I’ve asked my direct report to train her replacement. Not because I’m getting rid of her but because I’d like to have her take on different tasks now that she’s mastered her job. She knows this. The problem is that she isn’t doing a good job training her replacement—in fact, I think she’s deliberately avoiding it for fear that this woman will take her job. Now I’ve got a performance issue. What do I do about her? D.S., Chicago, IL
Two questions for you: First, what language are you using when you talk to her about this? Are you literally saying “your replacement?” Secondly, how specific have you been about the new work she’ll be taking on? Have you given her a list of tasks and a sense of what the work looks like?
If the answer is no to those two questions, then I believe you need to clean up your communication with her. Instead of focusing on the training aspect, spend time laying out what she’ll be doing, why you want her for the new job, why she is so particularly suited for it, and how happy you are that she’s on your team. Your goal is to get her excited about the new job so that she’s eager to let go of her old responsibilities and focus on the new work.
Using words like “replacement” strikes fear in the sturdiest of hearts. It says dispensability. And while we all know we can be replaced, we certainly don’t want to overtly be reminded of it—especially if there’s only a vague sense of where we might be going. It can paralyze the most confident of performers.
If the answer is yes to the two questions, then sit down with her and probe to find out why she’s resisting. Is she not interested in the new work? Are there parts of her existing job she really enjoys and is loath to pass on? She’s been performing well so try to determine the reason behind her behavior. You hypothesize that she’s afraid of losing her job. Find out, so you can alleviate her concerns.