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How to Handle a Poor-Performing Manager

Is your star employee falling short of expectations? It's time to step in and dissect the problem before your company falls apart at the seams.

Q: What can I do about a manager who performed so well during the first year in our company but is now blaming her team for poor performance? Projects are incomplete and overdue, and new policies and procedures are not being implemented. Her excuse is that she cannot overcome her team's poor work ethic. On the other hand, she was flattered by the fact that they remembered her birthday with a big bouquet of flowers. What's going on?

A: First, the best source of the answer to this question is the manager you describe. I can easily suggest some key issues at play here, and I will, but I suggest that you immediately gather more data and then meet with the manager to gain a more complete picture as well as the manager's explanations.

You may be experiencing a very common phenomenon here: Once an organization finds or develops a manager into a high-performing individual, that manager's manager or director often concludes that, "I've found a winner. Now I can attend to other, more problematic issues." Sometimes this works, and the winner continues to win and shine. Other times, the winner's performance begins to wane, and the waning filters down and around to others, especially to those who need that person's specific and direct input. This may be what you are experiencing.

Some of the key discussion topics that you need to look at are the same for any manager within any organization. When you can realistically investigate and respond to the following questions, you will be on your way to improving this situation.

Management Performance, Expectations and Milestones

  • What were the performance goals and expectations that you had for years one and two? The crucial issue here is to determine what changes occurred during year two.
  • When the first year's expectations were met, did you assume your manager was a hero and not in need of further checks and balances?
  • What types of milestones and goals for deliverables did both of you agree on?
  • What were the first, second and third indications that performance did not meet expectations? What, if anything, was done about it?
  • What is the reality behind the manager's excuse for incomplete and late projects and not implementing new policies? In terms of quality improvement, after correcting this situation, what policies, procedures, attitudes and commitment can be put into effect to ensure that this type of situation does not reoccur?

Team Expectations and Performance
You state that this manager is blaming the team for poor performance. Regardless of what the employees may or may not be doing, the manager ultimately needs to accept responsibility for the outcomes. Instead of finding fault, I suggest finding the root cause of the issue and then looking for a solution. You need to interview the team members to determine their perspective. Whatever the cause, you need to have an open discussion and create an effective "fix" to regain a positive, productive atmosphere.

The employees offering their manager flowers is intriguing. This may reflect a truce and desire to talk. The manager may not admit that a problem exists because the manager hasn't said anything or is not aware of the real situation either. In any case, the flowers present a real opportunity for you and the manager to begin to investigate the cause of the negative situation.

Once you accomplish this, the manager needs to create and implement specific checks and balances to prevent this type of situation from reoccurring.

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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