What's your problem? Firing

I recently joined a head-hunters. One of my team has been with the firm for years. It's time for her to move on, but she isn't picking up on hints. How should I manage it?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 04 Feb 2015

Q. I joined a head-hunters earlier this year and inherited a very good team of people, apart from one. She has been with the firm for donkeys' years and she isn't that bad - just not that good. My predecessor had been dropping hints that she should leave, as have I, but she doesn't seem to be picking up on them. As her behaviour hasn't changed since I've joined, I can't find an urgent excuse to fire her.

Jeremy Bullmore: It's a pretty mean thing to do but it's understandable. Nobody half-way human likes firing people, particularly when they're not that bad: just not that good. So for a manager who knows he's moving on quite soon, the temptation to leave the problem in the successor's lap must be a strong one. And, in this case, the unfortunate successor is you.

The first thing you should do is share your concern and your intention with your own manager - and your HR department, if there is one.

Say you've now been in the job long enough to do a considered mental audit of the quality of the team you inherited and you're happy with them all but for this one exception. It's not that she's bad, exactly; just that there are many others, for the same money, who could do the job much better. Mention that your predecessor had also expressed doubts about her abilities and check if these doubts had been formally registered. But as she's been with the firm for so long, and is not demonstrably incompetent or unreliable, it's obviously important that she be treated with respect and generosity.

Make a formal request that a plan be drawn up for her to be given the necessary notice and severance money. In the absence of any clear deterioration in her performance, you (and HR) will have to be particularly meticulous in the procedures you follow. But if you don't start soon, it will all drag on for a very long time.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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