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I have a subordinate who is very technically gifted, and has been at the company a long time, however he responds badly to constructive feedback and I've tried everything to make our relationship work. He used to be my boss, which is in my view a particular sticking point.

The company is going through a transformation, moving from waterfall to agile, and as a result everyone is pushing to work in a more collaborative fashion. But this one particular employee does not want to work in an agile methodology, and even has gone as far as saying it is not his job to do so.

Despite trying several different methods, the sandwich technique, giving examples, purely focusing on positives, trying to work with others in the team so that this particular employee is understood better, after two years I'm all out of options and my manager is unsure of how to move forwards with getting my subordinate to accept the feedback provided.

My subordinate was recently described to me as intimidating, confrontational and is already on a written warning for getting angry in the office.

During the last 1-2-1, I suggested some actions he should consider, which resulted in him confronting the team he works with, until eventually the team decided that there was no problem. To get to the situation where he had enough information to intimidate the team, my subordinate emailed a number of people in red text and confronted one of the most placid members of the team.

My subordinate has also complained to HR about me saying I get angry with him, which I don't feel is the case, and asks for specific examples whenever I suggest how he should change the way he works, which I'm unwilling to give due to his nature of intimidating other employees.

I imagine the PIP route is still an option, my boss also suggested making it so my subordinate has to answer to my boss instead, but I don't see either of these scenarios as a possible solution.

Are there any possible alternative routes forwards with moving to a better place?

  • @JoeStrazzere I have tried, and in doing so the subordinate has walked out of meetings and confronted people there and then as he is intelligent enough to know who else was involved in the examples provided, or in other cases sent emails with lots of people CC'ed in on them, including those he thinks are involved. – professor of programming 웃 Mar 14 at 16:33
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If you're the manager, you need to manage. Don't give him 'actions to consider', but clearly lay out what he needs to do.

Alison, at AskAManager has a good reply today to a manager with a different problem: a manager that is micromanaging. But her answer works for this case too.

Your job is to manage Fergusia, and right now she’s doing her own job terribly. You need to step in as assertively as you would step in if she were blowing some other core piece of her job.

And

In doing this, you’re going to need to be very directive. This isn’t “maybe you could try a different way.” This is “to meet the expectations of your role, I need you to stop doing X and start doing Y.”

And

None of this is optional, for you or for Fergusia. She needs to manage effectively, period. And because your job is to manage her, you need to ensure she’s doing that — or you’re falling down on your job just as much as she is.

None of this means being harsh or angry, just be calm and factual. You do need to be clear: "This is what your role requires. Are you able to do this job?" If the answer is not yes, and the actions follow that answer, then a PIP would be the next step, to ensure you are being clear about the current requirements of the job as well as the consequences of not being able to do the current job.

Dwizum makes such a good point that it should be part of the answer:

The only thing I would add to this - which will be critically important if/when this goes south, is to document everything. Every one on one, follow up with an email outlining the feedback you gave. Every in person conversation, follow up with email, or at least document notes to yourself. Work with HR to understand documentation protocol for performance issues. If you have a performance management system that allows you to "officially" log any of this, start doing that immediately if you haven't yet.

  • The only thing I would add to this - which will be critically important if/when this goes south, is to document everything. Every one on one, follow up with an email outlining the feedback you gave. Every in person conversation, follow up with email, or at least document notes to yourself. Work with HR to understand documentation protocol for performance issues. If you have a performance management system that allows you to "officially" log any of this, start doing that immediately if you haven't yet. The fact that the OP has worked on this employee for TWO YEARS is astounding. – dwizum Mar 12 at 18:16
  • Also, think it's important to emphasize your last paragraph. It's critical that the feedback is delivered clearly, and factually - without emotion. Don't make this about who has the bigger temper. There are clear facts about performance that are at risk of getting lost if they're not delivered clearly, and documented! – dwizum Mar 12 at 18:18
  • @dwizum - both very good points, and I added both to my answer. – thursdaysgeek Mar 12 at 18:26
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My subordinate has also complained to HR about me saying I get angry with him, which I don't feel is the case, and asks for specific examples whenever I suggest how he should change the way he works, which I'm unwilling to give due to his nature of intimidating other employees.

I'm not sure why this is your problem. Your subordinate wants to make you believe that if you give them examples of what they have done wrong and how they can do better, then they will improve. So do that. It will be short-term at best, because there are 2 possible outcomes:

1) Subordinate realizes that they are doing something wrong, and has actual actionable tasks and examples that they can work on. They get better, great!

2) Subordinate finds out who "ratted them out" and takes action against that person. In which case they lied to you about why they asked for specific suggestions, and furthermore they are being disruptive in the work environment. At this point, you can probably make an easy case to HR for getting them fired immediately. If you want to mitigate the impact this might have on the other person, you could phrase it as "I noticed during your interactions with so-and-so, that this situation occurred", to make it about you and not about that person. Then, you take the flak.

Either way, your problem is solved quickly and efficiently.

  • This isn't the case, in trying to find out who ratted him out, he is upsetting an entire team and making the team feel like they can't give any feedback on how the work is going. – professor of programming 웃 Mar 12 at 18:38
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    @professorofprogramming웃 If he is actively contributing to the dissatisfaction of others, then axe him. – Ertai87 Mar 12 at 18:49
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Based on your comments, this person doesn't accept feedback and is willing to be belligerent and difficult to get his way. I wouldn't give any more chances; I would work with HR to fire him:

  1. After belligerently defending his way of doing things it's not realistic to believe he will change.
  2. Intimidating his team means he's causing lots of stress for his co-workers. Removing him tells the team you value them as well, and allowing him to continue sends the opposite message.

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