Scott R. Coplan

Make It Go Away

The Problem

I sat in a management meeting when I was a Senior Manager at Touche Ross, now Deloitte. Mark was a problem. No one would speak up and report what they really wanted to do with him. Mark was a telecommunications engineer with great technical skills. Regrettably, he was not good at preparing a written report that identified the client’s problem and how best to resolve it.
No one set clear and consistent expectations for Mark. Instead, managers assigned Mark to projects, he failed to perform, and then these same managers berated him as not suited for his position. Instead of helping Mark, the “aggrieved” managers planned to transfer Mark to the Guam project, the practice’s least desirable assignment, expecting him to quit.
I had an open position on a project and said, “Let me work with Mark. I’ll make it clear what I want from him and let him explain what he wants from me. If Mark succeeds in this new assignment, we’re on our way to developing a great asset to our practice. If Mark fails, we’ll have a basis for letting him go. Mark will be better off finding a more suitable position elsewhere and our practice will benefit by focusing on a viable replacement.”
Mark was a terrific telecommunications specialist, but his writing skills deterred him from performing his job competently. While we worked together to increase these writing skills, Mark soon realized this was not the job for him and he resigned from his position. After Mark made his decision, he invited me and my wife to his house for dinner to thank me and to meet his family.

The Solution

Most of us avoid or delay uncomfortable conversations. It appears that it is far easier to avoid conflict instead of exploring and resolving it directly. Conflict is going to happen no matter what. Which do you prefer, resolving conflict directly or letting it fester and become more intense because you thought you could avoid it?
Mark did not speak up to his direct reports because our Deloitte practice had no system for honesty or transparency. Leadership couldn’t begin to understand how or why anything was wrong with Mark’s performance, let alone prevent his repeated mistakes. They wanted to fire him, but they couldn’t. There were no performance expectations, basis for determining Mark’s achievement of them, or rationale for improvements when he did not meet them. They just wanted to make it go away.


My experience.

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