update: my employee works late every night, but it seems to be her fault

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose employee was working late every night — but it seemed to be due to her own work habits, not workload? Here’s the update.

First, let me say I appreciated your response and the colorful commentary from the community. I felt like my feelings were validated in the comments, but I also felt challenged to find a better solution (many people expressed surprise and quite a bit of negativity that I was prepared to look the other way while my direct report worked crazy hours!). So after giving it some more thought, I dug deeper into the reasons for her inefficiencies and frequent late nights. Here’s what I found out.

In my organization, we do project-based work that entails working together with several different departments. So on one hand, your “team” consists of everybody in your department; but on a project level, your team actually consists of you and a bunch of other representatives from the various departments involved in the project’s completion. What this meant for my direct report was that, even though she was technically meant to work closely with me, her day-to-day workload actually depended on much closer work with people from other departments.

So what I started realizing was that she was regularly partnered with junior members of other departments. It had a lot to do with the type of work she was assigned. It’s simple, rote stuff—nothing too intense or creative—and yet somehow, these were the projects driving all the long hours and late nights. Basically what was happening was she was too junior to address problems proactively, and the people she was partnered with were too junior to proactively ask her to address the problems (and vice versa, the problems weren’t just originating in my department). I figure everyone else’s manager was probably in a similar position that I was.

Anyway, I approached a manager in another department and said, “Going forward, try to partner me with [more junior person on your team], and you partner with [my direct report]. And whatever we do, let’s make sure they aren’t partnered together.” Yes, it meant taking on a little of the “bitch work”. But it’s the type of work I can do in my sleep, and I found that I really enjoyed working with the junior person from the other department. This might sound strange, but I ended up finding it more rewarding than managing my direct report. An advantage of working with junior employees outside your department is that you can show them what you need from someone in their role without overlapping with them so much that you end up micromanaging their work.

Well, believe it or not, this took care of a lot of the problems we were running into. My direct report performed much better working closely with a senior member of another department. We didn’t push deadlines and no one was working late. Happy ending, right?

Not really. Over time, I received several complaints from the manager in the other department that he felt my direct report required way too much hand holding. He said he had to go above and beyond to keep her projects moving, and that I needed to step it up as a manager because he didn’t appreciate doing my job for me. Ouch! I felt like I was back at square one.

Well, fortunately, this all happened right around performance review/promotion season, so I had the perfect opportunity to act on the advice I received here and talk to her. During her self eval, she made it clear she was hoping for a promotion. So I let her know that in order to justify this, she needed to demonstrate more proactivity and independent problem solving on her projects, and to have more insight into her work so that she could prepare for complications before running into nasty roadblocks.

Needless to say, she wasn’t thrilled with this response. She let me know she had an offer from a competing company. I brought it up with my supervisor but didn’t make a big case for giving a counter-offer. So she ended up quitting and her position wasn’t (and still hasn’t been) filled. I haven’t found it that difficult to juggle her work and my own, and so far haven’t heard from finance that they have any problem with my hours.

I do feel like I might have failed as a manager. But I still work closely with the junior person from the other account and she’s grown a lot. I’m sure her manager will get the credit, but what can you do? Ultimately, it was a difficult situation, and I hope that if they ever get around to replacing her, I’ll be able to play a role in the interview process.

{ 194 comments… read them below }

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      I assumed this as well but honestly found the phrase sexist and jarring. I am guessing it’s a non-US thing?

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Nah it’s also a US thing. They use it on work crews and in prison as well. It’s very much an outdated unacceptable term in civilized offices.

        1. ditzy in denver*

          Maybe it depends on field, but it is definitely fine to use that term in my office. I don’t find it demeaning to women–it’s just a colorful way to express that something sucks.

      2. Julia*

        Nope, it’s widely used in the U.S.

        I know there’s a rule against getting derailed by word choice, but briefly: “bitch” has two different connotations. One is “rude/domineering woman” and the other is “weak/inferior subordinate”. Obviously, the latter connotation emerged from the former: calling a man a bitch implied he was like a woman, which implied he was “weak”.

        Basically, I agree that it’s sexist, but not directly – it’s more like the derivation of the term is sexist.

        As for me, I’d never say it to my boss, but might say it in conversations with coworkers. Doesn’t ping my personal radar as sexist usually, though. As with all such things, what pings my radar is going to depend on who says the thing and in what context.

        1. Julia*

          And to give context since I’ve never commented here before, I do consider myself a) a feminist and b) somebody who cares about the language we use and what it says about our social biases.

          1. Julia*

            Maybe there was a misunderstanding? The term “bitch” I do consider sexist, but its context here (“bitch work”) is not directly derogatory to women although it does derive from sexist usage. Does that make more sense?

            1. Much anon*

              It actually *is* directly derogatory to women though. It denigrates the kind of work often assigned/defaulted to women because it is boring or rote and men don’t want to do it, aka pink collar. Does that make more sense?

              1. Julia*

                I disagree about the derivation. Like I said in my original comment, I think it’s called “bitch work” because “bitch” is a term for a man who is low on the totem pole – see also “prison bitch” – not because it’s women’s work. However, it still has a sexist *derivation*; the whole reason “bitch” has that “weak man” connotation in the first place is because of misogyny.

            2. animaniactoo*

              Only if you are proposing that the term in combination has elevated itself above its derogatory beginning.

              Otherwise… no, it’s sexist as a whole because of who is seen to be the natural “owner” of this type of work. That it doesn’t ping your radar is more likely due to an internalized view of what the term means, *and* how usage of it promotes your identity among others to them than that it’s actually not sexist.

            3. Close Bracket*

              sexist derivation, directly sexist = po-tay-to, po-tah-to. It doesn’t have to be directly sexist to be derogatory to women.

              somebody who cares about the language we use and what it says about our social biases

              But not enough to stop using derogatory language.

          2. Archaeopteryx*

            Different people can have different opinions on problematic terms and still care about feminism.

            Its derivation is definitely sexist, but it’s a common enough term that plenty of people of good will can legitimately take no offense to it. I don’t use it myself, but hearing it in a casual context doesn’t startle me.

      3. Much anon*

        Definitely never encountered this term in my 4 decades of work life, so not actually widely used in the entire US, or at least not in my part of Cascadia. Sad that anyone thinks it’s ok to use it in general conversation.

        1. Quickbeam*

          I’ve never heard it in 40 years of work, 2 careers both male and female dominted professions. I consider its use offensive. I’m in the US.

          1. Suspendersarecool*

            Um, I don’t know what enlightened circles you run in but I’ve heard it all over my entire adult life (in the midwest and southeast US), blue collar/white collar/outside of work. It definitely needs to die though.

          2. Friday afternoon fever*

            Conceivably we all have had different experiences with hearing or not hearing the term in our very large country

            1. Les G*

              +1. Folks who are insisting the term is not used in ths U.S. because *they personally* have never heard it are not coming off well here.

          1. ditzy in denver*

            I hear it all the time–tbh I use it all the time. I (personally) do see it as a gasp offensive/strange term. But that’s just my experience.

    2. AKchic*

      Because it’s been discussed to death that it’s a term the majority of us dislike with a passion. Now some are willing to give alternatives and a quick definition for any who may not understand what the term is. Rehashing the reasons *why* seems moot, as everyone *should* know why the term should be stricken from usage.

      1. NonnyGlasses*

        I knew the comments would be derailed by that phrase, but can’t say I thought it’d happen so quickly. OP has heard the response loud and clear now, I’d say. OP, appreciate the detailed update to a difficult situation.

      2. Phoenix Programmer*

        Well except many of us have an open mind about other countries tries so it’s worth checking.

        1. Les G*

          This… is a flavor of internet woke I did not expect to see today. Congratulations, and I mean that with all the sincerity in the world.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            I’m really not getting your comment.

            Yes – I don’t take nearly as much offense to being called the c-word by an Australian as I do an American because I know the meaning of the word is very different and country specific. Whosh is why I do not see a problem with asking about it on this thread which has an international audience.

            Now I it an issue that the same thing has been said 26 times already on this thread? Sure but I mostly blame the tech for that. It’s not a great platform for the size of the commentariate. It’s worked great for a decade but is showing it’s age now.

            1. Much anon*

              The commentariat itself has changed over the years. A few gems still stand out, but it’s not often worth scrolling through the dreck to read them.

            2. CatMintCat*

              I’m an Australian and the c- word is one of the filthiest words in the language. I challenge anybody who uses it in my hearing – whether my work superior or inferior. It’s a disgusting word.

              “Country specific” indeed!

            3. Les G*

              You appear to be implying that American readers (residents, it must be said, of the third-largest country in the world, and the majority of this blog’s posters) who are offended by a widely-understood gendered slur *on An American blog* are simply not “open minded about other countries.”

              That is simply absurd, all the more so when, judging by CatMiniCat’s comment, you’re quite mistaken about these other countries.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      We call it “monkey work”. Kind of like the organ grinder monkeys that turned the crank. Not much brain power needed.

    4. Jadelyn*

      Yes, Cassandra, I’m sure it’s very difficult being the seer who’s always right but nobody listens, but I don’t see how coming in literally just to say “I could have told you this would happen” is actually helpful to the conversation in any way?

      1. Les G*

        Because if I could have guessed it, Alison also could have, and could have spared the OP this pile-on.

    5. GreyjoyGardens*

      I say “scut work,” “grunt work,” or “cr*p work.” Or, to make it longer, “yucky boring work to plow through.”

    6. Friday afternoon fever*

      Also I think it is silly to assume the intent of MegPie’s question unless you are also commenting as MegPie. Like feasibly it could have been either genuine or rhetorical.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s a problematic phrase that’s often used to mean “grunt work.” I’ve removed a 53-comment thread about it and ask that we leave it here rather than derailing on it.

      1. Oof*

        Boy these updates are getting a lot of top of comment comments from you Alison – thank you so much for taking the time to monitor us!

      2. Maybe*

        Have you ever considered editing out problematic terms and phrases that many will find sexist, racist, homophobia, etc., to try to avoid such derailing? This is a genuine question, not at all a comment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I sometimes have done that, when I know something will derail and isn’t core to the letter. The problem here is that I haven’t read all the updates as carefully as I normally read letters (since they don’t require a response from me, and because updates = my vacation).

  1. Safely Retired*

    I do feel like I might have failed as a manager.

    It doesn’t sound like you failed. It sounds like you had an under-performing employee with unreasonable expectations who was not responding to your feedback, and the problem corrected itself. You do your best to help the employees you have, but when it isn’t working there is no reason to regret such a resolution.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      I am not sure where you are getting this. The OP even admits she waited until performance review season to pass along feedback from other managers. That’s not being a good manager.

      Also the employee working tons of hours with little feedback just to be blindsided by a mediocre or negative review is a management failing not an employee who does not listen one.

      1. Colette*

        What she says is that she got the feedback at performance review time, and passed it along. That’s it the same thing as holding feedback until the review.

        Perhaps she could have been asking for feedback more proactively, but it’s possible that that’s just how it played out.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Over time, I received several complaints from the manager in the other department that he felt my direct report required way too much hand holding. He said he had to go above and beyond to keep her projects moving, and that I needed to step it up as a manager because he didn’t appreciate doing my job for me. Ouch! I felt like I was back at square one.

          It sounds to me that the “need to step it up as a manager” came right around performance review time, but the other complaints were spread out over a longer period of time and don’t seem to have been acted on beyond receipt of the information.

        2. Phoenix Programmer*

          Did you read the original letter though? OP did not talk to the DR about her concerns. That was the Crux of Alison’s advice. Then in the update we get no mention of OP saying she spoke with the DR to set expectations and instead passed along most likely never before discussed negative feedback at the performance review. DR clearly thought they were doing well – not always indicative of too little feedback but the OP admitted as much in both their original letter and the update.

          1. Colette*

            It sounds like the OP thought that the reason the employee was struggling was that she needed to work with someone more experienced, and that turned out to be part of the problem but not all.

            When you’re managing someone but don’t have a good view of their work, it’s harder than if you work with them more closely. I think the OP could have been more proactive in seeking out and acting on feedback, but it sounds like she took steps to address the issue and that those steps were somewhat effective. That doesn’t mean she handled it perfectly – but it doesn’t mean she did horribly either.

            It’s also not clear whether the employee who left was weaker than the employee the OP ended up paired with, or whether the OP just did more direct management of the other employee than the other manager was willing to do for the employee who left.

            1. Phoenix Programmer*

              I would not go as far as horrible but I do think it was bad management. I say that as an intern manager – I get home much work it can be.

            2. Someone Else*

              Yeah I think when OP realized part of the problem may have been junior+junior= nobody knows what to do, she swooped in to resolve that and SKIPPED the advice to talk to the report and set clear expectations. Even if the “too many junior people on a project team” issue were the bulk of the issue, skipping the “set expectations” step was not ideal. The update reads to me like maybe at the time, OP felt like she’d figured out the whole problem so she acted on that light-bulb moment and skipped some of the rest of the advice. If she’d sat down with employee, set the expectations AND then explained why the teaming was getting changed to try to help all beforehand, I think this would’ve been less shocking to the DR. The first rule of performance reviews should be “no one is surprised”. (Some very incompetent people will be no matter what, but in general, if everyone’s being reasonable, no one will be shocked.) Since it sounds like the DR was a bit surprised, it means there was a gap here. Part of that may be on the other manager, if the bulk of his most serious feedback only came to OP right around review time, but it does read like there wasn’t quite enough communication here from the get go.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                Yep, and that’s what makes a bad manager: avoiding difficult conversations.

                I guess what I’m also confused about is even though the DR was partnered with another manager, why didn’t OP check in with the manager frequently enough to head off any of this ‘you’re not managing’ stuff? Just a simple ‘how, how is the project with DR going so far?’, and BOOM.

            3. Sketchee*

              I agree it wasn’t horrible. Still, it would be improved here and in the future if the Manager/LW would have regularly monthly or weekly discussions with the direct report.

              Feedback – both good and bad – is easier if done regularly. Everything in the letters would ideally be told to the DR as close to when it happened as possible. Even if it was “I notice you’re working late often. What’s going on with that?” “I’m getting feedback that Other Manager is taking care of this and this. That really should be something you and I handle.”

              Management doesn’t have to be a major event. It sounds like the LW is trying to learn this. It takes practice

      2. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I do think OP fell short here. Employees shouldn’t be blindsided by anything at performance review time (except maybe a good surprise, like a bonus or an unexpected raise!); if the employee wanted a promotion and the rest of management thought she was underperforming, that should have been made clear to the employee sooner. It also sounds like other managers thought OP was falling short managing this employee, given that another manager called this out.

        1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

          Eh, telling someone they need to be more proactive and independent isn’t exactly a slap in the face. It’s not the same thing as telling someone they’re underperforming.

          1. Health Insurance Nerd*

            Not a slap in the face, but if the review was the first time the employee received that feedback, that’s a problem.

          2. CynicallySweet*

            It’s also not very clear though. Maybe more concrete examples of what she was looking for. I could see that being vague and confusing esp if you’re already blindsided by a negative review. I hope she’s doing better at her new job

            1. Been There, Done That*

              I agree. Generally speaking, “You need to be more proactive” is wide open to “More proactive in what ways?”

              However, I don’t agree that the manager is a straight-out failure. I think this is a case of the manager needs to learn the lesson and at least OP has that insight. My manager got promoted from sales right before I joined her team a few years ago. She’s made a boatload of rookie mistakes. Even now, every time there’s a problem, it’s somebody else’s fault because they don’t magically know/do what she wants, and her feedback can devolve into nasty personal remarks and even insults.

        2. Washi*

          I think the OP might have fallen into the same trap I did at first of not realizing how very, very explicit you need to be in feedback. My guess is that the OP didn’t think of this as blindsiding – that given OP had done a good bit of digging into DR’s workload, taken on pieces of it, talked to the employee about the late nights (I think?) and moved around assignments, that it wouldn’t come as a surprise to DR when there were concerns about her performance. But I’ve found that sometimes unless you actually say “this is something that could impact your performance review” people just think you’re offering helpful suggestions, not talking about an actual problem.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I think this is spot on. OP did their due diligence for the most part, but the EE seems not to have understood quite what was going on. And we’ve all seen here, time and again, how easy it is for people to underestimate the gravity of a situation if the person delivering the message softens it *at all*.

            I think, if OP didn’t go to the EE as soon as they got the first complaint from the other manager, that was a misstep – but I certainly wouldn’t say OP categorically failed as a manager, which some folks seem to be implying. I think that’s far too harsh.

          2. Marie*

            Indeed, I once worked for a manager who phrased orders as suggestions. He was sufficiently unfamiliar with my job role that when his suggestions sounded dumb, I tended to ignore them. Which in hindsight was a huge mistake.

            Now I work for a German who just says whatever needs to be said (in a much briefer amount of time). I’m so much happier reporting to him. If anything he knows my job role even less than the manager from OldCompany.

            1. TardyTardis*

              I wish one of my Ex-Bosses had just said *what she wanted me to do*. She seemed to think that GAAP was universal, even though after I’d worked for other managers I learned that this is not totally true, at least in how the information should be expressed/displayed. (I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t read her mind to her satisfaction, though she finally found a report who could…just before she retired. Perhaps she was waiting for that?).

    2. Engineer Girl*

      Well it’s good you investigated more. But it turned out that a lot of the problem was the employees assignment. Originally you blamed the employee.

      Also you should have talked to your employee the minute the other manager started to complain. By the time the performance review came around things were sealed in stone.

      Was this salvageable with better intervention? Unknown.

      1. MK*

        I disagree that the assignment was “a lot” of the problem. Sounds to me this employee wasn’t able to deal with the work unless a) she spent a lot more time than it should take or b) she had a senior person telling her what to do step by step. That’s pretty clearly n underperforming employee.

        1. Letter Writer*

          It was my hope partnering with someone more senior would help her understand how to improve and be more proactive on actual projects, vs coming from me where it would all be more general and hypothetical because I’m not working on the same projects. I think she did grow a lot and understood the process better, but she still struggled with time management and regularly needed someone to sit with her at her desk and talk her through her work/keep her on task.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Did anyone (you or the other manager) tell them in so many words that they had a problem with lack of initiative and inadequate independent problem-solving… before that fateful performance review? Or did you just think that if you put them with the other manager, they’d pick up the necessary skills by osmosis? You can’t expect someone to learn from a situation if you don’t tell them WHAT you want them to be learning from it, even if you put them in a good position to learn that thing.

            I don’t think you did anything terrible, but I do think that, at the time you changed who was working with whom, you ought to have sat down with your employee and said, “I’ve been seeing some problems with your work in areas X, Y and Z. I really need you to work on improving those factors. To help you do that, I’m going to start working with Junior Employee Of Other Department, and let you partner with Senior Employee Of Other Department so that you have a good model and some help in understanding how to make the changes I need. Can you focus on improving those issues while you work with Senior, and try to learn from the way they handle it?” instead of simply dropping them into that work situation and figuring they’d somehow know why you were doing it or what you wanted them to achieve in that scenario.

          2. Tallulah in the Sky*

            Hello Letter Writer ! One thing many of us do wonder about is if you had a conversation with her about that (being more proactive, time management, etc), because from your update it doesn’t seem so. It seems like you did work hard to find solutions, but you didn’t actually tell her what she needed to work on (not until the annual review, which is too late for that), and so she never knew that she was also part of the problem.

            Not being given valuable constructive feedback can really suck a lot for an employee and hold them back in ways they’re not even aware of, and I think a lot of the comments on that topic come from this. But you’re a new manager and you’ve already worked a lot to become a good one, so hopefully very soon you’ll be able to do your job without wondering if you’ve failed on of your employees :-)

            1. Letter Writer*

              I did try to give her specific problem-solving advice, but I struggled with how to address what I saw as the biggest performance issues (slow work, lack of independent problem solving, and—more than anything—needing to “round table” projects with lots of input from other people to get things finished). I thought I could resolve it by putting her in a position to get more insight into her work, partnering with someone more senior instead of always doing small projects. But I was afraid that confronting her about a performance issue directly would reflect poorly on me, since when I raised the issue, I was told she just needed better management—meaning I felt like the onus to get her to improve was on me, and that the expectation was for me to micromanage her workday in a way I knew I couldn’t personally sustain.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                I’m not sure that I understand this. If you were told that you needed to get better performance out of her, then either this could be done by methods you were able to use or it couldn’t be. If it could, I wouldn’t expect it would matter whether you chose to use the “expected” method of micromanaging or some other method, so long as you succeeded in your objective. If it couldn’t be done, then it also wouldn’t matter what method you chose, since none of them were effective anyhow.

                Given that, why not try to improve her performance by the methods you *could* use, e.g. “confronting her about a performance issue?” If it had worked, I doubt the manager who complained to you would have cared how you’d gone about it. If it didn’t work, you’d have probably still ended up with her leaving (either of her own volition or yours), but that’s no worse than what actually happened, and at least she’d have been offered a clear picture of the situation and a fair chance to correct it.

              2. Less Bread More Taxes*

                I agree with Working Hypothesis. I’m hearing that you’re afraid of confrontation, but having a discussion regarding performance doesn’t need to be a confrontation. When you fail to bring up issues so much so that the employee thinks their on the way to a promotion, of course the employee will feel blindsided and be upset. That’s human reaction.

                I think, going forward, you need to have the attitude that great employees don’t always start off as experts. This other junior employee that you work with sounds great, but I bet she’s had her own manager bring up performance issues in a straightforward manner before and I bet they’ve both worked through them together, as managers and employees should.

              3. Tallulah in the Sky*

                It’s great that you did all that, but you didn’t outright tell her that she needed to improve x and y to perform well in her job. Without this, to her you just might have seem like a micro manager, and she wouldn’t think this are things she actually had to work on. She was underperforming and she didn’t know it, and that’s not good. If she had known that, she might have paid extra attention when you tried to coach her (or not, you could have done everything perfectly and it could still have gone wrong in a number of ways).

                Why did you think that having that conversation would reflect poorly on you? Is it your manager who said that when you went to them about this issue? I really don’t see what their reasoning would be. Your role as a manager is to set up your employees to succeed (which entails giving them clear expectations and regular constructive feedback), not picking up their slack and micromanage them.

                It seems you’ve already done a lot of work to fix the state of your department since you arrived. Maybe you still need some help on how to manage people since it’s apparently your first job doing that. If you’re own manager isn’t helpful here, maybe try to find someone else who could help you better to navigate issues like these. Or read some articles aam wrote for (first time) managers, they’re quite interesting. Anyway, good luck.

              4. Sketchee*

                I can really understand the impulse to let those closer to the project deal with it more. And to try to use the system to change things indirectly. And at the same time, any feedback you here does needs to come from you. Managers bring feedback to you so you can deliver it.

                Even if it’s saying in your weekly check ins – “I know I’m not aware of the details of this project, so catch me up. The expectation is that you’re proactive in X,Y, Z ways specifically. I’m wondering if that’s happening. Could you tell me the plan there?”

                Where XYZ might be slow work or independence. If you have specific reasons for being aware of those issues… It’s okay to bring it up. “Other manager brought this to my attention” or “Late nights”. It’s okay to ask about thoie things.

                Management may mean confrontation to get involved, since ultimately one way or another it does reflect on the manager. You don’t have to micromanage the details of a project. You just have to be able to say you directly asked for this specific set of changes and to be informed of the plan.

                Then checked in the following week or two – both with the employee and the other managers involved – to see if those changes were made. Whether the employee improves or not is on them after you’ve communiticate

                It sounds like you’re working and learning. Your concerns and learning process is completely normal. You’re doing great, keep learning!

              5. selena81*

                It sounds to me like you are confrontation-averse (communicating through suggestions) while your report was very confrontational (all those snide remarks about you leaving early). Perhaps this made you a bit scared of her, which is also the vibe i get from your initial willingness to ignore the problem.
                If i am on the right track here than please understand that a lot of ‘intimidating people’ do not actually *want* to be intimidating and they certainly do not want to silence their boss. I know my weird autistic behavior can be off-putting, and my big body means my close presence is easily perceived as threatening, so i am vigilant about projecting a soft image and to always respond nicely to any kind of feedback.

                Something was lost in translation if she expected a promotion while you prepared a reprimand. It does not sound like you were deliberately withholding information, but this is a warning sign that you were not clear enough in your earlier communications. (or maybe you were very clear and she is just that thick)

                Some of the problems sound unfixable within any reasonable time-span (the slow work, the need to get micro-managed), while others sound like she was confused about her duties (did anyone ever tell her that she needs to throw things in the group more often? perhaps she was shy and did not want to be a bother)

                I get the impression that you eventually soured on the whole thing: she was rude, she appeared unteachable, you got blamed for her failure to improve, so let her go to hell. I have no idea how reasonable or unreasonable that reaction is when i don’t really know you or your report or the situation.

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    “Colorful.” That’s us.

    I think this is a useful reminder that more than one thing can be going wrong. You can have an employee proactivity problem and a structural ‘clumping together the people who are not authorized/experienced enough to be proactive’ problem.

  3. Phoenix Programmer*

    Sounds like you reflected on what happened and have plans for being proactive next time!

    Honestly I don’t blame your direct reports for being miffed. If I was working crazy hours to keep projects afloat with no negative feedback and then told “you need to improve actually” at my performance evaluation when I presented the case for a promotion I would cut and run too.

    Side note – is “b***** work” not a rude comment in some countries? Like the c-word in Australia? I found the phrase really jarring. We would say “grunt work” in the US.

    1. Antilles*

      Honestly I don’t blame your direct reports for being miffed. If I was working crazy hours to keep projects afloat with no negative feedback and then told “you need to improve actually” at my performance evaluation when I presented the case for a promotion I would cut and run too.
      That was my thought too. Flip this around and look at this from her perspective:
      I’ve been doing well, I put in a lot of crazy hours to keep things moving, I haven’t heard a word of complaint from either my manager or the PM I’m working with, in fact things are going so well that I’m thinking I might be getting a promotion. But then, during formal reviews, when it matters for raises/bonuses/promotions/etc, all of a sudden I’m a struggling employee who needs improvement in multiple areas?

      1. a1*

        But it doesn’t sound like she was trying to keep things moving. Just waiting. No follow up. Not being proactive. This was stated in the original letter. So if she’s twiddling her thumbs waiting on someone or something, rather than ask again, she keeps waiting. Then gets it whenever and then has to work late. That’s not the same as working 12+ hours. So, after that, she’s paired with more senior person and no longer has to work late. So, even if working late was the gauge to go on, it’s no longer relevant. She only did that half the time. And why would working late = promotion to anyone? I’ve worked late, for lots of reasons. I never thought it meant I was due a promotion. That’s a weird thought process to me. If you’re getting praise, or people seek you out to work with, come to you with questions, clients request you specifically, and so on, then yeah. Think promotion. But just working late? That said, I do think waiting for review time to give feedback would be a surprise, but more like “I thought I was doing the job well/right and *now* I’m learning I’m not”.

        1. Antilles*

          1.) My point that is that SHE almost certainly was caught off-guard. From our perspective, yeah, the long hours are a “well, actually, that was kind of your fault for waiting around and not being proactive”, but I think that she’s viewing it as “I was willing to do whatever it took to keep the client happy”…especially when it appears that nobody contradicted her on it. Her direct manager (OP) doesn’t seem to have indicated that it was her fault (instead placing the blame on the management structure/cross-pollination) and the other manager seems to have dumped the complaints to OP without actually addressing it directly with the employee.
          2.) Having managed people for years at a variety of companies, I can assure you that many, many people *absolutely* view total hours as a measure of worth in and of itself – it takes specific effort and management to break people of the natural inclination of “I worked X hours and that matters” and refocus on overall results. Maybe you don’t and that’s good, but it’s a surprisingly common mindset.

    2. shooby doo be doo*

      I disagree — the employee heard what she needed to do in order to get promoted at the performance eval, which seems like a logical place for that. Could the employee have used that info sooner? Sure, but OP did not in fact have the info sooner. OP looked into the reasons for the employee working late; came up with a pretty smart solution; after she and the other manager followed through for awhile, the other manager told OP “your employee is not up to snuff”; this was pretty close to performance eval time, per OP’s letter, so OP brought it up.

      OP could in the future be more pro-active in communicating with the other manager as to how her direct report is doing (maybe a weekly email to the other manager as to how their direct report is doing, and a query as to how OP’s direct report is doing). It’s not clear to me that an unreasonable amount of time passed, however, in which OP could have been following up.

      1. Darren*

        Performance management is a year-long thing, if you are only hearing about concerns at your performance evaluation there is a problem with communication somewhere, you should be regularly getting feedback on your work allowing you to improve throughout the year.

        Only getting the feedback at the performance evaluation (especially if it’s bad) time results in a feeling that performance evaluation is just a time where excuses are being made why you aren’t going to get an promotion or a raise. You get the feeling that next year once you correct these there will be another batch of out of the blue feedback at the end of the year.

        If you get the feedback throughout the year it’s a lot easier to go “Yeah fair enough I could have handled that better.” “That sounds like a better way to handle this kind of situation in future I’ll take that onboard.” along with providing plenty of opportunity to give positive feedback as well so they know they are improving and what is expected of them.

        You should be having a least fortnightly if not weekly check-ins with your employees to go over their performance, and this is even if they don’t have any significant performance issues if they do, or something comes up outside of the regular check-in time you do extra chats with them.

    3. Anoncorporate*

      I trust the OP did the best they could. However, I also work under management system where project teams are cross-functional, and my actual manager/PM doesn’t directly supervise any of my work. This leads to strange performance evaluations and assessments of my work. There are a lot of misunderstandings – things that aren’t my fault get blamed on me, the times I go above and beyond go unnoticed and unreported. My annual performance review was all derivative of what other people randomly said about me. And don’t even get me started on office politics.

    1. league.*

      While this may (or may not) be good advice, it’s delivered in a hostile manner. Alison asks us to be kind to letter-writers.

      1. Friday afternoon fever*

        Yeah this could have been said in a way that is much much kinder (see: comment above by TheOriginalK). Ideally, also, OP would have a manager of their own to assist them since it sounds like they may be newish. Nobody is, like, born a good manager.

        1. Friday afternoon fever*

          Also not a good precedent to berate people who ask for help/advice here if you generally like the site and want people to continue to write in

          1. your favorite person*

            No kidding. The commenters on this question seem to take the most uncharitable view of the manager. She saw a problem, sought advice, implemented the advice, and sent in a update all to be told she wasn’t COMPETENT.
            I think she did the best she could as a new manager.

        2. Rookie Biz Chick*

          So this. OP seems genuine in wanting to be a good manager. She’ll get there! Who among us hasn’t delayed or not perfectly delivered difficult work conversations?

          OP, I was recently had a similar situation – I read Radical Candor by Kim Scott last month and it’s solid gold!

  4. animaniactoo*

    OP, I’m not sure here, but it sounds like there was a middle ground that you never got to with your direct report in terms of checking in with her regularly and being able to update her on aspects that she needed to work on. Stuff that it sounds like should have come up long before her performance eval came up.

    How much of this did you do? Did she have a clear picture of how independent/pro-active she was expected to be?

    Would you say that this is the kind of information you were clear with the other junior about?

    I’m also curious because you started out by noting several departments this was happening with, but only did the cross contact with one other department? Can you explain more about why that was?

    1. fposte*

      I think this is a really great point. It also makes me think about management is kind of three-dimensional chess–if you focus too much on one dimension you’re leaving yourself open to get checkmated in another. I find that a continual challenge.

      And if you’re not doing regular check-ins with all of your staff, OP, I would highly recommend it. For one thing, it establishes a pattern of regular formalized conversation for both of you–your reports know they’ll have a chance to talk to you, and you can give feedback about how things are going as they’re going.

    2. Sandy*

      Well said. OP, I think you should review how you give feedback on employee performance. Does it come as soon as possible? Do your employees understand you are giving them feedback to correct or improve their performance? Too often managers hedge and compliment sandwich feedback into a state where the employee does not get the message. Be kind, but be very clear. Make sure you are on the same page (as far as you can be) as to their current abilities and performance.

  5. BronzeFire*

    OP, I don’t think you failed. You saw a problem with a direct report, sought help, and then worked some new angles based on the ideas from other people- even though their implications and criticism made you uncomfortable. It’s incredible how many managers can’t even do that! By removing one big variable, the issues with the two junior employees were sorted out. Unfortunately, it was your report who was gumming up the works. Fortunately, the other junior employee will now get the credit they deserve for their good work; an outcome which might not have occurred if you hadn’t taken the steps you did. If you’re given a junior employee to manage again, I’m sure you’ll be much faster to make these adjustments (if they’re needed at all).

    1. CM*

      I think the OP tried, but never directly addressed the issue with the junior employee. Instead, the OP tried to work around the problem by trying to pair a more junior person with a more senior person, which helped the work get done but didn’t help OP’s employee improve. I agree with the other manager who felt that OP basically stuck them with an underperforming employee instead of coaching the employee.

      OP, I wonder if you’re willing to dig deeper — or if you already have done this — and figure out what was stopping you from addressing the matter directly with your employee, well before her review.

    2. Phoenix Programmer*

      Except the OP didn’t ever do what Alison stated – talk to the DR about the issues. Provide clear feedback for how this should look, and check in on processes, and remove barriers.

      Instead op swooped in to remove a barrier and then surprised her DR at performance review season with a middling or bad review after DR worked a ton of hours.

    3. MLB*

      I wouldn’t say OP failed, but she never addressed the issue with the employee directly before deciding to pair her with a senior person. Employee was probably thinking she was doing great, and working extra hours to get it done, without any real feedback from manager – I’d be pissed too if that were me. You can’t fix something you don’t know is broken. In the future, OP needs to be more direct when she sees problems with her direct reports and guide them to improve their skills.

  6. RGB*

    I’ve experienced something similar…and the issue, in hindsight, was that whenever my junior report was paired with anyone senior, she waited to be told what to do.

    We thought it was a confidence issue at first (which sometimes it was)…and at other times unfortunately a work ethic issue.

    However the learning for me personally was that I don’t like or enjoy or get much out of managing people and so I don’t anymore!

    1. Shad*

      It definitely sounds like that was part of the problem with both LW’s direct report and the other junior employees that the report was frequently paired with, leaving some teams dithering around until someone told them the next step. That was partly addressed by making sure the teams always had someone who was experienced enough to help provide that overall direction, but it also needed to be addressed by telling the juniors that they needed to be more proactive in determining next steps and moving forward.
      Making sure someone on the team has that view and experience keeps this project moving, but overall organizational progress requires that everyone gain at least enough view and experience to proactively ask if not to move forward on their own.

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    She sounds really short sighted and a bad fit for your firm. She was struggling, didn’t take constructive feedback and was thinking she was promotion material…yeah, that’s not you failing.

    Even the best manager can’t fix that fundamental “bad fit” flaw.

    It’s best she parted ways. I hope she’s doing better and on track at her new place.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      OP doesn’t ever tell us that she actually gave her direct report constructive feedback, though – not until the very end, at the final performance review. We know from the original letter that the OP hadn’t spoken to the employee about it at all. Here, in this update, it looks as if OP withheld feedback until the last performance review.

      So we can’t at all decide that the employee “didn’t take constructive feedback” because she spent the vast majority of her time not actually getting that feedback. Instead, the OP kept her concerns to herself, then moved the de-facto management of her to another manager, and then finally, when the other manager told OP to *manage* the employee, gave the employee feedback.

      I think OP did fail here. But it also looks as if OP has learned a lot through this experience! New managers make tons of mistakes, and OP made mistakes here, and going forward hopefully will be more forthcoming with feedback earlier in the process.

    2. Cat Fan*

      The constructive feedback was not given until her review, which is not at all fair. The employee should have been told much sooner, When the projects were restructured would have been a good time. If the employee had been told sooner, she might have been able to change her work habits.

  8. Taking The Long Way Round*

    Eh, I dunno.
    I’d be interested in hearing her side of the story. It doesn’t seem like you talked to her early on. Maybe she learned that she had to wait for instructions from a more senior person before acting, and that is what was holding her up.

    If you’d talked to her sooner, would she have had time to make the necessary changes before her evaluation e.g.?

    Also, “bitch” work?! No.

    Anyway. All’s well that ends well. You will hopefully be involved in the next hire so you can be very explicit about what you’re looking for, and she’s got a new job.

    1. TC*

      This is kind of how I see it — I was in a similar position as the direct report recently, where I was transferred to a new department, had regular checkins, thought I was doing fine, then at a quarterly evaluation was told I was about to be put on a PIP, not proactive enough, all that (I wasn’t working late hours though). My then-boss wasn’t very forthcoming with information about how to do the job the way she preferred and why didn’t I speak up about how I was struggling, whereas I didn’t see that I was struggling, simply just still-learning. When I was given the chance to transfer to another department (again!) I jumped at it, because even if we could salvage things, the working relationship had already taken a bit of a hit. I got out of her hair and into a role that is much more “me”.

      As you said, all’s well that end’s well I say. I have learned to keep an eye on how other people are reacting to me and to be more upfront with what I’m up to.

  9. Lady Phoenix*

    Ugh, this thing sounds confusing and nonsensical. I understand cross collaboration between departments, but when you are managing/not managing someone not in your department…. it sounds silly.

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Yeah, it sounds like the a lot of personnel management problems could stem from a convoluted structure like this. If people are loaned out from their department for each project, maybe each project needs a temporary project/personnel manager to make sure everything is on track and employees are keeping up on their duties. I don’t think I understand the arrangement of Manager managing Own-Employee but also not allowed to do any work on the project but also sometimes managing Loaned-Out-Employee. Sounds like Office Space – I have seven different bosses!

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        I think that is partly why I think OP failed. She just sorta handed her employee to someone else and didn’t bother To keep tabs until performance review day, while I guess thenother person can’t or won’t manage this person that is not on their team…?

        Ugh. I think the poor woman definitely got outta dodge. This sh1ts is bananas.

    2. Antilles*

      I think OP is making it sound way more complex than it actually is. It sounds like the situation they ended with is essentially this:
      1.) I (Antilles) have a direct boss, Bob.
      2.) However, my current project is being run by Charlie, who is the Project Manager. Charlie has the same job title as my boss Bob, he’s just in a different department.
      3.) Charlie’s employee (David) is in a parallel situation to mine – David’s direct boss is Charlie, but he’s working mostly on Bob’s projects.
      So Charlie isn’t really my boss and lacks firing/disciplinary/salary authority over me…but on a day-to-day basis, he’s the one who really interacts with me because it’s still *his* project. So when review time rolls around, Bob asks for Charlie’s opinion.
      That’s a very common structure that I’ve seen happen at basically every company I’ve worked at. The way OP worded it sounds way more confusing than that, but I think that’s the concept. Where OP’s company is failing is that Charlie (for whatever reason) didn’t feel like he had the right to provide constructive criticism on performance to his project team – this structure only works when Charlie feels empowered to discuss performance issues in the moment by sitting me down and going “Hey Ant, I’ve been a bit disappointed the past couple weeks with your work on the Alpha Project, I really need you to work on ___.” The fact that Charlie (apparently) waited until review time to even mention the issues ruins the entire system.

    3. Close Bracket*

      It’s standard in a matrixed company. In fact, the word “matrixed” when applied to workplaces means exactly this situation. It’s pretty common at companies where projects need multiple, unrelated types of expertise. You can have a manager who is both functional (or line) manager and project manager who has a team of mixed expertise (not matrixed at all) or project teams led by one project manager and comprised of individuals reporting functionally to their own manager and probably working multiple projects (strongly matrixed) or some mixture between those two poles.

      1. Jennifer85*

        Apparently in some companies you don’t have a line manager at all, just multiple project managers you’re working with at any one time. (My brother was explaining the – very large – company he works for is like this, at least at his level). You only get a line manager assigned if you’re perceived to have performance issues…

  10. EventPlannerGal*

    I don’t think you failed as a manager; the initial solution you came up with was a good one, and is also a useful lesson for you and your company going forwards.

    I do think that addressing it directly with the employee might have been useful, if only to reframe her perspective on what was happening. I say this because I was once in a similar position in my first job, routinely staying til 9 or 10 at night to get through my work. It took a very direct (and uncomfortable) conversation with my boss about my clock-out times for me to realise that this wasn’t a “oh wow, you’re so dedicated!” thing but a “your time management is terrible and your work needs too many corrections” thing. If your report never got that talk, it isn’t surprising that her review came as a nasty surprise.

    Again, I think you handled this pretty well and got as good an outcome as you could hope for, but I’m a big fan of the direct conversation strategy (if only to save on time!) Best of luck, and I hope that if you do decide to replace her you end up with someone better suited to the job.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Sorry, forgot to add:

      The only other thing that might be worth consideration moving forward is that much of your solutions involved either extremely close supervision of the report’s work or actually doing their work yourself after they left. In this case that’s working out, but if you continue as a manager there will be times when you cannot do that. Going forward, you should prioritise looking for more sustainable solutions (like being involved in the recruitment process for whoever replaces the direct report).

  11. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I don’t think you failed as a manager, but I do think you need to be more proactive in dealing with people who report to you. It sounds as though you did some research about what might be causing the issues with your Direct Report — but did you ever talk with her directly? Comparing notes with the other manager involved was a good idea, but you really needed to find out what her perceptions were: “I’m not senior enough to be calling the shots on Project Teflon Teakettle, but the Spout Specialist and the Lid Technician are more junior than I am, and they won’t make any decisions, either.” Or something like that. You really needed her input before imposing a solution.

    Given your organization’s collaborative approach to projects, you really need to design a way to get feedback from managers in other departments before one of your direct reports is in over her head. If the other manager hadn’t volunteered information about your DR, you wouldn’t have had any clue as to what her issues were.

    And lastly,…You really didn’t like your DR, did you? It’s very easy to start avoiding a report you don’t much like, thus depriving her of necessary feedback until it’s too late. Maybe the junior from the other department was more congenial to work with, but if someone reports to you, you owe her your best effort as manager whether you like her as an individual or not.

    1. Friday afternoon fever*

      Agree, agree. Middle paragraph especially. Also try setting up twice monthly (or other needed frequency) one-on-one check-ins with your next report. These will give you natural places to give performance feedback and take temperature of how your employee feels they’re doing without having to feel like any sort of performance issue must be A Conversation.

      Alison has a bunch of good posts on how to do this effectively.

    2. LetterWriter*

      It was the opposite actually—I really liked her as a person, but felt she was fundamentally a bad fit for her job. I was relieved when she left because I didn’t know how to coach her to improve when I felt so negatively about her ability to get where she needed to be.

  12. voyager1*

    I would love to know what the direct report’s rationale for a promotion was. I think that could be insightful into why the LW and her were on different wavelengths when it came to communication.

    1. Health Insurance Nerd*

      I’m guessing it was partly due to the long hours she was working, coupled with the fact that she wasn’t receiving any negative feedback about her performance.

      1. LQ*

        Yeah, I could see this. She started out working with a more junior person, put in a huge amount of extra hours, then was changed to start working with a more senior person (which would feel like a promotion in kind of work I suspect), and then you don’t need to spend as much extra time working so you feel like you’re being more successful (and if that other manager isn’t saying, “hey this is your problem, fix it!” but instead fixing the problems that the more junior person couldn’t the projects were likely going better overall) and then you don’t have any dates getting pushed back on your projects and no one is telling you this isn’t you. From that view? It might look like you’re being successful.

        From jr coworker to sr; from pushing deadlines to being on time; from extra hours to work done in a timely manner…you appear successful from inside that frame of reference.

      2. a1*

        Long hours and no negative feedback does not equal promotion. It means getting the work done. Why would anyone think that means promotion? “Hey, I’m doing my job. Promote me!” ??? Genuinely confused here. If she had been getting praise, or was meeting deadlines, or other things, sure, but “no negative feedback” is such a non-thing. Maybe it’s neutral? And even working with someone more senior than her… that’s pretty normal too. I can see being surprised at the negative feedback at review time, but expecting a promotion seems a stretch.

        1. Friday afternoon fever*

          I think I’ve read every post on here at this point and … people have some WILD ideas about what constitutes good work. If the direct report was newish to the workforce I can especially see them thinking this. Also, the company culture might be one where if you stick around and do a decent job long enough you get promoted (those exist…..)

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          Well, I don’t think anyone here is saying that the DR would be justified in that expectation! Just explaining what her rationale might have been. If she’s early on in her career she might not have understood that these things are neutral/normal.

        3. MK*

          In the particular context the OP described, where senior people are doing more advanced work, being paired with a more senior person could certainly be taken as a sign that you are also advancing. Also, the promotion she was expecting might not be the kind of huge step that makes her expectation totally unreasonable.

        4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Many people are out of sync with how promotions work. You’re fed a lot of nonsense and anecdotes in school, my parents, friends, extended families, school mates. It’s not always easy to piece together.

          I’ve heard the old wives tales where showing up for 6-12 months and not burning the building down means you’re in line for the next promotion.

      3. Hamburke*

        My boss had a temp assistant in before me who asked for a promotion and raise after 2 weeks bc she was never late. People have weird ideas of what’s normal.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Having once been in a very similar position to the direct report, I’ll take a guess: I would imagine that she thought that the late nights were proof of how dedicated she was to the job, and the length of time it was taking to do the work showed how much work she was doing or how difficult/complex the work was. Once the OPs intervention allowed her to get her hours under control, she may not have realised that that was due to a structural change in her role but instead thought that she had improved – hence the promotion.

  13. LQ*

    I do kind of think you failed as a manager for this person.

    But I think everyone who is a manager fails as a manager at some point. The question isn’t did you fail, it’s what did you learn from it? How will it help you be a better manager in the future? What could you have done that you didn’t? Do you like managing, do you prefer mentoring? Where do your strengths lie and how do you support your weak points?

    Once you sort through that, yeah it’s a failure and you might wish you could have done more by that employee and it is hard, but you will be so much leaps and bounds better for it. No one becomes great through only success, failure happens. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean anything bad unless you refuse to learn from it.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I think this is true; I also think that the failure of manager and employee to have a meeting of the minds isn’t always put down to only one side, and sometimes it’s a situational fallibility rather than an inherent weakness–IOW, sometimes you can manage 9 people just fine and the 10th you just miss the mark on.

      1. LQ*

        Very true. And if you’re new you might not know what kinds of people you are stronger or weaker at managing. I still think back very sadly to the 3rd intern who ever worked for me who I failed horribly. We were a total manager/employee mismatch and I had no idea and didn’t even have a structure to know how poorly I’d failed until it exploded. I really failed her. I don’t know that I could manager her today, I’m pretty sure I still couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean she’s unmanageable, I think she’s very manageable! It just isn’t a good match.

  14. MonteCristo85*

    I don’t want to harsh, but I do think you failed this report. Not in a repent in sackcloth and ashes way, but in a take note for the future way. When you discovered that they were having difficulty working with other juniors, you simply took that responsibility away, rather than working on the direct cause, or even pointing it out them so they could try and come up with a solution. It sounds to me like you are timid around the actual “managing” aspects of being manager, so you finagled your way around the problem rather than dealing with it directly. In your future career this can become a real problem, both because you won’t be managing as effectively as you could be, but also you will end up getting bogged down with work that you really should be delegating. I would also caution you not to mix up being a manager with being a mentor.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I appreciate that…I’ll definitely take it to heart and agree I could’ve been much more direct about my concerns with her performance, instead of worrying about being positive/encouraging and looking for nonconfrontational solutions. To be brutal and honest, I genuinely felt she was a low performer. She was absolutely beloved in the company and had a fantastic personality, always the life of the party. But she didn’t have the hard skills she needed for her job, and I was frustrated trying to work with her to improve. I felt like I was a high school tutor, literally to a point where I was reminded of sitting with 8th graders at their desks the semester I volunteered as an after-school pre-algebra tutor. But I was also conscious that my perception might have been off base, that she had potential, and that I was seeing her aptitude as a fixed quantity instead of something that could grow with the right projects and mentorship opportunities. I didn’t know how to handle the situation, didn’t feel like I could be honest with her, and was frankly relieved she left—and pleased for her that she was actually able to convince some other company to pay her more money to continue doing what she was doing. I wish her well but still don’t know what I would have done differently to get a better outcome for her and me both.

      1. Perpal*

        still don’t know what I would have done differently to get a better outcome for her and me both.
        I think the bulk of the (reasonable) advise is to be direct with her about the concerns; instead of handholding/micromanaging/etc maybe a weekly checkin where you talk about how things went, what needs to improve, what went well, etc?
        I don’t do much management so not sure what would make sense in your position; but clear and feedback is important.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        Hard skills can be taught. More importantly, it sounded like she didn’t know the process when she hit obstacles. That’s partially solved with checklists. (Do a then b then c). Also best practices (if you see D, then do x).

        I think what bothered me the most is that the other boss complained to you multiple times. You should have started talking to employee at time 1. Then revisited at times 2,3, etc.

        You have also called these things “confrontations”. No wonder you avoid them! These should be called check ins for improvement. They are small low stakes conversions with 1-2 areas for improvement. Instead, you waited until it piled up and became a high stake conversion. Also saying you “couldn’t be honest with her” is alarming. That’s the core of your job!

        I’d really recommend getting the book “Crucial Conversations”. Because if you can’t tell your employee how to improve you are doomed.

        1. Letter Writer*

          I’m checking out the book now. It’s something I could definitely work on. A weekly, standing “check in” appointment is something intend to do in the future and can only regret not doing/thinking of sooner.

          1. lurker bee*

            Hi. I wanted to thank you for interacting in the comment threads, and for the gracious way you are posting. The learning you are doing here will undoubtedly help other readers, too.

  15. Bookworm*

    Regarding your last comment, OP: You tried. Some people are not “manageable” and if she was unwilling to be more proactive/did not take the feedback well, this could be a case where she wasn’t a good fit, the two of you were not a good fit together and/or she’s just not a good employee. But you made an effort and if the other person who was not your direct report is doing well, then that would indicate the problem is not really about or around you.

    I have been in situations where I didn’t get feedback/constructive feedback (despite asking for it) or the manager just know *how* to manage (no additional training, assumptions that I should know things that were not previously explained to me, etc.) and it really doesn’t sound like that was the situation here.

    Sorry it didn’t work out having been more on the other side of the table in the employees shoes, I would personally would have appreciated someone with your approach in many of my previous jobs. Thanks for the update. :)

    1. Friday afternoon fever*

      I don’t think it’s so clear cut as to say this person is “not manageable”—it sounds like it really came down to management/working styles and unclear communication rather than deliberate obstinacy or refusal to chanfe. To me “not manageable” = that dude who would reply to every work request with “your mom” jokes (!!!)

    2. Tallulah in the Sky*

      The thing is, OP doesn’t seem to have given her actual feedback before the performance review. I think it is unfair to call this an unmanageable employee when she hasn’t been effectively managed (and I don’t mean to pile on on OP here, it isn’t easy and they did try and managed to improve some, there was just more that could/should have been done, hopefully next time).

  16. Tallulah in the Sky*

    I won’t say you failed your employee, but you could have done more. Like many people already said it here, you should have given her constructive feedback much earlier on. You removed a roadblock (which is great !), but you didn’t tell your DR she also had some improvements to do (she probably thought the only reason she had to do so many hours was because of how the work was structured, and didn’t know she was part of the problem). You should at least have had a talk with her the first time the other department’s manager came to you with complaints about DR, instead of blindsiding her at her annual review.

    I’d also like to say : don’t be so quick to take the credit for the other junior’s growth and dismiss their manager. If you work closely with them, you probably helped, but don’t underestimate a good manager who doesn’t shy away from telling their DR what they need to improve. This is way more helpful than the hand-holding you did with your own DR. The fact that she passed along her employee’s complaints to you and even called you out on not doing your job, tells me she has no problem addressing problems head on with her own employees. The growth you’ve seen in the junior may be a result of them hearing what exactly they need to do to improve. I hope you realize you didn’t give that same opportunity to your ex employee, and will try to do so next time.

  17. Friday afternoon fever*

    I don’t think it’s so clear cut as to say this person is “not manageable”—it sounds like it really came down to management/working styles and unclear communication rather than deliberate obstinacy or refusal to chanfe. To me “not manageable” = that dude who would reply to every work request with “your mom” jokes (!!!)

  18. TooTiredToThink*

    The LW has been a manager for about 6 months! Good grief; Were every single one of you absolutely perfect managers the first time you were promoted to manager? Or how many of you are actually managers?

    The LW is obviously trying to learn how to be a good manager by just being on this site and reading. Sheesh.

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      By the way; I think I may have mixed up some of the comments from the original post and this one. There’s a lot of constructive posts. But I was just also noticing a lot of accusatory type comments and I was flabbergasted because the LW indicated they were a new manager.

      1. LQ*

        I wonder if part of this is how people are taking “fail” or intending it. I absolutely think the LW failed, but I don’t think that means that LW is a failure or means anything all that bad. It’s just a part of the learning process. I can tell you a dozen things I’ve done where I’ve failed TODAY. And while most of the ones today are small. The dozen big ones in the last year, like the giant project I had to beg people to cancel that I was supposed to be running, or the other giant project that I haven’t been able to get off the ground despite my boss wanting it started last June…have been big, but have not ended my career, or made me worse. They’ve all made me better and more valuable (which I know seems like it’s on fire to say, but it’s not entirely, I keep telling myself…).

        I see “Maybe I failed as a manager.” as a moment to stop and reflect and say, yes, I think so, that’s fine, what did you learn. Ok, I think, what can I learn so I don’t do this. Because I have 100% done this before and I worry about doing this now with people. Being direct about something is hard, and shuffling around the work, or picking up pieces myself are so much easier than sitting down and having that hard conversation. And sometimes the work just needs to get done, and it sounds like the LW wasn’t really fully responsible for this person (especially with the bit about hoping to be involved in the interview process if that person gets replaced! that doesn’t really sound like a person you are entirely sure you manage) so then there’s the question of is it really my job to do that? I’m not sure and if I really don’t want to do something and can find a very seemingly good justification to not do it (which we are all skilled at, our brains are excellent at that!) then I’m going to skip it. So how can I find space to hold myself accountable for those things. I appreciate the OP giving the update. I appreciate the OP saying, “Maybe I failed as a manager.” Because the OP is also trying and writing back and this can be a moment to learn for them and for the rest of us who are or will be (or were) new managers at one point.

        Failing a task that you learn from is a success. Sometimes that failure is expensive. It would be nice if none of our failures ever hurt other people but they absolutely do and will. Those are the ones I think we have the most responsibility to learn from.

        I don’t know that they are all harsh, but I wonder if they come across harsher than intended if you think “fail” is a 4 letter f word rather than a part of the learning process.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A lot of folks aren’t managers and are projecting from years of having questionable leadership. So there’s another spin for you.

      You have to take harsher comments with a grain of salt. That’s part of seeking advice from strangers.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I have not seen mention of this yet, but where is OP’s boss in this story? It seems like Boss could be mentoring OP some. OP, if your boss will not mentor you perhaps someone else a more senior person with a similar position could be a sounding board for you? The way that other manager spoke to you about your report was not impressive to me. This person did not know you were a new manager???

  19. Detective Amy Santiago*

    So the thing that confuses me the most about this update is your decision to partner her with a higher level person in another department and you take on some of her duties and work with the junior person in that department. That seems counter intuitive to how I would expect things to work and makes me feel like there is some kind of work flow issue or institutional level dysfunction in how your org manages projects. A manager should be able to give instructions to a direct report and have that person work with someone on their same level in another department on a project.

    1. Jennifer85*

      I mean it sort of sounded like what happened before is LW would sometimes work on (more complicated?) projects with senior people from other departments, and their employee would work on easier projects with other junior people. It doesn’t sound absolutely crazy to split the experience out over the projects – presumably there’s some reason you’d want cross-department experience for them or something.

  20. Politely*

    I’m not going to defend the term “bitch work” and I don’t use it myself. I also recognize that the AAM community is a comfortable safe space for people like us who do some cringing when confronted with certain terms.
    At the same time, I have to say that the word “bitch” has been quite commonplace for a long time, and its sexist overtones do not resonate with everyone the same way. The Elton John song “The Bitch is Back” doesn’t generally induce cringing (indeed, female singers like Miley Cyrus have covered the song).
    At work, one usage of this word that doesn’t set off any alarms is when someone is noting that his/her stature in the organization is low, and says “I’m everybody’s bitch.” This is an example of non-sexist intentionality that we had best let go by, so that we don’t present to our co-workers as unreasonably sensitive.

    1. Observer*

      Miley Cyrus is not someone I would mention in the context of feminist thought. Not that anyone should bring on the pitchforks or that she’s even the most sexist person out and around. But from what I’ve seen, she’s just not terribly cognizant of how sexist some stuff in her industry is and she plays right into some of it.

  21. Jennifer*

    To me it sounds like this employee was just in the wrong role and that she didn’t respond well to the OP’s management style. Doesn’t make the OP a bad manager. The employee from the other department appears to be thriving and their work has improved. Sometimes people just aren’t a good fit and need to move on. Doesn’t mean anyone is a bad employee.

  22. Delta Delta*

    I think this employee probably wasn’t a good fit, and she knew it – based on the fact she went in to her performance review with an offer from a competing company. I see this as “hey, I’d like a promotion. If not, I’m going elsewhere.” OK – maybe that’s the best move.

    It also sounds like, based on the timing, that OP tried something to see if it would work. Then it did for a little bit, and then it didn’t, and by the time she could address the issue, that it was review time. I don’t necessarily see this as waiting for the annual review to give feedback, I see this as sort of inopportune timing. I hope OP gives constructive feedback to reports sooner rather than later in the future. But I don’t necessarily see the situation she presented here as a failure. Sounds like maybe this has all worked out for the best.

    1. Kiki*

      Yes, it’s definitely very possible this employee just wasn’t a good fit at the OP’s company and/or with the OP’s management style.

      One thing I would look into, though, is making sure the other team manager she was partnered with had reasonable expectations of what someone at her level could/should be doing independently. In the first letter, OP mentioned a lot of turnover on this team. It could be possible that something about the way the process is designed is keeping lower-level people from being as successful as they could be. I’ve been in roles where my bosses wanted me to be “more of a self-starter” but I wasn’t provided the tools or training to anticipate what was needed. It was demoralizing and frustrating because the tasks that would have helped me learn were taken over by bosses for the sake of expediency.

    2. Been There, Done That*

      Another view might be, DR recognized that she wasn’t going to get the kind of management she needed to progress, so she pulled up stakes for a better situation. Or she didn’t want to be the experimental model for a new manager to make their mistakes on. I wouldn’t call OP a failure, but I wouldn’t say the DR was either.

    3. Wintermute*

      That;’s one read for sure, another read is “she had valuable skills and was out when rather than a path to advancement she was ambushed with previously-unstated problems with her performance.”

      Nothing on a performance evaluation ought to be a surprise, and when you think you’re putting in long hours above and beyond the norm and think that will be taken into account but are not only told that it’s not being valued, but you’re being criticized for it? I’d be out of there fast too.

      Losing people that have competing offers means you are losing people that have options, and is a fast way to make sure that the only employees you have left are those that have no better options– the worst of the worst, in other words.

  23. Close Bracket*

    Basically what was happening was she was too junior to address problems proactively, and the people she was partnered with were too junior to proactively ask her to address the problems

    Anyway, I approached a manager in another department and said, “Going forward, try to partner me with [more junior person on your team], and you partner with [my direct report]. And whatever we do, let’s make sure they aren’t partnered together.”

    An advantage of working with junior employees outside your department is that you can show them what you need from someone in their role without overlapping with them so much that you end up micromanaging their work.

    Well, believe it or not, this took care of a lot of the problems we were running into. My direct report performed much better working closely with a senior member of another department. We didn’t push deadlines and no one was working late. Happy ending, right?

    Mentoring, ftw. It’s too bad that it took you a while to get to this solution, but junior staff really need that kind of on the job training.

    I received several complaints from the manager in the other department that he felt my direct report required way too much hand holding. He said he had to go above and beyond to keep her projects moving, and that I needed to step it up as a manager because he didn’t appreciate doing my job for me.

    This could be your direct report’s weakness or it could be the other manager’s weakness. Maybe she really did need too much hand holding and really wasn’t working at an effective level for her experience. Or maybe the other manager didn’t feel that he should have to do the amount of completely reasonable managing that someone with her experience would need. At this point, it doesn’t matter bc she left, but this is something to keep in mind as you figure out how to manage and mentor going forward. Keep advocating the junior/senior pairing, but touch base with your next direct report to see just what level of mentoring they are receiving.

    And keep a balance of mentoring other people’s direct reports vs mentoring your own. Try to learn to separate mentoring from micromanaging so you can be as effective with your own direct reports as you are with others. Do put your mentoring in your accomplishments during your own next review so you get credit for it.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      I suspect the OP wasn’t the only manager or coworker who could have said something. What if DR was working with junior members of other departments because junior members couldn’t push back.

      “For the Kellynch project you’ll be working with Lucinda.”

      “Hey, I worked with her on the Northanger project. It’s someone else’s turn.”

      “And I worked with her on the Donwell project. Ask someone else.”

  24. Observer*

    I think that the OP did fail a bit, but I also think that in the long term the OP will be ok. That’s because no one gets it right every time, but the good people learn from the mistakes. And the OP sounds like someone who is willing to do that.

    So, I think that a couple things went wrong here.

    Firstly, I think that you really should have given you DR feedback sooner than you did. Three are actually a few pieces to that. For one thing, you don’t need an “opportunity”, especially one that only comes once a year! to bring something up with a DR – you should make the time as soon as you realize there is an issue. And you should have realized there was an issue you needed to address. You had two separate indicators here. Your colleague had to complain to you “several” times “over time”. You should have been on this the very first time it came up. Also, you already knew that your DR was not proactive enough. And, sure part of that was that she was new, but part of that was that she wasn’t “just picking it up”. That doesn’t mean she can’t learn, but it does mean that you have to be more direct about your expectations of what you need from her and what you expect her to learn from the more senior person she was being paired to.

    It’s worth considering also if you were clear and specific enough in your feedback when you finally gave it to her. Because what you describe here is general enough that if that’s pretty much the way you presented it to her, it’s not all that actionable or straightforward for someone who isn’t already the right kind of learner to take useful lessons from. On the other hand, it might not have made any difference at that point, as she’d clearly been job hunting and had another offer on the table.

    These are not the worst management failings we’ve seen here by a looong shot. And, as I said, your willingness to hear the negative comments and learn something is going to be very useful to you. So, lots of luck.

    And I hope to hear back from you in a year or two with an update that says that you were able to hire a great person and that you put the best advice you got here into practice which has lead to growth for you and your DR(s).

  25. Ask a Manager* Post author

    All comments on this post are now going through moderation. I’m both sick and on vacation this week, so it may take longer than normal for them to be released, but they’ll come out once I see them (assuming they abide by the commenting rules, including “be kind”).

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Well that’s not good, sick and on vacation. Ugh. I am sorry to hear that. I hope you feel better soon!

  26. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, I see from the original post that this was your first experience managing someone.

    Looking at your own prior experience in a similar role (if you rose through the ranks), and also at other teams who do similar work: Is it typical that you pair junior staff with senior partners? This may not be a strategy you decide to repeat in the future (or maybe it is, depending on whether this employee was an anomaly).

    This is a problem I often run into as a manager in advertising — there are loads of projects going on at any given time, and some of them require a more experienced hand than others. It would NOT be typical in my line of work to, say, have a senior account person handle a small project just because the copywriter working on it is junior and needs advice; instead, I would want that copywriter checking in frequently either with me or her direct manager. It’s not the partner from another department/discipline who should be doing any necessary hand-holding; it’s me or the direct manager, while also training that person to try and reduce the need for hand-holding in the future.

    YMMV of course — if it seems like the junior-senior pairings would have worked if only your employee hadn’t been particularly needy, you can try it again. I do strongly suspect that it might work better in the future to have your junior employee (when you have another one) check in frequently at the beginning, and share with her strategies to help her manage her own workload with less and less need for input and check-ins from you over time.

    1. Letter Writer*

      When I was in her role, I had a couple of managers and none really helped me grow. So as a result, I don’t have a great model I can rely on. My biggest learning curve happened when I was paired with a senior person in a different department (though it only happened because my department was understaffed at the time). I figured out how to do my job by learning what she needed from someone in my role to do *her* job. It was enormously helpful and I still count that person a friend and career mentor. So I guess naturally that was the solution I resorted to with my direct report. I had a horrible year working under a micromanager and never wanted to be that kind of boss, and my other supervisors have all been very hands off (the kind where I grade my performance based on how infrequently they have to concern themselves with me or my work). I’ve never seen a manager/report dynamic that I would want to model my own after, so I can see how I was trying to repeat for my report the kind of working relationship that I felt gave me the independence, opportunity, and mentorship to grow. It didn’t work out, clearly, but I still struggle to envision an alternative.

      1. misspiggy*

        From everything you’ve said, I think your organisation has some major structural and management issues that are gradually and quietly messing a lot of things up. No management training for new managers; managers either micromanaging or too hands-off; odd project setups without clear management or feedback norms; no clear pathways for people to learn the skills they need on the job.

        Might be worth looking around.

      2. LQ*

        I feel you on this. I used to say one of the ways I knew I was good at what I did was the only talking to my boss every 6 months thing. As I’ve moved into roles that really require a lot more supporting other people I’ve struggled because I tried to give other people what I needed, but that’s not what they need. And in the end it’s not what I need all the time either. You needed a boss to help you grow to be a better manager, you needed a boss who would regularly check in with you and coach you through those hard conversations. Your boss failed you here by being hands off. And then you need to do that with the people who work for you.

        Normally not a fan, but I had a training about Situational Leadership which helped a lot for me. (And it was likely right at a right time where I was struggling because I suddenly felt like I needed more time from my manager–rightly so–but it made me feel like I was failing–I was not at all!)

        There are alternatives to the totally hands off room to grow thing and sometimes they are the right thing for the situation or the person. Knowing how to recognize them and then step in where you need to will help you be a better manager. Good luck. I highly recommend pushing your boss to include you in conversations about hiring a new person for you!!

  27. Leela*

    I really like the solution you came up with! Honestly it sounds like you’d all be able to manage more effectively if work your department does is interdepartment-dependent, and you mention that it’s more rewarding for you, I guarantee you it’s rewarding for those employees to have a chance to be partnered with someone higher up than another junior. I really support this kind of cross-work and mentoring where it makes sense for the organization, and while it didn’t solve the problem with your particular employee, I’d be surprised if it didn’t have a good impact.

  28. MissDisplaced*

    Oh OP, you didn’t fail as a manager at all!
    You tried really hard to take the time to understand what was really going on, and took steps to try and correct it with thoughtful changes. And it did work! You found out valuable information that your report was lacking in some key areas. That she didn’t respond is on her, not you. Perhaps the job just wasn’t a good fit/lack of interest, or maybe she really doesn’t care, but you did your best.

  29. Meißner Porcelain Teapot*

    The way I see it, there are/were three separate problems here:

    1) Both your direct report (DR) and her team partner were too junior to actually call the shots in the project and address serious issues, leading to a lot of unnecessary back and forth, a lot of stalling, and the long hours. For that problem, you found a working solution, but it is not one that I see working well forever. Sooner or later, the time will inevitably come when these projects will not be just grunt work that any senior person could do in their sleep and then it might seriously detract from the actual work these senior people (managers even) have to do. It’s always nice to have a manager who understands the basics of the work their reports are doing, but a manager’s #1 duty is to manage.

    2) Your DR”required too much hand-holding”. The fact that you had to hear this from the manager of another department is indeed less than ideal. Yes, micromanaging sucks, but there is a big difference between investigating legit performance issues (such as a DR having to do OT regularly in order to keep up with what would be considered standard workload) and micromanaging. I think this is the part where you did indeed fail and it eventually led to 1) another department’s manager being very frustrated with you and your DR, 2) your DR not understanding what her failings were and consequently thinking “I did tons of OT and worked my butt off to successfully complete these boring grunt projects” = “I should get a raise/promotion”, only to be blindsided by her performance review. As a matter of fact, the fact that she had a counter-offer ready at hands suggests that she took your lack of feedback (and appreciation of her “hard work”) as a sign that it might be time to look elsewhere, as soon as you “shoved her off” to another manager.

    3) “I really enjoyed working with the junior person from the other department. This might sound strange, but I ended up finding it more rewarding than managing my direct report.” Sorry for being so blunt, bu this frankly seems rather concerning to me and makes me wonder whether management really is the right path for you. Of course, only you can answer that question and I apologize if I am way off base here, but… that’s not a very helpful outlook to have on the people management side of managing.

    That said, to err is human. Everyone fails at something at some point. The important part is learning from it, so for the future, I suggest the following:

    Next time one of your DRs shows any sort of performance issues that persist for more than a week (because everyone can have a bad day or two sometime), approach them directly and say: “DR, I’ve noticed that lately you’ve been doing Problematic Thing / struggling with Specific Task. Can you tell me what’s happening there?” This is not micromanaging. This is doing your job as a manager. Listen to what your DR says, decide on how you want to handle it, and then – this is the important part – keep a close eye on your DR to see if they have improved. If you involved somebody else in the solution (such as a the manager from the different department), check in with them, too, preferably within a week or two, to see if things are going as expected.

    Most importantly: next time you get feedback that your DR needs more training, don’t just hang back until the performance review. Approach them immediately, make it clear how serious an issue this poses for the project/the role/your DR’s career and then tackle that problem immediately and directly. You don’t have to be mean, but you shouldn’t coat your words in sugar or be vague about it either. Be clear. Be concise. Be swift. A stitch in time saves nine and the quick addressing of performance issues saves both you and your DR a lot of fumbling in the proverbial dark.

    Best of luck with finding someone awesome to fill that position and with your future managing!

    1. Perpal*

      3) I don’t think this is necessarily a signal that OP isn’t cut out for management; it could just be a signal that OP and her DR were a bad fit, or that DR was indeed a drag (as other managers also reported). Even the best of the best have their difficult cases. Given this is OP’s first experience, I wouldn’t say it means management is the wrong job; not unless this happens repeatedly with multiple DRs!

  30. Formerly Arlington*

    I think being a good manager means being empathetic. Not that you’re overly sweet or walk on eggshells, but that you understand things from your reports’ vantage point and manage them so they can meet the expectations for their role. Doing the work for her and not providing frequent, candid feedback puts you both at a disadvantage. I think it’s really important to try to see things from the perspective of the employee—what info, guideance, training, advocacy etc. do they need to perform? But people aren’t born good managers…it takes a lot of mistakes to become one.

  31. SavannahMiranda*

    For what it’s worth, I think OP did the best she could here with an employee who was not exactly difficult but not exactly stellar. Just a middling sort of employee who in the middling sort of way greatly overestimated the value and the contribution of her middling work.

    The best outcome that could have been hoped for took place. The middling employee has a chance with a new employer who may gel better with her and be able to get more work (and more proactive work) from her. OP as a manager had her take on the employee confirmed by the other manager – that she was problematic, slow, required too much hand holding, and didn’t take initiative. And OP may have a chance as a manager to have input over a new hire for that position, if any.

    The attacks on OP in this thread are really kind of curious. I am with OP. Some of the problems the employee had are not necessarily problems that can be solved by feedback. Even constant, exhausting, emotionally laborious feedback. To wit – the work left by the employee is being adequately covered by the OP. If the employee was really doing the sort of above and beyond, go getter work that qualifies a person for promotion, then OP would not be able to cover her work and OP’s job too. It truly sounds like the employee lacked self-awareness. Lack of self-awareness cannot be feeback-ed out of someone. In fact, basic self-awareness is required in order for feedback to work in the first place.

    I just don’t buy that the employee lacked all feedback until one fated moment of terror and resentment at her annual review. It doesn’t sound like she was operating in a black box. She had her boss (OP) who had noticed her difficulties and taken steps to make sure she got the answers she needed to do her job. She had the stellar employee from the other department to compare herself to. And she had the manager in the other department providing her materials and input for her job. No where in any of those three relationships could she pick up on the fact that she was dropping balls and passively waiting rather than actively problem-solving? I just don’t buy that. In fact she went into her annual review with a job offer in her pocket to present as a bargaining chip. A person doesn’t do that if they’re wholly unaware of a general climate of feedback.

    I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to commenters who seem actively defensive on behalf of this sub-par employee. Maybe they’ve never worked with someone who drags down everyone around them because they seem unable to take responsibility for problem solving, seeking answers, and following up, and who seems all too content to passively wait with lack of initiative until materials or information come their way, even when that means working late, while believing they are going above and beyond. It’s utterly exhausting to work with someone like that, and it can’t really be explained to them.

    1. LGC*

      You wrote this more eloquently than I could have!

      Honestly – yeah – the letter writer didn’t handle this perfectly. She probably could have been more proactive and direct. But also, she did take a lot of steps to resolve the problem. Furthermore – like, I’ll chalk this up to being new that she didn’t feel comfortable going the more direct route (although it would have helped). So…I guess this isn’t A+ level managing, but it’s…like a B, B- at worst, I think.

  32. Emmy*

    I feel that, moving forward, if you have another direct report and partner your DR with a manager in another department it may be beneficial to everyone for you and that manager to have a candid talk over coffee every few weeks to discuss how the other’s DR is progressing. It sounds like the other manager here may have noticed some concerns that you weren’t privy to since you weren’t working with your DR as often. I’d also have a pre-planned weekly “how are things going” meeting with a DR that’s struggling, it can make a huge difference in helping them to progress! Hang in there OP!

  33. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    Hi OP!

    A few things (and at least one I’ve not seen yet, so hang with me):

    1) I think you need to do a postmortem on this, for sure. There was a breakdown in the process (evidenced by your direct report thinking she was due for a promotion and you thinking she needed significant improvement), so try to pin down why it happened, or how.
    -If she was under the impression she was doing an amazing job, why was that? Was it because of her hours? Was it because of minimal feedback? Something else?
    -Whatever the answer is, how do you address it? If it was the feedback, how do you make sure to give feedback regularly enough that you are on the same page? Is it a once-a-month meeting? Do you make it a point to follow up with their trainers/helpers on a weekly/biweekly basis to see what sort of feedback they have, observe for yourself, then bring it up with your report?

    That sort of thing.

    2) You need to see if you can find a mentor or a peer to bounce ideas off of. They don’t have to be at your company, but I’ve seen in a few of your comments that it seems like you don’t have a good support base while you get your manager bearings. I would say if you can find a good mentor they’ll be worth their weight in gold. See if there are local meetups or other stuff you can use to branch out and add people to your network.

    3) You probably need to play defense with your fellow manager, and with your job. Did you explain to the manager that gave you that feedback (about not wanting to do your job) why you did the pairings the way you did? Or is that really her impression? If you didn’t explain why you did the pairings that way that may actually be their impression, and you don’t want that. You may also want to ask her (or any other managers on your level) to lunch and pick her brain about what sort of training and feedback techniques they use.

    …Actually, if you have been at the company long enough to know the “good groups” with high performing teams, or ones with good overall happiness and efficiency, go talk to their managers and ask for advice! Tell them that you are new, you are learning, and you want to do a good job of it. Most people will be receptive.

    Now, why I recommended defense with regards to your job–how is your manager taking all this? I can see this going a couple of ways, one of which is not good for you. If you didn’t explain your thought process with taking the grunt work, your manager may have an interesting view of what went on. Additionally, if that other manager is as proactive about giving your manager feedback as she was with you, that probably won’t help. It’s also interesting that they haven’t backfilled the role–are there any plans to? You may end up as a manager in title only, or they may end up moving you back to your old position. Hopefully none of that is the case, but definitely solicit feedback from your manager on what happened, if you can.

    Finally, as an employee and team lead that’s had a few interesting years (and a few interesting jobs!):
    – Be explicit. Very explicit. It may be painfully obvious to you, but some people truly don’t see it. If they did, they wouldn’t be doing it… :)

    – Determine your personal assessment and feedback loop with your employees. How will you get feedback on them if they work with other departments regularly? How often will you ask for feedback from the employee on how they think things are going? What will be your threshold for addressing issues? For me, anything that might show up on my yearly eval should be addressed within the week that it happened, and if it’s a pattern it should be addressed at the third instance. This ignores egregious things that need immediate feedback (see “your mama” man and “short joke” manager). On assessment–what do you and the departments you support consider “adequate” support? Is that written in the position description and is it clear to the employee working in that job? If it’s not, can you do so?

    Speaking as someone that’s had a bad fit job, the best thing you can do for your employees is be up front and clear on the required expectations and if they are meeting them. The transparency lets them know if they are in the right spot or if they need to move on.

    Good luck! Keep us updated, if you can!

  34. LGC*

    First of all: yikes. I read the announcement, and…yeah. So, I’m basically in agreement with SavannahMiranda’s comment – while LW did make some mistakes, they weren’t especially bad. And hopefully, it’s a learning experience.

    I will point out one thing you did absolutely right: You identified a huge cause of the problem and moved to fix it. And I think that your solution would probably work out better in general – pairing managers with lower-level employees – since that allows the employees to gain experience. Hopefully, even if the other manager’s DR moves on, you keep that arrangement up, since it at least seems to work better for productivity.

    I did have a question about one thing, though:

    Not really. Over time, I received several complaints from the manager in the other department that he felt my direct report required way too much hand holding. He said he had to go above and beyond to keep her projects moving, and that I needed to step it up as a manager because he didn’t appreciate doing my job for me. Ouch! I felt like I was back at square one.

    At first, I was confused as to why he…you know, didn’t actually manage her because she was working on his project instead of being snippy with you, LW.

    After thinking about it…tell me if I’m making the wrong assumption, but I think that the really harsh comments about you not managing her and such (and yeah, that is a pretty aggressive thing to do – he accused you of not doing your job) were after him feeling like his comments weren’t addressed. So…if possible, I’d loop the manager into future conversations. Like, “Hey, I talked with Tangerina about getting the teapots glazed by 3 PM so we can have them fired by EOB, as you noted.”

    (Also: talk to your DRs if you don’t already! And also, if it wasn’t clear: while you might not have done your job well, I think the other manager didn’t handle this well either. Even if he’s frustrated – and good on you for not taking it too personally! – blowing up and sending snippy emails to your coworkers doesn’t end well. I know from experience.)

    1. LJay*

      I was wondering if he was snippy because he shouldn’t have had to work with a person who was so junior on whatever type of project it was?

      Like, if the previous breakdown was – 2 managers work on higher level project, and 2 lower level employees work on lower level project – then the employee may have been being asked to do work that was beyond her capabilities, and the other department manager may have been frustrated by that.

      That the OP describes the work she was doing on the project with the lower level employee from the other team as grunt work and something she could do in her sleep makes me wonder this as well.

      Using school as an example. If 2 8th graders are paired up on a project, and 2 5th graders are paired up on a project, then we can assume the 8th grader project is more difficult than the 5th grader project.

      In this scenario, one of the 5th graders was struggling, and the other 5th grader didn’t have the knowledge to help them out. Instead of the struggling 5th grader being tutored separately, they were put with one of the 8th graders on the 8th grade project, and the 8th grader was told to make it work.

      Meanwhile, the other 8th grader moved down to work on the 5th grade project with the 5th grader, and had a much easier time.

      If I was the 8th grader stuck with the 5th grader on the 8th grade project, I would be pissed. Because the 5th grader didn’t have the capacity to do the work that needed to be done. (And it’s not even the 5th grader’s fault entirely, they’re just not ready for that kind of work yet. And especially if they were struggling with 5th grade work.) And even more pissed that I’m stuck doing my work, and trying to get the 5th grader to do the work of an 8th grader, while the other 8th grader is coasting along doing 5th grade work with a competent 5th grader. I’m doing double work, while they’re doing like .5 work.

  35. cheluzal*

    I was not expecting so many people to attack LW. Listen, some people are just bad employees, period, and no amount of anything will change it. We have to accept that.

  36. Chaordic One*

    From the point of view of the Direct Report, I really don’t blame her for leaving, and I think she’ll be better off elsewhere. I’m really glad the DR realized that she was in a less-than-ideal situation, that she had options, and that she displayed the “grit and gumption” to launch the job search. Good for the DR!

    The OP didn’t completely fail the DR, but by the time the OP took action it was late in the game. The lack of timely recognition (i.e., the promotion and raises) made the DR’s decision to leave easy. It does appear that the OP has learned a bit from the experience and will do better managing in the future. Not exactly a “win-win” situation, but something of a draw.

  37. Rez123*

    Obviously I don’t know the employee but somehow I immediately felt like I could relate to her. For some reason my current job has broken my professional confidence. In my previous office I was a lot more independent, proactive and confident decision maker. I’ve been in my current job a few years and I still feel like I’m running to my manager for hand holding and advice all the time. My current work is so structured and mistakes are not tolerated that I’m constantly insecure.

    I wouldn’t say that OP failed as a manager. Could be that the employee wasn’t right fit for the company, OP was still learning management, styles didn’t match. It’s completely possible that the employee is better off now in somewhere else and could be that you will get a better employee.

  38. Ele4phant*

    Late to the party here, but I’d say while you haven’t failed here, you could’ve done some things differently and this was a good learning experience for you.

    Sounds like while some of the changes you made were right on, you also didn’t quite get the feedback loop in place that was necessary. As a result, another manager had to call you out, and your employee didn’t get the immediate feedback they needed and didn’t understand where they stood. Would that’ve righted the ship? Eh, hard to say, but you’ve got this experience under your belt for next time.

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