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The situation is a follows: I work as a senior consultant for customer projects (in Germany).

Currently is one junior colleague (mainly) working with me on some projects for which I am responsible, and I am very unhappy with her performance in these projects - I know that she can deliver better work. I personally believe that a systematic approach to this problem on the level of my (and her) boss could make her performing well again.

Now here is the problem: My (and her) boss drops the responsibility to have this very crucial conversation to me (already for the second time). It is not in my formal role (i have no disciplinary power), would be happening per phone (she is off-site), it is not within my power (since I can not approve trainings) to make any binding arrangement with her how we address the issues. The last time that such issues were not resolved it resulted in the person leaving the company.

I will have this conversation, and my list of priorities is as follows:

  • not violating German working law - since i should not evaluate her performance in general
  • seeking for an constructive (keeping the colleague in the company) solution - that is, explain her the urgency of the situation
  • not damaging my work relationship with her (any further)
  • not giving the impression to my boss that i reject this responsibility.

So where is the line, which i should not cross?

  • Is it ok to mention to her that my impression is that there may be consequences for her career if it's not getting better?
  • Should i mention that i think that some of her slip-ups are health-related (she may be not aware of the connection between a condition which she has and some some of the problems)

Edit (here is what i did) - i partially followed the suggestions here and did not discuss anything beyond my own projects: I had the call with her, but i clearly focused on a single piece of work in one of the projects where actually all her problems (Quality, Speed, Feedback, Communication) related to a single project in my hands. I mention to her that we discussed this topic on the last project (which is true) where we worked together. She said she understood this opinion. I asked her to think about how to improve this. I also did not transfer her any new piece of work in any other project for the next 2 months (timing of her holidays prevents an effective transfer of tasks). I will give feedback to my boss who will have to decide how to deal further with this situation.

  • "not violating German working law - since i should not evaluate her performance in general" What? German law prohibits people from giving performance feedback or tips if they're not a direct manager? – Lilienthal Jun 24 '17 at 18:58
  • I think we might have a question on this topic already, but here's some links to get you started. See Alison Green's posts on managing sideways and managing a project without formal authority. And here's why disciplining people (which is similar to correcting bad performance in some ways) is a non-starter. – Lilienthal Jun 24 '17 at 19:02
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    @Lilienthal: yes, evaluating the overall performance of an employee in general is a problem as opposed to "giving performance feedback on a a specific project". The specific Problem here is that I will not only talk about past projects, but rather look into the future. – Sascha Jun 24 '17 at 20:49
  • @Sascha You didn't answer Lilienthal's clarification request: does German law actually prohibit performance feedback from non managers? I'd go so far as to ask for a citation for that because it seems outrageous that a peer or senior team member couldn't give such feedback. – corsiKa Jun 24 '17 at 22:07
  • (As I red it) OP is not being asked to give feedback, but rather, actually "lay down the line" and offer "perform or be fired" ultimatums. The whole thing is silly and OP need only reply to OPs boss "I don't have authority to do that." – Fattie Jun 24 '17 at 22:09
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You might be overthinking this. Both people with the power to act have delegated that power to you. They trust you and your judgement, so leverage that.

Let's suppose for a moment that you had the power to enact the things you don't feel you can. If you did that, you surely would go into the meeting with this employee with a plan and a few very likely outcomes.

Continue to draw up that basic workflow and have a review meeting with both of managers in question. If they agree with the workflow, and you receive (in writing) authority to implement your plan to get the employee back on track, have your meeting with her and present it.

If they don't both agree to it, there it's on them to find the solution going forward. They dumped the problem on you to solve and you solved it. If they don't hold up their end of the bargain when they dumped it on you, they need to clean up their mess. They are the managers after all. That's their job.

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I suppose specifically regarding the last two specific questions:

Is it ok to mention to XX that my impression is that there may be consequences for her career if it's not getting better?

At best this is "borderline".

At the very best you could say "Boss X has authorized me, in writing, to tell you that items ABC could have consequences on your career. I'm telling you this because Boss X told me in writing to tell you that."

Before doing so, get it in writing from your boss.

Should i mention to XX that i think that some of her slip-ups are health-related

In short, this is a "non-starter" in any jurisdiction.

If, incredibly, Boss explicitly told you to tell the person that: simply say "I cannot do that for legal reasons" and drop it.


If I was in this situation I'd simply say to Boss:

"oh, that has nothing to do with me. Now, regarding this block of code we're working on, who says it shouldn't be a singleton? ... "

The whole issue has absolutely nothing to do with you. Don't touch it or go near it.

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