update from the manager who inherited a bad staff

Remember the reader who had inherited a staff of people who had been held to a low bar and was trying to figure out if his expectations of them were too high? Here’s his update:

I wish I had a more definitive update about my question but it is still very much a grey area for me.

I have tried to start pushing my department more and showing that more effort is required. I was finally able to get most of them a pay increase and I tried to tie that increase into motivation for better results. As of right now I’d have to say the jury is out on if it is actually working but I am trying to reinforce the behavior I’m looking for and offering suggestions and coaching when the results are below what I’m looking for.

Even though I was able to get a pay increase for most of the staff, I still get mixed messages from my management regarding how they want me to proceed. I feel that we should be hiring the best candidates available and then pushing those people for the best results. When I had an open position a few months ago, I was “requested” to interview a family friend and felt pressured to offer this person the position even though I know for sure they were not the best person I could get to fill the position. My managers are the owners of the company so there isn’t anyone “higher up” that I can go to for assistance. In addition to the family friend I had to hire, I also have a family member in my department who routinely pushes our rules and definitely does not do high quality work.

As a result of the family member and family friend, I feel a constant conflict correcting one person who is not living up to expectations and allowing others to get away with the same mediocre work. Most team members seem to understand that our hands are tied about these few individuals and have still been making an effort to do better work but still a very dysfunctional organization.

You know what my advice is going to be: Get out of there when you can. You can’t manage in an environment that won’t give you the tools you need to do it well.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Emily*

    I agree with AAM. Run, run like the wiiiiiind!

    Okay, actually keep doing your best while trying to find a job that is not insane. Your managers have a double-standard for staff that is obvious to all employees, and there’s no way any of them will work to a higher standard with that in place. Why work harder when the family friend employee (or whoever) doesn’t have to?

    Since your managers actively stop you from fixing that situation, I would definitely get out of there. You aren’t the right fit for the organization because you aren’t a yes man and you actually want to do a good job.

  2. Andreea*

    Did I miss something with the comment “I was finally able to get most of them a pay increase and I tried to tie that increase into motivation for better results. As of right now I’d have to say the jury is out on if it is actually working…”? So the team was doing mediocre work, so the OP gets them a raise, and then tries to use that for motivation? If I were an employee doing a substandard job but then got a raise, I would assume my work was just fine, and would likely continue doing what I was doing. I don’t think I’d try to improve since the message seems to be do whatever, get a raise!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with this and wondered about it too. These employees should be getting put on notice that their jobs are at risk if they don’t improve, not getting raises.

      1. Josh S*

        The only way I can conceive of this being anything close to reasonable is if the employees were getting WAY less than the average pay for their positions, and the OP managed to say something along the lines of, “Now that we’re getting the pay for these positions where it should be, we’re going to demand that the results are what they should be too.”

        Even then, I think it’s a stretch, since these people are already accustomed to doing sub-par work.

  3. Emily*

    I feel like the raise thing was someone with their hands tied using the one tool they felt they had available. Maybe not the best solution though. But I feel sympathetic.

  4. Jenny*

    I agree!!! Look for another job! I was just let go due to this propblem.
    I had one employee that just would not work as a team member. Upper managment would not let me address it, and it eventually cost me my job. As a leader you can’t make someone have the right attitude, it has to be a part of their makeup. You’re in a no win situation. Get out before it takes you down.

  5. Dawn*

    I agree that the raises were not a good idea. Unless their pay is way below average for the industry, a raise isn’t warranted for people who do mediocre work. All this is going to do is send the message that mediocre work is acceptable. If an employee wants a raise they’re going to have to work for it. Do the work, then get rewarded.

    I also agree with the advice to get out when you can. If management was allowing you to actually manage this family friend and family member I’d say stick it out and treat them like any other employee; however, that’s not the case. Your employees seem to understand the situation, but eventually it’s going to breed resentment and bring down morale, which means all your hard work goes out the window.

  6. Elizabeth*

    Could it be that the raise was negotiated, but not given out until quality improved? And the OP could have said something like ‘Raises are available now (since they hadn’t been getting anything — there was no expectation that better work would be rewarded) but only to those whose performance improves.’

  7. Anonymous*

    I’m the OP. I’d like to clarify the raise issue. I know not everyone will agree with it, but I’ll at least explain my rationale.

    When I took over the department nearly two years ago there had not been any pay increases for this group for over two years prior. The people in this department were averaging less than $10/hr…and this is not retail or fast food.

    When I say “no raises” I mean no raises, no cost of living, no merit, nothing. The pay for these position is well below what starting salaries are in the industry in our area. Most of these people had been in their positions for upwards of 3-5 years and are making less than starting salaries at other companies. Mind you the company was not giving raises but was still contributing to 401(k) profit sharing (they don’t do a match) and was giving out a small holiday bonus (around $150) so I feel raises could have been provided when justified.

    My thinking (again I know many will not agree with it) was to get them a raise to get them closer to the industry standard and then explain that along with it would be our expectations regarding the quality of their work.

    Mind you that I want to basically say if you don’t do quality work then you are out the door…and that would work in most organizations. My fear here is that I already have to work around the individuals on the “friends and family plan” (as explained in my response) but if I let the people go that are not meeting my standard I may be placed in a position of hiring more friends or family and will be in much more difficult position.

    Keep in mind my original question was balancing setting the bar to high vs. accepting work that is not as good as I feel it could be. Most of these people are doing minimally acceptable work but not as high quality as I would like. My question really was am I “expecting $15/hr work from $10/hr employees” and is that fair to them?

    Trust me I am constantly on the look out for a position that will allow me to manage the way I truly want to. I’ve even interviewed and thought I had found that position but they decided not to fill it at this time.

    I appreciate everyone’s perspective even if you don’t agree with me.

    Thank you.

    1. Amy*

      I think you sound like a fair manager, but I want to point out one thing. In your original letter, you say you want to hire the best people and push them to do their best work. I want to warn you that a department made up of entirely A+ people is ALSO a disaster. Ideally, you have a mix of A’s, B’s, and C’s. You need good people, sure, but you also need some that are reliable and not terribly ambitious, and maybe you even need one or two just straight-up workhorses. If everyone is awesome, you will never be able to keep them all happy.

      1. Natalie*

        I think you’re making a huge assumption there in only categorizing ambitious people as As. A person’s lack of ambition in business, or maybe just in the specific business they’re working in, doesn’t mean they’re not awesome.

    2. Long Time Admin*

      OP, this is not against you but the management of your company: If you pay less than the standard rate, you’re going to get less than the standard performance.

      When I was between jobs and temping, I had an interview for a long-term temp assignment, as the office admin. The employer decided to go with someone else, whose pay rate was lower than mine. They asked her to make hotel reservations for someone from the home office who was coming to town, and she asked if she should make the reservation for just the evening, or the whole night. They called me the next day.

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