Howdy, folks. Me again: your friendly local journalist.
I've decided to write an article for my site, the IT Business Network (http://www.itbusinessnet.com
), about one of the most painful tasks in being a manager: firing an employee. From my observations and experience, nobody enjoys the experience, even if the employee clearly deserves to be booted. And it's much worse when the individual is a drag on the team rather than a complete failure; at what point do you say, "I give up. I have to get rid of this person"?
It's an age-old question, which affects IT people just as much as anybody else, but I think we can all learn from the way the other people handle such situations. With your help, I'm hoping to write an article that collects the feedback of several people in all walks of the business (software development, web design, network administration) and synthesizes it into some sort of consensus ("wisdom" might be too strong a word
Rather than speak in generalities, I created a little scenario. I'll present a description about a hypotethical employee (not any one individual, but a composite of people I've encountered), and then ask you how you'd handle the situation.
There are no right or wrong answers, or at least I don't think there are.
Do me a favor -- and, I think, add to your own fun. Respond with your answers before you read anybody else's message. Let's not be swayed by others' opinions, here, though it's perfectly fine with me if you arm-wrestle after you see what others had to say.
Also, since I'm writing an article, I'd very much appreciate it if you'd let me know how to refer to you in the article (by private e-mail if necessary).
Enough of that. On to our story.
Claire has worked for the company for two or three years. She can occasionally do brilliant work; one out of five of her projects (or software applications, or web designs) is really remarkable. Unfortunately, one of those other five projects is "okay," and three of them are... not quite bad, but they give you the itch to say, "I could sure have done that a lot better myself."
Unfortunately, Claire is also high maintenance. She seems to be a trouble magnet, and always has an excuse for substandard or late work: her car broke down, her guinea pig needed an emergency trip to the vet, her brother just split up with his wife and she had to help with the kids. And instead of giving you a short summary of the problem and how she'll fix it ("I know this puts you in a bind, but I can get the code done by Tuesday"), she comes into your office to tell you her whole life story. Claire, you think, this is a lot more than I need to know. And in gratitude for listening, she sends you small but inappropriate gifts; this makes you uncomfortable (should you take a gift from an employee? even if it's only a $15 book you'd wished for?) but there's nothing precisely wrong with it.
People on the team like her, and she's supportive of what the company and department is doing. She can just be a bit wearing.
But recently, her work has taken a turn for the worse. The bright spots are rarer. She's never been good about meeting deadlines, but the last miss was pretty bad. And now she said something that pissed off the client (or the Big Boss) which makes you look ineffective. You're pretty steamed about the incident. Is it time to say farewell to Claire?
What do you do:
1. Fire her. She's not contributing to the team, and is dragging away your energy.
2. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with her about her declining standards. Even though you know she'll cry, and even though you've had similar conversations and they didn't work for long.
3. Sigh, and continue on with life. Not everyone who works for you can be the best.
4. Call the HR department. Let THEM deal with her.
5. Something else. What?
(If you aren't a manager, then tell me which option you would *hope* your manager would choose, and perhaps which one you think he WOULD choose. Be sure to let me know -- there may be a difference between managers and team member responses.)
Which of these would affect the above decision? and if so, how?
* HR Department practices (i.e. the company needs a smoking gun to prove incompetance)
* Gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. (i.e. it would look bad to fire the only/other woman in the office)
* Cost of replacement (i.e. it would cost twice as much to bring in someone new with equal experience)
* Employee versus contractor status
* Political favoritism: the VP likes Claire
For those who would choose to fire Claire: what exactly would you say, after "Please come into my office. And close the door"?
In other words: assuming that none of us likes to fire an employee, we at least want some guidance about how to go about it. Those of us on the receiving end often feel that we didn't get the whole story, too. What do you leave out?
So write out the first paragraph of how you'd break the news to her.
With some luck -- and your help! -- this could be a really useful case study on how managers cope with problem employees. At least, I hope so.
I'm going to try to collect opinions and write the article by the end of the week. So please don't set this aside and figure that you'll answer it in a week or two!
I'd like honest opinions, so it's perfectly fine with me if you write privately to me at email@example.com
. And I'd rather quote you generally ("an IT manager at a financial firm in the midwest") than not at all.
Any questions? Am I leaving out something dumb?
senior writer and editor, IT Business Network www.itbusinessnet.com