“Excuse me, Tim, but do you have a few minutes available?”
Bernard was one of those people who hated to impose. He seemed to feel that he shouldn’t need help, that it was his job to get it right. And he was polite. He stood at the door, his steel toes not crossing the threshold until I invited him in to sit down.
“For you Bernard – always. What’s on your mind?”
“It’s about Mike,” he began.
Mike had been one of our early hires, and had worked pretty well through our start-up. Recently he began having attendance issues, and he seemed to bully new employees, or at least act in a sort of entitled way around them. I knew it was a matter of time, and I had been telling Bernard to document the issues along the way.
“I’ve been doing what you suggested, and I’ve had a couple of conversations with Mike, suggesting that he needed to get back on track. As soon as the next shift rotation comes around, I see the same issues are still there. So I want to put a plan in place where he gets three members of his team to provide him feedback each cycle, so he can see that his behavior is impacting others.”
I was impressed that Bernard was trying to create a solution, but I couldn’t support the plan.
“If I remember correctly, your oldest child is about to enter high school, right?” Bernard looked at me like I had just walked in and hadn’t heard a word he said. “Bear with me on this,” I told him. “When he gets his driver’s license, how do you plan to assess the quality of his driving? You are going to ride with him, and then when he is ready, you’ll let him drive solo right? You’re not going to ask other drivers to determine the freedom level you will give him with your car. Mike earned the right to work independently when we promoted him to the top level. Now his performance is putting that “right” into question. It’s his problem. Don’t allow him to make his future dependent on ratings of individuals. It’s gotta be you and him at this point.”
The truth is, he could probably terminate Mike based on performance, but Mike’s history warranted us taking the time to understand the fall-off in performance, and to give him the opportunity to correct it. I needed to help Bernard see that.
“If you let Mike go, and you hire his replacement, are you going to tell the person the team will rate him and determine his success, or will you ask for the team’s input as you consider his promotability?”
“That’s easy,” Bernard said. “It’s my call, and I get the team involved.”
“Right, and that’s what you need to do now. Don’t over-complicate it, don’t add the variable of peer pressure to give good ratings. It’s down to this – you expect Mike to perform at the same level as his peers, and he is not. Offer him help through EAP, but don’t offer him excuses or hand his fate over to anyone else. It’s up to him.”
Bernard left the office determined to get his team on track, with or without Mike. Mike didn’t just survive, he got back to his old performance. Simply because his leader wouldn’t accept anything less.
And when Bernard’s son learned to drive, I’m pretty sure he didn’t get the keys until dad was certain he could drive safely. And politely.