I got a call from a senior leader who had joined a large global company a few months ago.  We’ll call her Sue.  Sue has a very accomplished background, through a variety of industries, and is an expert in her field with over 25 years experience.  Sue is at the Director level.  She was given a verbal performance warning.  What?!!?  That’s right.  Sue is part of larger team and she seems to think she isn’t cc’ing her boss on all of her communications.  That is the reason for the warning, and she can’t accept feedback.  There is no doubt there must be more to the story.  According to Sue her boss is a bully.  Abusive, moody, a micro-manager, and most of the team complain about her.

So what is really going on?  There could be a myriad of things at play.  But as my colleague George Bradt of Primegenesis outlines in his onboarding work, getting hired is about strengths, fit and motivation.  My sense is there is a fit issue from both sides.  Sue has been working in boutique professional service firms for a long time, which is almost like being on your own.  She is now working for this very large global company.  It isn’t easy making a transition like this, no matter how talented you are.  For the company’s part, I believe they overlook the fit part of the equation all too often.  If the skill set is there, the fit piece is swept under the carpet, or worse, the thinking is “it’s not perfect, but it will work.” Wrong.

3 Steps to Take

With a performance warning verbally given, what should Sue do since she claims she is completely caught off guard, and doesn’t understand what the warning is about?

Step 1.  She should ask her manager to clarify the conditions of the verbal warning.  What are the 2 or 3 performance issues, whether behavior or task-oriented that are not meeting expectations and how can she meet expectations?

Step 2.  Then, ensure she understands in what period of time this needs to happen.  Also, what does meeting expectations in these areas now defined look like?  Could her manager provide some concrete examples that demonstrate what the gap is between what Sue is currently doing and what she should be doing?  And, what happens next, in what period of time, if the expectations aren’t being met?

Step 3.  Finally, put on the table the question of fit.  Sue needs to have this addressed and hopefully get it answered.  Because if it’s a fit issue, well, there is no remedy.  Then it is a conversation about mutually parting ways in the best way possible.

Too many times I have been privy to managers giving verbal performance warnings without any clear expectations being set.  In addition, many times managers do not offer their support to the employee in helping them along in the improvement plan.  There are plenty of managers who get it right and do all of this.  In Sue’s case, something is amiss.  And when something is not clear, the employee has the right to:

  • Gain clarity
  • Understand if their employment is in jeopardy,
  • Understand what they can do to improve their performance specifically, and
  • Know how their manager is going to support them.

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Not Meeting Expectations?

Next time your manager tells you your performance isn’t meeting expectations, make sure you clearly understand why and know exactly how to improve it.

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As the CEO & Founder of East Tenth Group, Michelle leverages 25 years of business and experience as a strategic advisor and executive coach to help drive actionable people solutions and provide practical insights on business strategy to senior leaders. she and her team and are fiercely committed to the development and growth of people and companies because we believe that when people thrive, business thrives.

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