The Urgency of Dealing with Poor Performance

(Part 1 of 3)

When I shared the following story with my business partner, he had a strong reaction. He feels Robert represents an extreme that readers will not relate to. I, on the other hand, have heard many Robert-type tales lately and think situations like his are happening way too often in the corporate world. Am curious to hear your thoughts. This is a true story with names changed to protect privacy…

Robert Stephens had a rotten Christmas season.

His story began 10 months earlier when his company hired Juan, who was super to work with the first few weeks.

Then, a management change at the company ushered in a new set of rules and procedures that Juan did not agree with. Robert explains, “In a matter of four months, Juan went from 'team lead' to 'complaint factory'. He complained we did not motivate him, but he would not tell us what was demotivating him. He complained the job was too hard, and he was too busy to do all the projects on his plate. We worked with him, because he really was the best we had at one point, but the more we made concessions, the more he complained. This was around July, and I did not confront him about the impact of his communication on team morale.”

The noble excuse

“You see,” Robert continues, “I am a non-Spanish speaking manager who manages staff in Latin America. I did not want to appear too mean, or yes, too American. Just last year, one of the staff had noted that American managers yell and punish. I wanted to dispel that stigma. I did not want to seem insensitive to the needs of people who do work hard and are very sweet and hospitable.”

What seemed like a noble mindset quickly landed Robert in a managerial quagmire. By September, Juan was regularly giving incorrect and incomplete answers to customer questions, and Robert began fielding numerous customer complaints. Robert notes, “Customers were losing trust in our company, because they did not trust the answers we were giving them. And Juan did not want to be corrected. Juan left more work for others on the staff to deal with, and as nice as they were, they were afraid to tell me. I didn’t realize that employees doubted my ability to lead.”

Attention: loose elephant in customer service

There was now a paper trail of documentation and lost customers to support terminating Juan’s employment, but Robert still did not act. Juan’s performance continued to deteriorate. The final straw came in December. Four different customer complaints in one day, all related to Juan, landed on Robert’s desk to deal with. Juan would not own that he had made these errors, nor was he even slightly apologetic.

“I felt terrible firing him so close to Christmas,” says Robert. “Team morale worsened a bit because I took this action so close to the holidays. And now, I find myself having to prove to people above and below me that I do in fact know how to be a manager. I finally took action because I realized the business was suffering. The managers above me helped me see this.”

As extreme as this story may sound, similar situations—perhaps more subtle or seemingly less destructive—are playing out at many other companies.

My next post will look at the top 13 reasons managers let poor performance linger. And a third installment will look at how to make “the discussion” smoother if you ever find yourself needing to confront an employee like Juan.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from you. What are the best onboarding and performance management practices you have seen that give managers the incentive and support they need to confront damaging behavior in a timely manner?

Note to readers: If you found this post interesting and if you are a manager, we could use your input for a research study on management styles. To participate, just complete the questionnaire at All managers who take part will receive a free personal report outlining the strengths and limitations of their current management style, with suggestions to improve effectiveness. Thanks, in advance, for helping us with this study.

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