Q: I don't like to admit it because I recruited him three years ago, but it's increasingly clear that one of my reports has become a shirker. He now does just enough work to get by, and seems to make a meal of any special tasks - presumably to get out of being asked again. Getting rid of him would be expensive and troublesome, and he hasn't always been like this. Is there anything else I can do?
Jeremy says: You can't let this drag on; it's unfair on everyone else and it's unlikely to self-correct. So you need to put aside the fact that it was you who recruited him and behave as if you'd inherited him. And the first thing you need to do is to begin an open and formal process of potential dismissal - carefully guided by your HR department. With any luck, it won't come to this; but once it's in place, you won't need to worry about letting time slip by.
Then arrange a long meeting, preferably at the end of a day, telling him formally that he's under scrutiny. Use it to listen: very, very carefully. Try - initially, at least - to give him the benefit of any doubt. Something may have happened in his life that, for whatever reason, he's kept from you. Make it as easy for him as you can. You may fear that giving him a formal warning may discourage him from opening up - and it may.
But it's vital that he realises this is not just a friendly buck-up chat that he can simply shrug off. (I was once so sensitive and so thoughtful when conducting just such a conversation that I totally failed to establish the essential point. The person's performance had been consistently disappointing for several months but he left the room thanking me for my reassuring words. I had to start all over again a few weeks later.)
This conversation, and his response, will tell you all you need to know. If you decide he has to go, the procedure you've instigated should ensure that it's neither too troublesome nor too expensive.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.