Manager must walk the fine line between employee discipline and development.
Q: I recently managed to hire someone for a position that was very hard to fill, because of the type of professional license needed and my organization’s location. Unfortunately this new hire, despite an exceptional amount of support and training for the past two months, is struggling.
He has a good grasp of the job’s content, but can’t keep up with its pace, volume or administrative requirements. I talked to my boss about this, and was advised to monitor and manage the new hire’s work even more closely, signing off on everything he does until he’s mastered the basics.
After that talk, I met with my new hire for a routine one-on-one. When I asked to review the work he’d done that day, he blew up: raised his voice, glared at me and waved his arms, complaining that he didn’t want to be “distracted” by my presence and expected to work with “autonomy.” I’m known for my ability to be diplomatic and respectful with employees; this was an absurd overreaction.
I think it’s essential that I give him a formal warning. The problem is my boss, who has been known to turn a blind eye to employee misconduct for fear of affecting our bottom line. I know my boss really hopes this hire will work out because we had such a tough time finding qualified candidates.
I feel like I’m walking a tightrope. If I don’t write him up, I won’t be able to manage him and my boss will see me as weak. If I do write him up, he may lose motivation to improve and my boss will see me as harsh. — Mary
A: If your boss is worried about the bottom line, you should be able to use that to your advantage. Allowing a new hire who hasn’t figured out his job to run amok, brush off useful supervision and act like a diva without delivering results is definitely not good for business. You need to send the new colleague a message — but you’d be wise to recruit your boss into some kind of agreement on that decision first.
Start by giving the boss credit: You agree with the advice to monitor the new guy closely until he gets the hang of things. In fact (you can continue), you believe this person can, over time, work out, if he’ll accept direction and learn on the job. Even if you have doubts about this, channel your inner optimist and come across as being focused on achieving solutions, not pointing out problems.
Now tell the boss that the new guy was resistant to the suggested supervision — and you need to say that this is not acceptable. That’s the best (and really only) way to make this new colleague work out in the long run, and you want to make sure you have your boss’ support.
Having buy-in from your boss will make the subsequent conversation with your troublesome newcomer easier. But hang on to that optimism: Tell the new guy that you look forward to granting him the autonomy he seeks — but that getting there is going to require some management.
It’s possible, of course, that he will never grow into the job, and is in fact an insecure hothead who will need to be replaced. But give him the best shot at succeeding that you can. This will make it easier to convince your boss if the time comes to give up. More important, it offers the best chance that, with a little time and direction, your colleague will figure it out after all.