I finally found a senior person to take on an important role in my department. She was perfect on paper, is a nice person, and does many things well. However, she’s totally unreliable when we’re in crunch time. I’ve spoken to her about it and she’s resolved to do better. When it first happened I realized I hadn’t been totally clear with her. But this is the third time she’s left me in the lurch and I’m not sure what to do. It took forever to find her! Help. J.V., New York, NY
Try to stay in the moment and ask yourself whether you believe this senior person has the ability to step up. So far she has not demonstrated the desire to do so. The question is whether she ever can. To be clear, this assumes that her “unreliability” is related to whatever deliverable she’s responsible for. If she’s just plain unreliable, that’s a behavior that doesn’t indicate a team orientation, and it doesn’t inspire loyalty.
If you believe she has the ability and desire to change, the first question is whether the effort to get her to deliver is worth the benefits that she provides. Your attention is going to be diverted to her, so don’t forget to figure in the impact it will have on your team as well as your own career. If you decide it’s worth a try, then agree to a firm timeline regarding when you expect to see significant results. And take action if she doesn’t deliver.
Consider this: when you try to “fix” a teammate that can’t or won’t change, you take attention away from delivering your best work. If “fixing” becomes a habit, then you’re compromising your department’s work in the long run. It’s much more fair to everyone to admit a mistake and move on.