When is Enough, Enough?

Greetings from Toronto.
From the Ask Tom mailbag:


I was recently promoted to supervisor. It’s been a challenge, but I definitely think I can grow into the role and learn to handle it successfully.

Before I was promoted, a new technician was hired. It has been almost 5 months since, yet he is still in training. That’s 5 times longer than any other new hire we’ve had. Other technicians who are working with and “shadowing” him in training continue to report that they do not trust his ability to proficiently handle his duties. With my own firsthand observation, I feel the same way. Had I been promoted earlier, I would have strongly objected to his hiring.

It’s always the same story: the job required a stronger technical background than he thought so it’ll take him longer, and he will continue to do his best to learn the ropes and gain the trust of the other employees. He cannot provide a timeframe when he thinks he would be ready.

If it were strictly up to me, I’d get rid of him. Keeping him diverts technicians and resources from other projects, costs the company his hourly wage, and most likely lowers our customer satisfaction ratings as many of our callers quickly pick up on the fact that he is “new” and unsure of himself. My manager, however, would prefer not to take that route, for fear of the consequences that can follow termination. Yet, I feel like he’s pressuring me when he says things like “He STILL isn’t ready yet? He’s been here for 5 months! Why is it taking so long?”

What should I do? Would I be justified in setting a deadline by which he must become proficient? When should I say “enough is enough?”


Actually, I am curious about how others see this. Please add a comment below. -TF

4 thoughts on “When is Enough, Enough?

  1. Michelle Malay Carter

    It sounds like your gut has already given you the answer you need. You, as manager, have concluded that this team member is not someone for whose output you want to be accountable. In a perfect world, that would be enough; you could initiate his removal from the role. (This doesn’t mean he has to be fired. The organization could choose to find another role that he is suited for.)

    You are the manager of the role; therefore, you set the time span of the role (with your manager’s approval).

    The official definition of Time Span of Discretion from Elliott Jaques’ Time Span Handbook is:

    “The longest period that can elapse in a role before the manager can be sure that his/her subordinate has not been exercising marginally sub-standard discretion continuously in balancing the pace and quality of his/her work.”

    It sounds like this employee has passed that mark. It’s the “system” that is impeding you from doing what you know is right.

    Again, in a perfect world, if you don’t have the authority to remove an unacceptable employee, then you should not be held accountable for that employee’s performance (or lack thereof), but that doesn’t seem to be the case, as you state that you are being hounded with comments about your capability to “get him ready”. The myth that training and coaching can solve anything wreaks a lot of havoc within organizations.

    This is a tough place to be. I empathize.

    As I always say, I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system.


    Michelle Malay Carter

  2. Varun Malhotra

    – Seems like you have are convinced that he doesn’t get it and probably won’t anytime in the future. You also mentioned that it is the same feedback you have received from others on your team. Well my first reaction is that intuitively, the person in question would also know this. Does he think that you are for him? Or just looking for ways to get rid of him? Would he trust you?
    – You are lending yourself as a victim to this situation. You want to do well as a new manager, would like to show productivity and profitability of your team, but you Manager is concerned about the consequences of firing someone. That’s a tough sell.
    BUT, there is some much that this situation provides for your growth. You could turn this around into a big positive for you, gain the trust of your employees and your manager. Here is what I would do:
    – Start afresh and give this guy the benefit of the doubt. Don’t have any negative conversations about his performance with anyone, especially others on the team. If they want to talk, just say “now’s not the right time for this”. It’s likely that you may have to dig yourself out of this hole.
    Sit down with him and explain that this situation puts both you and him in a tough spot. If he doesn’t improve his performance then you may have to release him, which neither of you want. Assure him that you will work with him to make this better. Ask the following questions:
    – Is he interested in the work?
    – What according to him will take to get his performance to acceptable levels? (He might say more time…and that’s OK). Follow-up, with a need to build a performance management plan that will show incremental progress. Remember, there is always something you can find to measure performance.
    – Have a weekly one-on-one meeting with him to review progress. Build trust with him. Really believe that he can make it.
    After doing this for at least 2 months, if the situation does not improve at all, I don’t think documenting a lay-off would not be the biggest problem you have. But if you do turn this around, think about the confidence you will gain in your managerial ability and the trust you will gain with others.
    And if you are having trouble getting motivated to put in this work….remember (a) as a Manager it’s your job to take care of your people; (b) Regardless of the outcome, you gain the most out of this situation.

  3. Chris Young

    It seems pretty clear that this supervisor knows what needs to be done. Being new to the role it is easy to understand his hesitation and doubt.

    The real question to ask: “would you hire ‘Fred’ again” if the answer is no, or as I suspect “now way!” it’s time to get acquainted with the uglier side of a supervisory role.

    This individual needs to provide specific performance metrics and expectations along with a strict timeline for meeting these expectations, document his or her deficiencies and the effect it is having on co-workers, customers, and the organization’s bottom line. If “Fred” can’t live up to the expectations he was hired for, this supervisor must bring all documentation to the persona with authority to grant termination and say that “Fred” MUST be let go, and this is why.

    Managing others is difficult and requires firm conviction in what one believes in. If this poor performer is allowed to persist the supervisors reputation will be tarnished even before he has a chance to get off the ground.

    Chris Young

  4. Alexander

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