1. Question: You have an employee whose performance is not up to par. However, she's not catastrophically awful and you think she has some good skills that would benefit the company—if she'd only use them. The poor performance is not a new thing that you could attribute to a personal problem—it's been steadily subpar throughout the year. You've mentioned her lapses often, and she has promised to do better. It's time for her yearly performance appraisal. What do you do?
A. Lower the boom. No one likes to beat someone up with criticism, but sometimes you have to in order to push that person into improving. In the long run, it will help her.
B. You don't want to run the risk of appearing to discriminate against a minority with harsh criticism. It's best to pick out the things that she does the best and dwell on those. A positive consequence is that, if she feels her work is held in high esteem, she may change her ways to live up to those perceptions.
C. Write the performance appraisal, pointing out both her good and bad work characteristics honestly. You need have no fear of highlighting the negative because, throughout the year, you've painstakingly documented each instance of poor performance. This is all in her personnel file along with the appraisal.
Answer: The correct answer is C. You're not worried about highlighting the negative because you've painstakingly documented each instance of poor performance, right? If not, you should have. In particularly troublesome occurrences, you should have noted the date and time and obtained her signature and kept everything in her personnel file.
Here's why the first two choices, despite your best intentions, could find you on the losing end of a discrimination lawsuit: The one thing a jury will look for in deciding a case is if the employee was made aware of any performance problems throughout the appraisal period and was given enough time to correct them. So, if your Exhibit A is an appraisal that is over-the-top harsh, the employee is going to say she had no idea that she was doing that poorly until she read it.
If you go the ego-inflating route by playing up her good points and ignoring the bad in the hopes she'll be inspired to turn into one of the Seven Working Wonders of the World, you may really find yourself up a creek. All the jury will see is that, according to you, this employee was doing a bang-up job. So the subsequent firing had to have resulted from some discriminatory reason. Your fear of being unlawful in reprimanding someone has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Here's the management mantra you should live by: An employee should be terminated only after the specific reasons for the job action have been explained and the employee has been given ample opportunity to correct the problem.
More management quizzes
Due to a positive response from our members, we're going to run these management quizzes as a regular monthly feature. Click here to read our first installment.
2. Question: You and another manager have similar groups and your employees have similar titles. You consider yourself a fair person, but one who likes to get the job done. You're not a slave driver, but you do expect a certain degree of competence and work ethic from your group. Your counterpart, on the other hand, prides himself on the personal touch. He remembers employees' birthdays and the names of their children and brings in donuts every other day. Recently, after yearly performance appraisal time, there was some grumbling among the masses that your standards are unfairly harsh compared to this manager's. In fact, some folks feel like they would benefit from bigger raises if they worked for the other manager. What, if anything, should you do?
A. Lower your standards. Your idea of a strong work ethic may be your employees' idea of boot camp. If you keep up your stringent demands, people are going to start dropping like flies.
B. Meet with the other manager and devise a compromise. Your company should have specific job descriptions for every job you have. You should both agree on the job duties listed in each and their rank in order of importance. This may take some negotiating and give and take from you both, but it's imperative that you arrive at the same conclusions and agree to enforce and measure them accordingly.
C. Stand your ground. This man is not trying to guide a team as much as he's trying to win a popularity contest. And there's just no room for that sort of thing in an effective management scenario. Sure, your standards are tough, but, in the end, who's going to have the better team? Donuts do not give people the incentive to set the world on fire (my apologies to the Fraternal Order of Police). Work is its own reward.
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Answer: The correct answer is B. It's crucial that you and your fellow manager present a united front on the issue of job requirements and duties. This may take some negotiating and give and take from you both, but you must arrive at the same conclusions and agree to enforce and measure them accordingly. In fact, if your performance appraisals happen at the same time every year, you might consider having a meeting before they're written just to touch base with each other. That's where you can iron out any discrepancies between raise amounts and employees' work contribution. The other manager may come to realize the person he considers to be a "10" is really an "8," and you may realize the person you consider an "8" is really a "10." This makes things equitable across the board and not just within your own realm. (But keep in mind that some kind of personal touch from a manager is not a bad idea either. It shows employees they're appreciated. So spring for those donuts every now and then.)
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.