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I'm the general manager of a restaurant in a franchise and I've held this position for about 6 months. The company hired me from outside the corporation so I'm still learning about the business.

As the general manager, I'm completely responsible for the restaurant, but I rely on my assistant manager and team leads to handle things while I'm not there.

The problem is that my assistant manager isn't a very good employee, in my opinion. I've tried to appeal to him that we're part of a team. He doesn't seem to care about the job and I have no idea why he was promoted to assistant manager. It's past the point of not trusting him to do anything on his own. Recently, I stayed very late in the restaurant counting inventory. I count it instead of him because several times he has messed up the count. Well after counting it twice I couldn't understand why it was off the expected amount. This is a big problem because it looks like we're not making the expected profit and I would need to explain to upper management what happened. Two days later I found out that the assistant manager let another store borrow food, but never took note of it or told me.

Another thing that recently happened was he didn't have a large catering order ready for a customer. She had to wait 20 minutes and even then he forgot to give her the proper food...twice! The night before I specifically asked him if he wanted me to come in early to help him, but he said he had it under control.

I've tried to work with him and I've given him warnings. My district manager has been briefed about his behavior and performance, but she continues to tell me to just work with him to improve. My district manager also kinda puts the blame on me when things go wrong, even though most of the time the reason is him. If I mess up I take full responsibility for it, but a lot of the issues arise due to my AM. When something happens, my district manager wants to know "how I'll improve it in the future". However, my hands are tied from firing the person that is causing issues.

I'd love to tell the district manager that I'll give more oversight to catering orders, but I'm so overworked as it is. I need a team of good people that I can delegate to.

My Question: How can I convince my district manager to let me fire my assistant manager? She wants improvement and this seems like my only option going forward to improve the store.

  • 64
    you're stating that you're blocked from firing the person, but you're also asking how you can convince your boss to let you fire them. Can you explain what the block is? Why do you think you're being blocked? If someone is telling you that you can't fire him, are they giving reasons? Or explaining what the criteria for firing are? – dwizum Jun 5 at 19:10
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    @dwizum My district manager hasn't directly said "you can't fire him", but if I bring it up she changes the subject to improving him, which I've already tried numerous times. She played a part in hiring him so I think she just wants to save face regarding hiring him. – Chris Jun 5 at 19:16
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    @sf02 I don't have a replacement because replacements are trained over the course of a month. It's also typically done at the restaurant that they'll work at. I can't begin training a new employee while the current employee is working there. He will know he's the replacement. – Chris Jun 5 at 19:21
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    When she has brought up "improving" him, have you pitched a performance improvement plan to formalize that? I'm just wondering if she is suggesting this to you and you aren't reading between the lines. – Myles Jun 5 at 20:01
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    How have you tried to improve his performance? All I can see in your question is “I've tried to appeal to him that we're part of a team... I've tried to work with him and I've given him warnings”, alongside a long list of mistakes he's made. Have you talked to him non-judgmentally and non-resentfully about his mistakes and their impact on you? It seems like your manager wants to you help this guy improve his performance. Maybe your manager has asked a question on here about how they can get you to try to improve this guy's performance. – Paul D. Waite Jun 6 at 9:19

11 Answers 11

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How can I convince my district manager to let me fire my assistant manager?

I think your best bet is to build up a written paper trail of each occurrence, where you sit down with the asst. manager and have them sign it. Be sure its clear what the issue was, and what your expectations are going forward. Make the improvements measurable when possible.

Do this a few times (3 or so).

Then bring the topic of dismissal up again with your DM and see how they respond with written evidence.


If you get the same response, "just keep working with them", you then have 2 choices -- deal with it or move on to a more professional organization. You are responsible for the performance of the store, and you should be able to control the staff, specifically when they continuously show lack of willingness to improve.

Note: For the purpose of this answer I am assuming you have legitimately tried to work with your employee in good faith to make them better.

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    Agreeing, I just want to add that there is a third choice: Fire him (if the situation continues). And see what happens. Imho that's better that moving directly to another job. – Helen Jun 5 at 20:09
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    Even if you're not dealing with a unionized workforce, it's best to behave as if you are. Use progressive discipline. Respect the rights of the employee. – Malisbad Jun 5 at 22:32
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    So, in summary, a mismatch of responsibility and authority. OP can't be responsible for managing the staff if they don't have the authority to manage the staff. – R. Schmitz Jun 6 at 9:31
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    What if the AM won't sign anything? My union would frown upon me signing such a document. – Gertsen Jun 6 at 12:39
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    @Gertsen Then in the place of the employee signature I would write employee present but refused to sign. – Mister Positive Jun 6 at 13:20
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Float the idea of a Performance Improvement Plan by your boss. Ask if you two can decide on a set list of goals and progress improvement areas for the AM. When/if the AM fails to improve those things listed in a set amount of time, then you and your boss agree the AM should be removed from duty.

If your boss outright shoots this idea down, perhaps freshen up your resume/CV and start working on an exit strategy.

  • 1
    Good answer! A Performance Improvement Plan is the formal way to work with the underperforming employee to try to get him to do better. Your HR person probably can give you the paperwork you need. AND: Try to identify somebody you can promote to this job after you succeed in getting this guy off staff. – O. Jones Jun 5 at 21:28
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    "Float the idea of a Performance Improvement Plan by your boss" Don't float it. Just do it. The OP is the manager of the restaurant. At the end of the day, he manages those employees. A formal PIP both puts the AM on notice that the OP is serious, and sets out exactly what's expected, and criteria by which improvement will be judged. That's good for all involved. Hopefully the AM picks things up. If not, the OP can either fire or demote (again: the OP is the manager) or take it up with his/her boss. – T.J. Crowder Jun 6 at 13:40
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    @T.J.Crowder The OP's boss has already told him he can no remove the AM. if the Op were to construct a method to remove the AM with out the consent of his boss, it could end very poorly for him. From dismissal of the PIP or his own dismissal for insubordination. – jesse Jun 6 at 14:06
  • @jesse She already gave him permission to put the employee on a PIP, though - she told him to work with him to improve his performance, and a PIP is literally just a formalized method of doing so. It's right in the name, after all. ;) – nick012000 Jun 7 at 13:19
  • @nick012000 that is absolutely a fair point. However, typically PIP's are put in placed to give a business just cause to letting someone go. His boss as told him firing the AM is not an option. Which is why this could be dicey for the OP, and they should make sure they get "buy in" from the boss first. – jesse Jun 7 at 13:43
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The best managers help their direct reports to become their best workers

If you want to convince your boss that this person needs to be let go, show her that you have done everything you can to try to help solve the problem. Show her that there is nothing that can be done to salvage this person, by trying your best to salvage this person. Identify the issues and come up with a plan to solve them.

Are there any policies you could put in place to safeguard the process from user error? Is there anything you could do to help this employee become more organized? These are the kinds of things a senior manager would like to hear from a junior manager who is facing a challenge.

Is he disorganized? Develop an organizational strategy. Is he lazy? Ensure that every assignment has clear expectations set, and make sure that there is accountability and documentation. It might be as simple as a blank 2 column form, with one column for the task assigned, and another column for the date and time it was completed.

Whatever the issues that arise, your goal as a good manager is to prevent what can be prevented, and have a plan for whatever can't.

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    Indeed. The goal shouldn't be to get the AM fired, The goal should be to help the AM grow into an asset for the organization and reward him for doing so accordingly. Firing or demoting is what you do when you haven't managed to reach that goal. – T.J. Crowder Jun 6 at 13:43
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    +1. I really like this answer because I've been there. My somewhat new employee was turning to me to solve problems he could have solved. My normal responses amounted to expecting improvement (i.e., soft guidance from me). When I realized that was not working, I was blunt (rare for me). He became one of the best employees ever, not because of fear, but empowerment. – donjuedo Jun 6 at 19:18
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    Some people won't put on the effort expected from themselves and are thus beyond saving, though. – Marc.2377 Jun 7 at 2:25
  • @marc.2377 while this is true, you won't know until you try. – Lumberjack Jun 7 at 3:40
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My Question: How can I convince my district manager to let me fire my assistant manager? She wants improvement and this seems like my only option going forward to improve the store.

Don't try to fire the employee, ask to have him re-located instead.

First you need to demonstrate to your district manager why this particular employee is not a good fit for your store. Give her all of the examples of where the employee has harmed the business and the actions that you took to try to correct and improve the employee. Explain why you feel that you can no longer work with this employee and suggest a change of scenery.

If the district manager hired this employee and doesn't want to fire him, you can suggest that the employee be moved to another restaurant under the district manager's umbrella. This way, you don't have to worry about firing the employee and the district manager can continue to try to save face about hiring them without it affecting your restaurant.

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    I heard they do this with bad teachers - just swap them between schools. So they get your bad employee, and you get their bad employee. – Evorlor Jun 6 at 4:38
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    @Evorlor And sometimes in a new environment it turns out they weren't a bad employee after all. – Tim B Jun 7 at 8:33
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    Sort of like trading an underperforming baseball or football player to a new team. It can reinvigorate a career by giving a guy a new environment. – Keith Jun 7 at 16:22
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Ask him why he has no motivation. Talk to him. I wonder...is he simply overqualified for the job, or feel it's beneath him? Maybe he feels he should make more money? Maybe he's been there forever and simply has grown bored. Find out why.

One poster above mentioned giving written warnings/incident reports. I'd be willing to bet that you humiliate him a few times by giving him those warnings and he will be leaving on his own. Is that a bad thing? At worst, as mentioned, you now have a paper trail on him. When's his next performance review? Don't go easy on him on it.

How about demoting him? Can you do that, and then hire a new Assistant Manager or promote a different person?

7

This is as much about your District Manager as the Assistant Manager.

Others have rightly mentioned documenting the problems. One thing I don’t see much discussed in answers is your District Manager’s relationship to this person. In comments you indicated you think she had a hand in hiring him. Given this aspect, try to find out his good qualities and what she perceived them to be and document those as well. How you present your case will be the difference between, “You really screwed up in hiring that guy” and, “It’s unfortunate that all that potential has not materialized.”

Once you understand what your predecessors in the company saw in him, you build the narrative on top of the list of grievances. The key point here is to acknowledge what they liked about him and then tie to how that potential has fallen short.

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FTMFA, with apologies to Dan Savage.

I'm surprised that nobody has answered this with, "Just fire the m'er f'er already."

Do it and ask the district manager for forgiveness later. Or not. After all, "My district manager hasn't directly said 'you can't fire him', but if I bring it up she changes the subject". Okay, change the subject yourself and ftmfa.

Be ready to know who you're going to promote. And do it.

4

The first situation you described sounds fairly serious. It sounds to me like it's one step away from stealing, the only difference is that he let another store "borrow" the inventory, rather than him letting himself "borrow" inventory directly (also, did you confirm with the other store that they borrowed the inventory? Maybe he was stealing!)

In any case, you should document the steps you took to try to improve this assistant manager, and present the document to your boss for review. Subsequently, your boss has two choices:

  1. Your boss accepts you've done your best, and allows you to fire this assistant manager.

  2. Your boss thinks you can do better and asks you to continue trying to improve them.

In the second case, you should ask for suggestions on things you haven't tried (since it seems like you've tried everything you can think of). Then your boss has two choices:

  1. They can suggest something, and then you should do that and report back if it's still a problem.

  2. They can not suggest something. This usually means they can't think of anything either. Other forms this case can take include the "You were hired because we thought you're a good manager, are you saying you don't know how to manage people?" In which case, this means you're not getting rid of this person for whatever reason.

The issue with the second outcome is that, if the other person is making mistakes, you've shown they're making mistakes, and you're being blamed for their mistakes, there is some sort of favouritism going on between you, your boss, and your assistant manager, where your boss thinks the assistant manager is more competent than you are to do your job. In which case, I would put my boss's money where their mouth is and find another job, and allow the assistant manager to be promoted to full manager (or allow another manager to be brought in, "below" the assistant manager, in that the problems will be that manager's fault and not the assistant manager's still, and the cycle will repeat). The restaurant will certainly fail, but you won't be a part of it and it won't be your headache anymore.

3

If you can't work with the AM, can't help the AM improve and can't fire the AM, there is another option: work around them.

Assign their duties and authorities to other people. If AM can't remember catering orders, let someone else take care of them. If AM can't track inventory movements, make someone else responsible for that. Now those people don't have enought time anymore for their actual work? Well, seems like when AM doesn't have anything else to do, then they should help out wherever help is needed.

2

Look to yourself first. I sense you are not approaching this correctly.

You were hired from outside.

The AM you are complaining about may feel they should have been given your job. You don't know what they were like before you joined and you don't seem to refer to this. You need to establish if there has been a change in the AM's attitude since you became their manager. Discuss this with your SM. You may need to smooth ruffled feathers with the AM.

You talk about wanting to fire the AM, and being prevented from doing so, but you haven't asked your SM directly if you can (or what the legally required procedures are for doing that !). Who's fault is that ? Not the AM or the SM. So this is a sign that you may not be doing everything possible to understand the issues.

One quite serious fault was in relation to the missing stores - make sure they are where the AM says they went and get something in writing from the AM and whoever got the stores. As another poster said - if they're actually missing that could be more serious. Check ! It's your job to make sure.

You are also missing a point of view about hiring and firing your SM may have. Hiring costs money and time. Companies invest, directly or indirectly, both into the hiring process. It does not stop when the employee walks in the door and it is implicit that firing an employee is wasting the effort and cost of hiring them. You stick with the employee until they're past redemption. This has limits : the Sunk Cost Fallacy is relevant here, but take note of the possibility that your manager considers money spent on hiring and training people internally as wasted if you fire them too hastily. There are also potential legal blow backs from firing people, so it's a non trivial step.

I do wonder from what you've said whether you are really seeking to invest effort into getting to know and understand your AM and their difficulties and what is causing them. You sound like you're looking for a quick solution and sometimes there are no good quick solution, only slow ones.

Others have suggested a formal PIP and before I'd consider firing anyone this may not only be an advisable, common sense and ethical thing to do, but it may be a formal legal or administrative requirement within your organization. Before you have a PIP you sit down (and as kindly as possible) talk to the AM and try and identify their issues (I suspect a grievance over your appointment, but that's a guess). If you get nowhere being nice, try a formal PIP - something you must discuss with your SM to identify any formal requirements - sometimes HR is required to be involved.

And finally sit down and look at your own actions. Put yourself in the AM's shoes and imagine the situation reversed, as best you can. What would you hope and expect your manager to do if you were struggling for some reason ? Think from that side of the fence, not just your own.

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Perhaps he doesn't like you, you are relatively new there and you became his boss... You should have patience. 6 months of work is not enough to tell your boss she should fire him especially if she insists that you have to help him. Look at the things from another perspective, from the perspective of your assistant manager. Try to be correct still and have patience with him. Try to find a way to cooperate. Perhaps you don't see the things clearly. You need more time.

  • Nope. Perhaps it's like this, but then we'd have to assume that the OP lied to us. If he didn't, then six months is a lot. – Helen Jun 6 at 20:45

protected by Mister Positive Jun 8 at 16:21

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