Managing the Unmanageable Employee
28 May, 2021
We had an engineer who had a lot of industry experience coming into the company. However, once he started working the overall skills felt lacking. He would come up with solutions that were a lot more complex than they had to be, and to make things worse he did not take feedback on the choices very well. He would often get pretty defensive about the proposals he had. In some of the initial projects that he worked on, we did not have as much visibility into the actual code and designs he was creating so this went on for a while. Later on, when he started working with other well respected engineers in the company, that's when some of the things came to a head and led to quite heated discussions between him and another engineer.
I ended up having a conversation with both of them to understand where each of them were coming from. I tried to get the details of the problem so that I could create an assessment for myself. I also looked into the code a lot more closely so I could have my own neutral perspective. My main objective here was to be a neutral judge who is trying to objectively assess the situation and provide feedback. One of the things I provided feedback on was helping this person be more willing to discuss and decide on options collaboratively with others as opposed to making those calls solo. Unfortunately, while it helped for a very brief amount of time, this person very quickly reverted back to their regular behavior and got defensive about the discussions.
At some point it became clear to me that this person will not work out as an engineer. At that time one of things we explored was a slightly different role. This person was a great customer advocate, and had a lot of empathy for the problems our customers faced. So we explored having this person take up roles where they would work a lot more closely with customers and the GTM team instead of being on core product. We thought he would be a great fit in the support engineering role, where his responsibilities would be to fix bugs, respond to customers and work with smaller features. This person in the past has expressed an interest in this type of work, however, in the end the person ended up not taking this opportunity.
This was one of the tougher challenges I went through. Even though I tried the options mentioned above, none of them worked out.
- Managers need to act at the right time with difficult employees. In this case, I took a little too much time and escalated the situation, but I would act much more quickly in such circumstances in the future.
- If there is another better opportunity for one person with the right skills within the company, it is a great idea to switch them. They can become much more successful there. Put employees in a spot where they can do good and bring in the best in the company.
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