my employee can’t accept that his performance is bad

A reader writes:

I’ve put a staff member on to a formal performance improvement plan, but despite me providing feedback and taking multiple approaches to get through to him, he doesn’t seem to be able to grasp just how poorly he is doing.

I do want him to succeed and have supported many conversations, participation in mentoring and coaching, formal and informal training, attempts to build a peer network, ongoing feedback, and participation at conferences and events. I’ve also tried as many techniques as I know and have had advice on new ones to try (including advice from HR), but they don’t get through. Benedict appears to work best with specific instruction, which isn’t generally possible for the role he is in, because his role is more about managing a team, strategy, being future focused, communicating with many different stakeholders, complex problem-solving, and playing the political game.

The PIP, which has a month left on it, is clear that we will let him go at the end of it if he doesn’t improve, and and both myself and HR have talked him through it.

He spends a lot of time telling me and his team and other colleagues how good he is and how much he has to contribute, but he just isn’t delivering. Recently he’s missed two deadlines, but has spent that time telling me how much he is enjoying the opportunity to do this work and being given the chance to show me how good he can be.

I suspect he is entirely out of his league and these are coping mechanisms, and I can understand that, but I’m curious as to whether you have any advice on how to get through to an overly-confident staff member (where that confidence is very misplaced). I’m on the phone to HR almost every second day and they’re being great in helping with different approaches to try, but nothing seems to help the level of improvement required sink in.

I’ve been as blunt as making hand gestures of him needing to be up here *gestures* and showing he has only progressed to about here *gestures much lower*. I am trying to be cautious that I’m not forever only giving negative feedback or corrections, but when I give positive feedback he latches on to that and can’t seem to hear anything else.

If you’ve been very clear about (a) the problems in his work and what you need to see change and (b) the fact that he will be fired at the end of the PIP if you don’t see sufficient improvement, then you’ve done what you need to do. If he’s refusing to hear clear warnings, you don’t have to keep hammering the point home.

But first be sure you’ve truly been clear. Sometimes managers think they have, but when we dig into exactly what they’ve said, it turns out that their wording has been mushier than they thought. In particular, managers are sometimes reluctant to say words like “If you don’t do XYZ, I will need to let you go.” Even though it’s true, saying it feels harsh or unkind to them, so instead they use fuzzier language like “We’ll need to reassess your role here” or “It’s really important that you make these changes” or “We may need to let you go.” But the absolute kindest thing you can do in a situation like this is to spell out the truth so that the person has the same information you do and isn’t blindsided at the end of the process. (And yes, many people would hear the message in the fuzzier versions, but not everyone will — so your obligation is to be clear and direct and not rely on softer hints.)

If you’re not positive that you’ve done that, or if you think the message hasn’t been received, then you should say something like this: “I want to make sure that we’re on the same page because I don’t want you to be blindsided. Right now, I’m not seeing the improvement that I need, and unless you make significant changes in your work by the end of the month (or whatever your timeframe is), we will need to let you go.”

In a different situation, it might make sense to add, “Are there other changes you can make to get to where we need you to be?” But since it sounds like he’s just fundamentally not suited to do the job, there’s no point in making him jump through more hoops if the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes people are just in the wrong job, and when that’s the case, it’s kinder to move to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

All this said … sometimes people just don’t believe what you’re telling them, no matter how clear you are. I’ve seen people be truly shocked they were getting fired despite being told two weeks previously, “We’ll reassess your performance in two weeks, and if we haven’t seen XYZ at that point, I will need to let you go.”

I’ve never been quite sure why that is. Maybe they’ve been warned in previous jobs but the manager never followed through with firing them so they don’t take the warnings seriously. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, or a way to save face.

But regardless of the explanation, it’s not your job to manage his reactions. Your job is to be very clear about what you need and where he’s falling short, and about the consequences if he doesn’t improve and the timeline for those consequences. If you’ve done that, you don’t need to keep agonizing over other ways to get the message through.

{ 323 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ann O'Nemity

    Some people have no self-awareness. You can be as clear and blunt as possible, “I will fire you tomorrow if you don’t finish this report” and they will walk away thinking “My job is secure; I’m doing a great job!”

    Reply
    1. Snark

      I had a coworker like that once, who ran up personal purchases on our employer’s credit card. Just serenely, perfectly convinced that she’d never get fired, the union would protect her and anyway other people do it all the time, no biggie, and my work is fine. She believed that right up until the meeting where the union steward informed her that there was nothing the union could do for her.

      Reply
      1. PB

        This reminds me of a student I worked with 10 years ago, when I was teaching writing to college freshmen. I told him in no uncertain terms, “You don’t have a clear thesis statement and you aren’t advancing an argument in this paper. These are major problems you need to fix.” And then coached him on how to do this. Instead, he made a few cosmetic changes and re-submitted. He was absolutely shocked when I failed him. When I asked about it, he said, “I know you said these were big problems, but I didn’t want to listen because I thought I was a good writer.”

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        1. WellRed

          I had similar with an intern on college newspaper. His first article was atrocious, like it was only a few sentences, it made no sense, etc. We suggested he end the internship while there was still time for him to find another one, which he tried to fight. Luckily we had kept a copy of article and all the internship director needed was one look at it to agree with us.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            This drove me crazy when I was teaching. “I don’t understand why my grade is bad.” “Your grades on the last five quizzes were bad and you turn in your lab reports late.” “How do I get my grade up?” “Start getting A’s on quizzes and turn your lab reports in on time.” “Is there any extra work I can do?” “Making sure your entire lab report is done would be a start.”

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            1. SimonTheGreyWarden

              Had a student come to me for tutoring the other day. She wanted me to help her raise her grade because she is failing a soft sciences course that is based just on reflection papers and a semester paper. She claimed that with my help she is sure she can pass the class.

              She has a 0%. She has turned in nothing all semester. The semester paper is due next week; it has some pretty stringent requirements and I know we can’t whip it up in the time left.

              I told her to drop the class, but she can’t because then she’ll be on academic suspension.

              Reply
    2. Kickin' Crab

      Agree. I have a coworker like this right now. She has been underperforming since she started six months ago, and has done things that are outright unethical/unprofessional. Our direct manager is AWOL, but the other senior staff have not minced words about how annoyed they are with her. And yet she blissfully says things like, “When I’m the director of this program…” Not only thinks her job is secure, but thinks she’s on the fast track to advancement!

      Reply
    3. Plague of frogs

      I worked with a really nice guy who couldn’t do his job at all. Because he was a really nice guy, they wanted to give him the chance to job hunt while he still had a job. So, they told him, “You will no longer have a job two months from now. Please start looking for a job.” And he was like, “No, I like it here.” And apparently was shocked when he was let go, on the day that he had been told that he would be let go.

      Reply
  2. fposte

    Don’t get too focused on his acceptance; he doesn’t have to accept that he’s performing badly to be fired for it.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      This reminds me of the advice given about breaking up. You don’t have to *agree* or *consent* to being broken up. You don’t have to feel good about it. But if one person wants to break up, that’s it, you’re broken up. Substitute fired as necessary and you’ve got this guy.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Or in so many AAM letters, “I quit. Friday will be my last day.” “Nope, we need you to stay on at least another 3 months. Oh, and take over Joe’s role on top of yours, because he left.”

        Reply
      2. Roo

        Same with all relationships I think, much as it sucks to have to end thing or have them end badly.

        Especially if someone genuinely doesn’t examine why it ended and the things someone told them point blank were not working for them or were hurting them. That person can be fine continuing to do those things (even after being told multiple times to quit it) but then be completely blind sided when the aggrieved party finally has enough. That’s still OK too. It’s hard to tell when someone might be overreacting or having a “them” problem but I genuinely feel like past a certain point that gets so much less ambiguous.

        …. Sorry I was the one who had to cut a friendship off back in January due to stuff like this. Still smarts.

        Reply
    2. LBK

      Precisely. As long as you’ve been as clear as Alison is above, you’ve done your ethical due diligence; the Dunning-Kruger effect isn’t terms for a wrongful termination case.

      Reply
        1. LQ

          Whoever told you humans are rational was lying. Or blinded by biases and irrationality. Humans are horrible at rationality!
          (I repeat this mantra to myself every time someone does something that is incredibly irrational, doesn’t serve themselves, doesn’t serve their values, and directly contradicts what they said they were going to do, which…you know is a lot.)

          Reply
  3. cherrytomato

    one step even further to the blunter side might be “if you don’t improve, you will be let go.” For some reason that reads more definite to me than “I will need to let you go”, maybe because the latter sounds like the manager might have that need but not follow through? idk.

    Reply
      1. LBK

        I don’t think it does to most normal people but I’m kinda with cherrytomato on this one – you might “need” to do it, but plenty of wimpy employers won’t actually fire someone they probably need to. I actually think for someone this blithely unaware you could be as direct as saying “This is blunt but I need to ensure you’re really hearing me: I will fire you if you don’t do x, y and z in the next 2 weeks.” Leave zero ambiguity.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          I can see that, but I think “If xyz doens’t happen in two weeks, I will need to let you go” maybe underscores the firing as a consequence? Emphasizing that there is a direct relationship between performance and firing feels righter to me. The “I will fire you” language is more direct but seems to suggest that firing is a personal, punitive response, not a contingent consequence.

          And now that I’ve split that hair down to its component atoms, I’m not even sure it matters. Benedict will get the message, or he won’t, and his buy-in to the firing is not required.

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          1. Kyrielle

            Or, “I will need to fire you, and I will do so.”

            But again, you can only do your best. Someone who truly doesn’t want to hear what’s coming won’t. Even if you tell them. Clearly.

            Reply
              1. Akcipitrokulo

                Yes. “I will fire you” is clear. “I will need/have to fire you” makes it sound as if there is the possibility of wiggle room… because you’re not owning the decision. Something is making you need to fire him. Now, that something is his behaviour, but it sounds like you don’t want to, and your hand is being forced.

                Leave all that complication out of it.

                “If you don’t improve then I will fire you.”

                Reply
    1. Kalkin

      That was my thought too, cherrytomato. There’s something about “I will need to let you go” that sounds more wishy-washy to me than “you’ll be let go.” Maybe it’s because the manager is the subject of the phrase, so it suggests they have some leeway or could be convinced otherwise.

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    2. Prudencep

      Ive definitely said clearly that if he doesn’t improve this will lead to termination. He has heard it from HR as well, who I’ve had explain the process to him as I wanted to be doubly sure. I know he does get it, from comments he has made in the past, but then it’s as if he brushes them off and just buries his head.

      Reply
      1. Akcipitrokulo

        Yeah, there’s no doubt he’s been given every opportunity. I think the idea is that it’s kind to him to give him a last chance at getting it… which means being brutal and clear.

        “Do this or I will fire you.” might be taken on board where “This will lead to termination” hasn’t been.

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      2. Kalkin

        Yep, there are issues here that are beyond your power to resolve. It sucks, but getting terminated might be a wake-up call for him. Some people can’t change until they have to. (Some people can’t change even then.)

        Reply
  4. Leatherwings

    It always seems like the most incompetent are the ones who recognize it the least. Certainly seems to be the case with this guy.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      The Dunning–Kruger effect, I think it’s called. Someone more competent would be able to better judge their failings!

      Reply
      1. Snark

        That really has more to do with self-evaluation of mastery of a body of knowledge more than it does with performance. That may be at issue here, but my feeling is that he’s more trying to save face.

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          That would actually be understandable – he knows he’s out of his league and doomed but hopes to cover it up with panache – but from OP’s letter it really sounds like he might not see the problem. Hard to know, and either way the result is the same: fire him.

          Reply
        2. LBK

          From Wiki: “In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.” I don’t think it’s that specific, I’ve always heard it used as a broad term to describe the inverse relationship between someone’s skill and their self-assessment of that skill.

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          1. Snark

            Sorry, my phrasing made that sound like I was refuting Lil Fidget’s characterization – that wasn’t my intent. I wanted to contrast that with the other metacognitive issue that I think is at work here, which is that I think he recognizes that he’s screwing up, but is trying the “just wait till I show you what I can really do, I’m actually competent this is totally uncharacteristic of me” sort of bullshitting approach to manage perceptions.

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            1. LBK

              Gotcha. I think the comments the OP quotes from Benedict are a little vague in that regard so it’s hard to tell; the OP’s sense seems to lean towards him truly believing he’s already doing good work vs trying to convince them he’s got potential that just hasn’t been accessed yet. At the very least he’s framing it as though he’s already succeeding, whether or not he believes that internally.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                I wonder how seriously he takes stuff like the missed deadlines? I wonder if he’s in the headspace of “I’m really thinking lots more strategically and focusing on the future! I’m improving!” and overlooking the actual performance of duties, like meeting deadlines and making contacts with stakeholders.

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                1. Malibu Stacey

                  Or he might be one of those, “but what about the deadlines I *didn’t* miss?” kind of employees.

                2. Prudencep

                  I think it’s all beyond my comprehension now! I have tried to explain what is important and why, and picked up on him when he hasn’t met deadlines, but it doesn’t sink in.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I think you’re right and suspect he’s over his head (as OP suggests) and trying to save face. This is kind of a crushing experience for someone who simply cannot make it and is incapable of improvement for whatever reason.

              [Not that that excuses his poor performance or changes anything, but it would explain the overly optimistic and overly cheery/grateful rhetoric and the completely blindness towards failing to complete essential tasks like meeting deadlines.]

              Reply
          2. snk

            “I don’t think it’s that specific, I’ve always heard it used as a broad term to describe the inverse relationship between someone’s skill and their self-assessment of that skill.”

            Agreed.

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        3. College Career Counselor

          I believe D-K effect can apply to performance as well. In any event, everything the LW describes is about how self-professedly awesome Benedict is, with no dark clouds of reality obscuring his sunny outlook. I’m also wondering how Benedict got promoted to manage a team–the Peter Principle?

          Reply
          1. Snark

            Yeah, I mangled that point trying to rearrange the sentence. Like I said above, though, I feel like there’s a companion or corollary effect to the DK, where the person correctly self-evaluates their own performance accurately…..but insists that’s an aberration, not their true potential, and that they can do so much more.

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          2. Jesca

            I am seconding the Peter Principle on this. It sounds like he can only excel given specific directions and specific parameters within those instructions. It has been in my experience dealing with people like this (who are, in my opinin, the absolutely most maddening people on the planet), is that they did really well when everyone handed them their jobs tied up in neat little bows and all the time in the world to complete it. And once they were promoted out of that, into more abstract concepts such as managing teams and processes and problem solving on one’s own, they fail miserably. But, in their minds, they have been so absolutely successful before, that they could not possibly be failing now. It is like some cognitive dissonance to help through this “new idea” that they are not as “capable” as they thought. He thought he was really great, without ever realizing that it was just that everyone else was great around him and successfully micromanaged his success. He is not one who can think on his own, and he cannot handle realizing that he in fact could not do it better than his manager as he once thought. This is how the Peter Principle happens, and without strong management like the OP, they can be left flailing about in their position for years where everyone is just expected to work around (thus, again, putting in great effort to make him successful). This isn’t happening here, as the OP has chosen to react to his lack of fit for this type of role. So, it doesn’t matter what OP says, the guy isn’t going to get it. He literally has created an alternative universe in his mind to deal with his failures when presented with reality.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              Yup. People who integrate very rigid, absolute definitions of themselves into their personality have uniquely enormous blind spots to failings in that area.

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              1. Jesca

                Yes, they are typically people who think is clear black and white – and need clear black and white directions. They can really excel and be seen as a stickler for the rules, which some management really values. They may even become very knowledgeable. But these skills don’t translate over to more free-thinking roles.

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            2. Falling Diphthong

              Hmm. This is the exact analysis I just saw of someone caught up in a scandal. Great so long as a higher-up was constraining their options; eventually promoted to a role where they set rather than followed the agenda, and things went very wonky. But with LOTS of confidence.

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            3. Prudencep

              This sounds just like Benedict. I don’t think he has been in a role before that required this amount of autonomy and decision-making and leadership. Certainly I don’t think anyone has clearly told him before about his faults, maybe just that he needs to ‘work on…’ XYZ. I’ve been thinking it’s a survival mechanism going on, but I’m not sure it’s even that conscious.

              Reply
                1. Prudencep

                  Unfortunately not, and not at his level. If he had some strong technical skills OR some strong management skills I could look at rejigging some things, but Benedict falls flat across the board.

              1. Jesca

                Yes. This is exactly what I had seen with people who create a barrier around reality. In the past, supervisors and managers either didn’t recognize their actual capabilities or just didn’t feel the need to address them – and focused heavily on praising them for being so good at following directions. For instance, some people are really good at following directions. Ok, good. They are needed for day to day tasks. Nothing wrong with that. But when that person comes to believe they somehow “know more” than management when in reality they not only have a very basic understanding of business needs but very limited capabilities of assessment, they build a self-image of themselves they can never meet. Their ego takes over and they do everything with extreme confidence. This belief is now part of the identity. Now that is challenged, and they cannot accept it.

                It is not going to matter how you put it, Benedict cannot change. If it makes you feel better, sit down with him and say “I need to see XYZ by [insert date], or you are fired.” But do not expect it to happen. I would even venture to say to start today on finding work arounds now until his firing goes through. You cannot change someone who has chosen to distance themselves from reality to this extent. Haha take it from someone who learned this the hard way over and over again. I say this because he is subconsciously doing this, but he is aware on some level that he has been “exposed” as being less than competent, and will not stop until removed – if ever.

                Reply
                1. Jesca

                  On second thought, It may be helpful to mention to him how you are aware of his past success in other roles, but the “very important skills” needed to be successful in those roles just don’t translate to this one. And kind of make it sound like he is not “failing” but just not “fitting”. This may cause him to drop the dissonance he is subconsciously holding on to a little. It is reorienting his mind, by giving him something to compare to and grasp. Thats the hail Marry you can throw him!

            4. Oranges

              They are great for one thing (at least in my experience with them): doing the repetitive things over and over again. That’s literally the only reason one of my co-workers is still here. He needs extensive hand holding and it drives me nuts. But doing what he does every day? More nuts.

              I understand where it comes from and all. But holy crap sometimes I just want to snap “Figure. It. Out.”

              Reply
            5. Someone else

              Bloom’s Taxonomy. This dude was hired with the expectation he’d have Synthesizing+Evaluating level knowledge, but dude has Recall at best. That’s why when every step of what to do is perfectly spelled out, he can do it correctly, but he doesn’t have sufficient knowledge to know what steps to do, in what order, without it being handed to him. He can’t make decisions. He doesn’t even comprehend why he’s doing what he’s doing when he’s doing it. (at least, that’s the vibe I get given the LW’s explanation of how much guidance he seems to need)

              Reply
            6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Jesca, this is amazingly intuitive and really excellent (as are your follow-ups—but you’re often super insightful). Not that you need validation from me, but it blew my mind in a good way, and I wanted to share that. :)

              Reply
  5. Lil Fidget

    I do think there’s some psychological denial factor that goes on at times like this. I know during the most dire moments of my life, I’m still over here thinking “this will probably all work out!” when signs are very clearly pointing to things *not working out.* I assume it’s evolutionary – even when you saw that sabre toothed tiger coming at you with its jaws open, it was still worth it to try and run?

    Reply
    1. Pommette!

      Yes. This is especially true when there isn’t anything you can do to actually improve the situation.

      And that could be the case here: maybe the employee is trying hard and still failing to meet his employers’ demands. He could be in denial, trying to preserve himself from a painful realization. He could also be aware that there is a real problem, but think that pretending it isn’t happening is the best way to minimize the awkwardness and misery until he does get fired.

      In any case, it’s not a fun situation for the employee or for the manager.

      Reply
  6. wayward

    In some environments, being confident and self-aggrandizing will go far (at least with a male employee), even if the work product isn’t very good. I wonder if “Benedict” might be used to this working for him, if it has at other jobs.

    Reply
    1. As Close As Breakfast

      Yes! And most of us have worked with at least one person like this. Big talk that never amounts to big action and suddenly you realize they’ve been working here for like a year and you have no idea what, if anything, they’ve actually accomplished. It’s good to see the OP actually taking charge of the situation and taking action. I think it would be good though if the OP carefully considered what effect Benedict’s work ‘failings’ might be having on his coworkers or subordinates. And maybe the OP is doing this, but the letter seems more focused on helping Benedict, while other employees might be suffering on a day to day basis because Benedict can’t do his job right.

      Reply
      1. Salamander

        Yeah. Benedicts are almost always bad for morale. They often focus on looking good to folks further up the food chain, but you can bet that he’s causing a lot of stress for the people below him or at his level.

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      2. Kiki

        I used to have a coworker like this. He was a sales director who brought in literally ZERO new clients in his three years at the company (and actually drove away a few established clients with his attitude). Yet on every phone call and at every meeting he was confidently boasting about his full pipeline and the number of lunch meetings he had booked with potential clients for a given week.

        He only stayed as long as he did because he was personal friends with the CEO. Once that company was bought out he was gone in the first round of layoffs.

        Reply
        1. JulieBulie

          LOL, “potential clients” is a verrrrry large group of people. Enough people to have lunch with one every day!

          Reply
        2. anonThisTime

          I had a co-worker like this too. He’d come into the office and talk like he was the best thing ever. I had to deal with him once when he called in about a reporting issue, and he was so freaked out about the issue, it took a very very long time to get enough information from him to be able to help him. One co-worker told me she had decided that part of the job in working with him was calming him down first so that she could get the info about the problem. Frustrating!

          Reply
    2. Temperance

      Yep. We used to have a dude who worked in Sales at my last company. The “big boss”, also a dude (of course), LOVED Anthony. Anthony was the guy who would like, brag about taking home 25-year-olds, in the office, while he was in his 40s. Anthony more or less just took prospects golfing and out to lunch and to shows. Once his job was eliminated, because it was a useless job, he was forced to actually do sales of office space rather than just court clients.

      I bet you would not be shocked to know that Anthony sucked at actually doing sales. His numbers were abysmal once the fun golfing and free lunches ended. Of course, Big Boss found him another BS job at our org, because they were bros or whatever.

      Reply
        1. The New Wanderer

          I know of one case of a woman who only liked certain parts of her job (the international travel, schmoozing, etc) and chose not to produce reports of any kind documenting her work, even when directed to do so, and appeared to suffer zero consequences of just … not doing a large part of her job. Somehow she had a great reputation, but only outside the group she worked with, and left to take a fairly high profile position at another company.

          So, rare but possible.

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          1. Elizabeth West

            This makes me want to cry. I would love to have a job where I traveled internationally (well, not sales, because I suck at it so I guess I couldn’t), and I work my ass off. And here she is being the slacker of the universe and OMG. >:'(

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          2. LizzE

            Oh, I have a colleague who is very similar. She is very charming and very good at being relational; a lot of her job entails cultivation and networking. No surprise the parts of her job she spends the most amount of time on are the lunches, after-work cocktail events and industry conferences – on the company dime no less. But ask her to create a strategy, talk metrics or any of the boring work where she cannot be at some social outing? Always finds an excuse why she cannot do it or why she is behind her work (“I am busy” or “too overwhelmed” are the main ones).

            She was protected by our last CEO, but we got a new one recently, and I have a feeling she will not last much longer. Still, she has been here 9 years – 7 in her current director-level position! That is a long time to skate on by.

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            1. SchoolStarts!

              I worked at a place with one of those. Tons of charm…and flirting too. The panic would come out during deadline crunches but until then, it was all about her.

              When she moved from one province to another, everyone else somehow got involved, but not her.

              I suspect that she was also sleeping with key players. With the crap hit the fan at that job (heads rolled country wide), she was sacked along with them. She didn’t take it well.

              Reply
          3. Going Anon for This

            I have one like that at my company. Has actually driven clients away, yet still gets promotions and other perks.

            Reply
      1. KS

        I did a double-take at this because the “Benedict” at my job is also named Anthony. And the big boss loves him, despite his proven-useless strategy and abysmal numbers.

        He was actually interim VP for a bit, during which his entire department became a trash fire… he was demoted back to his former position for that, but once the new permanent VP was hired he managed to cozy up to him sufficiently to be named Associate VP. All while pretending like he hadn’t done that kind of department management/strategy work before and been hopeless at it.

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    3. Meyers and Briggs are not real doctors

      This.

      Is anyone seeing this more and more? Seems times are changing to make this okay these days.

      Reply
    4. Serin

      That’s what I was thinking. The description of the job mentioned strategy (which can’t be evaluated with numbers) and politics (which rewards confidence) — both of those would attract employees whose response to alarm bells would be a bigger smile and a warmer handshake, and that would be true whether he thought the alarm bells were real or whether he was quite sure it would all blow over.

      But if he’s in a PIP on the verge of being fired, the company is already getting everything from him that he’s capable of giving; it’s too late to do anything about this but get him out of the position and replace him with someone who actually gets things done. This is no longer a performance problem; it’s a bad hire that the company needs to use as a learning experience.

      Reply
    5. Prudencep

      I’m pretty sure this is how Benedict got the job and through probation in the first place (I wasn’t in post then). But he is very good at self-promotion at a surface level.

      Reply
      1. Sara without an H

        I’d wondered about that. There are people who interview very well, but just don’t deliver on the job. All hat and no cattle, as they say in Texas.

        Reply
        1. SusanIvanova

          The D&D version is “Put all his skill points in Bluff”. Coworker Coffeecup was a Benedict. After I’d waited two weeks for his half of a project and then used Google and half an hour of another coworker’s time to do it myself, I told my manager I would never work with him again. His reaction? “Oh, but I was so looking forward to getting to use my llama-shearing skills!” What skills? I hadn’t been around llamas for nearly 20 years and it took me two days!

          Reply
    6. Not So NewReader

      You know, the odd part is that the disconnect is so severe that you can tell the Benedicts of the world to stop bragging and they just don’t understand at all.

      Reply
    1. As Close As Breakfast

      So, I briefly imagined how great it would be if things could only happen at work after I had given my acceptance… and it was truly amazing! For about 3 seconds. Until I imagined the first you-may-accept-the-floral-bathroom-spray but I-do-not-accept-the-floral-bathroom-spray death match. It deteriorated quickly from there.

      Reply
  7. Engineer Girl

    Can you quantify what success looks like?
    Project is x% complete by this date
    Handle all a,b, c problems to complete closure
    Using quantitative metrics makes it very clear he isn’t meeting them. And tell him you need 100% compliance for him to stay.
    But it sounds like a job mismatch.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Agree, although unfortunately it sounds like this person is leading a team and being responsive, which is harder to break down into quantitative metrics. It sounds like this person has just been promoted beyond the limits of their competence.

      Reply
      1. copy run start

        Curious: could you use his teams’ metrics for quantitative measurement? If he’s supposed to be managing them and setting strategy, removing obstacles to success, etc., maybe there’s something firm to grasp to there? (Assuming his team doesn’t have any major issues impacting them that aren’t related to Benedict….)

        Reply
      2. Prudencep

        Yes, coming up with measures has been the hardest part, particularly since some of the biggest parts relate to his leadership and management performance. His team is relatively high-achieving but that’s in spite of, rather than because of, Benedict. They have come to me OTR to tell me how frustrated they are, how they can’t see any passion from him for their work or big projects etc. They’re all very nice people and worry about hurting him.

        So he has deadlines to meet, documents I get him to do, I need to see evidence of certain activities come through in meeting minutes, and various other things. But when his role is more leadership and strategy those can be hard things to measure. HR have been a great help!

        Reply
        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          OP, no advice beyond what you have already received, but I would love to hear an update. I have been in a similar situation and it ended OK, but the report never did see why the termination happened. I’m hoping your situation turns out better

          Reply
          1. Prudencep

            Sure, I’m not sure how long the process will take once we get to the end of the PIP, but I’ll do an update letter.

            Reply
    2. Snark

      I mean, sure, OP could probably quantify that, but I feel like that’s falling into the trap of allowing Benedict to litigate his own firing.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        On the contrary, I actually think EG’s right that that avoids the possibility of him litigating it, which is easier with subjective criteria. “Project X needed to be delivered on 12/31, it was not, ergo you are fired” is much harder to argue with than “You’re not focusing enough on the future.”

        Reply
        1. Snark

          Sure, but I want to underline that OP can fire Benedict if she wants and needs to, with or without his buy-in, whether or not he needs the point hammered home with a 20lb sledge. If she wants to quantify it for him to quell some litigating in the moment, that’s cool, but ultimately, “your performance isn’t where I need it to be” is all the justification needed.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Oh, for sure. I think it’s more for the OP’s own peace of mind; when you’re dealing with someone who’s so cognitively baffling, you want to do things in a way that you’re 100% sure a normal human would understand so that if he still just doesn’t get it you can rest easy knowing he’s the problem, not you. It helps avoid the “firer’s remorse” that sometimes comes afterwards when you second guess whether you really gave the person a fair shot.

            Reply
            1. Bibliovore

              Oh, gosh, firer’s remorse. I’ve had this. Then I look at the discilplinary letters and investigation summaries, remember the misery and move on.

              Reply
        2. Falling Diphthong

          I was struck that while hand gestures are blunt, they’re also very abstract. Whereas “You must meet deadlines A, B, and C” is concrete.

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            Like, if someone asked Alison’s favorite interviewee question responded “A good performer is here (gestures to shoulder) and a great performer is here (gestures above head).”

            Reply
            1. LBK

              I can see that, but I also think it’s blunt in the sense that it’s simplistic. Explaining something in such a visual way is how you make a point to children.

              Reply
          2. Mephyle

            This is something I was thinking, too. He may understand that he has to “do more” and “try harder” but the simple hand gestures aren’t showing him what doing more and trying harder looks like in terms of accomplishments in the context of what he is supposed to be achieving. Additionally, that could be why he thinks he is doing ok; he doesn’t understand the specifics of where he is falling down; doesn’t know what he is supposed to be doing that he isn’t doing.

            Reply
            1. Prudencep

              Oh he definitely has specifics as well, but I’ve tried EVERYTHING to get the point across. Well, everything but interpretive dance.

              Reply
              1. Tuesday Next

                That’s what I was wondering about because the visibility of specifics isn’t really apparent in the original email. But if you’ve clearly communicated the specifics to him, it’s hard to see how he’s still not getting it.

                “Recently he’s missed two deadlines, but has spent that time telling me how much he is enjoying the opportunity to do this work and being given the chance to show me how good he can be” – this seems like a great opportunity to say “No Benedict, you have missed two deadlines. That is not good, it’s bad”. Each time he tells you how well he’s doing is a chance for you to point out that actually, he isn’t. He’s trying to measure his performance by some other metrics than the job requires and he either truly doesn’t understand or he’s trying to save face.

                Reply
                1. Prudencep

                  My letter was probably somewhat vague because I’m half terrified he will take the initiative (hahahahahahahahaaaa) and google about PIPs and be able to see himself in this. I take your point. I have been more inclined to let his talking himself up slide by or given him a bit of a reality check but I’ve addressed specific issues separately (although within the same meeting). I think I do need to link those specifics back when he says how well he is doing.

                  I mean, I definitely don’t agree with him or murmur in a positive way or anything, but I’m usually taking a second to choke down the sobs of frustration that are dying to come out!

      2. Artemesia

        This. The job is obviously over this guys head. The kinds of problems cited are not things someone can improve quickly by being told to do so or by ‘trying hard.’ He needs to be fired and so anything that blurs that makes it worse. Have security around that day.

        Reply
    3. Trout 'Waver

      Sometimes quantifying success is a lot of work. Figuring out all the deadlines and what is needed to complete them is oftentimes the brunt of the work. If that is part of Benedict’s job, spelling it out for him is just doing his job for him.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        I feel I’m even doing his job for him in having to remind him multiple times per week that the onus is on him to come up with how he will do the set task, to tell me early if there’s doing to be an issue, to come to me to seek clarification… I think he has been hand held his whole life so he struggles to come up with even an approach for achieving the clearest tasks in the PIP.

        Reply
  8. Edina Monsoon

    I wonder if he saying to other employees that he’s not doing well and they’re trying to be helpful by saying things like ‘you’ll be fine’ and ‘no one ever gets fired here’ so he doesn’t really believe you. I’ve seen it happen before where management have been very clear with someone that they’re not up to scratch but they just continue doing what they’re doing and don’t really believe that anyone gets fired.

    I actually had one colleague tell me that she ought to be promoted to management as selling wasn’t really her strong point, unfortunately her job was in sales and she was shocked when she got fired.

    Reply
    1. Prudencep

      It’s quite hard with it being such a confidential process too, so no one else knows and even if they did I wouldn’t expect them to play the role of a reality check. I think it’s hard to say anything but “oh you’ll be fiiiiiiine” if a colleague comes to you about something like this.

      Reply
  9. Dovahkiin

    I’ve been in your spot OP and I sympathize. It’s tough being in a slow-motion car wreck. Alison’s advice is spot-on. He might just be willfully oblivious and your instincts are probably right – he’s not capable of the amount of improvement you need for him to function in this role. You’ll probably need to start making peace with letting him go.

    The upside – sounds like HR has your back (plus they’re being super supportive and resourceful right now!) and upper management is good with giving this guy an exit if he doesn’t improve. That’s great support to have. There are tons of dysfunctional workplaces out there that don’t have these processes in place, so underperformers (and nonperformers) can keep blundering on in a hamster wheel of bonkery while their managers and their coworkers are forced to pick up their slack. Maybe your colleague came from one of those offices and thinks this is normal. Or maybe he really does have a teflon-coated sense of his own superiority.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect is one heck of a drug. I’m sorry.

    Reply
    1. Prudencep

      Thank you so much for your response. Did you get through the process okay? At the moment I’ve starting to focus more on my own self-preservation because it is so draining.

      I am really lucky to have the support that I do. They are all great and have been with me every step of the way, including making sure I really want to do this (it’s not in me to leave a problem!), helping with wording, helping with the PIP etc. I’ve been in other workplaces where I’ve seen these things never addressed and now I’m in a position to do something I need to either help him to improve, or get him out the door. Everyone is getting a really huge thank you at the end of this!

      Reply
      1. Bibliovore

        This is draining. Take care of yourself. Remember there are so many people out there who would love to do this job well. If this person is incapable they are better off somewhere else.

        Reply
        1. Prudencep

          Thank you. Yes, it’s super draining and I sometimes resent having to do it because how much it’s impacting on me. But then I think about what it would be like if I DIDN’T do it and that keeps me going.

          Reply
      2. Dovahkiin

        I got through the process ok and gained some much-needed management experience. It was painful (it was hard for me to watch someone (willfully) fail even with a ton of structure and support), but I resolved to learn from it.
        I wrote down the red flags I noticed in hindsight and took some hiring training. It was a good lesson for me to watch what people do as a better indicator of performance instead of listening to what they say.
        But yeah, take some PTO after it’s over. Relax, and learn from it what you can.

        Reply
        1. Prudencep

          I think I’ll book in to go and lie on a beach for a week once it’s all done! I’ll be too tired to do much else, but something to look forward to. It’s definitely a learning experience and it’s opened my eyes to things I didn’t know I didn’t know!

          Reply
  10. Bibliovore

    I had exactly this situation. I was a direct as humanly possible. Deliverables in writing. Due dates. Coaching meetings. Rubrics for what successful completion looks like.
    I was not permitted by HR to say. Do you understand that each of these points must be completed consistently and successfuly or you will be terminated from your position on x date?
    She felt that because she went from being 15 to 20 minutes late everyday to once a week that she was successful and I was unreasonable.
    She felt saying that the report due on Friday by noon was not going to be delivered until Monday made that okay because she had communicated.
    She felt that mistakes made on payroll were okay because there used to be 1o and now there were only 5.
    My sympathies.

    Reply
    1. Prudencep

      Ouch. Yes I’m lucky I have the support of HR and my senior managers. He actually hasn’t done himself any favours through this process so they’ve been able to witness some of it themselves. That has certainly helped them understand some of the scale of the problem. I don’t think at the end he will go without a fight though.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I am sorry but today is your last day; Fred will walk you out – does not really allow for further discussion. Don’t feel like you need to have a long argument at that point. And make sure there is security to walk him out. If possible to give a week or two severance that is kind.

        Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      Late report. Oh boy. Family member had a late report. The reason involved not being able to find their glasses. (I can’t make this stuff up, I am not that creative.) Management laid down the law and the union backed up management. Family member lawyered up. The lawyer got FM off the hook but when all was said and done, the lawyer told FM, “Do not ever do this again and if you do, DO NOT call me.”
      FM was shocked, appalled, upset, etc that the lawyer said this. Even after the dust settled FM could not see that they had done something wrong.

      Reply
  11. Meyers and Briggs are not real doctors

    I went to college late, in my late 20s/early 30s. I’m a Gen Xer and it was difficult to be around young folks that do this. They think if they can argue back, with good points, that that’s a good thing…soemthing positive will come of it, like a better grade, or simply the prof/boss/higher up person liking them better! Unfortunately it seems profs endorsed this kind of behavior, by allowing it and entertaining this nonsense. I was constantly confused as to why what they’re doing was good, because it just made them look silly, especially when you KNOW they really aren’t in a psoition to argue back, because their work sucked to begin with!

    (Maybe the profs were just entertained, and enjoyed watching the low achiever getting worked up to defend their crappy work? I don’t know. Many an eyeroll was done in my head in those days, which usually manefested in a blank stare.)

    It must be a generational thing, because I would never think to try to argue back about my performance in the way the millenials that I see do. Not trying to do a crap-on-millenials post but just stating what I’ve seen… I was young and stupid once too, I suppose, and argued with teachers over all sorts of petty stuff that I thought I got the shaft on…You know, before I became a grownup and realized how silly I was.

    It just seems these days that 1) confidence and 2) selling yourself means more than actual results. These are assets or something, right? Isn’t that how it is these days? :/

    Reply
    1. Snark

      “It must be a generational thing, because I would never think to try to argue back about my performance in the way the millenials that I see do.”

      The only people I’ve ever actually seen do this are Boomers. Let’s not make this a generational thing.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, I was going to say, this sounds like Boomer behavior. (I’m a boomer and I would agree we pushed back way too often.)

        Reply
    2. Ramona Flowers

      Okay. Except this letter makes no mention of age. And yesterday’s employee who couldn’t take feedback was 35. So I’m not sure that this is relevant or reasonable.

      Reply
    3. LBK

      This is a virtue of age, not generation. You yourself even say you probably did the same thing when you were younger. Everyone (well, almost everyone) gets wiser as they get older; Millennials did not invent the concept of experience. Even the oldest and wisest people in the world didn’t spring fully educated from Zeus’ head at birth.

      Reply
    4. Dr. Speakeasy

      I also don’t think it is a generational thing…. but yes, as a prof I probably do let blowhard complainers complain away without letting them know that it is probably seen as inappropriate. I used to but it becomes a massive blow to the evals that I can’t afford. I just let them ramble on, point back to documentation about why they got the grade they did and assign grades accordingly. With a cheerful smile all the way.

      That being said – this I would say only about 1-2% of my students are unreasonable complainers.

      Reply
            1. Dr. Speakeasy

              Oh wait…. I don’t hand out Bs (but I am also lucky to have a tenure-track position, I sympathize with adjuncts and lecturers who have to have near perfect evals every semester without the anywhere close to near perfect resources).

              Reply
    5. Falling Diphthong

      It must be a generational thing, because I would never think to try to argue back about my performance in the way the millenials that I see do.

      I’m 49. You must have an incredibly narrow pool of Gen Xers (and baby boomers0, to have never seen one try this technique.

      Reply
    6. Prudencep

      I’m not sure about the generational thing, at least in this context. We’re actually both the same age and had similar upbringings and similar level of qualifications etc. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’m a woman that Benedict struggles to accept what I say, but I might be reading too much into that in just trying to understand where he is coming from.

      Reply
      1. AMT

        I wonder if that’s part of it (not the generational thing, the same age thing). My wife managed a guy in his early thirties while she was still in her late twenties. He was similar to Benedict: couldn’t take feedback, terrible at learning simple processes, still thought he was an excellent employee. I wonder whether he would have taken her direction a bit more seriously if she had been a few years older than him and/or male. As it was, despite her spending more time coaching him than any other employee, he claimed to be “blindsided” by negative feedback and eventually quit without notice.

        Reply
      2. Oranges

        Being a women in tech I must say that this is a thing. My bar is set at “Must be able to take direction from a woman”. I have stated this to my boss when we did our last hiring round.

        It’s so annoying since giving negative feedback is already a pain and then them not following through on it so I either have to let it go, stop all progress until they fix it or fix it myself. The fact that fixing it myself is the easiest of those options is just…. gah!

        Reply
        1. Prudencep

          Oh for sure. Until this workplace I’d really needed to deal with this stuff at work before (just the casual harassment in the wider world!). Now I’ve become more acutely aware of how some people just don’t seem to listen to me because of my gender.

          Reply
    7. sin nombre

      Not trying to do a crap-on-millenials post but just stating what I’ve seen

      “I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin”
      “No offense but”
      “Don’t take this the wrong way but”
      “I’m not racist but”

      Ugh. Maybe if you’re not trying to do a crap-on-millennials post you should’ve reread your crap-on-millennials post and deleted it instead of posting.

      Reply
    8. Suzanne

      I mean, I was always told people would argue about their grades with me, but it’s happened maybe twice in the 160 students I’ve taught for the past three years, and I teach one of the highest-fail classes on my campus. The first thing I do is fail half their papers. They don’t like it, but they don’t argue with me about it.
      I think it’s an individual thing more than a young thing or a generational thing. Some people just like to argue.
      It could also be a campus culture or a classroom culture issue, where in some campuses or in some classrooms it’s more common than in others.

      Reply
    9. SusanIvanova

      It’s not a generational thing. My paternal DNA contributor actually told me to try that when I was flunking out of college – my problem was that I’d done high school homework during roll call, so the ideas of “study”, “homework”, or even “ask the prof for help” were strangers to me – and he was just a bit too old to be a Baby Boomer.

      I didn’t actually do that. It just seemed all-around embarrassing to even think about trying. But I would bet anything that the PDNAC had been the Benedict everywhere he worked.

      Reply
    10. H

      I was a TA for a mid-career masters program. I would guess that the youngest student was early 30s, but most of them were 40s-60s. They argue about grades a lot, and with really varying degrees of justifications/excuses. I don’t think it’s generational. To echo some of the other responses here though, I think that was exacerbated by the fact that I am a tiny woman who was younger than most if not all of them.

      Reply
  12. Rookie Manager

    Benedict sounds like my predecessor. Everyone external to my organisation has told me how wonderful he was, what a kind and accomplished man, so charming. I am picking up all the pieces of the team he completely failed to manage. Having seen some of the correspondence he was given very clear messages but did not believe it. Even after being fired he got in touch with me (we never met before I took the job) to advise me on how best to do the role! I nodded and smiled.

    On the other hand, please, please make sure you are really explicit in the feedback and potential outcomes. I failed a placement at college because after my first tutor visit I heard ‘doing ok, think about how you could do a, b and c better’. Second visit I was failed because I hadn’t thought about a, b and c in the way the tutor wanted me to. I had to resit the whole placement. If I understood the feedback from the first visit I would have, hopefully, fixed the issues. If he failed me on the first visit a second tutor would’ve given me an interim visit and further feedback. As it was 3 days before the end of my placement I was told I had failed and it was too late to fix it. Sorry if this is completly off topic.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      “Even after being fired he got in touch with me … to advise me on how best to do the role! I nodded and smiled.”

      Wow. Just wow.

      Reply
      1. Rookie Manager

        Unbelievable eh? He keeps popping in to the office when I’m not there (industry events that he would expect me to attend, cynical me?) to see how I’m getting on. I’m now setting up a meeting to kindly and directly tell him to pack it in.

        Reply
    2. JulieBulie

      Not off topic, this actually seems like a perfect example of what Alison warns against. If someone told me “you’re doing ok, think about how you could do a, b and c better,” I would think that I was doing ok and that I was expected to think about how I could do a, b, and c better (maybe to discuss at our next meeting). I would not think that my a, b, and c were unacceptable (not “ok”) and that I was on the verge of failure. Sheesh!

      People may spend the first couple of decades of their lives learning how to be “tactful” and spare people’s feelings. This is supported by family and friends and school. But there’s no similar program for teaching people to recognize all the things that are more important sparing than someone’s feelings. Most people would not interpret “doing ok” as “not doing ok.”

      Reply
      1. Rookie Manager

        Yes! I would have much preferred less tact and more direct feedback. Now I’m on a completely different career path but work hard to make sure my feedback is super clear.

        Reply
      2. The Wonder Cootie

        Exactly this. The first thing that came to my mind was, ” Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

        Reply
    3. Teapot Librarian

      Oof. I have an employee who has that fantastic reputation outside the organization but who is terrible inside the organization. I’ve even heard from other employees that (before I was here) he HIT an intern or two. But he sells himself well and he sells his institutional knowledge well, and so I’m having trouble getting support for doing what I need to do.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        Hit people??! Well at least I don’t have that on my list (yet). I think Benedict has a much better reputation outside of the org (which would be one of the reasons he got the role), but it is all just veneer.

        Reply
  13. Student

    I had a direct report just like this. In our case, the direct report had some sort of mental illness (as was clear from other interactions with him – I’m not suggesting that’s the case here), and I suspected that was a major contributing factor to his inability to take negative feedback seriously. He too latched onto any minor praise or positive reinforcement, in the face of otherwise overwhelming negative feedback.

    I suggest that, if you haven’t otherwise done so, you chat with other people he interacts with regularly to try to get some additional feedback from a different perspective. It might help push you in one direction or another to keep trying or give up and fire him. In our case, it exposed substantial additional reasons to fire him.

    Further, consider whether this is a “messenger” problem instead of a “message” problem. I sometimes find that certain people don’t take me seriously when I say something, but will take an equivalent colleague seriously when the colleague says exactly the same thing. That’s a firing issue, since you’re his manager, but if that’s what is happening it might make it easier on you to fire him if you find he’s not taking you, specifically, seriously.

    Reply
  14. C Average

    Is there any kind of off-ramp for him, whether it’s a lateral or even backward move or an assurance from the OP that he’d receive a good reference if he were to seek a job elsewhere that’s more in line with his strengths? I’ve been the person who’s landed in a job I objectively lacked the skills to do well (and there’s no way I would’ve known this without getting the job and quickly coming to realize it would never be a good fit for me), and it sucked. There was a strong temptation to childishly double down on insisting that yes, of course I could do the job, but it was honestly a relief when I could begin speaking candidly with my manager about an exit plan.

    Reply
    1. AMT

      I wonder if the LW can ethically give a good reference, though. From reading both the letter and the LW’s subsequent comments, it sounds like this isn’t a “not the right fit, but his talents might line up with a different job” issue, but a “profound lack of general workplace skills” issue. There’s no job that won’t require Benedict to take negative feedback seriously.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        If he asks me to provide a reference I will be upfront with him about what I will say. So then it would be up to him to put my name forward. I would be truthful, so it would be best not to use my name. But this has been going on for a while now and he has had plenty of opportunities to look for other positions within the organisation, and I certainly would have supported him into something that was more aligned. Unfortunately now we’ve got to this stage and I don’t think he will jump before he is pushed.

        Reply
  15. HR Expat

    I agree with Alison’s advice (as usual), but would add a couple more points. You shouldn’t feel bad about this so long as you have:
    1) Set clear expectations of what good performance looks like
    2) reviewed performance with “Benedict” regularly throughout the course of the performance issues
    3) provided him clear examples where he’s not meeting expectations
    4) provided him with opportunities for training and development
    5) asked him what else you can do to help him improve

    It sounds like you’ve done all these things, OP. It’s now up to him to reflect and change. If he’s not willing or able to follow through, then he needs to go.

    I recently fired someone for performance who was on a PIP for 12 months (there were several “pauses” to the process due to vacations and health-related absences). He had weekly reviews with his manager with examples where he was failing, 4 formal reviews with the manager and myself where we recapped the performance and asked for his explanations, and was given every opportunity for training, development or other needs that would help him. In the end, he was still shocked that he was fired and thought that we were not being fair to him. This was, of course, because no one ever was fired in this company until new leadership came in and started holding people accountable.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m going to disagree with #4 in some cases. Offering training makes sense in some cases, but there are other skills that a person isn’t going to develop to the extent necessary in the amount of time a manager typically has available to invest in the person. When it’s clear that’s the case, it’s kinder not to drag things out.

      Reply
      1. HR Expat

        You’re right, Alison. Maybe I should have phrased it as offering development and training if it makes sense to do so. If someone is in a very system-dependant role and is having issues with certain system processes, it can be helpful to give them refresher training. Not so much if the concerns are behavioral or interpersonal.

        Reply
        1. Prudencep

          For some aspects of it I’m open to development activities of a more structure nature for Benedict, but to be honest he has already had so much training and it doesn’t sink in. Due to a restructure we had our organisation has been generous in training particularly around soft skills and working better together and he has attended it all. He just doesn’t seem capable to apply what he has learned into practical experiences.

          Reply
          1. Kiwi

            In that case it sounds like you’ve done all 5 of that (excellent) list. You have this internet stranger’s permission to fire him without feeling guilty.

            Reply
          2. HR Expat

            There’s only so much you can do as a manager. Ultimately, it’s up to the employee to take action and improve (with your support and help). If he doesn’t want or isn’t able to improve, you are doing the right thing for your team/department/company by firing him. And really, it might be the wake-up call that he needs to start fresh somewhere else and learn from his mistakes at your company.

            Reply
        2. I'm A Little TeaPot

          Even behavioral/interpersonal issues can be worked on. Just like communication skills can be worked on, and mgmt skills. Depends obviously, but you can coach on this stuff. The consequences if you don’t can be ugly.

          Reply
            1. Prudencep

              I think if it was just one of these pieces that was a problem then it could possibly be resolved? It’s just that there are so many to deal with and they all relate to the core competencies of the position. He has certainly been to training and mentoring and had some coaching sessions and we’ve discussed these different things, but he can’t seem to translate into practice.

              Reply
      2. HRperson

        Something I haven’t seen yet mentioned is the fact that if things are this glaringly terrible and there is no longer hope of improvement, there is no mandate to finish out the PIP period. You can just call it a day and end employment. Put everyone out of their misery. A PIP should be a plan for improvement – if there is no longer any hope that this will be the outcome, have a conversation around that and end employment right away.

        Reply
        1. HR Expat

          But I think that depends on company policies/practices and sometimes legal obligations. Based on some spelling in the OPs comments, I’m wondering if this is happening outside of the US where there may be other legal requirements that prevent the OP from ending this early?

          Reply
  16. Lisa

    There’s always the method of having him repeat back his understanding of what you are saying. So spell out your expectations and where you see him falling short and how you want him to address this. Then ask him to come back to you with his understanding of what you just said. Or break it into three sections and do this with each individual section. He may be glossing over what you say in his mind but making him repeat it back to you with his understanding may finally get through. If not then it may be time for him to go, or possibly offer him a role that has clear guidelines and tasks. Some people are just not meant for the out of the box thinking jobs and just need to be told what to do.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Ooh, this is smart! I’m going to try and remember this trick. I worry it could come across as condescending if it’s done wrong, but “can you sum up for me what you heard in this meeting” could be useful, if you get them to say the word “fired.” Can’t say you didn’t warn them then.

      Reply
    2. OhNo

      If nothing else, it will give you a chance to say, “That’s not what I said, I said X.”

      That might be more of a ticking-your-boxes to cover your company if he tries to seek recompense for being fired, though. At this point, I expect it’s too late for him to make any significant changes in time to keep his job.

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      If he needs that much assistance to learn the job then probably the job is not for him. Part of leadership is to be able to make some decisions on your own and gradually increase that.
      If he is leading people he definitely should not be going around bragging about his own great work. He does not seem to understand what it means to lead people.

      Alison leads people. She does not have to explain that or tell us she does great work. We can read what she says and realize it.

      Reply
  17. KC without the sunshine band

    I had an employee who I worked with on performance for literally months. I was his newly hired boss, and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt until I was sure it wasn’t a training/leadership issue. Every month the excuses continued with no improvement. It finally got to the point that I told him straight out if he didn’t hit these targets by the end of the month he would be let go. The day came, and my boss and I went to his office to give him the official news. He actually said, “You mean you want me to leave right now?” He was incredulous that we would ask him to leave immediately. My boss basically said, “Yeah, that’s how it works when you are fired.” It took him two hours to get his personal things out of the office including a bookshelf. He certainly hadn’t planned ahead for that. You can be as blunt as possible and some people are never going to get it. To this day, I’m sure our ex-employee thinks he was blind-sided and fired unfairly.

    Reply
    1. Pineapple Incident

      I’ve written here before about a woman in my division who was like this. She was completely flabbergasted that she was being let go when it happened, and somehow despite the consistent negative feedback that there were major issues wrong with every piece of work she sent my office for review thought she was improving somehow. She was mean to her reports (like hand in front of one woman’s face to stop her from talking during a meeting(!) mean) and had no filter- very inappropriate outbursts shared in a semi-open office area that were disruptive to those she worked with.

      I’m sure that the individuals in my office who explained to her why she was being fired will be the villains in her version of the story until the end of time.

      Reply
  18. The Supreme Troll

    “…managing a team, strategy, being future focused, communicating with many different stakeholders, complex problem-solving, and playing the political game.” OP, I think it is very important that you convey these points (maybe in different wording) to Benedict so that it is crystal clear to him why he is failing at his job duties. I am assuming that Benedict’s job is in a managerial or leadership type role, and so it needs to be kind of hammered to him that he is not being successful at all in what his job duties require. Definitely do not “up-play” the part where you feel he works best with specific instructions, because that has very little relevance to what his job requires of him. Alison has given very good advice on using the most direct language in you interaction with him. Best of luck.

    Reply
      1. The Supreme Troll

        Your very welcome, Prudencep. I know that you said that you covered all of the bases, so to speak, in the points that HR Expat mentioned above. I think that you have been more than generous to Benedict.

        Reply
  19. Erin

    Sounds like you can look forward to this no longer being a problem a month from now, when you inevitably need to fire this dude who is clearly a terrible fit for the job.

    Reply
  20. Menacia

    Does this guy understand what being put on a PIP means? If it has been explained to him clearly and he still is not performing I seriously doubt he will ever realize what is doing (not doing) is *not* working. I think this is what happens when “everyone” gets a trophy, they think that as long as they show up, they are doing well!

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Speaking one as the generation that got the participation trophies, I think other generations tend to vastly overestimate the degree to which we internalized that.

      Reply
      1. Emi.

        I always knew participation trophies were bullshit, and I was sort of confused about why the adults seemed to think I would be excited to receive them. It was like “Thanks, but can I go throw this away now please?”

        Reply
        1. Snark

          Yup. It’s not like I was ever thrilled to get a crappy little certificate or whatever. And it certainly never made me think I’d actually done well just by showing up.

          Reply
        2. Falling Diphthong

          What I’m sort of charmed by is the inverse effect, where kids know that everyone got a trophy for second grade soccer playing, but gosh darn it a decade later they still like that particular trophy. And other trophies that were not given to everyone might be ‘eh, not into that any more.’

          Reply
          1. Snark

            My feeling is that’s a memento of a valued experience – “playing soccer in elementary school was so fun, I’m still friends with Nick and Justin” – not necessarily of specific pride in the non-accomplishment.

            Reply
          2. Sylvan

            My “lol u tried” ribbon from a contest is the only ribbon or award I still have. And it’s from a contest in which I won actual awards other years! These things are just funny and cute at a certain point.

            Reply
        3. Pommette!

          I never felt that participation trophies were bullshit, exactly.

          I always understood them as mementoes of events that adults thought we should be excited about, rather than as prizes. Often, the focus on participation made sense: when you organize a fundraiser race, the winner matters less than the fact that lots of people joined in and contributed to the funds raised by the group. When you organize sports event meant to promote an active lifestyle among youth, the fact that everyone participates to the best of their abilities matters more than the fact of who could skip rope for the longest time. As an adult, I see “participation prize” equivalents all the time: every participant in a marathon gets a t-shirt and water bottle; every participant in a conference gets a branded USB keychain; etc. For what it’s worth, I never kept any the participation trophies, and I don’t keep any of the t-shirts and keychains.

          The participation medals did not make me feel like a special snowflake when I was a kid, and their equivalent don’t make me feel like a special snowflake now that I’m an adult. They certainly never made me feel as if performance didn’t matter. I honestly don’t think that they made anyone else in our generation feel that way either.

          Reply
      2. LBK

        Yup. The kids weren’t the ones who invented participation trophies, we always knew how meaningless they were. It was the parents who were angry their special little Jimmy wasn’t being recognized for how wonderful he was that insisted on them being handed out (and ironically are now the same people who tend to complain the most about those same participation trophies they invented).

        Reply
        1. Working Hypothesis

          Well, of *course*. They only wanted their little Jimmy to get one. They really didn’t want anyone *else* to get one, but of course they couldn’t say that. So now, a few decades later, they’re complaining that everyone else got one… but just try saying one word against their little Jimmy and they still blow up at you immediately.

          Reply
        2. Sue No-Name

          Thank you! This also drives me nuts (and I don’t remember ever getting a participation trophy anyway–even if I did, it was clearly meaningless and unmemorable)

          Reply
        3. Sylvan

          Dude, Boomers complaining about fellow Boomers’ parenting is the entire purpose of Millennial-complaining. Give it 20 years and we’ll be complaining about our own peers’ kids.

          Reply
      3. JulieBulie

        Yes. I knew that my lesser award was just for having shown up, and not for doing well.

        When I was a kid, of course I didn’t like not getting a trophy. No one likes not-winning. But giving me a trophy doesn’t make me feel any better about not-winning.

        However, I do remember a lot of parents griping about their kids being disappointed that they didn’t win anything (“after all I paid for you to be on the bowling team this year you’d think you’d get a trophy”), and I have always assumed that the participation trophies were inspired more by the parents’ whining than the kids’.

        Reply
        1. Kristine

          >I have always assumed that the participation trophies were inspired more by the parents’ whining than the kids

          I work at a school and this is very true. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a kid throw a fit over not winning something, not getting their way, etc. It would take both hands and a foot to count the number of parents who throw a fit in a given week.

          To be fair, it’s probably only ~10% of our parents who act like this, many of whom are repeat fit throwing offenders. But it’s disheartening to see them teaching their children that this is the proper way to behave and that their goal is getting “the thing” they want rather than seeing their children grow and improve.

          Reply
        2. Cedrus Libani

          Right. The participation trophies were for our parents, not us. (And as the meme says, if we’d known that they would be lording it over us for the rest of their lives, we would’ve told them where to shove them!)

          My Boomer-age, American parents have entire ROOMS wallpapered with my various participation trophies. I have the athletic and musical talent of a drunk llama, despite my parents’ best efforts, so I “participated”. There’s stuff up there from kindergarten, and I’m in my 30s. (My partner, a second-generation immigrant, side-eyes the living heck out of this, but graciously keeps his mouth shut when he’s there. Bless him.) I love my parents, but the moment they die, all that stuff goes in the dumpster.

          Reply
        3. Oranges

          I actually found them insulting or something. Like rubbing salt in the wound that I didn’t get an “Actual Trophy”. In my mind they were public announcements that you didn’t win. Like, yeah, nope. I’m sad that I didn’t win but don’t ask me to be proud of that.

          I know they were supposed to say “be proud that you participated at all” but I was little. C’mon.

          Reply
      4. Al

        +100000. If anything, I found participation trophies inherently pointless because if everyone gets one, then no one stands out as special or significant. And that’s the whole point of awards: to recognize exceptional actions/people.

        Reply
  21. Ramona Flowers

    Some people just stick their head in the sand. I know someone who was shocked when she was fired after being told what to improve on and ignoring it / not trying to improve. Like, hello, they told you they would fire you.

    Letter writer, you have done all you can for this person and more.

    Reply
  22. ohway

    “Maybe they’ve been warned in previous jobs but the manager never followed through with firing” Yes! Sometimes getting fired is the first time they’ve had any consequences for their actions at work. This happens a lot, and if consequences are not consistently applied at that workplace – a certain manager lets some people get away with bad behavior while others are held accountable, or some but not all managers ignore the fact that people aren’t doing their jobs – that can lead the fired employee to conclude that they got fired only because the boss wanted them out and not because of their decisions/behavior. So they won’t learn from the experience.

    And for other people it is straight up denial: “They wouldn’t *fire* me.” They just can’t conceive that it would actually happen to them.

    Either way, OUCH.

    Reply
  23. Spooky

    I mean, if you REALLY wanted to drive the point home, you could always greet him the next time you see him with a cheerful “So how’s the job hunt going?” And when he says “what job hunt?”, you reply, with a shocked look, “Oh, I’m sorry! Since we were clear that we’d have to let you go next month if you haven’t achieved X, and you haven’t achieved it, I assumed that meant you were planning on looking elsewhere.”

    (note: do not actually do this.)

    Reply
      1. Spooky

        Some people just need a mental ice bucket challenge to really get the point.

        (but I did say not to actually do it! I put a footnote! It’s not a real suggestion!)

        Reply
        1. Mallory Janis Ian

          “Mental ice bucket challenge” — I’m going to save that for when I need to totally shock someone into hearing WTH I’m saying to them.

          Reply
    1. Prudencep

      I actually, under some consultation with HR, did speak with him awhile ago when I was worried it wasn’t sinking in and spelled out what I would do in this situation – that is, to investigate all my options including other jobs. I did explain at that point (much earlier in the process) that if this goes through to the very end then the termination will be on his record, as opposed to if he went by choice…

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        It really sounds like you have done the most that can be expected and probably you have done more than many bosses will do.

        Reply
  24. k.k

    I have to wonder if he knows how bad he’s doing, and this is a misguided attempt to save face in front of his colleagues.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth the Ginger

      Yeah, I was wondering this, too. Like maybe he’s thinking, “If I talk a good enough game, maybe they won’t notice that I’m floundering and that will buy me enough time to get on top of things.”

      Reply
  25. Mallory Janis Ian

    I had a direct report like this, too. He loooved postive reinforcement and would almost swoon with giddiness when he received any, but he always acted as if one ounce of positive reinforcement completely negated any amount of corrective feedback he’d ever received in the whole history of ever. He equally haaaated any negative or corrective feedback, and he would push back against it hard with tantrums, lashing out, clamming up, pouting, and just refusing to hear it. I think he sifted any and all feedback so that only the positive stayed with him; he lionized anyone who complimented him and demonized anyone who corrected him.

    When I put him on a PIP, I was worried that he didn’t seem to be taking in what I’d said, even though I was very blunt and clear with him. I talked to our HR guy, and he alleviated my concerns by telling me, “Sometimes we do everything right, and the person doesn’t respond to it. You’ve done everything you can do at this point, and now the ball is in his court.” I had thought that it was my job to drag this guy to success whether he liked it or not, and HR guy relieved me of that notion.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      I worked with a guy who did this, too. Every corrective feedback he ever got, he focused obsessively on how uppity the boss was during the talk, how he had in in for him, how he wasn’t going to take being disrespected. “But Fergus….he’s not wrong. You totally forgot to do Thing.” “But he had no right to disrespect me blah blah blah blah I still have pride yap yap yap.”

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        Zomg I have family who do this. “When I (did something objectively terrible) person did THIS AND THAT WRONG what a JERK they don’t DESERVE ME” as if their poor response was equal or grater to … the objectively terrible thing my family member did in the first place. No accountability whatsoever. Thanks for articulating this!

        Reply
      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        My SIL is like this, too. She has more stories than anyone else I know about how someone she worked with or someone on an interview panel was uppity to her or disrespected her. Even in her personal life she has some sort of chip on her shoulder about people supposedly being “rude” to her, and it’s usually about stuff that doesn’t even register with me as being rude at all. Like, I don’t even notice anything amiss with the interaction, and then later she’s all incensed and asking me if I can believe how rude the person was. Even when her daughter was working a fast food job and the manager was directing her work, as managers, do, my SIL was telling her daughter that she doesn’t “have to put up with anyone treating [her] like that!” She’s training her kids to have chips on their shoulders, too.

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          I have family members like that, too. The interesting thing is that when they inevitably get fired or dumped or experience consequences of their terrible attitude, their response is always, “Well, I was two seconds away from leaving anyway! I don’t deserve to be treated like that!”

          I strongly suspect it’s a subconscious attempt to control the narrative so they’re always the hero of the story, never the incompetent sideshow.

          Reply
          1. Artemesia

            People like this are always whining about someone bossing them around as if the concept ‘boss’ was utterly foreign to them.

            Reply
    2. JanetM

      I think he must have been my mirror twin. I only ever hear and remember corrective or negative feedback, and I simply disbelieve positive feedback.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        I tend to take positive feedback with a grain of salt until I see whether the person is an insincere- or over-complimenter. I was worried about that with one of my previous because he was so lavishly complimentary. It was unsettling to wonder whether, if there was ever a problem, if he would say anything. I finally started to accept his compliments as genuine when I messed up on something I was working on for him, and he came barreling into my office with, “We have a F*ING PROBLEM!” I said, with my eyebrows in my hairline and my eyes round, “Oh, what’s the problem?’ He immediately calmed down and told me what the mistake was. He never raised his voice about anything else again, he was just panicking because he thought he was supposed to teach a lecture section, for which he had not prepared, in the next half-hour. After that, though, I felt secure in his compliments because he’d shown me that he would, indeed, let me know if he ever had a problem with me.

        Reply
    3. Prudencep

      I’ve definitely noticed myself shying away from the positive feedback, because that seems to be what he takes from our meetings. It goes against all the training I’ve had and reading I’ve done, but I’m having to be so careful about what I say and how I say it. He can take one positive piece of feedback about an event and suddenly ignore all the criticisms and tell us all how positive the feedback has been.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        I did the same thing with my direct report; I started withholding compliments even when he’d earned them, because he would totally misconstrue what any praise meant (i.e. it doesn’t mean you’re absolved of any and all past and future mistakes and cleared to behave in any way you please; it just means that what you did *just then* was good). It sucks to have to be so circumspect in offering encouragement in the right direction.

        Reply
  26. Prudencep

    OP here. Thanks so much Alison for your response. You’re right, and I have been as blunt as I can be (as hard as that was for me!) and I think Benedict does know it, but maybe it’s just easier to cope by putting his head in the sand. I have so much frustration because I don’t want it to end in termination, but it really isn’t the right role for him. I’m definitely going to keep offering as much help and support as I can until this process is over because I do want him to do well wherever he moves onto. I hope he can at least take something from this. I’m certainly learning a lot through the process!

    Reply
    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      “I’m definitely going to keep offering as much help and support as I can until this process is over…” Is this giving him a false sense of hope that you won’t really fire him — because you’re being so supportive and you don’t want to fire him? Maybe just letting him fail quickly and with a resounding thud would be kinder in the long run. Otherwise, he may look back at this PIP and think, “That wasn’t so bad. If I try again, I’ll bet there will be a different outcome.”

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        It’s a bit of a catch-22. I need to be able to demonstrate that I have provided him with every opportunity to meet the requirements, and that includes supporting, helping, etc. But I’m definitely not carrying him and I think in the past few weeks he is really learning just how much I actually expect him to do. I think I did also hope to start with that it was just a matter of needing to provide a different approach and that might get through to him. I think I picked up a rock and didn’t realise just how much was under it.

        Reply
    2. Student

      Terminating him isn’t a failure on your part. It’s recognizing that he’s holding your team/department back, and that there are many more qualified people who could fill his shoes and do a better job.

      As a manager, failure on your part would be an inability to recognize he doesn’t perform well, and/n inability to rectify the situation his under-performance has caused. You tried the nice-guy solution to get him to perform at par. It didn’t work, so now you need to fix the under-performance on your team by firing him and giving someone much more appropriate for the job an opportunity to shine.

      Look not to just this guy. As a manager, you don’t “owe” him anything; you “owe” your team as a whole. Look to your team, and look to the next person waiting in line behind this guy for his job.

      Reply
    3. Snark

      “I’m definitely going to keep offering as much help and support as I can until this process is over because I do want him to do well wherever he moves onto.”

      That’s a kindly impulse, and it speaks well of you, but I have the feeling that he’s gotten too much help and support over the course of his career, and that has insulated him from a frank and uncomfortable accounting of what he does not do well. And I suspect that many people have wanted to help him to do well moving forward, with the result that he continues to fail upward rather than face uncomfortable reckonings.

      If it’s not the right role for him, it needs to end in termination. Sugar-coating that serves chiefly to perform emotional labor. There’s a dignity in consequences, and sometimes there’s greater learning in failing than in supportive encouragement.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        You’re right and I’m actually finding it quite hard to keep pushing more and more back onto him. I have had so many conversations with Benedict that the onus is on him now to meet these requirements, to show me how he has met the goals, proactively seek help or changes or clarification, but he still struggles and it is really hard for me to not just jump in and tell him what to do. If anything, I’m hoping he will take some new ways of looking at problems, that maybe will pan out in a different position.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          Resist the urge to jump in and save him. He’s a mid-career professional with management and supervisory responsibilities. He does not need to be saved. And, frankly, why do you care how it pans out for him in a different position? That’s 100% a Benedict problem, not a you problem.

          Reply
    4. Sara without an H

      Why don’t you give yourself permission to let go of the frustration? You’ve already done far more than many managers would have done in the circumstances. Like the song says, let it go — and start thinking about the transition.

      You don’t say much about the circumstances under which Benedict was hired. In your place, I’d take a hard look at the job description, and how to structure the interview process to make sure the next hire has more substance and a record of accomplishment.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        Funnily enough we have one of the most rigorous selection processes I’ve ever encountered, but he also came in during a period of a lot of change and I think somehow he slipped through the cracks. If the recruitment was happening now I think there would be far less likelihood that it would happen, but also this has been a big learning experience for a lot of us.

        In some respects my mind has already leapt ahead to thinking about how I’ll fill the position, who can carry which projects and support his staff in the meantime etc. I guess for me it’s also a process (that often leaves me wanting to just bang my head against the wall). I’m learning a lot about myself too!

        Reply
    5. Lil Fidget

      I suppose, if you take for granted that Benedict just can’t perform at the level you need him to, and probably does recognize that, it makes sense that he’d just be pretending things are going better than they are, or focusing on a few positive things he’s done. What else can he be expected to do, really, if he’s so out of his league? He’s not just going to quit and cut off his paycheck early, and it doesn’t seem very enjoyable to go through your last weeks with your head hanging down apologizing for being a failure. I might even do the same thing – whistle while I wait for the axe to drop …

      Reply
    6. KEG

      If he is desperately trying to hide his failing by pumping himself up, it may actually be a relief to him when he is fired. He may be hoping for sort of severance, if applicable, that he wouldn’t get by quiting. I’m sure he’ll be shocked or act like the victim, but he’ll be happier in another position that’s more suited to him.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        I really hope so. I do wish him well and he is a lovely person, and it really can’t be easy to be working through this process. I want him to end up in a role that is perfect for him!

        Reply
    7. Shadow

      Ugh. That’s painful for everyone. It might be in everyone’s best interest to fire him with some severance or give him advance notice that he’ll be fired so he has time to look for another job

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        I wish that we could, but we need to go through this process to be able to get to that point. We’re rather limited in how we can fire someone because of the environment we work in.

        Reply
    8. MadMadAlwaysMad

      The first employee I ever had to fire was a Benedict type .. different issues, but he was so clearly in the wrong job at the wrong company. We were a very non-hierarchical, non-structured tech company and he kept trying to turn us into the type of highly hierarchical, structured company he was comfortable working in. Because of our processes, I had to put him on a PIP even when all of us (me and my higher managers) knew it was a wasted effort. I wanted so badly to just tell him to take the month and start his job search, but HR wouldn’t let me have that conversation with him. The last week of his PIP, when he finally seemed to realize he was in jeopardy, he called people from all over the company asking them to call me to tell me not to fire him.

      Reply
    9. Marley

      Is it at all possible to tell him straight up that you don’t see him meeting the requirements of the performance plan and that you’d like to offer him the opportunity to job hunt for the next four weeks with pay?

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        Unfortunately there are some other factors I can’t reveal because it would be too identifying that mean he isn’t really in a position to do that. Certainly I’d be happy to support time out to attend courses we support on things like writing CVs, career advice, if he were willing to take them. The denial is somewhat too strong..

        Reply
  27. LiveAndLetDie

    Some people just choose to ignore all the signs that they might be let go, up to and including the phrase “I will have to let you go.” My company has a heavy workload, so the data entry folks I manage have to pass training on the main task that they perform pretty quickly–typically it takes roughly 2 days for someone to pick it up and do it well (it’s a pretty basic thing once you learn the formatting guidelines) and I give them 2 weeks to show me that they can do it efficiently. I had someone extend the “pick it up” part for a week and still be unable to do it at literally 1/16th the speed that we expect from a new employee (being vague to keep from identifying myself here, but if you can transcribe clear audio and you type over 40 wpm, you can beat the beginner baseline with time to spare pretty easily).

    We have numbers that our folks have to meet to be worth paying for the time they spend, so our rule is that if they can’t do it, we can’t keep them on board. We make this EXTREMELY clear in hiring and in training, and we make them sign a document that says “I understand that if I am not meeting these numbers within two weeks of my hire, I will be terminated from this position.” I’ve only had a handful of folks have to be let go for not being up to par at training over the years, and one of them acted absolutely SHOCKED that this would happen, insisted that we didn’t tell them that would happen, argued “that isn’t my handwriting” when we showed them the signed form (??), and placed a curse on me on her way out (I wish I was kidding. She actually said “I place a hex on you” and did some weird hand signal). It was a very weird day.

    Reply
      1. 2 Cents

        Ooo, remember the “my employee placed a curse on me” (or something to that effect) letter? This sounds like a sequel!

        Reply
      2. LiveAndLetDie

        A good-natured coworker who overheard the hexing tossed some salt in the corners and we had a good laugh about it! Haven’t had any bad luck at work so I think the salt worked. ;-)

        Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      My former uncle accused my aunt of trespassing in divorce court, claiming that she’d illegally entered the home that was currently ruled to be occupied by him. When shown the document whereby he agreed to meet her there and let her into the house to retrieve professional files she needed for her business (and thus why she called the cops and a locksmith to get in when he wasn’t there), he said “How do I know that’s my signature? That could be forged.” In front of the judge he’d signed it in front of.

      Some people will do absolutely anything to avoid responsibility, no matter how stupid it makes them look or who they piss off (to their own detriment) in doing so.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        The judge had a very clear handle on why she was divorcing her husband. People have no idea how much they give away in just a few minutes in court. Keeping one’s mouth shut is great advice.

        Reply
    2. FD

      OH MY GOD, IT’S THE RETURN OF THE BLACK MAGIC COWORKER! This is where she went after leaving that school!

      (Link to follow for moderation purposes.)

      Reply
  28. lulu

    I would spend some time reflecting on how you ended up with someone so ill-suited for the role, and how to prevent that from happening in the future.

    Reply
    1. El

      Actually, the OP states further up thread that: “I’m pretty sure this is how Benedict got the job and through probation in the first place (I wasn’t in post then). But he is very good at self-promotion at a surface level.”

      So basically, she moved into her post after Benedict was already there.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        Yes, that’s correct. I ‘inherited’ him so that was out of my control. There are some elements to the recruitment that I can’t discuss or it would make Benedict more identifiable. Suffice to say there were a number of factors for why it happened, but I think we’re all on board to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

        Reply
  29. NW Mossy

    Oh, OP, I relate so hard to this – the first person I ever fired was a Benedict, and it was excruciating. This employee had a checkered history prior to my managing them (past negative reviews, a demotion, etc.) and was widely perceived to be struggling big-time. Nearly every weekly meeting we had involved some kind of discussion about an error or misstep they’d made. But even when I explicitly said the words “if you do not meet the success standards clearly outlined in your PIP we will move forward to termination” and “you are not meeting the success standards,” it was still like I’d popped a balloon right behind them when we finally had the termination meeting.

    Afterwards, I heard rumors that the ex-employee was still adamant that they were highly competent and that their termination was undeserved. I genuinely wish the individual well as this isn’t a what-a-terrible-person thing, but there’s a huge gap between self-perception and the perception of others in this case. Sometimes, no amount of fact-based logic and clear communication can penetrate if the audience is unwilling to hear the message.

    Reply
    1. Prudencep

      This definitely sounds like Benedict! I suspect that what will happen afterwards will be similar as well, but you never know. I do like Benedict as a person and I think he would be great in a different role, it’s just a shame that it isn’t the case. I feel like there has been a fair amount of turning the blame onto me, and that it was never a problem before so it must be me who is the problem. On the upside, at least it provides fodder for future interviews when you have to talk about managing a difficult staff member??

      Reply
    2. Bagpuss

      I think this is often the case. People can have totally unrealistic ideas of their own level of competence, and be very resistant to change.

      I had a couple of hugely frustrating meetings with a member of our staff who was performing poorly, had an (entirely inaccurate) perception that his workload was higher than others (it wasn’t. He had more open files listed because he wouldn’t follow procedure to close them properly).

      We were trying to support him as he was struggling, and he just argued about everything. Not just about whether or not he was in fact over burdened, but about every single suggestion we made about things he, or we, could do to help improve and address the problems he had. He literally refused to even consider any of the suggestions we made. Which included:

      – offering him short term help to clear his back-log so he was under less pressure
      – giving him specific, practical recommendation (based on direct experience) about managing some of the issues he was struggling with
      – giving him specific, clear instructions about certain tasks
      – transferring some of his work load t other people (he claimed to be overburdened and under pressure)

      I think in his case, at some level he had a perception of himself of the put-upon, over-burdened martyr who was struggling on despite everything, and the idea that there were actually some fairly straightforward things which would dramatically improve things just didn’t fit with that image of himself.

      (fun fact, when he left, he blamed us and said he thought we would need to get 2 people in to replace him, to cover the work load. We had a locum initially while we were recruiting. She came to us after her second week to suggest that now she had dealt with the back log he had left, that she really only needed to come in 3 days a week, not 5,. And even then, she would often have left by about 3 p.m. as she was done for the day.)

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        Oh I just WISH I could tell you something I found out Benedict was doing this week, but it would give him away if he read this. But I suddenly understand one of the reasons he can’t get work done on time and when I found out I just wanted to bang my head against the wall.

        But he has previously queried whether I have the same expectations of the other staff and yes, of course I do, and they’re actually doing far more work and it’s all the work they are supposed to be doing. Sigh.

        Reply
  30. frogs and turtles

    Benedict could have undiagnosed adult ADHD, which could cause all the problems OP describes, especially the part about not getting it when he receives feedback, as well as not understanding what his job actually entails even when he’s told. A central aspect of adult ADHD is not being able to accurately read people’s nonverbal cues (while frequently also not being able to process the verbal ones!), as well as forgetting things almost immediately after hearing them, especially if the new information does not already fit into existing categories in that person’s brain. (In adults the emphasis is not on “hyperactivity” but on not being able to organize or process information effectively or at all.) This usually leads to major employment and other relationship problems, often with the person with ADHD demoralized, depressed, and bewildered about why everything in their lives seems to go south. So I agree that OP needs to be extremely specific and clear, and to not softpedal this. Not when someone’s about to be fired. But maybe also quiz Benedict somehow to make sure he really is understanding what he’s being told (though I don’t know how you could do that in a non-weird way). Btw medication alongside therapy can make a big difference for someone with adult ADHD.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Alison has requested that we not try to armchair diagnose folks thirdhand from letters, because it rarely provides the letter writer anything actionable, and because we can’t possibly know what’s going on in his head from a few paragraphs on the internet.

      Reply
    2. Observer

      So, two things.

      Firstly, nothing you have said is actionable. There is only so much the OP can do to make sure that Benedict understands what she is saying, and she’s done that. Beyond that, it’s on Benedict to find ways of being, acting and recording that enable him to get his work done. And if he needs an accommodation, it’s on him to ask for one! The one thing the OP SHOULD NOT and CANNOT do is to try to diagnose Benedict with any conditions.

      Secondly, plenty of people with ADHD do NOT act like Benedict. The kind of broad brush you are painting with is both inaccurate and stigmatizing.

      (The issue of armchair diagnosis has already been addressed as of the point that I’m writing this.)

      Reply
    3. Prudencep

      Unfortunately there’s not much I can do here, even if I did think there was something health-related at play. If Benedict disclosed something that needed adjustments in the workplace it’s certainly something we could look at, but unfortunately the nature of this job means that he still wouldn’t be able to do the inherent duties.

      Reply
    4. Anon ADHD adult

      As someone who has been diagnosed with adult ADHD I find this inaccurate and unhelpful. And a little offensive. While _some_ of what you say may be relevant for _some_ people, much of it is completely off the mark. In particular “not getting it when he receives feedback, as well as not understanding what his job actually entails even when he’s told”. That is not characteristic of ADHD.

      Reply
    5. fun fact

      I have adult ADD, and also two degrees and a professional job – with no therapy or meds, but a lot of reading and strategising on my part on how to manage my brain. For example, I find remembering things difficult – so I make sure I write down EVERYTHING IMPORTANT because I understand that forgetting important things would (and has previously) cause serious problems at my job and in my life. ADD doesn’t create wilful denial, an inability to hear others, or an inability to accept when you’ve failed. In fact the opposite is true – rejection sensitive dysphoria is very common in ADD, where the person understands they’ve done badly and takes it very very hard.

      Regardless, armchair diagnosing Benedict is so far from the OP’s job and not relevant to what action she should take.

      Reply
  31. Shadow

    The only way a reasonable person wouldn’t accept your evaluation is if there’s something that leads him to believe you’re being too harsh like he’s been performing at that level for a long time and it’s never been a problem til now, or your prior evaluations have been positive, or there’s no consequences when he messes up.

    By the way I think a PIP seems pretty pointless given that he doesn’t seem to be able to think for himself. That’s not usually not the type of thing he’s going to pick up in a couple of months

    Reply
    1. Prudencep

      Unfortunately it’s a process that we have to go through, and I have been determined to try any different technique to get through to him – I guess to at least be satisfied that I’ve done everything that I need to on my end. Ever the optimist I suppose..

      Reply
      1. Snark

        Why are you so determined to get through to him? To be blunt, you’re not his mom, his spouse, his friend, or his mentor. You’re his boss. This is a basic employment transaction. You’ve given him more than enough. At some point, your efforts are going to run counter to the needs of the business.

        Reply
      2. HRperson

        Yeah, I work in HR, and at this point my advice if I was working with you would be to pull the plug and end the torture for everyone. If there is no hope of improvement there is no reason to run out the clock on the PIP.

        Reply
        1. Prudencep

          Unfortunately the way we are organised, at this stage I can’t end it early and completing the PIP process is the only way we can terminate (and even then it can be fought).

          Well I guess one of the things I’ve been determined to get through to him is that he is failing, but also because I can’t finish the PIP early and so I am stuck working with Benedict (and so is everyone else), until that point. So if there’s anything I can do that will make the lives of his team better in the meantime I try it :)

          Reply
  32. SDSMITH82

    I had a Benedict at my last job. She’d been there three years, and had been given a “shape up or else” every single one. We’d hear “You have 90 days to improve, or there will be consequences” except those consequences were all positive. Her 1st “PIP” resulted in her minimal duties being cut in half and distributed to other team members, her second, even less duties and a raise (and she was the ONLY employee in my tenure to get a raise, despite some of us not getting raises despite promotions). Her third, her duties were basically all gone except answering the phones, transferring calls, and the most basic of insurance industry functions (mail stuffing, payments, etc.). She was the 2nd highest paid employee in the office, which we learned when the equally inept independent HR person left the payroll figures page open in the back room while she made a 20 minute phone call. They both should have been fired long before the issues became worse, but the fact that my boss was afraid to do so was one of the deciding factors for me to leave.
    I can’t blame the dofus employee in my case for sticking around, cause every time she had a performance review that was negative, she got an easier job, more money, and extra vacation time.

    Reply
    1. 2 Cents

      My cousin works with someone like that. Every time the person screws up, they get better hours, easier duties and absolutely no incentive to improve.

      Reply
    2. Tuesday Next

      I worked with someone who performed poorly and annoyed our internal clients. Nobody in our team wanted to be paired with her on a project. People eventually complained to our manager (nice guy, lousy manager). He promoted her *face palm*. The people doing their work well did not get promoted.

      Reply
      1. SDSMITH82

        @TG- It was one of several reasons that I left my last job, and moved 9 hours away so as to truly distance myself and start over.

        The incompetent independent HR person did my exit interview on my final day (in the office, without doors for privacy at first) and asked if there was anything that would have lead me to stay, and I had to explain that there were several things, but that I couldn’t openly discuss them with all the ears present. She then realized that “oh, yeah, we should probably do this in private” and moved to an office with a door. I still didn’t have the heart to tell her that “Benedicta” was one of the reasons, because I knew it still wouldn’t change anything. I realized that after the final PIP I witnessed that nothing was going to change at that office, and I had to get out before I got sucked into mediocrity.

        Reply
  33. The Bimmer Guy

    Alison, what is your take on letting people go in the middle of a PIP, if it’s clear that no progress is being made? I ask because I was let go from a job last year while I was on a PIP. While the reasons I “wasn’t making progress” were bogus and spearheaded by someone who didn’t want me there…I thought the idea of ending things early was fundamentally sound.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I agree there are situations where it makes sense. In general, I tend to favor PIPs that aren’t super long anyway (often a few weeks to a month), so there’s often no need to end early. But especially with longer PIPs, or if it just becomes clear that there’s no way things are going to work out, it can make sense to be candid about that. Ideally the manager would say something about that at the start (“if we’re not seeing progress in this direction, we may end things earlier”) but it’s not always clear from the start that you’ll need to.

      Reply
      1. Prudencep

        Our process hasn’t been overly long, but due to the way our enterprise agreement is structured we do have to show due process (and lots LOTS of documentation). If we could end this early I feel like I’m in a position to show that he can’t improve to the required level, but we also wanted to extend things so if it didn’t work out we wouldn’t be terminating right before Christmas. Not that there’s ever a right time..

        Reply
    2. Been There, Done That

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. I hope you found a happier, more prosperous situation.

      Your story struck a chord with me because I’m experiencing it now. My boss clearly wants someone else in my position, but her first choice didn’t have certain required credentials. I realized long ago it wasn’t going to work, but Boss Person has even cut off any chances of moving elsewhere in the firm (although I did well under 2 previous managers there). I’ve stuck it out the requisite no. of years to keep from looking like a job-hopper, but the search is on.

      Reply
      1. The Bimmer Guy

        I did. I’m very happy where I’m at now—a small business and not a corporate one—and the pay and perks are better, too!

        Reply
  34. animaniactoo

    This post gave me flashbacks to my co-worker who I never imagined would make it out of his probationary period.

    Literally, I came to understand that he worked well under direct supervision, but was lost at sea when he had to act independently.

    As the unofficial team lead I had several conversations with him (with my boss’ blessing) that ranged from (Beginning) “You need to find a system to track your stuff better” to (Middle) “You don’t seem to understand the level of responsibility you have” to (End) “This was a complete disaster. You did X, Y, Z, Z1, Z2, AND Z3 wrong. These are things you should absolutely know by this time without having to ask, and you should be asking if you don’t know. It was embarrassing to sit in on that call for you while you were out and have to try to explain any of that to the licensor. I’ve talked to you about several methods you can use to keep yourself together, and at this point, I don’t care what you have to do. But you need to figure something out so that your memory issues (well known, laughed about by him, etc.) are not your WORK problems.”

    He nodded his head at me, thanked me for talking to him and being straight about it with him, told me I was right, and changed not much… but by that last convo it was pretty much too late. And he couldn’t even read the writing on the wall when major new projects that he was working on or had been promised were given to other people.

    I was not the only person who spoke to him about the issues he was having. I was straight up with him that our boss had asked me to be keeping an eye on his work early on when he was shaky and we’d tell him he needed to do something and he wouldn’t do it and our boss would see it and say “Where’s [X thing we told him he needed to do]?” and then he’d go and do it.

    I turned around one day and he was being let go in a round of surprise layoffs. Full-on Victim Mode on, and pissed because my boss and other co-worker weren’t there and “See, they’re not here. Cowards. They knew.” and kept going how was he going to tell his wife and so on and so on…

    It was excruciatingly uncomfortable and finally, finally, he softly says “Was I really that bad?” I probably should have turned back around and said “Yes. Yes you were, and we tried to tell you.” but given that it was being handled as a layoff rather than the firing it deserved to be, I didn’t. Also because in general I had no wish to kick him when he was down.

    Reply
  35. Big City Woman

    Oh, thank goodness! I finally know what PIP stands for. Whenever anyone mentioned a “PIP” in all the posts I’ve read, I tried to figure it out but couldn’t! It’s just never been common parlance in any of the jobs I’ve ever had. Thanks!

    Reply
  36. Not So NewReader

    OP, there are a thousand different reasons why people are like this. I’d like to think that about 75% of the people out there can fix their own setting. There are a few extremes like your employee who just don’t get it.
    I remember one cohort stood in the middle of the store from the time she got there until the time she went home. I would ask her to do something and she would say okay, then NOTHING happened. My boss blamed me. I said you try working with her. The boss did and this person did not even make it through the whole shift, the boss fired her.

    But this here is why I would prefer to see a nervous employee than an overly confident employee. Nervous people generally work hard to stay on track and do a solid job of it. I remember one work group I had, everyone was doing 300-400 teapots a day. Except one person and she was doing FOUR. I told her to get her numbers up, I helped her with speeding up. She never got it. Meanwhile, she drove everyone around her crazy as she kept saying she understood. I think she did six teapots one day and that was her best.
    That was a situation that involved a lot of drug usage. I am not saying this is your case also, I am just pointing out that there are so many factors that could be causing the disconnect. And these factors are not our territory as bosses/managers.

    Reply
    1. Prudencep

      Oh for sure, and I once was supervising someone with a problem with alcohol. It turned out ok in the end, but for a long time I had no idea what was going on and why this staff member went from being amazing to suddenly being unreliable and making mistakes.

      I think there’s always something else happening in people’s lives, good or bad, and you never know when it might impact on work. Or that you might not realise that it is!

      Reply
  37. Bookworm

    That’s tough, OP. I was someone on the opposite side of this: I was never informed my work was not up to par (even though I’d ask for feedback after projects from different people and was always told it was fine), never even went though a formal training and was taught skills and tools as needed. To be fair I was an intern and retrospect I was merely an extra pair of hands and eyes to do extra/more mundane tasks on a temp basis and not managing people.

    But it sounds like you and HR have done all you can and sometimes it is not the right fit. Maybe Benedict isn’t ready, maybe the organization isn’t the right fit for him, maybe this is just beyond his skillset. This is better than people that I’ve encountered in various jobs who have managed to coast (some with full knowledge of it, others totally oblivious) their way into permanent (relatively speaking) jobs where they perhaps aren’t doing much damage but they also not adding anything to the organization either. But for whatever reason upper management won’t let them go and would rather wait them out or hope to “encourage” them to move on by themselves.

    Good luck. Hope it isn’t too messy.

    Reply
    1. Prudencep

      Thanks, Bookworm. I would be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t take action, and longer term it would just get worse I’m sure. It’s definitely made me more conscious of both giving and receiving feedback from other colleagues as well. Even those who are usually great can improve in some areas, and I’ve come along way from when receiving feedback that wasn’t rainbows and unicorns made me want to stay in bed for days.

      Reply
  38. Granny K

    This seems to be happening a lot and personally, I think the lack of team consensus on a job description on new job req’s may be the cause. I’ve known quite a few people (myself included) who were miss-hired: that is, they were interviewed for one job and when they got hired, they started the job only to be told they would be doing something else. Some rose to the challenge, some quit, some were let go or moved, but all situations came with so much unnecessary stress. This would be a great topic for this column: How to hire people (for dummies)… or something similar.

    Reply
    1. Been There, Done That

      Yes, yes, yes!!!
      My current job turned out to be the job-seeker’s version of Caveat Emptor. I know Alison often says your employer decides what your job is and that things change, but surely there ought to be some expectation of basic honesty.

      Reply
  39. lahallita

    Dude likely has not earned any additional consideration, but has OP provided explicit examples/instructions of what they expect his work to look like? Not applicable in some instances, but it can be helpful to set a very clear bar, even if he won’t wake up and see how far he is below it. Some of the more difficult people I get to work with like to bring heedless accusations to management about my unwillingness to help them with their work load (i.e., do it for them) and I just pull up my very detailed instructions and/or examples of what a finished product/action looks like that I sent via email multiple times and asked if they understood. Case closed.

    Reply
  40. DevAssist

    Read letter #1 and skipped down to the comments to say: DO NOT DO THAT.

    Through the entertainment business, you are likely to make connections of your own. Approach each opportunity with a genuine interest in the person, not the possibility of what they can do for you.

    Reply

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