Good to say goodbye: a story

If you look at the heart of the concept, it’ s actually positive. Sometimes, it is good to say goodbye. It is part of projects life.

In a project I managed some time ago there was a project officer whose job description almost matched mine, with the exception of accountability for project implementation and it’s results. She was three years older, with no prior project management experience. I was the forth project manager she worked with in five months. At our first meeting she told me she does not like the job. That was quite a statement and I assured her that with me there would be plenty of opportunities to grow professionally. Later I learned from HR that she said exactly the same thing at the interview and only accepted the job because she was unemployed at the time of the offer. She had a term contract, with a possibility of extension depending on her performance.

It is a flagship project of a major donor, A rated and with high expectations to fulfill.

I am not a solo decision maker when it comes to personnel. There might be biases, personal issues or just phases, on both sides. I talked to three of her former supervisors to learn of the same pattern of behaviour and attitude. Late payments, delayed documents processing, tasked ignored for months, unwillingness to work in a team, lack of corporate ethics and knowledge of procedures, negative attitude and denial at feedback, polite to internationals, rude to nationals, with no friends in the organization, counting others’ money …

I shared my concerns about her performance with my supervisors. I followed HR rules. I talked to a colleague whose experience in HR and team management exceeds mine and whose judgment I trust. He had a similar issue in a project he managed, with the difference that he had to fire the person, who had a longer term contract. He advised me to give her evaluations every two months.

I chose not to give her an optional mid term performance evaluation because we were in the middle of concluding major contracts and that she may take leave. She took it anyway. I delayed my family vacation to much latter.

So a month before the end of her contract, as per the HR procedures, I approached her in a friendly way hoping for a different reaction. “When 7 months ago you said you do not like the job, I thought you were kidding or just have a phase. You do understand that this attitude impacts your performance, don’t you?”. She only said with sarcasm that she got the idea. That was a Friday. And I was still hopeful for her to come and discus it and find together optimum ways out. To her evaluation, accompanied by examples of her performance, she said she is sorry about it. She wrote a leave request to start in 2 days. I signed it, giving her another chance. In vain.

She also sought the opinion of the management. The management was well informed in advance and after having reviewed her performance record, agreed on its content. She submitted a resignation letter quoting personal reasons. HR notified her that she her resignation letter was approved by the management and she is to start her check out procedure.165921033

These were three painful months for me, but I am satisfied that project-wise it remained on course, with only a slight delay, which I anticipated. I have invested a lot emotionally in this case. I have also given her numerous opportunities to redress the situation through constant feedback. Personally, I also know that I’ve given it a lot of thought, even too much perhaps in some of the sleepless nights. I’ve consulted people who knew her professionally, which made me more confident that this was not a phase or a biased decision. It is also important to do your paper work on personnel and file it in advance with anyone who needs to be involved.

A good take away lesson was to have mitigation measures in place. When she tabled the resignation latter, I started talking to assistants I knew and who would have been happy to work on that project. It resulted in a transitional overtime arrangement with a highly efficient project assistant, who even agreed to do it free of charge. I declined the offer as I believe that we all deserve to be paid well for our job, unless we do charity or voluntary work. The project assistant who worked with the former project manager also offered to help with whatever I need. So did numerous other colleagues in HR, procurement and finances. No one felt the difference from day one of her departure. And once a recruitment was completed by another project, I could take the second best candidate.  And the second best was indeed good. In fact, she was so good that when she applied for a project officer position, 12 months later, I proudly supported her.

My colleague was right: I learned a lot, about human nature, cooperation, colleagues’ support, give and take at the work place.

For a project manager, choosing the right time to say good buy is critical. And, as a mindful project manger, try to always create back ups. Learn about all processes your colleagues do to unveil and prevent bottlenecks and even act yourself as a back up if necessary for the project to stay on course.

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