CommsMasters Blog

The 8 Burning Questions Engineering Managers Have About Managing Underperformance


You're a good HR Director – right?  You know the questions about managing performance that managers in your engineering organisation need answered – right?  You've already provided the answers they need to these questions – right?

Well, I won't contest your view that you're a good HR Director because, let's be honest, I don't know if you are or aren't.  But I will contest your view if  you believe that you know the questions about managing performance that managers in your organisation want answered.  If you do, then I'd certainly contest your view that you've provided the answers they need to these questions.

HR Just Doesn't Give the Right Information

Why?  Because in the performance management workshops I've run, I've heard so many managers complaining that HR just doesn't provide the answers they need. To be fair, most of the time that's because they haven't ever told HR what questions they have in the first place.  But, from the managers' perspective, that's beside the point.

In this post, I'll share with you the eight questions I hear managers raising most often because their HR business partner or HR department hasn't given them the answers.

The Questions HR Must Answer

1.What can I say legally?

Managers just aren't that clear about the basic legal dos and don'ts of managing underperformance.

2. What shouldn't I say because it would get me into trouble?

These might be legal points or they might be more personal (see questions 4 and 6, below).

3. How tough can I be?

Managers don't know if they have the right to tell the person what's on their mind, or if they have to sugar-coat the message.

4. What if the other person pushes back, gets emotional or doesn't join in the conversation?

Managers are afraid that they'll be left looking like an idiot once the conversation begins

5. What if everybody else in the team turns against me?

Team members can be closer to each other than they are to the manager – there's a risk they'll gang up on the boss.

6. What if the person raises a grievance against me or complains about me?

Managers fear being exposed and ending up being investigated themselves – that's a lonely place to be and it's surprisingly common too.

7. What if the person escalates the problem to HR/my manager/the union?

See question 6, above.

8. Why does it take so long to get any action when I do implement the disciplinary process?

When the manager finally gets around to doing something, it seems to take forever to actually get something happening.  You know that's because they haven't collected the right information, but to the manager it just seems like a black hole.

Give Clear, Direct Answers

If you take a little time to write clear, direct answers to the questions listed and share those answers with your managers, I believe that you will earn some serious Brownie Points.  But I will emphasise: the answers must be clear and direct – no fudging and no ifs, buts or maybes.

And, more importantly, if you answer them I believe you will find that managers in your engineering organisation will be more confident about tackling underperformance in their teams because they'll be far clearer about how to go about it.


Managers find that HR doesn't give the information they need about managing performance.  This builds bad press for HR and stops managers having the performance conversations they need to have.

There are eight primary questions that must be addressed and answers must be clear and direct if managers are to progress with confidence.

manage underperformance

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