The worst things you can do as a manager

Ramon Padilla Jr. examines management practices that seem to occur more frequently in government settings and to have significant detrimental effects on employees and the organization.

Lately, I have been thinking about a couple of management

practices that seem (based on my experience of more than 18 years in

government) to occur more frequently in government settings and to have

significant detrimental effects on employees and the organization. The first

one is keeping underperforming employees around when they should be let go, and

the second one is promoting a good employee into management just because they

"deserve" it, whether or not they actually have adequate management


The first practice falls under the category of coddling an

employee who can’t quite cut it. Unable to let someone go, a manager keeps problem

employees around by propping them up with support systems and other people.

Why is this so bad and how do you avoid it? Here's the

situation: You hire a person to perform a function because you as a manager in

the organization have a need that must be met. Provided that you give the

person clear directions regarding the work to be performed, give them the right

tools and the power to perform the task--you should have every expectation that this person will accomplish

tasks in a timely fashion and with a level of quality that is satisfactory. If

the person cannot perform the tasks adequately and you have met your own

responsibilities toward them, should you not let them go?

If your answer is NO you are: (A) cheating yourself out of a

valuable position (few of us have “extra” positions that we can spare these

days), (B) creating animosity amongst co-workers who are quick to notice if

someone is not pulling their load, (C) overburdening someone (you or someone

else) who has to take up the slack for this person, (D) leaving important work undone,

(E) cheating the person who is not performing by allowing them to think they

are adequate, and (F) leaving a mess for your successor to have to deal with

once you are gone.

All of these results are clearly bad things for a manager or

supervisor to deal with, yet the practice seems quite commonplace. Why? There

are probably a number of reasons--some political, some not. But I believe the

main reason is that no one likes being the bad guy or girl, and there is a

whole stigma regarding firing (oh my gosh--I said the F word!).

First and foremost, terminating an employee is unpleasant

for most supervisors. I’m not talking about layoffs--which are also unpleasant--but

specifically about firing someone due to poor performance, which seems more

personal. Obviously, it is hard on the employee--no one likes being let go;

however, it is quite burdensome on managers as well. Often they internalize the

whole process and blame themselves for the employee, or are guilt ridden because

the person has to support himself or has a family to feed, etc. Also, many

supervisors are conflict averse, and would rather let things fester than have

to deal with it.

All of the factors above and the notion, in many

organizations, that firing is always a BAD thing and should be avoided at all

costs result in a culture where poor performance is the norm and a select few

carry the entire load for a section or department.

Now that we know why this is a bad practice, let’s talk

about how to avoid doing it in the first place. First and foremost you have to

dismiss the idea that firing an employee is a bad thing. In fact, it is your obligation

as a manager to make sure that people who do not perform are let go; otherwise,

you are doing a huge disservice to yourself, the employee, their coworkers, and

the organization. As long as you have done your part in helping that employee

to be successful in the job, there should be no shame, guilt, or stigma in

doing your job.

Now, before you start saying "but…" let me add a

few things. THE ideal time to be scrutinizing an employee’s work is during

their probationary period. In most organizations, the rules for dismissal are

far more relaxed than at any other time in the employee’s career within your

organization. You need to make extra darn sure that YOU DO NOT keep them past

their probation if there is any indication that they are struggling or

marginal. I do not care how long it took you to fill the position in the first

place or whether you may lose the slot or not--you should not keep someone on

that is not cutting it during probation. Most organizations have ways of

extending the probation period should you need to do so.

Once they are past their probationary period, as you know,

things are tougher. You need to be VERY proactive and you need to document your

rear end off. For all of you out there saying that it is impossible to let

someone go once they are entrenched in government, I say baloney! It just means

you have to work much harder to get to the point of dismissal and to make it

stick. But let me tell you from first hand experience – it is worth all the time and effort that you have to put into it.

This is a huge subject and I could write for days about it. It is not a fun subject, but having

your employees meet their responsibilities is one of the most important things

you are obligated to do as a supervisor.

The second topic that I mentioned at the start of this piece

is the bad practice of promoting or reclassifying a person into a managerial

position in order to get them a raise. Just because a person is doing well at

their job does not necessarily make them good manager material. In fact, I have

seen this happen not because a person is considered particularly good, but

because they happen to have been around a long time. Oh I cringe even typing

that. This practice is the worst of all.

People should be promoted to a supervisor based on their

ability to perform well in a management capacity – not just because they can do

their current task well or have seniority. Having the most seniority doesn’t

necessarily make anyone ready for management; it just means they have been

around a long time--period. In fact, they could be one of the people being

propped up by others who end up being most senior. Now isn’t that a double


You must take great care in promotions/reclassifications

into supervisory positions. After all, these employees will be setting the tone

for their subordinates. You can quickly fill your organization with less than

stellar management, which in turn affects everything.

This is particularly important in a support service such as

IT, where poor performance and bad management can have a dramatic effect on the

rest of the organization.

So, if you are ever tempted to do either of the above--for

whatever reasons--please don’t do it. Someone will pay for it, whether it is

now or later. And if you are currently in the position of having to clean up

someone else’s mess, I channel all my strength and good will to you--you’ll

need it. But what you are doing is so very important and worth it in the long

run. Don’t give up hope and know that it is possible to succeed in the end.