how much should I hand-hold a disorganized employee?

A reader writes:

I am a new manager struggling with how to handle one of my employees. He is a smart guy but super disorganized. For example, he is in charge of ensuring all internal audits in our company have been set up and executed. We discuss this in our one-on-ones, and invariably, every time there are a few he has forgotten to set up, follow up on, or document. I have suggested a few ways he could keep track of these, such as email reminders and spreadsheets. Any time I make suggestions, he claims he does not need the “crutch” and is able to stay on top of things.

My biggest uncertainty is how much I should be helping him and insisting that he use my suggested method. When we discussed using a spreadsheet for planning events, I walked him though setting one up and left him with a template. He is still not using it. I know I cannot literally force him to use one, but how much energy should I spend on helping him develop good habits or encouraging him to try different methods?

We are at the point where I have told him if he does not start to keep on these things, he will be fired. This has led to no change in his attitude toward this part of his job. I feel bad letting him go, when there is the possibility that a few simple techniques could get him performing exactly where I need him. But I am at a loss as to what to do. Is there some manager secret on how to get things like this to work? I’ve been urged to just fire the guy, but I feel like there is something more I can do.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    You can lead a horse to water…
    You also can’t care about saving someone’s job more than they do.

    1. umami*

      Yeah, I have gone through this with a direct report. I began by saying they didn’t have to do things my way, but I made some recommendations to help them think about what could be useful. When their way (which was to keep assuming they didn’t need to change anything) continued to fail them, I told them they ‘must’ use my recommendations. When the person has not been successful, I ask if they used the process/template, and when they said no, then I told them they must use it ‘every time’ to be successful. When they still haven’t done so, PIP. It’s not so much hand-holding as giving them specific tools to help them and then holding them accountable for using them.

    2. Deja vu*

      I learned this the hard way when trying to support an employee who had (at the time) undiagnosed ADHD. They kept missing deadlines, forgetting about tasks, refusing to do tasks, not providing updates, the list goes on. I made specific suggestions which they got defensive about and of course didn’t implement. They eventually complained that I was bullying them. In the end I moved on to another role but as far as I know, they are still in the same position, still as disorganized as ever.

  2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    “he claims he does not need the “crutch” and is able to stay on top of things.”

    “Wakeen, clearly you do need “the crutch” because you’re actually not staying on top of things the way I need you to. I’m also finding it interesting that you’re calling normal tools crutches. People use them because these aren’t things most of the can just keep in our heads. I’ve never met someone who can do that.”

    1. Cynan*

      For that matter, actual crutches are a perfectly normal tool for people who need them for help walking.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        THIS! Crutches aren’t somehow cheating. They’re things you need to get around when one of your legs isn’t behaving itself.

        1. Archi-detect*

          I caught myself the other day at the store for no reason wondering if the teenager-ish person using a crutch needed it. I immediately reminded myself that 1. who wants to use them? and 2. it is none of my business in any way

          I was mostly confused why my mind immediately went there

          1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

            That’s a good insight! Society teaches us a lot of messages we usually aren’t aware of even taking on.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              Very much so! The whole “it’s a crutch” attitude towards stuff does smack of indicating that using any kind of tool or assist makes a person “lesser,” which is nonsense.

          2. Slow Gin Lizz*

            My friend’s teenager has EDS (a syndrome that affects collagen formation and has many symptoms including pain, especially after being on their feet for a long time). Kiddo has a cane that they use when they need it and a disabled parking permit. I’m sure many people probably do think it’s weird for a teenager to need a cane, but as you rightly pointed out, it’s none of their business. I actually haven’t heard if the kid has been given a hard time when using the cane but I hope they’ve got a good comeback for when someone inevitably does.

            1. Archi-detect*

              I think that is the other half- the kid would love nothing more than to be able to walk normally and not have the fuss, this isn’t a fun thing to have.

              1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                Yeah, definitely. This kid would LOVE to have a few days pain-free or without all the other bizarre symptoms they get.

            2. Freya*

              I have a cane stashed in my car for the (now fortunately rare) occasions I need it. I see no reason to not use it when using it means I hurt less and can therefore do more.

              (reduction in cane usage coincided with me finding shoes that are almost wide enough for my hobbit-like feet. Prior to that, walking more than a certain amount would make my feet, ankles, knees and hips get this grinding pain, because I was walking on feet unable to support me properly. Unfortunately, shoes that are actually wide enough are only available in men’s sizing, which doesn’t come short enough to fit me)

          3. BubbleTea*

            I’m not visibly disabled but I suspect that in a year or two I might need a cane occasionally. Having seen how people reacted to young wheelchair using friends, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but my intermittent pelvic issues have become more frequent. I wish it was more normalised to see things like canes being used occasionally, not a binary disabled/not-disabled marker.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Yeah, and the fact that some ppl need some kind of mobility device only *some* of the time makes ppl who see them without the mobility device think they’re faking. It’s maddening. Like, sometimes I just need to sit down all day and sometimes I feel like I can walk the halls just fine on my own, please don’t make me sit in a wheelchair all the time to assuage your own ableism. (Note: this is the hypothetical I; I am not a wheelchair user.)

        2. Quill*

          They certainly don’t make things easier than having working legs and feet!

          They’re just easier than walking on whatever unauthorized thing your body is doing.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Yes! It bugs me so much how an important mobility tool is used to signify “a bad thing that makes you lazy” in figurative language. Ableism in language right there!

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Right??? Sheesh, let’s bash this particular ableist notion with a baseball bat! Or, if you prefer, with a well-timed whack with a good, solid crutch.

          1. Good Enough For Government Work*

            I was at a circus last week where one of the performers, who was visibly disabled, used his crutches TO DO ACROBATICS ON. He was amazing.

              1. Good Enough For Government Work*

                They’re called NoFit State Circus. I’ve been watching their shows for years, but the current one – Sabotage – is one of their absolute best.

      3. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        That’s such an important point and I thought about it while typing but didn’t add it. Crutches aren’t something to be looked down on.

        Impairments aren’t disabilities; society creates disabilities through lack of access. Crutches are access.

      4. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes!!!! I had an optometrist as a kid who thought that glasses were a crutch. I wish I’d had the wisdom to say, “Yeah, but they’re a crutch that I need because my eyes don’t work very well.” I did get glasses a few months later but honestly, why did he make me wait so long? (It was the end of the school year and I guess being able to see doesn’t matter if you’re not doing schoolwork?)

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          What? They were an eye doctor that didn’t believe in corrective lenses? Were you supposed to do eyeball pushups or something?

          How do people like this end up in professions that apparently are exactly the opposite of how they think reality works???

          1. 1LFTW*

            Eyeball push-ups lol. I had the same thought, that like Slow Gin Liz’s eyes would just get with the program and change shape, allowing them to focus normally.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          What the hell kind of optometrist was this?!

          I’ve worn glasses since I was ten and they have made my life immeasurably better in so many ways. I also know a LOT of people who wear them, and/or contacts – it’s not a sign of failure or whatever, it’s a thing that a lot of people need to help them navigate the world. What possible benefit would there be to not having glasses – needing to squint, getting headaches, having trouble reading or navigating?

        3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          Well, just like literal crutches glasses are an assistive device! They help someone who otherwise would have serious difficulties with one or more daily activities to participate more or less normally in society. The difference is that, for the most part, glasses are accepted and normalized. There aren’t a lot of places that having glasses means you can’t go (3-D movies are a little more difficult, and swimming means you either need a different type of assistive device (contacts or prescription goggles) or go without, but for most people it’s zero hardship in their daily life).

        4. M2RB*

          Add me in to the chorus of “wtf is this person doing as an optometrist” because that is a bonkers view!

        5. Cathie from Canada*

          The dentist I had as a child didn’t believe in freezing. At least, not for children.
          Yeah, that went well!

    2. MsM*

      And it’s not just about him staying on top of things. It’s about other people being able to go in and see where everything is if needed, or having the documentation for when he eventually moves on and someone else needs to take over. (I wonder if he’s not taking the PIP seriously because he thinks he has job immunity if no one else knows exactly what’s going on.)

    3. Antilles*

      I think the whole “crutch” framing is the biggest key to this whole scenario. This isn’t an employee who’s trying a bunch of different options and just hasn’t found the best one for him. Instead, this is an employee who’s decided that he doesn’t need to adjust his methods and he’s going to do it his way, right or wrong.
      You can’t work with that. You can’t fix a problem that he refuses to work on.

    4. Elle*

      Agreed. His attitude about the situation is the biggest problem. If I got that response (“i don’t need a crutch”) from an employee I was trying to help, I’d consider my responsibility 100% met and start thinking about a PIP.

    5. Bilateralrope*

      He has been given suggestions on how he could improve. he has refused them.

      The only option left is a PIP. Make it clear that it doesn’t matter if he uses the suggested “crutches” or not, only that he has a deadline for when he must improve by whatever works for him or he will be fired.

      While him calling the assistance a crutch seems problematic, that attitude is only a problem for the LW if this employee remains employed there.

    6. Inkognyto*

      the crutch will be after the firing to stand up after the ‘shock’ of being let go for no reason.

      a lot of these folks think managers won’t fire them. A lot of managers are do not like to fire people do they don’t and then the worker learns they can keep doing this, so they do.

      1. Elle*

        It’s wild because I have ADHD and myself am a prouder leaner upon “crutches.” I would be terrified to be seen as someone who is okay with doing a bad job for the sake of my own ego, because that person sounds particularly expendable.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Me too! How to ADHD (and others, I’m sure) calls them “tools” but either way, they’re for us to use when our brains prevent us from working within the confines of neurotypical environments. This guy really isn’t very self-aware, is he?

      2. Archi-detect*

        the world seems to be made up of a large number of people who are arrogant about their performance and how “the place would fall apart without them,” and a similarly large group of people with impostor syndrome and/or think they are going to be fired any day now. The smallest group of all seems to be people who have an accurate handle on how their employment is going lol

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Crutches ARE tools! They are utterly, wildly, useful and legitimate means of enabling you to get around despite a specific gap. It’s not like you could just will that other leg back into mobility/existence.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Actual user of crutches/walking stick here. They’re not the most easy tool to use, it sucks to not be able to use one or both hands while out and about, and long-term use puts your back out, meaning you have to take other action to counteract those problem. After the accident that left me with a permanent limp, I went through rounds of physio to regain as much mobility as I could. I ditched the crutch fairly quickly after I was more confident with weight-bearing on my own feet outside the moonboot, and it was less cumbersome to use a walking stick. I tried to ditch that as well, but I think I’ve hit a wall in that respect.

          While, yeah, realistically speaking I’m not likely to get my ankle back into the shape it was before, it’s not ableist to use that kind of reference. Few people I know who use walking sticks actually like having to use them (one lady I know called hers ‘Mr Stick’ because she didn’t want to get onto first name terms with ‘him’). The goal of many treatments is for crutches to be temporary, like scaffolding around a building, in order to help a patient get back on their feet if at all possible. The difference between a crutch and a stick is that a crutch props the body up so the person can regain the ability walk upright, and with a stick you use it for balance and to correct a limp. So for many people, a crutch is a halfway house while you’re still getting used to bearing weight on an injured leg, and many people will progress beyond them.

          If there was a magic wand I could wave to fully repair my ankle and not have to use a stick or whatever, you bet I’d do that in a heartbeat. There’s nothing magical about being disabled that you see your tools as being awesome lifesavers. We are allowed to have an ambivalent attitude towards them and funnily enough because we are not the sum total of our mobility aids, we don’t much care how they’re used in common parlance to describe something equally ambivalent. We are allowed to work hard to maybe not need them any more if we possibly can. (Just like the adjective ‘lame’ — yeah, it pretty much IS lame to BE lame. I’m in constant low-level pain, so yeah, anything analogous to that pain is ‘lame’. Be my guest in using one frustrating and sucky situation as a metaphor for another. I am not my busted ankle.)

          Meanwhile, in colloquial discussion it’s actually useful to have a word that describes a workaround or other situation where a person is using some tool or other as a way of avoiding actually dealing with an issue. I’ve been anxious to the point of being triggered by newspapers lying in open view, and one volunteer placement I had triggered me to such a point where people had to put any newspapers away for me to do my job there. Effectively, they were performing the emotional labour having to manage my condition, and I needed therapy and medication to fully overcome the anxiety. But eventually I had to accept that I couldn’t just exploit other people’s willingness to work around me as a ‘crutch’ — I had to progress on to the ability to manage my own anxiety and build more robust ways of co-existing in the workplace with things that triggered me. When a building is finished, you take the scaffolding away. Likewise, I got cured of my inability to read a newspaper without my brain looking like those Matrix style data dumps by getting a Masters in International Law and World Order Research and stepping back from the partisan fluff that had been the trigger in the past to see a more global perspective.

          So basically the difference here and what we refer to as a ‘crutch’ is something that outsources the emotional labour of work onto someone else. So like the difference between a colleague always having to remind you about something you need to do (for want of a better word, ‘crutch’) vs you setting Outlook reminders to be able to remember yourself when you need to check a certain inbox or that everything in your purchase order log has been sent to the supplier (the tool). In the context of the workplace, that’s what it amounts to — you can’t say ‘hey, Farquad, I’m ADHD, please remind me to lock up when you leave half an hour before me’. You need to be responsible for your own condition by setting a ‘LOCK UP’ reminder that comes on screen in big red letters five minutes before you leave.

          Besides which, it’s in the rules not to nitpick language, so /maybe/ the indignation here is a bit derailing to the actual discussion.

          1. Union of Canadian Interns*

            I think the rule is to not nitpick the language that letter writers use, but in this case its not the letter writer using the word “crutch”. They are quoting their employee.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I did not say they were magic lifesavers? I said they enabled you to get around, not that they’d make you a winner on “Dancing With The Stars”. I’ve used them, albeit temporarily. They’re a pain in the ass. But, at least for me, they were a much smaller pain in the ass than being as immobile as I’d have been without them.

            Look, I have the world’s crappiest short-term memory. I can remember maybe three things and then I run out of space . I would love to just be able to, like, remember stuff. But I can’t, so I write it down. But literally everyone has something that they just can’t do as well as they would like and all of us, if it’s something that matters, figure out how to compensate. Except, apparently, this guy with regards to his job.

          3. Comment Lurker*

            The “crutch” in this situation was not outsourcing labour to anyone else, it was a normal tool (a spreadsheet). It’s actually his refusal to use that tool that is creating more work for his manager.

            Generally I think if a significant portion of a population has pointed out an issue with a term it doesn’t really matter if some people in that population are fine with it. Why take even a 50/50 chance of making someone’s day shittier when you can easily use different wording?

            I personally hate the use of crutch in this sense, it has a connotation of laziness which is honestly bizarre considering how much harder it is to walk with crutches (just kidding, it’s not bizarre; it’s the usual ableist bullshit of equating accommodations with laziness). I’m sure we can come up with less ableist ways to convey the same thing even if we have to think a little harder about what we’re saying. Which at this point would be a good thing, since the term “crutch” is often used pejoratively for things that might be completely legitimate permanent tools* (like this spreadsheet). Used in that sense it can discourage people from using helpful tools or seeking reasonable accommodations. If you like the temporary nature of crutch*, scaffolding is a term that is often used for supports that are meant to be temporary which doesn’t have the negative connotations of crutch. You could certainly talk about relying on scaffolding (or training wheels or something similar) for too long and needing to find new tools in a way that doesn’t imply that relying on them at all is a sign of laziness (which is the way that crutch is currently used).

            Also being disabled may not be magical but I do indeed see my wheelchair as an awesome lifesaver since it’s a useful tool that greatly improves my quality of life. I love it like I loved my bike in the before times, and for the same reasons. There are lots of ways to be disabled.

            *Crutches are permanent or episodic tools for a lot of people, so I’m not sure I agree with GythaOgden that they are inherently temporary

    7. Artemesia*

      It isn’t a ‘crutch’ it is a system. And most people use some sort of system to stay on top of deadlines. It is reasonable to require a common template so that you and others who might need to step in can see exactly where each task like this is in process. So yeah, you can require it and probably should BUT it sounds like firing him might actually be a better idea in the long run.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I mean, technically speaking EVERYTHING this guy’s using is a crutch, right? He doesn’t need a computer, he should be able to just generate all this stuff inside his head and reproduce it on demand!

    8. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

      “Crutch” isn’t even the right word here. Checklists and reminders are a basic, fundamental tool for all levels of work. Doctors and airline pilots use them, all the time, and no one is gonna say that using one makes them incompetent.

      Also, a manager should probably have a good idea of what their reports are working on, especially for something as big as an audit. A spreadsheet isn’t just a fancy sticky note in this case—it’s a vital and absolutely necessary communication tool.

    9. kiki*

      This is a misconception I had for a while when I was younger, but I had a belief that people could and should just remember everything they needed to do. And I have a good memory and was somewhat anxious, so this always worked for me until my second job out of college.

      My boss sat me down and told me that organization is created with built systems that take time. There are jobs where the organization of tracking your work is built for you, but in a lot of professional jobs, part of what you are being paid for is to build the systems that work for you. Taking a little time each day to get organized and maybe build a nice dashboard is PART of your job, not a distraction from it or a “crutch.” The most organized people I know aren’t necessarily the ones with the best memory. They aren’t people who just inherently remember absolutely everything that needs to be done– they take the time to create systems of organization that don’t allow them to forget.

  3. LawDog*

    No change = fire his ass.

    He’s not just failing, he’s not respecting you as a manager. This will ultimately have repercussions with other members of the team.


    1. Elle*

      I was afraid I was being too harsh because I said I’d be thinking of a PIP for this guy, but then saw your comment and was like “nah, lawdog is right.” Whack, indeed.

      1. Archi-detect*

        PIP to fire his ass, with extremely clear reasoning and easier to fight unemployment.

        1. Artemesia*

          It isn’t necessary to fight unemployment which should IMHO only be done in cases where there was misconduct or the employee actually quit.

          1. Archi-detect*

            yeah I felt weird about writing that, I would support unemployment when being fired maybe except for extreme bad behavior like stealing from the till. I know a lot of states don’t feel that way though

  4. Bruce*

    Wow. I struggle with this myself, if I did not have dashboards and spreadsheets I’d be dropping the ball frequently. My manager’s manager insists on them too. Sounds like it is time for a formal PIP.

    1. hypoglycemic rage*

      right? my job is pretty not-overwhelming, but if i didn’t have things like checklists or documentation of stuff, it would be a lot different.

      1. Angstrom*

        Professional pilots use checklists and SOPs *all* the time. They work.

        Give him a copy of Atul Gawande’s “The Checklist Manifesto”?

        1. bamcheeks*

          There is a great study where they introduced aviation-style checklists into surgery and found a significant reduction in things going wrong. There is a survey they did afterwards where something like 50% of surgeons said yes, they would use the checklist again and thought it made them a better surgeon, and 89% of surgeons said they’d want to the surgeon to be using a checklist if their mother was undergoing an operation. People WAY underestimate how useful plans and tools are!

          1. PMaster*

            I’ve read The Checklist Manifesto and Peter Pronovost’s “Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals.” My favorite quote from Pronovost’s book is “Complex systems…are breeding grounds for errors” which is always a good reminder for any process with more than about five steps.

            My philosophy about checklists is that they help you do the important stuff and keep you from forgetting the stupid stuff. We use them extensively at work.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yeah I had a record scratch moment at “ I know I cannot literally force him to use one” — you can! You literally can! You can 100% tell him he needs to set up a spreadsheet, not just stop keep him on track but so you or other colleagues can check in on where things are. This is literally a thing you can make him do.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Same! You, the manager, absolutely CAN force him to use whatever documentation you need him to use! Sure, if he were another employee on the same level or above you in the hierarchy you wouldn’t be able to, but you yourself, LW, certainly can.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Samesies. I can see why the LW would want to try a different approach first, where this dude can come up with his own system to fix the problem. But if that doesn’t work, the LW is well within her rights to require him to use a particular tool.

      3. Artemesia*

        And it should be a system OTHER people like you can see so they know where these important and repetitive tasks are in process. When you have something with constant repeated deadlines having a task data base of some sort is imperative.

      4. Chick-n-Boots*

        Exactly what I came here to say! When we had a problem team a couple of years back, we instituted a simple Google sheet that was shared across team members that they had to make short entries/updates in as they worked on certain projects. They resented the HELL out of it at first but I did not care – the team and workload had grown enough that we needed a way to centralize some of this info and some people needed more tracking/oversight than others so it solved two issues.

        Guess what? They all love it now. They never have to worry about whether they remembered to do something or not because they can just check, it helps them stay on track and organized, and their supervisor (and me as the compliance person) doesn’t need to bug them for updates because there’s an easy way for us to check on things. And if there are questions, they are often more specific and focused, which makes them less frequent and easier/faster to answer.

        If he doesn’t want to use your tools and you are willing to be flexible you can also say, “if you don’t like these options, that’s fine, but I need you to develop a process (tracking system, whatever) and share it with me because your current way of managing these projects isn’t efficient and too many things are falling through the cracks” or whatever you want to say.

        You don’t have to jump to a PIP if you don’t want to (though you totally can!) but you absolutely have standing to require he use SOME tracking mechanism so things aren’t getting dropped/forgotten and you aren’t having to do so much labor to ensure things are covered.

        1. jez chickena*

          I ran the marketing organization for a business software vendor. Our Dev team started practicing Agile, and my boss suggested we try it. He said I didn’t have to continue with it if I didn’t like it.

          Reader, it was the best. It helped me ferret out the lazies and then fire them. The team as a whole was so much more productive.

          I now work in consulting and insist my clients use it.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I made peace with Excel, Microsoft Project, and other tools that are function-specific. I could not possibly stay on top of everything with just Post-It notes and a steno pad of ‘Things To Do.’

      Tools like those are not a crutch, they are productivity enhancers….sometimes they’re lifesavers.

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I do spreadsheets at home all the time as well. Easy to forget that once a month $20 bill (autopay can bite you if you forget to subtract it out of the money you think you have).

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Agree, this is a clear PIP situation:

      OP can easily articulate and quantify (e.g. number of missed audits compared to the total) the problem

      Employee has a reasonable chance of turning the problem around if they apply themselves to it

      OP can easily articulate and quantify what success would look like

      Problem is due to something the employee can do something about, rather than fundamental personality traits which often make less sense to have a PIP about

      OP can easily set a timescale for review and be able to tell if there’s any improvement

      OP already has tools (e.g. spreadsheets) that they can provide as suggestions to the employee although should also be open to other solutions (“I’ll keep it all in my head” clearly doesn’t cut it!)

      OP can presumably clearly articulate the business reasons why the improvement is needed.

  5. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

    Also – he’s in charge of internal audit???!!? I don’t think this is going to be a role well-suited to someone who struggles with organization. Hopefully he’s doing great these days doing something completely different.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah that struck me more than anything else — this is not a role where you want someone who can’t keep track of things!

      1. Antilles*

        It even well beyond merely “losing track of things”. In auditing, the general rule is that if you don’t have documentation of the audit, it never happened..

        1. Quill*

          If you have documentation of the audit but it sucks… it’s not a proper audit either!

        2. 1LFTW*

          Yeah, when I got to the “in charge of internal audit” part, I thought to myself, LW, you do *not* in fact have an internal audit system right now.

    2. Orv*

      That’s a department I’d expect to practically be wallpapered in spreadsheets and Gantt charts regardless of how good the person in charge is at remembering things.

      1. Bruce*

        Yes, I get audited by an internal auditor (for ISO-9000), she comes in prepared with ALL the documentation and checklists and is exhausting and thorough. I don’t see how this person’s mindset is a fit.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          When my husband, the chemistry teacher, showed the OSHA guy the logs of whenever he tested the safety equipment, even the inspector was impressed (though he tried not to show it). But my husband had a schedule on a spreadsheet to remind him to do it.

    3. Cabbagepants*

      Yes! It’s one thing to hand hold or overlook a minor task that only needs to be done occasionally, for an otherwise great employee. But this isn’t that. This is a core job duty.

    4. Hannah Lee*

      Me three!

      Any audit position needs pretty meticulous record keeping, organization, follow up.

      And internal audit IME is one of those areas where having buy in/respect or at least acknowledgement of authority/competence from the stakeholders who are responsible for the areas subject to audit is critical for the audits to be worth anything.

      If the front line auditor is disorganized, dropping balls, unable to consistently execute, follow up in each case, it’s going to quickly erode any goodwill/patience/compliance/consideration of audit findings in those groups that are subject to audit, as well as those relying on the audit process for decision making or compliance. (Even if people don’t have visibility to the whole process, they likely know when promised next steps don’t happen, or can observe inconsistency in how different groups/audits are being handled)

      I’m guessing that’s why multiple sources are urging the LW to just fire the guy already: even if he magically suddenly gets a clue, his reputation is already toast and he’s likely undermining the rep of the whole audit function more and more the longer he’s there.

    5. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Yep. Sure OP you can’t make him use the stuff. But if he is refusing to improve then he is not suited for the role. Out he goes.

    6. Grenelda Thurber*

      Exactly. He just sounds completely unqualified for the job he has. Like if I somehow landed a job as a high school band director, despite having no musical talent or training whatsoever….

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        It would be like me teaching mountain climbing. I am beyond unqualified to do so in every sense of the word, despite having heard of mountains, climbing, and combining the two.

    7. Project Maniac-ger*

      Right?! This goes beyond a disorganized employee – him staying in this role is an organizational risk.

    8. AnonNY*

      Agreed! Someone on my team is taking over the audit process from me when I retire. I have been working with them for 2 years now and wanted them to take over being the point person on the audit the end of last year and do all the admin work I normally do. They dropped the (multiple) ball and the Director of my department came to me to ask why something had not been done and did not want to hear that it was no longer my responsibility. Can’t wait to be free from this bs, and let the balls drop where they may. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

      I agree with the other posters, audits are a big deal, though I have no idea what the repercussions are for my company if they fail, I just know we have multiple departments who have to do them and ensure compliance.

    9. Momma Bear*

      That’s what I was thinking. Being involved in an audit is probably not the best role for him.

    10. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I know, right! I’ve been a project manager, including on projects that were being audited or likely would be audited / FOI’d later. Documentation is absolutely key.

    11. goddessoftransitory*

      This is like hiring the eye doctor who didn’t believe in glasses mentioned above to head the AMA. He’s literally refusing to do things that are central to this job.

  6. Adam*

    Yeah, agreed. You’ve given him advice and suggestions, you’ve let him try things his way, and you’ve told him that continuing to miss things will result in him being fired. At this point, it’s shape up or ship out time, and there’s nothing more for you to do other than let him go if he doesn’t improve.

  7. Serious Silly Putty*

    I think the advice given was sound because this employee seems to be saying he doesn’t need help and help is a crutch.
    But for other seemingly similar situations:
    It’s important to know that a lot of things that can work well for type-A/ neurotypical brains don’t work for everyone, and they can know a system won’t work for them even if they don’t have a good alternative. (If they’re not doing their job, they darn well better invest in figuring out a system or giving their manager’s suggestion a shot! But dismissing a particular suggestion isn’t inherently dismissive of the problem.)

    1. Too old for this nonsense*

      Exactly, and well said! As soon as I even saw the title of this post, neurodivergence came to mind as a possible factor. There may be more to the story here.

      1. LaurCha*

        It’s still on the employee to figure out how to do his job. The manager could follow up with “Ok, I don’t care WHAT system you use, but you need to stay on top of x, y, and z.”

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, as autistic it’s been my job to grow and adapt to the working world. No-one can do my job for me, and making them responsible for my emotional and professional wellbeing is using others as the proverbial ‘crutch’ rather than actually developing ways of internalising the process of improvement. Being autistic is actually quite good for audit related positions because I’m happy with numbers and able to drill down, spot trends and numbers don’t lie. There’s a reason for all the Sheldon Cooper stereotypes, and that’s because we can often sit there and focus on stuff like this for a long time and be the person who can see the trees where others just see the woods. All autistic people are different, of course, but it’s no surprise that you’ll find us in roles where we deal with things like facts and figures. A lot of us can learn to deal with ambiguity, but I like having boundaries to work within and bright lines. Correspondingly, now I’m in a job where I can acquire meaningful experience, I’m gravitating towards compliance as a pathway for the rest of my career.

          This kind of assumption is also called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ as well. One of my colleagues in compliance is on the spectrum. He got frustrated with having no actual way of doing anything about some of the failures he was having to police and was poached by my boss to run the hospitals he was auditing. He does a good job because he has attention to detail, and he’s focused on delivery and able to actually make things better. Prior to us, though, he had a career in automotive and aerospace engineering and we work really well together because both of us can sit together for an hour or two and really get things right at the number level. And he got my references to number stations shipping forecasts and cricket scores when we were doing a particularly data-dense project together.

          Saying ‘what if the guy in the post is ND’ is doing real people with neurodivergent traits or full blown disorders (because yeah, I’d still call my autism a disorder; it’s been a net negative so far and it has had physiological impacts on my body, so it hasn’t yet really paid off for me) a disservice. Most of us develop ways not only of coping but of dealing with our speciality and developing in directions that suit us. It’s absolutely possible for us to find our niche and get good at it. Any inability to do that needs to be judged as well or as harshly as you’d judge a NT.

      2. metadata minion*

        Sure, but that doesn’t mean the employee doesn’t need to figure *something* out, whether that’s an organizational scheme the LW hasn’t thought of, or medication, or finding a job that plays more to his strengths.

        If it was a matter of him saying “I know the 547 sticky notes on my desk look messy, but the system works for me”, and the system did indeed appear to be working for him (including having a way to update anyone relevant), I’d say don’t insist on using any particular system. But this employee insists that he can keep on top of something that he clearly can’t keep on top of. There can be all sorts of guilt and internalized ableism and defensiveness in this kind of situation, and I have every sympathy for that, but at the end of the day he needs to realize or admit that he isn’t on top of his job.

  8. Gimme all you got*

    I think this one of those “you can’t care about someone else’s job more than they do”

    If you’ve given him help, suggestions, and told him things are at the point of termination and he hasn’t done anything to change, there’s not much else you can do. He either doesn’t care, has another job lined up, or maybe he’ll surprise us all and turn things around :)

  9. Caramel & Cheddar*

    ” Is there some manager secret on how to get things like this to work? I’ve been urged to just fire the guy, but I feel like there is something more I can do.”

    The manager secret is firing him and getting in someone who can do the job. No one likes to fire people, but you also can’t persist with something that is clearly not working just because you hope there is something out there you haven’t tried yet. The only thing you haven’t tried is firing him!

  10. Medium Sized Manager*

    I recently processed a termination for an employee that needed this level of hand-holding and still didn’t succeed. If I had to do it all over again, I would still put in that level of support because it made me feel comfortable with the termination, but I do recommend giving yourself a limit of a couple of months at most for tasks that have to be performed daily.

    I think many of us are so afraid of being bad or mean managers so we don’t want to impose on people who insist they can do the job x way, but you’re doing yourself and the rest of your team a disservice by letting somebody continue in the role when they aren’t showing any intention of self-improvement.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      It’s also not good, long-term for the employee, being in a role that they’re just not suited for. Though I certainly don’t discount that getting fired is going to make life harder for someone and I agree it shouldn’t be taken lightly. (And you are clearly taking it seriously, Medium Sized Manager!)

      In a perfect world, the solution for a solid employee missing some key competencies could be a transfer to a job that’s a better fit. But that’s not what we appear to have here. We don’t have someone giving his best effort and falling short. Put him on a PIP and go through the process in good faith.

  11. Fikly*

    You’re focusing on the wrong issue.

    The issue isn’t his disorganization. The issue is his denial of the problem and his clear refusal to listen and respect your evaluation of his performance. Fire him and hire someone who has these critical abilities. Can I suggest not a white male?

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I was with you till the last sentence. Didn’t see a reference to the LW’s employee’s skin color in the letter and also unsure how it would change anything with regards to management.

      Also, by bringing race into this, this comment brings in an unnecessary element to the broader discourse and distracts from the (serious and very real) issues associated with White males in the workforce (and society). There are definitely enough existing issues without extrapolating them to situations where they are not obviously already there.

    2. SansSerif*

      I wouldn’t want to stereotype in that way when hiring, just like I don’t want to stereotype women or other colors/ethnicities. Yes, there are arrogant, inflexible white male employees out there. God knows I’ve worked with them. (What’s that saying? God, please give me the confidence of a mediocre white male?) But if I’m hiring, I’m looking at the person and their qualifications and attitude. The people I’ve loved working with have been male, female, white, black, Asian, old, young, etc. The people I’ve hated working with have been the same. When I think of the two worst bosses I’ve ever had, both were white females. They were nightmares. But I’m not going to assume that all white female bosses suck and I haven’t avoided working for white females after I escaped those two.

      1. Fikly*

        It’s not stereotyping when the statistics back me up. White men underperform because they are not held to the same standards as all other groups. When you actually manage to do blind comparisons of performance, people in other groups consistently outperform them.

        1. 1LFTW*

          The statistics may back you up, but that doesn’t make “not a white male” a legal criterion for the LW when hiring for this person’s replacement.

    3. Adam*

      I actually think the issue *is* his disorganization. If he were refusing to listen to different ways of doing things but his way was getting the job done, I think it would be correct for the manager to drop it and let him do things his way. Similarly, if he were to listen to the manager and do things their way but he still kept dropping the ball, that’d be someone they’d need to let go. It’s certain not helping his case to approach it the way he is, but the fact that he’s not getting his job done is the root of the problem.

  12. lost academic*

    Really you CAN require him to use the tool. The only reason not to do so is if he had a competing system (SYSTEM, not just “staying on top of things out of willpower”) that clearly COULD and DID achieve the required objectives. Require it, put it in writing, document document document. If he can’t do the job he can’t stay in the role.

    I HAMMER people about this when I audit management systems.

    1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      This. You’re the manager, LW. Of course you can insist a direct report do things your way.

      I’m very grateful for a manager who made me learn time management and organizational skills by insisting I do things the way he told me to. I don’t always still use his methods, but they were the stepping-stone to finding my own.

    2. Green beans*

      yes, this. when I’m managing someone who’s struggling with this stuff, it quickly becomes Mandatory Checklist Time.

      you can build your system out from there, but you are required to use checklists. they work.

  13. Everything Bagel*

    I’m not sure why having an organized method for tracking the audits is considered a crutch. I would consider it a central location where your employee and you can check on the status of an audit. What happens when he’s out of the office and you want to know the status of something? I would think it would just be a department improvement to have a central file to track these things. It could be explained to the employee that way. Insist that you want a central file and you want for him to maintain it as part of his job because it’s useful to have generally and also because he’s been dropping the ball on things.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I think part of it is gate-keeping, i.e. the kind of people who think that everything should fall apart without them, so they don’t save things to shared drives, don’t keep trackers, etc. as opposed to those being examples of what a good employee does.

      The other thing is that I think a lot of people think they should be able to accomplish Task X without having to use Supporting Tool Y. I manage software and we have extensive documentation about how to use it, but people just outright refuse to consult it. There are lots of *other* reasons for that, of course, but I do think some of it is people thinking “I should know how to do this so I’m not going to check.” But work isn’t school and it’s not cheating to check your notes! Work is an open book test and you should use the things that help you do better work.

    2. Ray B Purchase*

      All excellent points. I think he’s just using that as a bad excuse to not do it. In my line of work, keeping something like this would be a requirement more so for the points that you’ve added than just for keeping on person on-task.

  14. el l*

    State bluntly and explicitly set the standard: No audits missed, all documentation at acceptable levels, and anything below that is unacceptable. Say it’s fundamentally up to him how he gets there (if he doesn’t want to use your method, fine, but on his head be it). And finish by saying that if he has questions you can work with him – but the fundamental target can’t be compromised on.

    And then tell him if there are any mistakes, which it sounds like there will be, then it’s time to start your company’s process of PIP and firing. And that’s all. You’ve done right, and while it’s a shame – well, sounds like he’s a bad fit for what you need.

  15. Earlk*

    As someone with ADHD who has previously managed an internal audit programme… he’s an idiot. How is having a spreadsheet detailing when an audit will take place and how much time you need dedicated to it a crutch? It’s just common sense.

    1. Annie*

      Exactly. You have to have some sort of program with a set schedule for the internal audits, so that the focus of the audit is aware of when it is going to occur, and so the auditor (if this person only schedules them) knows when to be prepared for the audit.

  16. MsOwl*

    Actually, this seems like a business process to me. There should be a shared spreadsheet to track which audits need to be done, scheduling, execution, follow-up. Because what if something happens to this guy? Sounds pretty obvious to me.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      It can also be a super useful way of having anyone higher up be able to access the information they need without e-mailing the one employee about it. It can save a lot of time!

  17. umami*

    Yeah, I have gone through this with a direct report. I began by saying they didn’t have to do things my way, but I made some recommendations to help them think about what could be useful. When their way (which was to keep assuming they didn’t need to change anything) continued to fail them, I told them they ‘must’ use my recommendations. When the person has not been successful, I ask if they used the process/template, and when they said no, then I told them they must use it ‘every time’ to be successful. When they still haven’t done so, PIP. It’s not so much hand-holding as giving them specific tools to help them and then holding them accountable for using them.

  18. Chad H*

    > Any time I make suggestions, he claims he does not need the “crutch” and is able to stay on top of things

    Be direct “but you’re not on top of things, you missed X audits. What you are doing is not working”

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Exactly this. He is clearly not able to stay on top of things currently. If he was, y’all would not be having this conversation.

  19. Alexis Moira Rose*

    “I know I cannot literally force him to use [a spreadsheet].”

    Literally, you can, though, and you can frame it both as a necessary tool to keep him on track and make sure things are not forgotten, but also as a way for the boss and/or other colleagues (if needed) to be kept in the loop about progress.

    As a neurodiverse person, I’d add that aids like spreadsheets, to-do lists, etc can pose challenges for some people, but it may help to provide different options (eg calendar reminders, post-its, written lists, spreadsheets) and tell them to let you know which method they will use to track things. You can make it non-negotiable to use a tool without prescribing one particular method, since different things work for different people. If people feel they have some choice in the matter, they might be less resistant, as well.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This is a cool suggestion. You have THESE three options. You must either pick one or develop something yourself.

  20. JPalmer*

    I think there are two problems here:
    1. Employee is leaving work unaccounted for.
    2. LW feels guilty about disciplining unreliable employee.

    I feel like LW here should’ve documented how many times and how much work fell through the gaps.

    That might’ve helped clearly convey to employee the amount to which they were failing. It also would help LW feel better about disciplining and use their managerial power to say “No, you will use helper technologies ABC”. Like yeah reminders can suck, but they can also be really helpful.

    Finally, if this work is so important that it’s someone’s job, why isn’t it more built into technology/pipeline to have good accountability on what work exists and what work is finished?

  21. learnedthehardway*

    This is not someone who WANTS to do the job. Audit is all about documenting and keeping records in an organized fashion. What you’re talking about – spreadsheets and checklists – aren’t crutches. They’re NECESSARY to prove that the work of auditing was done, so that people checking the audit can see that the processes were completed.

    I think your organization is at risk with this person in the job. I’m not sure what sort of audits they are doing, but I can’t think of an audit process that done poorly wouldn’t potentially result in some pretty serious consequences, up to and including fines, losing lawsuits, etc. etc.

    If your management team are supportive for you to terminate this employee, I think you should take them up on it. Find someone who takes their job seriously and does it well.

    Personally, I am LOUSY at this sort of organization – it’s why I DO use spreadsheets, checklists, databases, and every kind of organizational tool at my disposal. Luckily for me, I only have to keep records that I can find, in case someone asks about something.

    1. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Right? This is a key function in many larger companies, so doing a poor job could result in financial or reputation risk.

  22. Trawna*

    My decidedly not good upbringing left me thinking of asking for help, using available resources, etc. as being lazy or cheating or somehow deficient. Some kind elder – I think a professor – reframed this for me to see resources as tools, not crutches. It closed a major learning gap for me.

    1. pally*

      Yes-these things are tools. Exactly!

      Employee isn’t averse to using tools, is he? Gonna pound that nail into the wall with their skull maybe?

    2. Anonymous Gentry*

      This is really good framing. And to go further, it’s helpful to not think of it as crutch v. tools –crutches ARE tools!

  23. Just Thinkin' Here*

    I know this is an older letter, so OP may not be around for comments. In most industries, it’s common that internal audit keep a master list of all audits that are required of the company, risk rate them and determine how frequently they need to occur (annual, 2 year, 3 year etc). They also keep a calendar of what audits are performed that year and a project tracking sheet of which audits have begun, inflight, being finalized, and closed. In some highly regulated industries, regulators will ask for this list and it’s expected to be updated at least monthly, if not more frequently. So missing an entire audit by accident isn’t possible – but certainly audits get rescheduled, delayed, or cancelled due to resources.

    If your internal auditor isn’t doing this, he’s missing the boat for internal auditing 101. Is he a licensed CPA? Or someone thrown into audit with no prior background? To me this reads as someone who lacks knowledge of GAAP and industry practices. The other option is someone who has been doing it this way forever and doesn’t want to do more work (i.e. the right way) and his disorganization is his excuse for failure to comply.

    I’d be curious to see an update here.

  24. Frankie Bergstein*

    I can’t imagine my boss telling me to get organized… and investing this much time! Mind blown.

  25. WantonSeedStitch*

    Ugh, you can’t care about a person’s job more than they do.

    1) I need to see results X, Y, and Z by [date] or you will be fired.
    2) It’s clear you haven’t managed to make that happen yet, and so I want you to either implement the methods I suggested immediately or present me with a written plan for alternative methods you would like to implement by [date]. If I don’t approve those methods, you will start using the methods I suggested, so that you have a chance of making the improvements I need to see.
    3) If you’re unwilling to either use my methods or create a plan for other methods that I believe is likely to succeed, rather than continue with things that aren’t working, your employment will be terminated immediately.

  26. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    You are the manager and you can define processes and methodology.
    You should probably make spreadsheets mandatory – for whoever takes over this role after you fire him.

    FinalJob had many complex tasks, some to satisfy legal requirements, and hence had mandatory standardised checklists and spreadsheets for each. This made our processes vastly more efficient & reliable than if everyone had been allowed to do their own thing. Also much easier to take over a task if someone was ill.

  27. Double Secret Probationer*

    My workplace has one big project calendar with specific points in the individual projects where you put status updates. We do it to avoid Reply All Nightmare Syndrome.

    The great thing about project management tools that everyone can view is that you get fewer emails. I like fewer emails.

  28. Dancing Otter*

    He’s Internal Audit?! No, no, no, no, no…
    Okay, I know internal auditors aren’t governed by the same statements of auditing standards that independent auditors have to follow, but the less reliable the internal controls are, the more work it requires from the CPA firm.
    Your company is almost certainly paying for extra testing and review because your records and controls aren’t trustworthy. Weigh those extra billable hours against the cost of hiring someone competent, if you need further convincing.
    Honestly, I have to wonder how you’ve been getting clean audit opinions if he’s as bad as he sounds.

  29. Rix Scaedu*

    You can also be brutally blunt, “We need you to use and maintain this spreadsheet so if anything happens to you (insert incapacitating or life ending accident/illness of choice as desired), the rest of us can find out where your work is up to.”
    Things out of anyone’s control do happen to people and having a record of what work tasks you have and where they are up to can make things so much easier for everyone.
    (Back when I first started work, someone in the office was hit by a bus and was out of work for some considerable time. The overdramatic does happen.)

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