Putting an Employee on Notice (Warning)

Mar 30, 2021

I recently had occasion to write this letter to one of my subordinates who wasn't meeting expectations. This is a standard step in potentially putting someone onto a performance improvement plan (which is in fact what happened when I met with this person later that day).

Names and identifiers are changed to protect confidentiality.

Dear Barney,
Betty, Wilma and I noticed that this is at least the third week in a row when you've not completed the tasks assigned to you.
As you would probably expect, your job title "Marketing Associate" carries with it certain expectations for behavior -- e.g. to do the tasks of a Marketing Associate.
If these tasks are not fitting into your schedule, or if there are circumstances beyond your control that prevent you from performing these tasks, then we need to talk together about how to reconcile the tension between you having the role and title "Marketing Associate" and your not behaving as one.
There are many ways to reconcile this tension and we look forward to a creative conversation about how we might proceed.
Betty, Wilma and I continue to believe in your skills and abilities. We'd love you to continue, and none of us will think any less of you if you end up exiting.
Let's discuss this during your next scheduled one-on-one call later today.  
cc: Betty, Wilma

Here's what you as a manager should notice from reading this:

  1. There is no sense of blame, shame, or negative judgment. While the recipient may feel upset or scared, I'm not giving them any extra reasons for feeling demeaned, belittled, attacked or defensive.
  2. I make a number of ASSERTIONS that are relevant, e.g. "this is at least the third week in a row when you've not completed the tasks assigned to you" -- an ASSERTION being a statement that can be demonstrated to be true or false. If it turns out I'm mistaken or have faulty or incomplete data, the recipient knows which facts to share with me to set me straight or to give me a clearer and fuller picture of the situation.
  3. I talk about EXPECTATIONS that come from the recipient's ROLE. Every role in an organization comes with, and should come with, clear expectations for behavior of those vested in that role. Here again, I'm open to correction and additional data. Did nobody inform this recipient of these expectations when they were placed in the role?
  4. The note expresses optimism and openness to many possible outcomes. The other leaders and I still believe in this person. (If we did not, I would have had to write a very different letter.)

 Photo by Jeffery Erhunse on Unsplash  

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