Jim writes on
Dealing with Non-Performing Managers
19 May 2002
To: HPAlumni eGroup
Yes, it's hard to talk about specific cases without violating confidences, but I've had a couple of cases just like this. The employee thought I was the worst nightmare they ever had, but everyone else, including their "friends" would tell me that the person was useless. Reading the previous manager's evaluations I could sometimes see the manager squirming out of confrontation. One person was the ultimate in disorganization. Nice person but could not independently think two steps ahead. Under "Organization and Planning" the old eval might say "did a great job planning the department move". Not bad for a site services individual contributor, but for an R&D project manager who clearly has a problem planning? Gawd, what a cop out.
I did not relish being the bad guy, but I like cleaning up organizational messes. Sometimes the manager I personally replaced was the problem and the people under me would respond well; in those cases no one had to be pushed out. Other times a few people were hanging on to their position only because the guy I replaced ignored their issues. If those people wouldn't change, they'd have to go. And when it was over the remaining team was ALWAYS relieved to be out from under the person. It's like bringing in a ray of sunlight to a dark corner of the garage. Everyone perks up and the team begins to deal with other issues that have been stopping progress. It felt good to see individual contributors brighten up and the team start doing good work again.
I remember more than once having to tell a "top performer", that "from this day on you can only complain to me. To the rest of the team you need to always be positive. As a top performer you need to help me lead and leaders do not complain to their people." At first they wouldn't understand, since the last boss had tolerated their huge negative attitude.
I'd start working to fix some of the small problems they had been making a big todo about. Sometimes there was no fix to be had and I'd say, "we can't change that, let's just accept it and move on. What else is stopping progress?" They found they'd been using the first issue as an excuse so long that they couldn't find a second big issue. It became "put up or shut up" time.
I'm happy to say that a lot of them were able to change and start producing to their high potential. They were back on the "star" track again. Those guys didn't always like me but they didn't hate me in the end. I was/am proud that they were back to being high performing engineers and managers. From the outside they certainly appeared to be happier people.
Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)