15

Short version:

We hired two developers thinking they were senior but are actually junior, how can we help them to improve without hurting their feelings?

Long version:

My company is having problem hiring new persons for my team. In less than a year they hired 2 senior developers that in the day to day life proved to be more of a junior.

Now we have this situation where these guys think they are seniors because hired with such title and pretend to do everything as they please because they know what they are doing (they don't).

I proposed to my managers to avoid to give such titles to the new hires and let the time decide where they position themselves. So that if we hire someone that looks like a senior but proves to be a junior we can easily pair him with a more experienced developer to learn the job, without hurting his pride or having to do a step back and getting in the awkward situation where we are forced to confrontate with him on the matter.

The problem I'm trying to find a solution for is the situation with these two persons.

They were welcomed in the company with high expectations and initially we even gave them freedom of action, one of them was even told by his manager that he would have guided a team.

Now we are living with these two developers that aren't improving because they think they are the top and that don't accept any help for the same reason.

How could we change the situation so that they can improve and become useful members of the team?

  • 16
    Now we are living with these two developers that aren't improving because they think they are the top and that don't accept any help for the same reason. This sounds like a bad attitude for an employee of any level. No one should be so cocky as to refuse to accept help or look for ways to improve. Have you made them aware of their shortcomings in a performance review? That would probably be a good place to start. – AffableAmbler Jun 28 '18 at 22:53
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    Does your responsibilities include teaching and mentoring other coworkers or seniors? Or are you doing this because you feel compelled to help this person? – DarkCygnus Jun 28 '18 at 23:01
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    If you are their boss and you won't use discipline, then you are the one failing. – Kilisi Jun 29 '18 at 4:41
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    "Hurt their feelings"? What about paying them too much for their skill set and hurting the feelings of everyone around them who has NOT BETRAYED THE COMPANY? – TomTom Jun 29 '18 at 6:47
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    Give them a performance review, set them a task where they will be challenged; "As a senior developer, we need you to train the junior developers in this area, so we can boost productivity" or "As a senior developer, please can you look at this project and report back to the management team where improvements can be made and show us how we can improve the product across the board." – 5202456 Jun 29 '18 at 9:42
19

If resetting expectations isn't an option and the skill gap is too significant, the normal option is to let the employee go. In most places, going from "senior" to "junior" will result in a whole host of problems, such as:

  • Do you reduce pay? Most people won't want a pay cut but most "seniors" are paid more than "juniors"
  • Hurting that individual's credibility on the teams they are on is pretty much guaranteed
    • Barring exceptional communication skills, you can't really avoid hurting someone's pride in this type of situation either unless they are aware and acknowledge the skill gap. But you've said that's not the case.
  • Building resentment from the employee, particularly if they disagree about the junior vs senior assessment

The first step here normally is ensuring the "seniors" understand and believe they are not performing as needed. If you've tried that, and cannot, the next step is basically communicating clear expectations and holding them to them.

That being said, there are some observations here, too:

  • Your interview process needs work if this is a repeat situation
  • Your team morale will suffer the longer you have "seniors" in positions of influence, who are not, and this is amplified the more obvious it is

If it's a common enough occurrence, this is one reason to look into doing probationary periods, depending on your locale.

5

You fire them. And you stop caring about people that take jobs they are unqualified to do.

You rather start caring about everyone else. Developers that get paid less than the "seniors" you hired but do the work, for example. Developers who do not lie on their resume (and yes, you do not hold yourself out as a senior developer without some solid credentials).

Stop caring about the loosers that steal your funds. Fire them.

  • 2
    My company is having problem hiring new persons [...]. In less than a year they hired 2 senior developers that [...] proved to be more of a junior. -> A: You fire them. So, basically, you recommend that they duplicate the (same failing) hiring process? – OldPadawan Jun 29 '18 at 6:56
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    That is an unrelated problem. Getting rid of the people is step one- hiring COMPETENT replacements another and obviously that is a recruiting problem. But that is not the question here. – TomTom Jun 29 '18 at 6:59
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    But OP says: How could we change the situation so that they can improve and become useful members of the team?. Firing them could be an option, but, as it seems, not the goal OP wants to achieve. IMHO, you miss the target here. – OldPadawan Jun 29 '18 at 7:01
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    @TomTom I'm not blaming them, they didn't lie on the resumé, they were hired because they worked in a quite popular company and decided to switch to follow their team leader that came to work for us as well. It's an HR and managers fault if they hired them blindly. Now I'd like to find a way to help them. – Nebulae Jun 29 '18 at 8:05
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    @TomTom To add, being their fault doesn't mean they are bad people - but everybody has to go into a job expecting that not meeting the standard, means not keeping the job. Firing them isn't saying they were maliciously pretending to be what they aren't, it's simply that their skills do not match the requirements for whatever reason. It can be HRs fault, but the result is the same - don't keep them. – Bilkokuya Jun 29 '18 at 11:27
5

First stop worrying about hurting their feelings. That is part of what got you here. Performance issues need to be addressed immediately when they surface not let linger for months because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings. The sooner you address a performance problem, the more likely it is that you will be able to fix it. Anytime you have a performance problem you are likely to hurt someone's ego, nobody likes to be told they are not measuring up.

So you have two options at this point and both involve hurting their feelings.

First is to have a performance meeting with each individually. This is where they are told exactly how badly they are performing with evidence. They are told this performance is in no way acceptable. They are told exactly what they have to do to fix the problem and given a time-frame to fix it. They are told that they no longer have some of the privileges they had, that all code must be reviewed, that they no longer have access to production (if they do), etc. take away whatever privileges they might have as seniors that you would not give to juniors. Tell them you are going to take away the title Senior but not adjust their pay. They are told (not hinted at) that if they do not fix it they will be fired. Put them on a formal, written PIP (Performance Improvement Plan).

One of the things they need to fix is their attitude. This is the first, most critical fix. If this does not change in 30 days, then out the door. The performance problems of getting to be more senior will take longer so give them 30 days to show improvement, but 6 months to a year to get get to the level you want them at, what you need to see is actual skills improvement over a period of time. Tell them what training/mentoring you will offer them to get there.

While they are on the PIP, start working on how you can fix your recruitment process. Based on people I have worked with in the past, it is possible to get off a PIP (yes I have seen it happen) but the attitude change (believing they really aren't as good as they think they are) has to happen and that rarely does. So most people on a PIP don't really try to fix the problem.

Now teaching someone senior skills who doesn't have them is time-consuming. You can't get there in 30 days. If you need real seniors as soon as possible (or if you think these people are not going to be salvageable), the best option is to fire them as quickly as you can. Talk over how to do this legally with your HR team or with a HR consulting firm or employment lawyer versed in the firing laws of your country to make sure you do it correctly.

This might help you in terms of defining why they are not yet seniors for your meeting and it might help you in changing your hiring process: https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/14914/whats-the-difference-between-entry-level-jr-sr-developers/14972#14972

1

Normally I would suggest replacing them but if your company is having hiring problems I guess that may be easier said than done.

If they, as you say, "don't accept any help" then training them might not be do'able but maybe try scaring them a little bit. Put them on a personal improvement plan and tell them that if they don't shape up that their employment will be at risk of termination. Hopefully that'd scare them enough to make them more malleable. If not then they're probably a lost cause.

1

It should be proper on boarding process and clear expectations from the company but in short - you can't help them if they have bad attitude or hired for wrong position.

It seems that your recruitment process has serious drawbacks:

What you can do:

  • Performance reviews - talk about company expectations and concerns. Discuss and agree what needs to be done, skills gained, behavior improved in the certain period of time. If not, this could lead to termination.
  • 2
    First of all, probabition period. – gnasher729 Jun 29 '18 at 8:56

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