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Delivering Bad News

To help more of our readers with their crucial conversations, accountability discussions, and behavior change challenges, we introduced the Community Q&A column! Please share your answers to this reader’s question in the comments below.

Dear Crucial Skills,

How do you tell someone that they are no longer a fit for the demands of their current position? I need to tell an employee that they should step down into a lesser role or else they may end up losing their job due to poor performance.

Sincerely,
Stuck Manager

7 thoughts on “Delivering Bad News”

  1. There should be no surprises in performance management. The manager should have been apprising the supervisor on his performance since he first started working for him. You should have a folder full of performance (or conduct) instances where he didn’t complete projects to specification, on time, on budget, where he undermined employee performance, etc. I would show them to the supervisor and ask for his feedback. It should be something like, “I am ready to step down into a non-leadership position such as training specialists and not training manager.” HOWEVER: several years ago I lost 4 of my nieces and nephews in a terrible accident. Their father was committed and under suicide watch. I spent all of my time taking care of my cousins and couldn’t remember that I had work suspenses, a dog to feed, or to take the right exit home. My boss though that I had Alzheimer’s and that I should retire. I told him about my family situation. He told me to stop caring for everyone else, and to care for me. He also told me to talk to the employee assistance counselors. Soon I was my old productive self. Your employee may have problems similar to the ones that I had. Keep that in perspective.

  2. Agree, clear ongoing communication regarding performance,expectations and opportunities for improvement are needed. Educational offerings specific to this person’s role ought to be made available, such as time or compensation for conferences. EAP, as mentioned above, is also a great resource to utilize.

  3. I forgot to mention that the manager’s response to subpar performance and conduct should increase in force, start with oral counseling, letter of warning, letter of counseling, letter of reprimand, suspension from work without pay, etc. Otherwise you have no proof that the supervisors did these things, and you did anything about it, and YOU are at fault too. As I said at first, there should be no surprises in performance management.

  4. I agree with Grizzly Bear Mom, if the prior evaluations captured issues. Questions in this column have begged for assistance in addressing poor performance that prior superiors have not addressed in performance evaluations. (Remember, the Peter Principle is real, and all around us, and not everyone is strong enough to recognize it in themselves, or others.)

    Your planned approach should be to first understand how and why the change in performance has developed, and if those issues can be addressed to bring performance back to standard. If nothing can be improved, you should have options ready for your employee. The conversation should be focused on identifying the strengths the individual has compared to those required for the current job, and how those can be greater utilized in a different position. It does not have to be all negative. Making this focus on the value of the team- employee AND company will help.

  5. I agree with Grizzly Bear Mom – with some added comments. I was in the very position you are in. I had an executive assistant I inherited who had managed to avoid learning anything about Microsoft Office outside the bare minimum in MS Word. She would be in tears if she had to insert a table in a Word document, or assist with a slide in PowerPoint. She regularly hit up other exec admins to do for her what she was being asked to do – she’d been there over 30 years and most went along with her requests.
    However, she was REALLY good at knowing who was who in the community and was great at organizing meetings, communication, etc. Her old VP had preferred to do ‘all the work’ himself anyway (at least that’s what she told me), and she said she just felt so pressured to do anything other than organize meetings and keep/send out minutes, etc., that anything else overwhelmed her.
    We’d already had the crucial conversations, PIPs and coaching moments that were necessary over the previous year and a half. I had sent her to classes in MS Office – Word, Publisher and PowerPoint were the only products I expected competence in. I did all the work in Excel myself. She just was incapable of making any progress. I was leaving to go to another position; I knew her new boss and I knew what his expectations of her would be – and I had one last meeting with her to talk with her about it. I also knew that her new boss would fire her in a quick minute and not even consider the 30+ years of contributions she had already made to the company.
    I gave her a list of competencies that I knew he would expect and a timeline for achieving those competencies – it was much more than I currently expected of her – and I also knew that she would not be able to meet the requirements – no possible way. We had one last frank conversation about her value to the organization, we also covered the requirements of the executive assistant position and what the other exec admins did regularly and we discussed, and agreed, that those competencies were necessary.
    The next month, she informed me that she was moving to another position – on her own – she would fill a valuable administrative spot with our community clinic – where she could happily talk to folks when they came in and work in a world that was less technical and more comfortable for her.
    I spoke with her some months after she left; she was happier and less stressed out than she had been in years! – and she made the decision herself, so she felt great – she worked in that clinic for her final ten years, was a key component in its success, talking with contributing donors in the community, organizing meetings, focus groups and golf outings for her director, contributing to the betterment of the poor and underserved in our community, where her heart lay – and she remained a good friend of mine to the end. Not all stories can end like this Cinderella story, but some can….and do.
    Set the expectations, work within the PiP process, be understanding, but don’t settle for less than you need – always give the person an option!! – let him make the decision himself…..or you will need to make it and you can’t feel guilty about it.

  6. I had to let go of someone who could not handle the pace of the workload. When I had the conversation he was relieved. He did not want to give up but knew he could not do it. I told him that this would be the best worst job he could have. It taught him he could do the work just at a different pace. I was direct with him and gave him the facts.

    I have had many other conversations like this and sticking to the facts helps. If you can, give the person a day or two to think about what you said in order for them to change.

  7. Baseline assumption is that the position changed, not the employee. The employee may not be aware that they are no longer meeting the position expectation. I would describe the expectations of the position and share with the employee where there skills are a matchup. I would acknowledge that the position has evolved and so has their skills. After sharing the expectations of the position, I would share the observation of their skills. If they are not aligned, we have a performance gap. The employee may have the solution on how to close the performance gap….learn a new skill, take a different position.

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