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I've been in the current company for several months. I have one report.

The problem is my report is underperforming. He doesn't meet his deadlines, he needs really a lot of time to accomplish most basic things and frequently doesn't. He promises to deliver something urgent "today" and then doesn't with no explanation whatsoever. In the last months, I frequently ended up performing his tasks for us to still meet deadlines and avoid being blamed for disasters. As a result, I worked really a lot.

After many conversations and efforts to make things easier to him and to coach him, I mentioned the situation to my boss... and had the impression he blamed me for "not finding the right way to work with" my report.

What is the best way to deal with that? I can hardly imagine working 14 h a day anymore.

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    Document in detail what's going on, explain the situation with your boss. You've only been there several months so you've never terminated someone for not working but that's where you're headed. – Dark Matter Mar 20 at 20:41
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It sounds like you're missing some basics of management:

  • Make expectations clear. "I need X by Y timeframe." or, "I need you to follow this policy." Or, "If you aren't able to do this, I need you to do that in order to let me know." If you're meeting in person, follow up with a matter-of-fact email. Some new managers shy away from being direct, because they're concerned about coming off as harsh. You should leave emotion and tone out of this - make it a direct, factual conversation. Ask the employee if they understand, or if they have questions. Keep it simple and clear.
  • Make consequences clear. I don't mean this in the sense of, "you will be punished if you don't do what I say" but rather in the sense of helping them understand the importance of their work. Make sure they understand the goals of the project or the company. Make sure they understand how not delivering something on time impacts others.
  • Understand your official performance management tools, and use them. Many employers will have a formal system or method for tracking performance - at the very least this may be an annual review. You don't want to wait a year to handle problems, so make sure you understand other processes - performance improvement plans, guidelines on official written notices, etc. Use them as necessary.
  • Separate yourself from your employee. If you constantly fix their mistakes and cover for their lack of delivery, well it's pretty clear why they haven't picked up the slack. In a sense, you do have responsibility for their work, but ultimately, your responsibility is for getting them to do their work not for doing their work yourself. In other words, yes - you're right - you shouldn't be working 14 hour days to cover for them.
  • Make sure your employee has the tools and resources they need to be successful. Managers need to "go to bat" for the team, and ensure they have what they need. This could take the form of process-related things like getting clear requirements, reasonable timeframes, or the ability to provide input into scope or method of delivery. It could also take the form of physical or company resources: the right PC or workstation, access to other staff as needed, and so on. It can also mean personal development resources: training, technical support, and so on.

In a sense, your boss is correct, you need to do what you can to "work with" your employee and get good work out of them. But you also need to consider that, at the end of the day, there are some people who just won't perform. The important point is, you need to make sure you are taking reasonable steps to get them to perform - and documenting those steps - so if it does get to the point where they're determined to be not fit for the job, you can support it with the case you've built over time by trying to help them.

Also - without sounding like I'm taking a dig at your own boss, it's worth pointing out that by your description, he isn't exactly doing a brilliant job, either. You may want to ask him (or others in the company, if appropriate) for resources to help you manage this person, in line with the above. For instance, my current employer has an internal training department that does one-on-one management counseling for new managers, in order to help them learn the ropes of leading other staff.

  • Sorry, dwizum, I think you missed some basics of my post. I wrote I tried everything possible to improve his performance. That means I did everything you listed. Everything apart from "Separate yourself from your employee" - I didn't want to have a f*ck up in my first weeks, so I took many things over. You can take the horse to the water, you can't make it drink (pardon my English). – user42357 Mar 20 at 20:27
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    @user42357 So what is your question, then? If you've tried every possible thing to get your report to improve, with no success, then by definition no improvements are possible. So you either fire this employee, or find a new job yourself. Or perhaps I'm not understanding your goal when you say "deal with"? – Upper_Case Mar 20 at 21:04
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You need to clearly tell him what he needs to succeed in the job, and lay out what might happen if he does not. Providing you have the authority to put him on a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan), you might need start there, or at least plan on going there quickly.

Bob, I need some changes in your work. When you promise that something will be done today, it needs to either be done today, or you need to come to me very quickly and let me know what your roadblocks are. And I need you to accomplish task X in 1 hour or less, not 4 hours. I am concerned about your performance, and I would like to see some improvement quickly. Do you think you can do that?

Be willing to offer additional training, if he asks (and that is appropriate), and be willing to remove roadblocks. But don't be willing to do his work just because he won't.

Alison at AskAManager has good advice about using direct language at this article: Sugarcoating feedback. There is also a lot of information about when to issue a PIP.

Update: It sounds like you've already tried the clear language, so it's time to move to the PIP. But since you're new, you need to do it properly. Therefore, you need to talk to your boss. Lay out what you've done, and what you think you need to do now. And ask for the proper procedures to follow company policy.

Boss, I have been very clear with Bob on what he needs to do, and he still is failing to even meet the basic expectations for the job. I would like to put him on a PIP, and if he doesn't improve quickly, have him moved out and replaced with someone who can handle the job. What are the policies for PIPs here, and can you guide me in this process?

  • Thanks. I've been reading Alison for years and I have given my employee straightforward negative feedback. – user42357 Mar 20 at 20:28
  • @user42357 Are you allowed to put him on a PIP? Because if not, you're being asked to do something without the tools to be successful. – thursdaysgeek Mar 20 at 20:30
  • I'm not sure. I really love this job. So I hate the thought I could be considered a trouble maker for bringing up problems. But I'm super tired after working so much too. – user42357 Mar 20 at 20:34

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