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I work in a software company and a new colleague who has been working for us for three months is getting some criticism in his absence. Our senior developers say he is performing poorly (his probationary period is six months | we are a team of 12 developers). As I like him on a human level I would like to tell him that but I am afraid to act against our senior developers/our team. So what can I do?

Edit Thanks for the Answers!

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    What do you hope to accomplish by telling him?
    – sf02
    Jan 29 '20 at 16:53
  • What is the company's normal process for interacting with employees on probation? Does his manager provide feedback?
    – dbeer
    Jan 29 '20 at 17:03
  • Does he realize his performance is poor (without anyone telling him so)?
    – Igor G
    Jan 30 '20 at 10:44
  • @sf02 I hope he improves and pass the probation
    – Maxiking
    Feb 3 '20 at 19:47
  • @dbeer At least weekly feedback from his mentor
    – Maxiking
    Feb 3 '20 at 19:47
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So what can I do?

Though it's neither nice nor professional of those seniors to criticize him behind his back, you shouldn't pass that discussion on to him. That wouldn't be any nicer of you.

However, I absolutely understand your desire to save him from getting fired unexpectedly, without any warning. What you can do is:

If you're friends with him, you can suggest him to ask the manager/seniors for the feedback now. What with him just passing half his probation period, and it being a good time to ask if the company is happy with his work and is there anything he should improve. Coming from him, such request would be acceptable in any company culture, I think.

If the company culture (and personal relations) isn't highly formal, and it's Ok for you to have an easy talk with those seniors/management, you can suggest them to do the same:

"Hey, I think he isn't a bad person and can do better. Have we already told him we expect him to improve?"

TL;DR: Have them talk to each other directly. Don't be a gossip.

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  • imo the most useful answer for me
    – Maxiking
    Feb 8 '20 at 0:30
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No. It's not your business, and you're just making a prediction that might be not true at all.

If you want to help him, you could try to help him to improve his productivity or skills, but be careful, unsolicited help isn't always welcome.

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    unsolicited help is about as welcome as an angry skunk at a wedding reception. Jan 29 '20 at 17:20
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    @RichardSaysReinstateMonica It really depends on the personality and how do you offer the help. But yes, it can easily backfire.
    – Roberto
    Jan 29 '20 at 17:21
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    Not only is it not your business and possibly not true, but also you are not in a position to accurately give reasons, which your colleague will almost certainly want. Jan 29 '20 at 17:54
  • I think this answer is too strongly towards no. The new employee has still 3 months to significantly improve, but it is important that he gets some feedback. Ofcourse at first this is the responsibility of the manager. So maybe discuss with your manager?
    – user180146
    Jan 30 '20 at 14:54
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I am going to make a conditional case for yes.

I would personally very much like such a heads up were I that dev.

Unfortunately there are those who would take it personally or believe that you are one of the ones conspiring against them and unfortunately it ruins useful avenues of information for people like myself.

There are those fools who will fail to realize the nature of the information and go and confront the manager.

There are others who will think that it is an attempt at sabotaging them.

There are others who will immediately fly into a rage.

It helps that I value a clear picture of the situation, whatever it may be and have a cold personality.

Roberto is right in that people all react differently to unsolicited help and most do not react well. Richard Says Reinstate Monica is generally correct, but forgets that there are a few friendly skunks.

I have given this warning once in my career and have no regrets about doing it. Had a co-worker who just wasn't a good fit for their role and other people were complaining about them. The manager was thinking about the wishlist they wanted for the next person in the role which I overheard.

I sent the person an email (to their personal one) via one of those anonymous email senders. There are a myriad of other options like a fake LinkedIn account, anonymous texting service, etc. I used a VPN so that the IP address would not be tied to me just in case it was put into the email itself. Provided enough detail to prove that I was in their environment, but changed enough of the verification details so that it was not clear who it came from.

The person got a job before the end of their probation period/when they were thinking of firing them because they started job searching. The financial situation of that person was such that a large gap in employment would have caused them significant trouble which they happily avoided.

But I also knew that the person I was warning would not storm off to confront management or actively seek out who sent the email. They had the self awareness to know that they were underperforming but just did not know to what level. Carefully consider whether you are dealing with such a person before you do anything.

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    Upvoted. I see you've caught a downvote or two for this answer, but I'm glad you make the case.
    – MvZ
    Jan 30 '20 at 9:46
  • 2
    Upvoted as well, if you know somebody is about to lose their job the decent thing to do is give them a heads up, IMHO.
    – JMK
    Jan 30 '20 at 10:24
  • @JMK I agree, but it's not Maxiking responsibility to do so, it is his manager's.
    – Roberto
    Jan 30 '20 at 11:34
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    Kudos to you for going through all that trouble. Jan 30 '20 at 15:54
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It depends. In most circumstances, I think you should at least be discussing this internally.

OP, I get the impression that your colleague would be surprised if their contract was not extended.

If it surprises someone, they either haven't been given sufficient and appropriate feedback, or they were oblivious to feedback. A lack of feedback indicates an issue with the quality of management and supervision that should be addressed internally.

Many juniors - fresh out of college or uni - still need to work on the self-management and communication skills required to function in the workplace. In my opinion, a junior should be entitled to a little leeway.

What should the organization be doing?

A manager or supervisor should have informed your colleague that they are under-performing and outline what improvement they should show before the end of the probation. Personally, I'd schedule a bi-weekly feedback session with an experienced team member (such as my Scrum Master), and I'd instruct junior to make notes of interactions with colleagues, reflect on these and discuss their reflections with their new mentor. I want my team members to take feedback from each other without me using the ban hammer as an incentive. If they learn to receive feedback and to objectively assess their own performance, they will be an excellent team member.

I will have the same initial conversation with someone with more experience, but I will be less inclined to invest in coaching. In my current team, sufficient feedback would have been provided on a daily basis. If you don't catch on, you get to look back on getting fired as an educational experience. Some people need that, I definitely did.

So, what's the right thing for you to do?

That depends entirely on company culture and the risk you are willing to assume. Staying in your lane is definitely the safest option. In the right company culture, you should at least be able to talk to your manager in private. I'd want to ask my manager (1) if my new colleague has been informed and (2) whether or not the manager thinks the team could have done anything to correct the issue at an earlier stage.

If my colleague seems like a nice guy (and it seems like he could still salvage the situation) I'd invite him for a beer or lunch and talk to him about the sentiment in the team. If he's unaware and not getting the feedback he should be getting, that feels like an injustice to me. I would not give him advice, but I would tell him that he can come to me for advice.

This would not result in blowback in my current team and organization. And I don't work in an at-will state. That is a luxury that you might not have.

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