I manage a horrible micromanager

A reader writes:

I recently accepted a management job at a design firm. My main duty is to oversee the implementation of a large-scope, three-year plan with multiple projects under its umbrella. The plan began before I came onboard, but I was hired specifically to see in through. Each project has a project manager who reports directly to me. I’m generally easy-going about other people’s leadership styles but am having great difficulty with one project manager: “Fergusia.”

Fergusia leads (or micromanages) a team of 16 people. Her tactics have led to poor morale and to what I see as wasting time. Nearly every time a team member makes a mistake, she assumes it’s indicative of a larger problem and re-training/new processes ensue. For example:

• “Janet” once made a small math error, so Fergusia decided she didn’t understand how percentages work and made her do an online math lesson. Fergusia now meticulously checks Janet’s work before letting anyone else see it, which can bottleneck the workload for hours/days. Janet, in fact, majored in math; she just made a single error.

• “Brad” accidentally forgot a step in a complicated process. Now everyone has to fill-out a daily checklist and have it approved by Fergusia to prove steps aren’t being missed. This isn’t the only such checklist, but they all seem to result in extra work with little payoff.

• Fergusia requires everyone to copy her on every email, internal and external, so she knows what’s going on. She does the same, creating a huge slog of emails through which her team must navigate each day.

There’s more, but essentially Fergusia feels the need for massive oversight. She doesn’t break company rules, but she doesn’t treat her team well. From my perspective, Team Fergusia has more seasoned, competent employees than the other teams, but gets less work done. They don’t seem to make more errors than other teams, but they do have more time-consuming preventative measures.

Several of Fergusia’s team members have come to me requesting transfers to other teams, but we don’t have room to do that without entirely restructuring the company. I’ve spoken to Fergusia about these issues, gently suggesting that sometimes mistakes are “one offs” and pointing out that people generally function better in situations in which they aren’t so closely monitored. Fergusia replied that she knows what she’s doing and that I don’t seem to have issues with the other project managers. To be honest, I don’t. Some of them have mildly unorthodox methods, but their teams are happy, productive, and efficient. Technically, I have the power to terminate or transfer positions, but Fergusia is the daughter-in-law of a family friend of the CEO.

Can you suggest ways to coach Fergusia into some different leadership methods? I’ve thought of doing a re-training/coaching session with all of the project managers, but the others are not a problem and I don’t want to waste their time. What can I do here?

You are overseeing a terrible manager, and that means that you need to act swiftly and with far more authority than you’ve done so far! You need to get much more direct and much more hands-on.

Right now, you’re sort of standing on the sidelines, saying things like, “Well, it might be better if you tried X” and “People would likely respond better to Y.”

You can’t do that in a situation like this.

Your job is to manage Fergusia, and right now she’s doing her own job terribly. You need to step in as assertively as you would step in if she were blowing some other core piece of her job — like if she were abusing clients or filing incorrect documents with government regulators. This isn’t a “hint and be gentle” situation, and approaching it that way isn’t fair to her (since she deserves to clearly understand how you want her to operate) or to her team (since they’re stuck working under this awfulness), and it’s also not fair to your employer, which hired you in part to ensure the managers under you, including Fergusia, are performing well.

So you need to sit down with her and be very, very clear. Tell her that the way she’s managing her team is leading to terrible morale, wasted time, and bottlenecks. Tell her it’s already affecting the results her team is getting, and the problems are likely to get worse because she’s not going to be able to retain good people, who won’t stick around in this kind of environment. Tell her that you suspect she’s managing this way because she’s not sure how else to ensure she gets quality work from people, and so you’re going to work with her closely for the next few months to help her manage differently — and so she can learn more effective ways to ensure work gets done and gets done well.

And then really do that. People who micromanage like this tend to do it because they genuinely don’t know how else to oversee a team, so if you want to keep her on, you’re going to need to train her in how to manage. That means setting aside significant time to really dig into what systems she has in place now to oversee work, and helping her put different ones in place … and then following up with her weekly for a while to explore how that’s working, make sure she’s sticking to the new systems you agree on, and spot any other places where your intervention is needed.

In doing this, you’re going to need to be very directive. This isn’t “maybe you could try a different way.” This is “to meet the expectations of your role, I need you to stop doing X and start doing Y.” That includes telling her that she needs to stop being copied on everyone’s emails, she needs to stop with the online math lessons for people who make a single math error (!), and she needs stop with the demeaning processes she’s put in place for Janet and Brad. There are probably a lot more things you’ll need to tell her directly to stop — so when you start this training overhaul, make sure you really dig into what she’s doing now.

You’ll also need to tell her what systems she should be using, because you don’t want this to devolve into “Well, LetterWriter told me not to check people’s work so I guess I’ll just sit back and be totally hands-off and let the chips fall where they may.” Once you root out her bad practices, you need to then replace them with things like, “You’re going to have weekly check-ins with each staff member, where you’ll check in on progress and debrief recent work. Let’s do the first few together so I can coach you.”

None of this is optional, for you or for Fergusia. She needs to manage effectively, period. And because your job is to manage her, you need to ensure she’s doing that — or you’re falling down on your job just as much as she is.

As you move into this process with her, pay a lot of attention to how receptive she is. It’s possible she’ll be relieved to get training and help managing her team. If so, and she’s open to learning how to do this, great. But if she’s resistant or you don’t see significant improvement fairly quickly, at that point you’ll need to start thinking about whether you can keep her in the role. And yes, she’s the daughter-in-law of a family friend of the CEO, but in a reasonably functional company that won’t mean you’re stuck with her no matter what. It’s worth starting to talk now to whoever can fill you in on the politics of that situation, and prepping your own boss so she’s not blindsided if things reach that point.

Ultimately, when you’re managing anyone — managers, photographers, accountants, whoever — you’re responsible for ensuring they’re doing their work well, and you must intervene if they’re not. If you were managing, say, a photographer and they kept showing up to shoots without a camera, alienating their subjects, and taking out-of-focus photos, you’d address that, right? You’d lay out the expectations you needed them to meet, give feedback about where they were going wrong, and hold them accountable for meeting the requirements of their job. It’s no different here: Fergusina’s work is managing, not photography, and you need to be active and assertive in overseeing that work.

Last, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s a lot of avoidance in your letter — the gentle suggestions and the musing about retraining everyone, rather than directly telling Fergusina this isn’t acceptable. It’s worth reflecting on whether you tend to avoid direct feedback and soften messages in difficult situations. If you do, you have a lot of company! But you’ve got to actively work to combat that or it’ll have really negative effects on your team, and will keep you from being an effective manager yourself.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 364 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    this sort of management can be as detrimental to the team as a number of other things I’d like to think OP would act swiftly and directly on. Fergusina needs to change her behavior completely or not be a manager, and needs to be told that in no uncertain terms immediately.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “Fergusina needs to change her behavior completely or not be a manager, and needs to be told that in no uncertain terms immediately.”

      Yep. DIL of a friend of the CEO or not.

      1. Colin*

        I’m curious as to where LW got the implication that she was untouchable as the DIL of the CEO’s friend. That many degrees of separation doesn’t typically warrant the kind of immunity she seems to be getting. Many people would be willing to do a favour by hiring someone like that, but that doesn’t mean they want them sticking around if they are genuinely hurting the company.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Also, the flip side of this kind of nepotism is that Fergusia is expected not to make the family friend look bad.

          1. JokeyJules*

            when i worked for a family member for a very brief time, i felt i was held to an even higher standard. Never late, always prepared, jump in to help any time i could. It’s weird to me to read otherwise.

            1. Snark*

              I worked on my parents’ delivery truck when I was a kid. Rise and grind, fam. All about that hustle. Being the boss’ kid, I needed to work ten times harder just so they didn’t think I was dead weight.

              1. Rainy*

                My grandparents were entrepreneurs and their sons worked in the family businesses from the time they could tote a bucket of mortar or see over the counter. My dad spent ages working his 9-5 M-F and managing the family restaurant back in his hometown at weekends, and only stopped when he got married.

                My aunt, on the other hand, was the child of my grandparents’ latter years–benefitted from the wealth but never saw the grind, basically–and she and her husband are absolutely useless. Were given a family business and then ran it into the ground and had to sell it at a loss.

          2. whingedrinking*

            Yup. I once got a job courtesy of my mom’s cousin. Not only were we not close enough relatives that I could reasonably expect him to bail me out if I screwed up, I had to work extra hard because everybody knew I was the sound producer’s “niece or something” (eg, not automatically there on my own merits) and it could reflect badly on him if I weren’t reasonably competent.

        2. Genny*

          That was my first thought as well. This is about three degrees of separation from the company (CEO to friend; friend to child; child to spouse). I doubt the CEO is particularly close to Fregusina as a person to the point that the CEO would be willing to keep around a micro-manager who’s killing team morale and productivity.

          1. Rainy*

            I have to wonder if the impression of untouchability is coming from the CEO, or from Fergusia.

            1. Kathleen_A*

              I was wondering that, too. OP, unless the CEO has talked about this special relationship directly to you or to someone whose testimony you can trust, I’d just ignore it if I were you. It ought not be a factor, and it in fact probably isn’t a factor, unless you’ve got some pretty strong indications otherwise.

            2. SierraSkiing*

              Or from OP, who may be feeling overly sensitive to possible conflict since she’s new in her position.

        3. AMT*

          Also, even if she’s the CEO’s twin sister, a lot of CEOs wouldn’t want their employees to feel that their relatives were “untouchable.” Absent any other indications that Fergusia is allowed more leeway, the LW should assume that Fergusia is a normal employee who can be fired or demoted.

        4. Occasional Baker*

          It absolutely happens. It’s happening at my company right now. Upon return from a medical leave, the worker was given an administrator job for which they are completely unsuited. They are 2 plus YEARS in, still making DAILY “first 90 days” mistakes, even though they are pointed out ( because the work has to be checked over!!!!!!), they decided not to take notes, and so still make errors, they have no basic office skills (filing, FFS). When directly told “do/say/tell this”, they will paraphrase, which changes the meaning greatly, or omit detail. They completely decided not to adhere to office culture (told not to wear headphones, but persist ). Their absence / out of office is so excessive, departments that they have zero involvement with are aware and commenting. They always claim not to know the procedures (which is why notes would be helpful!), can’t spot their own mistakes when handed work back with recommendation to review, and generally drain morale daily.
          CEO would be extremely displeased to have to hear about any of this. And apparently, the manager level has no leverage to deal with it either. The rest of the company is required, and expected, to try to damage control for the lack in that position.
          These situations exist.

          1. TardyTardis*

            One that happened at Toxic ExCompany is that UberBoss fired his own son for screwing up. That heartened everyone else saddled with the rest of the relatives.

      2. Important Moi*

        To those who think Fergusina is removed enough from the CEO that addressing her may not be problematic, I would point Fugrusina has been micromanaging prior to LW’s arrival, so Fergusina may have protection. How has she been able to micromanage for so long? Hence, the letter.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          This is the sort of problem that lots of easy-going managers would have problems managing. I don’t think it can be taken as a sign of a systemic problem that permeates the whole organization, unless the OP has seen other signs of mismanagement.

          Unless the OP has received some strong signals from the CEO or from someone else whose perceptions she can trust that Fergusina has special status, I think she is pretty safe in assuming that she can treat her the same way she treats the other managers that report to her. The relationship between the CEO and Fergusina is not one that screams “Oh, Fergusina is immune to criticism,” or at least it doesn’t scream that to me. Wife of the son of a friend of his family? That’s pretty dang remote, I’d say.

          1. valentine*

            The prison-like punishment for a single error, especially ongoing punishment for the group over one person’s single error, warrants an immediate (professional version of) “Oh, hell, no”. I understand being easy-going with managers who are doing well, but what does Fergusia have to do for OP to flat-out tell her no as soon as she hears about it?

            1. Kathleen_A*

              The OP absolutely should. But the OP hasn’t been there very long, so it could be that those things were never reported to anybody who could do anything about it – until now, of course. Now that they’ve been reported, someone with authority over Fergusina needs to step in. Like, now.

            2. Genny*

              It’s not clear from the letter whether OP’s position was created to oversee the 3-year project or whether the position existed before the 3-year project. It’s possible no one has quite been in charge of Fergusina before (or not clearly in charge in such a way that would prompt them to quickly address the situation). It’s also possible Fergusina is protected and the LW limited in what she can do. I think it’s worthwhile for her to push back on the assumption that Fergusina is untouchable first. If she finds out that Fergusina is untouchable, then LW can start looking for new jobs or decide to live with the situation.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          I wonder whether perhaps Fergusia has had something like either a few changes in manager, or was managed by someone who was quite high up or remote for some reason and didn’t notice? My Fergusia was initially managed by an assistant director who didn’t have a lot of time to deal with her. In a restructure she ended up being line managed by someone who was her neighbour and friend, which brought in a weird dynamic.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          “How has she been able to micromanage for so long?”

          The LW is letting her get away with it, so why should we assume anyone else should have corrected her? She’s been able to micromanage for so long because none of her own managers bothered to deal with it.

      3. Anita Brayke*

        I agree with this, not least because when her manager made suggestions to her, she told the manager she knows what she’s doing and that her manager didn’t have a problem with any other people on her level (basically). What an attitude right off the bat!!

      1. Checklist fan*

        I am a big fan of checklists.

        In medicine, doctors hated using checklists in the operating theatre, but doing so drastically reduced things like sponges being accidentally left inside patients.

        I am not endorsing the other examples of micromanagement, but introducing the use of checklists is not one of them.

        1. Observer*

          The problem is not that there are checklists. It’s that “everyone has to fill-out a daily checklist and have it approved by Fergusia

          This is not how effective checklists are used. Also, they aren’t punitive, the ARE designed with the input of staff, they rarely add much (if any) work, and the people in charge can generally see the payoff. None of those statements are true here.

          1. Kaaaaaren*

            Yes — it’s the “…and have it approved by Fergusina” aspect that is ridiculous. I also love check lists, and I think they can be extremely useful for keeping track of complex processes, but I would not like to have to submit a daily check list of work tasks to my boss. If she had presented the check list as a “useful tool” to make sure nothing is overlooked while doing Big Complex Task, that would be totally fine and even helpful.

        2. Helena*

          I also work in medicine, and it depends a lot on the checklist.

          Surgical checklists (right patient, right procedure, checking in and out instruments) are useful. But this sounds more like a “shoe on foot? Tick. Shoelace tied? Tick” style checklist, which wastes time and encourages people to cheat, by putting both shoes on and then just ticking it all off at a later date, which rather defeats the point.

          The phrase “tick-box exercise” is used for petty and pointless form-filling/ass-covering, and it certainly isn’t something to aspire to.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I know roles can be defined differently at different companies, but the role of a Project Manager is to manage the project, not the team involved in working on the project. Yes, you hold the team responsible and accountable when necessary, but you are not in a supervisory role of those people. Sounds like Fergusina is on a power trip and needs to be put in her place.

      1. JokeyJules*

        OP notes that she is a team lead, which means different things in different companies. fergusina might be responsible for looking over peoples work or giving the final check or review before submission, not to this level, though.

      2. PMP*

        This is not the case at all companies, at a projectized company, you are managing both the project and the team performing the project so she is likely the team’s actual manager as OP states…

      1. Ethyl*

        I was bullied by a terrible, sexist ex-boss, and one of the ways that manifested was relentless micromanaging. It’s SO terrible for morale regardless of intent, but it really can cross the line and I think LW needs to get a lot firmer before it gets worse.

  2. Alice*

    I note that Fergusina pointed out to OP that OP doesn’t have problems with other PMs. So, Fergusina is somehow making enough time, not only to micromanage her team and read all their emails, but also to keep an eye on how OP interacts with all the other PMs? No wonder Fergusina’s team doesn’t get much done.
    Good luck, OP — you’ve identified the problem.

    1. WellRed*

      I always hate it when the response to feedback is, “Well, so and so does it” Smacks of the childish, “it’s not faaaaaaair.”

        1. Lance*

          And as a further point to that, fair =/= equal, even though they’re often conflated (and understandably so).

        2. Colette*

          But often fair isn’t the goal. People miss out on interviews because they had car problems, and they don’t necessarily get another shot because the business’s goal is to hire a great candidate and they have already found one; employees have to work undesirable shifts a coworker was scheduled for because the coworker got sick; a less-qualified candidate gets a promotion because they had more visibility than a better candidate. Unfair stuff happens, because that’s how life is.

          1. Karen from Finance*

            I know. My warning was about being careful about taking such a hard stance on that, because sometimes unfair things do happen that should be adressed. Sometimes there really are situations where an employee is being treated unfairly as compared to others employees and they wouldn’t always be wrong to point it out, annoying as though it may be.

              1. Karen from Finance*

                Agreed. Was just pointing out to be “careful” because WellRed said “I always hate it… “. I just wanted to state that it’s not a good policy to have in such broad general terms, without listening to the case first.

                It’s common that managers don’t actually listen to their team members, that’s why such a blanket statement gave me pause. But I really wasn’t trying to make a big deal out of it.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Our OP should say that. Even if it seems kind of mean. Don’t use mean tones, etc., but tell the truth.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Yes, OP even said that in their letter; other managers are unorthodox but their teas are efficient, high-producing, and have good morale. So say that to Fergusia.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            That, and point out the other managers’ teammembers aren’t begging to be transferred away from thm

            1. Thulcandran*

              I would avoid telling Fergusia other team members are begging to be transferred away from her. If she guesses who, or even if she doesn’t, that could create really toxic dynamics. It just doesn’t seem like something she needs to know – so long as she knows her management style is ineffective and produces less work.

              1. Autumnheart*

                Agreed. If she’s already into “punishing” her reports with demeaning remedial work when they make one mistake, I don’t think it would be a stretch for her to start retaliating against those reports she suspects of wanting to leave the team. I would say not to give her any further ammunition.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yeah. And to the OP, if Fergusia comes back at you with that kind of a response, DON’T try to defend the other person or get drawn into a discussion about the “fairness” of the situation. Something along the lines of “We’re not talking about Jenny right now. We’re talking about you, and what I need you to do.” and rinse and repeat any time she tries to drag you off topic to defend herself using other people as a shield. Do not give her so much as a single toehold into that other discussion, keep it tightly focused on Fergusia’s behavior, otherwise she’ll take that toehold and climb the whole bloody mountain of That’s Not What We’re Talking About Here, Dammit.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          You can also say, “Those are private discussions, just like our discussion here is private.”

    2. Engineer Girl*

      It is such a bizarre response! It’s essentially saying “you’re not correcting others”. Well, no. Other groups don’t have a severe morale problem. And that’s the response that needs to be given.

      Also want to note other details that popped up for me.

      – Procedures are great but they need to add value. If a procedure isn’t reducing the errors then it is a time suck and creating inefficiencies. The error rate for the team with the procedures is the same as other teams. That means the procedures aren’t working. Point this out to Fergusia.

      – Requiring approval from a single person always creates a time sucking gate. At the bare minimum there needs to be an alternate checker. Even have people cross check someone’s work (second set of eyes is common for precision industries). That said, there is a certain level where it shouldn’t be required. Sign offs create inefficiencies in process flow.

      – People miss critical emails when they are flooded with them. Once again, Fergusia is creating more inefficiencies.

      The focus for Fergusia is that her team is spending more time to create less product than the other teams. She has made her team inefficient through her policies and that’s what needs to be addressed on the technical side. And on the human side she is belittling her reports by treating them as children.

      Another issue for Fergusia – she seems to be seeing things as black/white instead of by degree. That’s why she isn’t creating a measured response to the errors. They are either GOOD or EVIL. She is responding to mistakes as major failures.

      In closing, Fergusia is lacking in critical thinking skills. She doesn’t seem to see the effects of her policies. Explicitly show her the error rates, the product output, etc of her team compared to others. Without hard numbers she won’t beleive you that there is a problem.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        BTW, the focus on measurable items shows both issues and improvements. OP should use metrics to show Fergusia that there is a problem as well as use them for tracking improvement. Otherwise Fergusia will continue to argue with OP that there is no problem.

        – error rates Vs hours spent on product compared to other teams
        – overall work output compared to other teams
        – requests to transfer out compared to other teams
        – fill in the blank

        These hard numbers are the ones you will need to show to upper management if Fergusia complains or you need to terminate her.

        1. valentine*

          Just removing the cc-ing and checklist horror should have an immediate positive effect on productivity and morale.

          OP can just shut down Fergusia when she argues. There’s no need to give employees the floor on everything, especially when they’re doing so badly, they’d be an excellent saboteur.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I would NOT just shut her down. I would show her hard numbers.
            That way when she complains of being bullied you can prove that you were rational and fair. It also shows you were using appropriate standards and not bullying.
            But after you show the numbers it’s totally appropriate to hold her to them and use them as the standard. No more arguments about the standard.

          2. designbot*

            I’d worry that just shutting her down would cause her to throw up her hands and be like “If you don’t want me to manage, fine!”
            Instead I’d try the let’s-just-try-this-for-a-while technique, get her to sign on to a month without these processes, and measure error rates during that month. If they’re within OP’s tolerances, they stay gone. And she should feel free to share that this is a trial run and if everyone shows they can produce well without these measures they will be free of their shackles for good.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      That seemed like such a weird thing to say. Like, yes, Fergusina–that’s kind of the whole point of this conversation? I only have a problem with you which is why I have come to tell you that you need to change what you are doing…

    4. Nic*

      Yeah, it’s such a childish response – and it’s only valid when you’re using to point out that a manager is holding you to stricter standards than other people, not when the manager is telling you that they are holding you to the same standards as everyone else. OP is not being unfair or singling her out when the problem is that all the other managers are managing their teams well and have good productivity, but her team stands out from the rest as having low productivity as a direct result of her (bad) management style!

    5. miss_chevious*

      Yeah, the response to that comment is “you aren’t privy to my feedback on other managers; we’re here to talk about you.” She’s using it as an excuse, even if it’s right, just like a child would. I suspect OP is going to get a lot of these avoidance strategies from Fergusina, and the key is to just keep redirecting her to your expectations until she complies or leaves.

  3. Karen from Finance*

    I think this is an excellent question, in that it shows us a POV that we don’t often see. We’re used to seeing this situation from the employee’s side, or even from the micromanager’s side, but I’m often left wondering “do the higher-ups not realize this is happening, or are they just ignoring it?”. I’d never actually considered that they were trying to deal with it but didn’t know how. Very enlightening in that sense.

      1. WellRed*

        Me too! I have a feeling the update will be Fergusia is no longer working there, at least in her current role.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          My cynical update:

          “Fergusina remains in her role, micromanaging her staff. There has been full turnover of her group, as everyone who could has left for a better job, and we’re losing clients left and right due to her. After I spoke to Fergusina, she became upset and marched right into the CEO’s office to complain I was harassing her. I’ve been sent to interpersonal relations training and put on a PIP by my manager, who is angry that I’ve “been bullying Fergusina and can’t get along with anyone.” I am looking for a new job and am currently in therapy.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is a great reason for OP to clue her boss into what she is doing and why she is doing it. If pressed OP can add that it looks like Miss Management is using her connection to the CEO to do as she wishes, rather than treat people fairly and do good work.

    1. ursula*

      Yeah, this! Also as someone who has worked under an intense micromanager, it is heartening to see someone actually trying to intervene on this behaviour from a subordinate rather than just leaving the team under Fergusina to suffer. I know that seems like the minimum we should be able to expect from our boss’s bosses, but I think we all know it often doesn’t happen.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Well, technically, at the moment she *is* leaving the team to suffer. She tried some indirect hinting and when that didn’t work she went “welp, I tried.”

        1. Jadelyn*

          I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization, especially given OP took the step of writing in to an advice blog like this one to specifically ask for advice on how to continue trying to intervene with Fergusia. Someone who’s thrown up their hands and said “welp, I tried” doesn’t then continue to ask for help figuring out how to approach the issue.

          1. serenity*

            To say that she is currently leaving the rest of this team to flounder is an accurate characterization, however unpleasant that may be for OP to hear.

            And it’s nice that she wrote in to AAM but it’s actually probably better for her to hear unequivocally, as she did from Alison, that she’s not doing her job effectively right now. Sugarcoating the situation in this instance wouldn’t do the OP any favors. In fact, it would lead her to maybe not recognize the urgency required.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              She didn’t fix it on the first try so she’s looking for new ideas.
              In my world that’s not “leaving staff to flounder.”

        2. LawBee*

          “She tried some indirect hinting and when that didn’t work she wrote into a well-known and respected advice blog dedicated to answering exactly these types of questions, and asked for help.”

          Kind of the exact opposite of “welp, I tried”.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I think Alison was role-modeling the tone OP needs to use with her employee. “Here is what you need to do…”
          As I read through Alison’s post I could not help but think of the tone of voice one would use to guide a group of people out of a burning building.
          OP, you have a “burning building scenario” here. This woman is running people’s health and possibly their lives. You are in a position to stop it.
          But she is stubborn and she is pushy, you will have to match her strength or use a little more strength in order to get her on track. “Please, put the fire out” won’t work here. “You need to put the fire out right away” is the message she has to hear. And it’s probably the only message she will hear.

          She manages like a person who is terrified of failure. Ironically, she is failing massively because of her fear of failing.

      2. Natatat*

        Yes, in my last job the Director who oversaw my awful boss (micro-manager, emotionally manipulative) directly witnessed the problems in some cases and was told by those of us affected as well. There was alot of turn over in that office because of the boss. And if the Director was addressing the behaviour at all, it had no noticeable affect, as the boss didn’t change. I get the feeling the Director wasn’t being direct enough in speaking to the boss. At least I hope so, rather than thinking the Director just looked the other way.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          To be fair, Alison’s suggestion is also a *lot* of work. OP’s going to spend half her time on this for a while. It may not have been something that your Director had the time to address. I like my boss’s boss, but he wouldn’t have time to deal with this level of poor management; he’s doing a full time ‘strategy and problem solving’ job on top of his ‘people managing’ role.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s a lot of work. It’s not half time though. It can be done in 3-5 hours a week if you spend those 3-5 hours really focused on the right things and are willing to move swiftly if you see you’re not getting the results you need. That’s still a lot of time though! But it’s part of the job. You HAVE to do it if you’re managing, or you need to cut the person loose.

      3. anonny*

        I report to a Director at my company and a fellow manager also reports to that same Director. The manager is a micromanager like OP’s report. It’s really bad. Lately her employees have been coming to their grandboss, the Director, and complaining about her and he just says “work it out with Fergusina, not with me.” He completely avoids responsibility and the morale on our team is super low. It’s frustrating.

        1. Former Employee*

          It’s a bad sign when the big boss acts as if a personnel problem is a personal problem.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah, I feel like because the Op is the newer person, she doesn’t yet realize her authority.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Agreed! I love that the LW wrote in, I love seeing this perspective and I love everything about Alison’s response including how detailed it is. As I build up my management experience, I’ll eventually (maybe? probably?) be managing managers instead of just individual contributors.

      And this is so helpful all around: contextualizing my past nightmare experience, illuminating some of the challenges my current manager is undoubtedly facing, and prepping me much better for the future.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Also the first time I was given an ‘assistant’ (who I had no say in hiring/firing) I was ENTIRELY avoidant about managing him when he really did need very close supervision and coaching — or more realistically, was straight up not good for the role. My floundering there wasn’t good for me, my employer nor the employee.

        I can definitely sympathize with the OP’s not wanting to address the awkwardness head-on, but fortunately I’ve mostly worked through that at this point.

  4. Amber Rose*

    I feel like LW is maybe worried about being a micromanager? But this isn’t micro managing. It’s training.

    And don’t let conversations go into redirects about other teams. This isn’t a comparison thing. It’s about what is happening right now in this team.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, it’s actual managing. OP, employees are probably silently going, OMG pleeeeeeeze do something!

      I do hope the company is reasonably functional. I cringed when I read “daughter-in-law of a family friend of the CEO,” although that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a rat’s nest of mob-level nepotism.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        TBH a company that has a special place for a “daughter-in-law of a family friend of the CEO,” is indicative of problems. The CEO’s son is one thing – but the further removed you get that, you suddenly start having special treatment for 100 or 500 special nepotism hires??

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Agreed. I know it’s not slam dunk, smoking gun evidence for “nepotism rats nest,” (love that, btw) but it sure points that way. When you get to the level of, “We can’t fire her! She’s the CEO’s dad’s friend’s kid’s wife…” ya got problems.

          “Can you make sure this job candidate gets an interview? She’s the CEO’s next-door neighbor’s daughter’s college roommate.”
          “Oooh, don’t piss him off. His mom is friends with a lady whose mother lives next door to the CEO’s mother in assisted living.”
          “So we need to give Fred a second look for the management promotion. It turns out his brother did a really great restoration job on the CEO’s nephew’s car.”

          1. valentine*

            It could be that Fergusia is desperate to prove herself and going about it hamfistedly.

        2. Jadelyn*

          On the other hand, I could easily see a situation where someone at that level of remove *got* their job because someone highly placed was able to send her the job posting ahead of time or something, but the direct involvement of that highly placed person ended there. Which is why I really agree with Alison’s suggestion to talk to OP’s own manager or someone else who can help advise on the politics of the situation, to see if this is really a “Fergusia is untouchable and the CEO will fire me if I try to manage her” or if it’s really a “the CEO helped Fergusia get hired but isn’t going to interfere further.”

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Yeah, I think it remains to be seen whether Fergusia is untouchable or not. There was an employee at one of my former jobs who was next-door neighbors with the CEO, and the CEO voluntold the hiring manager for the position to hire her. We thought she was untouchable, and I guess she did, too, until one day she came in in a bad mood and cursed out the rest of the staff. Someone slipped away and got the CEO, and he fired her himself that same day.

        3. Yorick*

          It may not actually be that far removed. If the CEO is a friend of the family, he may basically be the DIL’s friend (may have seen the son grow up, may have gone to the wedding, etc.)

      2. Fergus*

        I know what I would do and I bet the employees under her are doing when they can’t transfer. I think they call it transfer to another company and it has a name called job hunting.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*


          I worked for a micromanager for 6 weeks before I started job searching. In addition to micromanaging in humiliating ways, he would always “punish” us by misquoting work productivity mantras and “grounding” us (in the “no TV for a week sense”) by taking away work and professionally development opportunities that we enjoyed. The language and tone were totally that of a parent punishing or chastising a young kid. To top it off, that was how he treated me when I was performing really well and surpassing all my targets and deliverables.

          I was happily gone within 3 months.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            The CEO of Apple prior to Steve Jobs rather notoriously gave an all-hands talk where the tone of voice was identical to a parent saying “don’t make me have to stop this car”.

            We all know how that ended :)

        2. PB*

          Yes, exactly. They’ve already tried to transfer internally. When they were told it wouldn’t be possible, I would bet a stack of doughnuts that they immediately started updating their resumes.

      3. neverjaunty*

        They aren’t silently doing anything – they’ve explicitly told OP they want to leave! And they’re going to leave the company if this isn’t fixed fast, because switching away from Fergusina isn’t an option.

    2. EPLawyer*

      But by worrying about being a micromanager she almost fell into the same trap as Fergusina. F is the problem so let’s retrain ALL the managers is the same as Brad made a mistake so EVERYONE has to do a checklist now.

      Managing is dealing with the problem. The problem is F is micromanaging. You do not end that by wasting the time of others. Because I guarantee you that will only result in THEM feeling micromanaged and F ignoring it because she manages just fine, thank you very much.

      If someone needs to change something you need to be very direct with the person about what needs to change and what it needs to change to. It benefits everyone to do this.

      1. KC*

        Agree. I worked at a company where this was the expected management style. As a team lead it felt like wasted time and I wanted to address issues head on with individuals. Moving to upper management, it was embarrassing/humiliating in the weekly management meeting when the president or owner would give feedback to the entire team about one persons actions. We always knew who the feedback was pointed at. It was toxic, knowing what should’ve been coworkers’ confidential personnel matters and led to resentments.
        I’m aure all of the project managers would feel this way if they had to sit through management training when they knew the issue was Fergusia.

      2. designbot*

        Exactly. The only reason to do a broad policy based on one person’s missteps would be if you realize the employee in question is just the canary in the coal mine and you’re all likely to have the same problem at some point.

    3. SierraSkiing*

      Agreed. If Fergusina tries a “but you don’t manage everyone else like me”, I’d love to have the OP say something like “Yes, you’re right. I do check in on the other managers to make sure good work is happening, and I talk to them when an issue comes up or when I see an opportunity for improvement. But when I don’t see an issue with their work, I step back and give them the space to do their jobs. Right now, I see multiple issues with your work, so I’m going to be more hands-on with you while we fix them.” It’s a good example for Fergusina on what management should look like.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        Ooh yes. That’s a good, honest and straightforward way to put it; directing things back to Fergusia and being clear without being offensive or personal. “This is the issue, and here’s how we are going to address it.”

        I hope OP sees your comment.

      2. Blue*

        And it sounds like she can directly cite team productivity, if needed. If her team is not producing at the same rate despite having high-quality people, that’s absolutely grounds for looking more closely at how she’s running things.

    4. LQ*

      Absolutely. I think it’s good to stop and think about what it means to be a micromanager and what it means to be a manager.

      Micromanager: Telling people how to do things they already know how to do and are demonstrating they know how to do by routinely doing it. Dictating process that is irrelevant to outcomes (ie you must use word not one note to take notes during meetings vs you must sent out the meeting notes in word and have that done by the end of the day)
      Management: Clear and direct communication about expected results, identification of where those results are not being met (results can include things like relationships with coworkers, not being a jerk whatever, not just 16 widgets per day), standards that are well defined.

      I kind of think that OP might be missing management by being a little too subtle.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        And this isn’t really just Fergusia being a micromanager. This is her being a horrible, condescending jerkass. Some micromanagers are kind enough, just really insecure, and lots of people can pretty much shrug that off.

        1. Jadelyn*

          That’s an important distinction! Fergusia isn’t just micromanaging, she’s being a jerk.

          The CEO of my company is a wee bit micro-manage-y at times. Literally any deliverable you give him will come back with a handful of tiny, tiny little tweaks he wants done. Things like “change the header color on this table” and “move the page numbers to the center of the page and in Garamond font specifically”. The first few times it happened to me, I freaked out, wondering if I had really screwed up – and then I realized, that’s just Sam. Sam’s gonna Sam, it’s how he feels ~involved~ with the work, it’s not personal. Just roll your eyes, make his stupid changes, and let it go.

          On the other hand, my former manager was the condescending micromanager type. She didn’t trust us to handle things, would literally dictate the exact wording for our emails at times because she didn’t seem to feel like we were capable of handling a simple email (and this was not a team that had ever had communication issues before she came in as the manager, so this was not a manager solving an issue, this was a manager being the issue), any single tiny error suddenly became A Huge Emergency and we all needed to review every single process and redesign everything from the ground up, tried to demand we make changes to configuration of a software system that we literally couldn’t even make (and got upset with me when I told her “you don’t get it, this is system architecture, this is how it’s designed to function. There’s a lot of things I can configure in there, but the thing you want isn’t one of them.”), responded to emails hours after we’d already taken care of the issue to say “Jadelyn will send you this”…it drove us all up a wall.

          I can handle Sam because it’s not personal, it’s not a reflection on my abilities or work product. It’s just his insecurity at feeling like he’s disconnected from the day-to-day work since he started when we had a whole 8 employees and now we have almost 300, and he’s not rude about it. My former manager, on the other hand, it was personal, she felt that none of her staff were capable of doing their jobs without her standing over us, she assumed that any single mistake was indicative of a Serious Problem, and she was not kind about it at all.

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      I think your second point is very important for OP to keep in mind.

      “This isn’t about them, it’s about you and how you are managing *your* team.”

      1. Alianora*

        This makes the most sense. For all Fergusina knows, there could be problems with the other managers. But on a well-functioning team, people shouldn’t be aware of the details their peers’ feedback unless it directly affects them.

    6. fposte*

      I also think that sometimes there’s a managerial equilibrium–that if managers at one level are too loose and hands off, managers at another level may overtighten in response. It’s the managerial equivalent of people who don’t fare well in an unlimited PTO situation and therefore take *no* time off. So OP, it’s really, really true that you’re not just helping Fergusia’s staff but also Fergusia to give her clear and specific notes on what is and isn’t good managerial action.

    7. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      But OP’s question: “I’ve thought of doing a re-training/coaching session with all of the project managers, but the others are not a problem and I don’t want to waste their time. What can I do here?”
      is to do exactly what Fergusia is doing.
      I won’t tell her that she is wrong. I will just have everyone sit through a seminar about management and hope she sees herself and has a come to the light moment and change her entire personality and performance 100%.
      Honestly OP, I don’t want to be brutal here, but all I can’t help but extrapolate…
      Everyone else will know it’s about her, but they also know that she’s distantly connected to the CEO so they understand they will have to sit for two or three hours and listen to a lecture because I am not comfortable having a conversation where I explicitly state what she needs to change.
      You need to listen to Alison.

      1. President of the Fire Robert Already Club*

        OMG I once left a job because that was the manager’s response to the problem employee.

        Robert sucked at customer service to the point that people would refuse to work with him. (We only worked with internal customers.) The boss responded by redirecting all of Robert’s calls to the rest of the team, then made all of us have a book club with a customer service business book.

        Robert f***ked up a project? All Robert’s work on that project was redistributed to the rest of the team and we had a day of “refresher workshops” on things that only Robert had problems with.

        I left that team after a year, and to this day, Robert and the manager are still there, but nobody else has lasted more than two years. (I am still at that org- just in a different, non Robert related role.)

        DON’T DO THAT. You will lose the rest of your team because they will get sick of their time being wasted because the boss can’t just seem to address the Roberts of the world.

        1. 2 Cents*

          I’m in that situation now, and I’m trying to leave because I’m the excellent worker who always has to pick up everyone else’s slack all.the.time. (and with no recognition because that would hurt people’s feelings!) *fingers crossed*

          1. President of the Fire Robert Already Club*

            I hope you get out soon 2 Cents! Since I still work in the same org, I still hear Robert stories and I’m so glad it does not affect me anymore! (I left that position 10 years ago!)

        2. SusanIvanova*

          Our Robert – Coworker Coffeecup – *did* get fired. It took a very long time and a PIP, and HR insisted my manager have meetings with all of us to assure us that even though he wasn’t allowed to say why Coffeecup got fired, we didn’t have to worry that it was just the first of many. It was very obvious from his tone that he knew that we knew that already :)

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Similar to how sometimes HR sending out a memo about no perfume use in the office, often results in the culprit saying “it couldn’t be me. My perfume is very light”. Rather than addressing the problem directly with the culprit.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          Yes! Very few people are going to think “gee, is it me?” And if they do, is someone in charge willing to say, yes, it is. Or will it be downplayed again, “oh, we just mean in general.”
          Back to square one.

        2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Omg. At my community choir rehearsal we have the director tell us to be sure not to wear perfume from time to time, and I always felt horrible because I try to remember in the mornings of rehearsal not to put it on, but sometimes forget out of habit, so I was sure he was talking about me. I found out a couple weeks or so after one of these admonishments that the person who has the problem with perfume (due to her asthma) is the person who sits directly next to me, and she’d never noticed it on me, but whoever had the perfume that WAS bothering her hadn’t stopped! Really drove home how important it is to talk to the problem children rather than announcing to everyone and hoping the ones with the problem get the message.

        3. Jennifer Juniper*

          Aargh. No perfume in the office means just that! That person must be affected by their own toxic perfume fumes.

    8. Doodle*

      Lol. I’d be so tempted to so,No, I don’t have trouble with the other PMs because, unlike you, they aren’t causing any trouble.

    9. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah I can imagine it seems counterintuitive to OP, but they basically need to *start* doing some of the things they want Fergusina to *stop* doing! The difference is that Fergusina is trying to implement trainings and oversight for one-off mistakes whereas OP resorting to similar measures would be in response to ongoing issues.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Every single micro-manager I’ve ever known who wants to be copied on every single email has never, ever in the history of the world read all those emails. I saw one old boss hitting control and clicking to delete literally hundreds of emails. She did this right in front of me so clearly she didn’t really care about her own rules.

    People like this either start out thinking this is a good idea, give up, and never want to backtrack OR they just want to give the impression they’re reading everything in the hopes direct reports will be more careful.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      I have worked with micromanagers who really do read every email and review detail of the team’s output. It’s almost a complusion to know every little detail of a project. Those micromanagers either work 24/7 or neglect the parts of their job that actually are their direct responsibility.

      It may be worth digging into why Fergusia feels like she needs to micromanage. Does she not know any other way to manage? Did she just fall into bad habits? Or is she unable to function if she’s not deep into the details? I’d be interested to see how hard she pushes back on changing and what her reasons are.

      1. Velvet Cupcake*

        I had a micromanager who wanted to be copied on every email, as a way of learning my job. She didn’t have time to sit with me or read the procedures, but my emails were going to do the job of teaching her my job!

        Yeah, no.

      2. Combinatorialist*

        But why Fergusia feels the need to micromanage isn’t really the OP’s problem and would be overstepping to have a lot of conversations with that. Fergusia should probably dig into that, but OP should just communicate what the problems are and possibly why they are problems, that they need to stop, that it is a serious issue (with escalating consequences), and what she should do instead. Why this might be hard for Fergusia is kind of a distraction from what the OP, Fergusia, and Fergusia’s poor team needs. Because even if Fergusia has very valid emotional reasons for why she is compelled to micromanage, she still needs to stop or she isn’t the right person for the job

        1. Elsajeni*

          It doesn’t matter in that it doesn’t affect what she needs to do — regardless of the reason, she needs to stop. But it may matter in that it will be easier for her to stop if she knows why she’s doing it and can address that underlying reason. It’s true that that’s still more Fergusia’s problem to fix than the OP’s, but it may be a reasonable thing to bring into the coaching, especially if the reasons become obvious — “Fergusia, you’ve mentioned a couple of times that you learned something you’re doing from your first boss. The thing is…”

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Theory, based on no evidence what so ever, Fergusia feels that people look at her as “connected to the CEO” so she wants to prove she’s great at the job. Unfortunately, she isn’t. But not for the reasons that people tend to think nepotism hires are. She’s not dumb, she’s not lazy. She just sucks at managing. Actually, she sucks at managing because she’s trying TOO hard. Poor everyone.

      4. Snark*

        It’s absolutely not worth digging into why she feels the need to micromanage, because it really doesn’t matter. She just needs to stop it. If she doesn’t know any other way to manage, she can learn. If she fell into bad habits, she can break them. If she can’t function without it, she can’t function in the job. But her reasons are not very germane, and paying much attention to them will give her the impression this is a debate, not a disqualifying flaw in her ability to manage people.

      5. Dagny*

        When I worked for a micromanager, he was freakishly incompetent. Micromanaging was how he used his time, because he offloaded all the work onto us and wasn’t really capable of doing much.

        Add to the list of things the OP ought to communicate to the micromanager: this is a terrible use of her time and she needs to focus on project management, not giving lessons on percentages to people with degrees in mathematics.

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        The latter type of micromanager in your first paragraph ran the accounting department at OldJob, and it was AWFUL. Invoices would be lost and sit unpaid for literally a year because no one could do anything, including accounts payable, without his express approval on every. little. task. Complain about it? It was your fault for some reason or another – not submitting the form on the right color, submitting it on Tuesday, I don’t know. NEVER their fault. They screwed up bonus payments on year (HR nearly lost their minds trying to get it fixed), they issued salary info before performance evaluations were completed (or not until a month after the effective date – they did like to mix it up). All because the micromanager could not keep up with every little thing that went on in a timely manner and refused to let others take over anything.

        I know one of the people who worked for him pretty well (our kids are the same age), and the dude literally wept when the new department head came in and actually empowered him to do his job. The new head could not figure out why the guy wasn’t processing payments, and, when he explained that new head hadn’t personally approved them, the new head was completely confused as to why he’d have to do that when he had a perfectly competent A/P manager and guidelines on payment. (I have no idea why he had stayed that long under the nightmare head, but he’s much happier now and still working for the new person.)

    2. Lolli*

      I had a manager who would get mad at us if he found out we emailed someone without copying him and get mad at us if he didn’t know some detail of our project even when we did copy him. As he put it, he doesn’t have time to read all those emails. Glad he isn’t my manager anymore.

    3. Batgirl*

      It’s not about reading the emails; it’s just to give off a ‘Big Brother is watching you!’ vibe. Of course everyone is aware Manager has an impossible-to-wade email swamp and knows it won’t do anything.

    4. Bulbasaur*

      I did once ask people to do something like this early in my career as a manager (not all e-mails, just the ones to clients). I figured out pretty quickly that it was a bad idea.

  6. Teapot Painter*

    Fergusina sounds like she took ideas from my old job! Her poor poor reports….I hope we get an update on her! Filling out all sorts of accountability paperwork is indeed demeaning and a waste of time. I never had enough time in the day to get everything done, and now I know why! Thankfully it’s much better now.

  7. I'll say it*

    I’m a project manager, so from a POV specific to project management, I’ll add that PMs often have the burden of managing the project but not managing the people. So, the PM manages the team, but each person on the team has a manager in their area of expertise (designers report up to a creative director, developers roll up to a director of IT, etc.) Not sure if that’s the case here. But if it is – I see this often! PMs feel like they need to assert as much control as possible because we ourselves don’t do the work, and don’t manage the people. Obviously this PM has taken this way, way too far, but I think sometimes it’s worth it to understand why someone is doing this. Not just bad management or not knowing what to do, but knowing the stressors of the actual job. It ain’t easy.

    1. Bostonian*

      Hm, this is a good point. This is helpful in reading Fergusina’s actions less as “She’s a micromanager because she has control issues” (which… I mean, could still be true), and more as “She’s a micromanager because she thinks this is how you help the project”. She may be suggesting all these process “improvements” because she legitimately thinks that’s how you solve problems, not realizing that not every little mistake requires a process overhaul to fix/prevent. I think this mindset will help OP see this as retraining rather than some big confrontation.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Or even ‘she has control issues because she has responsibility without authority’, something Alison’s pointed out is a common reason for managerial problems.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m a PM too and said something similar above. We can hold the team members accountable and responsible for their duties, but we don’t have a supervisory role over those team members. And honestly I like it that way. I have no desire to manage people. Yes it makes it difficult sometimes, but I’d rather concern myself with the project and it’s tasks, and leave the employee development to others.

    3. Observer*

      If that’s the case here, then the OP needs to deal with that. But it doesn’t really help the fact that she’s using ridiculous methods for asserting control. Making a math major take a remedial math course is just a stupid waste of time. Double checking all her work and being a bottleneck for the rest of the team is an even stupider waste of everyone’s time. Etc. Add that these are mostly clearly intended to humiliate, and I’m having a hard time having a lot of sympathy.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        The methods are really the problem. I briefly had a Fergusina on my team, and we ended up having to let him go because he could not solve problems on his team. He ended up with overblown solutions for small problems and spent so much time on those that big performance issues were left unaddressed. We talked repeatedly about how to get on track and where the lines delegation v. supervision, I sat in on meetings with the team to guide and set tone, and he just never got it. Even after he left, we lost a few really good people (and one that I was okay losing) who’d started looking because they couldn’t bear working for him (and, obviously, we couldn’t share that he was being counseled out).

  8. Seal*

    Spot on advice. At my last job, I took over a department run by a micromanager who was a martyr to boot. Despite the fact that she worked 7 days a week for at least 8 hours a day, very little workroom got done because of all the bottlenecks she caused by constantly checking everyone’s work. When I took over the department I did away with all of her ridiculous, redundant processes and procedures and production and morale skyrocketed. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of the staff members she felt she couldn’t trust absolutely blossomed once the got out from under her toxic microscope. My goal as a manager myself is to never be like her.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yeah, I have… a detailed focus… that could easily turn into micromanaging. I don’t want that – this site is one of the tools I use to avoid.

  9. Lana Kane*

    I love this answer so very much.

    This has been such an issue at almost every workplace I have ever been in. I don’t know if this is Fergusia’s case, but people get promoted to management because they did the job well (or….well-enough) – not because they also have leadership qualities. And if they don’t. micromanagement tends to be a way to quell those anxieties. Fergusia may never have actually been afforded the chance to be trained in leadership, and if she hasn’t received feedback from her own manager, then she can then assume that what she is doing is ok and must be working. Especially since she is likely not getting feedback from her direct reports because, well, they know better than to step on that particular landmine.

    I’d say to the OP to consider that that managing with gentle reminders is the opposite extreme of micromanaging.

    1. Jubilance*

      All the micromanagers I’ve had, were people who were really great executors when they were individual contributors. Once promoted to leadership, they didn’t know how to motivate their team to produce great work, and thus they fall into the trap of micromanaging everything – they didn’t understand how to take their hands off it, and let go of needing to have everything done in their specific style.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes, they are trying to figure out how to get people they don’t trust to do work at what they consider their own excellent level. They assume this means they’re going to have to look over their employee’s shoulder every single minute to achieve this. They can’t understand why their people keep avoiding them / making more mistakes / leaving abruptly the first chance they get. They assume it means they’re really going to have to crack down and hand hold the next person a lot more.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          Absolutely spot on.

          This comment should be highlighted, flagged and everything else so everyone sees it.

          It’s so accurate and yet not totally obvious until you pointed it out. Thank you.

        2. londonedit*

          Yes! This is spot on. I once worked for a woman who was also the owner of the company as well as being a horrendous micromanager – so what she said went, no matter how patently ridiculous everyone knew it was. She kept a vice-like hold over what everyone in the company was doing – demanding to be copied in on emails, insisting everyone submitted timesheets allocating every half-hour of their working day to particular projects (we were not paid by the hour; most people were salaried and I was on a fixed daily rate) and routinely walking over to people’s desks, demanding to know what they were working on, and then saying ‘Why on earth are you working on that? I don’t want you doing that. Do this instead’. Every time I submitted my monthly invoice for the days I’d worked, along with my timesheet for the month, she’d quibble over it and claim I ‘shouldn’t have spent so much time working on X’ or she ‘couldn’t see enough work to justify these hours on Y’. Well, no, there wasn’t enough work being produced because every five minutes she’d change her mind about what she wanted, so we’d have to redo everything we’d already done. It was infuriating. Unsurprisingly she had a ridiculously high staff turnover rate, but she just could not figure out why. She usually plumped for ‘You just can’t find decent people these days’ or ‘It’s impossible to find staff who are actually dedicated to their work’. No, it’s impossible to find people who will put up with being demeaned and watched over and treated like they’re constantly expected to fail. Whew, excuse the rant. Still bitter!

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            The lack of self awareness seems to be pretty consistent among people who do this. I guess nobody thinks of themselves as a micromanager.

          2. Flash Bristow*

            ‘You just can’t find decent people these days’

            “true enough. But don’t worry, we can retrain you so you can become one”

            I often see an observation here that people are promoted to one level above their competency: good at level x so they are promoted to y; good at level y so they are promoted to z; not good at level z so they are stuck there. Whereas it would help everyone if they were retrained and supported at level z for a fixed period, but ultimately returned to level y if they can’t improve within a reasonable time. It’s not unfair, whereas leaving someone in a position they can’t really cope with IS unfair – not just to their team but also to that manager themself.

            1. char*

              “It’s not unfair, whereas leaving someone in a position they can’t really cope with IS unfair – not just to their team but also to that manager themself.”

              I’m glad that you pointed out that it’s also not good for the manager. I’ve been that person who was good at my job and so got promoted into a supervisory position that I was terrible at, and let me tell you, it feels awful. I KNEW I was letting my team down, but I wasn’t good enough at managing to figure out how to make anything better. (I also had loved my individual work but hate supervising people, so I was doubly miserable.) It got to the point where I was practically begging to be demoted.

        3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          This. So much this. They were excellent performers because they owned everything they did. Every bit of it. And the work was great. But that was their priority. Not the project, not the team, just their own parts of it.

        4. Jules the 3rd*

          A truism in our group is that people make way more mistakes when someone’s looking over their shoulders. Seems applicable here.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Oh fun, that’s on my “how did I get this old without reading that?” list. I just moved it up on the list!

      2. Granny K*

        This is why I stay an individual contributor and don’t want to be a manager (or anything above that).

        1. EH*

          Word. I am the same way (been in my industry for just over 12 years, and every time I’m interviewing for a new gig, I tell them I actively do not want to manage. My “in five years” goal is to have “Senior” added to the front of my title).

          Promoting people to their level of incompetence is all too common. Yuck.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            but by reading this blog, you’re ahead of half the potential managers out there…

      3. Snarkus Aurelius*

        At my very first job, my micro-managing boss was upset that I used a taskbar shortcut to open Word. She said I needed to Start->Programs->Word so that “You always understand exactly where it is.” But I know where it is? It’s on my taskbar.

        I later figured out she had severe anxiety issues. She really had no business being anyone’s boss because she personally couldn’t handle those responsibilities.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Wow. I mean that’s the point of a taskbar…not needing to go through all that just to open something. Most people, me included keep the most used, most relevant stuff on our taskbar just so we don’t have to go to … well whatever process Macbook uses to get to applications that I never use anyway.

          Ahh ok. Found it.
          Finder>Applications>Word (or whatever).

          I knew I new how to do this…LOL

          1. feenominal*

            On Mac, I use Quicksilver so I don’t have to clutter up my bar with less-used apps. Also because I switch between Windows/Mac/*nix often enough that it’s easier to search than keep multiple systems up to date with what I’m using at any given point.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I switched over to mac back when windows 8 came out. The only PC apps I use are the Office apps for mac so I don’t do a lot of switching around.

              I’m all about uncluttered. I have ::looks at taskbar:: thee browsers, Office, calendar, calculator, messages, and contacts on my task bar…oh and Siri. This is my personal laptop though. My work laptop is about the same plus a notepad app for quick notes to myself and a scanner app. My personal laptop has two folders on it, one with my name and one with Husband’s name. Of course those folders have about 700,000 sub folders, so there’s that.

        2. Snark*

          I’ve had someone – a friend, not a boss – do something similar. And it was like, yo Dweezil, I think I got my basic Windows workflow sorted out the way I like it after 20 years, maybe just don’t.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            She always wanted to know why, which I later learned was a manifestation of her anxiety. She tried to manage me that way too, and she thought I was lazy because I honestly didn’t care why the printer jammed. I just know that it did. Learning why might turn fixing it into my job! No thank you!

            Why did the fire doors automatically close just now? There’s no alarm.

            Why is this Metro car running late?

            Why did the conference room run out of Diet Coke?

            Why am I using size 12 font instead of size 11?

            Why did I use the double doors at the back of the conference room instead of the front one?

            Yeah I don’t care about these details. I’m never going to. I just want to get my work done. If you don’t like the font size, change it. Metro is always late.

      4. Left a job because of that*

        they didn’t understand how to take their hands off it, and let go of needing to have everything done in their specific style

        I had that exact problem with a project leader once. The two leaders on the same project before that one trusted me and made me feel valued. This one treated me as a particularly learning-challenged toddler because I couldn’t read their mind, and eventually got so tired of redoing my “first drafts” into Lead’s style that they assigned someone nowhere near my chain of command to be a sub-manager. *That* person also took as a baseline assumption that I needed to be told how to do everything short of breathe.

        Got to the point that I took a massive paycut to get away from them eventually – and the time my new boss told me that he didn’t evaluate everything I did I almost had a panic attack because I didn’t remember I was competent anymore.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yes, I don’t think people realize how demoralizing it is to the staff below you when you make basically arbitrary or minor edits to products. My grandboss does this to me every day. She can’t articulate why her preferred changes are any better than mine, which weren’t factually inaccurate or difficult to read, she just has specific preferences for certain words over others and she likes to put her “stamp” on everything. There doesn’t seem to be any way to adapt to her style – her style is to rewrite what you do so it feels more like her product. As a result, I hate working with her and am looking to get out of it.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              Oh totally. I am working on that. The worst thing is that she sends the document back to me and makes me “accept” her minor edits in track changes or respond to her comment one by one *and then send it back to her* – other bosses have just made any chances they want to see and sent it on! It’s demoralizing and it does make me doubt myself.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                If the changes are minor style / word choices, it’s not about you or your competence. It’s about the boss and some issue they have. Per the comments above, it could be wanting to feel more connected to the work, or just, as you say, wanting to put her brand on something.

                That’s not because you’re doing badly. If it’s minor changes in work that she wants to ‘own’, that’s a complement.

                It would of course be frustrating if you should be getting ‘co-author’ status, but there’s a lot of positions where you wouldn’t, so I’m not gonna assume either way.

          1. mananana*

            Back at Former Job, we’d call those the “happy-to-glad” edits — absolutely no value-added to change the words, but the boss insisted it must be changed. Wasted a LOT of time and managed to suck the soul out of every attorney she managed.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              Yes! This is it exactly! It’s hard to call out in the moment but it’s this type of edit.

          2. Ama*

            I worked at a place that was entirely funded by one foundation. The head of that foundation felt that entitled her to put her “stamp” as you say, on anything she pleased. I never showed her anything without her needing to change something — the trick was to make her think some minor detail was the main issue so if you changed it she was happy.

            I will, however, never forget the time she asked me to make a photo of an underwater diver in our newsletter “less blue.”

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Alison is, as usual, right on all counts.

    I just wanted to note, OP, that the fact that Fergusia responds to defensively by complaining that you’re not concerned about other teams or “she knows what she’s doing” is a major problem. That suggests to me that she doesn’t understand managing or your role as her manager.

    You cannot be gentle with someone who is being defensive in ways that undermine her team’s morale, production and effectiveness. And a lot of this sounds like a fundamental failure to respect others (i.e., presuming incompetence) or to manage/lead a team.

    If she tries to derail by saying she knows what she’s doing, keep the conversation focused on the business case—her behavior is costing the employer in lost productivity and efficiency. If she complains about being singled out, note that it’s because her department is currently underperforming. Make it clear that the underperformance is not because of her team; you don’t want her to start riding them or making their lives more onerous because she decides not to take your direction/feedback on her lack of management skills. And to the greatest extent possible, cover her team so that she doesn’t try to deflect blame to them and then try to “root out” the “complainers.” She needs to understand that your feedback is based on your observations, your expertise/experience as a manager, and cold hard metrics.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I’ve learned that when you have directs who don’t take negative feedback well, you really have two problems: whatever caused the negative feedback in the first place, and their response. In the end, the latter ends up being far more important than the former, because it throws up huge roadblocks to growth and improvement in almost every area.

      This is the time for blunt, unwavering, consistent expectation-setting. A brief explanation of the issue, what you expect to be done, and adherence checks to make sure it’s getting done. You are not inviting debate, but informing of a decision. And boy do I hope Fergusina gets the message, because a manager who can’t see how handling feedback poorly is deeply problematic is about the worst sort you can picture.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Indeed, Fergusina may be UNteachable. And it sure looks like this is how it is going to go. But hopefully not, hopefully she is not a totally rigid person.

        OP, if Fergusina does not change it’s important to know upfront that there are these people who cannot change no matter what. Don’t use your success/failure with her as a yardstick for how you are doing with your job. This is one of those rare instances that when an employee gets fired or quits can be considered a success IN TERMS of stopping the problem. It’s always a concern when people get fired or quit, however, you have the additional factor that if she does not change what she is doing then the 16 people under her will change THEIR jobs. This would be a huge loss to the company. So in your setting here, success could be to just stop the damage from spreading.

    2. TootsNYC*

      being defensive in ways that undermine her

      I have pointed out to people: “Your being so defensive worries me, because it means you aren’t open to hearing what I’m saying. You won’t be able to learn and improve if you are not willing to believe that you are wrong.
      “I don’t think it’s such a huge thing that you are wrong–you can be right easily enough once you learn this. You aren’t going to be in trouble, or get fired, because you acknowledge that you were wrong; there is no risk here. But when you argue with me, you make me skeptical about whether you can improve, and NOW you are at risk.”

      I would say this directly to her: Find a way to put down the defensiveness, and be ready to learn.

    3. Batgirl*

      Yeah…pointing the finger at other teamleaders when she is gently asked why she is putting a maths grad through an online maths course…isn’t a super mature response.

      I have 13 yo students who take feedback better. Some of the 12 year olds might go down the route of ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘you don’t like me’ but they aren’t ready to be leaders either.

  11. CatCat*

    Team Fergusia has more seasoned, competent employees than the other teams…

    Not for long. OP, you likely have little time to fix this before you start seeing a lot of turnover. At minimum, this team and possibly also the organization will get a Reputation that will make retention and recruiting more difficult. I have seen it happen. I think it is definitely fixable, but you have to act clearly and firmly.

    1. TootsNYC*


      They have already demonstrated a lot of loyalty to the company by asking to be transferred. Since you can’t do that, they are now looking outside.

    2. Liane*

      “You have little time to fix this before you star seeing a lot of turnover.”
      Fergusia’s team have already told you this! That’s what the transfer requests mean: “I want off Team Fergusia, & if you can’t/won’t send me to another team, I am leaving the company.”

      1. Det. Charles Boyle*

        It’s probably already too late. By the time Fergusia is dealt with, that team will have already found better jobs elsewhere. No one who has options will stay in that miserable position for long.

        1. CatCat*

          I think this is highly likely. OP should be prepared for some turnover as the writing is on the wall in bright neon lettering that several current employees put up right in front of OP.

          Nonetheless, OP can still hope to lessen the amount of turnover and also reduce hits to the organization’s reputation as an employer.

          1. voyager1*

            Agreed with others, without Fergusia gone it is going to be hard to regain the trust of the team.

    3. Observer*

      OP, you likely have little time to fix this before you start seeing a lot of turnover.

      In fact, you may already be running out of time. Your employees have put you on notice. They were willing to give the company the “right of first refusal”. But, you turned that down. I understand that you may not have had any choice. But it DOES still mean that the only way your staff is going to get away from Fergusina is by going to another company. And, there is nothing to keep them from doing that. Good employees have options, and they WILL exercise them.

  12. RandomU...*

    I think I worked with Fergusia… add in inconsistent rules for each member of the team and this describes her to a “T”. She was another manager in the same group I was and it was painful to watch. Her team was so mired in checklists and convoluted processes that they were totally ineffective.

    I wish I could tell you that our mutual manager turned her around, but sadly that was not the case. Our manager was very hands off with me but had to spend significant time and oversight on my Ferusia. Honestly we all saw the writing on the wall.

    You are going to have to spend some significant time and effort to turn that ship around and in the end, you should probably be prepared to replace her. Do not make the other functioning and effective managers suffer through training just because of one weak link. You will drive away your good managers and be left with with the rotten one.

    I hope you like the project that she’s leading, because you are going to be getting to know it very very well as you undue her crazy.

  13. Jubilance*

    If I was Fergusia’s employee, I’d have zero faith in my chain of command.

    OP, I’m going to be blunt here – both you and Fergusia are not great managers, but for different reasons. She’s a micromanager and way too hands on, while you’re way too hands off. You should be stepping in and correcting Fergusia’s behavior, and running interference for her team so that they don’t have to deal with her crazy whims. Also, in allowing Fergusia to mandate that her team take online math lessons instead of being productive, you’re really squandering company time and forfeiting productivity. I’m surprised that YOUR manager hasn’t asked you what’s going on and why this hasn’t been nipped in the bud.

    You WILL lose good people, and frankly I’m surprised that you haven’t yet. The minute my leader tells me that I need to take a remedial math lesson and CC them on every email is the day that I start aggressively looking for a new job. It’s time to stop being so passive and let Fergusia know that she MUST change or she’s in danger of losing her position, regardless to her relationship to other people in the company.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, I was reasonably satisfied with my work tasks themselves, but just that fact that my boss kept such a tight grip on my products – every document has multiple levels of review, multiple drafts produced – every email must be cc-d to all – now has me looking for a new job ASAP. I need to feel like I’m growing as an employee, not that I’m an extra hand for a decision-maker to direct in the precise way that she would do everything.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yep… it was kind of cool to be told to STOP cc:ing my manager unless it was critical. I had a couple of micromanagers in a row then two that were very hands-off… and now this one who’s getting star marks in my book.
        (And for the record for any must-have-degree types out there, she doesn’t have a bachelor’s. “Just” decades of hands-on experience with our product and functions of our department and those adjacent to our role.
        Best. Manager. Since. 1996.

    2. Chris*

      Yeah, I definitely got the vibe that the LW is hands-off to the point of being a non-manager. Someone like that supervising a micromanager like Fergusia is a bad combination.

      1. Else*

        For sure! But it’s not hopeless in this case – the LW was able to identify the problem and has asked for help to address it. If they’re able to do as Alison suggests, it might come out well for everyone.

        1. Liane*

          As I have said about 1 or 2 other OPs, this OP is not a bad manager, even if their management style isn’t good right now. OP realizes they aren’t handling Fergusia effectively, that they don’t know what might fix things, and has sought advice from a trusted source. That’s a very good start for a solution and I am pulling for you and the team.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Unlike Fergusina, the OP;
        1) Recognizes there is a huge problem.
        2)Understands that she needs outside help (AAM) to steer her.
        3)Is willing to learn and develop herself as an employee
        4)Excels at picking outstanding resources to coach her along.

        Fergusina, not so much.

        The people who don’t ask questions are sometimes the most worrisome employees. What is wrong with asking the boss or a respected cohort, “I am having trouble with X, what do you suggest?” For Fergusina it would be the end of the world to say this.

        I took over a workgroup, whose previous boss wasn’t a straight shooter. Okay there were other problems also. One of the first things I did was tell the group it was okay to ask questions. I even went as far as saying, “I understand you may not want to ask me, because I’m that “new boss”. That is okay. Ask someone around you, help each other. If you guys get really stuck then come get me.” I kind of figured they would test me and they did. I answered each of their questions in a quiet, respectful manner. It took time, I noticed that certain people were willing to go first to check out how I would respond. When I did not “kill” them, others started asking questions. We got a ton more work done, because stuff was getting done correctly the on first time instead of the on the fifth time.

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I’m going to defend the OP a tiny bit. I’ve had jobs where I was “put in charge of Fergusina” and then when I took decisive, managerial action by speaking directly to Fergusina, starting the corrective action process, and working to retrain or move out the Fergusina, *I* ended up the one in trouble with my boss.

      You shouldn’t have upset Fergusina! We need someone in that role and if Fergusina gets fired it will be empty. Fergusina is the CEO’s friend and it will reflect poorly on us if she’s terminated. If you need to resort to corrective action, you’re a bad manager because you should be able to persuade Fergusina to buy into changing on her own. It’s really your job to take over the things Fergusina isn’t doing, why are you making her do them? Speaking directly to Fergusina is abrasive and rude, she’s very unhappy that you disrespected her. It’s not fair that you’re speaking to Fergusina, you should send a mass email with a rule change and then retrain everyone in her title to be fair.

      What I’m seeing is that this manager needs to go to her boss and make sure she’s clear on the corrective action/PIP/termination rules…and also see if she’s actually empowered to do anything, or if she’s going to be expected to limp Fergusina along so as to not rock the boat. It may be our LW who needs to find a new job, in that case, if the company is that dysfunctional.

        1. valentine*

          It’s worth it to first take a hard line with Fergusia. If she’s intractable and protected, that will still be there, but to invite input when OP hasn’t even taken a firm line is sabotage.

      1. KC*

        Yes! The OP needs to find out if they are a supervisor-in-name-only of Fergusia. That’s a horrible position to be in. Once the OP knows if that’s the case they can act accordingly by either often communicating the gravity of the issues, or eventually job searching herself.

    4. KC*

      I took it that the OP is new in this job, has learned of serious problems in the past and present with Fergusia’s management style, and wants to address the issues. Due to Fergusia’s connection to the CEO the OP hasn’t wanted to ruffle feathers. But the OP realizes something must be done and has asked for advice. I wouldn’t come down so hard on the OP. Yes, the team is in dire trouble, and perhaps irrecoverably. But OP wants to deal with it.

    5. Kitty*

      This. I currently work under someone like this, and I would not even bother trying to bring this to higher ups becuase I have zero faith in the chain of command. Instead I’m focusing on getting out, and I know other team members are too. She’s already driven away two experienced team members, one who had been at the company for 8 years!

      1. Catnonymity*

        We have one of these. She micro-manages on an almost subatomic level and wants to always be in the loop on everything but somehow manages to send projects to the wrong people (either they don’t have the necessary system access or training or both) because she’s so busy micro-managing that she doesn’t actually LOOK at anything first. It wastes everyone’s time.

        She drives someone out of the job and then picks a new target. In meetings, she talks a mile a minute and always sounds nervous, like she’s hoping nobody realizes she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s messaged coworkers to get answers to questions while she’s on a conference call and then pretends she just remembered the answer herself so she can take credit. Her reports are afraid of her. Her butts-in-seats mentality has somehow managed to get my own boss’s flexibility revoked by their shared boss (in the spirit of “fairness” or some other bullpucky).

        My grandboss’s failure to do anything about this behavior (nothing has changed!) is responsible for most of the erosion of trust I used to have in the grandboss.

  14. Wing Leader*

    OP, you sound a lot like me and how I would react–watching things and getting frustrated, but then just hinting what you want done and hoping someone gets it (hence why I’m not a manager). But Alison is right–you really have to step up and be assertive. Currently, I work under a manager who is very passive and avoids conflict and, guess what? There are some stronger personalities underneath her, and they jerk her all around and do what they want.

    This will happen to you too if you don’t learn to be bolder and more direct. The people with the strongest, loudest personalities will end up running things–whether they are qualified to or not.

    Also, you definitely owe it to Fergusia’s team to intervene. I once made a spelling error on something I typed (due to not being the best speller). My boss pointed it out to me, and I fixed it. But if she had made me go online and take an online English class or something, I couldn’t even tell you how demoralized and embarrassed I would have been. Like Janet’s situation, I also have a degree in English–I just made one error.

    Definitely have a long talk with Fergusia.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Right? One math error and someone who majored in math is directed to take an online math course because she “doesn’t understand how percentages work?” Oh hell no…just no.

      I’m not a “math person” but even in my arithmetic bereft existence I understand how percentages work. I tend to avoid situations where I get mired in calculations because it’s just not my thing. Plus in complex equations with several steps, about step four or so you can pretty much lay money that I will make some stupid mistake (e.g. forgetting the “-” sign in front of a number) which of course changes the whole thing, then I have to go back, find the error, fix it, try to do it correctly…

      Allll of that said, even I would be insulted by her attitude. Even suggesting, much less requiring I take a remedial math class would piss me off to the point that quitting on the spot wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities for me. I did manage to finish required math classes, including undergrad and grad level stats with perfectly acceptable-for-a-math-class to me (B/B+) grades in every single class I ever had, thank you very much. If I’d majored in math? Pretty sure I’d have at least refused.

      Caveat: I know not everyone is as willing to “blow shit up” as I am…¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      1. AeroEngineer*

        I might not quit on the spot, but I would grit my teeth and then immediately start a very serious job search that evening.

        1. gladfe*

          Yeah, if I were in Janet’s position, I would have spent that night crying and then started job searching the next day. I’m definitely projecting my own issues as a woman with a math degree who’s spent a lot of my career fighting to be taken seriously, but reading that made my stomach drop.
          I think the Letter Writer needs to be prepared for some of the team to leave even if Fergusia improves. After being shown that level of contempt, I don’t think any normal amount of improvement could rebuild my working relationship with her. It might be worth trying harder to arrange the requested transfers, knowing that the alternative is probably losing those employees.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I had a stupid side job once. It was never going to be on a resume. I had a herniated disc and was in horrible pain. D-bag boss wasn’t going to let me leave for like two hours (I shouldn’t have even been at work) to get pain meds. I quit by text. I regret nothing. :-D

    2. Beatrice*

      I wanted to point out that the humiliating penalties for making errors is going to keep people from taking risks. That means no process improvement, no innovation, no creative problem solving. That’s exactly the kind of stuff you want your “most seasoned, competent people” to have a voice in, and you’re allowing them to be paralyzed by this manager. This can kill your project.

  15. LKW*

    Effort/Value training is needed. Is the time for retraining and double checking all of the values worth the potential value achieved?
    If you’re ensuring the calculations are correct on re-entry of a space ship, yes. If you’re calculating an estimate for test scripts to write for your next release… No.

    People make mistakes. The cost of the mistake shouldn’t be doubled, tripled, quadrupled by checking for mistakes.

    1. Ama*

      One of the things that seems clear from this letter is that Fergusia doesn’t understand how to assess mistakes and determine whether they are truly a one-time oversight or a systematic problem — no matter what happens, she goes into the kind of full blown process changing that should only be necessary if the same mistake was occurring over and over again.

      OP would do Fergusia a great service in helping her develop a method for looking at mistakes and why they happen and then proposing *appropriate* action to address it, with one of the appropriate action options being “nothing, this was just a one time mistake.”

      1. Jaz*

        This is a huge part of new teacher training. In teaching, we talk about “errors” vs. “mistakes.” Mistakes are minor slip-ups that humans make. Errors are repeated, systematic, or fundamental, and need to be corrected. If the person has done it correctly before, and done it correctly since… it’s just a mistake! Make a minor fix if needed and move on!

    2. Super Dee Duper Anon*

      Exactly! There are certain types of work that has to be flawless (like you mentioned – space ship calculations), but that type of work should have multiple checks (or at least a second round check) by a separate set of eyes built in from the get-go.

      In most roles you have to weigh the time vs value of your processes. If process A takes 1 hr to get to 99.90%, but getting to 100% would take an additional 4 hours (via quadruple checks or multiple rounds of review/revision), you have to ask is 4 hrs of my time (and 4hrs worth of salary) worth that extra 0.1%? It might be, but I’m going to guess that more often than not its not.

  16. Lance*

    On the point of drawing the other PM’s into this, and thinking you need to have group trainings so that the one person who’s doing badly doesn’t complain that they’re being singled out: to be blunt, no. Because the fact is, they are being singled out, for their own poor performance, and if they don’t want to take responsibility for that, then that’s a ‘them’ issue, and one that you’re perfectly allowed to tell them that they have to live with.

    As for training, and managing on the whole… unfortunately, there’s no real ‘right’ answer, but there are definite ‘wrong’ ones, and the ‘morale is low’ point very much means something is wrong here. Agreeing with everyone else: it’s time to take a less gentle, more direct approach. It’ll take chunks of time, for both of you, but it’s better than losing that sort of time with these needlessly slow processes of hers.

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      Right? What I thought was so weird about this letter was that the OP’s instinct was to re-train all PMs, not just the problem one. But her question referenced making everyone do a checklist, because of Brad’s one mistake.

      I genuinely don’t see how these aren’t the same exact approach.

  17. Lobsterman*

    Just a quick note that I loved the directness of Alison’s response, modeling the approach she recommended!

    1. Jerry*

      Agreed. I want to highlight to OP Alison’s line,

      “Tell her that the way she’s managing her team is leading to terrible morale, wasted time, and bottlenecks. Tell her it’s already affecting the results her team is getting, and the problems are likely to get worse because she’s not going to be able to retain good people, who won’t stick around in this kind of environment.”

      This needs to be framed, brutally if need be, as a performance issue. In the PMs head this will be a style issue unless LW is very, very explicit that her ‘style’ is non-performance.

  18. RUKiddingMe*

    Everything Alison ssid plus please don’t even think about retraining everyone else simply so it doesn’t seem like you are singling out one particular employee.

    The other PMs aren’t having problems. Address the problems with the errant employee. Don’t “punish” everyone else for her not doing her job well.

    1. Artemesia*

      Plus the person with the problems will not change if NOT singled out. The person causing concern never sees themselves in the ‘memo to everyone.’

  19. Sloan Kittering*

    This one is easier than most in my opinion because there’s already a clear outcome that OP can point to (hopefully without naming names): people are requesting en mass to be transferred off Fergusina’s team. If Fergie could learn this I feel like it would cement the problem in a way that she can’t escape, although there’s art to explaining this without throwing staff under the bus. I would love to see OP say, “people don’t want to transfer onto your team because of this, and I have had many many requests to transfer out of your team, so much that I’m considering restructuring the whole organization because I can’t accommodate so many requests for a transfer. This isn’t working at all, we need to figure out how to fix this.”

    1. RandomU...*

      This one is tricky. I’ve seen Fergi (is the plural of Fregus?) just take things out on the entire team if they can’t get the names of the few. Or they start trying to play detective and jump to conclusions. Generally micromanagers are insecure to their core. So pointing out that they are losing control will actually make them double down.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I agree with you and it’s hard, but it really demonstrates why this is a problem that must be solved. Otherwise Fergi can just say, I have my own style but it produces really quality results and I’m satisfied with it. It will help if you can suggest that this is over a number of years (EG, not implicating current team members) and that it’s the wider org (people she doesn’t manage and can’t identify).

      2. Natalie*

        The OP isn’t a peer or an employee with no power here. As a manager, if that happens you have a pretty obvious and effective response – fire them.

    2. M*

      Nooooooooo. These are staff who don’t feel they can trust their direct manager not to be belittling, nit-picky and unpleasant to them. They’re going to their boss’ boss in good faith and trust, asking for a solution. The *last* thing they need is Fergusina going on a witch-hunt through her team for the people who “just don’t get that she has high expectations”.

      Keep the focus on outcomes, and *definitely* don’t pass the buck by throwing her staff under the bus to get through to her. If need be, tell her *you* are considering moving people off her team and restructuring the organisation to reduce her management role – but don’t make it about what staff are asking for. No matter how well you word that, managers like this are going to take it as there being a problem with their *staff*, not a problem with *their* management tactics.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I see what you mean, but I feel like there’s utility in using the group approach like Alison sometimes recommends when employees try to raise an issue all together. Like, this is an Everyone problem.

        1. Lance*

          I think the group approach is more so for subordinates going to a higher-up, because the higher-up is the one with inherently more power, and there’s strength in numbers. In this case, the OP is the manager, so I don’t think there’s that inherent need to draw anyone else into it.

          1. RandomU...*

            Exactly. The group approach is the ‘safety in numbers’ theory. There doesn’t need to be safety here for the OP, since they are the manager. The OP has specific examples already of things that need to be fixed.

            The excessive checklists, the extra classes, the excessive review of work. All of these are observable and able to be documented easily. Fixing these things will help improve morale (not really though, the team has been poisoned and they will likely never want to work for Fergusina).

            The OP doesn’t need to use the team as a reason for the intervention/coaching. They need to use the specifics that they know.

        2. Observer*

          That’s for employees to do at their discretion, when they need to deal with something directly. It would be a TERRIBLE thing for a manager to do. The OP is going to have a hard enough time keeping morale from hitting absolute rock bottom and keeping good staff on, as it is. If Fergusina’s staff also know that their GrandBoss is going to make their lives worse? Instant drop of morale to absolute zero and ramp up of job searches for every good employee on that team.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Adding to what others have said, OP does not get her authority/strength from the merit of Fergie’s subordinates’ complaints. “Well your subordinates are complaining…” can imply if they stop complaining then Fergie will be okay. It needs to be that OP is the one who is NOT okay here. The message should be along the lines of “if you want to work here you cannot treat people in this manner”.

    3. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Maybe the answer is easy, but acting on it isn’t. If you’ve always had luck being an easygoing manager and fixing problems with suggestions rather than orders, it’s not simple to train yourself to be stricter and it’s a scary prospect to have to be “mean.” I sympathize.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah sorry I didn’t mean to suggest that OP was going to have an easy time doing it. I just feel like I’ve struggled most when I feel that someone is approaching something wrong, but the consequences haven’t caught up to them yet (for example, OP’s potentially overly laid back management style!) – I seem capricious or controlling if I’m asking them to change something that seems to be working. In fact sometimes I have to back off and let them learn for themselves, which is extra annoying if it takes months to come to light or I see that we’re digging ourselves deeper. In this case, OP already has a natural consequence they can point to to explain why Fergie simply must change her approach – although I also agree that, per other people’s comments, it’s harder to get it on the record without damaging the relationships involved.

  20. Free Meerkats*

    And just so you know it’s coming, Ferusia is going to claim you are micromanaging her. And to a certain extent, you will be because it will be required to make her change her ways.

    Good luck; I think if you follow the advice Alison has given, you have the best chance of turning her around. Not guaranteed, but possible.

    1. RandomU...*

      I was going to mention this as well. There will be a cognitive dissonance when it comes to you micromanaging her vs. what she’s doing to her own team.

      Unfortunately this is why micromanagement rehabilitation isn’t usually effective.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I wouldn’t use the term micromanage if I could avoid it. I’d talk about inefficient, ineffective, unnecessary, not respecting the employee’s expertise.

      and if she brings up expertise, I’d say, “Fergusia, your expertise as a manager is not a high as you think it is. That’s why I’m here in your office, working with you on this.”

    3. Kaitlyn*

      Came here to say this. There is a certain personality type that will take LW’s interventions as examples of micromanaging. LW, please be *very clear* that the reason you’re working so closely with her is that her management style needs to be tweaked so that she trusts and empowers her team.

      1. Tammy*

        It’s not a tweak, I think. It’s a wholesale change in Fergusia’s leadership style. It’s important, I think, to be clear in your own head about this so you can be clear with Fergusia about your expectations. Don’t downplay that this is a big change, or give Fergusia cover to minimize the scale of the problem in her own head. Her current management style/philosophy is broken. It’s harming her team. It’s therefore harming her ability to remain the leader of that team, if it doesn’t change. LW, you need to be clear that those are the stakes, so you can communicate those stakes clearly to Fergusia.

    4. KC*

      Fergusia will say it’s micromanaging because she thinks she’s good today her job, which is being defensive, not hearing the feedback and putting the problem back on the OP. OP needs to both internalize and outwardly communicate that she is providing necessary training and coaching due to serious performance issues with escalating consequences for Fergusia. How Fergusia reacts or feels about it isn’t OPs problem. When progressive discipline is in play the employee either changes or is eventually transferred or terminated.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      That’s a great opening. Seriously.

      “Well, Fergie, there is a difference between punishing and leading. Punishment does not teach people. Leading includes teaching, training, helping other people to do their best and be their best. Do you want to be a punish-er or be a leader? You can only have one, which one would you like?
      From here forward we are going to be talking about leading people. Is this something that interests you?”

  21. Peridot*

    OP, to back up what Alison says about being more direct and less avoidant, take a look at the language in your letter:

    “what I see as wasting time” — Her ridiculous processes waste time, and you know they do.

    “they all seem to result in extra work with little payoff” — Again, you know the answer to this.

    “From my perspective”, “They don’t seem to make more errors”, “gently suggesting” — All of this is softening language. You are her manager, and by extension, you’re responsible for her direct reports. If she continues making her team miserable, work will not get done, and valuable employees will leave.

    I’m not saying this to be hyper-critical! It’s just the kind of unconscious thing that can creep into everything you do, if you don’t keep an eye out for it, like Alison says.

    1. Snark*

      I noted the same thing, and I will take it one step further: Fergusia is micromanaging, OP, but if you’re so afraid of direct criticism that you use this kind of softening language in a letter to a third party…. you’re not managing at all. You need to boot up and manage Fergusia, unapologetically and without trying to shield her feelings. That means ditching this kind of softening language and telling her in no uncertain terms what she needs to do to keep her management position.

      And, let’s be clear: if she doesn’t change immediately and stick to it, she should not be managing, even if that means you demote her or she quits.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah as other people have commented, Fergie likely thinks this is the best and only way to get the results she needs. And if it’s never been brought up to her properly before, she’s being allowed to think that her system is working. OP needs to show her that it’s Not Working and exactly what she needs to do instead, and then give her the opportunity to either adapt, or choose to leave. I don’t think there’s too much point in bringing a lot of emotion into it. I suspect Fergie will bring sufficient emotion already TBH.

          1. Snark*

            Right, but none of that changes my point that it’s time to be really unequivocal about what’s wrong and what she needs to to do fix it, without softening the language to make it seem more subjective and opinion-based than it really is. “You need to stop requiring your team to undertake arduous retraining and process changes for single, one-off mistakes, because unless there’s a trend, that’s a waste of time and a morale-killer” is not mean or scoldy, but it is stating the problem without making it all a matter of perspective and things that might just maybe seem to be the case.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I was trying to agree with you–that it was important to be firm.

              Tone of voice and “You are messing up” might be mean and scoldy”–“this is getting in your teams way” and “this is not effective” and “I don’t want you to do X anymore” is firm.

              Many people think that criticism is mean, or they only know of mean ways to give criticism.

              Aim for “firm” and “direct” and “unequivocal” and “unyielding.”

      1. Peridot*

        I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of being afraid, but I admit that is my perspective as a woman who feels like I was socialized not to be direct and “mean”, including at work.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yeah it’s a result if patriarchal culture: woman = soft, nice, accommodating.

          It’s bad at work and bad in general when 53% of the population is told they aren’t allowed to/shouldn’t be/do what’s best or most effective while the other 47% gets lauded for the exact same thing.

          Reject thst mindset!

          “Be bold and mighty forced will come to your aid.” _Goethe

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think guys can worry they are being “mean” when they criticize people. It’s not the same conditioning, but it’s still there.

          1. KC*

            Completely agree. Of some guys think about this. But it’s more about how the managers and society treat those guys. Men are often rewarded for being assertive, blunt, direct and seen as great supervisors, even when their tone is mean vs direct. Many women, who manage the same way as the men, and those women who often use softening language are told by their managers that they are naggy, micromanaging, bossy, bitchy, etc. This is a systemic societal issue. Women are treated this way by their female supervisors too. OP might not have realized she’s using softening language until it was pointed out.

  22. SierraSkiing*

    It might be worth explaining to Fergusina the idea of “regression to the mean”: when people do unusually well or poorly in a single event, it’s often due to pure chance. So when someone does unusually poorly – like making a mathematical mistake – they’ll usually do better next time as they naturally go back to normal. But when a manager responds to that mistake by micromanaging, they attribute that natural improvement to their intervention. So Fergusina walks away thinking “Jane made a math mistake, I required a basic math class, and she hasn’t made that mistake again since – clearly I made the right decision!” when Jane would have improved just as much without the micromanaging.

    This is also why some managers think rewards are ineffective: someone does well by chance, the manager gives a reward, but the person “regresses to the mean” and does less well next week. You’re better off managing by looking at long term performance than focusing too much on one-off moments of brilliance or poor performance. (Unless the lows are particularly harmful, that is.)

    1. TootsNYC*

      Oh, i think I knew this instinctively.

      We had an error make it to publication; the guy who missed it was stricken, and he apologized, and I was like, “I know you care about being right, you didn’t do this alone, and we’ll all be more careful in the future.”

      I was SO VERY MAD when the top boss sent word through my boss that I was supposed to “have a word” with him, or issue a warning, or something. First, it was a week later–did she think I hadn’t done that?

  23. xarcady*

    Something I read a long time ago has stuck with me. “Micromanagers are managing what they can control.”

    So the manager who insists on neat desks, or daily status updates that detail what emails were sent to whom, or who double-check everyone’s work every day no matter how much that delays things? They don’t know how to manage the larger picture, so they narrow their focus to what they know and can control.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Fergusia is one of these managers. She’s out of her depth, so she is focused on what she can control, while the larger aspects of the project are either spinning out of control or so bogged down by her delays that nothing is really getting done.

    1. TootsNYC*

      That might paint a way for our OP’s coaching strategy.

      Teach her how to evaluate and influence those bigger-picture things.
      Teach her what they are.
      Teach her how to observe them, and what an appropriate way is to measure them.

      That means the OP needs to do some serious thinking about what those are.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      This is really smart. Also makes me die inside since our grandboss is obsessed with tidy desks and grammatical errors. Somehow I don’t think it’s going to get better …

    3. Witty Nickname*

      Yes to all of this. One of my biggest jobs as a project manager is to be able to manage to both the bigger picture and the details (or, as I like to say, manage both the forest and the trees). For the most part, I can rely on my various dev teams to manage the details and I just need to keep an eye on it, but the bigger part of my job is managing how all of those details come together to form the forest (and also, partly how the forest interacts with the rest of the kingdom at least to the point where I know if I need to bring anything in particular to my program manager’s attention).

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Right on.
      People who privately think everything is out of control, try to compensate by trying to control everything.
      Fergie here does not believe in her team AT ALL.

      Cool story. A person took over a small department that was floundering. Since the company was a nationwide company and the department was small compared to other locations the manager set a realistic goal of being ranked in the middle of the list of rankings for all the locations in the US.
      His crew bought this. It just seem logical and reasonable that they could be some where in the middle performance-wise on the nationwide list.

      Time went on and they kept working at things.
      They did not hit the middle of the nationwide list.

      They hit the freakin’ TOP of this list.
      The entire group was totally shocked and very excited.

      And this all started because the manager used a reasonable approach and set a reasonable, attainable goal. Managers have to believe in their people or fix things so they can believe in their people.

  24. LaDeeDa*

    Project Managers often only manage the project and not the people. Many project managers have had very little people management experience or training. The project manager needs coaching on proper people manager techniques, skills, and competencies. And it sounds like OP needs some training in Crucial and Critical Conversations.

  25. TootsNYC*

    Fergusia replied that she knows what she’s doing and that I don’t seem to have issues with the other project managers.

    This is where you say, “No, I don’t have issues with the other project managers. I have an issue with you. That’s because you are the only one who has these serious problems.”

    Like, what? People are WAY too focused on things being exactly the same for everyone, as if that’s fair.

    It’s not fair.

    Fair is when everyone gets the help or accountability they need or the punishment they deserve.

    This is going to be a huge time suck, OP, but you are going to need to set aside a TON of other things in order to give this coaching the time it deserves.

    I’m not a pro at this, but I think I’d move in w/ Fergusina and shadow her–maybe even have her shadow me.

    1. Snark*

      Seriously! “I know what I’m doing.” “Actually, given what I can see, you are doing a poor job of managing this team, because your team’s productivity is down due to the bottlenecks you’re creating.”

    2. Naomi*

      Yes, OP seems to be falling into this trap too by considering giving everyone a coaching session to fix Fergusia-specific problems. Don’t let her weasel out of being managed by complaining that no one else gets the same level of scrutiny; you’re going to need to treat her differently than the others because she has a performance problem none of the others have.

    3. Peridot*

      It’s like that image that went around in the context of social justice discussions, showing the difference between equality and equity.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I was just goong to comment on equality vs equity. “Fair” does not mean everyone gets a cookie if only certain people meet the criteria to get said cookie.

        You see this a lot with parents and their children. Maybe Dakota gets a cookie but Breckenridge gets sugar free ice cream because he cant have sugar Dakota can’t have ice cream because of lactose. Montana got a trip to Spain but Akron got a car. Not everyone will have the same exact thing all the time. That’s life.

    4. Jennifer Juniper*

      Also, sending the other PM’s for retraining because of Fergusia is going to be seen by the PM’s for what it is, OP. They’ll resent you for wasting their time.

      It’s like the teacher punishing the whole class because one kid is being a brat.

      Don’t do that.

  26. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP, I worked on a team with a micromanager, but not to that extent. Over the course of 4 years: the team successfully developed in to an effective, high performing team, then fell apart and 2/3 of the team members left because of the manager. Lack of autonomy, respect, and growth opportunities (because manager couldn’t delegate) destroyed the team. You are heading there. So, unless you want to have to hire people to replace at least half the team members, intervene now.

  27. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Oh the twist where she’s got a tie in to the CEO, why am I not surprised…that’s where this all lands.

    If someone ever made me take an online math course due to an error, that’s when I pack my bags and bounce. It’s only time until it’s not just people asking for internal transfers but now that those are being denied [for good cause, you cannot create new places for them of course!], the turnover will start to happen. Yikes.

    1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

      That tie in leads me to the following approach:
      Schedule a meeting with your supervisor and let them know it has become obvious that this team has productivity and morale issues that are getting worse and as a result you want to do a study of this team before formulating your plan for trying to turn things around. Make sure boss knows that you want to also spend time shadowing all 17 people on the team (including that manager).
      Then go tell the manager you will be shadowing all her team including her because you want to help improver her team’s productivity. Go forth and shadow them all first, and make sure to ask them about their job and the processes in place as a routine part of their job. Really try and do a thorough deep dive on what is going on with each member of this team. Make sure to do the same thing with the manager, but maybe give her a bit more time (like all of Friday that week?). Tell the manager you will give her your thoughts and plan three-ish days later, and then stick to it.
      Benefit is two-fold 1) you don’t have to throw any reports under the bus to the manager because it will all be your observations; 2) you ferret out any problems hiding under all the micromanaging that retraining or better procedures can fix.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        That is a lot of time for a manager’s manager to spend on this. I’d start with letting OP’s boss know OP is going to get direct with Fergusina, then follow Alison’s scripts. Sitting in on the weekly meetings should be enough shadowing.

        1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

          I agree it’s a lot of time in the bulk, but it’s like a week of two hour meetings when you break it down. Plus it may help you get a pulse on how many of micro managers team are actually looking to full on leave and have that stat to give to CEO if you get push back on correcting her behaviors.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Shadowing is not punishment.

            It’s not an indication that the person being shadowed is doing anything wrong.

            Shadowing is a process to train the shadow-ee. It’s about building up-close knowledge for the OP.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I get that. I wasn’t thinking in terms of punishment, though the team might. I’m pretty no-nonsense about this kind of thing. The problem exists with person A ergo person A is the one that needs direction and needs to be doing the work. I don’t need extra work for myself and I don’t need to place extra burden on others because person A isn’t doing (whatever) the way it needs to be done. But, that’s me and as always YMMV.

        2. TootsNYC*

          This is a big problem–it NEEDS time. There is probably nothing more important on her schedule.

          She may not need to spend all day every day at this, but she should be there and observe directly.

          And by shadowing each of those people, the OP is building her credibility and seeing the processes in place.

          Also: I find that I often don’t see the inefficiencies when I am not next to them. So the OP will build a very strong knowledge of what works, what could work, and what is bad.

          1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

            That was my thought – get face time with the team – show them that you are taking what’s going on seriously and really want to understand the whole scope of what goes on. Plus you get the chance to understand all the procedures and may find things that you would otherwise miss in the weeds and noise from the other problems.

      2. Troutwaxer*

        If the CEO gives you a hard time, you might politely remind him that allowing the situation to fester isn’t doing Fergusina any favors. The DIL of the CEO’s friend needs to have the same opportunities to learn and grow as anyone else does, and this happen through training and discipline.

      3. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

        Let me make some adjustments to my plan based on the comments.
        I’m being overly pessimistic about CEO wanting to protect Fergusia, and that OP is going to hear that “she’s picking on me” in reply to trying to correct the issues. My thought was an in-depth check into the team would be a massive CYA for OP against the “picking on me” or “she doesn’t like me” defense.
        Also in my personal case, I would want to know is Fergusia a “don’t know what I’m doing, so hypercontrol what I do understand” micro manager, or is she a “bullying jerk, you’re all incompetent compared to me” micromanager. Because which type she is could prossibly change my approach to fixing the problem.
        Finally, I want to make sure there aren’t more serious problems hiding under the squeaky wheel problems that are already known about. Sort of a double check that ABC are the real problem; not that actually the problem is XYZ and the symptoms are what you are seeing as problem ABC.
        If a full scale shadow for everybody and spend a week with the team is too much, maybe spend two days, and 30 minute check-ins with everybody. I just think it’s important to make sure you hear everybody on the team, not just the vocal members (which Jane and Brad may be).

  28. Hope*

    “Fergusia replied that she knows what she’s doing and that I don’t seem to have issues with the other project managers. To be honest, I don’t.”

    My response to a statement like that would be to say (or at least, want to say)”And that’s exactly why I’m talking to you, not them.”

    OP, good luck. Micromanagers are notoriously difficult to manage, at least in my experience. But you’ve got to do it before you lose the good people working under her.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      See that’s kind if the crux isnt it? There are good people working under Fergi that will eventually leave. They ate probably job searching already. Fergi us not “good.”

      Trying to tie a Godfather quote in here but failing…

      Take the good people, leave the Fergi OP. She needs to get better (fadt) or get gone.

  29. Polymer Phil*

    I wonder if Fergusia came from some industry where that level of double-checking and caution made sense, say pharmaceuticals, aerospace, nuclear, etc, and now she’s misapplying it to your industry and choking her team with bureaucracy.

    1. JustaTech*

      But even in a place like Pharma where accuracy and caution are the bywords, you don’t send an employee to a math class for putting in a number wrong. You have systems in place to check everything automatically. Sending an employee to a math class is punitive, not corrective or preventative.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        It’s punitive, paternal (or maternal I guess), and infantilizing. This isnt school, Coworker is not a child. It is work, with grown ups who need to he treated respectfully.

    2. AeroEngineer*

      This level of micro management would be out of place even in Aerospace. The work is usually checked by one or two levels (or even more) of other engineers and if there is a problem it is sent back to the work producer and then back up the chain again from the beginning. Big point is that it doesn’t all go through one specific person, there are several layers and pathways per project for the checking to do to avoid bottlenecks.

      If I had this type of boss I would start job searching immediately. I am all for useful checklists and checking processes, and my job is full of those, but not micromanaging.

      1. Polymer Phil*

        I agree with both responses. I’ve worked in such an industry in the past, and the double-checking was done in the manner both of you describe – an auditor would check my calculations and politely ask me to fix any errors they found; they wouldn’t give me a humiliating punishment like a remedial math class.

        That said, I do suspect Fergusia picked up the cautious philosophy of a company of this nature, even though she’s wildly misapplying it in a manner that wouldn’t be appropriate anywhere.

    3. Observer*

      Actually, I’m not sure that what she’s doing makes sense in almost any field.

      Checklists? Sure, but they have to be properly designed, and are not intended to be submitted at the end of each day and “approved”.

      2nd pair of eyes on calculations? Got it – but not necessarily the manager. Certainly not if it’s causing a bottleneck of hours or even days. It just has to be someone with the authority / ability to say “This is wrong”.

      Making someone take a remedial math class? In what universe?

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I bought a car a couple weeks ago. At the end of the process the finance guy went over a check list, for himself, to make sure he’d covered all his steps.

        I said something about it and he ssid it was just to keep himself (and other finance people) clear thst they hadn’t missed any of the 50 (literally, I saw the numbered list) steps they have to make sure they do before letting someone drive away.

        But…it just gets shoved into a file with all the other stuff that they keep there for “just in case” something comes up later.

        No one double checks him and he doesnt have to get it approved or anything. All in all, with that many separate things to do for each sale it makes sense. Asking them to get Boss’ aporoval on every single thing?


        1. Observer*

          Yes, this is a classic – and genuinely useful – way that check lists are intended to be used.

  30. Jennifer*

    “Janet once made a small math error, so Fergusia decided she didn’t understand how percentages work and made her do an online math lesson. Fergusia now meticulously checks Janet’s work before letting anyone else see it, which can bottleneck the workload for hours/days. Janet, in fact, majored in math; she just made a single error.”

    Ugh, I had a manager like this. It was awful. Some people will never let you live down your mistakes or accept that it either was a one-off or that you have learned from past mistakes and have improved. Please take Alison’s advice and really give Fergusia (lol!) honest and direct feedback. I can assure you her direct reports are miserable and you may end up losing valued employees over this. I wouldn’t doubt that some of them are already looking for work elsewhere.

    1. londonedit*

      It’s so demoralising. While I was working for the horrendous micromanager I mentioned above, there was a day when she was going through the accounts, and she noticed that there was a higher than usual charge on one of the invoices. She stood up in the middle of the very small open-plan office, literally yelled ‘WHOOOOOO has spent £35 on couriers???’ and then dragged everyone into an hour-long meeting where she pulled the office postage logs apart to try to find the ‘culprit’, berated everyone about how completely unacceptable it was, then launched a full-on ‘Well, how are we going to make sure this NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN’ investigation that led to everything that wasn’t sent by normal post needing to be reviewed and signed off by her. All she needed to do was calmly say ‘OK everyone, this one slipped through but we really shouldn’t be using couriers on a regular basis. Please try to stick to normal post from now on, and please check with me before you book a courier’. But no, we all had to sit there like naughty schoolchildren being told off by the headmistress.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yep, it makes you not even want to try. The boss already thinks I’m an idiot so why bother trying to show that I’ve learned and improved?

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yup. Some of the letters I read here…I just cant.

          I dont know if it’s because I’m old now or because I’ve worked for myself for so long or what but so many times my initial reaction s “fk that…I quit.”

          Something tells me though that even as a much younger woman I would have done a one finger wave “bye bye” on my way out the door.

      2. TootsNYC*

        But no, we all had to sit there like naughty schoolchildren being told off by the headmistress.

        The thing is, that’s bad headmistress-ing.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I always like to calculate how much pay roll was involved in the tirade.
        I punched in 1 minute early. I had THREE people spend 20 minutes jumping on me for it. So let’s see. I was one minute early and that is a capital crime, but 1 hour of labor spent yelling at me is okay?
        That place still struggles to keep help.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Um…why the flying fish did you get in trouble for clocking in 1 minute early??? Also, I assume you’d get in trouble for clocking 1 minute late, right?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is retail.
            Yes, you could not clock in late either. And waiting in line to use the clock was not an excuse.
            The rationale was “what if everyone clocked in 1 minute early for their shift?” Then came the punchline: “You not on the scheduled until that exact time, if you punch in early you are STEALING from the company. Clearly you are making up your own schedule and not following the rules.”

            I dunno how these people sleep at night. No clue.

      4. Jennifer Juniper*

        That would make me apologize and ask permission even more than I already do because I would feel constant and extreme guilt.

  31. Rebecca1*

    I have had success with improving bad/ unproductive processes by presenting things as a “change” rather than a correction. This helped with a couple of my reports who tended to get defensive at feedback. It also helped if it was similar to a process one of their peers whom they respected was doing.

    In your case, this would look like finding another PM whom Fergusa respects, picking a couple of processes that she does, and telling Fergusa that her group has to switch to that process instead of whatever she’s been doing.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      That is smart. I think I’m focused on documenting the problem because it’s the difference between “have you tried this” and We Have Received Complaints – but you’re probably correct that with someone temperamental like I assume Fergie is, it may be better to avoid the blame game because I doubt she’ll admit that she’s wrong. But, I think OP will have to be very clear that the changes are mandatory, not optional, and follow up on them closely to make sure they’re implemented correctly.

  32. TootsNYC*

    I’ve thought of doing a re-training/coaching session with all of the project managers, but the others are not a problem and I don’t want to waste their time.

    Yeah, no–this is the same kind of thing Fergusina is going, in making everyone use checklists because Brad forgot something.

    Fergusina is the problem–she needs the help.

    And cast it in your mind as “help for her,” which might make it easier to be firm with.

    Time to channel your inner daycare worker. She MUST change her management style, because that’s what grownups do. You need to give her the scripts, the structure, that she can simply use. And like a parent teaching a child to do their chores, or to never leave their jacket on the living room floor, you must be FIRM. It will benefit her in the long run, even if she doesn’t like it now. And investing that time and energy will benefit YOU eventually–but you have to go through it.

    I’m reminded of the time when all the kids in my children’s daycare were fighting first thing in the morning. A little observation showed us that some kids weren’t happy at being accosted cheerfully first thing in the morning; they’d lash out; the cheerful greeter would feel hurt and lash out in return…
    The daycare workers started teaching the kids to say, “I’m not ready yet,” and we all enforced that (PLUS we enforced the respect for someone’s “not-ready-ness”), and it went away.

    I often think that many of us only have a few paradigms to turn to for management–the “managers” we’ve encountered before, our role models, were parents, teachers, school administrators… And often people pick up the worst habits or outlooks of those roles, the biggest stereotypes.

    But here’s a situation where the parenting outlook–being firm and insisting that someone do something the right way, even if it’s more work for the parent and runs into resistance from the teen, has big payoffs. And is really the only respectful way to go.

    1. valentine*

      some kids weren’t happy at being accosted cheerfully first thing in the morning; they’d lash out; the cheerful greeter would feel hurt and lash out in return… The daycare workers started teaching the kids to say, “I’m not ready yet,” and we all enforced that (PLUS we enforced the respect for someone’s “not-ready-ness”)
      We need this in the forced rituals/greetings/good morning/how are you threads.

    2. Maria Lopez*

      I think Fergusia wasn’t in any sort of industry like that, and was probably never in any kind of management position before. It appears she got the job through nepotism and no one so far has had the gumption to question her or consider firing her.

      1. Maria Lopez*

        If her incompetence is not documented thoroughly and addressed now I will guarantee that she will be promoted several times even with her incompetence. I have seen it too many times.
        There needs to be a paper or electronic trail of her problems and her response or lack thereof to your management attempts, and maybe even written statements from present, or better yet, former employees who left because of her.

    3. Maria Lopez*

      I like the daycare workers’ response to the problem, but it is also a good time to teach the children that just because they aren’t ready yet is no excuse to be deliberately mean to someone else. I’ll bet they learned that behavior from one of their parents.
      The same goes for the workplace. Fergusia is taking out her massive insecurities on her team.

  33. AKchic*

    I have to wonder if Fergusia got the job specifically because of who she knows, and banks on that when it comes to discipline, and if she knows as much as she does about everyone else’s interactions because of that person and their closeness?
    It might be better for LW to talk to their boss, and maybe even loop in Fergusia’s benefactor about the issues and what is going to happen and get ahead of potential drama so when the changes do come down, Fergusia doesn’t try to campaign and rewrite the narrative to portray herself as a victim (the old “oh, LW doesn’t like me or my managing style and feels threatened by me and is micromanaging my team!” routine).

  34. animaniactoo*

    OP, I think you missed a huge opportunity that should be part of this discussion – Fergusia said that you don’t have a problem with the other Project Managers. That is as solid an opening as I’ve ever seen to give a fact based answer about WHY one of these things is not like the other:

    “That is because other teams are not having the same problems your team is having. Your team has lower morale despite having more seasoned employees, is significantly less efficient than other teams, and none of the other project managers are using the methods that you are.”

    Having missed the opportunity to say it in the moment, it would make a great re-approach to this. “The last time we spoke about this, you pointed out that I don’t seem to have a problem with the other project managers. I’d like to dig in more with you about why that is….”

    And then move on to a question of perspective: “So, I think we first need to come to an understanding about what it means to limit mistakes effectively. Because people are human, mistakes WILL happen. It’s the nature of being human. Our job is to attempt to limit the number of mistakes that will either have a major consequence or are silly repetitive mistakes which indicate there is a problem with the process, while maintaining efficiency.

    For example – Jane’s math mistake. Does Jane frequently make mistakes with math? That would be the time to address her mistake. Otherwise, forcing her to take an online course to address it is a 2-hour waste of time where she could be expected to be working on her regular work and reasonably expected not to make another mistake. This is the balancing line – the numbers and statistics that say whether something is probable. We focus far more on addressing what is probable than what is possible. Because it is simply impossible to avoid all the possible outcomes and therefore trying to do is a tremendous waste of time and energy. For everyone including you. You could be far more focused on developing X or researching other vendors who might have better ROIs if you weren’t so busy trying to prevent every last possible mistake. So your focus on doing that is ultimately harming you and your team, and you need to rein it in.”

    Dig into the idea that perfect is the enemy of good and even great. That there is an acceptable rate of errors because profitability rests on production rate as well as quality of work. Direct her towards the concept of 6 Sigma Events and to go research that on her own, since she is unlikely to take just your word for it.

    If you can get her to accept that, you will likely have a far better shot of getting her to accept that her methods need to change with the shift in focus.

    1. TootsNYC*

      re: the math mistake

      We had a spelling mistake that made it into print. In examining it, we looked at factors OTHER THAN the person who had proofread that text.

      Speed? Distraction? Time of day?

      And of course, was this a one-off? It was a one-off, but we also found that there were processes we could change that lowered our risk.
      A spellcheck dictionary populated by common URLs, so we didn’t have false stops that trick people into not paying attention to the spellchecker.

      Highlighting changes that were made so they were easy to zero in on for extra proofreading.
      Rules that changes cannot be made at certain stages.

      And a top corporate person said: “Every publication has errors. You just live with them.”

      1. animaniactoo*

        Right, it’s not that it’s never worth digging into. It’s the solution that you have to be wary of. There’s the point at which you have 20 hours of work done, and you find a mistake that takes 2 hours to fix. That leaves you with 18 hours of work done essentially. The question is: Is that 18 hours of work significantly more than you would have had if you attempted to avoid the mistake? If your potential modified process only produces 10 hours worth of work in an effort to avoid the mistake, you’re wasting 8 hours of productive work time. If your process slows it down by 2 hours or under, you’re regaining the time that you spent fixing the mistake.

        Obviously, some of that changes with the level of “consequences” for that mistake (i.e. there is not an acceptable error rate for printing dosage instructions for medication), but part of the calculation IS how long it would take to fix it if it happened, and how bad it would be if you couldn’t fix it.

        The stuff you guys did to improve the error-free rate didn’t slow down the rate of production by any significant amount (in fact, some of it likely sped it up) AND the error was not life or livelihood threatening.

        1. Half-Caf Latte*

          Yeah. A conversation I frequently have is that the saying is “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure,” and that depending on the circumstance, maybe a pound of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but 5lbs prevention to mitigate 1 lb of cure is a bad bet.

  35. Murphy*

    Wow. There are times where a person’s mistake can reveal a flaw in the system or a gap in someone’s knowledge, and then there are just normal humans making the occasional normal human mistake. Fergusia’s response is way overkill. (Love that name, btw!)

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      My Fergusia’s justification that she gives for the monthly quality audits of our work, which she then brings to our supervisions to let us know exactly how many things we’ve done wrong, is that it can identify where we need more training.

      Usually, what happens is that it’s just as you say, a normal human mistake. She has also thought she’s identified us making mistakes and it’s turned out we were given the wrong information in the first place, or there’s some other reason why it’s not the screwup she thinks it is. I don’t think she’s successfully identified a training need that way yet.

  36. On Anon Anon*

    I think that in this case it would be very helpful for OP to picture the letter that is currently being written to Alison from Furgusina’s team members “Our boss is a nightmare of a micromanager and her boss is exceedingly hands off and brushes off our concerns/ requests to transfer. What can we do?” (a letter we’ve all seen a few variations of in the past).

    I think if this letter was from their perspective Alison would be justified in giving them advice to start job hunting and as OP pointed out Fegusina’s team currently contains some competent people so you certainly don’t want to lose them due to inaction.

  37. Cassandra Mortmain*

    If your company has resources for it, I’d strongly suggest some management training, because it will both help you deal with this situation AND give you some resources that you can teach to Fergusina. (My company has a contract with LifeLabs and I found their courses on coaching and feedback to be hugely helpful. It looks like they offer them for individuals too, and the rates are pretty reasonable, so you might be able to get reimbursed.)

    If they don’t, I’d pursue a few things on your own — maybe not a course if you don’t have the $ for it, but I found the books Difficult Conversations, Thanks for the Feedback, and Radical Candor to be really helpful.

  38. knitter*

    I have a manager who hints. I can pick up on them because I am open to feedback. That said, the hinting is driving me, a staff person who gets solid performance reviews, bonkers for two reasons. 1) I want specific feedback of what I’m doing well and more specifics if he disagrees so I can build my internal project monitoring ability and 2) I have a co-worker who absolutely does not pick up on hints. I think she does, but takes the opportunity for plausible deniability to avoid what he’s hinting at. So while I’ve been blunt and told boss that I won’t do her job, responsibilities trickle over to me and I stress A LOT about the lack of progress in her area.

    From conversations with boss (and my experience being a manager in the past), I think he thinks his style leads to more autonomy and conveys trust in his staff. On some level he’s right–he’s there to facilitate us doing the one the ground work and he needs to trust us to do it well. It feels good to have earned that trust. But it’s not managing. And it is terrible to feel that you don’t know in what situations your boss will have your back because he’s so passive.

    So, please take Allison’s advice in the last paragraph and analyze why you are avoiding these conversations. I hope what I shared above helps you in this process (do my anecdotes ring true to you or do you think something else might be in play?). When you do think through all of this, is there something that you want to avoid (like having good staff feel like no one has their back) that will motivate you to be more hands on in your managing?

    1. valentine*

      What if you ignore the trickle and stop worrying about her area? If he complains? #autonomy

  39. BooFergusia*


    I work for my org CEO, who is a total Fergusia, and I’m a high performer who is looking for other jobs now (and another team member just left) because anyone that has options will start exploring them under conditions like this. It is a detriment to the org to let someone wear their team down.

  40. Stuff*

    It’s easy to manage when everyone is good at their job. Ironic to judge someone for being a bad manager and then … not manage them. Take charge and manage. While she may be too much of a micro manager you are just being hands off and hoping things work out. Both sides of the same coin.

  41. drpuma*

    About Fergusia’s ties to the CEO – maybe do a little “managing up” and give your boss a heads up about what you’re about to embark on, with numbers. Do the math. Your boss and certainly the CEO will be much less likely to give you pushback if you can tell them, “We lose $$$$ per week of productivity to her unnecessary checklists and oversight. Replacing 3 people would cost us $$,$$$. We can’t afford not to retrain her.”

  42. voyager1*

    Oh my. I imagine when LW tries to manage Fergusina, it is not going to go well considering what she said about other managers. The question is this though: How white hot will the blaze of glory be when she quits/resigns. LOL!

  43. JustAClarifier*

    Just here to wave some excited cheerleading pom-poms at Alison’s amazing response. Letter Writer: PLEASE do this and follow through! Everyone will be so grateful that management is stepping up. You’ll be their hero and the heroes of her future teams, whether at your company or others, if you’re able to teach her how to lead and manage the way it seems she needs.

  44. Shannon*

    OP, you’ve had staff members requesting transfers. If people are requesting transfers, they’re also looking for other jobs, or about to start. Since you describe these people as your most experienced and seasoned, you cannot afford to sit on this.

    1. Rebecca*

      Exactly. OP has told them no, we can’t transfer you without restructuring the company, so you can be confident they’re now looking for another job. I worked for a former manager who pulled that whole “checklist” thing because she wanted to protect her friend who was terrible at her job. Do you know what the competent people did? Faked the checklists, looked for other jobs, and basically ignored her silly requirements. She was replaced with new managers, who are now sliding back to that micro-managing style, as in, being copied on an email, marching directly to my office within a minute or 2 “did you see email from Jane, we need to do X and Y”. Yes, I saw Jane’s email, and I will get to it, and do X and Y like I always do – no need to reiterate, but I can’t say that because any pushback or “managing up” is not taken well. Guess what…looking for another job, passively, but still looking. For right now, the cadillac health insurance benefits are what’s keeping me in my chair.

      So, OP, you need to take the bull by the horns and tell this person to stop. Now. And make sure she does.

  45. Nea*

    OP, considering that Fergusia is already defensive for her practices and dismissive of you, I wonder if there is value in quantifying Fergusia’s micromanaging so that there are some cold hard undeniable facts on the table.

    – How many times has Fergusia ordered one of her reports to take remedial training – especially on the skill that they were hired to bring to the company? How long does that training take away from the workday?
    – How many checklists does Fergusia’s team have to complete and how long does it take to complete one (not do the tasks, but do the paperwork of the list itself)
    – How many emails is Fergusia asking her team to read per day? Asking herself to read? How many do not directly affect each team member and how long does it take that team member to comb through the extra emails?
    – How much time of each day is Fegusia taking away from her tasking to double-check everything everyone does?
    – How long does Janet/anyone spend literally waiting for permission from Fergusia before they can move forward with their tasking? You’ve said that in some cases it isn’t merely hours (already bad) but entire unproductive days!

    I get that you’re worried that Fegusia’s connections are going to make things difficult. I get that this is an awkward conversation. I get that Fergusia is already lashing back at your hints. But having the numbers of productive work hours lost specifically due to the micromanaging gives you a concrete thing to focus on without allowing her to sidetrack that she knows what she’s doing or that other managers are treated differently. There’s no need to send her on a witch hunt among her people to find out who wants to leave when you can make it impossible for her to wriggle out from under the cold hard fact of lost productivity.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, if OP says other teams are more productive I’d like to say those hard figures could be the jumping-off point of the conversation. But I think you’d need a second piece of hard data to prove that it’s the leadership style that’s the issue, or else Fergie is just going to blame the current team who can’t be trusted to do things right the first time.

  46. Snarky Librarian*

    OP be the hero I need! I currently work for a massive micromanager and it is crushing my morale and that of my staff. Unfortunately I don’t have a grandboss like you that can tell my supervisor to cut it out and train them to be a real manager. Please rescue Fergusina’s team. I’m cheering you on!

  47. EvilQueenRegina*

    If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m not in design, I would seriously be questioning if Fergusia was my manager – she has driven out lots of people in similar circumstances, and at one point the majority of her team quit at once. She’s currently off sick and it’s been a lot better since grandboss stepped in, but I am dreading the idea of her coming back. I have actually asked to be managed by someone else if she does but that is a whole post in itself. Well done OP for writing to Alison and showing that you are prepared to act on this.

  48. xarcady*

    “From my perspective, Team Fergusia has more seasoned, competent employees than the other teams, but gets less work done. They don’t seem to make more errors than other teams, but they do have more time-consuming preventative measures.”

    If I were the OP, this is where I would start the conversation. It’s an observable thing–competent employees, but less work is being accomplished.

    This will also set up the explanation of why Fergusia is getting the OP’s attention and the other project managers are not. Because I’m sure she will be complaining about that.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Although if I had to guess, Fergie probably doesn’t see her employees as seasoned and competent. She feels like she’s barely holding the team together and they’re not as motivated or effective at other teams. She probably doesn’t realize how she kneecaps their productivity and effectiveness, either.

  49. 1.2 years until retirement*

    Brad and Janet — now I want to see Rocky Horror Picture Show again….. Damnit Janet

  50. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

    Oh man, just @ me in this letter and response, why don’t you. I see so, so much of myself in this LW. And Alison’s suggestion to really look at your overall style is spot on. I panic in the face of feedback and always tend to soften my message and it’s never, ever effective. I know this. I work hard to combat it, but it’s the thing I’m worst at as a manager.

  51. Observer*

    OP, I haven’t read all of the responses, so I may have missed something. I do see that you’ve gotten some good feedback.

    Just one thing about Fergusina’s relationship with the CEO. Unless you’ve explicitly been told otherwise, she is almost certainly NOT untouchable. However, she probably does have more access to the ear of the CEO than your typical project manager, so you want to plan for that.

    Start documenting your head off. Everything – complaints from her team, performance disparities, bottlenecks, scheduling issues, overtime issues etc. Also, start managing up a bit. You want to be sure that when (almost certainly not if) Fergusina’s complaints reach the CEO, at least your boss is not blindsided. Also, you want to be able to pull your list out and highlight the problematic patterns and the real effects on staff and the company.

  52. NW Mossy*

    Oof, LW, I feel you. Managing someone who resists feedback is a big challenge, but it’s also one that comes up a lot as a leader, so it’s in your best interest to get comfortable doing it. Along with Alison’s advice, here’s some background thoughts that have helped me in similar situations:

    * Yes, it’s going to be hard to talk to Fergusina about this – I’ve heard these described as “sweaty palms conversations,” which seems apt. She might deflect, blow up, get defensive, or all of the above at once. As a human, it’s normal to want to dodge interactions like that because they’re stressful. As a manager, addressing it head-on is the only way to get out of the loop of constant stress that arises out of dealing with the consequences of Fergusina’s behaviors. Think of it as managerial surgery – it’s invasive and takes time to get better, but the reward is not having to deal with being perpetually in pain that gets worse by degrees.

    * Fergusina’s reaction to feedback is about her, not you. She isn’t reacting negatively because you’re doing feedback wrong or aren’t using the magic keywords to get her to react well. There isn’t anything you can realistically do to trigger her to suddenly accept feedback with grace, so don’t get hung up on trying to find the secret. Just plunge in, and err on the side of too blunt rather than not blunt enough.

    * You are not being graded on how effectively you convince Fergusina that you’re right, so don’t fall into the prosecution/defense dynamic with her. Do not attempt to “prove” to her that she’s wrong, because it doesn’t matter. The organization has empowered you to set the standards for what high performance in her role looks like, and to hold her accountable to it. You set the bar, not her. She can hate where that bar is with every fiber of her being, but from her perspective, it needs to be an immovable object that she cannot shift an inch.

    * Once you’ve delivered your statement of what the standards are, ask for her agreement to meet those standards going forward. This is ultimately what you want to take out of the conversation – a commitment from her to change. When she attempts to deflect the conversation into anything other than delivering a yes or no answer to your request for commitment, steer her back. Be prepared to repeat yourself gently but firmly: “Nevertheless, can you commit to changing this?” It’s also completely OK to just not talk very much – it will give her less to grasp and argue, which can help her run out of steam sooner.

    * Assuming you get a yes (because most people will say yes out of optimism about themselves if nothing else), then you start to lay out specifics – Alison’s answer has lots of good phrasing for that. I’ll also add that you can ask her to develop plans for what she’ll do differently and present them to you first, which can be super-effective in understanding how well your message is getting through. If she gives back a detailed, measurable plan that shows good insight and self-reflection, great! If she gives back a weak-tea list of vague generalities and no measures, you can rightly mark that down as not demonstrating progress towards the necessary changes.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      These are great tips. I think it’s easy to focus on how to keep someone from being mad at us – but sometimes you just have to accept that some discomfort comes with the job.

    2. Ama*

      “* Fergusina’s reaction to feedback is about her, not you.”

      It was so tricky for me to learn as a new manager that managing my employee’s *emotions* around her work was just resulting in me stressing out about the hypothetical possibility of making her unhappy and not doing the managing of her *work product* that I needed to be doing. And it is hard, to go into a conversation knowing someone is probably not going to like what you need to say and may react poorly. But as long as your message is delivered calmly and professionally, you are doing what you are supposed to do.

  53. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    OP, I’m curious. Do you know what previous manager of Fergusina was like? Was s/he a micromanager or held Fergusina to impossible goals? “Well, Fergusina, it appears Janet made a math error. Why didn’t you catch it?” What Fergusina is doing is wrong. I wonder if she’s be taught this by previous managers. And if you let other managers do oddball things, don’t be surprised when she wants the same. Honestly coach and train her and make sure she’s aware of what you expect, that you allow mistakes, and also you’ll give her freedom as well.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      My Fergusia was line managed in her previous role by someone who learned everything she knew about line management from Cornelius Fudge. She had the same trick of burying her head in the sand, the “I can’t see this happening, therefore it isn’t, I will form my own conclusion and act on that…what, Lucinda really does have performance issues and it wasn’t just Tamara trying to get out of trouble?” I have often wondered if my Fergusia is trying so hard to avoid making those mistakes that she has gone to the opposite extreme with micromanaging and doesn’t understand that that itself can be a mistake.

  54. OG Karyn*

    ““Brad” accidentally forgot a step in a complicated process. Now everyone has to fill-out a daily checklist and have it approved by Fergusia to prove steps aren’t being missed. This isn’t the only such checklist, but they all seem to result in extra work with little payoff.”

    I had a manager do this to me once when I accidentally made a typo in an address on a form. It was an easily fixable mistake, but the *client* told him they wanted me to do a checklist anytime I had to do anything for them. Instead of pushing back, or even telling me that this was ridiculous and he just wanted to make the client happy, he acted like this was a BRILLIANT idea, and made me do this for *a year*. It was unbelievably demoralizing and humiliating, and I can tell you right now I hated working for him and tried to avoid it at all costs. Please take Alison’s advice, because I guarantee you that if she’s got one person doing this, she’s got plenty more.

  55. J*

    Oh my goodness Fergusia sounds EXACTLY like my old manager — who was brought in midway through my tenure at that job, and was a major factor in why I ultimately left. Though not the main point at all, THANK YOU for validating my frustration and belief that her methods were misguided! This kind of behavior can be so demoralizing and wasteful.

  56. Common Welsh Green*

    Don’t know if others have already pointed this out (ran out of reading time) but Fergusina’s already created an environment where people have no incentive to report and correct mistakes. They have a GREAT incentive to bury them and hope they never see the light of day, and that just doesn’t result in quality over time.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      There have definitely been times when I have either quietly fixed something myself before my Fergusia notices it, or deliberately picked a time when she’s not around to ask someone a query because I know full well she is likely to hear half the story and immediately jump on the person for having made a mistake even if it then turns out they haven’t.

  57. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    Another cause of micromanaging is worry. My extremely competent project manager and boss is a micromanager solely due to worrying about deadlines. Deadlines are a huge deal but our team doesn’t miss them because our PM is very good at what they do. However this doesn’t stop PM worrying and asking for far too many updates or wanting to dictate the component of the project you’re working on. (This isn’t a priority issue, more like telling you which part of the alpaca to groom first. As long as you’re grooming the top priority alpaca it doesn’t matter which part you groom first, yet PM wasted an hour talking to you about it.)
    Fergusia is far, FAR worse than our PM who at least respects us and only minimally impacts our productivity.
    You have the opportunity to train Fergusia and rescue the morale of her team. All the best!

  58. Xtina*

    UGH. I worked for the WORST micro-manager at my job. She made every day a nightmare scenario of constant reminders, emails to me “suggesting” that I read the employee handbook again, calling me out in front of my peer, etc. Her boss is a very laid-back guy who doesn’t like conflict, so as many times as I went to him and asked for support/advice, I was told that’s “just the way she is” and I shouldn’t take it personally.
    After nearly eight months, the micro-manager and I were slated to swap positions at work–I was going to become her boss, and she would become my part-time subordinate. Before we could even get to the transition, the m-m FREAKED out and walked out of the building. She never came back.
    She’s been gone for 15 months and I have never been happier. A person with such deep control issues could never handle being a subordinate to someone they formerly managed.
    Sometimes things work out just the way they should.

  59. Me (I think)*

    Dear OP, please please please follow Allison’s excellent advice. Otherwise Fergusia will go on to become a department head and then an assistant VP, etc., and continue to manage her people the same way. I know because her long lost twin was our department “leader” for a few years. I could go on and on and on, but my favorite was that none of us who actually had to work together to create the product were allowed to talk to each other, we had to send all our questions and communications through She Who Must Be Obeyed, and wait for Her to ask the teammate, who would then respond through Her and eventually we would get an answer. Maybe. To put it in the same language as Allison’s example, think “photographer is not allowed to talk to art director. All questions and responses about a photo shoot must go through director, who knows nothing about photography or art direction.”

    We couldn’t communicate with the clients, either. Good times.

  60. Tarra*

    As well as the excellent advice already given, have her check out Amy Edmondson on building a psychologically safe workplace.

  61. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP —
    I’m coming in late, and I admit I haven’t read every comment in every thread. But certain things in your letter leaped out at me:
    Fergusia replied that she knows what she’s doing and that I don’t seem to have issues with the other project managers. You do know that Fergusia is challenging your authority, don’t you? You can’t let this go, not if you want to successfully lead in this role.

    Several commenters upstream have observed that you seem to be under-managing here. That may be a good approach in situations when you are coordinating large projects and you’re working with highly-trained and competent project managers. Fergusia isn’t one, so you need to get much more involved.

    Take some time and get really clear in your own head about what excellent performance in Fergusia’s role would look like. Be able to clearly articulate where she’s falling short. Collect some examples.

    You say she’s related to a friend of the CEO. Don’t overthink this, but find out more about her previous history in the company. Talk with your boss — does she have any insights into Fergusia’s general reputation and history? (You need to brief your boss anyway. Start here.) If your company does performance reviews, can you get copies of hers? You need to know if she has a history of micromanaging, or if she’s overwhelmed in her current role and is acting out under pressure.

    Then have The Conversation with Fergusia. Be explicit that you’re not satisfied with the way she’s managing her team because it’s causing problems a, b, and c, and that she needs to make x, y, and z changes to meet your standards. Focus as much as possible on behaviors, rather than attitudes and feelings. Instead of telling her “You’re a micromanager,” try “Your efforts to ensure error-free performance are causing bottlenecks we can’t afford.”

    This isn’t going to be fun or easy, but you were hired with the expectation that you’d do what was needed to make the project a success. Right now, that includes remedial management training for Fergusia.

  62. Still Mostly Lurking*

    I would be interested in an update to this issue. I’m on a team of 9, and I’m currently managed by a micromanager. Two staff have already left, another will leave at the end of her contract – she’s not seeking to renew – this is a position that will be automatically renewed if she wanted. This is the micromanagers first role as Manager within our organisation, she has been a small business operator in the past.

    The staff who have left have been replaced by friends/family of the micromanager, one with no experience in our role at all, so we need to teach her everything, and the other supposedly had lots of knowledge of the role from a move from another department, but, in actual fact does not, and we are teaching him as well.

    Micromanager has thrown out all the SOP’s, and is continually changing the way we do our processes, sometimes part way through. She allocates tasks to individuals, not the team, so there is massive duplication, plus things not getting done as noone knows who is supposed to be doing what. We are continually in crisis mode.

    She having a dawning realisation that she is a micromanager. She does our job, relegating us to the sidelines, but is not doing the manager work, training isn’t being organised, etc etc.

    I’ve had enough, and am starting to job hunt too. Our hope is she gets bored, and moves on to another position.

  63. A Rocky Horror Fan*

    Alison did you use Brad and Janet as the names together on purpose?????? I love the Rocky Horror Show so much and i just need to know.

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