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Letters to a Young Manager

The rising star and the problem employee, #150
LTYM > Managing People II

Dear Adam,
I am sorry to hear that a member of your team has become a performance problem and that his supervisor is in the midst of a difficult performance improvement plan. Giving people a second chance is a good and fair thing. But in our desire to have fair HR policies, we often forget the people and the relationships.

I once had a promising new manager on my team. She was a rising star in the organization and was promoted to manage a service department. One of the employees on her team was a problem, unable to perform the basic needs of the job, despite repeated training and coaching. So we put her on a performance plan, to improve her work over the next 90 days or face losing her job.

I had argued with HR that we give the employee a choice: either go on the performance plan, or take an exit package and the time to find a new job--that recognized the employees dignity to choose. HR said "no" and we began the performance plan.

The employee responded by hiring an attorney to advise her each step of the way. The manager sought the counsel of HR and Legal. From the outset, this became a very contentious process. The weekly 1:1 status meetings were grueling, requiring hours of preparation and documentation. To make a long story short, the young manager, drained and disillusioned by the process, left the company. The problem employee? On the advice of counsel, she kept her job.

The irony was palpable: losing a star and continuing with a problem employee. Something is deeply flawed in our HR processes when this is the result. We forget that there are two people involved, and we need to support both. A performance improvement process that does not help build up the manager is a serious waste of talent.

Be careful as you go down this route. Help your supervisor. And give your employees choice.


An over-concern for the problem employee is an under-concern for the rising star

Discussion Questions:

1) Who are the stars on your team?
2) What are you doing to make their lives easier?
3) What obstacles are you helping remove for them?

For Further Reading:

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