A reader writes:
I work for a very large company, on a very small team of specialists that does a ton of work. About a week ago, my boss pulled me aside for a one on one. I have a really good relationship with my manager, I can say without hesitation that I really enjoy working with the guy and he's very fair - and understanding to a fault.
A while ago I actually sent in an inquiry to you about a slacker employee on my team, and how to bring it up to my manager. Well, let's just say that this individual finally dropped the ball on something pretty big, and I had no choice but to clean up the mess. Let us also say that I suspect my manager took a fair amount of heat for the mistake once it was made, and came to a realization about how severe the nature of this person's slacker-hood is.
My boss moves my team around sometimes, and we basically had a conversation about how I would be moving next to this individual in hopes that my stellar work ethic and leadership skills will somehow rub off on this less than effective employee and make him a better worker. This happens to me at jobs. People assume that because I work hard, I am going to be able to help them make poor performers better at their job. It's never worked thus far, probably a reflection of my less than stellar leadership skills, but here I am again in this same situation, being asked to help this person who frankly has been in their position much longer than me and who is much older than I am better at their job.
I expressed this concern and frankly some doubtfulness to my boss that I could accomplish this given my track record, but he seems confident I can do this, yet has assured me he will not hold me accountable if this tactic does not have the desired effect.
Can you offer me suggestions on guiding this guy? The conversation between my boss and myself was definitely a confidential one, but I do feel I need communicate to this guy that if he doesn't shape up, he's shipping out - how can I accomplish this without letting on how much I know about his performance issues? I want to do this right (if possible) because I am trying to view it as an opportunity to develop some leadership skills and frankly, some cajones myself, but I have absolutely no experience with making this "Good Employee Fixes Bad Employee" thing work, so I am hoping for some expert advice on doing it in a tactful, clear, and concise way - IF it can be done.
First, unless your boss has specifically told you that you can talk to this guy about the fact that his job may be in jeopardy, you shouldn't address that with him. That's the manager's job, not yours.
Speaking of things that are your manager's job, addressing poor performance is one of them. I hope that your manager's plan for this guy is something more than asking you to mentor him. A good manager would be addressing his concerns frankly with the guy, telling him what the issues are, the ways that he's falling short, and what the consequences are of not improving. I hope your manager is doing all that, and that having you model good behavior for the employee is just a bonus, but I have a feeling that might not be the case.
Your manager should not be putting you in a position where you feel responsible for a problem employee's success, because (a) that's his responsibility, and (b) you don't have the tools to make an impact -- because you don't have the authority that you'd need to address this head-on.
What exactly is it that your boss wants you to do? Just be a good role model? Or something more proactive? If the latter, you need to find out exactly what your role is supposed to be and what you have the authority to do. Without some authority over him, the most you can offer is help and guidance on specific projects. But if this guy is a slacker, I doubt he'll care to benefit from that, and that brings us back to your manager needing to manage.
For the love of god, what is up with managers who try to avoid managing? That's what it sounds like you've got here.