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 that it’s a pattern and that the pattern is a problem. 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.