Performance plan may help procrastinator live up to job expectations

Dear Joan:
Five years ago we hired a young guy to handle all our Technical I.T. needs.  He has a very competitive salary, significant bonuses during the year (as do all employees), and a company vehicle which he drives for both personal and business use.  For him, he stepped out of a low paying hourly wage setting into a promising future with our growing company.
 
On the plus side, he is very knowledgeable, very skilled at what he does.  We all depend on him tremendously, from questions about pc problems, to supporting our disaster recovery planning.  The down side?  I have to constantly stay behind him.  He is a procrastinator and recently our CFO described him as ‘lazy’. 
 
For instance, he is required every year to visit all our locations and do maintenance on computer equipment.  I have to meet with him constantly to be sure he is on track.  I have met with him numerous times about lack of follow up.  The CFO and I have met with him together to discuss his lack of organization. 
 
I have six other direct reports besides him.  They all seem to know what their job is and they do not lack initiative.  I interact with all of them daily, and he and I have countless interactions on a day to day basis. 
 
I had hoped when I retire in the next five or six years, that he would be able to move up and manage I.T.  But I don’t see it in the cards.  This is a guy who insists he has to be off on his birthday.  He’s in his early 30’s and I think maybe I am dealing with a Generation X mentality.  I don’t want to lose him, but our company is growing by leaps and bounds and I am constantly worrying about what he hasn’t done. 
 
One big issue between he and I is that he never writes anything down.  After we meet and I discuss with him what I need him to improve on, specifically not writing down things and keeping a planner or calendar, he does for a month or two and then it’s back to the usual.
 
How can I coach him to be more professional in his approach?  I’ve tried but I am not succeeding.  As I said, he has all the skills and capabilities in the world, but his behavior and personal habits are going to eventually derail him unless I can somehow reach him.
 
Answer:
It must be driving you crazy to see this talented young man squander his opportunities. You raise the issue of the Generation X mindset but in my experience many younger workers like freedom with responsibility but he just wants the freedom.
 
Interestingly, I’ve run across this behavior before—often in the technology field. I’ve coached a number of people who would get sucked into the details of a technical issue, only to stumble onto another technical issue, only to discover a cool new way to tweak the system. The technology seduced them and stole their time. They felt their technical contribution should be enough. They didn’t value the administrative side of their job, so just didn’t make time for it. It’s time to sit him down and spell it out.
 
  • First ask him what his career interests are. Whether he wants to move up or stay an individual contributor, you have a platform on which to spell out your expectations. If he can’t sustain a behavior change, either career goal is at risk.  It can sound like this, “Chuck, I’d love to promote you in the future. You have a lot of talent and you have contributed a great deal. But here’s the bad news: there will be plenty of opportunity but I can’t based on the way you are performing now. In fact, even if you want to stay in your current role, that is at risk if I have to constantly check up on you to make you do parts of your job. It’s unacceptable for someone at your level of responsibility and compensation to need constant reminders. It’s taking too much of my time.” If this two-by-four doesn’t get his attention, nothing will. And there’s no doubt you need to get his attention.
  • Next spell out the behavior changes you want to see. Ask him to summarize them in a performance plan and email them to you within two days. Make sure he emphasizes the need for “permanent and sustained change.” Explain that you are no longer going to chase him down to keep him on track or remind him to follow up. Instead, you should request a weekly report of his activities as part of the action plan. Explain in detail how and what you want him to report on. As he proves himself, you can go to a bi-monthly report or even a monthly report. Take care to explain why these administrative tasks are critical and are undermining his good technical contribution.
  • In the meantime, start working with a recruiter to find your potential replacement. Even if he can improve his follow up and stay on track, he may never be suited to be a technology leader who knows how to strategize and move the company forward. If he turns his behavior around, he may end up quite content to report to your replacement. If the knock on the head causes a revelation, fantastic, he can be considered along with any other candidates.
If you are leaving within five years, you owe it to the company to plan for a smooth transition. Pinning all your hopes on a procrastinator is not a promising plan. At the very least, straight talk now will give him a fair chance.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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