Stepping up and Dealing with an Employee Demonstrating Low Performance

Andrea Fonger

Senior Staff Engineer Lead at HBO



"When I first became manager I took over a team of nine and was warned that there was a person who had been bounced around from team to team for years with performance issues. This person had never been put on a performance improvement plan. To me, it became quickly apparent that they were not only having low performance themselves but also negatively affecting the performance of the whole team, as well as, the surrounding teams that we interacted with."

Actions taken

  • "I increased the amount of one on ones that we had from once a week to twice a week for thirty minutes. During this time, I focused a lot on listening to his side of the story, but because he was having conflicts with coworkers, I would also hear their side of the occurrence as well. In all of our conversations I tried to be very direct and honest, not holding back on feedback, and delivering it in a firm, but kind and sensible way. I was always very honest about where he was and the impact he was having."
  • "I documented every conversation that we had, be it slack or in person, and in some instances, I would then email back to him what it was that we spoke about."
  • "After a few months when it became clear that he needed to go on a performance improvement plan, I put together about 15 pages of documentation that I had compiled. This consisted of a concrete list of very specific and measurable steps that needed to be improved."

Lessons learned

  • "Eventually, the end result was that this person chose to leave halfway through the 30-day improvement plan. Part of me felt relieved because this situation took up such an enormous amount of time and mental energy and I felt that I had sort of been ignoring the other people on my team. On the other hand, I felt as if I had failed in not being able to help turn the problem around. All in all, this had been going on for years and I did feel good about the terms we had left it on and that it was finally resolved."
  • "I am really happy with how I approached the conversations, mostly because this person actually thanked me at the end, saying that I was one of the only people who listened to him and tried to hear his point of view. This made me feel really good because although being honest and upfront about sensitive topics is very difficult for me, it seemed to really have value and we arrived at the best possible result we possibly could have."
  • "The initial conversation was gradual in its inception. It came out of another extremely subpar PR that this person had put out, especially for being a senior developer. Someone had raised it to me and I had to sit down with him to discuss why it wasn't acceptable."
  • "The biggest takeaway for me was that it can be really hard to be direct and honest with people. Being brand new to management, I had to overcome a lot of personal traits about myself to make it happen. If you can force yourself to do it, it's really valuable."

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Andrea Fonger

Senior Staff Engineer Lead at HBO

Leadership & StrategyCommunicationOrganizational StrategyTeam & Project ManagementPerformance MetricsTraining & MentorshipFeedback & ReviewsPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer Growth

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