When should performance coaching end and termination begin

Dear Joan:

When do I know it is time to stop coaching someone, stop trying to make them fit in, and just let them go?  The receptionist in our office is basically a sweet kid, but that’s just it – she is still a kid. I have read your articles regarding knowing when it is time to leave a job, and I believe that is what she needs to do.  But how do I tell her that?  She is doggedly working because she desperately needs the money, not because she likes her job.  Her heart is not in her work at all.  (I did not hire her; she was in place when I started.) 

She has stated that she wants to succeed in the company, but her actions have not reinforced that statement.  She often rushes through her work (which adversely effects the quality of her work), or looks for ways to push projects off onto others, or blames others for things that go wrong, but yet she was very disappointed when she was passed over for a promotion into a new administrative assistant position.  She projects an attitude of “it’s not my job,” and “I’m not getting paid for that.”  I could never count on her to come in early or stay late in a work emergency.  She is going to school in the evenings, and that takes priority over any work needs that may spill over 5 p.m.   

Our business is very image-conscious.  Her grooming and attire are less than desirable for her role (although a bit better since I specifically outlined that she needs to present a well groomed, professional appearance).  She says she’s not a “girly girl,” and that she can’t afford, nor is she interested in, clothes, shoes, or haircuts.  (I have considered offering a clothing allowance, but if she is genuinely not interested in her appearance, I don’t think that that would help.) 

As office manager, I believe I have fostered a very positive work environment.  I have consistently encouraged my admin staff to take pride and ownership in their work, to look for better ways to do things.  I encourage (and the company pays for) professional development courses.  I have specifically outlined everyone’s role and responsibilities, so there is no ambiguity in anyone’s position.  We have all set goals.  I regularly give feedback to my administrative team.   

The other administrative team members are bright, professional, happy at work, and succeeding in their careers.   It boils down to the fact that this person just does not fit our needs in the highly visible position of receptionist, and there is no other position in our company for which she is qualified. 

Again, she is a good kid, but this position is not a fit for her, and I can see that.  How can I encourage her move on, find herself, and look for something that makes her happy?  I know I can just terminate her, but I want her to somehow learn from this experience. 

Answer:

Everyone should be so lucky. Good mentors and coaches who truly care about their employees’ vested interests are hard to find. You know what you have to do—for your sake and hers—but you want me to validate what you need to do. So here it is: she needs to go. 

She needs to go for several reasons. You say her heart isn’t in her job and she is not a fit. But I also found a few things in your letter that were troubling. For example, pushing her work off onto others, rushing through work which results in poor quality, saying “That’s not my job” and blaming others, are not the traits of an employee I would want on my team. I suspect the rest of your high-performing staff is frustrated with you. They are probably all wondering why you have put up with that for so long, not to mention why they have had to endure it themselves. 

In short, you have been enabling her to stay in her job and not take the steps she needs to take. Not only isn’t she a good fit for her job, she has repeatedly resisted your coaching. For example, I’m glad to see her appearance has improved but anyone who is in a receptionist job and doesn’t understand that her appearance is critical to the image of the department is just plain dense.  

And I’m glad you didn’t give her a clothing allowance, because then everyone else would wonder why they don’t have one.  

Check with HR to determine the best course of action. The problem with telling her that she has two months to find a new job (for example) is that she is likely to panic and suddenly jack up her performance. That would be fine if you actually thought it would last (frankly, I don’t think it would, based on what you described).  

One thing you must do is start to be more direct (if you haven’t already) about some of the concerns you see. Make the expectations crystal clear and don’t let up. Hold her accountable for her attitude as well as her day-to-day performance. Make it clear that if she doesn’t improve she won’t be getting a salary increase. Start tightening the screws, instead of making allowances because she is such a “nice kid.” It’s time for her to grow up and step up and deliver on the job or find one she likes better.


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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