Pretty Good at Managing Employee Performance? What About Bob?

Go to training. Learn how to manage people. Go back to your work group and deliver all those promised results. Sweet!

Ugh…then reality turns sweet into sour. Live situations don’t match the training role plays or the workbook exercises. 

Our success as managers is a function of our ability to select and apply the best practices we need to solve the performance issues staring at us. 

Here’s a test case for you the puzzle through. See what you think and then we’ll compare notes at the end. 

What about Bob? You decide. 

Bob is an individual contributor who wants to become a supervisor. He’s been after his supervisor, Gail, for an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills and his readiness for a promotion. 

Recently, Gail’s work group customer satisfaction ratings had declined, so she wanted to determine the root cause. She saw this as an opportunity to give Bob a chance to lead a team to develop an improvement plan. 

Gail met with Bob, explained her expectations, assigned three coworkers as team participants for two hours each a week, and gave Bob a deadline to deliver an action plan. She also asked for bi-weekly progress reports

After the first team meeting, Bob told Gail that he didn’t think the right people were on the team. He also requested more detail about what kind of action plan she wanted and tried (unsuccessfully) to negotiate more weekly meeting time. 

After each team meeting, Bob was in Gail’s office asking for more particulars about what she wanted and for her approval of his meeting minutes before sending them out. 

Bob then started having disagreements with team members and asked Gail how to handle them. He complained again that they weren’t the right people. Gail was spending almost 3 hours a week dealing with Bob. 

To make matters worse, Bob submitted the action plan a week late. It lacked substance and did not have the full endorsement of the team. 

What would you do? 

This situation challenges us to put into practice all aspects of what we’ve been taught about managing employee performance.   

Here’s my take on the performance management techniques that were at play. (The bold is what I focused on.) Gail used some techniques effectively but not others—at least not yet. What did you see? 

Employee development: Gail decides to give Bob a chance to lead a team, an opportunity for professional growth aligned with his career aspirations. The project was important and created an opportunity to engage other employees by making them part of Bob’s team. 

Project managementGail recognized that process and accountability are important to team success, so she built that into her stated expectations for Bob when she asked for bi-weekly progress reports. 

Coaching: When Bob started having disagreements with two of the team members, Gail needed to coach him on how to resolve conflict effectively, including some self-examination by Bob about his team leadership approaches. 

Time management: Bob’s reluctance to act and/or inability to solve problems independently was costing Gail almost 3 hours a week. She needed to reestablish her expectations with Bob and hold him to them. 

Performance feedback: Bob delivered an action plan… that lacked substance which was unacceptable on several levels. So, that assignment needed to be redone with or without Bob. Bob needed specific, documented performance feedback about his work, including initiatives for further supervisory skills development. 

We need all the pieces. 

Using performance management techniques in isolation only gets us part way. Each situation we face demonstrates how different best practices intersect, strengthening each other and delivering greater benefit to the employee, the company, and ourselves. 

Effective management is both art and science. The people we work with are pieces of a complex puzzle which challenge our ability to solve problems. Individual performance management techniques are part of our toolkit. When we use them well and together, we can create a positive workplace experience. 

So how do you size up this situation?

Photo from alasis via Flickr

13 thoughts on “Pretty Good at Managing Employee Performance? What About Bob?

  1. I focused more on Bob than Gail as I was reading your post. I agree with what you said Gail had to do and also thought Bob demonstrated virtually no leadership skills from the get-go, yet it was he who wanted to show he could do it. Gail gave him the chance but did she really want to develop him or just give him the opportunity to see if he could do it or not? If she didn’t want to spend the time developing him, then that was too important of a project to give him.

    • Great observations, Cherry. If we assume Gail thought he had enough supervisory skills to lead a team, then it’s clear she was disappointed and taken aback by how much coaching he’d need. We don’t really know how she used those 3 hrs. a week. If she was coaching him and he still didn’t deliver, that’s more telling. The project was pretty narrow in scope and only impacted Gail’s ability to improve those customer sat. levels, so Bob’s poor delivery didn’t have a broad audience.

      You make an important point about what motivates us as supervisors to delegate to an employee for growth. If we want people to succeed, we need set them up right. Your point is so central to it all. ~Dawn

  2. Fantastic post Dawn! Bob appears to need continued extensive coaching, but the big point here is that Gail didn’t just throw Bob to the wolves. She provided the appropriate support and guidance to enable his success. Too many people that I coach either don’t provide these “guardrails” (when in Gail’s shoes) or are not provided them (when in Bob’s shoes) and then failure is almost inevitable. So my questions to you, does Bob merit a second chance? What should Gail do more of or differently?

    • Love your observations, Joe. You are so right.

      I believe Bob does deserve a second chance. As supervisors, we would expect the same from our managers if we or one of our employees didn’t deliver. In so doing, we (like Bob) need to face those we’ve disappointed (Gail, those teammates) and recover. If anything, Bob now knows that being the supervisor isn’t an easy ride. His success depended on his team and he was unable to get them to follow.

      Gail needs to face her own misassessment of Bob’s readiness to supervise and the coaching she may or may not have given along the way. More than likely, she gave the same kind of direction for Bob’s assignment as any supervisor would get from their manager. Direction is often more about results than method. Bob needed to figure out how to solve problems instead of asking to be hand-held. Gail likely needed to teach him more about his level of authority and calcuated risk-taking.

      The issue for me is that building employee capabilities is what supervisors are paid to do. Too many supervisors think their job is meetings and paperwork, the clean stuff, instead of coaching employees which is always murky. So great of your to comment, Joe. You always have something important to offer. ~Dawn

  3. Hi Dawn-
    I wonder if Gail had asked Bob beforehand what he would do in a managerial position, what specifics would he bring to the table, who would he best work with, etc. if some of the headaches could have been averted?

    I know that supervisors want to show faith in their team, but something tells me if Gail was very perceptive, she may have realized that Bob may not be the right person for the task.

    Maybe Bob was the reason for her low customer service ratings…

    At any rate, Gail has to take the fall for this mishap. She might be the leader, but he’s part of her link.

    • Wonderful points to raise, Linda. You identify the issues we need to mull over ourselves when we consider someone for an bigger role, even a test case like Gail’s. Since Bob was asking Gail for a chance to show his supervisory skills and she acquiesed, we might assume that, to some extent, your first set of questions was addressed. There are employees, like Bob, who may showcase leadership capabilities around tasks but when asked to be the one accountable for collective contributions find they’re in over their heads.

      I think Gail was wise to give Bob an assignment where she was the recipient of the outcomes, no one else. That kept the entire episode within her workgroup, protecting Bob’s image somewhat and allowing the fix to be made in a way that could lead to some good learning. Thanks for weighing in with these really interesting insights. ~Dawn

  4. Nice case study of the psychology of leadership & training. I hate using shoulds, but here I go! Gail, I think, should have coached Bob some more. I guess her expectations of what he could do was unrealistic considering his previous experience (altho another type of person might have shone in the same situation). But when Bob began to obviously indicate he needed some help (such as needing reassurance abt reports, objecting to the team, etc) Gail really needed to sit down with him and communicate with him. Let him know what her expectations were abt the reports and then let him go with more clear communication. Also, she needed to discuss with him his objections to the team members. It sounds like well, those people were gonna be his team, so he needed to get realistic about how to work with them…or if there were real deficits, m/b a consultant could help out,or m/b there could be a switch….but Gail gave him no way to express this. On the other hand, Gail might be in very tight spot, too, and not have alot of time or resources to help Bob….so that’s the other side of the story as well.. How well supported in Gail, in my experience in corporations, there isn’t alot of support. You make do.

    • These are some really interesting points around the need to coach Bob, Kathy. I suspect that Gail was surprised that Bob was so “needy” after his requests to be given a chance to demonstrated his ability to supervise. If anything, Bob learned (or should have) that supervisors need to solve problems, take risks, communicate effectively with team members, and create harmony. When he couldn’t, he needed to lean on Gail.

      Since Gail was spending 3 hours a week with Bob, we might assume that she was coaching him through these issues. If she was, his results didn’t show much knowledge transfer. If she wasn’t, then her coaching skills are ineffective and need improvement.

      You raise a great point about Gail being in a “tight spot” with her own time constraints and resources. Regardless, because Bob’s work was poor, everyone was back at square one. I hope Gail gives Bob a chance for a redo! Thanks for your wonderful comment. ~Dawn

  5. I think the whole premise is kind of odd. Gail is in trouble with her performance and then she choose to have a “new” guy help out! I can only guess, but it seems to me that (without enough information) he was not given an easy start up assignment. Perhaps she wanted to prove a point and that was her agenda. If not, I think she did a poor job – again without knowing what she actually did to supervise him or how well she defined the job to begin with.
    Interesting case Dawn!

    • It’s considered a sound management technique to take action when group performance data dips. Actually, Gail was on the ball by taking action to set up the team instead of ignoring the situation. Bob actually isn’t “new” but an employee who wants to grow, so Gail choses to give him a developmental opportunity, also a proper supervisory practice. In this case, there were surprises on both sides, as you suggest. Gail thought Bob had the skills he needed to run the team, and so did he. They both were mistaken. It is incumbent on Gail to help Bob turn the situation around and on Bob to recognize that he needs to improve. Hope this helps. Thanks for commenting…glad you thought thecase was interesting. ~Dawn

  6. Interesting post. I enjoy learning from case studies. Sounds like clearer expectations and more coaching from Gail up front might have helped. Maybe she could have assessed his suitability more thoroughly by asking him how he might handle the situation, how comfortable he felt leading those people etc. Also, perhaps she could have counseled the employees that they needed to support Bob given he was new. Perhaps providing a concrete example of the report content from a previous person may have helped also.

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