what to say when people ask why an employee was fired

A reader writes:

I just fired someone here at Big Research University. It was necessary, and I’ve got no regrets (and the full support of our department and higher-ups).

But while this person was terrible in many ways, they did have a great relationship with some faculty members they worked with. And those faculty are asking us (no doubt influenced by personal contact from the fired employee) why we did it so “suddenly” (as if anything’s fast at a university), and how we could deprive them of someone so wonderful. Of course, our official stance is to say, “this is an HR matter.”

But damn, does that response not fly. When, if ever, is it acceptable to give more information internally? Faculty are weirdly both fellow employees (although they tend not to think of themselves this way), and also customers with a lot of pull, and are very, very persistent.

I’d say this: “I don’t want to get into the details of Jane’s situation — just like I wouldn’t share confidential information about your employment with others here — but I can tell you that when someone is let go, it’s never sudden or a surprise. It comes after multiple conversations with the person about what the issues are and chances to show improvement, even though people outside those conversations won’t always know that.”

In other words, appeal to their respect for the person’s privacy, but explain how you handle firings in general so that they hear that firings don’t happen out of the blue. It sounds like the people approaching you are assuming that since they don’t know about any performance conversations, there weren’t any. Ideally, this will (a) prompt them to realize that “I didn’t know about this” doesn’t mean “it wasn’t happening,” and (b) convey that you don’t make arbitrary or sudden personnel decisions.

Of course, saying this credibly means that you also need to have established yourself as a fair and reasonable person, which hopefully you have done. Assuming so, this messaging will work with other reasonable people.

how to get heard at meetings — especially if you’re soft-spoken or introverted

It pays to speak up and contribute in meetings. But if you’re someone who finds it tough to speak up when others don’t leave you a natural opening – or worse, interrupt you – how can you get your voice heard?

Even the terrified-of-speaking-in-groups and the soft-spoken can get heard in meetings if you have the right strategy. At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about how to do it. You can read it here.

are professionally done resumes worth it?

A reader writes:

I have been out off work for three years. I have sent out a lot of resumes and filled out a bunch of job applications, but I have not received any calls back. I was talking to a friend about it and they suggested that I get my resume done professionally. I’ve checked the price for this and it is not cheap. So I was wondering, will having my resume professional done worth the price or will it be waste of money that I honestly don’t really have?

If your resume is in horrible shape and you don’t feel at all equipped to fix it with any of the free resources available online (and there are many), then sure, paying someone to help you might be worth it.

However, you should be aware that many, many professional resume writers aren’t very good at what they do. I see a lot of resumes that were professionally done that are pretty awful and need lots of help.

I also see a lot that have recognizable hallmarks of “a professional resume writer was here,” and those hallmarks are not good ones. (For example, you do not want the words “core competencies” on your resume.)

So you really need to vet whoever you hire — you can’t just assume that because someone hung out a shingle, they’re good at it. And to vet effectively, you need to have some basis for judging, which means you need to put in the work to educate yourself about what a good resume looks like … which might get you to the point where you can do it yourself anyway. (For example, see the advice here.)

But if you try that and you’re still feeling lost, then sure — working with someone who’s good at this could help. Just be sure that you truly check for that, which means:

  • Make sure it’s someone who will spend significant time talking to you and drawing accomplishments out of you. If someone is just going to take your resume and rewrite it, that’s a bad sign.
  • Ask to see before and after samples of real resumes they’ve done. This is hugely important; so often when I’ve looked at the example resumes that most of these services have online, they’ve been pretty weak.
  • Don’t put any weight on professional certifications for this work (like someone being certified Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches), because they’re not a guarantee of quality. There are people who are great at this with no formal training or certification, and people with formal certifications who suck. Look at their actual work.
  • And stay away from these folks.

telling my boss someone doesn’t want to work with him, an ageist job applicant, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Telling my creepy boss that a contact wants to work with me and not him

How do I tell my creepy boss that his former business contact wants to work with me and not him? I work as a part-time independent contractor for a company. My boss is a good guy, but often comes off as creepy and inappropriate (I haven’t figured out a way to tell him this yet). Not too long ago, we lost a contract with another business, partly because the manager no longer wanted to work with my boss (things apparently ended badly there). I remain friends with an employee at this business, who recently asked me to come in for a special project. Just me, not my boss or his company; they don’t want him involved at all.

I really want to take this opportunity. There’s nothing legally that will prevent me from doing so, but ethically, I feel like I need to tell my boss (he will definitely find out about it whether I tell him or not). I know he’s going to be upset, and there’s no good way for me to say “These people think you’re creepy and don’t want to work with you.” If he does get upset about this, I’m considering offering him a small cut of whatever pay I get, as I would never have made the connection or been able to impress this business without him or his contact. Other people I’ve talked to think this is unnecessary. This is just a part-time job which I don’t need to pay the rent, but I do want to make sure that I act properly here and don’t burn any bridges.

I don’t think you have any obligation to give him a cut of whatever pay you get; in fact, I think it would be odd to do that. I don’t even think you’re necessarily obligated to give him a heads-up since you’re a contractor and presumably have other clients in the industry, although it’s possible that your specific set-up with means that you should. But since things ended badly between him and the other business, hopefully he won’t be terribly surprised to learn that they don’t want to work with him, but who knows. Regardless, I’d approach it from the assumption that he’ll handle it professionally; if he doesn’t, you can cross that bridge then, but do him the favor of assuming he can take it.

If he does get upset or asks why they didn’t come to him, I’d either be totally neutral (“I’m not sure” — since it’s not your job to be the middle-person between them) or say “I know they’d ended their contract with you earlier, but you probably know more about those circumstances than I do!”

2. Should I tell an applicant we rejected him because of his ageist behavior?

I am a supervisor and recently interviewed an applicant who my colleagues and I agreed would not be a good fit, not because he didn’t have the qualifications but because he displayed behavior that we believed was very unprofessional. During the interview, he completely disregarded me and one of my colleagues. He centered all of his attention on our second colleague and even had his body facing that person. It was as if he was pretending my colleague and I were not there; whenever we asked him questions, he would answer them but would not look at us. When he responded, he would only look at our second colleague. The position he was interviewing for would be under my supervision, and he was told more than once that I was the manager. However, this did not change his behavior; he continued to disregard me and my colleague, and when the interview ended, he walked away from me when I was trying to give him post-interview information.

The more we observed his behavior, the more we felt that it had something to do with our ages. My second colleague is the senior in the office and is a lot older than us. We felt that the applicant must have assumed that he was the real manager in the office just because he looked older. Also, my colleagues told me that the applicant had stopped by a few weeks prior to ask about his application and was incredibly rude to my colleague and was only cordial when my second colleague stepped out to assist (I was not in the office when this happened and was shocked to hear this).

Immediately after the interview, I sent the applicant a rejection letter. Now, I have been receiving emails from him demanding to know why he was not selected. I feel that I should give him feedback, but at the same time, I don’t know how appropriate it is to provide the kind of feedback I want to give. I feel that he needs to know that it is not okay to ignore your interviewers, let alone walk away from them, and I feel that he should know that his behavior was very ageist. Is it ok to let an applciant know this?

Well, it’s not your job to tell him how to be a better interviewer, and frankly there’s an argument that you should let him go on revealing this side of himself to other employers, so they know what they’d be getting if they hire him. But I can certainly understand why, on principle, you might want to tell him how inappropriate his behavior was. I wouldn’t have any problem with you replying with something like, “You disregarded me and another colleague throughout the interview, even walking away from me while I was in mid-sentence afterward. I’ve also learned since our interview that you were rude to one of our employees when you stopped by our office a few weeks before and that, along with the tenor of the last few emails you’ve sent me, has confirmed my confidence in my decision.” Ooooh, it feels good just to write that out.

(Note I didn’t get into whether it was ageism or not, since that’s speculation and it doesn’t really matter; regardless of the cause, the behavior wasn’t okay.)

But lots of people will tell you not to bother, especially since his post-rejection behavior has been so obnoxious.

3. Company advertised one salary range but then told me a different one in person

I recently interviewed with a company which had a salary range of $40k- $64k on their job ad. It got down to the question of “What are your salary requirements, and what did you make at your last job?” I threw the ball in their court a couple of times, asking “Based on the range of the job, what is your department’s budget, how much does this position offer?” and it got to a point where I said, “I am looking for something within the range of $55k-65k.” The interviewer replied, “Our budget is $43k and that’s the maximum we can go for.” Why would they post a higher range? Isn’t this falsification on their part?

It’s possible that they’d pay some candidates the higher end of the range if they had the right experience or skills, but were only willing to pay the lower end of the range to others. It’s also possible that they changed the range after the job posting went up. It’s unlikely (not impossible, but far less common) that it was a deliberate attempt to mislead candidates about salary; the real explanations for this stuff are usually much more boring.

4. Mentioning in my cover letter that my mom is a teacher

I am a college senior and I am applying for a lot college admissions prep/ tutoring type jobs. I have experience working in college admissions because of my on-campus work-study job (which I really love!) But in addition to that, I was wondering if I could mention that my mother is a teacher and I have pretty much grown up in the classroom, helping her with everything from grading to individual tutoring. I would only mention this in the cover letter to provide context for why I’m interested in pursuing education. However, I still feel weird mentioning my mom in cover letter. What do you think?

I wouldn’t. It’s not that you can never mention your mom in a cover letter; for example, if you were applying for a job at an organization devoted to solving Disease X, I could see mentioning that the cause was close to your heart because your mom had Disease X. But in this case, I don’t think the mention would actually strengthen your candidacy. I do think you could say “I’ve been doing individual tutoring since I was 16” or something if that’s true, but I’d make that the focus, rather than the fact that you did it through your mom’s work.

5. Can my employer make me work on Sundays despite my religious beliefs?

When I first applied to my company, there was a section on the application that asked if there were any days I needed off each week. I wrote down that I needed every Sunday off because of church, and because I did not work at all on Sundays for religious reasons. I was hired as a part-time employee and had every Sunday off. I have since changed managers twice, been promoted to full-time, and have still never worked a Sunday.

Recently, my manager was talking to his boss about finding people to work Sundays, and his boss told him that for now on everybody has to be able to work on Sundays. If I refuse to work Sundays, can they fire me? Even though they agreed to give me every Sunday off by accepting my application in the first place? Can they fire me for me not working Sundays because of my religion?

If it’s relevant, I am in California. Currently I believe that we have about 12 workers, and we just hired two or three more who should start any week here.

The number of employees at your company is actually very relevant here. The federal law that requires religious accommodation, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, so it’s not in play here. However, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act applies to employers with five or more employees and requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs as long as doing so wouldn’t create an undue burden. In general, courts have found that schedule changes are a reasonable accommodation for employers to offer.

I’d say this to your employer: “As you know, when I was hired, we agreed that I wouldn’t work on Sunday for religious reasons. I understand that our policies around working on Sunday are now changing, but because of my religious beliefs, I’m requesting an exemption from that as an accommodation under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.”

low performers in my office are paraded around and forced to wear dunce caps

If you didn’t read Friday’s open thread, you missed out on this amazing story, which almost already wins Bad Boss of 2016 (but that can’t happen because it’s only February and that would demoralize all the other bad boss contenders out there, who are doing such good work toward the title too). Here it is in all of its horror and glory:

I need some advice on how to survive in a company that both praises and shames publicly.

I’ve been at this company of about 350 people for eight months. The floorplan is a giant square open office with manager/director/VP/executive offices lining the outer perimeter. Most everyone can hear what’s going on inside the square.

The way this company deals with both praises and mistakes is through public announcements. If you do something well, your manager or another higher up will come out onto the floor and stand at your desk and publicly declare what a great job you did. But if you make a mistake and do something wrong, you will get yelled at in front of all your coworkers. It’s distressing and really humiliating. There’s never any follow-up privately about why you made the mistake or how to prevent it; you just get yelled at and that’s that.

Performance is evaluated on a point system. At random times, the executives will send out a stack ranking of every employee’s point score. The top five are gathered and paraded around the office and each handed $200 in cash as a reward. The bottom five are also paraded around the office but are made to wear dunce caps (I wish I were making this up). The bottom five go on probation, and if they are still in the bottom five the next time the ranking goes out, they’re fired.

The last time the rankings went out, I was in the top five and got the money, but I still felt embarrassed being paraded around like that and being made an example of. People were congratulating me for days afterward, but I did NOT feel good or like I’d accomplished something.

I am searching for a new job, but based on the scarcity of jobs in my area and field, I don’t expect to find one soon. I am having a really hard time dealing with this toxic environment and am about ready to flip a table and storm out. Any advice on surviving until I’m able to quit?

And if you were wondering, they didn’t do any of this stuff when I was there for my job interviews.

Dunce caps!

Dunce caps.

No, seriously, dunce caps.

The only way to survive this and come out unscathed is to pretend that you’re a sociologist studying an alien life form and its behaviors and rituals, right before its planet’s sun is about to fail and destroy them all.

my new boss treats me like a personal assistant

A reader writes:

I’m a departmental assistant at my current job. I have been here 2-1/2 years and I like my job, but recently my old boss was let go and a new boss started.

Our company is set up so that each department has an assistant who helps with the administrative work functions for that department. That’s always been my job.

But my new boss is very demeaning and is always telling me to do personal, non-work related tasks for her. I have to pick up her coffee, order her lunch, run out and get her frozen yogurt, schedule her hair salon appointments, work out an issue with the airline for her family vacation, and even go and pick up cupcakes for her kid’s birthday party, all while staying on top of my own department work. None of the other assistants have to do any of this, and I didn’t have to do it in the past. The worst part is that my boss never asks (she leaves stickies on my desk or sends emails) or says thank you for doing any of this. She just assumes because I am the assistant, I have to do it. Her notes and emails generally are the “have this done by this time….” or “I need you to do this before….” variety. In the past, I’ve taken the “this isn’t a priority” approach with her, and she always tell me to do it when I get a chance, and sends follow-up emails/texts and calls until it’s done.

I’m thinking about going to HR, but I don’t want to seem like a whiny, complaining employee. I don’t mind doing my job and I probably wouldn’t mind helping her out with non-work related issues if it wasn’t on a consistent basis.

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

should I take the first job I can, just to get out of a bad situation?

A reader writes:

I am in the process of interviewing and applying for other jobs. I started my current job a year ago and aside from it just not being the right fit for me, the culture is absolutely toxic and it is very difficult to not let it get to me–my boss trashes me to my colleagues and has turned upper management against me, another department director (boss’s friend) lied about me in a public way that has harmed my reputation, and there is tremendous pressure to work around the clock (even on weekends), family and personal life be damned.

I am reading your How to Get a Job e-book to prepare for my interviews (it’s really helpful) and in a few parts you talk about making sure the job is the right fit for the job-searcher. I definitely want to find a place that is the right fit for me, but I need to get out of this job as soon as I can because it is causing stress in all aspects of my life. What do you say about taking the first job that gives an offer, even if it may not be the best fit?

Well, you can and I totally get why you’d want to, but you should balance it against these factors:

* If you’re not screening jobs thoroughly to ensure they’re the right fit for you, you could end up in another situation that’s just as bad as the one you were fleeing, or even worse. Knowing how unhappy you are now, do you really want to risk repeating that at the next place?

* If you do end up in the wrong place again and want to leave again fairly quickly (and the one year at your current job does count as leaving quickly), you’ll now have a pattern that makes you look like a job hopper. You basically get one freebie on leaving quickly — which means that you really need to make sure that the next place is somewhere you’re willing to stay long-term.

* Not screening jobs well doesn’t just mean that you might end up in a job where you’ll be unhappy. It also means you could end up in a job that you’re not good at and get fired from. Then you’re unemployed, with a firing to explain, and an unhelpful reference from your most recent employer. That’s inflicting a lot of damage on yourself just to get out of bad job a little more quickly.

All that said, there are times when despite the above, it could still be the right choice to jump at the first job that comes along. But those situations are really, really rare — like where you’ll be out on the street if you don’t take the job, or your health is in danger at your current job and you need to keep affordable health insurance by staying employed. Ideally it’s not just “this place sucks and I hate it,” as compelling as that can feel. I think your situation falls closer to the latter category, although I can’t say for sure without knowing more.

By the way, sometimes when this topic comes up, people get frustrated that they have to cater to employer perceptions — “why shouldn’t I be able to job hop if it’s what’s best for me?” and so forth. But the point here is to understand how to get the best outcomes for yourself and the greatest chances of long-term happiness. Employer perceptions are certainly part of it, because those are part of the reality of earning a living — but ultimately all of this stuff is just about understanding trade-offs and realities, and acting in a way that’s aligned with the things that are most important to you in the long-term.

can I decline a personality test, coworkers are trying to reassign my work, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Can I decline to take a personality test during a hiring process?

I’m about to head into a third interview, and I was just asked to take a personality test and cognitive aptitude test. I am incredibly uncomfortable with a personality test and said as much – but am willing to take the cognitive aptitude test. I don’t feel personality tests are useful or conclusive in any way. Am I blowing the interview? Is it wrong that I’m not willing to play the game?

I’m no fan of personality tests either, but organizations who use them are likely to require it if you want to continue in their process. The exceptions to this are if you’ve come into their process through a personal connection, one who has enough standing there to say “she can skip it” or if the hiring manager likes you enough at this point to exempt you. Absent either of those factors, they’re likely to take “won’t play the game” as “self-selecting out.”

2. My coworkers are trying to reassign my work to the receptionist

I work in a small department with four people, two of whom are new to the organization. One employee (coworker #1) was hired to do a certain job, and we also hired a receptionist to round out our department two months ago.

Coworker #1 doesn’t like some aspects of her job responsibilities, and she has gotten close to the CEO, who has advocated for a title change for her and coworker is trying to pass off the “undesirable” responsibilities to the receptionist. Two coworkers from other departments who we work closely with on various projects “feel bad” that the receptionist “doesn’t have enough to do” and are prepared to assign her a bunch of different responsibilities, including trying to reduce some of mine to give to her! Our manager is on vacation all week, so they plan on surprising him with the job responsibility changes upon his return.

I’m frustrated that my coworkers assume that they can make these changes on a whim without discussing it with the affected department members first (especially the manager), and I told them that I was uncomfortable with putting their ideas in motion before my manager returns. I think that they think that because they either report to or work closely with the CEO, they can wave a wand and make changes to fit their tastes. I don’t mind if the receptionist has additional responsibilities, but I do not want my work to be encroached on and I think it’s inappropriate for coworkers to be creating and changing responsibilities for each other. I feel like my manager definitely needs to know about this–what should I do?

Just be direct! It’s totally reasonable to say, “I want to wait to talk to (manager) when he returns next week, so please don’t move forward on this until I do.” If you’re comfortable with it, you could be even clearer: “I’d actually like to hang on to Task X because (I like it/it’s a significant part of my job/it intersects with other things I do/I’m better positioned to handle it because of Y/whatever). If you feel strongly about it, we can certainly talk with (manager) when he returns next week, but it would need to wait until then.”

3. How to assess a candidate who might have very different values from our organization

I’m a recruiter for a health-related nonprofit. One application we got recently raised some eyebrows because the applicant’s current position is with a notoriously conservative organization, and our organizational culture is definitely on the liberal side of things. Plus, we provide services (family planning, post-abortion care, heavily promoting condom usage for HIV prevention, etc) that his current organization actively campaigns against. They’re also in the “homosexuality is a sin” camp and the hiring manager is gay. Obviously, not every employee has to privately espouse the values of their organization (the current one, or ours) but we also want to make our atmosphere clear, and determine his nebulous “fit” with the rest of the team. How can we do that without implying “we’re worried you’re a bigot”?

When you do advocacy or many other types of nonprofit work, it’s entirely reasonable to require that candidates have a commitment to the objectives of your organization. You can be pretty direct about this: “Your current organization pretty actively campaigns against much of the work we do. Tell me more about your interest in moving from them over to us.”

To get at basic comfort with / skill at working with people who might be different from himself, you can ask things like “Tell me about a time that you had to work with a group of people from different backgrounds and move them to action. How did you approach it, and to what extent did that shape your approach?” Or even more directly, “Tell me about a time you had to navigate issues of identity and diversity — how did you approach it?” or “One of our core values is around diversity and inclusion, which for us means ___. Tell me about how that value has played out in your work.” (I stole all three of these from The Management Center.)

For what it’s worth, you might end up being surprised! When I was working to end marijuana prohibition, among our job candidates were two former DEA agents, a Republican judge (we hired him and he was great), and a bunch of others whose exposure to the other side of the issue had been what made them support our work. Or he might just be someone who doesn’t realize what type of work you do, or who hasn’t thought particularly deeply on your issues. But you should get a pretty good idea with the sorts of questions above.

4. Should I apply for a job I don’t want in order to get my foot in the door?

I am very interested in applying to work for a specific, small nonprofit organization. I truly believe in their mission and the work they do. However, they have no open positions for the job I would be suitable for. Can I apply to a different position I am not interested in just to get my foot in the door? Should I email them my resume and cover letter for the job for which they are not currently hiring? How can I get myself on this organization’s radar?

Don’t apply for a position you’re not interested in. You’ll be wasting their time, and small organizations really don’t have the luxury of that. Plus,  if you get the job, you’d be potentially sidetracking your own career for a different job that might never happen. Instead, your best bet is to find ways to make connections with people there (volunteering is one way, but it doesn’t have to be that), let them know you’d love to work for them some day and what you do, and make sure you stay in touch. If feasible, go to their events and get involved in other ways. In other words, get on their radar and keep yourself there so that you’re around if they ever do have an opening that’s right for you.

Plus, once you get to know their context better, you might see a way to pitch the type of work you’d like to do — but that will be a lot more effective once you know more about them.

5. A friend referred me for a job but then I was automatically rejected

A friend of mine referred me to a job and forwarded my resume to the actual hiring manager. He told me to apply for the position online as well. Unfortunately, I received an automated email from their HR department stating they were deciding to pursue other candidates. My question is: Was I really not considered by the actual HR manager or was this a result of their hiring software? Have there been situations where an HR manager may have reviewed a resume personally and decided to move forward with an applicant while a “hiring software” may have done the opposite (i.e. rejected an applicant)?

It could be either. If the hiring manager reviewed your materials and decided to reject you, it’s likely she’d have the normal rejection sent and you wouldn’t be able to tell that was the case. On the other hand, it’s also possible that you were rejected by HR or filtered out by screening software if you didn’t meet specific qualifications. Competent employers don’t set up their software in a way that would result in candidates they’d want to interview being automatically screened out, but it happens.

All you can really do here is mention to the friend who referred you that you received what looks like an automatic rejection, and let the friend decide if it’s worth him following up with the hiring manager. (Whether he will or should depends on how well positioned he is to assess your candidacy.)

my employee wants to be micromanaged

A reader writes:

I’m having an issue with one of my employees who hasn’t been improving, and I’m not quite sure how to better the situation. I work for an organization where everyone takes on a lot of responsibility and, in short, I have an employee who wants to be micromanaged. Basically, my employee is paralyzed unless I explicitly give direction to get something done. If I don’t respond in what my employee deems a timely manner, I will get texted while in meetings or on phone calls to respond on something.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried being direct by saying, “I need you to be more confident in your decision-making and just move on things. You have my blessing.” I’ve tried just plain ignoring to see if the pressure will make her move. I’ve tried hinting, which I hate because it’s passive-aggressive. None of it works. I’m out of ideas and wondering what else I could do to ameliorate the situation. It’s very inefficient and quite frankly, I have decision fatigue at the end of the day.

Have you tried explicitly naming the issue for her, explaining that it’s a serious problem, and painting a clear picture of what you need to see instead? And doing this in a big-picture, “let’s step back and talk about a pattern that I see” way, as opposed to talking about individual instances after they happen?

When you’re frustrated with an element of someone’s performance, the basic steps to follow are these:

1. Clear and direct feedback after specific incidents — “here’s what I observed and here’s what I need from you instead.” (You want to make this an actual conversation, of course, where you ask for the employee’s thoughts about what’s going too.)

2. Big-picture, pattern feedback — “I’ve noticed this big-picture pattern, and here’s what I need instead.” Managers often skip this step. They talk about individual instances as they happen and assume that the employee will connect the dots and realize that there’s a pattern, but never actually say “hey, this is a pattern.” As a result, employees sometimes truly don’t realize it. It’s really, really helpful and important to name it as a pattern and as a big-picture thing about their performance.

So, in this case, you’d say something like this: “We’ve talked several times now about how I need you to make decisions like X and Y on your own and to drive work forward without leaning on me for direction, but I haven’t seen the improvement I was hoping for. It’s become a pattern, and I’m concerned because that approach is crucial for success in this job.” You’d ask her for her thoughts, you’d talk about it, you’d paint as clear a picture as you can for her of what her performance should look like (ideally using some concrete recent examples and talking about how those could have gone differently), and you agree to check back in on her progress in a few weeks.

3. If that doesn’t resolve it, then you address it as a serious performance problem, including a formal improvement plan with timelines if you think that’s appropriate, and including contemplating whether she’s not the right fit for the role.

With this particular issue, it might make sense to do some limited-time, intensive coaching around decision-making and keeping work moving, and see if that gets her where you need her to be. But I’d be prepared to move to step #3 pretty quickly after that (or as part of that), because it sounds like she might just be fundamentally mismatched with the role.

do you expect your staff to read your mind?

Does this sound familiar? You’ve delegated work and thought that you and your staff person were on the same page about what to do, but when the work comes back to you, it’s really different from what you thought it would be. Or, you’re frustrated because your team didn’t prioritize the items you cared about most, or spent too much time on something that you don’t think has much value.

All too often, when managers are frustrated over what feels like lack of alignment, it’s because they assumed that their staff understood what they wanted – but didn’t actually make it clear. In other words, they counted on the person to read their mind.

It’s easy to fall into doing this, especially easy when you’ve worked with people for a while and assume that you speak the same shorthand. But it’s also not a great way to manage. Over at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about how to make sure you’re not asking your staff to mind-read. You can read it here.