how do I get my direct reports to be better managers of their own teams?

A reader writes:

I’ve been a manager for several years, and people management/development is hands down the best part of my job. I recently moved into a role where some of my direct reports also have direct reports. In my first few weeks, I had meet and greets with every person in the department, and a recurring theme that I uncovered was that it seems like my direct reports aren’t very good managers: they don’t delegate, give unclear directions, don’t give consistent feedback, etc.

This all came up in a very organic way. When I asked “What would help you do your job better?” a frequent response was along the lines of getting feedback or face time with their direct manager. When I asked about career goals, many responded that they don’t feel that their direct manager is developing them or creating a career path in spite of them expressing interest in advancing and growing their careers.

I interviewed colleagues in other departments who work closely with my staff and this sentiment was corroborated: “Greg” hoards all the work and complains about how busy he is, while “Marsha” and “Jan” are untapped and underutilized. “Peter” is reluctant to teach “Bobby” and “Cindy” new skills because it’s faster for him to just do those tasks himself.

I’ve talked to Greg and Peter about building their bench and have challenged them to find opportunities for their direct reports. When I give them new projects, I tell them it would be a perfect stretch assignment for one of their staff, but I usually get a noncommittal “I’m not sure this is the right opportunity for Bobby” or something to that effect. Or when they complain about their workload and I ask them to delegate pieces of their work to their staff, they resist. I’m a big believer in delegation and I’ve discussed the benefits with them, but they have not taken the plunge yet.

I like to give my direct reports autonomy, but on the same token, I really think that our whole team would benefit from developing our staff — it would help with employee engagement, job satisfaction, overall productivity, and so much more. Any advice on how to approach this?

Yes! Make it an explicit part of their jobs, as opposed to a “nice to have.” It sounds like so far you might have presented it as “this would be a good thing to do.” Since that’s not working, switch to much clearer feedback about it.

Basically, you want to manage them on management in the same way you’d manage them on any other part of their job. If the were struggling with, say, running meetings, you wouldn’t just hint and hope that they’d pick up on your coaching, right? You’d be clear and directive about what you wanted to see change.

So in this case, that means that you should start by clearly naming the issue and what you’d like them to do differently. For example: “I’d like you to figure out a plan to delegate more work to your staff, so that you’re freed up to focus on the higher-level work, and also because we won’t retain good people if we don’t give them chances to develop their own skills. When we meet next week, let’s talk about what that might look like — or, if you don’t currently think there’s anything people are equipped to take on, let’s talk about what it would take to get them there.”

Then, keeping checking in, both on the delegation part and on their management in general (since it sounds like there are also issues with giving feedback, among other things). Ask questions like:
* How are you managing Marsha on X?
* What kind of feedback will you give Jan on X?
* When do you think Bobby will be ready to take over X, and what’s the plan for preparing him for that?
* How can you make sure he stays on track without doing the work for him?”

And don’t be afraid to be directive. Management is a skill like any other, and it sounds like Greg and Peter don’t really know what it looks like yet. It’s reasonable for you to set clear goals about how you want them operating in this area and coach them to help them get there. You can use the same methods you’d use if you were trying to help an employee develop in any other area, like talking about why the skill matters, talking through what challenges they’re running into, and observing and giving feedback. (Also, know that you’ll be teaching by modeling it yourself, whether you intend to or not — so pay attention to what messages you’re sending via the way you manage them.)

Bigger-picture, I’d also talk with both Greg and Peter about what managing effectively means, and to come to a shared understanding of what you expect from managers who report to you. That should include things like working to develop and retain great people (and how you do that), giving clear, regular, and actionable feedback, and addressing performance issues forthrightly, as well as things like sharing information about how they or the organization have come to a decision and seeking input from their people when feasible. These are things that might seem obvious to you, but it sounds like they might not be obvious to Greg and Peter — so be really clear and explicit about how you want them operating and what doing it successfully will look like.

You should also, of course, make it clear that this is part of how you’re evaluating their performance; it should be part of what you assess in performance reviews and in thinking about their performance overall.

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Me2*

    I’m not sure if it’s Mr. or Mrs. Brady or Alice who wrote this, but I want to work for him/her.

    1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      Agreed. I wish my manager’s manager wanted to develop people instead of being the source of the problem.

    2. Turanga Leela*

      Yeah. OP, bravo for thinking about your reports’ management skills. This will make a world of difference to Marsha, Jan, Bobby, and Cindy, and it will be benefit Greg and Peter even after they leave your company.

  2. Jennifer M.*

    A few years ago when I was doing my annual goals and objectives, my manager noted that I didn’t have any related to my function as a manager of a small team and asked me to revise to include at least one about staff development or similar (there were about 8 goals for the department and we had to structure our personal 3-5 goals around them. There were also objectives. I can’t really remember which was which). I did and it was then part of my official annual plan that I would be evaluated on in my next annual review that fed into raises and bonuses.

    1. the_scientist*

      I was coming here to say this… skills/staff development need to become a part of whatever performance development process exists at your company, for all people managers. That way, you can help them set clear performance goals, and also hold them accountable for their performance in this area. My employer has a highly structured performance development process and I’m pretty sure that all people managers are *required* to include staff development goals in their annual plans. (not a manager, so can’t confirm for sure). I would say that this company has better-than-average managers and a greater than average commitment to staff development because of this requirement. Funds available for professional development also help!

      1. Revolver Rani*

        Agree completely. I’m not even a full manager – just a team lead. But as soon as I became a team lead, delegation, coaching, and other managing skills went right into my objectives and into items to cover in my annual review. When my manager and I have our 1-1s we spend more time talking about how my team lead duties are going than the rest of my job put together. She knows I can handle the other parts of my job and trusts me to get her involved when needed, so we spend our time on the things I am still trying to learn.

      2. Dan*

        Me too! The OP used the words “I challenged my staff.” I hate to say this, but when I get “challenges” from my boss, they usually get blown off. Why? Because they always seem to be “above and beyond” what I currently do. Which is plenty.

        If you want me to reprioritize, then be direct about it. It also means you have to understand that other things will slip through the cracks. But that’s kinda the whole point, right now “managing staff” is slipping through the cracks. So what happens is that something else falls through the cracks or you hire more people.

        1. the_scientist*

          I think it’s also true that most, if not all, people aren’t born knowing how to manage, so you need to be prepared for a bit of a learning curve…..but that’s where a structured PD process, training, and regular 1:1’s come in. Someone else also mentioned the need to think critically about whether these people are truly suited to people management or really interested in management. I work in a technical field, so we definitely run the risk of people who are highly skilled technically winding up in management positions even though they aren’t particularly skilled or even very interested in people management…’s tough, especially when there’s no alternate development pathway (i.e. to become a SME or non-managerial team lead). There is a lot to be said for recruiting specifically for people management >> technical know-how.

  3. Not Today Satan*

    I wish that teaching managers how to manage was a bigger priority for most employers. Most places I’ve worked, the managers had maybe one guest speaker or one webinar a year on how to deal with employees.

    My most recent role, my manager was nice but literally never gave me feedback, and she never checked in with me at ALL (and I have a very stressful job). She wasn’t even particularly offensive or awful, but I transferred to a different department with a better manager as soon as I could.

  4. Christina*

    …Did my department’s new director write this? Because other than the gender, my boss is Greg and I’m pretty sure we’ve all given our new director this feedback (also, we’re three months from the end of the fiscal year and my team still doesn’t have annual performance goals). Fun times.

  5. Chriama*

    These people sound like they got promoted for their technical skills and never got taught how to manage. The fact that they’d rather do the work themselves than teach their reports how to do it makes me think they were previous high performers who stepped into a team lead role and were just kind of left to flounder. Alison is absolutely right that you need to teach them *how* to manage. Is there any sort of professional development budget available? I would sit all of them down and have them come up with management goals in one or more of the following areas:
    – Delegating work
    – Following up on assigned work
    – Checking in with employees about deadlines and workload
    – Addressing poor performance or behaviour
    – Skill development for their employees
    – Career development for their employees
    – Performance reviews and evaluations for their employees

    And then I would make it part of your job to check in with them regularly to see how they’re doing at being managers, because that’s as much a part of their job as their other work.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      All of this, especially the part about promoting technical people up as managers without giving them the tools to effectively manage others.

    2. LQ*

      I agree. Especially since the OP is new to this spot, and I’d expect that someone else had promoted these two to management.

      After you do all of the great things people are suggesting like professional development kinds of things it is also worth considering if these are the right people for the jobs. Are there jobs for people who are highly technically skilled that aren’t management jobs or is management the only way to pay people more and reward them? If it is currently the only way I’d highly recommend looking at some kind of a SME or other technical kind of path.

    3. Murphy*

      The fact that they’d rather do the work themselves than teach their reports how to do it makes me think they were previous high performers who stepped into a team lead role and were just kind of left to flounder.

      This is exactly what happened to me with my first management jobs. I had no skill set on how to manage or develop staff and no idea where to even begin. I worked for a boss who was (while an incredible person) a not very good boss himself (same problems), so I had no one to learn from. It wasn’t until I got another set of staff in a different job that I got called out on it (by my staff directly, in fact) and had to quickly learn how to be better.

      Now that I have staff who have staff I spend a lot of time coaching them on how to be better managers. It’s hard (one of my staff doesn’t like to delegate, another doesn’t give clear direction and then gets mad when things don’t happen), but it’s one of my most important jobs.

    4. The RO-Cat*

      These people sound like they got promoted for their technical skills and never got taught how to manage

      Yeah. If this is true (and I believe it to be true, or at least very probable), I would probably (a) give them an easy-to-use framework for delegating / developing / etc (think Ken Blanchard / 6 Steps Of Delegation), just to ease them in the fine art of Peoplework(TM) and (b) mentor / coach them (it’s OP’s responsibility, I’d say, as much as it is theirs with regard to Gruntpeople(TM), right?). And some investment in professional development (people skills side, at a minimum) wouldn’t hurt, either.

    5. Rick*

      I think people who are promoted from technical roles often feel they’re still responsible for delivering technically in addition to delegating (I know I did). Of course, they don’t have time for both, so they focus on the thing they know.

      I consider myself fortunate — my first project in a leadership capacity was in an area entirely new to me, but one of the team members had done it before. That experience, independent of any expectations laid out by my boss, taught me to stop doing things myself and just let my reports run with it. Even then, it still took me a couple of weeks of trying to do things myself.

      OP, if you have any potential projects that your reports are not equipped to do, but _their_ reports are, assigning that project may ease the transition. And of course, follow up with your reports on expectations of delegating.

      1. Chriama*

        I like that idea! OP has been trying to get them to delegate work they know how to do. What about something they don’t? Or if you don’t have that variety of work, come up wit2 projects and say “this is your project, this is Marsha’s. Don’t do Marsha’s for her”. Distracting them with their own might make them less inclined to take over someone else’s.

    6. Serin*

      Oh, my lord, I have spent so much of my life working for people who became managers by being really good at doing non-management work! Sometimes “didn’t really want to be a manager but they forced me to do it” was part of that person’s own self-description. You can imagine how much fun they were to work for.

    7. Jennifer M.*

      I get the whole “I can do it faster” mentality. I was in that very position. One the one hand I knew I should delegate things. On the other, we were being pressured to turn things around in a really tight time frame. I really wanted to be able to sit down and train the individual (who I didn’t choose/hire) how to do certain things, what references they needed to use and/or cite, the why of it all, etc. But since we had promised the client that we would deliver by X, I really felt that the only way we could do it was if I just stayed at the office until 7 or 8 (we were officially an 8-4:30 office) and do it myself.

      Ultimately our government technical officer said to the program lead that it was clear that I was burning out and that he was afraid that I was going to quit and they really liked my skillset. So the program lead got me some additional help (that I picked!) for 5 months. This is generally unheard of for an operations director like myself. Having the consultant around freed up so much of my time. I could give more training to the person on me team (before she left for maternity leave). He oversaw some of the time consuming but easy stuff that allowed me to work with the technical teams on policy issues and it ultimately got everyone on board with the idea of hiring more staff for my team (it had originally been planned that I would have a team of 4. It got cut down to 1 when the TBD positions on my team were reassigned to the technical team. I ultimately ended up with two more positions.

      1. Sketchee*

        Wow this sounded so familiar, although I was the new hire in my similar situation. I’d try to help my coworker who was working all night and all weekend. Ultimately, she’d just say “Never mind I’ll do it myself.” It’s been probably the worst 10 months of my career. She has finally quit, so they’re redistributing the work more fairly. I feel bad for her that they didn’t attempt to do this sooner. Although I wish that she, like you, set boundaries and said that she could not deliver unless X, Y, Z happened.

    8. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      As much as I couldn’t stand my toxic former boss, I also had sympathy for her because “got promoted for their technical skills and never got taught how to manage” is exactly how she wound up managing a team of 4 in some of the worst ways possible. I always laid some of the blame for her behavior with the VP of Finance, who promoted but never mentored her how to manage effectively. In the 5 years I was there, 4 people including myself quit and gave honest feedback on how terrible she was at our exit interviews, yet my friends that still work there says everything is exactly the same.

  6. KG*

    If they don’t improve would it be appropriate to say that since it’s part of their job to manage these people properly, that they themselves would not receive bonuses/raises/promotions, etc. since they are falling short on their responsibilities as mangers?

    1. neverjaunty*

      Probably better to start with actually managing them first, rather than moving on to putting them on a management PIP, particularly if they’ve never had any training in management. As others have noted, a lot of companies don’t understand that management is itself a skillset, and rewarding high performers by turning them into managers, without more, just doesn’t work.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah — lay out a clear explanation of your expectations first and coach them for a while. If that hasn’t happened yet, it’s not fair to move straight to a PIP. People aren’t born knowing how to manage.

        1. TootsNYC*

          yeah, but it’s still an adversarial mindset, when simply coaching them and saying, “This is actually what your job is now–it’s not to get the work done; it’s to create situations in which OTHER people get the work done,” could be enough.

          Saying, “This IS your job now” is the non-confrontational way to say that same thing. But don’t bring up the “if you don’t…” thing until you’ve worked with them more.

  7. The Commish*

    Running into the same problem with my direct report managers here at my rural county government job. It is hard to know where to start when they see their mid level manager roles as just titles with a pay increase, rather than an increase in responsibility and expectations. I need to take Alison’s advise: this is what a manager does and what we need from you. And it does’t matter if this isn’t what you are used to doing for the past 20 years…

    1. Is it spring yet?*

      Government at it’s best. My husband’s boss and his boss and even the one above that are bad. The immediate boss doesn’t seem to get even the simplest concept that his reports won’t know what they are to do if he doesn’t tell them.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It really helps if there are written job descriptions.
      The tricky part with rural government is the lack of people and the shortage of hours in a day. In your instance, the managers may not be able to stop doing the work themselves because there is no one to take up their slack.
      It’s really important to be aware of how regs impact their teams also. Regs can make a five minute task take three days. And since government has a knack for issuing incredible numbers of regs almost on a daily basis, the problem grows exponentially.

      For anyone in a situation like this, including OP, I would start by making sure people have what they need to do their jobs. For the first year, I worked, my chair sunk all the way down to the bottom of the center post every time I sat down. It’s a simple thing, get a new chair, order a part, whatever. There was no time/money to do this. I learned to pump up my chair before I sat down. Each. and. every. time. (My boss ended up swapping chairs with me. This is not a solution, if you really think about it. At the first opportunity she ordered a new chair for herself. I was satisfied with the one she gave me, so I told her not to buy me a chair.)

      I would encourage you, Commish and our OP to take nothing for granted. Start at square one, do they have what they need to do their jobs? Next question, ask them to ask their own people if they have what they need. No, you do not have to buy them everything they ask for, but you do have to hear them out. It’s fine to decide not to get all of what they ask for, if you can hit the worst problem areas you can make an impact. What happens next is that people are more willing to listen to what you want from them. This takes time to play out but it does work.

  8. Jen RO*

    Did my boss write this? I agree with the sentiment, but the director should also make sure that her managers have the *time* to do all this training… I am often too busy to train & delegate (yeah, I can see the contradiction), which gives me a choice between doing the job myself (and having it done on time) and training someone (and having it finished late). Sometimes I choose one, sometimes I choose the other… but it’s a frustrating situation all around.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      If the managers are too busy to train and delegate, which are core functions of their job, then their teams or department isn’t adequately staffed. Either they don’t have enough people, or they don’t have the right kind of people with the right skills on their teams.

      1. Jen RO*

        Yup, but our pay is kinda crap, so we are constantly understaffed and the time for actual managing is very limited… I mean, I agree with you and with Alison, but the advice only works fully in an ideal situation.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          Yeah, I remember you saying that you were also losing two of your already thin staff. That coupled with the pay issue is a lot to deal with. It sucks that the people above you don’t seem to know how to fix this situation so you can actually do your job.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Sometimes you can set up a secondary trainer. “If I am not available go to Bob and Bob will help you.” This is where Bob has agreed to help in this manner and Bob is knowledgeable in the area that the employee needs help with.

        This is easier if you have a larger group of people that you are managing. If you only have a couple people this probably is not a helpful suggestion.

        1. Jen RO*

          Yeah, that’s how we usually handle it, we have 1-2 people doing the training in their respective areas of expertise. Except now “Bob” and “Steve” gave notice and guess who’s training 3 new joiners by herself while also doing Bob’s and Steve’s job! (Sorry, just venting, it’s been a long week and it’s going to be a long summer… I really enjoy training people and it’s super important in my department, and it sucks not having the damn time to do it properly.)

      3. TootsNYC*

        “If the managers are too busy to train and delegate, which are core functions of their job, then their teams or department isn’t adequately staffed. Either they don’t have enough people, or they don’t have the right kind of people with the right skills on their teams.”

        Not necessarily true.

        If they’re not identifying “delegating” as their main responsibility, they’ll be doing, and of course there’s too much for one person to do. I have a job that could involve a lot of doing–if I prioritized “doing” over “delegating,” I’d be swamped. Because there’s so much “doing” that I need 3 people. However, if I don’t let those 3 people “do,” then I won’t have time to train.

    2. Chriama*

      Again, this sounds like the issue when the most senior/most talented person on the team becomes team lead.

      I think you need to go back to *your* manager and say “I can either do this work, or I can train the employees, but not both. If you want me to train and manage the employees, I need deadlines pushed back/more experienced people hired/someone else to manage them or take something off my plate.”

      Because bottom line is if you keep doing the work because you don’t have time to train anyone else, you’ll never free up enough time to train someone else to give you free time. It’s a weird endless loop that leads to burnout.

      1. Jen RO*

        Yup, it’s definitely the case, and I definitely did *not* want to manage anything. I am good at my job, but I am bad at project management and mediocre at people management. All these years of reading AAM have made me not completely suck at it, but I am sure I could be much, much better.

        My boss is aware of the issues (they don’t stop at my small team, they cover the entire department, and I am trying to offer partial support to the other teams as well) and he is genuinely trying his best, but the bosses up the chain don’t really care and there simply aren’t many experienced people in my industry (less than 100 in my city, I would say). Frustratingly, most of my attempts of getting him to prioritize my tasks end with “you need to carve out some time for New Task X”. I absolutely understand his perspective (his advice aligns with Alison’s almost perfectly), but there is only so much a person can do – especially when she is not particularly well-suited for her role! Sometimes I dream of the day when I finally get sick of it all and join a new company with a raise and an individual contributor role.

    3. Chriama*

      Again, this sounds like the issue when the most senior/most talented person on the team becomes team lead.

      I think you need to go back to *your* manager and say “I can either do this work, or I can train the employees, but not both. If you want me to train and manage the employees, I need deadlines pushed back/more experienced people hired/someone else to manage them or take something off my plate.”

      Because bottom line is if you keep doing the work because you don’t have time to train anyone else, you’ll never free up enough time to train someone else to give you free time. It’s a weird endless loop that only ends when you burn out.

  9. CR*

    Ugh. This is my life, except I’m Marsha. My director is fabulous. My manager, not so much. I wish we could just cut out the middle man!

  10. twig*

    As someone newly managing student workers…. I am taking all of this in.

    I am bad at delegating.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I had a hard time with student workers, too. Something about knowing that they were short-term and that I’d have to be re-training a new cohort of student workers in 3-6 months made me feel very unmotivated to delegate and train.

      1. Student*

        Why have them at all if you’re not prepared to deal with the simple reality that they’re short-term?

    2. Ama*

      Student workers are hard, because you have to spend a little bit of time when you first get them feeling out exactly how much guidance they need. The first student worker I ever managed was incredibly quick at picking up what I wanted to do and needed very little guidance once she had the basic instructions. She once flat out told me, “I feel like I’m wasting your money because you don’t have enough for me to do,” which was a wake up call that I needed to let go off a few more tasks. On the other hand, I had a student worker later that needed a lot of guidance and I had to learn to break his projects down to one simple task after another because if I handed him the entire thing at once he’d do the first and last part and forget some of the middle steps. Most fell kind of in the middle, starting out needing more guidance and then getting better at working on their own as they got used to our processes.

      I did not truly get good at delegating until my workload got so high that it was either hand over some tasks or work 12 hours a day. In the end it was totally worth it to spend a few hours up front to train them and/or write up instructions and guidelines to get 20 hours of work a week off my plate.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think when a person gets good at delegating, part of it is simply choosing what can be done by someone else.

    3. TootsNYC*

      you might be a heckuva lot better at delegating if you have people who are good at being delegated to.
      People who are trustworthy and trained.

      Training comes before delegating (or, it goes hand-in-hand; you delegate and then you do it WITH them as they train)

  11. Thyri*

    OP, I just want to say you sound like an awesome manager. I wish there were more like you, and that I worked for you!

  12. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

    This is a great question and answer (and I enjoy the aliases as well :) ). OP, it sounds like you really excel at the management and development portion of your job (the part you say is the best!), and I bet you were moved into this position and team specifically to drill down as you have been doing. I wish you all success, and thanks for breaking down the issues so well for those of us who struggle to peer manage, and move into a role with direct reports.

  13. Mockingjay*

    Oh, how timely!

    My remote manager (another state) recognized the difficulty we have on our contract with a demanding customer onsite and no corporate presence to facilitate issues. (I’ve posted ad nauseum on the Open Thread.) Just last week he reorganized us into 3 teams and designated leads – I am one.

    I want to start things off right. OP, I am going to ask your question: “What would help you do your job better?” I can’t wait to hear the responses.

  14. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For people who want to work on this with the managers they manage, The Management Center (a client, and who I do a lot of writing for) has a fantastic library of tools for managers (many written by me!):

    This isn’t in the tools library, but it would be really good for people trying to develop a shared understanding of what good management looks like — it’s a set of sample expectations for managers:

    1. JC*

      Yes, thank you! I’m a new manager who was promoted largely because of my technical skills, and I am still learning the ropes of management. This will be helpful. (And your book was also helpful!)

  15. Student*

    Might help to figure out if your staff want to be managers – typically, when I see someone strongly resisting the “manager” aspect of their job, it is because they do not see themselves as a manager or explicitly do not want to be a manager and think they can get away with mostly ignoring those duties. Other times, they have a radically different view of their own behavior than their direct reports do – thinking they’ve been clear about something when their direct report thinks otherwise.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    OP, one point I found that people fail to mention in this type of discussion is to acknowledge that when you start delegating/training others things get HARDER for a while. You have to enjoy repeating yourself. You have to become accustomed to explaining things that are obvious to you, but no one else. You end up looking at silly mistakes that were so preventable and you want to cry/yell/hide.
    It’s important that your managers understand that this is part of the process and yes, it will be this difficult for a while. Please say this out loud, “it will be difficult for a while”, it’s important to acknowledge it. Then after a bit it will be BETTER. If people know for a fact that they are moving toward something better, they can usually do a sprint through a tough spot.

    Another good thing to discuss with the managers is HOW to train. Some folks don’t know how to train and won’t say that. Other folks will tell you within the two seconds of conversation, “I can’t train. I HATE training.”
    You may need to give your people pointers on good training techniques. I am a big fan of using examples. Where I can, I like having the person do an example and let me check it. I don’t stand over them if possible. I tell them to call me or bring it to me (which ever action makes the most sense) when they have the example completed. Another go-to, I use is to help them understand WHY. “We do B then we do A. That does not seem logical but here is why we do B first [reasons].” If people know why things are done a certain way this empowers them to make other tangent decisions in the future.
    Lastly, the way I figure out if I have done a thorough job of training is by looking at people’s end product. Are they where they need to be? I learned that people don’t do what you want, they only do what you TELL them. Make sure what you want matches up with what you tell them. On a day when you are exhausted this is not as easy as it sounds.

  17. Not So NewReader*

    Whoops, wanted to add one more suggestion.
    When I started my job, there was lots of chaos for reasons too long to get into here. So my wonderful boss started a resource list, she gave me a copy and insisted I add to the list. My list tells me who to call when the computer breaks. It tells me who to call when the programming breaks. I also have listed people to call for missing info that I may need, certain supplies we have to keep on hand and so on.
    I have been at the job for a few years and that list has grown from a half dozen people to 3 pages of people in a spreadsheet form.
    I would be totally lost without my resource list. If people do not know who to call for what, their jobs are sheer misery.

    1. LQ*

      I’ve been working on a Wiki for our team. Resources, tools, how to do stuff. It is incredibly helpful. (And I know people are using it because they go in and update it too.) It is people, but also instructions on how to do things. I love hearing “I checked the wiki already but…”

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’m been pulling something like this together for myself, and have expanded it into some checklists for my team. I’m going to see what else I can do on this front. You two have inspired me.

  18. J*

    Man, kudos to the OP for wanting to address this – too often I think bad management problems are just allowed to roll downhill.

    I actually have kind of the inverse problem – I was recently promoted to manage a team of direct reports (my former peers). Part of the reason I eagerly applied for the position was that my manager (who is still my manager, I’m just the new layer between him and my reports) was doing many of the things “Greg” and “Peter” are doing in the letter–he provides feedback rarely (and when he does, it’s often in inappropriate contexts, like a year-end review or–this really happened–my job interview for the manager position), doesn’t provide clear directions and guidance on prioritization (or changes them constantly), and isn’t great at delegation/communication.

    After I took on my new role I quickly became aware that my former peers also noticed this lack of management and were equally frustrated by it, and I’ve worked hard to be the “missing link” by helping them get answers to questions, constantly working to implement good management practices, etc. But since I’m still his direct report, I’m still suffering my manager’s lack of managing (I’m DREADING what surprises are going to come up in my annual review next week). I’ve already gotten extremely frustrated about a couple of situations, and while my reports can vent about his behavior to me, I’m obviously not going to vent to them.

    I’ve been mulling over posting about this in the open thread for a while. I feel like this is a “your manager sucks and isn’t going to change” situation, but is there anything I could do?

    1. J*

      One clarification: Obviously providing feedback in an annual review (or even mentioning concerns about someone’s current performance in an interview for a promotion) isn’t actually a problem–the problem is this is always the FIRST time myself and my former peers hear the feedback.

    2. Chriama*

      I think your options are either
      1) address your concerns directly with him
      2) go over his head

      Posting in the open thread can help figure out the logistics of either option.

  19. Nerfherder*

    I have a manager who prefers to do all the technical work himself, and only assigns smaller tasks to us. And it pisses me off.

    People should just be honest with themselves. If you don’t want to be a manager, don’t become one. Don’t make people managers if they don’t want to manage.

  20. copperbird*

    My suggestion (and this is something that helped me a lot when I first had a small team to manage) is to require the first line managers to arrange a 1:1 meeting with each of their direct reports once a month. (In a people based industry we’d call this supervision).

    The purpose is to talk through the person’s workload, what’s going well or where could they use some more direction. Can include case studies. It’s a chance to give them feedback in private and also for them to feel they have some protected contact time with the management chain.

  21. Pamela*

    Great response, Allison. I work with a lot of managers with direct reports who are supervisors. I’ve noticed that when they meet, the manager usually focuses on the “individual contributor” role of the supervisor – e.g., updates on his/her projects, strategic work, etc. – and not on the day-to-day supervision of employees. In that way the manager sends an unintentional message that supervising staff is not very important. As a result, when the supervisor has limited time, as most do, s/he will decide to prioritize project work rather than meeting with staff, coaching and developing them. Your response not only communicates how important that work is for supervisors; it also gives them some how-tos. Kudos!!

  22. Starbuck*

    This was a helpful read; as someone who is brand-new to managing I wish I had a manager like this myself to guide me through the work of developing my skills in this area. But it seems like the organization I’m at is very much a ‘figure things out on your own’kind of place because everyone is so busy and swamped with work that they don’t have time left over to manage the work of others. The expectation here is definitely that you solve problems on your own, and don’t ask for help unless it’s a crisis, because everyone else already has a full plate so you feel like you need to have a really good reason before you ask for help. Anybody have suggestions for strategies on how to cope with this? For now I am going with “be a super problem-solver” and will see how far that gets me.

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