how to get a reluctant employee to take on a new task

A reader writes:

The person who took minutes at our board meetings has moved on, and I’m leaving her position vacant for budget reasons. I want our bookkeeper to take this duty on, because she has already shown she’s trustworthy with sensitive information, and I feel she’s the best person on our staff for this. However, when I asked her to take on the duty, and she said she doesn’t want to. Now I feel stuck, because it’s not the type of board where any of the members would likely take the minutes (I asked several of my neighboring organizations, and all of them have a staff member take minutes). I know that I can’t take them myself and run the meeting at the same time.

I wouldn’t be able to give her a raise for this — it’s just an extra duty that I need her to do and I know that she has the time to do it. I really want her to do this, and am fighting the urge to say “I’m the boss and what I say goes!” (I don’t want to be that kind of boss, but on the other hand, I don’t ever recall telling any of my previous bosses no when they asked something of me.)

So, do you have any suggestions on how to get an employee to take on a duty that they’re reluctant to take on, without resorting to “because I said so” tactics? I don’t know what I’ll do if I ask again and she still doesn’t want to do it.

I wrote back and asked, “Why doesn’t she want to?”

The letter-writer’s response:  She seemed very nervous about it because she’s never taken minutes before. She said “I don’t want that responsibility.” I think she may be intimidated by the board (unnecessarily so).

Not wanting to do it because she’s nervous about it is actually easier to deal with than if she didn’t want to do it because she just didn’t want to do that particular project.

In this case, I’d address her worries head-on. Ask her what, specifically, concerns her about that, and then speak directly to that. If she’s nervous about being around the board members, assure her that she’ll get used to them quickly and that they’re a friendly, informal group (or whatever), and maybe that it will be useful for her to have those contacts. If she’s concerned about being responsible for something so high-profile to the board, in case she makes mistakes, assure her that you know she’ll do well at it and that you’ll talk through with her what’s expected in detail before she does it (as well as show her previous notes, talk through what does and doesn’t need to be recorded, and so forth).

If she still resists, tell her, “You’re really the best person on staff to take this on right now, so I’d like you to try it and see how it goes.”

If she still resists after that, say, “I hear you, but we don’t have other viable options right now. So I do need you to take it on, but I’ll help you through it.” (And then make sure you do.)

Then, after she does it, thank her afterwards and tell her that you appreciate her taking it on despite her reservations. And if you can point to anything especially well done in the way she approached the job, tell her that too.

Now, if her objections were of a different sort — if she just didn’t want to do it — you’d handle that by addressing that directly too: explaining why you needed her to and why other options weren’t feasible, and then using the same language above.

In situations like this, you also want to be open to hearing what a person’s objections really are. Sometimes they might be legitimate — the board meetings might be held at at a time when she has family commitments at home, or she might know from experience that she can’t write quickly enough to be a reliable note-taker, or she might anticipate this interfering with the rest of her job, or she might feel that the request is wildly outside of her job description (and I do mean wildly — not like asking a a bookkeeper to take notes, but more like asking a bookkeeper to pave a driveway). In a case like that, you’d want to hear the person out with an open mind and think about whether there’s merit to their position, and whether a different alternative would make more sense. So you don’t want to just instantly dismiss someone’s concerns — you want to genuinely consider what they’re saying, even if you ultimately conclude that you need to stick with your first request.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. Chocolate Teapot*

    From experience, minuting high level meetings can be daunting, however it is important that the minute taker has plenty of support. Having the draft minutes reviewed, discussing style and content (e.g. how much detail do you need?) and regular feedback all help to address any concerns.

    1. Chinook*

      I second letting her know that someone will be reviewing the minutes. I seem to have developed a reputation for taking minutes well (though I personally think it is because they have low standards/expectations) and I always send them to the chair of the meeting for approval before distributing them. This is especually important because I may not always know the spelling of names of people they are discussing or the terms that are being used.

      Also, let her know if there is someone on the board (probably you) that she can ask questions of after the meeting if there were concepts she wrote down that she was unclear on. I have a better idea of my industry after I did just that after the first meeting I took minutes on. And the people I asked were actually enthusiastic to people to talk about something they are experts on.

  2. Jess*

    “not like asking a a bookkeeper to take notes, but more like asking a bookkeeper to pave a driveway”

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but isn’t a book keeper essentially accountant-lite, keeping track of AR and AP and the like? I Know at the groups I have worked with its is just that. If that is the case then I would view this as wildly outside the scope of the normal duties of a bookkeeper. This sounds like the duties of a secretary/admin assistant and as far as I am aware the two are parts of completely different career paths with no normal intersection and skill sets. For instance, many admins that would be able to do this efficiently might be exceptionally fast at writing or typing and/or know some form of shorthand. These skills, as far as I know, do not seem to be something a bookkeeper would need in their work and might not possess. (Unless you know she does).

    Taking minutes sounds like one would need to be very fast to keep up. Especially if there are minutia being discussed that are important to record swiftly and accurately. If she does not possess the skill set, even if you feel she would be good at it, she may not be able to perform competently.

    Not sure if this is the scenario or not, but I think this is a very likely one.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like there’s no one else there suitable to do it. If they’re small and there no admin or there’s some reason the admin can’t do it, the bookkeeper isn’t a crazy choice. That’s a role that’s often combined with admin duties at many smaller organizations.

      1. Jess*

        Ah ok, I was not aware of that.

        I can see that making sense, provided that she has a compatible skill set. However if she does not I would be worried that this could be setting her up for failure and possibly embarrassment. I would say that becoming fast enough to do something like this is not so much a learned skill but a refined talent.

      2. De Minimis*

        I think it’s borderline, but falls on the side of “general office duties,” especially if it’s a smaller organization and the minutes are more of a formality. I don’t think the minutes are usually supposed to be equivalent to a court transcript, they just state the agenda and what was discussed/decided.

        1. Jess*

          It depends on the organization and the purpose or the meeting and what is being discussed. I work for a small company, less than 30 employees, with a board. The minutes for the board meeting are very detailed for some meetings and not so much for others.

    2. Anne*

      Yeah… I agree with both you and Alison here. I’m trained as a bookkeeper, and things like taking minutes really don’t have anything to do with my bookkeeping duties.

      But, it’s a kind of entry level office job. So you get drafted into other things. Which drives me nuts sometimes, but if they don’t have anyone else to do it… a bookkeeper should be entirely capable of taking minutes if they need to.

    3. Chinook*

      “shorthand” – I have heard of this strange thing but never actually seen it in practice. (Same goes fora dictaphone). Luckily, AAs don’t have to tkae notes that often anymore but that does mean shorthand is probably a lost skill. But, you can point out to whomever is doing it that they can use their own shorthand (i.e. abbreviate however they like as long as they can read it) because they will need to transcribe their notes anyways. Even when I have typed my notes in the meeting, I still have to go back to ensure that what I wrote makes sense.

      1. the gold digger*

        The woman who took the minutes at a board meeting I attended (I am on the board) where we had to vote on a serious issue that has polarized the community (well, a small portion of the community – most of the community couldn’t care less) took them in shorthand. I was amazed to watch her write. She captured everything.

        Usually, the city planner, who is not a voting member of the board, takes the minutes, but in this case, we needed very detailed documentation so there wouldn’t be problems later.

        1. Patsy*

          Can I just say that I took two semesters of shorthand in high school in the mid eighties (well past the shorthand heyday) and it serves me well to this day? Made college lectures much easier for me!

          1. Manda*

            When I was in university I developed my own shorthand. I think actual shorthand involves a lot of symbols. (I glanced at an old book once.) But I often abbreviated long words I used often and it was very helpful because sometimes I found it difficult to keep up and take notes fast enough. Although if someone had borrowed my notes, they likely would have been puzzled by a lot of things.

            1. Chinook*

              Manda, I did the same thing in university – I created my own shorthand and even used French if the word was shorter. In a time before laptops (think English essays on a typewriter in my first year) and min-cassetee records being expensive, it was my only choice. I still use that version of shorthand when I take minutes.

              I actuallyl have seen someone use shorthand and I think there are symbols and that vowels are often dropped.

          2. Jessa*

            My mother taught me Gregg, my grandmother used Pittman. I tend to prefer dictaphone myself though. I can type very fast and I can listen at quad speed so it’s very easy. In fact because my hearing loss is all in the lower range the Mickey Mouse voice sound of quad speed is something I can deal with very easily. If I had to do minutes? I’d slap a transcription recorder on the table and deal later. All I’d need is a note pad to mark speakers. You could do this for your nervous bookkeeper. All they’d need to do is mark notes by noting the counter on the tape and a note.

            1. Windchime*

              My dad took it in high school (in the 1950’s) as a way to meet girls :) He was the only boy in the class, and he still remembers some of it. By the time I got to high school, they weren’t teaching it at my school any longer.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          I got a Gregg textbook at Goodwill once because I thought it would be a useful life skill. It’s seriously fascinating stuff… but it seemed like something that would be extremely hard to just learn from a book without a human to demonstrate and offer feedback :(

          1. Chinook*

            “it seemed like something that would be extremely hard to just learn from a book without a human to demonstrate and offer feedback”

            I disagree. Since you are taking shorthand for your own use and nto to be transcribed by someone else, all you really need is your own feedback (as in can you still understand what you wrote the next day or a week later?) With the rise of word processing programs, very few people hand written notes to someone else to read and those who do are usually using long hand to begin with.

  3. A Teacher*

    Also, if the meeting is outside of normal work hours, how do you really know she has the time? My boss knows nothing of my outside commitments so for my boss to tell me “I have time” (because I don’t have a family–one I’ve been told) would be wildly speculative. I’m not saying she shouldn’t do it but just to assume she has the time is kind of a big assumption to me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure, but then I’d expect the person to speak up and say that.

      It might end up needing to be a requirement of the job anyway — sometimes you end up needing to do things outside your normal hours, although if you’re non-exempt you’d need to be paid for that time — but she should certainly start by speaking up.

      As a manager, you can’t not ask for what you need just because someone might have conflicting commitment that they won’t tell you about.

      1. A Teacher*

        No, I understand where you’re coming from. It is just the way the OP worded the sentence to me. I don’t expect my boss to know my outside time commitments and I have to adjust my schedule for Open House and P-T conferences a few times a year–not a huge deal, but still impacts a part time job I have. Delving into why she doesn’t want to do it makes the most sense to me as well.

        1. OP*

          OP here–
          The meetings are during the regularly scheduled work day. I can see why from my wording one might think I was making assumptions about her personal time.

          Thanks for the great suggestions so far. This is all very helpful.

    2. Worker Bee*

      I agree, I hate it when managers or people assume that an employee ‘has the time.’ Some people look hassled at their jobs when they have little to do and some people look like they’re not doing anything when in fact they are highly productive and actually do a lot. The best thing to do is to address it directly. You could technically say “do it because I said so” but most employees would be really resentful to hear that, even if it’s true…

      1. Marigold*

        That’s why they say if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

        Remember that Seinfeld episode where George makes a point to seem really angry anytime his boss walks by? When he’s really taking naps under his desk.

      2. FRRibs*

        That’s tangiental, but +1.

        There are folks who dance through their work and seem to do nothing compared to others who run around with steam shooting out of their ears…but measure the actual work done and the energy to performance ratios are quite different.

  4. The IT Manager*

    I see that bookkeeper could be objecting because she’s not a secretary (beneath her), she’s concerned that she can’t do a potentially difficult job, or simply its not her job.

    If it is truly nerves, offer to help by reviewing the minutes with her before they go out. You’re in the meeting so surely you’ll remember the important things. Offer training and tools (possibly record the meeting so she doesn’t have the get everything down during the meeting and can review later).

    It’s tough. I try to take minutes sometimes and I can’t scribble fast enought to get it all down. And I’ve seen people who don’t understand the discussion take some wildly inaccurate or misleading minutes.

    1. Felicia*

      I definitely think reviewing minutes with her before they’re official as well as offering training, tips, suggestions on how to make it easier etc. and telling her you understand that she’s never done it before so it’s ok not to be perfect would all be very helpful. I was very reluctant to take on a work task because I had never done it before, thought I might be bad at it, and was offered no advice/training while being expected to be as good as the person before me, who’d had experience. I think if I’d had a supervisor who’d offered advice on how to succeed and reassurance that they’d help me out and it’s ok if i’m not as good as the last person at first because i’m learning, then I wouldn’t have been reluctant at all. It does sound like in this case she does want to help and is just reluctant because she ddoesn’t want to screw up.

      1. Courtney*


        Also it might be helpful to review the agenda with her before the meeting so you can give her any background she might need and prepare her for what she can expect.

        1. Chinook*

          Oh, yes – give her an agenda, especially if she is taking notes electronically. It is so nice to be able to put the notes in preplanned sections. It also makes it easier to understand what is going on and even who is talking.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Yes, I was going to suggest that. If the meetings all have the same format, then the minutes-taker can have a template. Also, an attendance list (maybe even one that all the participants pass around and write their own names on?) can help with the “who was at this meeting” part.

    2. Manda*

      possibly record the meeting so she doesn’t have the get everything down during the meeting and can review later

      This gave me an idea, so I’d like to expand on the suggestion. I have no idea how these minutes will be taken – typed or by hand. Is there a computer available at these meetings or could there be? I’ve never used it but OneNote has a feature that allows you to record audio and even video. The minutes could either be typed or handwritten on a tablet while the audio is recorded and then she could go back if she thinks she missed something.

      1. Courtney*

        I prefer to hand write notes because although I type quicker than I write I tend to spend too much time formatting/fixing grammar when I type. I can scribble notes by hand quicker because I don’t think about format or grammar or spelling.

        I LOVE my LiveScribe pen which can record audio and sync that audio to a section of written notes.

        1. Elizabeth*

          I’m the opposite – I think I can type faster than I can write by hand, so I prefer to take notes on a computer when I need to get a lot of information down fast and I don’t need to draw diagrams.

  5. Anonymous*

    This recently became part of my job, though on a smaller scale, and I can totally understand why the employee is balking at taking on this task. We have a short daily meeting that I need to take minutes for. I am not an admin assistant and writing quickly is not one of my skills. Everyone talks SO fast and I miss half of what is said while I’m focused on taking notes as quickly as possible. Then my turn to speak comes, and everyone is waiting for me while I try and finish scribbling down what the previous fast-talker just said.

    Our meetings are really short, but if they were longer I would probably ask my boss if they could be recorded. Both so I could double check my accuracy for the worst fast-talking offenders, and so that I could listen to anything I missed during my frantic note-taking. I don’t know whether that would help your employee at all?

    It did really help me when my boss sat down with me and explained what the minutes did and did not need to include, so I think that’s a great suggestion.

    1. Yup*

      I take minutes *a lot* in my job and I agree, it’s really important to know the expectations. A lot of people incorrectly envision meeting minutes as verbatim transcripts of the conversation (like a legal proceeding). When in fact the need is probably just to note “Discussion of customer complaints about teapot breakage issues. Attendees agreed to investigate quality processes within each department and report findings at next meeting.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — the main things to include are decisions, action items, and stuff that gets deferred to a later meeting. It doesn’t have to document all the discussion and back and forth.

  6. Catherine*

    When a freelance writing contract required that I interview subjects, I had similar concerns, that I couldn’t make notes fast enough, I would miss some comments, and generally hash it up.
    So I made notes AND recorded my interviews. After, of course, asking the interviewee’s permission. It worked very well for me. As time went on, I needed the recordings less and less but I still made them as back-up (both for reassurance and to prove that, yes, he really did say that.)
    Recording equipment can be very unobtrusive.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Excellent idea. I would need a recorder–my hands cramp up when I’ve been writing for any length of time. A whole meeting/interview would just kill me.

  7. Lynn*

    Please be sure you do train her in exactly what it means to take formal minutes. Something about me says “I should take the minutes” to people. I had taken informal minutes (essentially summaries of what we discussed and agreed to) for several small organizations, church committees and the like. Then I was asked to be the secretary for a larger volunteer organization, which includes taking the minutes. AS IT TURNS OUT, they wanted full-on Robert’s Rules of Order minutes, noting who made motions, who seconded, etc. I learned this by being raked over the coals in front of a hundred people for not having all the information. Not cool.

    1. Yup*

      Was there a reason they wanted the full RRO format in the minutes? Was it in their bylaws or policies, or was that just their vision of what ‘correct’ minutes look like?

      1. PEBCAK*

        These things become important if you want to undo things…motions to rescind sometimes have to come from someone who originally voted in favor, and so on.

      2. Lynn*

        I don’t know. This is going to sound really dumb, but until the coal-raking, I didn’t even realize that all the calling to order and moving and seconding and so forth was a Thing.

    2. Eric*

      Just as a “point of order”, minutes according to Robert’s Rules of Order are actually going to be some of the most incomplete minutes. They don’t have to record who seconded motions, they don’t record any discussion (or even if there was discussion). They are simply a record of what motions were made (and by whom) and whether they were voted up or down.

      1. Glennis*

        Indeed, and if a meeting is supposed to be run by Roberts Rules but the people running the meeting aren’t skilled with it, very much of the discussion in the meeting will be Out of Order and shouldn’t be included in the minutes.

        I was a Recording Secretary for a small labor union for eight years – you wouldn’t believe what garbage an unskilled presiding officer allowed to go on while I sat there twiddling my thumbs – if there was no motion on the floor the entire discussion was Out of Order!

        It’s the reason I later ran as President!

  8. Sarah*

    Give her are minutes from previous meetings. She can see the level of detail needed. She should also have a copy of the agenda ahead of time and financials. That way she can just move down the agenda as she takes notes.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, absolutely–and go over them with her to contextualize.

      I also Googled “taking meeting minutes guidelines” and got some good hits–check to see which guidelines seem to reflect your needs the best and share them with her.

    2. KarenT*

      Good point. I had to take minutes at a previous admin job and I had no idea what to write. When my predecessor gave me her minutes from previous meetings, I felt a lot more confident with what was expected of me.

  9. crocodile*

    in every smallish nonprofit i’ve worked for this task (for board minutes or minutes of other committee kinds of meetings) has rotated among non-admin (programmatic staff) and i must admit i LOATHE it when it rotates around to my responsibility. There’s never enough guidance about how much detail is required, when i refer back to previous minutes done by colleagues they’re often sloppily done (ie not a good example i can work off of), typing and formatting minutes and collecting all the relevant attachments and getting them checked and formatting is a huge distraction from my actual usual job, and it just always takes way more time than it should (in follow-up time, not just in-meeting time). Obviously, when my manager asks me to do this i shut my mouth and do it — but major sympathy for the employee who is trying to dodge this! (I actually have a minutes document i’m trying to revise based on poor notes someone else took open right now… and am procrastinating. ugh. )

  10. Gilbey*

    Just throwing this out there… I have horrible handwritting. I mean really bad, like in a slight learning disability way. I would not like to take notes because of that. Not because of not wanting help.
    If I tell people my writing stinks they say… ohhh it is not that bad. Really, it is that bad.

    However, I would try to find a way to figure out how to do the job. I would ask if I can take a lap top and type it.

    Obviously, I wouldn’t come out and ask that question but as you are talking to her perhaps offer ways of taking notes that might ease whatever is bothering her about taking on that duty. ( Aside from maybe the hours stuff ) .

    Maybe she just doesn’t know what to write down, or how to make the notes concise but with all the info needed.

    I have been asked to do a lot of things that were out of MY ” precieved” skill set. I was amazed at what I actually could.

      1. Chinook*

        I have done them both typed and handwritten. Typing is faster (both for taking and polishing) but you have to have a laptop available and the clicking of the keys can be distratcing (especially if someone is calling in to the meeting). Handwritten ntoes take long to transcribe later (mine are currently staring at me to be completed after lunch) but can be done more quietly and the minute taker doesn’t need as much space (i.e. only space large enough for a notepad instead of a laptop).

        1. Windchime*

          I’m a terrible note-taker and I would hate it if I had to take minutes. I usually end up coming out of meetings with notes that are meaningless later, like: “Ask John–package?” or “transactions???”. Typing would definitely be easier for me because it’s so much faster to type than to write.

          I have a co-worker who takes fantastic notes. She always seems to know what to write down, she has bullets and check-boxes and “action items” and everything. It’s definitely a skill.

          1. Chinook*

            “I usually end up coming out of meetings with notes that are meaningless later, like: “Ask John–package?” or “transactions???”. ”

            I think part of that comes from knowing you only need to write down what you need to remember vs. writing down what is going on. My notes from meetings when I am a participant are cryptic like yours. But, tell me I need to take minutes and even keep a chart of who has decided to do what, and my notes will be very detailed.

            I also wonder if this is one skill that can only be learned in a university or college setting. I know that that was the only time I ever had to spend large chunks of time listening to someone else speak, figure out what I needed to remember and understand and then have a way to review them 3 months later. Ditto for doing research on books without a laptop (especially when the books couldn’t leave the library). Those skills have truly served me well in all my AA type jobs.

    1. JLL*

      Just to belatedly throw my 2 cents in, I worked for a government affiliated non-profit; very technical meetings with lots of medical procedures, abbreviations, etc. A laptop was invaluable. I’ve done both and I infinitely prefer typing notes. I also think it helps when things are asked about that may not have made it to the minutes, depending on how high-level the chair wants them. Rather than trying to read scribbles, you can just pull up your notes.

  11. Brett*

    Is this a non-profit? The way the OP said “organization” made me wonder that.
    In particular, is this a non-profit subject to Sunshine laws? If it is, you should seriously consider formal training. Non-profit minutes can easily end up in court cases and sunshine law actions that lead to court cases. Even if not subject to sunshine laws, your minute taker is drafting a legal document when they take minutes, and your board members are going to have legal rights to access to your minute taker’s time. I would refuse such a task too without formal training on the legal requirements and risks involved.

  12. Emma*

    It sounds like notes are being handwritten at these meetings (talks of scribbling, etc.). Why not type them? Bringing out my anecdata, I can type much faster than I can write and would be a more efficient note taker if I typed.

    1. Canuck*

      If you mean that they should send it out to be transcribed, that may not be worth the expense. Plus, the transcribing company would transcribe things word for word, which is not what meeting minutes are for.

      If you mean for the bookeeper to do the transcribing, that’s fairly inefficient. It would require that person to listen to the entire meeting tape anyways – so why not just sit in the actual meeting itself, and write down the important information? Plus, it is hard to know who is speaking from a recording, especially if there are lots of attendees at the meeting.

      1. Rana*

        Agreed – I’ve done a bit of transcribing here and there, and even if you’re good at it (I’m not, merely adequate), it takes at minimum the time of the tape, plus any replays you have to do if the sound quality is poor. It is not a time-saver, and until the tape’s been transcribed (in my opinion), it’s fairly useless as a record because it’s not easily searchable nor skimmable.

      2. Chinook*

        I agree that taking minutes for a precrecorded meeting is difficult for the reasons mentioned plus you can easily be distracted when doing them later but, while you are in the meeting, the only thing you have to do is take the minutes. Also, recordings are not always great to hear when there is a group of people, especially if anyone is calling in.

      3. Windchime*

        I think that part of the problem for me would be that, if I were a bookkeeper, I might not know what the “important parts” of the meeting were, so I wouldn’t know what to write down. So I’d be trying to write down everything.

        1. Chinook*

          I think that, overtime, you will learn what to write down but there is nothing wrong with writing down everything in the beginning. In fact, it may even make the meetings shorter because people realize that you are taking down the snarky comments being made about a vendor or the off-topic details of someone’s new garden.

  13. Lynn*

    When I first started taking minutes in my Admin Assistant position, my boss told me the basic structure he wanted and encouraged me to take down more information just in case. After the meeting, I’d email him my typed minutes, he would edit, and then we would review together. After two or three meetings, I knew what he wanted, and it was a simple thing to take care of.

    Also, as somewhat of an entry level person myself, I would hesitate to show unwillingness for any remotely job-related task… I would hate to be overlooked for greater responsibility later because I balked at new responsibility previously.

    1. EW*

      +1 on your second paragraph. I really can’t imagine saying, “No, I don’t want to.” to something my boss asks me to do and says I’m the best person to do it. In fact, I’m leading a rather large effort right now that I’d really rather not take the lead on, but I’m doing it because my boss has asked me to, and I’m putting forth my best effort on it.

  14. Erica*

    How long do your meetings last, and how frequent are they? It might not be a bad idea to price out getting a court reporter in unless it’s an all-day type thing. You get a dead accurate and complete record; they generally have to have a license and are bound to confidentiality, and you get both written and digital copies of the transcription. Check with several agencies, but I’d be willing to bet someplace would cut you a good deal. Using A the suggestions upstream, you could probably coach the bookkeeper into doing it, but a court reporter might be more cost-effective in the long run.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Generally organizations don’t actually want or need a full transcription though. Meetings generally are supposed to have only very specific content — decisions, motions, etc. A full transcription would actually be unhelpful for most boards.

      1. Chinook*

        I agree. I am currently taking minutes in weekly meetings about a project that has many moving parts (think 15 people that all need to be in the meeting over 2 time zones and this is the only time they have to trade notes and bring up concerns). I think my minutes for a 2 hour meeting ran 6 pages in point form and all the information was needed but it was most definitely not a transcription. Instead, I wrote down questions and concerns and possible solutions made as well as updates on various projects. I also had to track who was going to do what (and it wasn’t until I finished rewriting my notes that I relaized that one task never got assigned).

        If I had actually taken the meeting down verbatim, a lot of cross discussion that was needed to ensure all angles were looked at would have been recorded but isn’t necessary to know because a decision was made or someone has been tasked to go back and look into it further.

  15. some1*

    Another reason your reason your bookkeeper might be “balking” is the fact that you didn’t make this decision before the old Minutes-taker left. Had you done that, the Minutes-taker could have led training and helped set her mind at ease. I know whenever I learn a new task on the job, I’m much more comfortable being trained by someone who last performed the task.

  16. Anonymous*

    Are boss and bookkeeper are the same page regarding the bookkeeper’s consequences for failure, given that (a) she’s never done before (b) she’s not trained in (c) isn’t in her area? And not just the consequence from OP her boss, but also from the board (her future networking contacts). She may feel like she risking her professional reputation, if she gets viewed as an incompetent notetaker rather than a professional bookkeeper.

    That doesn’t seem like a fair demand of an employee. Especially when, if that’s her potential downside, what’s her potential upside? Development of a skill which isn’t directly related to her field? Exposure to board members who, given that it’s “not the type of board where any of the members would likely take the minutes”, may see minute taking as a menial task and think negatively of her for it? “You get to keep your job”?

    Suggestion: what about hiring a temp through an agency to take minutes?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s pretty normal in smaller organizations for people to be pulled into helping with all sorts of things that might be new to them and might not be a skill that they’re specifically seeking to develop. That’s part of the deal with smaller organizations. You don’t really refuse, unless there’s really good cause or it’s a dramatic shift in your job, neither of which is true here. It’s just not the culture to do that (particularly if this is a nonprofit).

      To be clear, we’re not talking about something that would take up a huge amount of time. Most boards meet 3-4 times a year.

      1. Lily*

        What you say also applies to small departments in a big organization. Since I have done everything that I would be asking anyone to do, I find it hard to be patient with employees who think that particular duties are beneath them. Apparently beneath them, but not beneath me?

        I love your suggestions, but it would be bad if my boss got a hold of them. I want to work less in the future, but I would probably not be able to if my boss talked to me as you suggested!

    2. Forrest*

      I can not image hiring a temp to solve this problem. Or a transcriber. Especially when the OP said she didn’t refill the position because of budgetary reasons.

    3. Chinook*

      Anonymous, I get your points but they really come off as an employee should always expect a task to have something in it for them (other than their pay cheque).

      While you are right that she is being set up for failure if expectations aren’t made clear, the reality is that everyone who takes minutes has to do it for the first time at some point. And you can’t grow without the risk of failure. And, if she fails, she is not risking her professional reputation as a bookkeeper, only as a minute taker.

      As for taking minutes being seen as a menial job, I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t understand the importance of doing it correctly (especially since these are often later used for legal reasosn) and that it takes it skill to do it well. They are often the only one in the room who is aware of everything that is going on (as some people don’t pay attention unlessit involves them or are preparing to speak). For someone to think of this as a menial task shows more about their attitude and knowledge of how business works than anything else.

      As for your point about hireing a temp to do this, there are 2 problems with this:
      1. Temps often have a min. number of hours they need to be paid to come in. For a 1 hour meeting, even if it takes another hour to polish the minutes, you could still be paying for 1 or 2 more hours of work.
      2. A temp wouldn’t necessarily know the people and terms involved, which could cause confusion in the minutes. My minutes includes terms such as pigs, ERP and Coq (pronounced “coke”). Anyone in the office would be aware of these terms even if all they did was work with numbers all day. A temp could be wondering what we fed the farm animals to make them burp or call for psycholigcal help.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    Can I just point out one thing, that may or may not be at play in this? Be careful you’re not assigning one of the few or only women to be the minute-taker all the time. I work in a very male-dominated environment, and a few years ago I kept getting assigned to be the note-taker in meetings (I also happened to be the only female in that group) and it definitely irked me. I don’t mind doing it from time to time, but sometimes we can inadvertently go to more old-fashioned gender roles without realizing it. If there’s a way to rotate the job among different staff members, I think that would be good.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Agreed that you want to be careful not to inadvertently let gender factor in here, but I wouldn’t necessary rotate it among staff members — you want someone who can learn how to do it and be reasonably good at it, but if you’re rotating it, you’ll get varying quality and people won’t learn as quickly through practice.

      1. Jamie*

        Rotating won’t work when it comes to privacy as well – the OP noted she wanted the bookkeeper for this because she trusts her with sensitive information.

        You don’t want the office gossip in there, no matter how fast she types.

    2. Andrew*

      The departed employee was female, and the bookkeeper is female–are there no competent men available to take minutes? This was the first thing that struck me about the letter–how old-fashioned it seemed. I’m picturing a room full of men with one lone woman perched in a corner, writing away.

      Can’t the whole thing just be recorded, audio only or even auto + video?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t see any reason to assume that she’s picking based on gender, not role. Or any mention that the board is all men.

        Recording it doesn’t give you notes, and notes are what boards need for record-keeping. It’s not a transcript; it’s a recording of decisions, motions, etc.

      2. OP*

        No worries- we actually only have two males on staff, but both are part-timers that don’t work during meeting times.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Except it’s not, at all. And even well-intentioned people can assign “women’s work” without realizing it. It happens a lot, and it’s something we should all be conscious of.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, agreed — but the answer isn’t just a blanket “assign it to a man.” It should be assigned to the person whose role makes sense for it, even if that’s a woman. (I know you weren’t saying that, Katie — was responding to Andrew.)

  18. Working Mom*

    Taking minutes recently became a part of my job, and I HATE it (I’m in a STEM field and have a STEM degree, and while I don’t think it’s beneath me exactly, it’s just not at all what I signed up for). The only way I manage the task is by having a recording of the meeting. We use a Livescribe pen that records while you take notes, and then you can play back the part of the meeting that was recorded at the time you were writing something. That way I can note when a motion is made, when an action is decided, etc. and go back and listen to only that part of the meeting.

    It’s still the least favorite “other duty as assigned” that I have, but at least the recording pen makes it bearable.

    1. Tennessee*

      Me too-2 — STEM field and I hated it! But they wouldn’t allow recordings and I’m an awful note taker.

      There’s also the issue of physical ability. Can they type / write comfortably for the length of the meeting with the way the area is set up? One of my coworkers had to repeatedly soak their hand and arm in ice due to pain from prolonged note taking.

    2. CathVWXYNot?*

      I have a PhD in a STEM field and I take a lot of minutes. Sometimes you really NEED the person taking the minutes to understand the science, otherwise they come back as complete garbage. I remember trying to decipher some minutes from a meeting about a clinical trial, taken by an admin assistant before my time at my old job – they were full of “prospect of cruel” instead of “prospective accrual” and the like. It’s an important role and one I’m happy to do.

      1. Working Mom*

        Yes, that’s why they told me I needed to take this on. We had been having our admin take the minutes, and it was taking too much of my boss’s time to correct the technical details (this is for a Radiation Safety Committtee). So the Recorder job became mine.

  19. Chrissi*

    I often take informal minutes for meetings in my division, so I was caught off guard when I had to take my turn doing the formal minutes for an agency-wide council that I was on. When I asked how to do it, the chairman just said that whatever was fine, but then when I turned them in, they ripped them to shreds (nicely) and only then did they say what format was wanted and how to do them. It didn’t help that it was a brand new council and I was the first person to have to do them (My last name starts with an “A” and we decided to take turns in order alphabetically – darnit). So after that everyone followed the format I had (laboriously) set up.

    I can understand why the bookkeeper is nervous, because your meetings sound much more formal and high-level than even mine was. As my story illustrates, it sucks to work on something with no guidance and then get shot down and have to do it again, so just make sure that you give her a lot of guidance and possibly a template to work off of. If she can just get through that first meeting, I’m sure she would be comfortable with it after that.

  20. Frieda*

    I am sympathetic to the bookkeeper’s (assumed) concerns, but I can’t imagine any situation in which my boss would approach me with “I want you to do X now,” and my response would be, “No, I don’t want to do that.” That’s now how jobs work. It’s not a democracy.

    I don’t mean when your boss says “Jump” you say “how high.” But I think the onus is on the employee, not the manager, to initiate this conversation. If the manager says, “I want you to do X,” and you have legitimate concerns about taking that responsibility on, then the response should be for the employee to ask that directly, not for the employee to just say “No” and the manager to have to try to figure out why. Something like, “OK, but I want you to be aware that I have no experience with X. What sort of training will you provide? How quickly will you expect me to get up to speed? How often will I be doing X and how much time will it take? If it takes more than X hours a week/month I will have to postpone finishing Project Y,” and so on.

    To me, a boss who hears “No” and takes that for a valid answer does not understand/accept their authority. If I were the manager here, I would explain that it wasn’t a request (in fact, you shouldn’t have phrased it as a request in the first place). The OP said she doesn’t want to resort to “because I said so,” but why not? She can give more reasons than that (and Alison’s suggestions are great, as always), but at the end of the day that is the real reason. If you allow one person to be insubordinate, your other employees won’t respect you, they’ll start saying no when they don’t want to do something, and then your department will be really dysfunctional.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think this is a catastrophe here. I have said no to bosses and had them come back later and say “I need you to do this and I understand your concerns. But I have tried to find someone else to do this and I have found that you are still the best person for this task.” And the boss worked with my various questions, expressed appreciation and we got through it.

      Likewise, I have subordinates refuse to do a task. I redirected the conversation by saying, “Let’s look at this together and see what is going on.”

      Just recently a boss asked me to do X. He knows I am NOT thrilled. Ok, I was a little tense. But I did it. At the end of the day he took a second to say “Hey, I know you’re not thrilled about doing X and you knocked yourself out. I appreciate that.”
      Will I do X again if asked? You bet.

      My thinking is that most people know that telling the boss NO is not a good thing. If the boss goes in for a second shot at the same question the employee realizes that they have to yield to what the boss wants. The boss usually does not want to write up the employee and the employee does not want to become labeled as reluctant or worse- insubordinate.

      Bad bosses on the other hand… that is a whole different story.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Just recently a boss asked me to do X. He knows I am NOT thrilled. Ok, I was a little tense. But I did it. At the end of the day he took a second to say “Hey, I know you’re not thrilled about doing X and you knocked yourself out. I appreciate that.”
        Will I do X again if asked? You bet.

        Nice boss. :) And definitely sometimes the not-thrilled comes from being afraid you’re going to screw it up. Encouragement definitely helps.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Right on both counts. I did not do X perfectly, but he met me halfway by seeing that I was giving it my best, sticking to the project, etc. The few minor issues that came up he just ignored.
          Such a wise man.

    2. EW*

      Exactly. I’m perplexed that many of the comments focus around finding alternatives to the book-keeper taking notes (hiring a court reporter or sending out a recording for transcription). I seriously can’t imagine any organization, large or small, bringing in a temp or a court reporter to do meeting note-taking when there is an available employee with the skills and time to do so.

      Sure, it’s fine to bring up concerns with your boss when asked to do something outside your skillset, but to flat-out say, “no” and then have your boss accept that answer as final seems almost crazy to me. I would enjoy my job much more if I got to pick and choose which tasks I worked on, but it’s a job that I’m being paid for. It’s not a hobby and I’m not a volunteer.

      1. Jessa*

        Except we’re not sure about “skills and time to do so.” We’re presuming time or the boss would not assign the task, but since it may be outside normal hours we don’t KNOW that for sure. We do NOT however, know they have the skills. That hasn’t been determined from the evidence given by the OP yet. If a boss asked me to do something I do not know how to do, did not guarantee they’d show me how, and promise that they’d shield me from any negative employment consequences, I’d say no and stick to it. It might get me fired, but then doing it would ruin me anyway. I might as well quit right then. If they’re out to sabotage me, they’re not going to be a decent boss anyway.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That strikes me as an overreaction! We’re talking about writing down the highlights of a meeting 3-4 times a year. I’ve seen numerous people drafted at the last minute into doing this, and none of them crashed and burned. You write things down. You ask for guidance if you need it. This is not an unusual office task, and refusing — well, I can’t imagine someone refusing something like this. Asking for direction, sure, but not refusing.

          In small offices, you wear a lot of different hats. Refusing to do that would be hugely problematic.

        2. Forrest*

          I would image as her boss, the OP probably would have a better understanding of the bookkeeper’s skills. Nor do I understand why the OP has to justify why she decided to ask the bookkeeper. Her question is “how do I deal with an employee who said a flat no,” not “is this employee a good note taker?”

          I’m all for reading between the lines of a post but some of the comments are just odd. The OP said she didn’t replace the original note taker because of finances. So people suggest that she hires a temp or transcriber rather than leveling with the bookkeeper? Why?

          I think people are also way over thinking this. She’s taking a bookkeeper, who should be good at note taking and detail by job description, to take notes. And the bookkeeper said a flat no without following up with why. Again, this isn’t like she’s asking the bookkeeper to skydive or take over as vice president. Its note taking. I hate doing it too but its important and so I suck it up.

    3. Lily*

      I am not the type to say “no” to my boss, so I wasn’t prepared as a manager for employees who felt it was okay. Some employees appreciate a less bossy manager and reward her by being highly motivated while others take advantage of her. Managers have to be able to deal with both types, so I find the comments very helpful.

      1. Chinook*

        Lily, I understand the urge to not want to be bossy but, as a manager, you are the boss. If an employee says no without an explanation, I can see no problem with asking why in case they have a legit concern (like not wanting to admit they don’t know how). If it is some version of “not my job” or “I don’t want to,” then you get the sucky job of pointing out that it was not a request.

        1. Lily*

          Yes, you’re right that it is my job to ask. Alison’s advice and the comments here, including your other comments, make it a lot easier for me to speak up. Research has shown that people will put up with a lot of rudeness from strangers, like line-cutting, simply because they don’t know how to assert themselves without being rude back. Once they know how to politely assert themselves, they are much more likely to. Escalation also makes sense, so I can become more direct if necessary.

  21. Not So NewReader*

    The boards and groups I have worked on have been fairly informal. If the secretary has a question such as how to spell a last name or needs something repeated everyone is very accommodating. She might find it helpful to know that people are willing to answer any immediate questions she may have. (Some questions can be answered later, but the boss may not know how to spell Ms. Visitor’s name because the boss is meeting her for the first time, too. That is not a question that can be answered later.)

    I understand why she is saying she does not want the responsibility because it is the “note taker” that keeps everyone on track. This is the person that remembers three months ago Bob said he would check into XYZ. This is the person that remembers Sue, who lives 100 miles away, was the person who solved this problem the last time the board faced ABC. Sometimes when a question comes up the “note taker” is the only person who connects the dots and answers the question. This works into a boundaries/scope question that she may have. How heavily is the board going to lean on her for what they need?

    Lastly, she may be feeling a severe time crunch. She does not want the responsibility because she feels she does not have enough time to do the job correctly/accurately. She could privately be thinking that because she cannot put the time in that she would like to it will make her look like a poor worker.

    I think if you talk through some of these particulars with her it might help her. Definitely show her a sample of what the minutes should look like when she is done. If you can, write little instructive notes on the sample to add clarity. Make sure she has an agenda before hand because that will give her a starting point.

  22. Sabrina*

    Taking meeting notes was one of the worst things about being an AA. I HATED it. Mostly because I have carpal tunnel and it flipping HURTS to write that much. (And you know having a keyboard typing away would be too annoying, so we can’t do that!)

  23. B*

    I have to sympathize with the bookkeeper. I hate taking minutes and it was not originally part of my job. My hand hurts, I cannot use a laptop, I lose things in conversation, etc. While some think taking minutes is relatively easily, I ask if you ever had to for a high-level 1 hour or longer meeting. It can be very stressful and time-consuming to also rewrite and try to remember it all.

  24. Manda*

    or she might feel that the request is wildly outside of her job description (and I do mean wildly — not like asking a a bookkeeper to take notes, but more like asking a bookkeeper to pave a driveway)

    Or asking a market research analyst to be a receptionist.

  25. Anon*

    Ugg. My first job was as an admin asst for an academic department. Me and the other AA alternated taking minutes at faculty meetings. I hate it. The other AA was a by hand, very detailed note taker so the minutes were insane.

    The first time I did it, given no instruction, I was taking the notes that I thought were important given that I understand what the department did and such. Boss wasn’t happy but eventually came around that my minutes had more clarity and were easier to read. Still, hated that job. Learning when to include what offhand comments is a very good skill to learn but not a fun one.

    I understand the employee’s reluctance on a lot of levels.

  26. Glennis*

    I work for a public agency and we’d staff boards and commission meetings. It can be pretty complicated because there are sunshine laws and rules about announcing the meetings, publishing the agenda, and other things. Our city clerk’s office conducts training for all department staff who have to staff meeting. I’ve supervised two employees who were assigned to this, and with that kind of support they ended up really enjoying the work – ours was an Arts Commission, so it was pretty interesting. But I think the key is having support and guidance.

    1. Chinook*

      Wow, Glennis, your people got training beyond “here is the format” and “here are the last few minutes for reference”? I am jealous.

      1. Chinook*

        And I say this as someone who got roped into my last minute taking task on the spur of the moment by someone not even in my group (but I was covering for the AA on vacation or she would have been asked), who wasn’t chairing the meeting and wasn’t aware that I had done it before. Turns out the project manager had never had anyone taking notes before and didn’t even realize what a great idea it is. I just chalk it up as one more reason for them to turn me from temp to permanent.

  27. OP*

    OP here. Thank you AAM and commenters for the advice. I agree that the key here is to go back to her with examples, offers of guidance, and assurance that nothing bad will happen if she doesn’t do as well as the last person.

    We don’t have an admin person in my organiztion. I wasn’t prepared for a refusal, but now I see that I didn’t go to her with a plan. I just simply asked if she’d take the minutes from now on. While I didn’t appreciate her saying no, I want to be the kind of boss that takes people’s concerns into account and doesn’t just say “Do what I say.” I appreciate the script that Alison gave, and think that if I go back to her with that, it should help.

    1. Chloe*

      You seem like such a nice boss. You don’t want to upset her but you also want to find a good way of getting her to take on an extra job that you need her to do. You asked for advice and were open to feedback and you’re going to take the advice.

      This is All Good.

    2. FYI*

      She may be annoyed that instead of replacing someone who formerly was paid, everyone is being asked to take on bits of their job for no compensation. There are only so many times that you can ask someone to take on “just one more task” before you need to renegotiate compensation. Also, even a small bump or bonus, may make the staff who are compensating for the loss of an employee feel like you appreciate them.

      A lot of people have a hard time talking money with their bosses.

  28. Right on*

    Ok, without reading other comments (so I might be reiterating someone’s) I’d suggest recording the board meeting on a device (phone, recorder, anything) and comparing with the minutes later. So, if she’s worried she’ll miss something, it’s always there to reference.

    But, if the board meetings are after hours, that’s another issue. Are you asking her to be there outside of work hours? Perhaps offer a later morning the next day, or to work from home. I wouldn’t necessarily say extra compensation, but little perks go a long way.

  29. MaryTerry*

    As a champion summarizer and note taker, I suggest you:
    – make sure she has an agenda before the meeting
    – make sure she understands the discussion topics before the meeting
    – give her previous minutes (electronically) so she can copy format and style
    – Give her the option to take the meeting notes on a computer/laptop
    – let her know if she can ask for clarification during the meeting
    – check in during the the meeting, at least visually, to ensure she’s not drowning. If you’re running the meeting, pause as necessary, or give a discreet heads-up to the presider beforehand
    – review the minutes before they’re distributed
    – give lots of positive feedback

  30. Nelly*

    I was in the book keeper’s place some years ago. Librarian asked to do minutes at a board meeting. I had no idea how to do it, missed everything that was decided, recorded all the waffle, and turned in 16 pages of gibberish. I was simply totally inappropriate to that task, and was thankfully never asked to do it again. They were reluctant to hire an actual admin assistant, but then the company folded up pretty soon afterwards. Bad decisions like that just mounted up and destroyed the company.

    1. Former bookkeeper*

      That is an excellent strategy, and I hope that the OP’s bookkeeper reads this and follows it.

  31. Cassie*

    Make sure the notetaker knows how much detail is needed in the minutes. I used to write down too much detail, furiously trying to capture who said what in response to whom. That resulted in me missing the beginning of the next topic as I was still writing down info from the previous topic.

    Then I wised up (with help from the internet) that minutes aren’t a play-by-play of the meeting. Unless there are strict formal guidelines, you just have to note action items, any commitments of resources and money, and any items to be discussed at a future meeting. Noting some of the discussion/debate on a topic is good but you don’t need to write it down verbatim.

    If the OP is leading the meeting, it would be good to pause and point out an action item to be noted each time. When I took minutes for an advisory board, the board director would do this.

    Although I get that the OP doesn’t have the funds to hire someone else to take notes, there are just some people who are not good at taking notes. Maybe it’s because they can’t ingest the information and parse out action items or the important points.

  32. Chocolate Teapot*

    The other thing I did was make the agendas before the meeting, so I had some control of what was going to be discussed.

    So if you know that the meeting is going to discuss and hopefully approve the Chocolate Teapot Project and a guest speaker from the Marzipan Coffee Pot division will also be attending, then it will be less daunting. Reading the papers submitted beforehand is also very useful, so the whole discussion doesn’t go over your head.

  33. Claire of Manager skills*

    We can only speculate on where the hesitation is coming from. First maybe she thinks that taking minutes is a secretarial duty, but she is a bookkeeper. Second she may feel that her skills ( writing skills to be more specific )and experience may not be enough for her to do the job well. Third, she is an accountant and maybe thinks that she is being demoted. And the list may go on…

    The most important thing to do as a manager is to ask her to be more specific on why she doesn’t want the responsibility. It is also important to note that this is an administrative work that requires writing skills which the bookkeeper may not be well versed at. If this is not the case and you find her competent to do the job, the next step is to convince her how this will benefit her in some ways . Motivate her, boost her confidence, and assure that you will always guide her, and make sure you really will.

  34. Vicki*

    Please be cautious, offer her a “trial period”, give her as much good feedback as you can, and offer her an out.

    Do NOT say “I’m the boss and what I say goes”. If you take that line, you may find yourself interviewing bookkeepers much sooner than you’d like.

    Every job I have left voluntarily has been because my manager went into Command & Control mode and Told Me I was going to have a new role because he said so.

    Do not be a bossy boss.

  35. Jennifer*

    > It is also important to note that this is an administrative work that requires writing skills which the bookkeeper may not be well versed at.

    This is a really important note that mostly hasn’t been aired here. What’s been striking me thru this series of comments is the issue of literacy.

    Literate people (like everyone reading here for pleasure) really don’t understand what it’s like to not be terribly literate. Lots of people are *functionally* literate but they are not happy or comfortable in a world of words and letters. Someone who has gone into a position that specifically involves not-words may well likely not be very comfortable with words.

    And here’s a thing: people may not even know this about themselves. We all have hard time learning that how WE are is not a default for how PEOPLE are, so if she’s less-than-comfortable with words she may not know that others feel differently.

    But the real kicker is that people tend to hide what they are ashamed of, and literacy is kind of seen as a basic skill, even though it’s not. If you’ve gone to school, you should know how to read & write. If she’s not so comfortable with words and writing, is she going to volunteer the information that reading is hard for her? No, she won’t. If it’s really bad, she’ll have routines that she’s learned (like always pushing the ATM buttons in this particular order) that let her work around her lack of ability.

    And yes, even if the boss comes back and asks what the reluctance is, it would be a rare day indeed that they would get this particular answer, no matter how much it’s the only real reason.

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