A reader writes:
I’ve just begun my first managerial role and I’m wondering about consequences. You frequently mention clearly explaining the consequences “up to and including termination” when an employee is not meeting expectations. What are those consequences prior to being fired? I work in an international nonprofit, and we don’t do things like write-ups, as I experienced when I worked in retail. What kind of tools do I have as a manger to impose consequences?
It depends on the situation.
If it’s a serious performance issue that ultimately must be fixed in order for the person to stay in her role, then that should take you down a track of progressively serious warnings about what changes you need to see. The first conversation in that process is going to be pretty informal, but if a few of those conversations (along with clear feedback) don’t solve things, in most cases you’ll want to move to a more formal performance plan, with a timeline and benchmarks for the person meet, and the understanding that you’ll need to see specific improvements within that time period in order to keep the person in the job. (There are some exceptions to this, like when the person is so new that it doesn’t make sense to go through that whole process, or when it’s clear that the issues are so significant and the chances of the person being able to meet those benchmarks so remote that you’d just be prolonging an inevitable outcome.)
But there are other situations — the ones I think you’re asking about — where the issue isn’t severe enough that you’re likely to ever fire the person over it, but is still something of concern. In those cases, you can explain to the person that if they don’t resolve issue X, it could impact future performance evaluations, future raises, promotion potential, the type of projects they’re assigned to, and/or what types of growth opportunities they’re offered. (That last one will depend on exactly what the issue is; obviously you don’t want to deny someone the opportunity to improve, but in some cases it’s practical to conclude that you’d be better off investing your presumably limited development resources in other people.)
Also, sometimes an effective consequence is just “we’re going to have a serious conversation about this.” Consequences don’t always have to be formal, and sometimes formal consequences can be overkill. In many — in fact, probably most — situations, an appropriate consequence is simply a serious conversation with you, asking about what happened and what the plan is for avoiding it in the future. On a healthy staff, that will often be all the consequence you need to hold someone accountable and get things back on track. Of course, when that doesn’t solve the problem, then you’d escalate in seriousness from there – but this is usually the right place to start.