Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I was recently promoted to oversee a team of three. One woman who was hired before I started is not able to fully perform her job responsibilities. The employee readily admits that is true, and is very receptive to training and coaching, but I am certain it will take years to get her the kind of training and experience she really needs.
However, the rest of my team and I are overwhelmed with a lot of work. I'm working 11-12 hour days in part to cover the work she can't do and to spend time teaching her things. Plus, she drags the rest of the team down asking for help. For what she earns, I know I could easily hire someone a lot more productive and knowledgeable.
I can let her go via a "no-fault termination" with severance, but I feel horrible because none of this is her fault and I know she will be devastated. Any advice on options or how to move forward?
When you're dealing with performance problems, kindness always starts with honesty. It's far kinder to let someone know how you see their work than to keep them in the dark, and it's far kinder to let someone see the writing on the wall than it is to blindside them by firing them out of the blue when you've run out of options or patience.
So honesty is where you want to start. Sit down and have a candid conversation with her. Acknowledge that she works hard and is receptive to feedback, but that ultimately you need someone in the role who can do X, Y, and Z without significant training and coaching. Talk about what you do see as her strengths, but explain that the job requires different ones.
From there, you can offer two options: She can pursue a short-term improvement plan and try to meet the bar you're describing, with the understanding that you would need to let her go if she hasn't met that bar at the end of, say, four to six weeks. Or, alternately, you can jointly form a transition plan that will give her time to search for another job while giving you time to look for a replacement.
Assuming that you think the joint agreement for a transition is the better option, be honest about that, because you don't want to encourage her to take a path that you think is doomed for failure. You could say something like, "I'm happy to give you a chance to pursue the improvement plan option if you want to, but I would hate for it to turn your experience here negative. I would much rather work with you on a transition that meets your needs and ours."
You can point out that this route would give her more time to look for a new job than she might otherwise have, and that she'd be able to say that she's still employed at your company while she's looking. It's also OK to explain that this helps you too because it prevents a vacancy in the role.
The advantage of offering both options rather than deciding for her is that she'll feel that she's been given a real chance, and the rest of your staff (if they hear from her about what happened) is likely to feel that she was treated with the same respect and fairness that they themselves would want.
Of course, you shouldn't offer the planned transition option to someone who you don't trust to handle it well, like an employee you think is capable of sabotaging the company's database during her remaining time, or whose work is so bad that she'd do real damage if left in her role for another several weeks. And if you saw signs of any of this sort of thing during the transition, you'd need to curtail the transition earlier than originally planned. But none of this sounds likely to be the case with this employee -- who sounds like a lovely and well-intentioned person who's simply ended up in the wrong job.
Overall, the key here is to simply be honest with your employee about what's going on, and to make the conversation as collaborative as possible. The feel of the meeting should be that while the current situation isn't working out, you want to jointly figure out a way forward that will be best for both of you.
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