my employee overdoes everything and it’s costing us money

A reader writes:

I run a small business that supplies a product to major companies that you’ve heard of. To keep the details anonymous, let’s say that we supply garments to a few mid-tier clothing retailers like Banana Republic or J. Crew. The problem is that one of my grand-employees (reports to someone who reports to me), Dave, behaves as though we’re making clothing for Gucci or Prada. This causes enormous production headaches. It means everything moves much more slowly through his department (the “shirt department”), because he is extremely conscientious about quality. That is admirable, but it results in things like being short with our subcontractors because they have not produced the shirts to his standard, even though they have produced them to industry standards. We’ve lost freelance “shirt makers” because they’re being paid J. Crew wages and being asked to make Prada clothing. He causes many things to be done over or redoes them himself. This directly and dramatically drives up the cost of what we produce. He should be producing 5,000 shirts a year in order to justify his salary but he only produces 3,000. This means we have gotten to a point where it actually costs us more to produce these shirts than we are being paid for them.

Both his manager and I have attempted to intervene and tell him directly that he is overproducing. This usually only angers him and causes him to dig in his heels. We’ve said, “You don’t have to double-bind these seams (made-up term). They were actually fine the way the freelancers produced them. Just concentrate on the big issues like the overall cut of the fabric.” What he apparently hears is, “What you do doesn’t matter. You’re wrong to be concerned about quality.” His reaction is to stay up all night and work through the weekend to try and increase his numbers instead of just taking a step back and not doing everything twice. He has also lately begun to hint at becoming burned out, which is not a surprise. His other tactic is to hint that we should be getting more money from the clients. Yeah, we should, but you know what? The retailers ain’t gonna pay us a dime more and they’ll probably pay us less next year than they do this year. Prices go down in this industry, not up.

By the way, we also have a skirt department and a jacket department. Everyone else is generally able to keep up with orders and our clients are very happy with our entire line. We have very low return rates across the board. So the quality level that other departments hit is fine.

Dave’s heart is in the right place. This is tricky because it’s not like we’re asking him to do X and he refuses. We’re asking him to do X, and he does X twice and then adds Y and Z! We would all love to produce the highest end, most gorgeous clothing in the world. However, no one is going to buy a $500 shirt at Banana Republic. We make the $50 shirts. How can I motivate Dave to take a step back and be more in alignment with the market tier we serve instead of driving up cost and increasing everyone’s aggravation by overdoing things? Or perhaps he is just a bad fit for this job?

He might be a bad fit for the job. Whether his heart is in the right place or not, you can’t keep someone on who refuses to work in the way that you need, wildly misses your production metrics, and drives up your costs — and who, when spoken to about it, flatly refuses to change what he’s doing.

But first make sure you have been very, very clear with Dave. Not just “Concentrate on X, not Y” clear. (Although that should be clear for someone who’s invested in actually listening to you.) This needs to be “if you do not immediately start doing X and stop doing Y, we are going to need to let you go” clear.

You need to say it that way to make sure Dave understands the stakes. It’s possible — somewhat delusional, but possible — that Dave has been hearing, “We would like to have the level of care and quality that you’re providing and obviously it would be better if we could, but sadly we cannot find a way to sustain it.” And he’s thinking, “Let me show you how we can do it!”

So you need to be crystal clear that you don’t want it and you will not allow it. You also need to be clear about the consequences if he continues — that you will fire him. If you don’t spell that out explicitly and then you let Dave go, he sounds like he might be shocked and blindsided because he’s just focused on how much he cares and how hard he’s working (and in his mind, who would fire someone who cares so much and works so hard?). So it’s a service to let him know now that that’s the path he’s heading down.

If you have this conversation and the problem continues, then you’ll know that he just can’t do the job you need done. At that point you can move forward with a clear conscience because you’ll have told him clearly what he needed to do to stay in the job and will have given him a chance to do it.

{ 360 comments… read them below }

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      As it turns out, he did think that. But there were so many reasons that wasn’t going to happen–completely unrelated to what’s in the letter–that that was just a nonstarter.

      1. Mannheim Steamroller*

        He should just go work for “Gucci” or “Prada” or some other retailer that need his specific efforts.

  1. Smiling Swine*

    Early in my career, I was introduced to the phrase “perfect is the enemy of good enough”, and it seems like it could be applied here. He is aiming for “perfect” (where there is no such thing, and the pursuit of which is self-defeating), whereas you need “good enough”. Framing it this way, and defining exactly what consitutes “good enough” ay be helpful. He wants to succeed, but he has an incorrect and self-defeating definition. And of course if that doesn’t work, manage him out…

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      I think the issue here is that Dave’s definition of “perfect” is off. “Perfect” in this context is a $50 shirt made to $50 standards. That isn’t “good enough” — it is exactly what is required. A shirt made to a $500 standard is not perfect — it is a complete fail.

      1. hbc*

        I think it’s wonderful if he can make a $50 shirt to a $500 standard, as long as he can hit the other metrics of 5000/yr, labor and materials cost of $x/shirt, and not alienating subcontractors.

        1. somanyquestions*

          But he can’t, and he’s costing his company money. They’ve tried it his way and it’s gone badly.

        2. Editor*

          Someone in paper products manufacturing was telling a group of us about minimum standards at his company. They do B2B work for janitorial supply companies and other middlemen. All their contracts stipulate the product standards that must be met.

          A few times they have had new customers who received product that was above minimum standard (for reasons I won’t go into here). When subsequent shipments met the minimum but weren’t over it, the customers felt cheated even though the product met the agreed-upon standards.

          OP’s employee is setting the company up for complaints from customers when shirts are supplied to standard, rather than above standard. The employee may think he is improving the reputation of his employer, but by implied over-promising, he’s actually undercutting the company in the long term. By not producing required numbers, the employee is also failing to meet his employer’s contractual obligations, which undermines the company in the short term. I’m surprised the employee was not fired as soon as he missed his second quota and had cost overruns. Giving him a second chance I can understand. More than that, not so much, because survival in the apparel industry is challenging.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Exactly. Perfect is doing your job the way your manager wants you to do it and doing it at a high level, not doing whatever you think is best and costing your employer time and money.

      3. Jennifer*

        Exactly. If you work in a diner, you serve burgers and fries, not caviar. He needs to redefine success in his mind.

        1. OP (Making Shirts)*

          Yeah, around here we talk about burgers vs. filet mignon. If someone ordered a burger and you deliver filet mignon, that may stroke your ego, but the customer hasn’t gotten what they asked for.

          1. Uldi*

            And the client paid for a burger, not a filet-mignon. So not only is it detrimental to you, but the client themselves. They’ll either start to worry that you’ll start charging them filet-mignon prices, or you’ll go out of business. Which in turn could cost them business if their own customers have come to expect filet-mignon quality at burger prices.

            1. Lancelottie*

              Also, sometimes you just want a burger! Sometimes you just want a shirt that feels practical instead of luxurious. Trust your customers; many of them probably know what they want.

              1. whingedrinking*

                Exactly. If I buy some clothes to paint my house in or whatever, I’m going to feel bad about ruining a very good quality garment when I really wanted something I could destroy without regret.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            And when they come back next time and order a burger and get a burger, they might blow up Yelp. Yeah.

      4. whingedrinking*

        I’m a language teacher, so I automatically go to things like, “You don’t need to teach the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and its critiques before you get to ‘Good morning, how are you?'”

    2. Ms Mash*

      I was asked this same question in an interview by the director of manufacturing at my last job. When he asked “is it ever good enough?” I said if it meets the documented manufacturing criteria, then it is good enough and doesn’t have to be perfect.
      I got the job.

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      I learned it “perfect is the enemy of finished,” but I was thinking that exact phrase the whole time I was reading the letter. It is admirable to want to go above and beyond, but if doing so is causing more problems than solutions, you meed to scale back and do what is being asked, not what you want the job to be or think in a perfect world it should be.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        That one gets applied in certain areas of higher ed ALL. THE. TIME (think dissertations).

      2. Not Australian*

        Yes, in my line of work (independent publishing) we say that you never *finish* writing a book; you just *stop*. Things can always be done better, but if there are time constraints we sometimes have to acknowledge that it isn’t perfect and let it go anyway.

        This guy’s over-invested in the quality of the product and he’s making the company give away freebies; this isn’t a tenable business model for anyone.

      3. Polly Perfect*

        One of my first jobs was in a costume shop at a summer-stock theater. We ordered in costumes from a big costume warehouse instead of building them ourselves, and a LOT of the costumes we got were actually beautiful vintage clothes. I had spent an hour carefully hemming one leg of a pair of 1930s satin crepe lounging pajamas by hand when my supervisor grabbed them from me and machine-hemmed them in about a minute and a half. It broke my heart at the time (and still does, a little, because those pajamas were gorgeous), but later (YEARS later) I realized that what my job required was quick alterations on *costumes* that were going to be seen at a distance, not tiny invisible stitches and half a day on a garment for Chorus Girl #3 in the back row. :-) I still have that perfectionist tendency, but I try to remember that lesson and notice when I’m getting off in the weeds on some project that doesn’t need to be “perfect.”

      4. selena81*

        i know ‘better should not be the enemy of good’, which applies to situation like when f.e. a vegetarian (‘good’) gets mocked for not being vegan (‘better’) to the point that they don’t even want to be vegetarian anymore

    4. JKP*

      I have a friend in home construction in a fairly wealthy area who would have clients expect a level of perfection that was completely unreasonable.

      He would listen to their concerns, and then say very seriously, “Don’t worry. We will get it right, even if it costs every last dime you have.” And then the client would laugh and he would laugh, and they would stop being such perfectionists. Maybe it was in his delivery, but it worked every time.

  2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

    I think one way to look at it is that he’s NOT meeting your specifications. You’re demanding X. He’s providing X+10. X+10 may exceed X, but it’s not X. You told him to accept X quality from subcontractors and he’s not doing it. So he’s really NOT following your instructions. And that is what you need to sit down and discuss with him, and why firing him may be warranted.

      1. Working Mom*

        I had to have a similar conversation with an employee who was over-delivering in customer support. Like Dave, her heart was in the right place and she was trying very hard to please her sales reps. Unfortunately, she ended up with half her sales reps loving her (the ones she went above & beyond for) and the other half complained about her being unresponsive, not completing tasks, etc. It was because she spent most of her time with the “squeaky wheels” and didn’t have time left to manage other projects. She also logged a LOT of overtime hours.

        I sat down with her and explained the impact of her actions. First; her feedback was 50% crazy positive but 50% really bad – and the bad was so bad it kind of outweighed the really good. If she got 90% fair feedback and 10% bad – the 90% fair would outweigh the small bit of bad feedback.

        Now, it also affected her peers. She’d do 10 extra tasks that her peers weren’t doing (because it wasn’t our job). Now, when one of Jane’s sales reps worked with another member of the team, they were constantly asking why they weren’t doing the 10 extra tasks that Jane does?!

        In this example – the pants and jackets depts. aren’t delivering this high quality product -which is on purpose – but vendors start to get used to selling $500 quality shirts for $50 – and now you have a really big problem where you’ve set the expectation of that quality for the lower price.

        Luckily Jane understand when I sat down and explained all these impacts to her. Maybe that might help dave too – if you really lay out for him WHY it’s a problem. He may not understand the $$ and supply side!

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I this is really a great suggested route to go down…vendors start to get used to selling $500 quality shirts for $50 – and now you have a really big problem where you’ve set the expectation of that quality for the lower price…not only are we losing the vendors who produce, when we give standards to our vendors who buy from us they think we are slighting them when the reality is we’re giving them exactly what they’ve asked for.

          1. OP (Making Shirts)*

            And that exact thing has happened. As we’ve tried to pull back to what’s sustainable and manageable, we are beginning to get the “wait a minute, you always used to… ” from clients. Having to explain that yes, we were overdelivering previously–giving them more than they paid for–can be a very awkward conversation.

            1. tangerineRose*

              Does Dave know this?

              Can you tell your customers “Unfortunately, we can’t afford to regularly meet that level of quality without drastically raising our prices.”

              1. selena81*

                Dave kinda sounds like one of those people who writes exasperated letters to advice columns about his stupid managers who keep holding him back, who are okay delivering subpar products, and who force him to ‘go behind their back’ and work way more than he should in order to ‘correct their laziness’.

                If he has pretty much convinced himself that /he/ is keeping the company afloat despite his stupid managers than you’ll have a very hard time explaining to him why he should deliver lower quality products

    1. Hey there*

      I don’t even think he’s providing X+10.

      The X they’re most concerned with hitting is the output, as long as the quality is “good enough.” He’s not meeting that output.

      I’d say it’s a whole lot more like they need 5000X and he’s providing them with 3000Y. X would be a shirt that meets the industry standard. Y would be a shirt that exceeds industry standard. Not only is he missing the quantity, but it’s a cost of him producing Y instead of X.

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, and I think any debate with Dave about the quality metric is doomed to failure.
        -Quality >=X. Doing great, Dave!
        -Output >=5000. Whoa, Dave, unacceptable. Give me your plan for getting this number up.

        And it has to be made clear to him that both are minimums. Doubling quality does not balance out halved output.

        1. selena81*

          …And it has to be made clear to him that both are minimums. Doubling quality does not balance out halved output..

          yeah, he probably does not understand this.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      Yes, came here to say this also.

      You asked him for X. He’s giving you X and Y and Z. That’s not what you asked for, so he’s not following directions.

      If I asked you for a plain ham sandwich on white bread and you gave me an artisan ham sandwich on brioche roll with garlic aioli – it doesn’t matter if it’s above and beyond! If it’s not what I asked for then I don’t want it – especially if it takes twice as long to make!

      1. whingedrinking*

        Right, that’s the other thing. Like, if Alex has 20 customers who each want a $1 widget in the next week, and Bailey can only deliver 10 widgets per week, Alex can only sell half as many and make half as much money as the market will permit. Alex can’t just double the price – their customers have budgeted $1 and a $1 product meets their needs just fine. Carson might say, “Yes, of course BaileyBrand widgets are fantastic, but I can only get them like half the time at Alex’s. I need a widget *now*, and Dana’s Widget Emporium always has plenty of stock, so I’m going there.”

    3. PollyQ*

      He isn’t even producing X+10 — he’s producing only 60% of X, and at too high a cost to be profitable. It may be that he’s a bad fit, but based on the letter it doesn’t sound like he’s been given clear enough instructions on what he should be doing. He may also need a basic lesson on costs, profits, and price points.

    4. pentamom*

      Right. And three X’s that all include Y’s and Z’s is not equivalent to nine, or even six, X’s, when what he’s required to produce is seven X’s. He’s not producing seven X’s so he’s not meeting specifications.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I have a friend who’s like Dave. He’s a consultant who prides himself on his delivery of ‘excellence AND perfection’ – huh? – and he gets frustrated because his clients aren’t happy with his work. Yeah, he missed their deadline, but don’t they understand how hard he works for them? How he’s spoiling them with his excellent output? Don’t they appreciate ‘a job done right’? It doesn’t matter if the client didn’t ask for those things, they should appreciate them! Because EXCELLENCE! And PERFECTION! And he wonders why he rarely gets repeat business.

      We’ve asked if he ever just gave the client what they asked for. Work done well, delivered on time, and only what they asked for in the SOW. He looked puzzled…why would he do that? He was hired to produce quality work, and it’s not his fault if they don’t know what that looks like. We asked, well, then why do you give them what they don’t appreciate? Just give them what they hired you to do and be done with it. But he was hired to do quality work…lather, rinse, repeat. Eh, we tried.

      OP, you deserve someone who wants to, and can, meet your needs. Doesn’t seem like that’s Dave.

      1. OP (Making Shirts)*

        Ugh. You get it! That’s eerily familiar. As was stated somewhere else in these comments, if we’re going to keep him, he has to get a broader understanding of what “excellence” means.

      2. Fikly*

        *slow blink*

        But…he wasn’t hired to produce quality work. He was hired to produce what they asked for.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Almost any assembly type work I have done QC has a tolerance range. For example if a seam is off by 1/8 of an inch, it passes inspection, anything greater than that it fails inspection.

        Each item should have tolerance ranges or acceptable variances. QC, not Dave, should be deciding what passes. I know that many people who sew professionally do not like to use any type of jig or guide to ensure accuracy. But other arenas do encourage using jigs/guides or stops to increase the number of correct pieces and increase productivity. Perhaps if the use of guides were SOP then there would be less work for Dave to correct?

        Basically, Dave can’t follow instructions. Either he doesn’t want to or he does not understand he isn’t working for Gucci. At some point, the reason why is no longer relevant. He’s not an employee for your company, he belongs at a different company.

        In terms of giving Dave one last fair shot, I am not convinced that Dave has been told in firm language, “Do NOT do X.” I am wondering if he was told, “You don’t have to do X.” This would leave an open end where he could decide, “Oh but I WANT to do X.”
        You might have to go back in and say, “Why are you still doing X?” And listen to his reasoning because it will tell you volumes about how much he is willing to strive to fit in.

        I know I have fallen into this pit, “You don’t have to do this or that” and I went ahead and did it because I wanted to be a fabulous employee. Fortunately, I was young and really self-conscious. I did watch what my peers did and eventually I realized I needed to stop. I do wish my boss at that time had spoken clearer. I actually needed to hear “Do Y, do not do X because it costs the company too much money/that is not a level we offer/etc.” I guess here, though, that Dave is not young and he should have some sense of QC tolerances. Has anyone told him that it is NOT up to him to set tighter tolerances and he is overstepping?

        I believe you when you say other things are going on also. People like this (not everyone, not all the time) can have other stuff going on, too. You may want to look at those other things as you look at this issue and decide is this even working through with him or is it time for him to go?

      4. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

        That sounds irritating! I admit I can be a bit over and beyond as a dogwalker (a thing my soon to be former boss seems to like — until I talk directly to the client regarding their dog, rather than her… she seems to think I want to steal clients, which is out of the question. I don’t have to do that. As an independent contractor, I can get (and HAVE) more clients of my own. Another story for another time), but that’s WHY clients ask my boss for me. Their dog is basically going to be my baby as long as I’m assigned that dog, and I will learn all the tics and quirks, and actually inspire a certain level of confidence in nervous dogs (had one who was afraid of everyone and everything, and in the short time I had her, managed to get her to walk on the public street for a block and a half, where she used to only walk in the apartment complex. AND got her to get to know a neighbor in that courtyard, somehow.). Now, this was also a useful talent when I was a vet assistant, but that level of skill was not helpful for a medical establishment.

        SO what did I do? I went over to dogwalking and dog daycare, because obviously, my talents are better suited to that than to a medical field. That dude you described, SheLooksFamiliar? He needs to find a clientele who wants the extras. But… he won’t do that because it’s not occuring to him that he’s too smart for his own good.

      5. MsSolo*

        The Daves of this world need to imagine they’re the ones being inconvenienced. You stop to grab a sandwich on the way to the train station. The sandwich maker produces the most beautiful, delicious, artisan sandwich you’ve ever eaten in your life, but you’ve missed your train because it took too long to make. How appreciative of that sandwich do you feel then?

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve had to let many people go over the years in production and QA like jobs. You know what none of them were “bad people” and 99% of them had their heart in the right place! That doesn’t mean they could do the job to the policies and standards we have in place, it’s a bad fit and they had to go find work somewhere their ideas were more in step with. Maybe he needs to be working for Prada, you know?

    You can’t force someone to do anything, especially when he’s not showing any willingness to do so.

    I would level up and say “You are going to follow these standards and if you don’t follow through, continue to slow down orders and angering our freelancers, we cannot keep you on board.”

    It sucks. It sucks a lot. It’s awful. But hello, this is literally just business.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Oh yes! I’ve worked with some engineers and designers like this. They do great work but it’s never done on time. Sometimes that’s ok, sometimes not.

      1. Ms Mash*

        If we have these problems with engineers and designers, you probably have a problem with your Product Design specifications and manufacturing design specifications.
        Engineers and designers only do this if they’re allowed to go open loop, without a feedback control.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          IME engineers and designers are just as capable of ignoring specs/feedback as anyone else.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        There’s only so much wiggle room in any position, that’s for sure.

        I can deal with a lot of quirks and tweaks and personalities. I love different personalities, even the eccentric and just straight up rude at times. But yeah, if you’re costing us money, that’s a huge no-no-no-no. That money is what keeps us all going. Yes it’s weighted crappily but seriously, you lose me thousands of dollars and it’s an error or just cost of doing business, whatever we thrive together and die together. You cost me thousands of dollars because you’re not doing your job to the right scope, you gotta go!

    2. Viette*

      Yeah. So many people like Dave act like making a higher-quality product is the most important thing in the equation, when in fact most of the time making a product on time without pissing off colleagues is more important than increasing product quality. It’s easy to get blinded by the idea that quality>>>everything, but obviously it doesn’t and Dave needs to know that.

      The only save I can imagine here is if Dave is able to recognize that he could be doing a lot better on production time, etc, and focus his energies there.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I would level up and say “You are going to follow these standards and if you don’t follow through, continue to slow down orders and angering our freelancers, we cannot keep you on board.”


      There is always someone with a better product/service. Worse yet, there are businesses that carry the illusion of a better product or service, it’s almost impossible to compete with an illusion.

  4. Tim*

    Omg my employee is giving his best work to me and I’m sure your customers would love to know you want to deliver them a crap product.

    1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

      Wha….? Who said it’s a crap product? I don’t see anywhere it’s said that it’s a crap product, just that they don’t need the perfection that the employee is bringing to the table.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Right – Tim, literally no one said the OP wants to deliver a crap product. The OP hasn’t asked for Dave’s’ ‘best work’ because he doesn’t need it for this particular client. The OP needs good work, at a pace the meets the timeline as set by the client.

        But you already knew that.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          Actually Dave’s “best work” IS delivering at the standard expected. Not above, not below.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I don’t disagree, but I don’t think that was the point Tim was making about Dave. Dave’s ‘best work’ is more than is required for the job at hand.

    2. T2*

      That is a ridiculous statement. There is a triangle of good cheap and fast. You can chose only two. It means that his clients want to be more toward the cheap and fast end of the spectrum.

      It doesn’t mean he wants to deliver a crap product. It means he needs to hit a budgetary number and get an acceptable level of quality in that number. Any manufacturer has a reject rate.

      Not hitting your numbers is not hitting your numbers. If dude is let go it is because he isn’t hitting his numbers, not because he wants to heroically sacrifice himself on the fires of Mount Quality.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Seriously. Sometimes — in fact, most of the time — a Banana shirt will do you just fine and you don’t need the Prada.

        1. T2*

          Lol. Really, the Walmart shirt works for me. Lol, the best T-shirt’s I wear are $10 the dickies work shirts.

        2. Viette*

          Also they’re selling the shirts to people who are shopping at J.Crew! What do you think I think I’m buying when I shop at J.Crew?? Do you think I want Prada and am mad/sad when it isn’t that? I really don’t and I’m really not. I really meant to be shopping at J.Crew and I really think I’m getting a good deal there for the price:quality ratio.

        3. TootsNYC*

          my sister was a directory assistance operator who was in trouble for not handling enough calls in the time frame.
          She was focusing on each individual customer and trying to help them very thoroughly.
          I pointed out that when she spend forever trying to help someone find the phone number of a person whose name they couldn’t spell or whose town they didn’t know, she was neglecting other customers.

          She couldn’t see them, but they were there, waiting in a hypothetical “line.”

          By redirecting her to other “loyalties,” I was able to help her still feel honorable about saying to someone “I’m sorry, I can’t help you; get more information and come back.”

          W/ this guy, I would perhaps direct him to the eventual purchasers, who want the cut but can’t pay for the construction of a Gucci. And that by streamlining those things (and keeping the company’s costs down), he is serving an honorable audience and an honorable, professional goal.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        Exactly. Boss is ordering cheap and fast and employee is delivering good and cheap. Senior management sets the strategy, and with good reason in this case. They’ve run the numbers and there doesn’t appear to be the margin for good and cheap.

        There’s also the issue of the quality level not matching across the whole suite of products. If I bought a suit that had a nice jacket and cheap pants, I’ll feel taken advantage of, even if the whole suit was cheap.

        1. Yorick*

          It sounds like all the employee is providing is “good.” It’s not fast enough, and he’s driving up costs by spending so much time and effort, so it’s no longer cheap (for his company)

    3. The IT Plebe*

      This is egregiously missing the point to the extent that I’m not sure you read the whole letter. The expectation is that X product is produced to Y standard because that’s the standard the buyers are paying for. If Dave can’t reel it in, he needs to work for a company that’s more aligned with his work ethic and expectations.

    4. Kirsten*

      Yeah, that’s not what this is. I expect a certain level of quality from J Crew. It sounds like their standards are meeting that level of quality. I don’t expect Prada when I shop there because I am not paying Prada prices.

    5. Kay*

      That’s absolutely not fair. There’s obviously a wide range between “product produced to $500 standard sold at $50” and “absolute piece of crap that should be thrown in the garbage.” As long as they’re delivering a product that everyone is happy to receive at that price point (you do understand that high prices aren’t always just made up right?) then they’re behaving ethically as a company. If you want Prada quality anything at Banana Republic anything prices, then you’re very out of touch with how the things you buy get made.

      Also if you can’t do what your boss asks, your “best” work isn’t a good fit.

      1. OP (Making Shirts)*

        You’ve hit the nail on the head. And as it turns out, Dave was having trouble understanding that very concept. We’ve spoken to him more about this since the letter was written and he, too, could not see a middle ground between “high-end perfection” and “absolute crap”. In one of our recent conversations, we did discuss dialing it down and he literally said, “So you want me to just make it crap?” Trying to get him to understand that there are many settings between 0 and 11, and that he could shoot for one of those settings, has turned out to be a major piece of the puzzle.

        1. Cobol*

          OP you need to let him go. I am the last to suggest it, but you’ve talked to him in plain language. He’s not going to get it. Maybe put him on a 90 day with a not at all reduced quantity of final products.

          1. Lance*

            Agreed on that first point. An inability to understand what’s being requested of him is pretty much a death knell for his job there; that’s not someone you can realistically keep on in that capacity.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              And I wonder, if he does go to work for the Prada, will he then jump to an even higher standard than what they expect? If he isn’t understanding value at price point and always striving for better, this is going to follow him everywhere.

              Disclaimer: Not OPs problem to solve & I agree I see not solution but termination but it just makes me wonder.

          2. Minocho*

            My dad is like this. He can’t keep up with his numbers except by working 12+ hour days. This literally landed him in the hospital a few times. Discussions with us (all three of his children are professional working adults) sometimes seem to make sense to him, but he keeps going back to doing more than is wanted at a higher quality and more time spent than makes sense for his employer. Since he works so much overtime, he’s able to keep up with minimum requirements, so he’s kept his employment, but he’s burned out, angry and resentful that his contributions haven’t earned him kudos and advancement, and generally miserable.

            He had a job once that prioritized perfection over throughput when we were children. it was a much better fit for him. If the talk about profitability didn’t get through, this just probably isn’t the right fit for him.

            My dad is retiring in April. I hope he becomes happier. I am just sad that this attitude has embittered him so much. I think my siblings and I are more realistic in our understanding of how employment is supposed to work.

            1. OP (Making Shirts)*

              Oh this is sad. I’m sorry to hear it and I too hope your dad does better in retirement.

              he’s burned out, angry and resentful that his contributions haven’t earned him kudos and advancement, and generally miserable.

              Yep this is right where Dave started to go. He was expecting all sorts of kudos and raises and everything else for the very efforts that were really hampering the business.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I’m in publishing, and it often feels like a higher calling.
                And I like having a higher calling.

                But I have had to realize that it IS a business; it IS about numbers. And doing a decent job inside the given parameters is what success is.

          3. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

            Agreed. This guy refuses to understand that not all shirts need to be $500. A $50 shirt is fine. I have 12 dresses in my closet right now that are all from designers that are well under $50 (Old Navy, Fashion Bug, Doublju) and that I have owned for at least 1 year. They are in excellent condition, and most of them were bought from a thrift store. Dave is obnoxious. Dave needs to go find a more pretentious place to work.

        2. Deanna Troi*

          At my job, we talk about it in terms of cars (although of course we don’t actually make cars). We don’t produce BMWs, but we also don’t make Pintos. We make a Subaru Forester, reliable, practical, will get you where you need to go, but not sexy, fancy, or with any bells and whistles.

        3. AdAgencyChick*

          Oh. Oh dear. I didn’t see this before I made my hopeful comment below about how your next conversations went.

          I think you (or, rather, Dave’s direct manager, with you backing her up) need to ALSO have a conversation with him about needing to accept feedback in a professional manner, without becoming defensive. That is just as crucial a skill as delivering product to your company’s standards!

        4. Ominous Adversary*

          You are not Dave’s therapists. But you are, in effect, paying him to act like you are.

          For whatever reason, he is so attached to the idea that work is either perfect or crap that he can’t and won’t obey repeated, direct instructions from you. He has chosen to prioritize his perfectionist tendencies over and over again.

          This is not the job for Dave.

        5. Mama Bear*

          If the can’t understand the difference between meeting the market and his aspirations and thinks you are asking him to “make crap” then he’s not a good fit for your company/team. No only is he costing you production time and money, but he’s hurting your reputation on the receiving end. That can be a huge hole to dig out of for a company. He’s not an asset in this role.

        6. EventPlannerGal*

          I appreciate that you can’t name the specific product, but is it a class of products/services that Dave is likely to own or use himself? Because surely, SURELY – unless he dresses in head-to-toe Prada, has never driven anything other than a BMW, exclusively eats kobe beef and caviar – he must have some understanding somewhere of the concept of “this is fine”. Nobody on earth does not own some stuff or use some service that is just generally fine. Producing stuff that is fine is a pretty valuable thing to do, because if everything is Prada quality and priced fairly for that level of quality, a lot of people would be walking around naked.

          In any case, no matter how much he values quality it sounds like he actually isn’t capable of producing quality. Or not the right amount of quality or at the right price. If he’d stumbled on some magical way to produce the right number of units on time at the right price but just better, great! But he hasn’t. I mean, if we all threw cost and timeliness to the winds I’m sure we could all produce some amazing stuff, but that’s not how business works.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You’re missing the point: the customers have contracted for “plus-or-minutes 5%.”
      Dave is taking too much time so that he can deliver “plus-or-minus 0.05%”.
      He is spending more money making those items than the customer is willing to pay for.”Sure we’re losing money on each item, but we’ll make up for it in volume & continued sales.”
      This is not sustainable business.

      1. MsM*

        Exactly. Dave’s not giving his best work. Dave’s providing work that isn’t wanted, and creating more work for everyone else in the process.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They want the product they’re paying for. Which is mid-grade level. That their customer’s expect. That is their price point.

      People pay for what they get. If you want in expensive good enough pizza call Dominos, if you want to pay $30 a pie, go to the local joint with their fresh toppings and fresh pulled mozz. Stop being so extra.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes, maybe mentally replace “quality” with “fanciness” and it will make more sense. Banana-level shirt with a big hole in it- fix that. Banana-level shirt that isn’t Prada-quality materials but is a well-made mid-priced shirt? That’s the goal.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeaaaaaaaas, it’s about “stitch work” in this case!

          A double stitch verses a triple stitch you know, you pay extra for the extra time, effort, materials…hello basic business *face desk*

      2. Silver Radicand*

        And not just mid-grade quality. Quantity and timing are a very important facets of a product. I love a good filet mignon, but there are times where I would 100% a burger that was twice as big and ready in 5 minutes instead.

    8. LizM*

      This isn’t really fair. In most work, you have to balance time, quality, and cost. The decision to deliver an acceptable product that meets customers’ expectations, and also meets time and cost constraints is not “a crap product.”

      I work in government, and we constantly have budget constraints. I would not promote an employee who is not capable of working in that environment, because making informed, rational decisions about trade offs are an inherent part of making decisions about what is possible, not just what is ideal. I’ve had Daves on my staff before, and eventually they burn out, often with fairly significant collateral damage to their coworkers and customers. OP is right to be concerned about the long-term implications here.

    9. Mr. Forklift*

      This is literally not what the OP is saying. It’s completely possible to have products that both aren’t 100% perfect in terms of manufacture AND still perfectly serviceable. Is a car manufacturer that produces relatively cheap trucks bad because they could produce Range Rovers, but don’t?

    10. Generic Name*

      It’s true he may be “giving his best work” but he’s still not meeting specs or meeting production goals. My employer doesn’t pay me to “do my best” or even “try hard”. They pay me to produce a product that meets the clients needs.

    11. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      But it isn’t his best work. It’s over-budget and produced in insufficient quantity.

      If you’re contracted to provide 10 cut cubic zirconia and instead you provide 1 cut diamond, you are not doing the job that is asked of you.

    12. Works in IT*

      In clothing, it is a very well known fact that cheap clothes are not made to standards that are conducive to being long lasting. The time and effort to make something high quality, that will last, is extremely expensive. Quite frankly, if the clothes are being made of cheaper, less durable fabric, that is not intended to be sold at the price of something that will last longer, spending a lot of extra time to make sure the seams are perfect, and will last, is a waste, because the fabric will probably go before the seams go.

      Is it wasteful? Yes. But, there are also a lot of people out there who don’t have several hundred dollars at one time to spend on ONE item of clothing, even though it would save them money later on.

      I sew some of my own clothes, and if I was expected to attend an event ONCE, with no expectation that I’d be able, or want, to wear the outfit for it ever again, you can bet I would not take nearly the same amount of time and effort that I would spend on something I would wear every day. Breathable fabric? Meh, for a few hours I can deal with it. Durable fabric? I hate wearing sequins, why would I bother making a sequin dress last any longer than it has to? Sturdy seams that can take being washed hundreds of times? In a washing machine? Why?

      I do agree that there is some truth in the argument that high quality clothes should be available more cheaply, and there are places that offer quality clothes that aren’t as expensive as designer fashion. But, there is also a use for cheaply made, cheap clothes. After all, if you are currently working retail, and are trying to interview to get an office job that pays better, spending several hundred dollars on a well fitting suit, nice shirt, and high quality shoes might not be something you CAN do on a retail salary. And then, once you get the job, several nice, high quality shirts and pants/skirts also don’t come cheaply.

      1. Nanani*

        Congratulations! You missed the point!

        Hint: OP doesn’t literally work in clothing, it’s an analogy just like the famous Chocolate Teapots.

        1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

          I don’t think Works in IT missed the point at all; their comment works just fine as an analogy. The product has to suit the job it has. That means not overproducing something that frankly doesn’t need that kind of time and attention.

          1. Works in IT*

            Yeah, I figure if they’re using clothing as an example, they’re in an industry that has a similar “people don’t always have the ability to pay for quality, we are catering to them” mindset.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Usually businesses have a target market, a demographic that they are trying to sell to. It’s a choice that business owners make.

              I was shocked to find out that a particular gambling casino targets 60 + year old women living within a half hour of the casino. From the outside, it looks like a tourist attraction. But that is not the goal.

          2. Works in IT*

            Like the silverware college student me bought. It was cheap, it was flimsy, but it checked all three relevant checkmarks while still being affordable for a broke college student:
            1. Are there forks?
            2. Are there spoons?
            3. Are there knives?

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Yyyyyep. Like the first pot I ever bought, to make Broke Person Spaghetti. “Will it boil water? And can I afford both it and the spaghetti to go in it?” Yes! Done.

              I own Le Creuset and so on now. But I still have the “will it boil water” pot because it does what’s intended like a champ.

        2. Deanna Troi*

          I think Works in IT understands the point perfectly. They have made their point by extending the analogy. The actual industry doesn’t matter.

        3. MsSolo*

          To convert IT’s analogy for you, then: if you spend hours making perfect, long-lasting chocolate handles for your teapots, with finger grips and fluting and cocoa-butter patterns, it’s not going to matter because the body of the teapot will still melt at the same pace. If you want to do high quality work, all of your materials and processes have to be working towards that goal (and will cost time and money accordingly), otherwise you’re just making your low quality work much more expensive and labour intensive.

    13. Mill Miker*

      Tim, I wonder if you’re coming from a similar background to me, where half my job was making the product, (which involved a lot of admonishment for “Gold Plating” and wasting too much time on work to satisfy my own ego, instead of throughput), and the other half (eventually 2/3rds, 4/4ths, …9/10ths), was handling a growing stream of customer complaints and maintenance issues because things were falling apart as soon as (or just before) we gave them to clients (which involved a lot of admonishment for not having paid more attention to quality during the original build…).

      I know I’m having a really hard time keeping that bias out of my readings of these answers.

      1. Myrin*

        That’s certainly a valid problem – and a complaint I’ve both seen a lot and also felt a lot with products I myself own – but it doesn’t sound like it’s a problem in OP’s case, whose clients “are very happy with [their] entire line” which I assume they don’t know only because of the low return rate but also because of direct feedback.

      2. OP (Making Shirts)*

        This is valid, too. To extend the metaphor used in the letter, Dave’s product gets practically no complaints. However, the complaint levels in our other divisions are also very, very low and totally within industry standards. Another piece of the puzzle has indeed been that he’s ultra-sensitive to these complaints, even just a few, and wants to avoid them at all costs.

        1. Ominous Adversary*

          He is putting his anxiety and perfectionist tendencies above the requirements of his job, and ignoring your instructions to the contrary.

          You need to make it crystal clear to him that if he can’t stop doing that, he will be fired.

      3. Mill Miker*

        Oh, yeah. I totally get that this isn’t the case with Dave, which is why I am putting in the effort to try and keep that bias out of my reading.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I can absolutely feel for you there!

        I have been there before, where complaints are piling up and they are saying “Nope, that’s quality stuff, keep pushing it on through and we shouldn’t give them a replacement either!.”

        I was in a position that I was like “LOL OK BRO” and then sent a replacement because they weren’t in a position to know rather I did or not. Then I left as soon as I could because if it doesn’t match standard quality, I’m done.

    14. James*

      Crap by what standards?

      Let’s say I’m buying nitrogen. I don’t need pure nitrogen; I’m using it for a process where purity isn’t terribly significant (yes, such processes exist). So I tell you to order 99% pure N2 gas at $100/canister. You take it upon yourself to purchase 99.999% pure nitrogen, at $5,000/canister. (These are rough numbers, but each additional decimal point adds roughly an order of magnitude to cost.) You just cost me $4,900 with no added value, because you don’t follow directions.

      Is that giving me your best work? No. It’s ignoring directions, ignoring the requirements of the job, and costing me money. “But it’s a better product” isn’t going to save you here, because by the standards of the job it’s simply not true.

      This is just a random example that popped into my head (been discussing lab protocols recently). There are a LOT of fields where this sort of thing holds true: increases in “quality” drive costs WAY up without adding any value to the final product.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Ooh ooh! Storing apples! Almost all the “air” in the vault is actually nitrogen, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s (say) 95 or 99 or 99.999 so long as it’s >90. And nobody is going to pay $10 for a single apple even perfectly crisp and out of season.

      2. Venus*

        Sunscreen! Anything above 40 is essentially the same (a very small percentage difference), and often much more expensive.

    15. Dust Bunny*

      That is both unfair and untrue: The LW is providing a product that can be made to meet a certain price point. Dave is failing to meet that requirement.

      Even if I weren’t skeptical that $500 shirts are 10x better than $50 shirts, I cannot afford $500 shirts and, yes, I need to have $50 shirts on the market so I have something to wear. I’m aware that they’re not going to be the same level of finish as $500 shirts.

    16. MissDisplaced*

      There are different levels of standards in many industries. If this is textile, there are clear ones, which does make this easier. For creative fields, there is a lot subjectivity about what is “good” versus what is “crap” in design, writing and videos and such deliverables that make it harder to define what is acceptable and what isn’t.
      I’ve seen days and days of effort wasted on one seemingly inconsequential paragraph!

      OP says there are standards, so taking that at word.

    17. doreen*

      Maybe the customer wants a “crap product” because “best quality” is less important to the customer than “low price” . I had a mechanic once who would only do a job the “right way”. If you needed a new engine, he wouldn’t just put a used engine in. It had to be a hot-tested engine and I think he did some other work along with it on the theory of “you don’t want to pay this much for an engine and then have X go”. And that was fine for him to do, because he owned the shop but there were plenty of people who just wanted a relatively cheap used engine and found another mechanic who would do it.

    18. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I did not read that it is a crap product. I buy a good amount of work outfits from Banana outlets, for example. Would I wear them to a black-tie wedding, or a dinner with the Queen of England? Probably not. Are they comfortable and professional-looking and all around good work clothes? Yes! Do I need “dinner with Queen of England” clothes to wear to work? No, I’ll look odd and out of place.

      I just thought of an analogy, because, like most of us, I am wfh today and today is garbage collection day on my street. What do I want from my garbage collector? I want them to show up on the day they said they would, take away my garbage, and leave my garbage container where they found it. Now if they were to show up in theater outfits and collect my garbage while also singing an opera and doing an interpretive dance, would that be more and better than just collecting the garbage and leaving? Hmmm maybe? But did I ask for it? No. How will I feel if they never get to my street on collection day, because performing an opera in front of every house they stop at, takes extra time? Not great, I’ll tell you that! I’d rather they don’t sing or dance, but be on time and collect my garbage.

    19. Annony*

      If the customer wants 10 $50 shirts they will not be pleased to receive one $500 shirt. That is what this employee is trying to deliver.

    20. Eukomos*

      It may be his best but if he’s not hitting his quota, it’s not good enough. And not hitting quota with excessively good product doesn’t benefit customers who just need the industry standard quality.

    21. MsSolo*

      If I stop to buy a sandwich before I get my train, and the sandwich maker starts baking bread from scratch, it doesn’t matter that two hours later he’s going to give me the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever eaten – it’s a crap sandwich because now I’ve missed my train.

    22. Actual Vampire*

      Quality isn’t black and white! It’s a spectrum.

      I was going to tell a long story about my job, but it’s so long I really can’t be bothered. So I’ll summarize: I work at a company that designs very high-end, custom swimming pools. We’ve designed pools that cost $60K and pools that cost $350K. They are all beautiful, luxurious pools. But if the customer asks for a $60K pool and you design a $350K pool, you are not good at your job. You are charging the customer money for time you spent designing something they didn’t ask for, don’t want, and can’t afford.

  5. Kali*

    I have seen people not promoted or hired for a position because in lower positions, they wasted time and resources in being overly meticulous. Meticulous is great in some industries or even in some positions within an industry, but obsession cannot overtake common sense. No one wants to work with someone like that either – it’s exhausting.

    1. merula*

      Yep. I work in an industry where details are extremely important. Getting a detail wrong, even in an entry-level role, can cost the company $$$$. In one memorable situation, one sentence in an email meant 3 months of extra work plus $400,000 loss. (The role was entry-level, this particular employee was mid-career.)

      EVEN in this industry, everyone is expected to balance efficiency with thoroughness. Mistakes are expected and there are processes to mitigate them. If you’re adding on your own mitigation processes at the cost of production, that’s a performance issue.

  6. JediSquirrel*

    Dave sounds obsessive-compulsive to me. I know we’re not supposed to diagnose, but is there any way you can rule that out? I’ve just never heard of an employee behaving in this way. My first thought was “Dave has to go,” but as I continued reading I’m concerned there may be something more here than meets the eye.

      1. Fikly*

        Ah, the perennial “I know, but…”

        But my need to break the rule is more important than the rule!

    1. The IT Plebe*

      That still wouldn’t explain Dave’s blatant refusal to change his ways once confronted with management about it. If OCD is the case, it’s his responsibility to manage it, which, if necessary, could include asking for reasonable accommodations per the ADA. But that wouldn’t include “let me keep producing these shirts my way.”

      In any case, it still seems like this particular job is a bad fit.

    2. MsM*

      Honestly, I think that’s outside the scope of the conversation the LW needs to be having with Dave. If Dave voices during that conversation that he feels he literally can’t adjust his standards, even if he’s being told his job depends on it, then maybe LW and Manager can express concern and suggest that he get help and/or refer him to HR for resources.

    3. Wulfwen*

      JediSquirrel, even if Dave has a diagnosable condition that causes him to behave this way, isn’t it his responsibility to tell the employer, and ask for accommodations if needed?

    4. Nanani*

      Next time you feel the need to write “I know we’re not supposed to but…” Just maybe don’t?

    5. LizM*

      I’ve had employees behave this way before, as I mentioned in a comment on another subthread. I don’t think the diagnosis is appropriate based on the facts in the letter. Some people just have a hard time accepting “good enough.”

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      He just sounds stubborn to me. I’ve had people do this for years.

      I could go on for days about wood graders and how they will fight among themselves at times over grades. Yes it’s as fun as watching paint dry and talking about it.

    7. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      He absolutely does not sound obsessive-compulsive. Plus, it is not the OP’s job to rule out a medical condition — that is for Dave and the appropriately licensed medical professional to do.

      1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        To clarify, I’m not saying he absolutely doesn’t have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Rather, perfectionism in work like this is really not how that manifests, so the description given absolutely doesn’t match.

        1. MsSolo*

          Yeah – I know people with these traits, and sure, some of them probably are obsessive compulsive, but some aren’t, and a lot of the obsessive compulsive people I know don’t behave like this. You might as well try and ‘diagnose’ him with having green eyes from the information given.

    8. Turquoisecow*

      If there is, it isn’t his employer’s responsibility to manage this. Armchair diagnosis is frowned on for a reason.

    9. OP (Making Shirts)*

      I pass Dave’s work area frequently, he is … not obsessive-compulsive. We can definitely rule that out. He does, however, see himself as a crusader, in lots of areas of his life.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        The fact Dave’s a crusader is important. Is he the type who considers himself to be right no matter what the actual facts say? If so, then you really need to consider if he will ever change and if letting him go is the best way to end this problem. Crusaders are all to often committed to their views to change.

        1. OP (Making Shirts)*

          I’ll say this: He does have a VERY clear idea of his own rightness about things. And as Dragon_Dreamer says below, there’s a little White Knighting going on.

          It’s obviously a very awkward time right now, but we are moving in the direction of termination. First we (management) need to own our own lack of clarity on some things. But we have developed specific tools to make sure we have that house in order. If things don’t get better after that, we will have to talk termination.

          1. RVA Cat*

            I can’t help but see this pattern as very gendered – so often the subordinate is so convinced of *his* rightness when it conflicts with what a woman in authority is directing him to do.

          2. not me*

            since we’ve already gone down the diagnosis rabbit hole, I actually think narcissism is closer — his needs (to make THE MOST PERFECT PRODUCT) are the only ones that are important, even at significant cost to the company and co-workers along with being very brittle to criticism and expecting excessive praise

            1. Amy Sly*

              Yeah. Dave has problems. They may or may not be neurological, and they probably would be helped by therapy. Narcissism definitely looks like a more likely culprit than OCD.

          3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            OP, may I also suggest having all the parameters or metrics (both qualitative and quantitative) that you will be expecting Dave to meet put in writing to be signed by all. This way if (when) he tries to climb up on his horse and charge down the evil doer who doesn’t share his standards- because that’s all he’ll be able to see from the narrow slit in his visor, his standards- he will have less of an “I didn’t know” excuse.

            (It sounds like you have never had to have these sorts of guides in the past – but now make sure they are fair and present because they could help save you from/redirect earlier the next Crusading Knight Errant.)

      2. LJay*

        I work with a guy like this. And the crusader mentality definitely fits what I see.

        He also seems to wear his inability to accept “good enough” as a badge of honor. It’s almost a way for him to stick it to the man or something to hold up production because he deems a part not good enough because it’s in tolerances but not perfect.

        It’s like he views most things in his life as him against the world, and this is just another part of that.

    10. Yorick*

      No, he really doesn’t sound obsessive compulsive. And it’s against site rules anyway.

    11. Dust Bunny*

      I think this is an overreach. This sounds like the kind of thing that I would struggle to settle for, and I am definitely not OCD. But once you’re invested in something, it can be hard to back down.

      I tend to overdo my own job. I know my boss would like me to be both less meticulous and faster, but I’m not as meticulous as I could be, and the reason I “overdo” it is that I am the person who will have to deal most frequently with the outcome, and spending more time now will save me a WHOLE LOT OF TIME later. And I’m still pretty fast. My boss is not the one who has to work with the end result of my projects most of the time (we’ll say it’s filing records. If they’re filed to his level of detail, it’s OK, but if I get a request for something I’ll have to do a lot more searching to find it again than I would if I did it to my level of detail. If I can pull 27 boxes instead of 42 for a patron, I think it’s worth it).

    12. Not So NewReader*

      Why do they have to rule it out?

      I don’t climb on ladders for several physical reasons. It’s not discrimination to refuse my application on a job if ladder work is required for the job. They don’t have to bend the job into something to suit me. The truth of the matter is jobs that require working on a ladder are not for me.

    13. Observer*

      The rule is there for more than one reason.

      One reason is that it simply doesn’t change the answer. It doesn’t matter WHY Dave is doing this, it matters that meeting targets within budget and schedule is not just “a core part of the job” (to use ADA type language), but that it IS the job. Given that reality, the OP cannot do anything differently whether or not it’s OCD.

  7. Trout 'Waver*

    Classic example of gold plating. And insubordination. I don’t think this one is salvageable.

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      “Gold plating” is a new term I was not familiar with. Thanks for introducing it to me! It actually helps frame this a bit.

  8. sofar*

    One of my current employees used to do this (and she’s recovering from doing this). She was under the impression that we would be impressed with her extra efforts and was shocked to find it was not so — and that, in fact, we needed things done on time to certain specifications so that she could produce a certain amount of work. At times, the “extra” she did wasn’t something we could even use.

    In LW’s case, it looks like they are making a tangible physical product. But, with my employee (producing digital content), the following steps were effective:

    1. When she submitted something that was “extra” and overdone, I would calmly say, “Please re-read the directions and specifications and remove the unnecessary stuff.” She reacted with a lot of, “But I stayed up to 3 a.m. working on this extra stuff! But I worked this weekend!” And I would say, “I’ve told you that isn’t necessary. You need to cut the stuff you weren’t asked to do. Sometimes things just need to be left on the cutting room floor.”

    2. Giving her a very specific estimate of how much time an assignment should take, ie, “You must do this in three hours. If it takes you longer than that, you aren’t doing the assignment correctly. While this isn’t due until next week, this is a three-hour assignment, maximum.” Oftentimes, she’d get caught up in making perfect the enemy of good and obsessing over an assignment (without making it measurably better). She often submits work with the caveat of, “I did this in three hours as asked, but I think it needs more time.” And then I look at it and say, “Nope, this is good and what we asked for. Let’s move onto the next thing.”

    1. M. Albertine*

      #2 – This. Dave needs to be held to the metrics that he is overshooting, which sounds like in this example, per-item cost. Maybe you can utilize a budget to make those metrics more clear?

      1. OP (Making Shirts)*

        Yes, Bingo.

        Since this letter was written, it has become clear that we in management are partly to blame for this situation. Most of our product managers have a pretty good handle on the relationship between costs and output, but Dave just … doesn’t. And we didn’t make it sufficiently clear. I don’t want to leave the impression that there was absolutely no guidance at all, but we would tend to leave a lot up to personal discretion so that individual producers make independent decisions on where to put their priorities. In Dave’s case, such leeway just isn’t workable.

        1. MassMatt*

          I mean this kindly, but you and Dave’s direct supervisor come off as oddly passive IMO in getting Dave to adhere to his role. Have you been clear on what he is to do, and that his job is in jeopardy, as Alison suggested? Have there been consequences for his failure to meet his production goals within budget? Have you addressed his inability to accept feedback and take direction?

          You are the bosses in this scenario, an employee should not be able to just ignore the direction given by his bosses. Perhaps a more forthright conversation will help, but IMO it sounds as though Dave is not a good fit for this job.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I suspect OP and others never expected Dave to be so invested and so anchored in his ways. If OP’s group had never encountered this type of thing before, then, yeah, it can really catch you by surprise.

            I have to say that Dave could have asked what the QC check points or company standards are, though. I have often asked, “What does the company expect from us for X situation?”. Especially if I am new at a job, I will ask on and off for a period of time so I can get a feel for quality concerns and deadlines. I have been at my current place for 8 years, so my roll has shifted. My boss counts on me to use my time wisely and let her know of my limits, such as “I have 20 minutes left to my day. I can do x or I can do y, which would you like the most?” My boss likes it when I give her enough info so she can decide these things. I know how long things take me to do, but I need to know what concerns her the most.

    2. Liz*

      This very loosely reminds me of what I’m binge watching, the Great British Baking Show. Some of the bakers get bogged down in the details of decorating, and adding as much extra stuff that they can, in the hope it will impress the judges, when it actually means the actual item being baked suffers, i.e. over or underbaked, sloppy, or simply ran out of time and presented something half finished.

      1. starsaphire*

        Yes! I remember one contestant who got so busy making her extra little tuilles or flowers or whatever that she almost forgot to put the actual bake in the oven…

        Dave’s giving us five cupcakes with fondant roses and 24K gold sprinkles at noon, when we need 24 cupcakes with plain buttercream for the little league picnic at 9 am.

        …aaaaand now I want cupcakes.

          1. Candi*

            Late, yes…

            I had to learn not be be perfectionist about work. Doing the first part precisely doesn’t mean much if I don’t have time to finish. It wasn’t easy, and I still have tendencies.

            For instance, our final for my online-English class this quarter (nontraditional college student here) was a visual presentation on one of the topics we studied this quarter.

            I picked a Powerpoint -and realized about half an hour in I was being way too finicky with the first two slides, and would NEVER have time to finish it at the current rate.

            First I went hunting for the rest of the images I wanted. (While respecting copyright.)

            I roughed out the slides I wanted -which also helped me figure out the number of slides to use (6).

            I went over them again, bringing them up to “won’t get less than a C.”

            Then I started tweaking to death.

            I wasn’t done tweaking before the rest of the parts of my brain decided “We are DONE. Turn it in already!”

            Grades are back. It was the grading system’s equivalent of an A- And that’s okay. One of the things I had to learn was the grade reduction I would take in exchange for decent, complete work -because partial work absolutely would get a grade reduction for incomplete or half of it being shoddy.

            Dave is still stuck on “finicky”. While he can’t do and redo a shirt, he can figure out where his acceptable “grade reduction” is that will also allow him to follow company guidelines. Because his absolute grade reduction will be getting fired if he doesn’t.

            But he sounds too stuck inside his box to get that.

    3. the_scientist*

      This is really great advice, but I think Dave’s history of insubordination may mean that he is past the point of being coachable. My industry has a lot of academics and quanitative people and we are ALL guilty of getting a little too wrapped up in the details. For a new employee or someone who was enthusiastic, clearly a team player, or new to the workforce, I would definitely encourage coaching using these tactics. I might be a little more hesitant with a Dave.

      Also, OP, this is what is known in project management lingo as “gold plating” which is BAD project management and very much frowned upon!

    4. MissDisplaced*

      This is incredibly easy to do in the creative fields. I honestly have to fight it myself at times because it want the content to be “perfect” when it really just needs to be cranked-out and done.

      But if you do this, please, please do not nitpick or berate over something really minor that isn’t affecting the quality of the overall end product. Because this happens too. Like a lot.
      Because then you’re sending mixed messages and that really messes with people’s heads and can be hard to come back from.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        All of this, especially the last part. As a detail-oriented person, I’ve caught myself doing that at work; “Oh no wait; let me just tweak X and then it’s perfect.” Nope, my boss needed it now. Any nitpicking would have really undermined my ability to let it go.

        This was a big reason why I went ahead and released my book. I’d finally reached a point where it felt not only done but better. However, the temptation to mess with it even more was nearly overwhelming. Now I can’t touch it. It is what it is, and good enough has to be good enough.

        There’s a reason recipes tell you not to overmix the batter!

        1. allathian*

          A work of art is never finished, only abandoned. Congrats on making it through the scariest stage, releasing your brainchild to the public!

    5. Starbuck*

      Kudos on your thoughtful coaching. As someone who works in a creative, mission-driven field, it’s so easy to fall into this trap, especially because often there are no briefs or specific objectives, just vague goals! I find it to be the most challenging part of the job to change gears from the brainstorming/idea-generation part of a project to the ‘ok here’s what we can actually do, and it’s the minimum plus maybe a little extra thing or two’ phase. But once that’s settled, at least execution is relatively more straightforward… usually


      Agile development runs on this: Good is good enough. Yet, older IT staff have trouble adapting because they would get dinged in reviews for mistakes. It took changing expectations and thought patterns that failure is okay to get people to adapt to Agile. Let me tell you, it was not, and still is not, easy to do.

      1. allathian*

        And some people may never learn, especially those who have been trained since childhood that “perfection” is the only acceptable result.

  9. T2*

    I have been on both sides of this.

    When I was younger I was a perfectionist. And I expected everyone around me to be one too. I was in short, insufferable.

    I have also been on the other side of this. The key in both situations is clarity. When I was younger, my boss, took me aside and told me this: “Son, I like you. I like that you care. But we gotta hit those numbers. Your coworkers are counting on you to hit those numbers. I am counting on you. And if you can’t, or won’t do the job, then in the name of protecting the livelihood of your coworkers, I will drive you to the unemployment office this afternoon.”

    It took a while to readjust. But I did. You got to be that clear. As short as Dude you must produce xxxx units in a given 40 hours. No working late, no OT. Produce xxxx or you are done.

    1. allathian*

      Interestingly, I have been on the other side of this. I work as a translator, and when I started, all I cared about was getting projects done quickly so that I could move on to the next one. I’m a career-switcher and have no formal training as a translator, one reason why I’m currently studying to get a certificate. The senior translator who was tasked with training me up almost resigned in despair, because I would turn in sub-par deliverables just to be quick. She was mentoring me and had to proofread my stuff, and I really pity her. Especially as this was long enough ago that I didn’t have any tools, like a translation memory, to work with and it was all too easy to keep repeating the same mistakes. Sometimes I’m frankly amazed that I wasn’t let go during my probationary period.

      I learned my lesson and rather too well, too. I became what translators are often accused of being, insanely nitpicky about details. So I’d work very long hours to get my deliverables out on time, nearly burning myself out in the process. Now, largely thanks to therapy (EAP-equivalent), I’m in a much better place, I get my deliverables done on time and I keep getting great feedback from customers, so at the very least the quality of my work meets their expectations and I’m not overextending myself by trying to produce quality that exceeds my own standards.

  10. AdAgencyChick*

    It is enough to tell him, “This is the kind of work we do, and you must adhere to our quotas and corresponding level of finish, or we will have to let you go.”

    If you want to, you can also explain to him that just as there are many levels of quality and finish, with price points that correspond, when you buy a garment, so it is with [whatever industry you work in]. Your business survives and thrives on serving customers who want a middle level of price and quality, and that’s just as important and admirable a thing to do as providing the high-end stuff to those with deep pockets.

    The second bit is not necessary, but might be worth adding if you think that he’s doing the work the way he is out of a misguided sense of purpose.

    1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      I was thinking something similar to the second bit of your comment, actually. Does Dave know about the bigger picture here, and that his extra detailed work is costing money? Perhaps that perspective could help drive the message home.

      1. OP (Making Shirts)*

        Yes, this was part of the problem. As I commented above, part of the problem came from us–from management. We did not really and fully adequately spell out how he fits into the bigger picture. So that’s on us and something we have to rectify before moving forward.

        Also, it’s not apparent from the letter, but he actually also had inadequate understanding of how our market works. To oversimplify a bit, he didn’t understand that the product we made essentially “belongs” to the stores, that it’s THEIR product–we’re just making it for them, and so we need to make it to their standards.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Dare I hope that this means you’ve since had a follow-up conversation that went better than what you described in the original letter?

          1. OP (Making Shirts)*

            We’ve had a couple. And we have made some progress, though he does still tend to have a very black and white understanding of things. Obviously at this time, we’re all busy with a ton of other distractions at the moment. But we have become aware of what we need to clarify on our end before we can lay the entire burden on Dave.

            1. Batgirl*

              Yes, “black and white” kind of spells out my suspicion his critical thinking skills are undeveloped. I’m also guessing that he doesn’t have great interpersonal skills.
              Let me guess: his technical skills are good in isolation and displaying that wizardry is all that matters?
              Still, a binary outlook can still work so long as it’s communicated that Good = Meeting the brief for our overlord clients who call the shots in terms of costing and deadlines. Whereas Bad = Not meeting the brief and losing money on a product that’s not even ours but has wasted our money.
              Currently his view is that Good= ‘Only products which are super amazing will stand out enough to be bought from us. The customer doesn’t know what that looks like but I do!’. Versus Bad = ‘Not super amazing is second place. Second place is the first loser.’

        2. Elbereth*

          Perhaps framing it as an optimization/constraint problem might help. Dave is optimizing quality, at the expense of throughput.
          Dave might respond to taking into account another marker of quality: consistency. Daves work is inconsistent with other people’s output, which is in itself a problem, as OP has already found with stores who have become accustomed to Dave’s output.

          1. NACSACJACK*

            Sounds like the bad diet problem. Dave wants to work so much so that the product has high quality, but he cant make up the $2000 difference by himself . You cant exercise your way out of a bad diet. Every PT will tell you, nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. Everyone else things “If I only exercise some more…”

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Excellent parallel. These same people would never pour Kool-Aid or soda in the gas tanks of their cars and expect their car to go down the road. Yet, a donut for breakfast is fine before a few mile walk/run.

              So many things in life involve juggling numerous balls in the air at the same time. In isolation each ball on it’s own can be handled perfectly, but start throwing more and more balls into the mix and we have to accept a less than ideal solution.
              I have very little problem believing Dave is falling down on other parts of the job. He puts so much energy into a perfect product other things are getting neglected.

  11. Nanani*

    This reminds me of a certain phenomenon in writing-intensive courses, whether it’s essays or lab reports, where some students will write 20 pages when the assignment is 10.
    These students are not following the assignment and are often shocked to be penalized for it!
    Doing the actual assignment (10 pages) and exercising skills like editing, being concise, showing your evidence in a coherent way, and so on are a lot more important than spending extra time on extra words that the assignment does not call for.

    This is a real job, but the lesson is the same. Creating extra work for the rest of the company by doing more than the job calls for is not going to get Dave extra credit. The opposite is true!

    1. sofar*

      Yep! Exactly this. I’ve worked with many, many writers of the years (freelance and otherwise). And nothing makes my stomach turn more than when I open an email containing an assignment and the email starts with, “This is a bit more than you asked for! I just got caught up in the topic and before I knew it, it was three times longer than you requested! Let me know if there’s anything I can cut!”

      And they are shocked when I respond, “Please write the article to the original specifications and send back when done.”

      If I’d wanted a 3,000-word piece I’d have asked for one.

      1. juliebulie*

        You would hope the writers would figure out on their own if there’s anything they can cut.

        In school, my papers were always a little shorter than the “minimum” we were supposed to hand in. I never got marked down for that. If you can get all of the necessary information in 16 pages rather than 20, that’s four pages worth of time that your readers can spend doing something else. (Like making shirts?)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Most good professors can tell when you’re padding, too. Sometimes it’s shorter because it’s just shorter.

          1. Candi*

            OT: Funny story about that this quarter.

            One of essays was a poetry analysis. (W. H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues”, if you’re wondering.)

            Teacher wanted it in 12 point Times New Roman, two pages, but a few lines over wouldn’t hurt.

            I’m more comfortable typing in Arial 12, which I know takes up more room than TNR. So when I typed it out in Arial, I added about three lines to the two pages. Then I converted, select-all and change font.

            It came out to exactly two pages in TNR 12. As in, I had the poem’s citation separate (Ctrl-enter) on the last page. Putting the cursor at the beginning of the citation and hitting the left arrow key once put it to the right of the last period.

            Still boggles me how somehow I got the analysis precisely two pages in that specific font.

      2. Ali G*

        I work with scientists. We have a running joke that starts with “I didn’t have time to be brief.”

        1. Starbuck*

          So true. Always much easier to just spew out your stream of consciousness and call it good than going back and editing out where you’ve gone in circles justifying some point!

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          That’s actually pretty true. An author I know says that some of her more productive writing/revising days are ones with a negative word count. Figuring out what you *don’t* need to include can be harder than figuring out what you *do* need, so a lot of people end up throwing in the whole kitchen sink just to get it over with.

        3. Former Employee*

          “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” — Blaise Pascal

    2. James*

      In college I tried to save money by getting OpenOffice–a free office suite that was, at the time, something like 95% compatible with Word. One of the things that was NOT compatible was spacing. When I put my computer at double space, Word read it as 66% spacing between lines. Didn’t affect me–in fact, no one noticed–until I got a professor that was more of a stickler for metrics and pointed out that my reports were consistently more closely spaced than requested. I had my laptop and could show that I was acting in good faith, and it took a bit to figure out what was going on.

      A good lesson, though: sometime 10 pages is a minimum, sometimes it’s a maximum!

      1. Steve*

        Is Dave a scientist who doesn’t publish enough? If so, I wonder if we work together.

        (I say that jokingly, but Dave does seem like a recurring character)

    3. LunaMei*

      My favorite college professor worked like this (she was also the head of the English dept). Her goal was to get her students to think critically and articulate their ideas concisely. She wanted to train efficient, effective thinkers. Most of our assignments were 5 pages, 10 at most, and then we had 5 minutes to do an oral presentation on them. She actually gave me extra points once because one of my presentations didn’t even last 5 minutes…because it didn’t need to. I got my point across quickly and clearly. Lots of other students complained about her because they’d turn in 20+ pages of rambling and didn’t understand why she didn’t appreciate it.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I have a background in public speaking, and the same thing is true there. If you’re given a 6 minute slot, that’s the slot you fill. It doesn’t matter if you did extra research and have all kinds of neat graphics to display, if you show up to your 6 minute slot with a 9 minute speech, you haven’t completed the assignment successfully and people will not thank you for it.

      It’s about priorities. If you only have 6 minutes to convey your information, which pieces of the information are most important? The same can be true of manufacturing. If you need to complete 5000 products in a month, you’ve got a certain number of minutes to spend on each product. So spend those minutes on the most important steps. Would it be great if we had all the time in the world for the extra stuff? Sure, but we don’t, so we’ve got to prioritize and make sure we’re using the time we do have to make the level of product we’ve been hired to make.

      1. Helena1*

        This is so true. My old boss was a great public speaker, engaging, explained things in a clear and insightful way, people love hearing her lecture.

        But if you ask her to teach at your study day for 30mins, and she is still going strong at 90mins (with a queue of furious professors lining up waiting for their own slot which is now an hour behind schedule) – that isn’t good teaching.

        And yes she was completely impervious to being hurried, even explicitly being interrupted mid-lecture with “sorry, we are over time and need to wrap it up now”, because “the students are enjoying this”.

        1. allathian*

          Did any events ever invite her back? If they did, they didn’t penalize her enough for her too-long presentations.

          1. Helena1*

            In-house, so limited options for speakers. If we needed somebody to teach the students about Topic X, it was her or me basically, and I was far more junior faculty at the time.

            Funnily enough she could keep to time perfectly well for external lectures! Just no respect for her direct colleagues’ time.

            1. Massmatt*

              Sounds like she was making a power play to assert dominance over her colleagues. Someone higher up needed to intervene. Or schedule her to speak last. See how much the students are enjoying her 90 minute+ lecture enough to stay afterwards when the bell rings.

    5. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      There are teachers, and colleges, that deal with this by saying “your paper should be 12-30 pages. If you exceed that limit, we will remove everything after page 30 and grade based on the first 30 pages.” That works because you don’t get high marks for ending a paper in mid-sentence, or even mid-argument.

    6. Venus*

      Back in the days as a Teaching Assistant, we had a rule that we would only mark the first X pages. The professor would set a limit, and it was a hard limit. If a student decided to put conclusions on page 15 of a lab report that was limited to 10 pages, even if it was beautifully written, we would never know it. It was harsh in a way, but with 100+ of them to review we had to be strict, and I think it was fair as the limit was always reasonable except for those who were incompetent in numerous ways. Those who took up more pages seemed to misunderstand many more of the rules.

      1. James*

        Harsh but fair. Scientific journals have (or at least used to have) hard limits on page numbers for submittals. Go over that, and your paper gets tossed, regardless of quality. That was done because pages are expensive, and because if you give a scientist a chance they’ll talk your ears off about their pet projects.

        Learning to follow submittal guidelines early is vital to the career of any scientist.

  12. juliebulie*

    I feel sorry for Dave if he can’t figure out what’s wrong with producing 3000 when the goal is 5000. That’s the metric he’s supposed to observe.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Well, with some employers it’s not always so easy. Some employers are only playing lip service to the more speed, less quality part, but will fly off the handle at the most minor quality glitch (like a small typo).

      1. juliebulie*

        True, but it sounds as though OP has outlined the specifications pretty thoroughly to the clients. David was doing stuff that was outside those specs. That’s clearly wrong.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Yes, it does seem like Dave has been talked to many times about it. So he may not be able to.

    2. Lilyp*

      Yeah, you say it isn’t a case of asking for X and getting Y but it really is! You’re asking for 5000 shirts and getting 3000. You’re asking for positive relationships with vendors and getting people refusing to work with you anymore. You’re asking for on-time and on-budget delivery and getting late results that are too expensive. These things are very clearly missing and clear performance problems to address, right? Maybe the shirt analogy is obscuring something here.

      1. OP (Making Shirts)*

        Nope, the analogy isn’t obscuring anything. You’re right about all of that and it does need to be addressed. As unbelievable as it sounds, we’ve just never framed it that way, but you are 100% correct.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        That’s what I was thinking. OP, you said “This is tricky because it’s not like we’re asking him to do X and he refuses,” but that is *exactly* what he’s doing.

  13. Square Root of Minus One*

    I deal with that all the time. The good old yield-quality-cost triangle.
    Let me explain as a chemist : for the same cost (money, equipment, time, effort), you get a yield and a quality of product (purity, mostly) ; you can improve one only at the expense of the other, or increase cost to improve both.
    When you look at it that way, there is no such thing as perfect any more. There is just “required”, defined by these three parameters. Taking initiative to sacrifice yield over quality is not doing the job. You see, if I order 5 liters of 96% ethanol and I get, for the same cost, only 1 liter of 99% ethanol, even though the second is a much higher quality product that can be used for a broader range of things, you can bet I won’t be happy. Because I’m missing four liters I actually need.
    The principle applies to any process of any kind. Dave needs to understand that.

    1. MayLou*

      I have a friend with albinism who is also a medical doctor with a PhD in (I believe) biochemistry (and she’s a Paralympian too, no I don’t feel slightly inferior and completely in awe of her at all) who once explained this to me about sunblock. Factor 30 will block out x% of the harmful rays. Factor 40 will block out 10%* more. Factor 50 is 10% of that 10%* more effective. It’s the reason why you don’t get factor 100 SPF sunblock. 99.9% is plenty good enough, you don’t need 99.999%. Given her scientific knowledge and her medical reasons for being very interested in skin care, I confidently take her advice and don’t bother paying for factor 50. I just use 30SPF according to the instructions, because I’m not especially at risk from the sun during to lack of skin pigment, and therefore good enough is good enough for me.

      *I don’t recall the precise figure but the point was that returns are diminishing.

      1. Person with Albinism*

        You have it right (at least in concept, I can’t remember the exact details of the math). If I recall correctly, sunscreen is all the same above 40. I get the 40, because it matters to me, but I only buy something higher if it’s on sale (and equal or cheaper than the 40).

    2. James*

      A rather grim example, but: Body armor is like this. You can make yourself 100% impervious to small arms, at the cost of being totally immobile. Or you can favor mobility, at the cost of being basically unarmored. The history of combat and cops/robbers (yeah, I’m old) is basically an arms race between armor and weapons. As you said, there’s no “perfect”, only “meets current requirements”.

      1. Fikly*

        Oh, yes, this has always fascinated me, but more with older armor, when it was suits of armor. The tradeoff between protection from swords or arrows versus being able to move. The Met (in NYC) has a terrific collection to wander through.

        There were such a wide range of concepts, from sheets of metal, to chain mail, to leather with metal, and so forth, and all were reflective of the different combat situations.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      My husband did service calls.
      When his calls/day went up, his return calls also went up.
      When his calls/day went down, his return calls went down.

      He was always being told to get his calls/day up and get his return calls down. He said it felt like being on a seesaw. You can have one or the other, you cannot have both. (FWIW, he was well recognized as being extraordinarily good at his job. This had nothing to do with his abilities. The company kept shifting the goals. He had to remember what the goal of the week was.)

  14. Archaeopteryx*

    It might even be helpful to explicitly use your Banana Republic versus Prada metaphor when speaking with him. The fact that people shouldn’t be expected to produce Prada work while being paid BR wages is pretty clear and easily digestible.

        1. Clorinda*

          It’s such a clear, comprehensible analogy, too! What a shame he didn’t understand it. Or, more likely, refused to understand it.

        2. Kes*

          Oh, wow. I think you need to make it clear to him that he is not meeting your standards. He is not meeting your standards for quantity and he is not meeting your standards for cost, and your business can’t run successfully if he’s not meeting those targets, so not only will you not be giving him a raise, but you won’t be able to keep him around if he continues to not make the targets you’ve set.
          (And while I appreciate that you’ve been talking to him and providing context and I hope he turns it around, you should still make the above clear to him and be prepared, if this is a temporary improvement and he falls back into ‘quality over everything’, to take further steps as needed)

        3. PollyQ*

          Nooooo!! That’s too bad. It’s sounding like this goes beyond “not understanding the parameters of the work” and on into “serious attitude problem.”

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah that definitely makes me think it’s likely he’s just a bad fit for the position and not that this is something he can learn to change.

            I would definitely say make everything very clear one last time, including the fact that if he doesn’t make serious changes then his job is on the line. Then if he fails to make those changes, you need to let him go.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Wow, the audacity of David.

          At least, he’s finally starting to learn (based on your other comment below about him not having known that the standards are set by clients).

        5. Not So NewReader*

          So how did it go when you told him NO?
          Did he finally get it that this is so very not Prada?

    1. Elbe*

      I think that the Banana Republic / Prada metaphor is a good one, too. It’s so clear and easy to understand. It’s clearly unfair (for the suppliers and the LW’s company) to expect couture quality if you’re paying BR prices.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      But that still obscures the issue. The issue is not that his shirts are “too nice.” The issue is that his job is to make sure X number of shirts are produced. And he can’t produce that number of shirts. Sure, the reason is that he’s insisting on an inappropriate level of work. If you tell this guy you need BR vs Prada, you get into the trap of him thinking you want “crap.” I’d stick to the numbers. “You can’t produce X shirts if your people spend Y hours on each shirt.”

  15. MissDisplaced*

    Oof! Well, being something of a perfectionist myself, or being afraid of being fired if there is one minor mistake in work I produce, I can kind of see the kind of headspace Dave is in. It’s not fun–because what employers often say is ok, is not what they really mean is ok–and some people who aren’t good socially may find this difficult to discern because the person begins to feel they can’t please or win either way.

    It sounds like you have been very clear that you are not unhappy to have a lesser degree of detail here and that something meeting “acceptable” and not perfect is A-Ok. (Just be sure that really IS the case and Dave is not getting the idea it still needs to be perfect Prada quality from someone else in the company.) I think you should sit Dave down and be implicitly clear that you require 5,000 shirts at the A-Ok standard level, and that if he cannot manage to meet and/or accept this criteria, the job may not a good fit for his sensibilities.

    In truth, it may not be Dave’s fault he is this way, which is why maybe you give him one more chance here and talk to him about it. If he worked at a place where quality was EVERYTHING no matter what, and work did have to be perfect or else you would face the wrath of angry managers or be under constant threat of being fired over the smallest thing, he may have had that ingrained in him… and just can’t let good enough go now. Or worse he slides into the “Fine If you don’t care if it’s crap, I don’t care if it’s crap” mentality. If you do keep Dave, you’ll have to manage the possibility of that kind of backsliding reaction and clearly map out the standard you WANT (not more, not less) and if something is on occasion a wee bit less than A-Ok, don’t fly off the handle. Some “Daves” can be turned around once it’s proven they won’t be reprimanded over minor things. Good luck. I hope it works out.

    1. Fikly*

      As someone who worked for a series of employers who said one thing and meant another, it’s super hard to learn to trust an employer’s word, especially around things that might affect your job security.

      You have to test in tiny ways. I am finally working for a company I can trust, and wow, it is amazing. I have my performance eval coming up shortly and I am honestly looking forward to it. Not because I think I’m going to be patted on the back and told I’m perfect – I’m definitely not! – but because I trust that it isn’t a trap, and it’s a way for my manager and I to look for ways to help me improve.

      But if you can get to that point, you also need to understand that producing something to the desired standard is the opposite of a mistake.


      What do you mean by, “Fine If you don’t care if it’s crap, I don’t care if it’s crap” mentality. Can you expand more on whats wrong with that thought?

      1. Elsajeni*

        The issue is, does that mean “fine, I think your standards are crap, but I will relax my personal standards to match yours so that I can meet my expected rate of production,” or does it mean “fine, then I’m not going to hold my vendors to ANY standards, because apparently we just make GARBAGE at this shirt emporium!” The fact that Dave digs in his heels and gets hostile when the OP tells him to stop overdoing the quality checks makes him sound like the kind of guy who might do the latter.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I did not think of myself as good socially when I started out in the working world. There are ways to handle that such as quietly observing peers and copying what they do (with caution of course). There were times where I used actual examples, “When this x goes wrong, how do you want me to fix it?” I noticed that even the toxic bosses would explain things if there was a specific example to point at. Dave had options along the way.
      If he is a department leader then more problem solving skills are expected of him. If he does not have those skills that is okay but he cannot fill the requirements of the position.

      Dave’s backsliding should not be too big a problem if there is daily QC checking going on, then Dave won’t make it through one day with crappy work.

  16. Third or Nothing!*

    This right here is exactly why perfectionism is NOT a weakness that’s secretly a strength.

    1. MsM*

      Yes! I hate that conventional wisdom has decided that’s not an acceptable answer to that interview question. It’s a real problem for a lot of us!

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        My husband and I both struggle with it! We’ve both had to learn coping mechanisms so we don’t get bogged down with trying to fix all the imperfections or holding people to unreasonable standards (professionally and personally…you can imagine the damage a perfectionist mindset can do to a marriage if left unchecked).

      2. PollyQ*

        +1, sorry to say. My version of it tends to lead to paralysis & procrastination, which is obviously also not good.

      3. Helena1*

        That answer doesn’t work on any level!

        Candidates think they are saying “my weakness is that I’m completely amazing”, and yeah anyone who has worked with a Dave is going to hear “I spend my whole workday distracted by minutiae” instead, which is obviously a negative.

        But employers generally ask that question to elicit evidence of self-awareness and reflection on action, and to hear about the steps you have taken to mitigate your weaknesses. If you are just saying “I’m great”, you don’t hit any of those tickboxes either. You do demonstrate that you can’t understand implicit questions, another negative. So it’s a poor answer either way.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was raised by a Dave and completely agree. The Dave was my mom. Ironically, it made her a great fit at work. She was the team lead for quality control at a manufacturing plant that made custom-order, high-precision electronic shirts for the military. (Since our metaphor of the day is shirts, lol) So, for that job, she was doing exactly what was expected of her and was getting raises, promotions, positive feedback from the clients and so on. But then she’d bring that same attitude home and expect perfection in everything – my homework, my grades, mopping floors, doing the dishes. If something wasn’t done perfectly, then in her mind it was the same as I did not do it at all. Took a lot of unlearning when I started living on my own. My first summer job in college, I tried to do everything perfectly and was afraid to do some of the tasks that I didn’t know how to do perfectly. And it was a construction site where we had to basically throw stuff quickly together and hope that it didn’t fall apart again. My perfectionism did not go over well in that job. Took several years for me to learn to read the audience, so to speak.

    3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      The problem, I think, is how the answer “”I’m a perfectionist” often includes the (sub)text, “and I think that makes me a better worker!”

      If I was interviewing a candidate and they said, “I’m a perfectionist and that’s caused XYZ problems, which I’m working on by doing ABC” then I would think that demonstrates good self-awareness and personal development.

      1. londonedit*

        Another side to the problem is that people think ‘I’m a perfectionist’ means ‘I do everything perfectly’. When actually it means ‘I scupper my own work by getting so bogged down in trying to make every detail beyond reproach that I can’t see the bigger picture, or I end up not doing any work at all because I’m frozen in place by an irrational fear that my work might not be good enough’.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Good point! I’d guess a small number of folks who identify as perfectionists think that it means they do things “perfectly” and that spoils the perception for everyone :/

  17. Sharikacat*

    This seems like a situation where the company wants someone to tow the line, not try to be above and beyond. And there’s nothing wrong with that! There is a role for someone to try to find ways to improve the overall quality of the product, but Dave isn’t in that position. Wanting to provide an excellent product for the consumer is admirable, but in Dave’s role, the “consumer” is the subcontractor, who isn’t happy with the product (specifically, the quantity provided).

    Even if Dave could produce his Prada-level shirts fast enough, the lack of consistency across the brand will be a problem still. Dave’s 5000 shirts may be great, but the actual consumers are noticing the different seams from the other 500,000 shirts that have been produced, that creates some frustration. They’ll keep looking for the Prada-level seams, be angry when they can’t find them, and take that out on the innocent retail workers. The lowest common denominator can still be a good denominator, and what’s what Dave needs to realize.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      That’s not really fair. The LW has been clear that this is a mid-level company that needs to produce clothing that can be sold at modest prices. Not doing all the things one would do to produce high-end clothing isn’t “not going the extra mile”; it’s tempering costs so that you can keep prices where they’re supposed to be. The fact that my car doesn’t have leather seats and all the doo-dads doesn’t mean that Mazda was slacking off; it means that they were producing a solid car for somebody who doesn’t make Mercedes money.

      Dave could go above and beyond by producing the best clothing he can *within the price restrictions*. But he’s not.

      1. OP (Making Shirts)*

        You’re both actually correct.

        Dust Bunny: Yes, that’s the “slogan” we’ve come to in this case: that we’ve got to produce the best product we can *within the production parameters we are given*. So we don’t go outside of those production parameters, but we also do in fact owe it to the client to absolutely do the best we can within them.

        Sharikacat: I wouldn’t put it in terms of wanting someone to “tow the line”, but we do have limitations. They’re very real limitations of budget and time. And they’re not limitations that we made up. Dave has recently just begun to understand this. The more we talked to him, the more we realized he thought that we were “making up” those limitations. As he begins to understand more about how the industry works, he has been more willing to understand his role within it.

        1. Myrin*

          OP, I promise this is not a trick question but an honest one: Is he worth it?

          I’m asking because it sounds – from both your letter and your upates here (which, thanks a ton for interacting in the comments, btw!) – that both you and your report (Dave’s manager) thus far have spent a lot of time and energy on Dave. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but would you say there are any tangible changes at all? Do you think he’ll be able and willing to change his ways? And if so, do you think he’ll be able to do that sometime during this decade?

          Because to me, as an outsider who only knows of this situation through what you’ve written, it sounds like Dave has basically no idea about anything in your industry at all except for his own standards that he sets for himself and then you talk to him and then he yields a little and then you talk to him and then he yields a little and then you talk and he… you see where this is going.

          Wouldn’t it be better all around to replace him with someone who has a better understanding of your industry, who isn’t a mule in disguise, and who is able to follow direction?
          (And again, I realise I’m wording this a bit snarkily but it’s actually a genuine question only you can know the answer to. Maybe people who are able to take over his position are hard to find. Maybe you only have a limited capacity of how many people you can hire. Maybe it would indeed be easier all around to just slowly train him out of his stubbornness. But I definitely wanted to flag what I saw as the main issue.)

          1. OP (Making Shirts)*

            You make a VERY valid point. And to be honest, if anything, I’ve downplayed a bit the amount of time we’ve spent on him.

            That’s something we need to think hard about. As I’ve said elsewhere, we became aware of certain connections and context that were obvious to us that we hadn’t spelled out to him. So I think ethics would dictate putting that in place first.

            But the honest to goodness truth is that we are in an industry with a bit of a glamorous sheen to it. Which means that hordes of young people are dying to get in. It’s not the greatest paying industry, but it is nevertheless fairly easy to find people who want to do this kind of work on a steady basis. That very much does inform our discussions about how to move forward.

            1. MsM*

              Good luck, OP. It sounds like you’ve already put a lot of careful thought and effort into this, and I hope the steps you’ve taken so far prove effective.

            2. Fikly*

              You sound like a really caring, dedicated manager, and I applaud that.

              At a certain point, though, I think you have to think about all this time you’re spending on Dave, and how much time you now aren’t able to spend on all of your other employees. Are they less deserving of your time/mentoring because they are causing fewer problems?

              1. OP (Making Shirts)*

                Thanks, Fikly. You raise an excellent point. And it may already be apparent to other employees that Dave is already taking a lot of oxygen out of the room.

            3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              OP, we had a Dave who managed people. He didn’t trust them to do the job to his specifications, so he constantly redid their work or overturned their decisions. We finally gave him written parameters that specifically said what he could and could not do. He said he could not work within those parameters and left. His team has been much more productive since then.

              We learned that getting very specific on paper has an powerful effect. Consider making it very clear, in writing, what is expected of Dave.

  18. pentamom*

    I’m not coming up with good language for it at the moment, but you must get across to him that he MAY NOT require higher standards than the ones the vendors have already been supplied with when awarded the contract. He MUST begin to come significantly closer to to his annual targets for personal production. This isn’t his personal hobby, he has a job that involves producing things to a certain standard at a certain rate, and dealing with vendors who are under contract to produce a specific level of thing, not what he thinks is ideal. While having high personal standards is frequently a positive personality trait, you should not be looking upon it as a plus to the extent it motivates him to ignore and even defy his assigned job responsibilities. He is in fact refusing to do what you’ve told him to do, because you’ve told him to produce X and then produce the next X, not produce an X plus a Y and Z. This isn’t about whether it’s admirable that he wants to produce “good shirts,” it’s about the fact that he is not doing his job as instructed, in a way that is significantly undermining the business. As I said I’m not coming up with good language so it oughtn’t to be as harsh as I’ve expressed it, but it needs to be that clear.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It’s helpful if there are written standards because that gives everyone something to point to.

      Just as he cannot lower standards, he cannot raise them either. Standards are in place for a reason. If he goes too high the company loses money. If he goes too low the company loses customers.

      Basically meeting standards is a job requirement, which is why it’s good to have standards in writing.

      Dave is doing what people around me would call “bilking a job”. Granted he is doing terrific work but he is making it take way longer than necessary. He is putting in a level of quality and care that is not required. In severe cases this can be time or wage theft. I worked with a person who always had OT. This person liked all the jewelry they could buy with the OT and they wanted more jewelry. Jobs took way longer than necessary but Person appeared to be working very hard.
      The work was not streamlined as it did not have a logical flow which added to handling time and increased costs.
      The quality was too high for what the customer wanted. There was a lot of waste.
      Person was so busy micromanaging everything that this Person became a bottle neck themselves.

      In my opinion, Person was stealing from the company by artificially increasing payroll costs for their own (gold jewelry) gain.

      Granted Dave may not be getting paid for the OT, as he could be salary. But OP mentioned in the beginning that he wanted a promotion. So in this case he is bilking the job for a promotion and more money later. He’s not doing the actual job, he’s playing a game the way he thinks it needs to be played. This person will make a miserable supervisor. As a leader he can cause subordinates to leave by the carload.

  19. NW Mossy*

    What has helped me get through to the Daves I’ve worked with (either as my peers or my direct reports) is being really blunt about two things: my expectations of the end product and my expectations of Dave’s behavior around trust and control.

    Daves I know tend to be (if you’ll excuse the unkindness of the term) control freaks. They have punishingly high standards for accuracy/quality and they don’t trust others to live up to those standards. In their efforts to reduce the internal conflict they feel in holding those beliefs simultaneously, you get exactly the behavior the OP describes – taking control of as much of the production as the system will permit, generally with little regard for other costs (time, money, morale, etc.).

    After failed attempts to break this cycle by focusing on addressing belief #1 (high standards), I realized that I needed to focus more on belief #2 (lack of trust in others). To work that angle, it helps a lot to clearly define what other people own in the production process and show how those others are held accountable. This can reduce those “OMG if I don’t control this no one will” fears that keep Daves up at night by giving them more confidence that owning X is clearly assigned to another person and won’t come back to bite them.

    It also makes a good segue to a key point: trying to manage people and processes already under someone else’s authority is pointless and can be actively harmful. Daves often unwittingly poison their relationships because they can be really harsh critics of others, who are understandably all “what’s with this Dave dude, he’s not my boss and my boss is happy with my work.” This is the scenario for which the phrase “not my circus, not my monkeys” needs to be a mantra.

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      You are so right about the trust issue. Thank you. I know this to be the case because it does come out in other ways. For example, there are quality control people whose job is to inspect everything that leaves the shop. However, he is always looking for loopholes to figure out how to bypass them–precisely because he does not trust them.

      1. NW Mossy*

        That’s good that you’ve noticed that, because it gives you another way to reinforce the point: to be an effective employee in an organization with others, it’s imperative that we all trust each other to do our respective jobs well. If one person could and should do it all, why are any of the rest of us even here drawing a paycheck? Instead, it’s much healthier to behave as if you buy into the idea that other people are competent professionals doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

        That said, getting someone to sincerely be able to trust other people isn’t always easy. If it’s rooted in specifics about a work environment past or present (lack of clarity on roles/responsibilities/priorities, past trust-breaking behaviors, etc.), it can rebound pretty quickly once you name the issue for what it is and clearly outline the trust-building behaviors you want to see. But if Dave’s lack of trust comes from non-work experiences like personal relationships, it may be harder because you have less influence over the source material.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It’s hard to see others as trust worthy if we ourselves are running our own agenda.
        If Dave stops running his own agenda, he might find it easier to trust people.

        I do understand problems with trusting QC. One of the biggest things I can think of is that QC can’t keep moving a target. Tolerances should be in writing for all to see and follow.

        Here’s something my wise friend shared about control freaks. Control freaks privately feel that everything is out of control, hence their need to bring it back into control. Very seldom are they ever satisfied. Part of the reason is that they exhaust themselves and are too tired to live up to their own impossibly high standards. So they do the VERY thing that they fear others are doing.

        The counter-balance to all this is to learn how much wiggle room is allowed. If a seam can be off 1/8 of an inch then they need to accept that both from other people and from their own work. Then exhale.

  20. Jennifer*

    Maybe explain that he’s hurting your customers by being this way? Your loyal customers expect to be able to buy your product at a reasonable price.

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      I see where you’re going with this, but prices are very fixed in our industry. Our customer is going to pay X amount. Period. Even if it cost us X+1 to make the product. If they can’t get it for X, they will simply go to someone who can deliver it for X.

      1. Lilyp*

        That makes to easy to draw out how he’s hurting the business though — if you will absolutely sell every shirt for $50 even if it’s a mega-high-quality shirt then obviously if the shirt costs more than $50 to make you’d be operating at a loss, which you can’t do. If he can’t accept that he needs to find a different job.

  21. Deanna Troi*

    I used to have an employee like that. All of our work had to be billable, so any work he did outside of the agreed upon billable hours could not be billed, and our company was not interested in that (I imagine few are). He claimed that I was asking him to compromise his professional integrity (he had a PhD in the field), and I said that the clients knew exactly what they were getting for the amount that they paid. He couldn’t adapt and we had to let him go. Even then he felt like he had the moral high ground.

    He now works at a company that has clients who care even less about the quality of work. In my industry, we are looking for pretty good/one step up from good enough so that the regulators think we do quality work and won’t scrutinize us too much; in his new industry (energy), they are looking for let’s do as little as we possibly can to barely scrape by the regulators. He called me a couple of years after he was in his new job to tell me how generous our funding seems to him now that he is in another industry, and that he would do things differently when he was working for me if he had known.

  22. MCMonkeyBean*

    “This is tricky because it’s not like we’re asking him to do X and he refuses”

    But that is what’s happening! X = “take a step back.” You’ve asked him to do that and it sounds like he is refusing.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree.
      You may have concerns that your wording was not strong enough, OP. It’s perfectly fine to go in with stronger wording, especially if you think this guy’s job is on the line. And it’s okay to say if he cannot make this change, then it may be time to consider if this job is the right fit for him.

  23. Elbe*

    I hope that the LW has been as clear with Dave about the consequences of how he’s working as he’s been here? Does Dave know that he’s not just failing to meet his production goal, but coming in over budget even when he does? Does he know that suppliers have been lost because what he’s asking for surpasses what they’re being paid?

    If he’s well intentioned but clueless, there may be some wiggle room here. But if it’s been spelled out for him what this is costing the company and he’s still insisting on doing it his way, then I think that the LW needs to rethink this: “Dave’s heart is in the right place. This is tricky because it’s not like we’re asking him to do X and he refuses.”

    Maybe his heart is not in the right place and he is refusing to do his job. Making the items that the company wants – not the ones that he wants – is part of his job description.

    If he wants to run his own fashion house his own way, he has to do the work of finding buyers and negotiating price points. It’s really not very nice to come into someone else’s business, tell them that their quality sucks, and continue to do what you want even after it’s been explained that it’s costing them suppliers and money.

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      Right, yes. Part of what was going on–as we’ve recently discovered–is that he wasn’t clear on how our industry works. He didn’t realize that our CLIENTS set the quality standards and that it’s our job to meet them. Instead he was walking around with the idea that WE were establishing them arbitrarily and so he saw himself as a great crusader for quality no matter what. As we’ve talked to him more, he’s beginning to understand the bigger picture more.

      1. Elbe*

        If Dave is very young or new to the industry, it’s kind of troubling that he’s digging in his heels when you’re giving him feedback. Now is when he should be focused on learning. It’s a special kind of annoying when a new person just assumes that they know better than all of their more experienced coworkers, even if they mean well.

      2. NapkinThief*

        This concerns me, though. Because if YOU as his BOSS (Grandboss, even!) are setting a standard, even if it is arbitrary…that is his standard! He literally has admitted to insubordination for no other reason than he thinks he knows better. He doesn’t respect you, OP, and I think that should alarm you.

        Another vote here for cutting your losses and letting him go.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I’d have to go with his heart is not in the right place, his heart is in “Dave’s Place” and it’s The World According to Dave.

      He wants a promotion. I think this is all about getting that promotion.

  24. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP (Making Shirts)– From your letter, and your comments, it sounds to me like you need to be much more explicit (make that blunt) with Dave. If giving him more context about your relationship with your client firms and subcontractors will help him understand what you’re trying to tell him, well and good. But I’m not really optimistic. Hard-playing perfectionists are difficult to retrain, and he already has the idea that he can “gumption” his way around your instructions.

    I think you’ve already invested more time in Dave than is really wise, but if you’re determined to give him another chance, set out very explicit goals he has to hit without working overtime within a specific time frame. Hold him to that. Make sure he understands that, if he can’t make those goals, he will no longer have a job with you.

    I know it’s hard, but you have to do it. In the end, retaining your customers is more important than saving Dave from himself.

  25. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Has anyone ever sat down with Dave and had that Prada vs J. Crew discussion in terms of the overall business?

    “Our business model is we source & produce garments for mid-range branded retailers. That’s what we know how to do best, and that’s what the owners have decided we are going to do. Our customers rely on us to provide those garments in accordance with the time, price, and quality specs in our contracts. Anything outside the scope of those contracts is a waste of time and money, and a threat to our reputation.”

  26. Mike C.*

    On the other hand, your industry standards suck and lead to clothes that wear out incredibly quickly and destroy the environment.

      1. k*

        It is a metaphor, yes. And this portion of the metaphor, as it happens, also carries over. Cutting corners in quality control because “we’re not making (the equivalent of) Gucci or Prada” always leads to problems down the line, and frequently those problems happen at a much larger scale (and cost!) than would have happened if the job was done right the first time.

        1. Annony*

          But mid level products exist for a reason. Price is important and sometimes people don’t need to buy something that will last forever because they only need it for a short time. If I was invited to a formal wedding, I would buy something that probably won’t last rather than something high end because the last time I actually needed a formal dress was prom.

          I buy a lot of IKEA furniture because I can’t afford to furnish my entire house with high quality furniture and I slowly replace it. Sometimes budget is more important than quality and if Dave can’t understand that then he needs to work for a luxury manufacturer.

          1. MsM*

            And if the Banana Republic comparison is accurate, we’re not talking about a super-short lifespan here. I have plenty of $30-50 shirts that have been part of my wardrobe for years.

            1. k*

              It’s interesting you say that — I know it’s just a metaphor but it’s very funny that the retailer of choice is Banana Republic, because they have had one of the more notorious drops in quality over the past few years, to the point where their CEO admitted that it was part of why their revenue was falling: “We just had huge quality misses. Literally places where whether it was fits or the quality of the fabrication, it made the product very difficult to wear. I think I’ve cited this before but blazers in Banana Republic women’s assortment where it was extremely difficult for the average woman to actually get her arm into the armhole.”

              But again, the metaphor carries to pretty much every industry. Consumer electronics break or fall apart. Software is buggier. Safety standards are ignored. Newspapers and magazines have more corrections and factual errors. And in all cases, the cause is largely prioritizing ever-tightening budget and production schedules over quality, expecting nothing to change, and penalizing the people who actually care.

              1. Fikly*

                Same thing happened with Pyrex, I believe, when they changed the formula and suddenly their dishes started exploding in ovens.

                But as to the clothing industry, mid-level companies have been having tremendous quality issues ever since the price of cotton rose dramitically, because they would have to either raise their prices (which most won’t do because they want to stay at the same price-point, which is valid) or use different materials which just don’t last as long or have similar properties.

              2. James*

                Safety standards have been ignored since Day 1. If you talk to the people ignoring the safety standards, production often isn’t the issue–you hear a lot of “this is how we’ve always done it” or “I don’t need that crap, I know what I’m doing”.

                There’s a difference between a good middle-quality affordable product and junk. Think the family van. It’s fairly reliable, it’s able to do a fairly specialized job, and it’s something the family can afford. Try to make it operate like a high-end sports car and you sacrifice at least one of these qualities.

                There is no global maxima for quality. There are only local maxima, dependent upon final use.

                Note that quality is not an issue at the OP’s workplace. They have standards that they have to meet, and the clients are happy with the work produced by everyone else. This isn’t a question of sacrificing quality. It’s a question of prioritizing what Dave wants over what the client wants.

            2. OP (Making Shirts)*

              Yes, the Banana Republic metaphor may have been a needless distraction. If so, I regret the choice. My only point was that we deliver a decent mid-level product. Everything doesn’t have to be luxury level. Many, many, many people in the world need shirts, and not everyone can afford a Prada shirt that will last a zillion years. A lot of us need the equivalent of Banana Republic or a Kia or Bertolli pasta. These things aren’t at the top of their markets, but they’re not trash and they do serve a perfectly valid sector of the market.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            +1000 Most of the time, we don’t even need something that lasts forever. Suppose, 35 years ago, you bought a supreme quality VCR that was built to last forever – you still won’t be using it now.

            I buy IKEA furniture and it holds up just fine. I do not need a piece of furniture that will last 100 years, that I can then leave to my children in my will, so that they can wonder what to do with that ancient couch that refuses to die.

            1. Helena1*

              We do actually have an Ikea couch that must be 20 years old now. New cover a couple of years ago, still looks good, still comfortable, and no need to be precious when my toddler puts his sticky fingers on it.

              Is it as fancy as the sofas in Aram? Nope. At less than $200, we are pretty happy with it.

        2. not me*

          k and Mike C are flogging the metaphor very hard.

          How about this metaphor? Dave is supposed to write a weekly half-page general interest column, but instead he produces an in-depth Atlantic-type long-form article every other month.

          the long in-depth article is clearly “better” journalism, but it’s not what was requested and it just won’t work out for the business if the customers are asking for a short daily fluff piece

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      You do understand that we’re not literally in the clothing business, right? But point is still taken.

    2. Kate 2*

      And are you making your own clothes? Or paying fair trade, high quality prices for your clothes? 40% of the cost of manufacturing clothing is still manual labor. Shirt sleeves are still seen on by hand for example. So the 1$ t shirt you got in that Hanes 5 for 5$ pack? Less than 40 cents of that went some human being (possibly a child) in a third world country. It’s one thing if you can’t afford to buy humanely made clothing, I certainly can’t. But it’s not nice to assume people can and lecture them about it. As far as my comment goes, well turnabout is fair play!

  27. Mike*

    One of my engineering professors told us a story from when he was starting out. He had to design a motor for a camera and designed it last 20 years. However, the rest of the camera was designed to last 7 years. They made him go back and redo it to be inline with the rest of the expected lifetime (and thus reduce costs).

    That was a lesson in making sure you understand requirements and practical matters of costs.

  28. doreen*

    Does Dave get any sort of benefit from doing this? I ask because an acquaintance of mine used to do something similar – he would work overtime almost every weekend because “the orders have to go out”. As people asked him questions* , he was never able to explain why the orders he shipped on Saturday couldn’t wait to go out until Monday. Business slowed down, the overtime became noticeable and the employer put an end to it . To hear my acquaintance talk , it would seem he just couldn’t comprehend that his boss decided whether the orders could wait until Monday – but if you know him, you know he needed the OT to support his gambling habit.

    * They asked him questions because he had a history of painting his employer in a bad light because of his own “quirkiness” – after about the fourth time he told us his employer had cancelled his vacation days before a group trip, it turned out that he had never actually asked for the vacation. He expected his employer to remember he took the second week of March every year.

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      It’s nothing like a gambling habit, but he does get something out of it–an ego boost. Again, this is reflective of how he misunderstood our industry for a long time, but if you can imagine, it’s as though he almost thought every shirt was going out with his personal name embroidered on it. He really thought that he “owned” it in that way. It’s like we hired a product manager to get a certain product out to a certain set of specifications, but somehow he got the idea that he was being hired as a fashion designer at a couture house.

      As has been said elsewhere, there are still steps we in management need to take to better clarify his role. But we are also prepared for the possibility that the fit may just be wrong.

      1. RVA Cat*

        It sounds like the Dave situation is something your company needs to screen for in future hiring and onboarding.

        Once Dave is gone, could you use a fictionalized version of his issues in your new hire training?

      2. I can't take it anymore*

        He should work for Longerberger baskets (are they still in business?)
        The basket makers sign the bottom of each basket they make!

  29. Annony*

    What he apparently hears is, “What you do doesn’t matter. You’re wrong to be concerned about quality.”

    That is what he needs to hear. Don’t argue that that is the point. What he is doing doesn’t actually matter to the company. He is wasting money and time instead of doing his actual job. Be blunt. If he still doesn’t get it then he needs to find a job that focuses on a higher end product.

  30. CM*

    I’ve been Dave before. It’s really frustrating to feel like you’re being asked to make garbage and that everyone else is satisfied with that. I don’t think there’s going to be a way to keep him in that job unless you let him make something good at least once in a while — even if it’s just, “Fine, Dave, make 4,000 crappy shirts and then your one special project.”

    1. Elbe*

      If he can’t do the work that is asked of him, then he’s not a good fit for the job. I don’t think that they should sink more time and money into giving him what he wants when so far he can’t do what the business wants.

    2. Fikly*

      The company needs someone in the position who can do what the position requires. It’s unresaonable to take away time from his actual duties to let him do something that the company does not need, cannot benefit from, just to make Dave happy.

      If Dave cannot change, Dave needs a different job. This is a Dave problem.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      There is a big gulf between high end and garbage, though. The LW is not asking for garbage; the LW is asking for moderation.

      But even if she were asking for garbage, that’s what she wants from Dave, and he’s not doing his job.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      I think if he can’t get past the perception that the products he’s making are crappy garbage and it’s so demoralising to make them that he needs to ignore his actual job description to craft artisanal shirts that nobody asked for… he probably applied for the wrong job? There’s a desire for quality and then there’s living in denial about what your job actually is.

      Like, look, I love planning interesting events. If you want a wedding with the rings delivered by falcon and a firework display and an 8-course tasting menu OH BOY I am here to plan that. But most people don’t want that, they want a three-course menu with a vegetarian option and a DJ that plays songs they remember from high school. If I got frustrated about that so badly that I refused to do anything unless I was allowed to hire a magician and some ice sculptures, I would be a shitty event planner and nobody would hire me.

  31. k*

    The reason Dave hears “you’re wrong to be concerned about quality” because what you are telling him is, in fact, that he is wrong to be concerned about quality. If that’s where your priorities lie, fine. But don’t try to convince yourself you’re saying something else, and don’t penalize him for correctly picking up on what you are saying.

    I would also consider how adequate your “industry standards” are. I deeply sympathized with Dave because at my job, let’s say I also produce shirts. I can’t tell you the amount of times that my manager has said to me something like “You don’t have to double-bind these seams (made-up term). They were actually fine the way the freelancers produced them. Just concentrate on the big issues like the overall cut of the fabric.” And then I go to look at the seams just in case, and they’re falling apart everywhere, or sometimes the freelancers didn’t put in any seams at all and nobody bothered to even check because everyone assumed they were fine, or there is some other kind of problem that should be absolutely egregious under any reasonable “industry standard.”

    I would guess that behind virtually every shoddy product roll-out, malfunction, disaster, etc., there were “industry standards” that said the product was just fine, and also at least a couple Daves who tried to prevent the catastrophe before it happened (to the point of working on weekends just to get it done!) but were ignored or penalized for it.

    1. k*

      Oh, and the other thing I would watch for is whether you are penalizing Dave and/or his team for not doing the things you’re telling him to not do, once they hit the market and it turns out that there was, in fact, a quality problem. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “We don’t have time to do stuff like double-bind the seams, just get it out the door,” knew for a fact the seams were going to be crap but did what I was told; and then the shirt goes to market, someone inevitably complains about the seams because it’s not as if I have a unique level of attention to detail, there is a costly rush to re-ship them with the seams fixed, and then I’m reprimanded for not noticing and fixing the problem.

      1. The Francher Kid*

        Have you missed the OP’s follow up comments in which they state that their complaint levels are very, very low and totally within industry standards? What you are describing is not happening here.

        1. k*

          Yes, I have seen them. What these do not reflect are the number of customers who are quietly dissatisfied and, though they’re unable to switch (but will as soon as they are able) warn people away from the product, or the number of sales deals that weren’t closed because of concerns (can’t file a customer complaint if you’re not a customer in the first place, after all) or the possibility, which becomes a reality more often than anyone admits, of something going spectacularly wrong, it being avoidable, but nobody avoiding it because “none of our customers ever had a problem before!”

          1. Fikly*

            So what? They’re supplying a product to companies that then go on to sell it to customers. If those customers aren’t happy with the company’s standards, that’s those company’s problem, and they need to change their standards. The OP’s company will have already been paid.

            This is not OP’s problem.

            1. k*

              That, or they drop OP’s company as a vendor (from the OP, I interpreted it as an ongoing business relationship, not a one-time deal), which is the vastly more likely outcome. There are more ways to damage your business relationships than raising production costs.

              Believe me, I have watched this episode before and hundreds of its reruns.

              1. OP (Making Shirts)*

                k, things are of course uncertain right now in all sectors. None of knows exactly what the future holds. But I can tell you this: we are very good at meeting client expectations across our entire output and our clients simply adore us. The problem is not that we don’t meet our client expectations. We do. Consistently. The problem is that one of our employees is wasting resources by delivering far more than was asked for, at a level that is not sustainable for the company in the long run.

              2. Fikly*

                Why would they do that, given they provide the standards? Wouldn’t it make vastly more sense to simply change the standards?

      2. OP (Making Shirts)*

        Yeah, this just isn’t at all what’s happening. We provide quality product across our entire output. We don’t make crap, we make a very, very, very good $50 shirt and our clients have told us that. We DON’T make $500 shirts. I’m glad there’s someone out there that does for people who can afford that and want that, but it’s not us. We make $50 shirts, which means that if they aren’t manufactured for, say, $17, then we are essentially losing money and will eventually go out of business. How is that to anyone’s benefit?

    2. MsM*

      Okay, but clothes (or whatever) that are literally falling apart is a big issue, and one that’s worth flagging so OP and Dave’s manager can address the problem with the freelancers if need be. Dave still shouldn’t be trying to fix every single defective shirt by hand himself. And there’s a difference between that kind of scenario and what OP seems to be describing, which is the kind of thing that only an industry expert would notice and that doesn’t provide enough added value to make up for what it costs in time and materials.

    3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      You and Dave seem to be assuming an either/or scenario: Either the product is super high quality or it’s falling apart at the seams.

      I know that you have had experience where industry standards means “falling apart at the seams.” That’s a problem. That’s also not applicable to everything and, in my experience as a consumer, that’s not most products and services. I have mid- to low-price point products (clothes and non-clothes, generally bought second-hand) which have lasted me 8+ years.

      If the product is falling apart at the seams, then the wise course of action is to tell your boss and grandboss. If they say, “That’s not a problem (for the company)” and that’s a problem for you, then your next move is to find a company who *will* care. It’s not your job to fix the issues and cost the company a lot of resources they don’t want to spend. Otherwise, you’re trying to fix a gravity problem.

  32. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    This is actually not any different than someone performing far below your expectation – you need him to do a job and he’s not doing it. You need to stop excusing this behavior because his intentions are good – that’s irrelevant. You need to be direct, explain the consequences if he doesn’t change, and follow through with them if he ignores it.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      In a weird way, this is exactly someone performing way below your expectations since Dave is costing the company more than he’s benefitting it.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      In reality his intentions appear to be good, because high quality work looks good for the company. However, I am thinking that Dave’s thought is the high quality work looks good for HIM. It’s all about him, not the company.

  33. AKchic*

    I think we need to do away with the idea that Dave’s heart is “in the right place”. Dave has been told that he needs to produce 5000 shirts/year at a certain standard, working with others to do so. He, instead, chooses to waste the company’s time and money, as well as the subcontractors’ time and money producing *less* shirts to a different standard, even after being told *not* to do that. That’s not “heart in the right place” that is “I feel differently and I’m going to do what I want to do” or “ego”.

    You have already lost some subcontractors (I’m calling them subcontractors) because of his exacting standards that aren’t actually in line with the company or industry. Word will get around and it will be harder and harder to replace the subcontractors the longer you keep allowing Dave to push his section into this odd standard he has set for himself.
    It may be that Dave sees himself in a much different place down the road and is trying to Act As If for now, but it is going to hurt your company’s bottom line, and potentially your reputation with potential collaborators / employees.
    Going forward, Dave needs to stick to the industry and company standard. If there comes a special project where his kind of exacting eye for detail and perfection is needed, by all means, put him in, coach.

    1. Elbe*

      Yeah, if the LW has explained that this behavior is costing the company money and vendor relationships, then I have a hard time believing that Dave’s heart is in the right place. It’s not kind to follow your own preferences even if it’s hurting your company and coworkers.

  34. Betty*

    OP, I think you need to provide Dave with a written spec that includes:
    – Produce X number of shirts
    – Working X hours (no overtime)
    – Costing £Y
    – Rejecting *only* shirts that fail this minimum quality checklist

    Tell him he has 90 days to show he can do that or you will fire him. I sounds like you either haven’t been adequately explicit about the criteria for success in this role, or that you haven’t been adequately clear about how big a problem this is.

    I am unclear why you want to keep someone who is doing a bad job and argues about it repeatedly.

    1. Betty*

      Also, when he argues back about “oh, so you want me to make crap shirts?” – don’t even reply. “This here is what we need you to achieve. Can you do that?”

      1. Betty*

        And say this if you think it would help! But only after reiterating no overtime:

        “He should be producing 5,000 shirts a year in order to justify his salary but he only produces 3,000. This means we have gotten to a point where it actually costs us more to produce these shirts than we are being paid for them.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        s/”Others in this company are already meeting these goals. If you think they are making crap products then the exit door is right over there.”/s

        Seriously, though. You could quietly and slowly say, “I don’t think you meant to imply that our other products are crap. However, our other producers are expected to and do meet these requirements that you have deemed crappy. I need for you to carefully think through what you are saying here. This is the level of quality expected at this company. You may not adjust that level to your liking. You must comply with the expected level of quality. I want you to take (the morning/rest of the afternoon) to figure out if you can comply with this expectation or not. I will ask you for your final answer (at noon/at 4pm).”

        Don’t let this run too much longer, OP. The company has already sunk a ton of time (read: dollars) into trying to be fair with a person who has little interest in returning the fairness. Remember one person CAN pull down an entire company and this guy has himself well positioned to do just that.

  35. RUKiddingMe*

    “Dave, knock it off. Do it way we tell you to do it. Period. Your continued employment depends upon you following the rules.”

    1. Elbe*

      I actually like this approach a lot. Engaging in a conversation with him about quality has so far only given him the impression that it’s up for discussion and that he has some say in the decision. At this point, he needs to prove that he can stay in his lane and meet his job requirements.

  36. The answer is (probably) 42*

    So I’m pretty late to the party here but I have to say this is one of the most enjoyable comments sections and OP interactions that I’ve seen on this site. OP is gracious, polite, and open to criticism, and there’s a lot of really nuanced and interesting discussion going on overall. Thank you AAM for cultivating this kind of commentariat!

  37. Lisa*

    This conversation has been wild for me to read because I have actually worked in a clothing factory, and some of my early lessons about perfect vs. good came from that experience.

    Background: When I was very young, in the early 90’s, I worked for many months at a small family business that hired seamstresses* at piecework/minimum wage to sit for 8 hours a day (following the labor laws to the letter and to the minute) at industrial sewing machines mass-producing clothing. I was entry-level, having only done home-sewing before, and so they trained me to do basic tasks on the serger. If you’re wearing a t-shirt or similar right now, flip up the hem and look at the side-seam: that’s a serger seam. All of your casual clothing is 90% made that way. The serger is an incredibly efficient tool because it can stitch the straight seam, and cut-and-wrap the seam allowance all at once. It a more couture setting, as well as how most home-sewers work, those are three separate steps, but, depending on how it is done, could be more long-lasting, and is almost always more precise. The challenge with serged seams is that because sergers cut-and-stitch at the same time, anytime you have to redo the work, you cut away a little more fabric and the garment gets slightly smaller. If you have a brand of clothing you buy a lot of and the sizing seems very inconsistent this is usually why. The pieces are getting cut from the whole cloth stacks and stacks at a time with power-tools and standard patterns, it’s the sewing where you get the weird variations. And if you make a mistake as a seamstress and have to fix it you have no choice but to rip at least a little more fabric away. It will then pass quality control but it won’t actually FIT when someone eventually tries it on in the fitting room at the store. So the perfect truly can be the enemy of the good, if you try to sew too fast or get sloppy, you pass “quality” only by actually introducing hidden flaws.

    * Yes we were called seamstresses and we all were ‘esses, the dudes did mechanical repairs and cutting, it was another time.

    In another industry where I’ve worked, residential construction, one of the biggest “quality” determinators is the trim around windows and doors. We have to have trim there, for safety and sanitation, because that trim is covering up an ugly gap full of nails and probably insulation and a lot of dust. Now that trim can be a thing of beauty and if you are in a house that is more than ~90 years old it very likely is. But it turns out that trim can also be a very simple strip of composite material, and it will still do its functional job, it just won’t be as pretty, and it won’t last 90 years. When we build houses for rich people with lots of money, we can choose to use big, fat pieces of custom-milled trim out of fancy wood, because it really can be a beautiful touch and it adds a lot to the feeling of the room every day. But if we are building houses for people who just need a roof over their heads it would be criminal to divert budget and time to make the trim anything more than the basic requirement that it cover the gap and be sanitary and safe. That could mean people spend another month unhoused, or that could mean they have other serious issues in their housing that aren’t visible right away, like plumbing problems or fire risks. Things that matter a lot more to them than whether their trim is pretty.

    And in my current industry, high-tech, we have a lot of designers and developers like Dave. They will futz and futz about color values or tabs vs. spaces or other practices-of-the-craft that have no business value. I myself have been known to count pixels, but I know to count pixels differently when I’m approving something that is going to be propagated across 100k web pages vs. something that is going to be live on one site for one month. I know that tabs vs spaces matters but it matters ONCE, because what matters is that everyone working on the same code base is doing it the same. There is also the fact that things look and work different on different screens and devices no matter what you do. Kinda like how the best-made clothes fit differently after they’ve been washed.

    My thoughts on Dave is that he is woefully under-educated and lacks perspective. He has a crafts mentality and is not working in a crafts industry, but even if he were… you don’t put finished seams on Halloween costumes that will never see the laundry. You don’t waste material to be more luxurious if it means you build four apartments instead of five. You don’t write a documentation manual for an app that is only going to live for three months. There is absolutely such a thing as too much quality, and it actually hurts the end results.

    Thank you for listening to my stories. I needed this diversion today.

    1. OP (Making Shirts)*

      Wow, Lisa. Thank you for those stories. Each one was more beautiful than the last!

      I was terrified when I wrote that whole elaborate metaphor that someone with actual garment experience was going to come along and say, “That’s not how it works at all!” So thank you for not saying that, and for understanding that it was all just a way to communicate a deeper issue.

      Ours is probably most like your housing example. We create a product that needs to do something fairly “functional”. There is a version of it that would be much more glamorous and obviously lovely, but that’s not the version of it we make. At this point I’m just repeating myself and you said it so much better.

      1. Lisa*

        So glad it was helpful. And if you do move towards termination, it sounds like Dave would do better working somewhere that makes the glamorous/lovely version, so it might be the best thing for him in the end.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Right? Curiosity is killing me here. And I agree with Lisa (loved the examples, btw!) that Dave may be better suited to making the high-end version of the product.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Thanks for sharing your stories! I’ve long wondered about those size differences, now you’ve solved the mystery for me.

      1. Lisa*

        Ha! Yes the difference in how much seam allowance the serger shaves off can be more than the difference between, say, a Medium and a Large.

    3. No Name Yet*

      What fascinating stories, thank you! (And also, really nicely illustrative of why Dave’s problems are, in fact, problems.)

  38. Pipe Organ Guy*

    I produce stuff, week in, week out. Every Sunday there has to be the service booklet ready for the congregation, the choir, and everyone at the altar. Sometimes there are extra services in a week–weddings or funerals, for example. (Right now, nothing extra as we isolate ourselves against COVID-19.) I’ve gotten pretty good at this over the years; errors are very, very few and very far between, but sometimes I’ll forget to update a hymn number, for example. No big deal; the music is printed in the booklet. Whatever happens, that booklet has to be printed Thursday afternoon, period.

    I also have to have my music learned for Sunday, with some things ready for choir rehearsal on Thursday evenings. It just never is perfect; it’s good enough that I won’t lead the choir or congregation astray, and I’ll be able to play well enough so people know where to breathe. My solos never come off quite perfectly; there just isn’t time for that, and I have a life to lead quite apart from obsessive practicing. If I flub a few notes in the course of playing a service, I think “Dang!” and just keep moving forward. And that’s what everyone is looking for: feeling led and supported in their singing, not mythical perfection.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      A funeral is actually a great example, I think. I’d rather have a loved one’s funeral start on time, than have it start hours late, because the funeral home staff felt they had to make sure that the deceased looks like a Vogue model. (Not that this ever happens in real life, thankfully!)

  39. Koala dreams*

    I don’t have advice, I just want to congratulate you on the shirt analogy. As a reader, I can feel the disappointment of the 3001 customer (end consumer) that goes to your client, the store, to buy a shirt, and finds out they have run out and nobody knows when the rest of the shirts are going to show up. I’d rather have a low quality shirt than no shirt at all! I can also easily imagine the disappointment of one of the earlier customers, who bought a skirt and what they thought was the matching shirt, only to find out that the shirt makes the skirt look cheap, and also looks totally out of place at the beach BBQ that afternoon.
    Good luck with solving this!

  40. Rage*

    Wow, this sounds almost exactly like a situation my former employer handled – we were the Employee Assistance Program, and one of our client companies referred one of their engineers to us for, well, the same thing: obsessive focus on quality (which backlogged an entire project), refusal to compromise/relax standards, etc.

    End result was classic OCD that was being exacerbated by the stress of the behind-time project AND the fact that he was caring for his father, who was terminally ill.

    If OP’s company has an EAP, refer him.

  41. babblemouth*

    I’m struggling with something similar, and I was wondering how the advice changes when Dave is your manager.
    Context: my department has a new manager, Davina. We’ve just gone almost a year without one, this was a long recruitment process. While we waited for Davina to arrive, we were managed directly by top management. one of the regular criticism our team had was that we spent too long on, say, pattern making. Some people in my team did a lot of overtime making extremely finicky patterns, that were unnecessary for what they’d be used for in the end – like baby clothes that will be outgrown within two months. We all improved a lot on this, and have been better at making patterns that are fit for purpose.
    Since Davina arrived, she is demanding that everything we do be super detailed again. I know for a fact this is not a request from management – I had a discussion with someone in a position to know. I know Davina is asking all this in the hope of showing that under her direction, the team delivers better work. It’s very frustrating because 1) I know now that it’ not necessary, we were overachieving before and 2) she’s looking at everything we did last year as underdone, and she’s under the impression we’re all underperformers.
    Is there any way to rectify that? I don’t want to go around her to top management – I’m still trying to get her to like me, and to do this I need to gain her trust. But on the other hand, if we follow her and overdo everything again, at some point top management will notice, and they’ll ask us why we deliberately went against their specific instructions.

    1. PX*

      Maybe give her some of this context? I would frame it as: “Before you joined, we were given these instructions for this reason. You’re advice now seems to be going against what we were told before. Can you clarify/set expectations for us please?”

      1. babblemouth*

        I’ve tried that, unfortunately half the time it ends up sounding like an excuse for subpar work… she’s not a great listener.

    2. Elbe*

      Honestly, I think that Davina will change her stance soon or she’ll be reprimanded by her own boss. If they were able to clearly convey the standards to you, they’re going to be able to convey that to her, too, once detailed work starts showing up on their desks again.

      I hope that it gets sorted out soon. In the meantime, if you have a good relationship with Davina’s boss, you could mention it. Something to the tune of, “Davina would benefit from hearing the quality control expectations from you. I think there’s a miscommunication about what standards you’re looking for.”

  42. 7310*

    Yay! A sewing question!
    But yes, he needs to step back or be removed.

    I learned quickly the difference between perfect and good enough when my custom clothing business took off. If a client wants perfect, they pay the difference in labor.

    The clothing industry already “over-sews” clothing in order to make batch production doable and meet industry standards. Worse, a lot of the steps he may be taking to improve quality are not likely even happening in couture clothing lines.

  43. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

    I know I’m late to this one, but since I am married to a “Dave,” and I continually worry about him losing his job for these very reasons, I would urge the OP to be super clear with him that he needs to do his job a certain way or it is in peril.

    My “Dave” also believes that he’s doing the best job and that others around him are not ‘doing it right.’ I am constantly trying to get through that it isn’t his call, if they want to do it a ‘worse’ way, that’s the company’s or client’s prerogative. For this type of personality, that really doesn’t register, IME. But I know that if my Dave’s boss told him, here’s exactly how I need you to do your job, or it is in jeopardy, he would likely comply. I don’t know for how long, because this is part of his personality, but it might also make him look for a new job and solve your problem that way also. Good luck with this situation!

  44. Melody Pond*

    OP- just wanted to say reading through all of this that you have displayed a noteworthy amount of grace and thoughtfulness, in the context of this situation and with commenters. Obviously good intent doesn’t equal good management, but it really sounds like you are evaluating this well in balancing the needs of the business, role, and professional expectations while also trying to ensure fairness, own any responsibility of management, and show compassion towards Dave. I just wanted to throw out that you sound like the kind of person I would want to work for for these reasons. I’ve worked for Daves with hands off upper management, and it was hell. In my case, my boss Davette was in full burn out, working insane hours with a lot of inner angst, and impossible to please given I was trying to do my job based on company and industry standards, and it was never good enough for Davette, which caused not subtle pressure to work more hours or risk having my work redone, despite the fact it was consistently passing all internal checks with flying colors, praised by customers, and well above the comparable work of our jacket department. The white knight crusader issue was so real and at least in my case, didn’t necessarily get fixed even with her getting coached on industry standards. I left in under two years, and was just one member of a revolving door under Davette. I wish you the best moving forward with Dave, and don’t lose a wink of sleep if termination is ultimately the best option. You are looking out for the good of the whole team, and you sound like an excellent manager.

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