It can be tough to look one of your employees in the eye and tell them, “This isn’t working.  You don’t have the ability to do this job.”  It can be especially painful when the employee thinks they can. A particularly difficult situation can come when you’ve promoted a good worker to a supervisory role, but they haven’t been able to learn and demonstrate the necessary skills.

To read the rest of this article from the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, see: What to do when a good worker fails as supervisor

It’s tempting to promote very competent workers.  After all, they have good skills, work ethic and know the job.  But the skills necessary to be a productive worker and to be an effective supervisor are different.

Take the case of Jane, a strong, task-oriented, problem solver – especially when she worked alone.

But as a supervisor, she’s a bust.  She doesn’t tell her staff what she needs and seems to delight in harassing them when they do things wrong.  She publicly criticizes anything she doesn’t agree with, loudly and relentlessly.  She blames and attacks others when she’s not successful, and casts suspicion and doubt on people who aren’t her favorites.  She ignores obvious legalities about confidentiality.  She’s negative, bullying and abusive.

Go back to the initial decision to promote her. What considerations went into it and how was the opportunity presented?  The overall perspective on a promotion should be that it’s a trial period.  Anyone moving from worker to supervisor has a lot to learn.  So be specific about your expectations of the employee in their new role and offer to help them make the transition.

Now comes your moment of truth. You have to face the music. Part of being a successful leader is making decisions for the betterment of the whole organization, even when you know your decisions are only best guesses and someone might disagree and have hurt feelings.

Jane needs to be demoted to become a worker again in her previous group or, more likely, demoted sideways so she doesn’t have to face her former co-workers after having been demoted.

The more you promote good workers without carefully examining the capabilities necessary to be a good supervisor, the more you’ll continue having heartache.  The more you avoid evaluation conversations, the poorer will be your results as a people manager.  The longer you allow Jane to victimize her staff; the longer you put off the conversation with Jane, the bigger the problem will grow.

And don’t chicken out by using email to avoid the conversation.