Never Talk About Other People's Performance


A colleague asked how to deal with this situation. “It's clear Brad is being a jerk. I'm working with him on how to be less of a jerk. But Susie asked me today when I'm going to do something about the problem–nothing she says seems to make a dent in his behavior. What can I tell Susie?”

Nothing. Not anything at all. You can say, “I'm working on the problem.” That's it. And if you have to fire Brad, you say something like, “Brad has decided to pursue career opportunities elsewhere.” If anyone asks about Brad's jerkiness problems, you say, “Brad has decided to pursue career opportunities elsewhere.” (That's the management equivalent of a “no comment” answer.

You can't say anything because even if you comment, how will they know what you say about them? You create a lack of trust by commenting about other people.

So, never ever talk about other people's performance.

This is #11 and #12 in Memo for Bosses: 101 Ways to Prevent your Office from Hating You.

7 Replies to “Never Talk About Other People's Performance”

  1. I would qualify this by saying “never say anything negative about a person’s performance.” Positive reinforcement can be a very good motivator.

  2. I think it’s appropriate to let the other members of a team know when someone was let go. Lack of trust can also be developed by giving overly formal answers when people know something is up. I’d also be willing to discuss some specifics as to why a person was let go. I hate being on a team and not know why a person was fired – I don’t want to play guessing games with my management, I want to know where I stand and where management stands with the rest of the team.
    I do think a very strong line needs to be drawn when talking to other people instead of or before the person in question. That’s a disaster. And in many cases, others on the team do not need to know details about what’s going on.

  3. I’m agree with the previous comments:
    1) Saying good things (well-deserved of course) about other people performance raises team morale and improves relationships (in a team with healthy culture).
    2) Reasonable openness in case of well known problems or firing is better than “no comments”.

  4. Early in my career as a manager I learned a valuable lesson. If you terminate someone before the group knows it needs to be done, you create uneasiness in the group. If you terminate someone well after the group knows is should be done, you have sanctioned poor performance and lowered expectations. In firing someone, timing is everything. If you do it right, there will be no need to comment.

  5. I agree only more so with these criticisms of this strategy. If management means “No comment” they should say “no comment”. And in some cases they can get in legal hot water if they say anything more.
    But the culture of mistrust and the gap, or chasm rather, currently in place between employees and management in much of corporate america today is because of this disingenous behavior from management.
    Sometimes people do go pursue other interests, and sometimes they get canned. Employees sometimes learn which is which although they get told the same story. Under that circumstance there can be no trust.
    Some open justification of employment moves is typically called for, that includes firings, hirings, and significant promotions and demotions — or you will not have as strong a team as you could.
    This needs some serious re-thought, both philosophically and in the courts.

  6. I can understand that legally often “no comment” is the only recourse. With my management, I have generally appreciated, also, knowing that the “no comment” reply is caused by legal ramifications – knowing *why* I’m not allowed to have an answer is a lot more reassuring than a completely unhelpful answer.
    I’d like to think that in the Ideal Company I’d have perfect trust that everyone who is fired is fired for a just cause and that the employee has had several warning and chances to fix the problem but chose to ignore the clearly stated warnings. But let’s face it – that’s not the case. Often in a large company where one can know many, many coworked, but know them very well – it can be upsetting and troubling to hear that someone was clearly fired but management won’t give a straight answer on why. Often the rumor mill that results seems worse than an actual answer.

  7. I would say the only reason for dismissing someboy is when (s)he makes a real damage for the team work. Parodaxally that might be when one team memebr complains too much about someone’s else performance and makes it personal. The rest to too subtle and usually demands a see of patience since you could never know what the real contribution of any team member is (Tom DeMarco made a good point on this in his Peopleware). If somebody is really underperfroming it would be preferable to help him/her to find an alternative.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.