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When performance issues just might be life or death

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Q: "I supervise two dispatchers at our local 911 emergency center. Unfortunately, one of them won’t listen to anything I tell her. 'Donna' sometimes gives out incorrect directions, so I try to interrupt the call and correct her. She just ignores me and continues transmitting, which slows down the officers’ response.

"I have explained to Donna that I am only trying to ensure that we send help to the right address as quickly as possible. Although she says she understands, she continues to disregard my instructions.

"Donna doesn’t seem to care about her mistakes, so I don’t know what to do. I’ve talked to my manager, but he hasn’t been any help." Worried Supervisor

A: If you don’t know how to respond to this appalling and willful negligence, then you must have missed basic supervisory training. Donna should immediately be given a long overdue disciplinary warning. If she ever knowingly transmits incorrect information again, she should be fired.

If your boss has actually condoned her reckless disregard for public safety, he is either a complete idiot or a total wimp. Nevertheless, you might as well give him one more chance to do the right thing.

For example: “Even though Donna’s errors could make the difference between life and death, she shows no interest in improving. As her supervisor, I have a moral and ethical responsibility to correct this problem, so I’m planning to give her a disciplinary warning. I assume you will support me on this.”

If your manager seems reluctant, remind him that Donna’s incompetence could potentially cause all three of you to wind up in court. Should he still refuse to cooperate, find someone in human resources or higher management who will back you up. Going over your boss’s head may be risky, but doing nothing is a much greater risk, for both you and the general public.

Dealing with a serious performance issue? Here's how to handle it: How to Resolve Serious Performance Problems.

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