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Normally I'm fine with quiet staff as their manager as long as they're performing okay. But I have one particular staff member (programmer) who's particularly slow. I've tried to discuss their overall job satisfaction with little feedback, I try to give them challenging work, new work and we're very good at providing opportunities to train, attend conferences and professional development.

Problem is I really can't gauge why this person is so slow and whether it's motivational/work issue, a personal issue like depression or something else. When prompted they just basically say nothing, or very little.

At our work we really care that staff are happy, satisfied at work and we try our best to keep them. But now I need to address performance and feel any constructive criticism will go down like a lead balloon and they will be even more shut off.

I'd really like this person to give honest straight up feedback on heir general job satisfaction and work so if there's a problem we can address it. But currently I get no feedback.

  • By slow I mean tasks take much longer than they should. They have all the info they need, they're done correctly and the employee is very smart but they should be done a lot faster. The problem is that I'm not getting meaningful feedback (including in private meetings) on job satisfaction and whether that is an issue. I'm just looking for suggestions for engagement on job satisfaction before I start having discussions around performance that could further disengagement. – DaveO Sep 16 '15 at 10:15
  • The problem is if I explain that tasks are much slower than I'd expect I'd probably just get a shrug of the shoulders. I'd rather motivate the employee and get them to open up about what would get them excited about their work (changing projects and tasks if necessary) rather than come down on them on current performance. – DaveO Sep 16 '15 at 10:19
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    @DaveO From your description I get the impression that you haven't actually specifically pointed out the problem. If you're constantly hiding your actual concern with his performance with questions like "Are there any concerns you have?" or "Can I do anything to improve your work environment / personal development?" or varations like that, it's no real surprise that the employee is not getting the picture. Have you directly asked the real question? Something like "Your code is very good but your colleagues seem to get things done faster. Is there a reason you're taking longer than them?" – Lilienthal Sep 16 '15 at 10:46
  • 1
    possible duplicate of How do I deal with talented, but difficult employees? – gnat Sep 16 '15 at 14:20
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    I don't really understand why this question is picking up downvotes, could those of you who disagree post suggestions on how to improve it? – enderland Sep 16 '15 at 15:32
25

Disclaimer: as a strong introvert myself, your entire question reads like you don't understand how introverts think/operate.

Also, just a general observation, introverts will dislike open office environments, excessive team building things, noisy/distraction heavy environments, and forced "engagement" activities.

The problem is that I'm not getting meaningful feedback (including in private meetings) on job satisfaction and whether that is an issue. I'm just looking for suggestions for engagement on job satisfaction before I start having discussions around performance that could further disengagement.

Is your primary goal to increase job satisfaction? Or job performance?

Figure out which, and don't focus on the other. It sounds like you really really really want this employee to love their job! And only then do you care about how well they do.

You should focus on job performance. Unless your company is ok with underperforming employees who love their job, this situation is one as a manager you need to address.

The problem is if I explain that tasks are much slower than I'd expect I'd probably just get a shrug of the shoulders. I'd rather motivate the employee and get them to open up about what would get them excited about their work (changing projects and tasks if necessary) rather than come down on them on current performance

This sort of thing doesn't work on everyone. Any manager who "tries to motivate me" and tries to get me to be super excited and energetic about this introvert's work instead of giving direct feedback will really bother me.

Introverts in general tend to be more this way. The "level of excitement" matters less, because well... it doesn't matter to us.

When prompted they just basically say nothing, or very little.

I am going to operate under the assumption that this person actually is an introvert. It seems your company really values things much more easily expressed by extroverts (such as passion about the job, staff happiness, etc).

My recommendations:

  • Ensure every meeting you have is in private. Don't stop by an introvert's desk and ask, "hey how much do you hate your job?" If you have an open office environment especially book a conference room. If you have an office, still find a conference room, as it's more neutral space.
  • Give introverts time to prepare. Don't just call a non-agenda meeting and then drop a "how much do you like/hate your job?" type of question. Introverts hate this. Give time to prepare, put stuff on the agenda, and make it clear what you are looking for.
    • Bad: vague "We're going to talk about your feelings" / "Wanting to hear how things are going!"
    • Good: "I would like to talk about how things are going, specifically: X, Y, Z" (don't put negative feedback in this form, though)
  • Potentially solicit things via email. Introverts tend to be much more open when they have the time to rehearse their thoughts, such as through email.
  • Shut up when talking/asking questions. It's amazing how often extroverts ask a single question, get 3 words of a response, and then start talking away. Introverts in general hate interrupting others and when interrupted will not do so back - however for extroverts (or less strong introverts) this is just part of conversation. Learn how to listen and acknowledge without talking over. For some extroverts this is impossibly hard. But make sure you consider whether this is a factor for you "not getting feedback" and understand that sometimes introverts have to take time to process and will not have an answer in 0.1 seconds.
  • Job satisfaction is tied to job performance. Introverts, more than extroverts, have their satisfaction at work tied to how they do at work. Recognize that if your employee feels they are underperforming and a "fraud" that they will have lower job satisfaction. Trying to focus on the "why don't you love your job!" aspect is going to be futile as a result.
  • Don't assume things. This goes for everyone, but introverts especially often think about and understand what they are thinking deeply. It's as a result incredibly disrespectful/frustrating to have someone assume things about our thinking based on zero information.

It would, as an introvert, drive me CRAZY if I had a manager who felt I had performance problems but instead of addressing them, tried to pep me up and make me a cheerful/energetic employee first.

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    I plus 1'd the whole thing, but if I could I'd plus two for that interrupting part. I don't know if it's a correlation or causation thing, but I'm an introvert and easily let myself get interrupted, but then have to work pretty hard to realize that the person doing the interrupting didn't mean any offense by it, that's just how they are. That is a very quick way to sour relations with someone who won't interrupt you back, because if they can't actually talk to you, why bother talking to you? – Sidney Sep 16 '15 at 14:18
  • Come on, the guy must adapt to company policies! I don't think so is the case you stated here. – lambdapool May 9 '16 at 10:42
  • This is, above all else, something people need to understand. At work, I care about getting things done and leaving. You stop me to ask a question, you are going to get either a short answer or a detailed tutorial so you never ask me again. – qwertyu63 Sep 8 '16 at 16:54
6

Your question reminds me of someone in my life who often asks highly specific (and odd) questions that turn out to be step 27 of some plan to solve something. She races through the plan until she hits a roadblock or lack of knowledge, and then asks just about that roadblock, without backing up to see if there is another way forward.

In your case you have this chain

  • someone is underperforming
  • you have speculated assorted possible reasons for the underperformance
  • one of those reasons you think you could fix, thus being able to keep the employee
  • you've tried asking the sorts of questions that would often reveal this to be the reason, but haven't got a clear answer
  • so you ask how to get a clear answer

Some people are happy sharing their private lives with their managers. Some aren't, even when sharing personal problems would result in the manager "giving them some slack" around poor performance. I have had poor performers who I am sure have something in their life that is causing it but who will not discuss it. That's their choice.

Set up a one on one with this person and let them know it's to discuss performance. Lay out, quietly and calmly, the specific problems you have - task A took two weeks when we all thought it would be a few days, and more importantly you didn't tell anyone you were struggling with it; task B had to be reassigned to someone else because you couldn't finish it; etc. Then pause. Ask if the person understands and agrees that at the moment their performance is not where it should be. If they don't agree you can lay out more examples, or you can say that it's not up to them to make this judgement and that as their manager you are telling them they are not performing at the level they need to be.

This is an emotional moment. They are wondering whether you're about to fire them, demote them, take their best project away, or what. Do not leave them hanging out there. If you are not going to do anything right now, say so clearly and simply. Something like "I'm not going to change anything about your job right now. I just needed to make sure that you know that right now, your performance is not good enough and needs to improve." Make sure they have that reassurance.

Then say "sometimes, good performers hit a rough patch because there's something else going on in their lives. We are a supportive company and if you're facing something hard, and just need some time to get back to your usual self, just let me know." Then wait. And wait. They may say there's nothing. You may not believe them. So be it. Give them the dignity of denying if they want to. They're going to take the consequences, and they are an adult.

If they now tell you about a problem, you are obliged to put up with poor performance since you said that you are that kind of supportive happy company. In my experience you get rewarded for this with great loyalty later. So reassure them again and end the meeting with something about looking forward to them being back to their old self, and reminding them that if they need time off to deal with things, just ask. According to your question, this is what you wanted.

In the absence of an admission, lay out for them what you want and when you want it by. "I need your speed to get back to what it was 6 months ago, and for you to complete tasks within your estimates. I also need instant notification when you're slipping from your estimates so we can adjust plans to deal with that. I'll be monitoring your work items, checkins and timesheets and I'm going to meet with you once a week to let you know if you're improving and if your improvement is enough. It's only fair for me to tell you that although I'm not taking any action today, if you can't improve this will end with you leaving us. I'm hoping it doesn't get to that point because you've contributed a lot here and at your usual pace you're a valuable member of the team. I'm looking forward to seeing your usual pace return."

Then one more chance for questions or "anything else I should know that might be relevant to all this? Anything at all?" and you end the meeting.

2

Is it possible that your attempts to get feedback are coming across as an attack and his lack of a response is his defence mechanism? You say that he is slow but unless he's stacking cans saying he's slow compared to his peers might be unfair. If he doesn't recognise what you see as the problem or disagrees with you he's unlikely to be open about reasons for it.

Have you quantified all aspects of his performance for example:

  • Does he produce very robust code that generates few bugs and saves time during testing?
  • Does he work in a methodical way and try to produce reusable code that could save others time down the line?
  • Is he seen as something of an expert by his peers and is constantly trying to help other people?
  • Does he spend a lot of time documenting his work.

If he is seen as slow because he misses his estimates for milestones is he actually working slowly or just bad at estimating the time it will take him to complete a task.

I think you can 'care' too much in a company (if that doesn't sound horrible), while it's nice to be proactive if the employee isn't bringing personal or satisfaction issues to your attention you should focus on his performance. If he isn't measuring up you need to make clear how you want him to improve.

1

The problem is if I explain that tasks are much slower than I'd expect I'd probably just get a shrug of the shoulders

Well, I would behave the same way. Your expectations are your problem. Did you ask me how long it takes and did you actually give me enough information to make a reasonable guess? And was my estimation unreasonable?

For example, when I say a task takes 1.5 months, someone will say:"That's too long! Look at the calendar! You need to finish this faster!"
Then I say:"Okay, well, I think I can do each object in 1.5 days, 1 day coding and 1/2 a day testing. How does this sound?"
"That's perfect."
"Great. Well, according to the specification I have to code 22 objects."
"Ohhh..."

Your real problem is that you don't know if he actually under-performs.

There are people who can't be bothered to write a single comment and there are people who actually write and maintain documentation for their code.

There are people who don't mind to check something into the repository that breaks the build for 30 developers and there are people who review their code before checking it in to even eliminate unnecessary whitespace changes, as they only want to commit what is absolutely necessary.

There are people who test their implementation before testers get their hands on it and there are people who are satisfied when the implementation doesn't obviously break and for everything else, well, there are testers.

No idea who the under-performer in these scenarios is but just being a different kind of developer can easily double the theoretically required time for finishing a task.

-2

Your question honestly sounds similar to the situation I was in at my last employer. Matter of fact my team lead name was David as well. This person on the team behaved exactly the same way you described. Shrugged of the shoulders when asked why they can't communicate any thoughts/problems/concerns/questions whatsoever about the project. This person literally sat at the desk on the phone reading books and buying shoes all week and during morning meetings, brought up nothing good or bad about their progress. It isn't until after the deadlines when this person suddenly brings up all these issues that they had and they're usually very serious issues that prevents them from continuing at some point. Ultimately, I noticed this person started to copy and paste other member's work since we uploaded to github and this person simply waited until the last day and simply copied other people's work. They still kept this person on the team even after upper management noticed the trend and difficulties.

Management ultimately did nothing and it was one of many reasons for me wanting to depart from the employer. My recommendation is to first get the opinions of other people on your team, especially the better performers, and if it is affecting their jobs, you may want to consider cutting ties with this person if you can. Or at the very least, give a very firm, but professional talk about their behavior and how you envision them on the team. Give a ultimatum deadline and say if they can't perform in the manner you want them to, then there will be consequences.

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