For exhibit and event professionals  

Dilemma: What can I do when the help is no help?

March 5, 2012 By Editor

After years of begging, I finally have an assistant. The problem is “Belle” constantly asks me questions, her work is sloppy, and she has no respect for deadlines. If I let her go, I’m afraid it will reflect badly on my judgment since I interviewed and hired her. Should I fire her and risk losing face? Or is there some way I can get her to be a real help?

— Name withheld, Events Manager

It’s time for you to help her — and yourself

Letting Belle go may not be your best option. Besides the possibility management could doubt your judgment, they may decide there’s now no money in the budget for a new assistant.

For these reasons, among others, our readers think you should:

  • Find out why Belle fails.
  • Hold her accountable.

Find out why Belle fails

Belle’s failure to do her job to your satisfaction may not be due to her lack of ability but other factors.

An anonymous reader explains what some of these may be.

“Who’s managing and training Belle? Is she asking lots of questions because she possibly wasn’t given all of the information she needs to do the job, or it wasn’t clearly presented? Is her work sloppy because she wasn't clearly told how the work should be performed or presented? Is the reason she misses deadlines because of these reasons?

“Keep in mind people learn in different ways. Belle may function best when standard operating procedures are available. Or maybe she needs a ‘go-by’ that clearly shows how you expect things to be done.

“Spend some time figuring out what motivates Belle (i.e., praise, special projects, letting her be creative, etc.), and be flexible where you can so she can be creative and feel like she’s contributing. It’d be much better to work with Belle and help her become the assistant you need than firing her and having to start over with someone new … if your company gives you the opportunity to hire another assistant.”

Hold her accountable

On the other hand, Belle was supposed to be a qualified professional when you hired her. So, it’s not unreasonable to expect her to improve her performance through her own efforts.

An associate marketing manager supports this “individual responsibility” approach.

“Before you let Belle go, put together an Issues and Expectations document and set up a meeting with her to discuss the things you’re having trouble with. Give specific examples of the issues. (Categorize if there are common threads, such as communication or professionalism.)

“Explain the impact of each issue on you and the company overall, and provide your expectations moving forward. Give her a week to come back with her proposed plan to resolve each issue. Then, make sure you hold her accountable for each issue, and point out right away if she slips.

“If you go through this process, and she still isn’t a good fit, you have a good case to let her go. Moreover, you’ll have proof to send to your management team that you did everything in your power to help guide her along.”


  • I think this events manager should see this as a mentoring opportunity. Although she’s busy with her own work, she could take an hour or so to make up a list of how Belle’s falling down on the job and do an Internet search for articles that address these deficiencies. Then, she could meet with Belle, discuss her concerns and present the articles to her.

    Suggesting that Belle go to the next EXHIBITOR conference might be a good idea, too, especially if she points out which educational sessions would be the best for Belle.

    Do you have any other ideas for how this manager can help her assistant? Or do you think she should just cut her losses and let her assistant go?

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