updates: managing a micromanager, using volunteers in a store, and more

Here are three updates from people who had their letters answered here recently.

1. I manage a horrible micromanager

Thanks, Alison, for prompting me to speak directly to Fergusia about her micromanagement. I did as you advised: took her aside to discuss how her tactics were leading to poor morale, bottlenecks, extra work, and wasted time. She immediately asked who on her team had complained. I replied that “several people had expressed concerns.” She was initially defensive but eventually listened. And she remained focused on employee mistakes. I explained that, while employees sometimes make mistakes, the important thing is that they recognize their errors, understand why they made them, and if needed, come up with their own plan as to avoid further issues. In that vein, I suggested that she and I work together to come up with a management coaching plan to help her learn new tactics and navigate problems. Unfortunately, after our conversation, she ran straight to CEO who then talked to me about “singling out” Fergusia. He basically told me that there would be no management plan for her unless all other project managers had one, too.

So I tried Plan B. Thinking that perhaps she’d be more open to advice from cohorts, I arranged a one-day retreat for all project managers working under me. The idea was to share tactics that work/don’t work. Everyone was asked to bring three effective strategies for efficiency and one issue they needed to work on; it resulted in robust discussion and exchanges of ideas. The other PMs were floored by Fergusia’s policies of everyone copying her on every email and the litany of checklists/procedures. Several other PMs pointed out that she was creating extra work for herself as well as making her team feel distrusted. Others suggested strategies for allowing employees to evaluate themselves and create their own management plans; she somewhat reluctantly agreed to try that. It was all very positive, but Fergusia seemed close to tears at times.

In the end, all the PMs created their own management plans. Fergusia’s goals focused on learning to trust her team and create efficient systems. The checklists have become voluntary and she only has to be copied on specific emails. As far as I know, there have been no new retraining efforts. I check in on her several times per day and have noticed that her team appears noticeably happier. Best of all, we’ve established open dialog between the all PMs (and myself) so that now when anyone has an issue, they (including Fergusia) feel more comfortable asking for advice. It’s certainly not perfect, but it seems all I can do right now.

2. Is it ethical to accept volunteer help at my local business?

The shop is still going strong and I’m still the sole owner/employee. You’ll be pleased to know I’ve managed to keep everything above board! I said in the comments that I would absolutely not break the law under any circumstances and that was the end of the discussion for me, and I stuck to that in the past few months. (I’m still mortified at my mistake, but I did learn from it.) I made it through winter, a notoriously slow time for this kind of business, and we’re relatively unscathed. I managed to get a second round of funding from the investors. And I must be doing something right, because several people have expressed interest in buying into the business. I’m currently in talks with two of them and they intend to become full business partners with roughly 40% of the business split between them, leaving me with a very comfortable majority share and all the much-needed help I could possibly want.

Of course things are still rough professionally and personally, but there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve managed to get my feet back under me. Although there is still a lot of surreptitious bathroom-crying, the growth numbers are good and the future looks bright! It’s been a very long winter, but the worst looks to be over now.

Thanks again to you and the commenters, your help has been invaluable.

3. What to put on a resume when you have zero work experience

First of all, I cannot thank you and the Ask A Manager community enough for publishing my question. Some of the readers really hit the nail on the head so-to-speak, and it was encouraging for Jordan to hear that there were others who had been in their position before. I wanted to thank you all for the suggestions and “tough love” I couldn’t give Jordan myself.

There were so many suggestions and ideas that neither myself nor Jordan had even thought about! As it turned out, Jordan’s resume wasn’t as “empty” as we had initially thought.

Second of all is the good news: Turns out that my network ended up helping Jordan find a volunteering position. They had been hoping to volunteer at a shelter that shut down shortly after they found out about it…But somebody whom I knew through work ended up helping to re-start the shelter and Jordan was first in line to volunteer.

Though they still do not have paid employment, Jordan is loving working at the shelter and it’s helped build up a lot of confidence for them. They’ve been looking into other volunteer opportunities in the mean time, and their resume is looking far less empty and sad.

Thank you so very much!

{ 115 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago

    This is such an uplifting post of updates!

    LW #1 – A+ on the creative thinking in setting up a retreat. I am so glad it worked out!

    LW #2 – It is wonderful to hear that you are doing well and are not in danger of losing your business.

    LW#3 – You are a great friend and it sounds like Jordan is doing really well.

    1. Tom

      I can only second these comments.

      And as extra to LW #2 – i am happy it`s going well, with some good things about to happen.
      As a geek myself (not much of a gamer though) I love hearing that things do go well for us :)

  2. Goya de la Mancha

    I honestly think #1 sounds like a great solution! I feel in my own company that we don’t have enough time for people in the same title to meet and discuss things that could be beneficial to an individual or the group as a whole.

    1. OrigCassandra

      Yes, I think the retreat was the perfect response. OP1’s boss’s stricture is observed, Fergusia gets the WTFs she needs to hear from all directions, OP1’s direct reports’ time is for the most part not wasted. I am in awe of OP1’s productive guile here.

      As for “better but not perfect,” Fergusia was never going to turn on a dime, I suspect. Now that her walls of defensiveness have been breached, however, she might well improve further.

      1. Aveline

        I don’t know what to make of the tears part. Is being told micromanaging isn’t normal a threat to her somehow?

        Is this emotional insecurity? Narcissism?

        I’m a perfectionist self-control freak. You’d think I wanted to micromanage others. Nope. My idea of hell is micromanaging others. I HAAATE it when someone is responsible for something but wants me to micromanage them.

        1. Parenthetically

          I dunno, I think anytime someone is told that the way they’ve been doing things, to which they’re committed, and about which they think they’re completely right, is not only not universal but perceived as strange and problematic, it’s going to cause an emotional response. That’s how I read the tears.

          1. MsM

            Especially when it’s coming from all directions. She might’ve felt a bit ganged up on. I’m glad she was able to remain open to the feedback, though.

            1. Blue

              I’m sure it wasn’t fun, but I do think it was necessary? As long as it was just OP calling her out, she could tell herself she was being picked on/singled out. If her employees were complaining, I’m sure she’d say they were biased or mad at her. I suspect she had to hear it from multiple people, and specifically from multiple peers, who aren’t impacted by her choices and have no motivation to respond to them in a personal way. Hopefully she’ll continue to take that feedback seriously.

              1. Hapless Bureaucrat

                Yes, this. And kudos to her peers for being willing to be direct with her about that.

              2. Observer

                I think that you are right, and it was totally necessary. But at the same time, it must have been very hard. Being presented with the fact that all of your colleagues think that you’re acting ridiculously, and in a way that she can’t push back on and claim is a misunderstanding or the like, is rough.

                It’s a shame the OP didn’t have any other good options though.

            2. C Baker

              I bet she did feel ganged up on, as you put it, but the OP had tried to address this one-on-one and got nowhere.

              1. Traffic_Spiral

                Yup. Then she went to the CEO to complain and demand that there be no improvement plan unless everyone had one (which, wtf? no one else needed one, CEO) so really, she brought this on herself.

          2. kittymommy

            Yeah. Likely hearing all of her colleagues astonishment (not in a good way) and dis-agreeing with the way she had been managing, especially in the face of her double-down behavior just prior was too much to take in and she got emotional. That seems like a pretty common response.

          3. Else

            +1. I’m sure that was it. I’m actually really pleased for/by Fergusia here – I’ve rarely seen an outcome where somebody with those issues was able to retrain themselves, and it sounds like she’s working on it. I think that this LW did an awesome, creative job thinking about how to handle both this issue and her own boss’s strictures. Plus that sounds like it might be a useful thing to do going forward, which would also make Fergusia feel less ganged up on. Who knows; maybe she’ll be able to help someone else edit their practices next time.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD

          This comment is really upsetting and dismissive. A person who finds herself on the edge of tears after hearing multiple people say her ideas are bad isn’t necessarily emotionally insecure or a narcissist. It’s pretty normal to have feelings when a whole room full of people tells you the things you thought were good and right are terrible ideas.

          1. jolene

            Eh, she wouldn’t listen to her manager and ran to the CEO to whine – she brought it on herself.

    2. Hermione at Heart

      I am so impressed by LW #1 — it’s the rare case where coming up with a group solution to an individual problem sounds like it actually might have been a good idea. (I expect other PMs probably got something out of that retreat, too, if everybody was sharing systems with each other.) I bet organizing that and not making it feel like an intervention was a LOT of work, and taxing after the first attempt at course-correcting failed, but it seems like it was all worth it.

      1. Heidi

        So impressive. I wish that OP1 could get some sort of recognition for this other than just from us in the comments section, like a Manager’s Award in the category of Micromanager Intervention. The CEO doesn’t seem to really value this type of problem solving, but it’s so difficult to achieve.

      2. Observer

        Yes, this is REALLY impressive. This was designed in a way that all the other PMs could actually benefit, whether Fergusia did or not.

        It also is a really good team building activity. We don’t see to many of those here- we generally hear the horror stories.

        1. govtemployee

          Agree! I was actually floored by the pivot and will be putting it in my back pocket for future use. Kudos LW #1. This was awesome!!

      3. CM

        I agree that LW#1 handled this really well, but I also think it’s frustrating that all the other PMs had to spend the day re-educating this one because the CEO undermined LW#1’s one-on-one feedback. I hope that everyone got something out of it. It just seems like a lot of time and effort for something that should have been addressed by coaching. LW#1 ended up having to manage both Fergusia and her CEO.

        1. Else

          That would bite if it was the case, but I’m hopeful from the description that they all found it helpful for their own departments. It sounds like a good, useful practice going forward. If I were the LW, I’d try to do this once annually. Maybe next time Fergusia will be able to help someone else in some way.

        2. That One Person

          From the sounds of it the retreat did open more veins of communication between the other PMs so they felt more free to communicate and possibly reach out for help/second opinions and views on issues. Beyond Fergusia’s issues it gave them each the opportunity to see others’ styles in management and problem solving so when they do have something crop up I imagine they have a better idea of who to go to over the problem for a second opinion/some insight (and possibly experience in the matter).

  3. Aspiring Chicken Lady

    #1: Brilliant management trick there. Tucking that away in the “do this” file.

    Sharing best practices in a spirit of growth with peers. Delicious. And having multiple folks in the room let her see it for herself, rather than having to be resentful about directions that contradict her particular world view.

  4. Mockingdragon

    “Unfortunately, after our conversation, she ran straight to CEO who then talked to me about “singling out” Fergusia. He basically told me that there would be no management plan for her unless all other project managers had one, too.”

    Insert Pikachu Meme Here! My jaw literally dropped. I’m glad you’ve been able to make some progress, but I can’t believe you have to be the only sane person in your power structure!

    1. Flat Penny

      That cozy relationship is never going to stop being a problem. Being tattled on and then chastised for doing my job would definitely have me at least thinking about job hunting.

      1. Jadelyn

        Same. Being prevented from managing an employee’s performance is basically “we hired you to do this job, but now we’re not going to let you do it.” Very few things get me job-hunting faster than that. If you want me to have responsibility, you need to give me authority to go with it. If you can’t do that, I’m not staying.

        1. milksnake

          “we hired you to do this job, but now we’re not going to let you do it.” Is exactly what I deal with in my seasonal (6mo/yr) management job. If I try to coach someone like Furgisia they run straight to the director and the director gets upset with me. The problem is I’m at the top of my field in my area so job hunting would mean relocating.

      2. RUKiddingMe

        Yeah because the CEO was undermining OP’s authority.

        It sounds like it ended up working out well, tay for that. But… the other PMs weren’t a problem ergo CEO should not have demanded “all or nothing” and just let OP take care of the one problem employee.

    2. leya

      for real! that part made me SO annoyed. sometimes people, even managers, DO need to be “singled out” for extra coaching or what have you, as long as it’s truly business related. treating everyone exactly the same and requiring everyone to to make certain changes to improve when it’s only one person who may need it might be “fair” but it isn’t equitable, and that attitude like likely to alienate high performers. (certainly the overall attitude that everyone could improve, even high performers, is not a problem; but being this rigid in that attitude definitely is.) all that being said, it seems like OP1 made the absolute best possible out of the situation.

      1. Mystery Bookworm

        It’s also so self-sabatoging of Fergusia. She basically ignored useful feedback and avoided working on something that’s a genuine issue. OP found a reasonable workaround, but I imagine Fergusia still has some work to do. If she ever finds herself at a different company, the lack of of self-reflection here might be a issue.

        1. leya

          yuuuuuuuuup. it isn’t easy to hear that the only way you know how to do things isn’t helpful but there’s a way to handle that feedback like a reasonable adult, and this ain’t it.

        2. Anonymeece

          It’s also indicative of some potential problems down the road. In this case, OP found a neat solution, but it won’t work with everything. What happens when OP has to have a discussion with Fergusia about a different issue? Is she going to do the same thing?

      2. Emily K

        It reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s conservative persona: “He’s not a flip-flopper. Whatever he believes on Monday, he’ll believe on Wednesday. No matter what happened on Tuesday.”

        Here we have, “Don’t single people out. Whatever coaching or feedback you give one manager, you have to give to the other managers. No matter what their individuals strengths and weaknesses are.”

      3. Jadelyn

        CEO sounds like the type to get a whole class of kids in trouble because one kid misbehaved. Addressing someone’s individual issues isn’t “singling them out”, ffs.

      4. Observer

        No, it’s not fair either. It’s not fair to punish someone for the problems another person is dealing with.

    3. Bostonian

      I know! This is so mind-bogglingly illogical. So.. if somebody were underperforming and you had to put them on a PIP, the boss would say, “not unless you put everyone on a PIP!” ??? It’s not “singling out” someone to address legitimate work issues.

      1. Engineer Woman

        Such a good example of how “do this for 1 person, do it for everyone” is an insane process if applied universally with no context. While I’m horrified at the CEO’s reaction, kudos to OP#1 for being a great manager!

        1. Not So NewReader

          I am chuckling, the CEO got out-voted by his own people. Since the CEO would not rope in this micro-manager, her peers DID. ha! Brilliantly played, OP, absolutely brilliant. I am sure this will go well for you.

        2. EPLawyer

          Kind of what Fergusina was doing to her reports. One person made a mistake, now everyone has a tedious checklist. No wonder Fergusina thought it was a good management technique.

          I can imagine her shock when everyone was all “Umm, yeah, that sounds like waaaay too much work.”

      2. Knotty Ferret

        When I had a micromanaging boss, that was essentially what she was doing. She really, really wanted everyone on the team to do the exact same tasks and have the exact same abilities and everyone to use the same tools and aids. There was very little allowance for different backgrounds or skill sets, and she was constantly coming up with new ways to triple-quadruple check all our work because some people were simply not suited to some tasks and did them poorly. I wonder if the CEO has a micromanaging style as well.

      3. SOAS (NA)

        I had this situation with an employee. Any work issues that were brought up – “I’m being singled out and bullied.” Everyone was held to the same standards.

    4. WellRed

      Yes, this annoyed me too. he seems to have the same school of thought as Fergusia, re: let’s do it to everyone. It’s not singling her out if she’s the only one doing terrible management things. Fingers crossed that relationship doesn’t cause other problems.

      1. Lance

        Very technically speaking, I think it is in fact singling her out… but that’s not a bad thing when she’s the single one with this issue. Can people like this CEO please abolish the school of thought that says ‘one person’s error is everyone’s error’? Because that’s… really not a good way to create a good working environment.

        1. JunieB

          This exactly! Effective troubleshooting is all about singling out factors that are causing problems, then rectifying them. Fergusia’s management style is causing problems and needed to be zeroed in on. “Solving” non-issues in the interest of equality is the least efficient approach I can think of.

    5. DCompliance

      I don’t know if this will work at OP’s company, but one thing I learned is to get HR to sign off on this before you enact it. Lay out why this person needs a management plan, why others don’t, get HR’s blessing, and then you have something to present if questioned. Frustrating, but it helps.

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      There’s nothing worse than someone at a higher level in the company who won’t back you up when you have a legitimate issue. I would have been tempted to ask that if I had an employee who wasn’t doing their job and needed to be put on a PIP, did he expect me to put all employees on a PIP to not single out the one person not performing their job duties? I’m glad OP found a solution for the time being, but that would make want to start looking for employment elsewhere.

    7. That Girl From Quinn's House

      I’ve had this happen so many times.

      Boss: You are responsible for your employees’ behavior.
      Me: Karen, please do not juggle the llamas, it is upsets them and risks breaking their legs.
      Karen: Boss, Me is being mean to me!
      Boss: Why can’t you get along with Karen? Let’s give Karen some vacation and you can cover her shifts, OK?
      Me: *bangs head into wall*

      1. Not So NewReader

        There are so many ways to say, “I don’t know how to manage people. I know nothing about this topic, yet here I am managing people.”

    8. tinyhipsterboy

      Yeah, oof. OP was singling out Fergusia… because she was the only one that was having these issues. It’s not unfair; you wouldn’t reteach an entire McDonald’s because one person was putting two bottom buns on a burger, for instance. Oy.

    1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

      I agree. It’s great you found a workaround that seems to have gotten some change – but I’m frustrated that CEO and Fergusia relationship that some of us worried about in the original comments turned out to be true. Hoping that the changes stick.

  5. CatCat

    These are all great updates, I am so glad that the OPs shared how things are going.

    I actually hope to hear from them again maybe in several months or a year. I hope things continue positively for all!

  6. BRR

    #1 You. Sound. Amazing! I would have never thought of that and would have probably given up after the CEO essentially prevented me from managing. You’ve made work a lot easier and less stressful for her 16 direct reports. You seem so skilled that I can’t imagine you wouldn’t do this but I hope you’ll give Fergusia some positive feedback on learning to trust her team, signed someone with micromanaging tendencies.

  7. Bostonian

    I am so happy for #2. I know things must still be hard, but it’s good to hear things are working out with the business.

    1. Blue

      Agreed! She’s in such a difficult spot – I can’t even imagine. So glad to hear things are on the upswing!

  8. Ella

    #1: Not perfect? Considering the pushback you got from the CEO himself I think you booked some amazing results!

    1. uranus wars

      Agree 100%. When I got to the part about the retreat I immediately thought “Fergusia quit on him”…I definitely did not expect to read the result and the positive actions she took from it.

      I think this ended up being the perfect solution to getting her to at least work on the issues. It’s more than a step in the right direction – it sounds like a big jumping off point! Kudos to OP #1 for sure.

  9. Hmmm

    #1 You sound great. I’d hire you to run my company!

    But seriously, can’t you just fire her? I know so many great PMs….

    1. ToadSwans

      Considering just trying to put her on a management plan got LW a talking-to from the CEO, I’d guess not. :/

      1. Indigo a la mode

        Well yeah, that’d be singling her out. There will be no firing for her unless all other project managers have one, too.

    2. uranus wars

      I actually think OP might have learned something good about his employee…she initially felt attacked but also seems willing to listen to what works for peers and is willing to try to be a better manager. I think this shows that the right step was working with her, not firing her. Even if that does sound nearly impossible.

      1. Jadelyn

        I disagree about the lesson here. I don’t think the lesson is “Fergusina was willing to try to be a better manager, therefore working with her was the right idea rather than firing her”. I think the lesson was “Fergusina can’t take direction from her actual manager, will only grudgingly change her ways when a whole group of her peers all tell her she’s doing it wrong, and relies on her relationship with the CEO to override normal, reasonable manager feedback. Also, the CEO doesn’t seem to understand how fairness works in the real world.” I think OP lucked out that the PM retreat worked in this instance, but the end result is still that OP can’t coach Fergusina individually on her performance because the CEO won’t allow it, and that’s not an environment where someone can manage effectively.

        1. Observer

          I agree completely on Fergusia’s attitude.

          But I disagree on two points. For one thing, I don’t think that the OP “lucked out”. The OP clearly designed it to have this result. Remember, OP knows that the other PMs are competent and totally not likely to go for Fergusia’s tactics. And the OP clearly set it up so that people should give real feedback. Sure, it wasn’t a sure thing- nothing is. But it WAS designed in a way that gave it a high likelihood of success.

          Also, the OP is constrained in what they can do, but clearly is doing better than before. Between the management plan and changing their own style to check on her several times a day, it seems to be working. True, the OP shouldn’t need to do that, but if it works reasonably well, it’s what they are going to have to do.

          1. LawBee

            I can see the “lucked out” part though – it would have been equally as likely that Fergusia felt attacked and ganged up on as all of her peers basically told her that her managing style sucked. She could have gone to the CEO and said that she was set up for humiliation. She could have quit on the spot.

            It worked out well, and it was a gamble worth taking, but it was not without its risks.

            1. Observer

              She might have felt attacked, but even there the possible outcomes have a high possibility of being positive or neutral. Fergusia quits? Not great, but not a really bad outcome.

              She goes to the CEO? That could play out several ways – but the key here is that OP did EXACTLY the same thing for every single PM, not just Fergusia. ALL of them had to bring 3 things they think they do well and one issue they need to work on. EVERYONE was “treated the same”. That’s not a guarantee, since the CEO is clearly an idiot, but it often works to follow instructions and then harp on that when you get called out.

              So, like I said, not guaranteed, but definitely a very high likelihood of a decent outcome.

          2. Jadelyn

            Please understand, I don’t mean to diminish OP’s excellent strategizing around the retreat. It was beautifully well-done. But as LawBee said, it’s entirely possible that:
            1. the other PMs might not have stepped up to contradict Fergusia strongly enough
            2. Fergusia might have dismissed their feedback and doubled-down on her tactics
            3. Fergusia might have complained to the CEO again about feeling targeted/singled-out/whatever by the whole group, not just OP

            I don’t feel like the only possible outcomes of the retreat were neutral or positive – I do think there were some possible negative outcomes, and it was fortunate that the other PMs stepped up to push back on Fergusia the way that OP clearly intended for them to. That’s all I meant by “lucked out”.

  10. Anonyna

    Oooooh LW#1 aren’t you the tricky trickster! I love what you did!! Organizations should be doing that anyway but you really got that added benefit of driving your point home. Well done.

  11. Hey Karma, Over here.

    Honestly, look at what you just did for yourself. This is a killer type of accomplishment that helps you. You created a small program that successfully improved the production of each department. Fergusia’s team is doing better, yay for primary, but everyone else now knows that you take their concerns seriously. You are not intimidated by the CEO telling you to stay in your lane, you widen your lane. People appreciate that. Well done.

  12. Akcipitrokulo

    Congratulations to all the OPs!

    But absolutely loved OP1… I was cringing reading the original lettet and feeling so sorry for Fergusia’s reports – so impressed with the way you worked it out. I suspect her running to CEO was a blessing in disguise because a roomful of WTF? reactions from her peers has probably had more impact than anything you could have done to get through!

    And so well done for keeping the process one of support and personal growth to get past the defensiveness.

  13. Artemesia

    I am stunned by the CEO in #1 and impressed at how the OP managed to work around this incompetent clod. ‘Singling out’ is another word for ‘managing’. You don’t need to manage Fred on problem X if it is Fergus who has problem X. Individual feedback is the essence of management. The CEO is pretty obviously the real problem at this company and hope the OP will have opportunities to move far and high away from this non managing management.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, really. You have some serious talent, OP. Many employers would looove to have you.
      You keep doing stuff like this and you will be the informal CEO of this company, as in everyone will go to you with their problems not the CEO. Unwittingly, the CEO just gave away so much of his power.

  14. Freya

    Letter writer #1 rocks for finding such a creative solution but the CEO sounds awful. Of course the others can have a management plan if they need one – which they don’t!

  15. LunaLena

    #3, dunno if they already doing this, but if Jordan is looking into getting into website design or development, please tell them to consider building a new website for the shelter. My experience in design is that having an actual, functional piece of work that you can show off can carry as much or more weight than education or even a resume, especially if you can show that it had quantifiable results like increasing traffic, Google rankings, or social media presence.

    Good luck to both you and Jordan, it sounds like you’re both off to a good start!

  16. LGC

    To the manager of a micromanager: PLEASE TELL ME YOU’RE HIRING, I TOTALLY WANT TO WORK FOR YOU

    Your company sounds somewhat bee-filled (I mean, their response was “if Fergusia is on a PIP, then EVERYONE needs to be on a PIP?!”), but you yourself sound awesome. I’m so glad things worked out!

  17. Elbe

    I love the retreat idea! That was such a strategic move!

    But now I’m concerned about the LW’s boss. How is giving a member of your team constructive feedback singling them out? Why should everyone be on a plan when only one has severe issues?

    It’s great that the LW was able to out maneuver these two, but ultimately the boss should have just let the LW manage her own team.

  18. The Tin Man

    Oh my goodness the CEO and Fergusia from OP1 sound EXHAUSTING. I am happy the retreat seems to have ended up working but I am just baffled by the idea that addressing a problem that one employee has means “singling out.” As someone stated above, with a CEO who thinks like that it is no wonder that one person makes a mistake and Fergusia mandates a checklist for all employees.

    Sounds like Fergusia needed to hear about how banana her crackers are from multiple sources because otherwise it is just her being singled out by a manager who is mean to her. It sounds like she was on the border about feeling ‘attacked’ at the retreat though, with OP1 mentioning her being near tears.

    Still baffled at CEO, I mean if someone makes a mistake I address it with them and put the solutions in my “toolbox” if anyone else has the same problem. Only when there are repeated mistakes across the team is a team-wide solution needed.

    1. The Tin Man

      And the petty part of me thinks “CEO you are really singling me out for singling out Fergusia. Why aren’t you having this conversation with all the other managers at my level? It’s not faiiiiiirrrrrr”

    2. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

      Yeah – the CEO and Fergusia’s response to the coaching attempt tells where and what the real problem is. So long as CEO protects her there is going to be a limit on how much help and improvement will happen for that one team.

  19. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

    Someone needs to tell the CEO of LW1 that “singling out” is only a problem when you’re holding one person to a standard you don’t apply to everyone else. It’s not when only one person is actually doing the thing.

    For example, if everyone in the office wears jeans to work, but you only write up Jane for violating the dress code (and ignoring Tiffany for doing the same thing), that’s “singling out.” But if everyone in the office wears a suit except Jane, and therefore Jane is the only person your criticism applies to, you’re not singling her out; she’s doing it to herself. Acting like the two are equivalent means that people who aren’t at fault will be unfairly punished: exactly the problem that avoiding singling out is supposed to address!

  20. Anonymeece

    LW2: I occasionally go back mentally to your letter, and I wondered how it turned out. I’m so happy to hear that things are going well!

  21. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy

    You know, “most Machiavellian thing you’ve ever done at work” would be an awesome ask the readers thread.

  22. TheAssistant

    It floors me that often the updates, or the letters themselves, equate “fairness” with “everyone is treated the same”. Treating people differently, especially in terms of management, IS fair – it recognizes where they are, their history, and their strengths, and puts them on a path for success that’s custom to them. It would have taken every bone in my body (and I’m still not sure that would have been enough) to not respond to the CEO with “Not every manager needs a management plan because no other manager is managing this poorly in such a spectacular way”.

    I applaud the creative thinking but my God, I’m not sure how this multi-year, multi-team project is going to succeed under leadership and middle management that thinks in this way.

  23. I Speak for the Trees

    Wow, all of these updates made my bright, sunny day even sunnier.

    #1: That was an inspired plan. And, also, I bet all the other PMs got a lot out of it. Personally, I’ve always found cohort meetings invaluable. I’m now at a very small non-profit organization, but we have yearly conferences with other organizations who do the same work and I probably get the most out of the round tables with other people in my position. And it was the same when I worked for a larger corporation. Peer-to-peer meet-ups give a great amount of insight and perspective that even experienced managers above you cannot always provide.

    #2: We have a similar business in our town and it occured to me that, since it was described as a “geeky community center” as much as a store, perhaps she could at least leverage people who want to contribute that way. Volunteers might not able to make sales, ring up customers, etc., but they could run events/activities under the guise of them doing it privately.

    1. VelociraptorAttack

      This was pretty thoroughly exhausted in the initial post but no, it’s a really, really bad idea to accept volunteer help at a business under the “guise” of anything and that makes it no less illegal.

  24. LeahS

    These updates are all really great. I gotta say, I had missed #2 when it was first posted and just read it and the comments. That was… a wild ride there towards the end!

  25. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I find it exceptionally backwards that the CEO is so “fair” that he refused to “single” a manager out for her horrible management style. BUT! it appears to be a-okay to single each team member out as they make an error and make them engage in retraining.

    I applaud your ability to swerve them both and have all the PM’s involved in retraining instead because that’s not less painful at all, when all your peers are telling you that your management style is horrid.

  26. Observer

    #1 I agree with all of the compliments you got. I want to add something that I didn’t see.

    Kudos to you for starting to monitor Fergusia more closely. You made it clear that check-ins multiple times a day are not your style. So, I respect the fact that you changed your style to manage this one person who clearly doesn’t do well under that type of management.

    I wonder, does she realize how differently you are treating her than the others? And does she have an issue with the frequent check-ins?

  27. Wulfgar

    Regarding LW 2 kind of: didn’t a group of volunteers from a rival book shop help the owner when he had a medical emergency a few weeks ago? They took shifts and stocked shelves, ran the till, etc.

    What is the legality of that? The other owner really stepped up to help, just out of human decency it seems, without expectation of a reward/pay.

    1. CatCat

      Potentially problematic, but part of making business decisions is not just “is this legal” but also “what’s the risk.” It might not be legal, but what’s the risk someone comes down on you. There’s a political aspect here as well when it comes to any government action. Do YOU want to be the government official that goes after the guy recuperating from sudden heart surgery because his pals voluntarily stepped up to the plate for this one-time unusual occurrence? Probably not!

    2. JSPA

      A one time, short-term thing is unlikely to reach actionable levels. In part, I suspect, because you don’t have to report to the IRS when you pay someone under $600 total, in a year…which means work that totals under $600 in value is largely invisible, whether or not someone gets paid for it. But I’m not an accountant or a tax preparer, so I’m very willing to get shot down if I’m combining apples and bananas, here. I’m NOT saying it’s legal! People must be paid for work. Just that it’s intrinsically pretty invisible, unless someone gets irritated and makes a point of bringing it to public attention. Additionally, if the owner doesn’t ASK or even ALLOW the work, it’s probably a lot harder to hold them liable for…not preventing it (?).

  28. AngryOwl

    LW#1, you sound like a great manager. I hope you end up in a position where you’re supported.

  29. WantonSeedStitch

    Holy cow, OP#1! You were in a really awful situation with an employee who wouldn’t listen to perfectly reasonable feedback, and a boss who tied your hands at effectively managing…and you STILL managed to knock it out of the park as far as I’m concerned! What a great idea, having your PMs come together so Fergusia’s peers could talk about their own management tactics and point out the problems with Fergusia’s. It’s a lot harder to dismiss something as “mean old boss being a meanie” when people who do the same job as you are the ones saying, “uh…this is probably a really bad way of handling this.” The fact that her team seems noticeably happier is fantastic. If I were to offer advice to you, I’d just say that it would be a good idea to give Fergusia continuous feedback, and make sure that she knows these improvements have not gone unnoticed, and that they have made a big difference in the morale of her team. I always feel like micromanagers probably have some insecurity at the root of their management problems: they’re so afraid someone under them will mess something up and make THEM look bad as a result that they want to make sure they have their own hands on everything “just in case.” If she receives positive feedback and assurance that her new behaviors are accomplishing the results her superiors want to see, it might reassure her and reinforce those positive behaviors.

    Seriously, though: way to go!

  30. Drowning not waving

    Thank you OP1 for your efforts in reigning in a micromanager.

    My current manager is a micromanager, and the whole team has gone from an innovative, fun, confident workplace to one where we constantly second guess ourselves and are nit encouraged to show initiative.

    I’ve spoken to her many times how I’m struggling under her management style, I’ve also spoken to HR who have also dismissed my concerns. Two people have resigned, one directly citing the micromanager as being the only reason she resigned (with no job lined up), a third person has retired early, and a fourth has ask their contract not be renewed. I’ve just returned from 3 weeks personal leave where the micromanagement was a main contributor to my stress levels.

    I’m job hunting.

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