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The leadership cop-out, the employee hot potato

Posted by Meg Bear on December 3, 2008


Dan was talking this week about how real leaders do the right thing, even (or especially) when it means that you have to let a poor performer go.   You all know that I’m a big believer in job fit.  Finding a role that leverages your strengths is critical for success.  For some, finding the right role can be a process of trial and error, using our failures to course correct is a part of personal growth.  Sometimes coaching and role adjustment can turn a lack-luster performer into a star.   But we all know that there are times when the problem is not just job fit, it is job attitude.

When an individual has a negative attitude you are dealing with a cancer that impacts the whole team.  It is the job of the manager to resolve the situation quickly and fairly.  Too often, weak managers resolve their situation by creating an employee hot potato.  These disgruntled employees find themselves sharing (and often compounding) their negative attitudes across multiple groups as they bounce from manager to manager, each too weak to take action.

Moving performance problems around the organization is one of the worse kinds of management cop-outs. It is not honest for the individual and it is not good for the company.  It is not leadership, it’s cowardly.

I am well aware that the process of resolving performance problems takes considered thought and diligence.  Even when attempting to do the right thing, it is often not black and white.   We all want to make sure we have given enough chances to the employee and have done our best to coach them to improvement.  I would not want anyone to take this process lightly.  I would just like to encourage you all to make sure you are honest with yourselves that you are not perpetuating performance problems in other groups, because you are too lazy to deal with them yourself.

If you are not sure, get help from your HR team.  HR professionals can support you through the tough job of coaching the team member to acceptable performance or terminating.  It is the role of HR to make sure that the process is fair for the employee, the impacted team and the company.

Repeat after me, no more employee hot potatoes!

6 Responses to “The leadership cop-out, the employee hot potato”

  1. watchtower1980 said

    In my experience employee negativity arises because of poor management. I am a manager and have learnt over the years that a good manager is one that empowers their employees to succeed. This doesn’t mean giving indecisive instructions, tasks or duties it means having a good relationship and working through what needs to be done with the employee.

    You style of writing indicates employees get very little say, because sadly it appears to be all about you, thank god your not my manager:)

    Often I see too many blogs written like this one, that truely identifies the authors lack of management skills, always looking for another avenue to justify their existence.

    I have never had a good or bad employee, because once again I value their input….

    Cheers, Steve

    • Meg Bear said

      @Steve. Interesting perspective. I agree that empowered employees are much happier. I am sorry that you might think I don’t value input. I honestly do not believe that to be the case.

      I think that good management is honest and fair giving regular feedback on what is working and what it not. You are correct that I work hard to make sure that my blog posts are clearly represented as my own ideas and not attempting to speak for others. That is what is so great about blogging, it opens up for additional conversations and opinions. Thanks for stopping by at TalentedApps, I hope you continue to join us.

  2. Eric Klein said

    Sometimes the hot potatoe returns! I was discussing the very pattern you describe with a group of managers from a Federal agency. One woman told the story of passing along a performance problem only to have the person return to her department 4 years later as her boss! The hot potatoe had been passed around and promoted out of department after department. Avoiding honest feedback a series of managers had given the potatoe positive reviews (in order to justify lateral moves or promotions out of their department).

    Such hot potatoe karma reminds us all to deal with performance issues directly.

  3. Meg Bear said

    @Eric Ah the “fix a performance problem by promoting the person” that is an even better blog topic. I actually remember this being covered in video but can’t place it (Python?). When the effects of my current illness wear off I’ll try to find it and post a link.

  4. Meg Bear said

    @Eric, I really was a bit ill to forget the reference I was reminded of with your comment. Luckily my brain seems to be coming back to me. The parallel was in one of my all-time favorite books Catch-22. http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-catch22/chapanal040.html.

  5. […] Wow!  What can that possibly be doing for the engagement levels of the awesome teachers ?  Where are the non-fired bad teachers going?  I’m guessing there are more than a few employee hot potato situations.  […]

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