I just inherited a senior staffer who isn’t cutting it. She’s totally unaware of her performance gaps even though she’s been here for years. I don’t want to be the bad guy. What do I do? M.P., Los Angeles, CA
First I’d confirm whether your judgment that she’s not “cutting it” is correct. As you’ve pointed out, it is odd that she wouldn’t have been made aware before now about her performance gaps. Seek out her former manager for insight, and discuss the issue with your manager. Make sure you fully understand the situation before you take any action. There may be agreements or discussions that aren’t reflected in her personnel file. Make sure you’re aware of any pertinent information before you take a step that has serious consequences for her reputation and yours.
If your conclusion about her performance is supportable, then you owe it to the senior staffer to have a clear conversation to show her where her performance is falling short and what she needs to do to close the gap. Keep it short and focused on tangible next steps.
Be careful about making judgments about those who managed her in the past. You don’t know their reasons for why they did or did not have performance conversations with her—or whether her performance has taken a dramatic turn. Also, be aware that you can’t choose to be “the bad guy”; it’s not an option when you manage others. Your job is to meet objectives and treat people fairly. If you’re invested in being seen as a good guy, you will be an ineffective manager and others will draw conclusions about you and your motives.
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