Managing Poor Performance

October 8, 2013

Below I have outlined a real situation and the steps I took when an employee wasn’t meeting performance expectations.

Scenario: I had a senior level, Sun Certified Java developer from another department merge with my team of Java developers. The new senior-level Java developer immediately demonstrated signs of low quality code. I took the following steps to improve his performance.

Step 1:   I spoke with him one-on-one about the situation and discussed specific examples. It is very important to provide examples, preferably recent ones. The employee and I agreed upon expectations of a senior level developer and the high-quality work that is required. We discussed the fact that immediate improvement was required and that improvement would be measured against his current project.

Step 2: Improvement wasn’t seen and expectations from verbal meeting weren’t met. I wrote a formal, written warning where I provided dates and specific details about the issue and discussed the written warning with human resources department.

Step 3:   After HR approval stating that the written warning was warranted, I met with the employee to go over details of the written warning. The written warning had a statement to the employee explaining his poor performance. The written warning included specific examples and dates; it included employee’s comments; included measurable expectations on next project and a monitoring plan. It also stated the consequences of not meeting expectations. Using measurable expectations and a monitoring plan aid in helping the employee fully understand what is expected and adding consequences should avoid the employee being surprised by any further corrective action. [example corrective action report]

Step 4:   In this case the employee did not improve the quality of his code or meet the expectations set in the written warning. He was given a choice to accept a junior level developer position where he would be provided training that would improve his quality and velocity, but it came with an ~11% pay reduction. This employee did not accept the demotion and was unfortunately terminated. [A little over three months later he called me asking if he could still have the junior level position. The vacancy he left was filled, and there wasn’t an opening at that time.]

After thoughts:

  • I understand not all companies can afford to demote an employee.  In those cases, the follow up action should have been termination based on documented poor performance.
  • At all times the employee must be treated with the utmost respect.  Communication from the manager should never be angry or hostile.  It should be calm, matter-a-fact, and professional.
  • If employee is hostile or unprofessional during any meeting, it is important to have someone from HR or from your management team sit in on all meetings.  When dealing with a potential termination, many believe it is VERY important to always have an HR employee or upper management in every meeting.


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