In The Workplace

An employee who admits he’s not yet ready to assume a manager’s job was promoted after some prodding and promise of support by top management. After more than two years of poor performance, management has decided to return him to his old post with a corresponding reduction in pay and perks. Management has told the human resource (HR) department to require the employee to resign and be rehired under a new employment contract with no loss of seniority rights. Is this an appropriate action? — Jelly Face.

Your story reminds me of a poster in a businessman’s room, which read: “My decision is maybe… and that’s final!” Forcing a person to resign and rehiring them is beyond the sphere of rationality. Your current problem has proven once again what I’ve been harping on in this space: that problem workers are created by problem managers.

This time, your company has leveled up to a different dimension that prompted me to revise that thought to “problem managers are created by their bosses.”

Your management succeeded in convincing a reluctant person to perform the job of a manager. Why it took your management that long to change course is beyond my understanding. You could have figured out the result in about six months, if top management had been clear about expectations, given the promised resources.

If anything is lacking in the manager’s performance, then your top management should have delivered on its promise of support. That brings us to issue of what kind of support was promised.

And so we go to your question about requiring the employee to resign and be rehired under a new employment contract. The answer is “no.”

It’s not appropriate, even if there’s no loss of seniority rights.

Explore other options and come up with better solutions to save face for both the disgraced manager and inept management.

It is important to consider options other than what you’re preparing to do, to avoid tarnishing reputations but also to deflect any course of action that might magnify your management’s incompetence. Whatever you end up doing may have serious implications, among them the risk of setting a bad precedent.

There are other options to requiring the manager to resign and be rehired. Here are a few:

One, implement a performance improvement plan. This means subject the manager to six months of close monitoring, though I worry about the effectivity of this option given the incapacity of your top management. You can’t give what you don’t have. If your management is incompetent, then how is it possible for it to teach good governance? 

Two, consider a lateral transfer. If not possible, then make it happen by creating a new job for the manager in question. You may also want to consider assigning the person to another geographical location, where a new environment could offer change.

Three, assign a senior manager as a mentor. If the immediate boss of the manager in question doesn’t have what it takes to train, it is always possible to assign another manager from another department who can work behind the scenes to help train and elevate skills. If not, you can choose to hire a mentor from outside the company who may be willing to do it for free, or for a small professional fee.

Last, require the manager to learn new skills every day. This could mean attending free seminars, like those offered by Coursera or other similar institutions. If not, assign the manager to read at least one management book a week, and distill which lessons can be applied right away.

I’ve criticized your top management for being incompetent and slow to correct a problem like this. But if there’s one thing good about your style, it is the fact that you believe in promoting people from within. That’s a good sign. And I hope you are not disappointed by the results and reward those who deserve it in the future.

There’s no better option but to recognize people, but only those who have shown the capacity and willingness to do an excellent job. You can do this by coming up with a formal policy or review the existing system to incorporate the lessons you’ve learned from this issue.

This one problem should not distract you from making progress. Otherwise, it would be unfair to those who might have a promising career in your organization. Continue to trust the system and the capacity of other workers to do a good job. But don’t be reluctant to change your ways the moment you see trouble. Don’t wait for more than two years.


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