performance will be encouraged… if this situation is handled with kindness.
Sometimes people are in the wrong seat on the bus. In this case, as a manager, it is your job to get them into the right seat.
Sometimes people are on the wrong bus. In this case, as a manager, it is your job to get them off the bus as quickly as possible. You might think that you are doing them a favor keeping them on the bus, but you are not. They are not a fit – they know it and you know it. They will be happier on the right bus.
Thanks Paul. The bus metaphor is fitting. I also note your sense of urgency to get them off the bus. Sometimes leaders higher too fast and fire too slow. I’ll go back to the principle of progress and passion. If a person is making progress and is passionate about their performance it’s probably appropriate to work with them. When passion and progress are missing…look for a new bus.
The hard spot is when you see passion, but no progress. No passion and no progress is much easier.
Have you addressed this specific issue with the employee? Sometimes a simple conversation to address the problem can be very effective. She may not know how you feel about this and therefore has no motivation to correct her attitude/performance. Perhaps this dilemma could be used to help her grow as an employee if she is already a strong performer in other areas?
Thanks LaTia. What a wise comment. I made the assumption that this employee knows what her manager thinks. If you begin a termination process and it’s a surprise to the employee, you didn’t serve them well.
I would ask you if she produces quality work aside from these traits? The reason I ask is these are all symptoms of ADHD. ADHD impacts Executive Functioning skills which links to the disorganization, constantly late and unprepared. The taking even gentle feedback as criticism is common in rejection dysphoria which is also an ADHD symptom. I cant speak to the manipulation piece… But thought I would provide some additional context for folks to think about. ADHD is commonly undiagnosed in adults, especially women. And, I also want to be clear that having ADHD isn’t an excuse to perform poorly and not meet standards. However it may require additional support.
This person sounds like the classic issue where she is suffering from borderline personality disorder. Such persons tend to be highly emotional and therfore tend to be irrational.
However, when they are able to ‘function’ they can be quite productive.
I wonder if this has to do with expectation management. Has this employee been hired to do the current job OR was hired some time ago with low expectations but the job morphed into one with high expectation. If it is the former, training and coaching might be helpful. If it’s the latter, it is most likely a hiring problem and all parties will be better off with an honest discussion. The employee then may come up with an amicable solution by self.
My chief perspective on this type of situation comes from my years as a training director in a local government agency. I know from colleagues in the private sector that these practices are not exclusive to government, but that’s where my personal experience lies.
More times than I could count, underperforming employees were referred to my unit for “more training” or “additional training” even though it was well-documented that the employees in question had been just as adequately trained in pertinent areas as the well-performing employees. I finally developed the “if their life depended on it” standard: If the employee demonstrated during training that they could perform their work tasks if their life depended on it, then anything less was a matter of motivation, not training. Many managers would rather fall back on the “more training” dodge instead of applying standards of performance in evaluating whether chronically under-performing employees should eventually be “given the opportunity to excel elsewhere.”
One government organization with which I am personally familiar has repeatedly tried exercising your “Option #1” and “Option #2” with chronic underperformers who should have been terminated long ago. They continually move these employees from assignment to assignment, vainly searching for a job that these employees can (or will) actually perform at some satisfactory level. Sadly, in a few cases there is no longer any pretense of making these people productive; they have simply been moved into positions where it seems they can do the least possible damage to the organization’s work.
Obviously, the most serious harm these practices often do is to the morale of the other employees who must “take up the slack” of the underperformers, see the underperformers get by with doing far less work, and having to correct the mistakes that the underperformers make (often to the detriment of getting their own work done).
To cite just one specific example: One of my friends who works in local government was was telling me of a recent case where the payroll office questioned the amount of overtime being paid to a clerical employee in a local government department. It turned out that the employee (another chronic underperformer who had been shuffled from job to job over nearly two decades) was having a hard time keeping her work caught up, and her supervisor had authorized an inordinate amount of overtime to allow her to get her work done. This employee already had the lightest workload in her section, and no other employees there had needed overtime to get their work done. In reality, she was being financially rewarded for her poor performance! Although the matter was referred for review, no corrective action was taken against the employee (or the supervisor). My tax dollars at work!
This is very tough, managing isn’t for the faint at heart, however, I do like LaTia’s comment as well, it is possible she isn’t self-aware. Some don’t do better, because they don’t know better. Maybe she could benefit from how others see her, some type of 360 self assessment perhaps…If this is unsuccessful then you have to terminate has you’ve been given no choice, business first, people always….
What an incredibly spot-on column that I wish all managers could read, along with comments from employees who have had to tolerate poor performers.
Managers need to realize they have an obligation to their team to deal with this for the good of the team. The poor performer is very likely not operating in a vacuum, and their poor performance is affecting more than just the manager.
Needing assistance, training or an accommodation for a disability is one thing, but when the poor performance persists, management needs to act.
If the person feels criticized, then the manager needs to do a much better job of describing not only the poor performance, but what the expectation is, what is needed for improvement, the impact on others of their poor performance/bad behavior, a deadline for improvement, and consequences. That should be all the motivation needed for someone who wants to do the job. For those that continue performing poorly, continue with bad behavior and manipulation, they will know the consequences.
Not dealing with this problem will lead to much bigger problems such as unfounded complaints used as excuses and upheaval within a team.
I am strongly considering early retirement because bad behavior, poor performance, manipulation and outright lying have been tolerated for over 3 years now. Letters of reprimand, repeated re-training and assistance have turned into coddling and has led to unjustified complaints to excuse blatant bad behavior.
At some point, this tolerance becomes very clear to a team.
what about using a publicly located whiteboard with everyone’s goals?
so its clear when things are/ are not getting done? it does sound like
with so much positive enthusiasm/comments, it will be a surprise to her
if there is dissatisfaction.
mental health and work is a very sparse area for ideas that work… long ago a guy named Richard Farley shot up his company and some of the employees in silicon valley. everyone saw it coming. but he could not be forced to go to therapy/get help.
She may be ready for a “Tell me what your understanding of your job is” conversation.That way you can hear from that person what she sees as her responsibility, from the moment she arrives until she leaves. Ask questions, but refrain from comment as she describes her day. When she’s finished, than you say, this is what I am hearing: Describe back to her exactly what you heard her say. She may be surprised to hear back when you are stating without a glimmer of criticism.
Then, you can say, something like, “Do you like your job?” If she says she does, then you might say, “My observation has been that when people like their work they show up, early or on time.” Let her talk. The more she can talk about her job, the more she can see what she’s resisting– that she is unhappy. Then you can talk options. The key is not to keep a person in a job where they are performing poorly, and don’t enjoy being there, when another person would relish the job as a great experience and opportunity.
With employees like this you need to take steps to where they have the opportunity to step up or fire themselves. Meet with the employee, making it clear what it will take to keep their job and a date that they have to meet for improvement. Have them confirm that they understand what is expected of them. Then, if they fail to meet the agreed upon benchmarks, they have fired themselves and you have the confidence that you gave them every opportunity to step up and can move forward.