My direct report’s personal issues are affecting her work, help!

My direct report’s personal issues are affecting her work, help!

My direct report is a great person who has had a lot of personal issues. While I don’t doubt her challenges are real, it’s reached a point where she’s not delivering at the level she needs to. In fact, I’m not sure if she actually can deliver what we need or if I gave her the benefit of the doubt in the past and misjudged her expertise. I don’t want to be the bad guy but I can’t do her job and my own. Suggestions?  J.B., New York, NY

It sounds as though you’ve moved from empathy to enabling. That isn’t usually an appropriate response for a manager.

Take a look at the gap between what she’s doing and what she should be doing. Make a list of the specific things that need to change. Generalities are going to leave her with an impression; specifics are going to give her a roadmap.

Set up a meeting with her. If you feel she’s particularly sensitive, have it in a neutral location like a conference room so she doesn’t read into the invite. Then take her through the details of what you’re looking for. Your goal is to stay current/future focused and keep the conversation on the business.

If she starts to make excuses or wants to give color commentary, cut her off and reorient her thinking by saying something like, “Regardless of the ‘why’, in this meeting and moving forward we need to focus on what we need to do for the good of the department.” People who are in bad place often get stuck in a backward-looking loop so don’t be surprised if she does it a few times. It’s a habit.

Make sure you’re clear on deadlines and hold her to them. She probably needs the structure right now. And you need to set an appropriate deadline so you can determine whether she can do the job. Do you think she should have a month, two months, or a quarter to change her behavior? Whatever you decide, hold yourself to it. If you don’t see the change the business needs within that time window, you’ll need to take formal action.

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