Friday, September 30, 2011

Why Supervisors Don't Confront Problem Employees

Much could be written about the foolishness of organizations that fail to back up supervisors when they try to do the right thing and correct poor performance. Let us consider, however, two other factors that keep supervisors from confronting poor performers: A desire to avoid unpleasantness and a tendency to procrastinate.

If they confront, there will be immediate unpleasantness. If they ignore the problem, there will be delayed unpleasantness.

If they confront, there will be some immediate work to do. If they ignore the problem, work will be delayed.

If they confront, their authority may be openly challenged. If they delay, they can pretend that their authority is still intact.

In reality, the problem may be getting much worse, the impending crisis may require far more work, and their authority may be imploding.

The cost of confrontation is overestimated. The cost of ignoring poor performance is seriously underestimated.


CincyCat said...

Oh boy do I know what this feels like.

I chair a non-profit board, and I put off dealing with performance issues in a board member to the point where a highly valuable employee at the non-profit was ready to quit.

I put it off for all the (really poor) reasons you mentioned, PLUS the added complication of dealing with a volunteer rather than a paid direct report.

When I finally got around to having that "motivational discussion" with said board member (yes, it was uncomfortable and he did get a little defensive), but in the end the situation improved almost immediately and he stepped up big time.

I wish I had talked to him sooner... Now I have to do a lot more work to facilitate mending the relationship between the board member and the employee than I probably would have had to do if I had only nipped this in the bud weeks ago.

Lesson learned.

Michael Wade said...


That is a great example.

I don't think I've ever encountered soneone who said, "I think I dealt with the problem too early." We all get through the pain of confrontation and then ask, "Why didn't I do that sooner?"


CincyCat said...

In my case, also (which is not an excuse) I am newly elected to this position. So I have the dilemma of coming down "hard" on something right out of the gate, or spending some time on trying to build relationships and organizing a new team first...?

Michael Wade said...


It is especially difficult when you are newly elected, if only because of the political reasons you cite. You are trying to solidify your political base and are tossed a curve ball. Depending upon the personalities involved, it may help to name a small ad hoc committee to report to the executive committee on the situation (or to use the executive committee for that purpose) so you can get more fingerprints on the course of action. If you have a lawyer or two on your board, it can be wise to get them involved so they bless the approach.

Good luck!