What consequences can managers enforce instead of firing someone?

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Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues — everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

I am a new manager and I wonder what the consequences will be. When an employee does not meet expectations, you often mention that a manager should clearly explain the possible consequences of not solving the problem, right down to letting the person go. What are those consequences before you get fired? I would like to gain more insight into the kinds of tools I have as a manager to impose consequences.

It depends on the situation.

If it’s a serious performance issue that eventually needs to be resolved to ensure the person stays in their role, then that should put you on a path of increasingly serious warnings about what changes to see. The first conversation in that process will be quite informal, but if a few of those conversations (along with clear feedback) don’t resolve things, in most cases you’ll want to move to a more formal performance plan, with a timeline and benchmarks against which the person and the understanding that you need to see specific improvements within that time frame to ensure the person stays on the job. (There are some exceptions, such as when the employee is so new that it doesn’t make sense to go through that whole process, or when it’s obvious that the problems are so great and the chances of the person being able to meet those benchmarks that are so far removed that you would only prolong an inevitable result.)

But there are other situations — the ones I think you’re asking about — where the problem isn’t serious enough that you could ever fire the person over it, but it’s still a concern. In those cases, you can explain to the employee that failing to solve problem X could affect future performance evaluations, future raises, promotion potential, the types of projects they are assigned to, and/or what types of growth opportunities are presented to them. . The latter depends on what exactly the problem is — you don’t want to deny someone the opportunity to improve, of course, but in some cases it’s practical to conclude that you’re better off investing your supposedly limited development resources in other people.

Keep in mind that consequences should rarely be punitive – think about the outcome, not the punishment. For example, if someone makes bad decisions in his job, a reasonable consequence may be that you keep a closer eye on him. For example, it would not be reasonable to deny them a day off as a punishment.

Sometimes an effective consequence is simply “we’re going to have a serious talk about this”. Consequences do not always have to be formal, and sometimes formal consequences can be exaggerated. In many — in fact probably most — situations, an appropriate response is simply a serious conversation with you, asking what happened and what the plan is to avoid it in the future. With a healthy workforce, that’s often all you need to hold someone accountable and get things back on track. Sure, if that doesn’t fix the problem, you’d escalate in severity from there — but that’s usually the right place to start.

Ask a question yourself? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.


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