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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

The Worst Management Task Ever

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If you asked me to point a single thing, which I hate most in senior management role, I wouldn’t have any problems with the answer. It would be firing people. On my personal hate scale there’s firing, then huge, huge void and only then other unpleasant things and tasks to do.

Each time I fire someone I feel like a complete jerk. It doesn’t matter that the decision is well-grounded. It doesn’t even matter when I’m proven, after some time, it was the right choice. It isn’t any easier.

And the next time you do it doesn’t become any easier either. I mean if executing such decisions is easy for you and you feel comfortable firing people there must be something seriously wrong with you.

Yet I still think firing people is extremely important part of pretty much any management job. If you’re a senior manager you likely have power and authority to make such decisions. If you’re a team manager dealing just with your team of six or something and you don’t have that much of power, you still can convince your superior to make a tough move. Sometimes the latter is even worse as you have to do all the talking as it is you, who started the whole thing.

OK, why is it so important then? Because this is one of methods of building great teams. As harsh as it sounds: sometimes you don’t have enough resources (meaning: time, patience, money) to make a person act on acceptable level and the best thing you can do is to split your ways.

Don’t get me wrong, my advice still is: do everything you reasonably can to fix an underperformer. I know way too many people who started shining when given a second chance to say otherwise. But then remember that it’s a manager who is responsible for building the high-quality team, so if you just accept the underperformer in the team you basically harm the team on many different levels.

What more, sometimes we’re out of luck and we don’t have all the time and money of the world to try virtually every possible thing one could think of. Sometimes our fixing options would be limited. Sometimes constant resistance of the underperformer will make us lose faith faster. Shit happens. We don’t live in ideal world. And then it’s time…

Well, for many managers I know then it’s time just to accept the fact someone is underperforming. And you know what? I understand them. I understand them because firing people is so damn hard and so freaking unpleasant that I can think of thousands of reasons why I shouldn’t do that. At all. So yes, I can perfectly understand them.

But I don’t agree with them. We are paid to do our jobs even when the jobs suck on occasions. When we make our developers write boring documentation which just has to be done it works similarly. The only difference is in level of responsibility. But we still expect our developers would deal with crappy tasks, don’t we?

Having balls to fire people isn’t something which makes a manager. In fact, with a bit of luck we won’t need to fire anyone for years and will be able play the role of guru manager neatly. However, when time comes you better be ready to deal with the worst management task ever. Otherwise your whole team will be constantly taking big hits on morale and you no longer will be considered a rock star manager.

If you’ve just lived through such situation for the first time I have two messages for you. First, it’s one of the most valuable experiences as a manager you can possibly have so good for you. Second, yes, I know how crappy you feel now and it’s not going to become easier next time you do this, sorry.

in: team management

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