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I manage an overseas team. When the team was setup, they were promised certain benefits such as cash bonuses and visiting industry conferences.

However, one of my team is significantly underperforming to the point where it's negatively affecting the workload of everyone else in the team. The problem is, they have been led to believe they would be going on an important business trip in the following month. I don't think this would be beneficial for them - and I suspect they think it's more of a holiday than a professional opportunity - so have selected another team member who has already recently attended a conference.

How do I tell this person that they will not be joining this trip without negatively affecting their relationship with other people in the team?

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    Will this be the first indicator to the employee that they are under-performing? – cdkMoose Jan 21 '15 at 14:15
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    If these were "promised" without any conditions put on them you could be in a tough spot. – cdkMoose Jan 21 '15 at 14:18
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    We don't have all of the details, but if a blanket promise was made there could be trouble. Who gets to go on a specific trip is one question, but if the emp never gets to go on any trip then the promise was broken. – cdkMoose Jan 21 '15 at 15:02
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    Did you set up this team or inherit it? Did you outline your expectations about performance, trips, bonuses, benefits, etc.? What did you cover in your first few communication to the team? – ingo Jan 21 '15 at 15:08
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    "I suspect they think it's more of a holiday than a professional opportunity" -- I think there's a crux here on which the answer depends. Are they reasonable to think this, based on what they were promised as their terms of employment? If they were promised a holiday, and you think it wouldn't provide them with a good professional opportunity, then in point of fact you are incorrect to say that it would not be beneficial for them. It would be beneficial, as a holiday. Telling them they're not the best person to go isn't the same as telling them you're witholding promised pay/benefits. – Steve Jessop Jan 21 '15 at 18:55
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Uh

so there are some other answers here that deal with, you know, your actual question. I'm more interested in the whole "not sending the employee on the trip" aspect. Just go to the end if you want my answer to your actual question though.

Penalising an employee out of the blue is a terrible management decision.

and

From what i'm reading here, everything about this is a terrible decision.

Now, I don't know much about this business trip you're talking about, but you write

problem is, they have been led to believe they would be going on an important business trip in the following month. I don't think this would be beneficial for them - and I suspect they think it's more of a holiday than a professional opportunity

It's that last bit - the bit about holiday vs professional opportunity - that makes it sound like this business trip is more a perk than some sort of mission-critical thing. Which means that you're now withholding a perk to penalise an unaware employee.

You also write

When the team was setup, they were promised certain benefits such as cash bonuses and visiting industry conferences.

Which, look, it makes it sound like this was a decision that

  1. you weren't part of
  2. is a senior management decision that represents part of overall compensation

which implies to me that it's really not your place to be withholding the benefit either. After all, you don't just get to "not pay" an employee for a week's work if it wasn't great work, do you?

So from this, I've gathered (perhaps erroneously):

  1. You are penalising an employee instead of talking to them as some sort of way to "crack the whip"
  2. The employee has been authoritatively told that there would be a business trip, and that it is effectively part of their overall compensation
  3. You are now publicly withholding promised compensation as a way of "cracking the whip", and also publicly rewarding someone else with said reward.

Overall, I think this is a bad strategy.

You're sending a signal that there should be infighting and ego pieces instead of collaborative work done to "get the goodies" - the best get rewards, the worst get nothing. You're also showing that management has taken a stance that past promises should not be viewed as set in stone.

If any employee (the bad employee, the good employee, any employee) was unsure about the company, this is going to be a warning klaxon. Management "just deciding" to change their mind, without rhyme or reason, is always a bad sign. Pitting employees against each other is often a bad sign (depending on industry, i mean. Sales would be an industry where this is expected. IT or PR? not so much).

I wouldn't be overall worried about the employee's relationship with other people in this team, I'd be worried about the overall message you're sending out, and the effect it will have on employee trust of management.

If this employee is terrible, just fire them. Or take steps to improve them (and honour the promised trips). But don't keep them on and then deny them their promised compensation, because that makes management look bad to everybody.

~~~~~

To answer your question, give the employee a bunch of easy targets to hit (but at a level that is higher than they are at now), with the promise that if they hit them they'll make the next trip. That gives them something easy to hit, improves their confidence and shows you're focussed on helping them. It will also help you keep your eye on the employee. The whole 'denying this trip" is still a bad idea, I think, but this just makes a slightly positive spin on things.

Finally, if you're offshore from them, do you know why the employee is performing poorly? Is he/she being bullied or misrepresented?

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    Nailed it. You may not care about how the poor performer feels, but you have to realize that everyone else is watching this happen, too. You don't want your top performers getting in their heads that management lies, misleads, reneges, etc. Even if a top performer is not affected by this directly, it can still turn them off. – Kik Jan 21 '15 at 16:37
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    "If this employee is terrible, take steps to improve them, or just fire them" - Quoted for emphasis. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey Jan 22 '15 at 10:55
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    @Kik While I agree with this answer I should point outh though that if the other employees are getting frustrated with this guy not pulling their weight then seeing some steps taken would be a good thing from their perspective... – Tim B Jan 22 '15 at 13:21
  • Very helpful answer and I hadn't really considered this angle - how it appears to other people in the team. However, I disagree withholding a benefit is a way of "cracking the whip" - that is not at all my intention, though I will definitely take on board your suggestion to set targets. At the end of the day, we're very time pressured and I have to look at what is best for the business. In this case, I am not confident that having this person attend the conference is best for the team or the business. I maybe didn't emphasize this enough in my original post. – JTTpndr Jan 23 '15 at 10:04
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    "being bullied or misrepresented?" <- This is a common tactic used in places to make that unpopular but smart developer look incompetent. I swear I'm not talking about me, believe me, please believe me, do you believe me? ok, I'm going to go cry in a corner now. – ConfusedDeer Aug 22 at 18:34
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There are several issues at play here. I suggest separating them out.

1) Your employee is

"underperforming to the point where it's negatively affecting the workload of everyone else in the team"

This is a big deal. You need to address this, but I'm sure you're already aware of this. However, are they aware? Have they had performance reviews? Do they know where and how they need to improve? Making sure they're aware of the problems in their performance will foreshadow any privileges you are taking away.

2) A thing they were led to believe they would get (and were probably looking forward to) has been taken away from them.

Obviously, this is a blow for anyone, but it's too late to fix their expectations. Make sure not to lead them on in future, although that's unhelpful in this particular situation. Tell them sooner rather than later. Be truthful, but tactful.

3) (Closely related to 2) They've been passed over for a colleague.

The issue therefore is how to break the news without them resenting you. Call an informal one-to-one meeting. Don't talk about how someone else is going - talk about why they are not. If they ask directly who is replacing them, be truthful, as they'll find out anyway, but don't focus on this. The fact that someone else has been selected is, actually, not their problem - this is your decision to make, not theirs.

Explain how their time would be better spent: assign them all or some of the time they would have been away to improve their performance, for example. If they already know their performance is an issue, this will be a fairly natural step to take. Say that you think they'll get more out of staying and learning.

At the end of the day, as a manager, your job is not to make sure that everyone gets equal time at conferences - it's to make sure that your company is well represented at industry events, and that your team is doing their job. Avoiding promoting the conference to new employees as a granted benefit - it's not a holiday, it is a (potentially more enjoyable) part of their job which might happen if they're the best person for the task. Don't beat yourself up about the fact that he doesn't get a trip out. And make sure this employee knows, and is doing something about, his performance issues.

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    +1 for "The fact that someone else has been selected is, actually, not their problem - this is your decision to make, not theirs." Make sure this point gets through so as not to create animosity between employees. As the manager you made the decision, not the employee who is going and not the one that isn't going. – Chris L Jan 21 '15 at 16:05
  • The op said that they were promised these benifets, a promise is not something that might happen – Skeith Jan 22 '15 at 13:57
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    The OP said they were promised benefits "such as cash bonuses and visiting industry conferences". Generally, unless the job offer details your salary, holidays, and the number of events you attend, these aren't fixed in stone. If you underperform, you might not be entitled to a bonus. This is pretty standard - that's why it's a bonus and not part of your normal salary. Plus, unless he'd been promised this conference specifically, industry events as a benefit doesn't mean he should be going to this one. – user29632 Jan 22 '15 at 14:02
  • If his performance has been discussed with him then this wouldn't be an issue. Taking the benefit away out of the blue is plain bad management. – JamesRyan Jan 22 '15 at 17:49
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No matter how you spin this, it will leave a bad feeling. You need to both do damage control and address underlying issues.

  • Explain to the employee that he won't be going to the conference, in your regular one-to-one meeting. (You do have those, right? Via Skype or something?)

  • He will want an explanation. Have it ready, with specific items which prompted your decision.

  • Be proactive. Explain to the employee what he would need to do to be sent to the conference next time. Offer to help him. (If he is unsalvageable and negatively impacting others, you need to fire him, so I assume you still have hopes for him.) If he doesn't ask about this, go into this yourself. Make this more about "how you can improve" than "how I'm punishing you".

That done, address the wider issue. You write that he "has been led to believe" something. Nobody but his manager should be "leading employees to believe" something. Explain this to whoever did the leading-to-believing and ask them nicely to refrain from doing so.

If (as seems possible) HR promised x conference visits to everyone regardless of performance during hiring or as an employee retention policy, have a chat with HR. Explain to them that they should not be making promises that you with a tight budget cannot deliver on.

  • If HR made the promise as part of the hireing package them the op has no right to deny access to the confrence – Skeith Jan 22 '15 at 14:01
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Can you withhold access to the conference ?

If it was promised as part of the hiring process you maybe in serious trouble if you use it as a punishment for poor performance.

Say for instance the employee had two job offers one as 30K and one at 27K with bonus and conference visits. They choose the second thinking it will be more beneficial for there career then you withhold that, you are effectively fineing them 3k for bad performance.

If your manager came to you and said we've decided to pay you 3K less this year because of your performance and instead give it to dave because he's more productive than you, can you think of any way they could word that that would leave you feeling ok about it ?

If it was explicitly promised then it is effectively part of there pay package. Denying them it will cause resentment from them and every employee will start to question what kind of company they work for if they happily withhold pay. Not to mention the legal consequence for doing so.

You need to find out the cause of your employees bad performance and try to improve it or fire them.

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