Incompetent key employee

Managers have to learn how to handle emotions when dealing with or terminating troublesome or incompetent employees.

I have put a lot of effort into a key employee. He changes for the better for a while but it doesn’t last. I don’t want to do the wrong thing because I was given a second chance when I was young and it made a big difference to my career.

Everyone deserves a second chance. A second chance is the opportunity to make good. It doesn’t sound like you are giving him a second chance at all. You are giving him a third, fourth or fifth. He cannot correct a mistake until he is aware of it. Even then he won’t be motivated to change unless he is convinced that there will be dire consequences if he doesn’t.

It appears that he makes a bit of an effort. Improves for a while. But before long, he loses interest and makes more mistakes. The fact that he can do the job in short bursts means that he has the intellectual capability and skill. The problem seems to be his motivation.

Is he taking your criticisms on board?

Like most of us, he is more comfortable denying the importance of his mistake rather than facing it head on. For example, you are unhappy about the way he performs a specific task. You pull him up and encourage him to do better. If you come across as tolerant and supportive, he could assume his mistake is only minor.

You have observed him when he is performing and you know he has the ability and potential. That keeps you hooked in. You think he is like you. You keep expecting him to improve and settle down. He is not like you. He is not getting the message. He is not fully committed to improving.

When you were given your second chance, you took it. You got the message and reacted appropriately. Perhaps you were given an unpalatable ultimatum’the sack.

There is nothing like the threat of being fired to get you motivated. Of course, it might motivate you to start looking for another job. But it nearly always gets a reaction. Are you being too timid with this employee? You are trying to help but you could be making it worse.

If you identify with him too closely, your thinking can be distorted. You worry about how he will react,whether he will be upset or not.

When you were given your second chance, you may have felt shocked, traumatised and self-reproachful. Although you turned the situation around, you still might smart at the memory of the humiliation. Perhaps you are too concerned about how your employee might react to uncompromising discipline. Remember how your boss reacted to your mistake. Address any remaining discomfort. Compare your experience with your employee’s current behaviour.

Your job is to set out clear expectations and performance indicators. If your employee doesn’t consistently meet them, your job is to take decisive action. If he is disturbed by your reprimand, that’s good. Being disturbed is in his interest.