No, this is not a post on ‘Texas Hold ’em’ as I have yet to be bitten by the Poker bug.  The intellectual exercise is intriguing to me.  Sitting in one place for extended periods is not.  This post is about an important lesson to never take anything for granted and speak what is on your mind – especially where people are involved.

I was a supervisor in an engineering department at a Fortune 100 company.  My boss told me that two engineering sections  would soon be folded into one group and  it would be reporting to me.   It made sense.  I already had one of the two groups and both groups did very similar work.   The other supervisors and managers in the department were very good about sharing their experiences with the people in my new section and helped me prepare for what I was about to take on. 

One very interesting case was ‘Bill’.  I was told by more than one of my peers that ‘Bill’ was a constant problem.  He didn’t perform as well as the others in his group and managing him would be a challenge for me.   Prior to the switch taking effect, I reviewed each person’s file and what I found in Bill’s was astounding.  He was definitely lagging behind the rest of the group, but he also had a list of patents as long as my arm.  The issue was not his technical skills.   There was an almost two year period where he had a lot of absenses and an extended leave for medical reasons.   This leave was coincident with the end of the patent list.  I asked HR about it an was told he had some health issues, but without discussing the exact nature of his illness, he was now ‘well’ and had a very clean bill of health.

Our one on one finally came.   He reviewed what he’d been doing.  I went over my expectations, but intially avoided any mention of his relative performance gap.  I tried practicing how I would bring it up, but I didn’t like any of  my approaches.  I wound up putting my quandry to him directly in the form of a question.   What was preventing someone of his strong technical background from keeping up, if not passing, his peers in terms of the amount and quality of work being done.

I was sure he was going to get defensive.  He looked at me puzzled for a minute and said.  “Wow…..No one’s said that to me before”.   He was actually very appreciative that I had been honest with him,  He said he do what ever needed to keep up with the group.  You know what?  He did just that starting the very next day and it continued up to and beyond my leaving the group.   From that day on, he was a star employee.

How could this happen?  There were years of performance reviews without any mention of an issue, but you could see  between the lines by comparing what he was getting done to the others in his group.   I can’t be sure, but what I think happened, is that no one pushed him after his medical leave.   I was too embarrassed for my peers who were his previous supervisors to make an issue of it.  He was also much older than his peers (and I) and another issue was fear of what he’d do or say if someone challenged him kept them from facing the brutal facts.     

I took away a couple of things from this that I have not forgotten.  I had at least one or two peer supervisors who needed to up their game in handling performance appraisals.   Always be up front and honest with people in performance appraisals good or bad.  Challenge your assumptions about what was or was not done in the past – or how well it was done.


One Response to Put Your Cards on The Table

  1. Randy Pena says:

    Hi there,

    I looked over your blog and it looks really good. Do you ever do link exchanges on your blog roll? If you do, I’d like to exchange links with you.

    Let me know if you’re interested.


Leave a Reply