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One of my reports has made it clear he's not interested in the work our team does and his performance is suffering because of it. I think he would be more at home in another team within the company but haven't suggested it to him as I don't want it to look like I'm trying to force him out.

How can I suggest this to him as a peer giving advice rather than as an unsatisfied team lead trying to send him away?

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    Questions should be independent. Rather than linking to that wall of text, you can just summarise the issue. I've edited the question accordingly while preserving the main points. Edit again if I went to far. – Lilienthal Dec 1 '16 at 23:35
  • You should give more than an hour for someone to respond before asking a related/ followup question. Especially since the timeframe you asked corresponds to late evening Europe (people are going to bed instead of looking at their computers) and the end of the work day US (people are either still at work or going home and eating dinner instead of looking at their computers). – Dan Neely Dec 1 '16 at 23:44
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    @DanNeely I'd argue that this question is sufficiently different to stand on its own. Talking about transitioning an employee to another team is quite a different animal from dealing with a problem employee. Such a transition is one possible solution to the broader problem but deserving of its own post I think. – Lilienthal Dec 1 '16 at 23:49
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    @Lilienthal I'd argue it's still a continuation of the same one. "I've got a problem employee I'm not sure what to do with..." "...but this is what I think might be the best option if I can do it." – Dan Neely Dec 2 '16 at 0:10
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How can I suggest this to him as a peer giving advice rather than as an unsatisfied team lead trying to send him away?

You can't and it's foolish to try. You're not a peer. You're this guy's manager. You need to manage him. Whatever you tell him will always be received as coming from the manager, no matter what you do. But that's not a problem, because it means you can actually do more than just drop hints.

I can not bring myself to suggest that because it can seem like I am kicking him out or something

The way to do that is to actually have discussion with him. You say you want to drop some hints or suggestions that he should look into moving on. But that's dancing around the problem and you need to address it directly:

You've mentioned before that you're not excited about the kind of work our team does. While I don't expect people on our team to love every aspect of their job, it's a bit concerning that you don't seem to be interested in our core tasks at all. And if I'm being frank it's starting to show in your work. Since the nature of our work isn't likely to change I think it makes sense to start thinking of alternatives. You may not know this but we do try to make it possible for employees to move to different teams or branches of the company if they want to change their focus. You spoke before about wanting to move more toward a [...] position and we do have teams working with that. If you want I can look into setting up a meeting with [other team leads]. But if you don't think that's a suitable option I do need you to start taking this work seriously. I'd expect [X, Y and Z] from someone in your position and right now I'm not seeing that. You may not think this work is that exciting but I do need to have a team that gets it done and can commit to the job. Can you do that?

That's a bit of a long script but it touches on all the aspects you want to cover in the opener to that conversation. How it plays out depends on the employee. You should also give him time to make up his mind and not press for an immediate decision but you do need to get him to make a decision. Either he decides to move on internally, he commits to the job as it is, or you'll have to start transitioning him out. That's how you manage someone.

Whatever you do, make sure that moving to another team is indeed possible and encouraged. Ensure that the teams you suggest or that he would likely want to join are willing and able to take this guy on. And be absolutely sure that you're honest about this guy's skills and performance. Don't ever play hot potato with a bad employee.

  • Love this! :) :) Great response. – Xavier J Dec 2 '16 at 1:02
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    It's a bad idea to jump straight to "start thinking of alternatives". That sounds really like you are trying to kick him out. Try to find out why he is unmotivated. Sometimes it is nothing to do with the tasks, and might be fixable. He might not even realize he is coming over as unmotivated. – DJClayworth Dec 21 '16 at 18:21
  • @DJClayworth It sounds like that because it's code for "we need to transition you out of the role" which is code for "we'll give you ample notice time if you agree that you'd be happier elsewhere and resign; otherwise we'll probably end up firing you". Rereading my script here I agree that it's harsh and this should probably come after some previous conversations on the topic. But while it's good management to give people a chance to improve and see where the employer can do better, you have to be realistic when considering whether someone will work out long-term and how much energy to spend. – Lilienthal Dec 21 '16 at 20:01
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How can I suggest this to him as a peer giving advice rather than as an unsatisfied team lead trying to send him away?

Why would you want to look like a peer giving advice when you are not a peer? Don't pass yourself off as someone else unless you are doing an impersonation.

You are better off acting as who you really are - a team lead - giving advice to a team member before you are forced to act on your advice. Aside from that, your advice as a team lead has more weight than the same advice as a fellow team member. If a fellow team member gave him the same advice, your report could still remain in denial. Since you are giving him the advice as a team lead, he's got no denial to fall back on unless he is truly deluded. Which has been known to happen.

I don't want it to look like I'm trying to force him out.

Forget it, pal. You are the team lead, which means that you have look out for the team as a whole. Everything else is secondary including how you look like as you try to get him out of a position that it's obvious he doesn't belong. If you look like a jerk while doing what you have to do, so be it. You can't take on responsibilities without occasionally looking like a jerk. That's why team leads at times look like jerks to their team members, leaders look like jerks to their followers, managers look like jerks to their reports and parents look like jerks to their kids. It's not a popularity contest, and it's not a beauty contest. Welcome to the club, Mr./Ms. Team Leader.

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