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Old 05-03-2012, 05:56 AM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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How would you deal with this management situation?

I work for a small startupy sort of tech company. Our particular branch office has a very loose and almost juvenille culture. Most of the employees are in their early to mid 20s. The dress code is ultra-casual, even by the standards of the rest of the company. Employees play boardgames and "Magic the Gathering" style card games during business hours (some of which have HR questionable content). They have weird "dress up" days since every other day is beyond casual. And for the most part, everyone opperates independently without a lot of management oversight. Other than perhaps responding to requests from account managers who either fit into the same culture or are more or less removed from the day to day of the office.

I've now been promoted to the position of manager of this group. The fact of the matter is I know and care nothing about their nerd culture. And HR seems content to let them act this way, so I am inclined to just allow it, even though it flys in the face of everything I know about working for a company.

The issue is, I have one employee who seems so overwhelmed by the actual work that he is almost to the point of tears. He frequently doesn't follow instructions and when I question him about it, he gets so anxious that I think he's going to shit himself.

But because I work in this nursery school environment, whenever I need to "coach" this person, it's perceived as being "harsh" or "authoritative".


Am I taking crazy pills here?
  #2  
Old 05-03-2012, 06:13 AM
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Crazy pill one: having such contempt for your subordinates. Figure out a way past that.
Crazy pill two: caring about being seen as "harsh" if you're not being harsh. Your job is to manage them, and if you've reflected on your management practices and they're sound, that's what matters.

Of course, the folks I manage are literally kids, so take that FWIW.
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Old 05-03-2012, 06:19 AM
jonesj2205 jonesj2205 is offline
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I'm a little curious as to your background. Is this your first time managing? Have you been part of this group before?
I do think you're starting off on the wrong foot here. The question you should be focused on is: "Is the work getting done to the standards it needs to." If it isn't, and the reason for that is because they're playing board games all day instead than that needs to change. If it is, then why do you want to change it?
And you need to manage that individual entirely separately from your perceptions of the culture.

Last edited by jonesj2205; 05-03-2012 at 06:20 AM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 06:46 AM
Dangerosa Dangerosa is offline
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You aren't taking crazy pills, but it doesn't sound like a good fit for you professionally. I think if you try and change the culture, your 20 something preschoolers are going to rebel.

Can you get a peer coach for your problem child? Someone slightly more grownup that can mentor him through the work without being authoritative and harsh?

And as to the games, I'd go to HR. And I'd say "It has come to my attention that some of the games have questionable sexual content that not everyone is comfortable with (i.e. you don't think is professional). I've been asked to maintain confidentially here (i.e. I don't want you guys to know I'm manipulating you right now). But how can we go about addressing this without singling out the person who isn't comfortable?"

Not that I think you think the games are a big deal, but I suspect you think that the lack of discipline is a big deal. And orchestrating at least a small change will start setting up additional changes. Even if its just "hey guys, there are better choices for games."


(You can come to work for my new company, where emails to coworkers who have known each other a decade are written with a stilted formality that drives me nuts. "I have attached for your consideration the draft of the proposal we discussed Tuesday, March 3. Please review and return to me with any comments by close of business Friday." I came from "Fred, here's that thing I spoke to you about. If you can take a look and get it back to me sometime this week, that would be great. Oh, how did the baseball game go." )
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Old 05-03-2012, 06:58 AM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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Originally Posted by jonesj2205 View Post
I'm a little curious as to your background. Is this your first time managing? Have you been part of this group before?
I've been in management for about 5 years. Mostly at large, conservative financial institutions and management consulting firms. I've been working in this group for over a year, but now I am officially their "boss".

For the most part, I usually never have to think about it. I just give people projects to do with deadlines and instructions. They do it. If something is wrong, I have them fix it. No big deal.


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Originally Posted by jonesj2205 View Post
I do think you're starting off on the wrong foot here. The question you should be focused on is: "Is the work getting done to the standards it needs to." If it isn't, and the reason for that is because they're playing board games all day instead than that needs to change. If it is, then why do you want to change it?
And you need to manage that individual entirely separately from your perceptions of the culture.
It's not so much that stuff I want to change. I just provide that as context as to the sort of culture we have. It's not really a typical 9-5 corporate environment.

The issue is that I have one employee who isn't performing to the standards of everyone else. But when I correct his behavior, he freaks out and has basically created this perception of "msmith doesn't like me".


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Originally Posted by Left Hand of Dorkness
Crazy pill two: caring about being seen as "harsh" if you're not being harsh. Your job is to manage them, and if you've reflected on your management practices and they're sound, that's what matters.
I don't want to be seen as "abusive". I don't yell or swear at him. But I frequently have to correct his work. And he is extremely passive and introverted so I need to check on him frequently for updates on where he is or if he needs help.

It's not like he's a terrible employee. But he is so anxious and high strung you can't push him at all.
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Old 05-03-2012, 07:21 AM
Doug K. Doug K. is offline
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And as to the games, I'd go to HR. And I'd say "It has come to my attention that some of the games have questionable sexual content that not everyone is comfortable with (i.e. you don't think is professional). I've been asked to maintain confidentially here (i.e. I don't want you guys to know I'm manipulating you right now). But how can we go about addressing this without singling out the person who isn't comfortable?"
I'd be really surprised if a "small startupy sort of tech company" had an HR dept. In fact, I'm always amazed at how many people seem to assume that all businesses have one.

I'm closer to retirement age than graduation, and I've worked for a lot of companies, ranging from large national retail chains to small one owner businesses. Only one of them, a medical clinic, had an HR dept. The only other place that even came close had a personnel manager, but his duties were more like a third in command assistant manager.
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:03 AM
jonesj2205 jonesj2205 is offline
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Originally Posted by msmith537 View Post

It's not so much that stuff I want to change. I just provide that as context as to the sort of culture we have. It's not really a typical 9-5 corporate environment.

The issue is that I have one employee who isn't performing to the standards of everyone else. But when I correct his behavior, he freaks out and has basically created this perception of "msmith doesn't like me".

I don't want to be seen as "abusive". I don't yell or swear at him. But I frequently have to correct his work. And he is extremely passive and introverted so I need to check on him frequently for updates on where he is or if he needs help.

It's not like he's a terrible employee. But he is so anxious and high strung you can't push him at all.
OK, I think the culture issue is a bit of a red herring (or at least in my mind). From what I see you have an employee who isn't performing and isn't taking feedback well.
Are you documenting this? Have you laid out a performance improvement plan?
Cause you need to. Basically you need to list specifically what he needs to do and then measure those specific things. It needs to be objective. And you need to go over it with him regularly and consistently.
He may still blame it all on you hating him - and loudly. There's nothing you can do about that. But in the long run if you treat everyone fairly the rest of the group will see that.
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:25 AM
Living Well Is Best Revenge Living Well Is Best Revenge is offline
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I'd be really surprised if a "small startupy sort of tech company" had an HR dept. In fact, I'm always amazed at how many people seem to assume that all businesses have one.

I'm closer to retirement age than graduation, and I've worked for a lot of companies, ranging from large national retail chains to small one owner businesses. Only one of them, a medical clinic, had an HR dept. The only other place that even came close had a personnel manager, but his duties were more like a third in command assistant manager.
"Go to HR" seems to be a common piece of advice on the boards and I always chuckle at. In my experience and in those of my friends, that is never a suitable option if there even is an "HR department."
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:29 AM
sandra_nz sandra_nz is offline
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I think you are assuming the culture is causing the behaviour, but it isn't. I've managed staff in many different workplace cultures and have encountered Mr FraidyCat on several different occassions.

Have you had the introductory chat with this guy, in terms of 'hey, I'm your new boss, tell me about your job, tell me what you like doing, tell me what you don't like doing, tell me how you liked to be managed'?
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:39 AM
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(You can come to work for my new company, where emails to coworkers who have known each other a decade are written with a stilted formality that drives me nuts. "I have attached for your consideration the draft of the proposal we discussed Tuesday, March 3. Please review and return to me with any comments by close of business Friday." I came from "Fred, here's that thing I spoke to you about. If you can take a look and get it back to me sometime this week, that would be great. Oh, how did the baseball game go." )
Dear colleague:

The recent sporting contest in your referenced e-mail ran rather long, 10 innings to be precise, but resulted in a satisfactory denouement, when the home establishment scored two runs more than the visiting team achieved. I have attached complete box scores from two reputable sporting websites for your consideration.

Last edited by Sailboat; 05-03-2012 at 08:43 AM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:41 AM
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Have you made it clear that your goal is not to punish and/or berate the employee but to help them suceed and do their job? (this is in fact your job as a manager - not only to squeeze work product out of your drones on schedule but to develop your employees). Are you brusque and/or dramatic in discussing the problem? Basically are you saying "This is wrong again *sigh*" or are you saying "I noticed your work had some errors in the widget-accumulation matrix. We just talked about widget calculation last week. What's going on?"

More questions:
Have you asked them what they think would help them, or if there is a resource they need that they don't have access to?
Are the errors always of the same type (lack of skills) or do they show general carelessness?
Does the employee acknowledge that their work product is below standard?

Agreed, the corp culture has nothing to do with it.

Last edited by Hello Again; 05-03-2012 at 08:44 AM.
  #12  
Old 05-03-2012, 08:45 AM
Missy2U Missy2U is offline
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Can you get a peer coach for your problem child? Someone slightly more grownup that can mentor him through the work without being authoritative and harsh?
This sounds like an excellent suggestion.
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:46 AM
raspberry hunter raspberry hunter is offline
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I agree with Jones. I work for a company where the culture is fairly laid-back -- not quite as much as at the OP's company, but it is certainly not frowned upon to play basketball or games during a (long) lunch hour. As long as you get your work done. if you don't, everyone is going to be frustrated with you because other people depend on your work.

Who perceives you as autocratic? This one guy or all of them? I'd be willing to bet that the other people in the branch are relieved that you are trying to impose some discipline on this guy. And who cares what the one guy thinks, he's the one who has to improve.

Is there anyone else, say, a tech guy who's been there somewhat longer, who could act as a technical mentor? Who could sit down with you and craft a plan for this employee that involves getting him to work to the standards of the group without stepping on any of the workplace culture? With this kind of tech culture, you really have to work with them and not do anything that is seen as irrational (which taking the games to HR certainly would be perceived as, unless people have complained), otherwise they will close ranks against you, but there are ways to fix an underperforming employee that don't involve doing those kinds of things.

ETA: I see several people have mentioned the peer coach. Sorry, I read the thread too quickly first time around.

Last edited by raspberry hunter; 05-03-2012 at 08:47 AM.
  #14  
Old 05-03-2012, 08:49 AM
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Omar Little Omar Little is offline
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Constructive feedback is a form of respect for your employees. Without it, they can't improve their performance. We all need constructive feedback. We all need challenge and input from our supervisors, peers, and even subordinates. That's how we make sure that the organization is making the best decisions.

If your team doesn't understand this, they should.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:10 AM
Dangerosa Dangerosa is offline
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I'd be really surprised if a "small startupy sort of tech company" had an HR dept. In fact, I'm always amazed at how many people seem to assume that all businesses have one.

.
He mentions hr in his first post. And while hr is not always helpful, if one is going to need an ally for inappropriate work behavior, cover your butt and talk to hr. don't tackle that one without them. Speaking as a manager. As a manager, hr needs to be involved.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:35 AM
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The issue is, I have one employee who seems so overwhelmed by the actual work that he is almost to the point of tears. He frequently doesn't follow instructions and when I question him about it, he gets so anxious that I think he's going to shit himself.

But because I work in this nursery school environment, whenever I need to "coach" this person, it's perceived as being "harsh" or "authoritative".
I would say that you're going to sit down with this employee at their desk and watch them work for a couple hours a day. Maybe you'll be able to catch mistakes, show ways to improve his process, and build a bit of self-esteem. Or, you know, fire him for not being able to properly perform his job.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:38 AM
sandra_nz sandra_nz is offline
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I would say that you're going to sit down with this employee at their desk and watch them work for a couple hours a day. Maybe you'll be able to catch mistakes, show ways to improve his process, and build a bit of self-esteem. Or, you know, fire him for not being able to properly perform his job.
Whatever you do, please don't take this advice. I can't tell whether it was meant tongue-in-cheek or not, but I bloody hope so.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:53 AM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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Originally Posted by Living Well Is Best Revenge View Post
"Go to HR" seems to be a common piece of advice on the boards and I always chuckle at. In my experience and in those of my friends, that is never a suitable option if there even is an "HR department."
Part of the issue is our HR director is very new and she mostly seems to care that the employees are happy in our goofy culture, not whether they are doing their job properly. She is part of the problem IMHO. Part of our conversation:
"So and so feels that when you insist on reviewing his work before it goes out to clients, it's a bit controlling."
"I was told by my boss the VP of my group, the CTO and the CEO of the company, that part of my responsibility is checking the work of people on my team."
"We have a flat organization where we like our people to feel empowered."

Ok..then why have a manager?


I'm not looking to "fire" anyone. I'm more trying to figure out how to motivate and direct people without coming across as a tyrant. Unfortunately, I don't have too many role models as bosses as most of mine have been total shitheads.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:53 AM
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Hand out business cards and then go to the gym for a good flogging.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:53 AM
Rand Rover Rand Rover is offline
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Why cant you just DTMFA?
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Old 05-03-2012, 10:57 AM
Living Well Is Best Revenge Living Well Is Best Revenge is offline
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Why cant you just DTMFA?
My first thought! Asking yourself "what would Dan Savage do" is a pretty good way to go through life's problems.

Last edited by Living Well Is Best Revenge; 05-03-2012 at 10:58 AM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 11:15 AM
raspberry hunter raspberry hunter is offline
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"So and so feels that when you insist on reviewing his work before it goes out to clients, it's a bit controlling."
...Whoa. As I said before, my company is very laid-back culture-wise, people roll in at noon if they feel like sleeping late (of course, those guys usually stay until midnight), I'm posting on the Dope right now and that's okay as long as I get my other work done though I may have to stay late at work, but firm policy since day 1 -- technical policy as well as management policy -- is to have all work reviewed before it goes out the door. Doesn't matter who does the review, a manager or a tech guy, an experienced guy or a beginning guy (although beginning guys usually get their stuff reviewed by someone more experienced for obvious reasons) but someone has to look at it first. And let me tell you, you can find all kinds of things that way even in people who have been working for twenty years -- places where the wrong customer's name is on the chart, things like that.

Quote:
Ok..then why have a manager?

I'm not looking to "fire" anyone. I'm more trying to figure out how to motivate and direct people without coming across as a tyrant. Unfortunately, I don't have too many role models as bosses as most of mine have been total shitheads.
Again, I'd say working with your people is key. Identify the people who are the most responsible, the most interested in getting out a good product that they're proud of. Ask them what would help them do their job better. Suggest things like, "Hey, if we reviewed everything before we sent it out the door, I think that would really help with quality," and with their input institute a peer-reviewing system (this has the advantage as well that it doesn't feel to this one guy like you're singling him out). This doesn't mean you have to take it lying down if they say, "Ugh, that sounds like a total waste of time, let's not do it"; you can insist that it be done but still solicit their input about how to make it as streamlined and as easy for them as possible.

(If none of your people fit the description of "responsible and interested in getting out a good product," then yeah, the culture needs to change. But at least in my company, the laid-back culture actually promotes the hard-working responsibility the rest of the time because we don't have to waste our time on dress codes and such.)

That's a manager's job.

ETA: I intended to put something in but forgot about how, if you find these other responsible tech guys, they will probably themselves have noticed that the guy in the OP can't follow directions. Ask them for their input, and whether they would be willing to mentor him.

Last edited by raspberry hunter; 05-03-2012 at 11:18 AM.
  #23  
Old 05-03-2012, 11:19 AM
fluiddruid fluiddruid is offline
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Speaking as someone who works at a very small software company -- a lot of people hear stories about our workplace and are shocked or appalled. Clearly we can't be getting anything done, since we have a pool table and a beer fridge, and because we play movie trailers at meetings sometimes or send around amusing YouTube videos. Does playing Rock Band and pool sometimes at work make us a "nursery school"? No, that's not true. It's a very loose culture, but it's also a culture of very intelligent and productive people by and large, who have chosen the small company atmosphere.

Working for a small company has plenty of downsides in its own right -- generally lesser pay, getting reamed on health insurance, fewer opportunities for promotion. On the flip side, working for a small company like mine has good sides -- flexibility, a laid back culture, non-authoritarian management, and being able to get involved with lots of aspects of the business.

Does time get wasted? Sure. But I've worked for very big, authoritarian companies that tried to keep all employees on a tight leash. Not only do you pay for that sort of management with turnover, especially of bright and talented employees, but people find ways of getting back. I found that people wouldn't collaborate and would frequently resist any sort of positive change at all, becoming obstructionist and difficult as a way of fighting having to do work. Oh, your plan will save everyone including me a ton of time? Well, I don't want you getting credit for doing something good, so no. Nothing changes for the better. People do the bare minimum and punch the time clock.

So, all that said, it does sound like you have some performance problems, but at the same time, you're not feeling like a fit and not sure what to do. That's understandable, but look at their perspective. They've had a comfortable, happy workplace, and now an 'outsider' has come in to change all that. If we had a new manager come in with a very formal, Fortune 500-style way of management, who stormed in and started telling people how to change right away without knowing too much about how they've done things, you could bet that people would not respond well. You would get plenty of anger, fear and resentment.

If it were me, the first thing I would do is start meeting with the team in a casual manner. Taking people out to lunch, for example, on neutral ground. From there, ask them how they think things are going -- don't try to provide your own impressions. Ask them about the culture. Ask them about their co-workers. Ask them how they feel things are going with clients. Ask what's going really well, and what should be improved. Be neutral; listen. You might find that it's not a 'them' vs you situation, but that a lot of them might know of problems or issues too. You're not trying to butter them up, but rather to get a broad impression of what's actually happening. If someone says everything's fine, just listen, even if their performance is bad -- just wait. You might be surprised and they might confess they feel overburdened. Don't tell them what to do. Ask them what they think they need, ask them what is wrong, and listen to the answer. If other employees mention a problem with someone, ask them what they think, and don't editorialize. Just listen.

Also, you might want to take a step back on the judgement aspect. You're already seeing these employees as childish, juvenile, and ultimately, as beneath you. At the end of the day, though, them playing Magic: the Gathering doesn't really matter. What matters is their work. You're not their parent and you're not out to fix them as human beings, you're out to get good output. If the games are being played to excess, that's something to approach, but if that's all you do -- target all the fun stuff to make it stop happening, but not actually look at the output of individuals -- you're going to be the fun-hater tyrant no matter how you slice it.

Put aside the judgement and go out there and listen. Most employees, even the game-playing loose ones, want to do a good job and aren't just there to take advantage, and making them feel like criminal time-stealers after doing what's been accepted and encouraged is only going to alienate them. Yes, you want to start getting control, but you need to earn respect of your team as well.

Eventually it's going to be time for some candid talks. That's never easy, but it's much easier coming from someone who knows and understands what is happening in a broad sense than from the new person who marched in with a new rulebook. Review of work, and that sort of thing, should be expected. People can and will respect you if you apply this equally, and give reasons -- and those who don't and run to HR are just problems you're going to have to deal with.

Last edited by fluiddruid; 05-03-2012 at 11:20 AM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 11:22 AM
raspberry hunter raspberry hunter is offline
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Another thought. I know everyone hates meetings, and so do I, but every group I've ever been in, either academic or corporate, has had periodic meetings where people present what they're working on and everyone else gives feedback. This has the advantages of a) no one can get too far off track without people noticing, and b) sometimes other people don't know exactly what you're working on, and when they find out, they may have good ideas on how to fix problems you're seeing.

If you can get money in your budget for buying pizza, no one will protest too much. (Both my grad school advisor and my corporate manager used this to bribe the students/tech staff into attending these meetings, with success.)

ETA: fluiddruid has some really good remarks, and you should definitely listen to them.

Last edited by raspberry hunter; 05-03-2012 at 11:24 AM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 11:49 AM
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It's not so much that stuff I want to change. I just provide that as context as to the sort of culture we have. It's not really a typical 9-5 corporate environment.

The issue is that I have one employee who isn't performing to the standards of everyone else. But when I correct his behavior, he freaks out and has basically created this perception of "msmith doesn't like me".
The mentoring idea is a good one - but you have to know the rest of the staff well enough to find the right mentor.
You can't ask this, but do you have a sense of how this problem person is perceived by his peers? Given that everyone else gets stuff done, I think there is likely a strong sense in this group that they are good at what they do - so good that they can get all their work done and still have time to play. They may feel this problem person is not up to their standards - if so mentoring might backfire. Does he get invited to play? If there are meetings, how do they treat his comments if any? Average performers can feel demeaned in an environment full of stars.
Depending on this, the reaction of the group to you helping him can range from gratitude at helping out a guy they like to animosity at concentrating your attention on a loser.

BTW, is anyone complaining about the cards or is it just a source of worry? If someone is complaining, or even feels uncomfortable, you should ask them to exclude these cards because it makes someone feel uncomfortable. They probably never considered it. I got someone who worked for me to change server names (taken from people on the Howard Stern show) for this reason, and it worked out fine. If no one has a problem you still might want to do it, but it will be a bit trickier.
  #26  
Old 05-03-2012, 11:57 AM
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I'll third fluiddruid's advice. And while I stand my my first crazy-pills comment (that is, you need to knock it off with the contempt for your subordinates), I'll back away from the second one a bit. You do need to consider how they view you--not necessarily because they're right, but because they'll modify their work habits depending on how they view their supervisor.

My thinking: clear, high expectations, and accountability for those expectations. If an employee is expected to have a spreadsheet to you by Friday at 5, check in first to be sure the employee knows what belongs on the spreadsheet, let the employee know to talk with you if there's any problem getting it done, and then expect it by 5 on Friday, barring some conversation earlier that details problems. If this is an across-the-board expectation/accountability policy, nobody can claim personal animus.
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:50 PM
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Having been the terrified employee with performance issues, I can tell you what worked for me. What I needed most from my boss, in addition to clear guidelines on what needed to be done and when, was empathy and reassurance. I can't face anger at all; it just causes me to freak out and shut down (and think that the other person hates me). "I know that you're capable of doing the work" is very powerful to me. Can you present goals in those terms -- "You have the skills, understanding, whatever, to produce this code by 5:00 p.m. on Friday. I'm really confident in your abilities. I know that there are [these challenges] that come with the assignment, but I think you can work through them. Let me know if you run into problems and we'll resolve them." In my case, what was preventing me was getting things done was being afraid that I couldn't do them, or that I would screw them up. Once I was reassured that that wasn't the case, I was able to tackle the job effectively.

I think to some managers, an employee who isn't getting the job done looks like a lazy slacker who needs discipline and a good harsh dose of reality. But that isn't always the case, and it might be worth trying a different approach with this employee.

In re the use of extreme formality in emails, the problem lies in the inability of many people to think before forwarding. "Hey Bob, how was the game?" starts to look silly when it's amended to a long string of emails that were sent to the president of the company. I write every email as if it will be forwarded to my boss, or even a client, since there is a distinct possibility that it could happen.
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:56 PM
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He mentions hr in his first post. And while hr is not always helpful, if one is going to need an ally for inappropriate work behavior, cover your butt and talk to hr. don't tackle that one without them. Speaking as a manager. As a manager, hr needs to be involved.
I clumsily missed that part. But, like Living Well Is Best Revenge, I find it funny that the pavlovian response to work troubles seem to be "talk to HR". The one place I worked that did have HR, they weren't who you talked to about that kind of problem anyway. They did screen unsolicited resumes, but the only reason for most employees (including supervisors) to talk to them would be for questions or problems with benefits.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:13 PM
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I clumsily missed that part. But, like Living Well Is Best Revenge, I find it funny that the pavlovian response to work troubles seem to be "talk to HR". The one place I worked that did have HR, they weren't who you talked to about that kind of problem anyway. They did screen unsolicited resumes, but the only reason for most employees (including supervisors) to talk to them would be for questions or problems with benefits.
Exactly. All the HR people I've known knew about benefits and HR law. But when actually dealing with management issues, they were clueless.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:22 PM
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Exactly. All the HR people I've known knew about benefits and HR law. But when actually dealing with management issues, they were clueless.
A hostile work environment (playing games that have work inapproriate content counts) is an hr law issue.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:33 PM
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Take him out to lunch a few times, get to know him. Get him comfortable with you and then talk to him about getting work done. If possible, maybe have others help him out. In such a casual culture, it shouldn't be some taboo to have some help. Maybe he's being overworked.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:43 PM
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Exactly. All the HR people I've known knew about benefits and HR law. But when actually dealing with management issues, they were clueless.
Except that in this case it wasn't that they were clueless. It just wasn't what they were there for. They were there to deal with paperwork for new hires, benefits, and time clock issues. Management issues were dealt with by department heads, or the COO if it needed to go higher than that.
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:08 PM
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In stepping into the manager role, have you had discussions with the team about your definition of "success" and walked through your expectations for any work products - e.g., look and feel, level of detail, etc.?

If your team is supposed to produce, I dunno, a "project workplan" - and their definition of "workplan" is materially different from yours - well, that's a problem.

So, have you checked in with them on your expectations and gotten a sense for how aligned you are?

Have you spelled out your expectations for specific work products?

If you have done both of these, then you can circle back and check in - as a group or with specific individuals - when you see performance that deviates from your expectations.

As for casual dress and behavior - well, those only start to matter if they aren't showing that they can meet their work objectives consistently.

My initial $.02

Last edited by WordMan; 05-03-2012 at 02:08 PM.
  #34  
Old 05-03-2012, 02:21 PM
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The culture is independent of this guys problems. You need to deal with your own problems about the culture. But the HR stance (if it's as you've described) isn't so hot either. They have to start giving a damn about how well people do their jobs. You may also want to crack the whip on anything that has HR questionable content, it's great in some cases to have lot's of freedom, but the few rules there are, are more important to enforce then.

But as to your problem employee, something has to change there. The guy is having problems, and the rest of the crowd is probably playing dominance mind games with you by coming to his side. Don't let the juvenile nerd stuff fool you, those guys are clever and manipulative in their own way. First thing to do is try to get him into another position, in someone else's department. If that doesn't work, change the nature of his assignments, and with the advice and consent of HR (translated: copy them on the emails and ignore anything they say) set up a standard for the employee to follow. If he seems intimidated face to face, switch to email and messaging for communication, but make sure he answers questions, and completes tasks. As far as coaching, it really may not work. Some of his coworkers who are complaining about your gestapo tactics should be doing this. You could assign one or more of them to that task.

Instead of trying to earn the respect of the entire group, a nearly impossible task since most of them probably don't fully understand the concept, you should be looking for the leaders in the group and forming a relationship with them. First by proving your dominance to them (don't go overboard here, you really want to find someone who understands the concept of chain of command and direction), and delegating more of the managerial tasks to them. This is the way break through the us vs. you concept they have.

Last edited by TriPolar; 05-03-2012 at 02:22 PM.
  #35  
Old 05-03-2012, 02:27 PM
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So, you've got a soft puppy there. That means you have to teach in an accordingly soft manner. He may actually be the employeee with the best work ethic, who is terrified of what you'll do when you find out the extent to which they've been goofing off. Maybe so much so that he's never really learned his job.

So teach it to him. Let him know that you consider this a fresh start, but you need him to show initiative in learning and beginning to meet his goals. Do they have Group/personal goals defined? If not that's your first step. Work with him to find out the proper methods/processes/requirements if you yourself don't know them yet.

The point is to make it a team effort, with you in the leadership position. Make it clear to all concerned that although this culture is new to you, you have no interest in disrupting anything that works. And "Anything that Works" is defined as the set of variables within which the work gets accomplished in a timely fashion and an acceptable quality level.

Once you are sure that's what's occurring, you can start pushing for excellence and efficiencies. But it's never a good idea to just march in and start changing things before you really have a handle on how it is currently working (or not, and if not, why not.)

If you do find a change is necessary, I would start by defining "Core" work hours during which no goofing should happen. 1:00 to 5:00 is probably best, as tech types are usually not morning people.

And it may help to give "nod" to the nerds. I mean, you hang out here so you can't be that far removed. :-) It's Star Trek day? wear one of these: http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/jewelry/d255/?srp=2 It's Klingon day? Bring prune juice and offer it to everybody. Nothing big, just a nod and get on with your day.

hth
  #36  
Old 05-03-2012, 02:42 PM
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The issue is, I have one employee who seems so overwhelmed by the actual work that he is almost to the point of tears. He frequently doesn't follow instructions and when I question him about it, he gets so anxious that I think he's going to shit himself.
Is this person actually part of the team? Does the team rely upon his work out-put, and if yes, are they happy with his role? Rely upon the team to make the decision of his value as part of the team. The work environment doesn't matter.

I was a manager in a manufacturing plant and I would take the new hires on a tour and then then turn them over to the work crew for the rest of their orientation. They would always try to impress me and I would honestly tell them,"these people on the floor are the ones who are going to hire or fire you." I don't care, and the Big Boss doesn't care, until you become a problem that we need to address.

Sure the big boss will actually bring you into the office for the official termination, but the people you work with are the ones who actually fire you.

Leadman from A shift comes in and says, "can you put this doorknob on B crew?" A week later B shfit guy comes in and says the same thing. Third week comes and they are brought into the office and told that there is no C shift.

So the questions to ask are, is his output valued by the team? If yes, he is their problem child. If no, then he goes on to some other opportunity.
  #37  
Old 05-03-2012, 02:45 PM
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And it may help to give "nod" to the nerds. I mean, you hang out here so you can't be that far removed. :-) It's Star Trek day? wear one of these: http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/jewelry/d255/?srp=2 It's Klingon day? Bring prune juice and offer it to everybody. Nothing big, just a nod and get on with your day.

hth
People can smell pandering. Coming to work with the statement "I can be a geek just like you" isn't going to work well.
  #38  
Old 05-03-2012, 02:51 PM
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A hostile work environment (playing games that have work inapproriate content counts) is an hr law issue.
It sounds to me that they're not doing anything that they wouldn't do in mixed company at home. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't be told to stop, but it can be done within the group without HR being involved. It makes it a "here's what we have to do" instead of us versus them.
  #39  
Old 05-03-2012, 02:53 PM
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The issue is that I have one employee who isn't performing to the standards of everyone else. But when I correct his behavior, he freaks out and has basically created this perception of "msmith doesn't like me".

I don't want to be seen as "abusive". I don't yell or swear at him. But I frequently have to correct his work. And he is extremely passive and introverted so I need to check on him frequently for updates on where he is or if he needs help.

It's not like he's a terrible employee. But he is so anxious and high strung you can't push him at all.
Was Mr. Wetsy Pants the one who complained to HR about you reviewing his work? If it were me, I'd start gathering excuses to get rid of him after a stunt like that.

I mean, I occasionally butt heads with the Alpha Geek on my team over his stubborn resistance to any kind of external QA of his work, eventually resorting to "Because I said so," but I grit my teeth and bear it, because he's high performer even when his propeller beanie is spinning at full RPM. He's the type who needs to feel like the smartest guy in the room at all times, and it's part of my job as his manger to both keep him happy and prevent him from annoying the ever living shit out of his colleagues.

If your guy isn't only not meeting expectations, but also flipping out when offered constructive criticism, there's really nothing you can do. He's his own enemy at this point. The culture of the office has very little to do with it.
  #40  
Old 05-03-2012, 03:07 PM
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People can smell pandering. Coming to work with the statement "I can be a geek just like you" isn't going to work well.
They can also smell contempt. msmith has on these boards before made it pretty clear that he's a fratboy, not a nerd, and that he thinks of the world in these sorts of terms (if I'm misremembering, I apologize, but I think that's a fair summary). The OP spends a lot of time mocking them as weird and talking about the place as a nursery school. Seriously, unless he can get over his prejudices, I think he needs to ask to be reassigned to a frathouse office where he's able to respect his subordinates.
  #41  
Old 05-03-2012, 03:17 PM
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They can also smell contempt. msmith has on these boards before made it pretty clear that he's a fratboy, not a nerd, and that he thinks of the world in these sorts of terms (if I'm misremembering, I apologize, but I think that's a fair summary). The OP spends a lot of time mocking them as weird and talking about the place as a nursery school. Seriously, unless he can get over his prejudices, I think he needs to ask to be reassigned to a frathouse office where he's able to respect his subordinates.
I know what you mean about him, but he has an opportunity to learn something here. Leaving aside his contempt for people different than him, organizations do need some people who are the stickly bean counting type. Both sides in this equation need to develop some tolerance and flexibility.

Last edited by TriPolar; 05-03-2012 at 03:17 PM.
  #42  
Old 05-03-2012, 03:37 PM
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People can smell pandering. Coming to work with the statement "I can be a geek just like you" isn't going to work well.
I agree that if it isn't done with respectful humour it shouldn't be done at all. But I think there is a vast amount of territory between "a nod" and "pandering."
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Old 05-03-2012, 03:51 PM
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I know what you mean about him, but he has an opportunity to learn something here. Leaving aside his contempt for people different than him, organizations do need some people who are the stickly bean counting type. Both sides in this equation need to develop some tolerance and flexibility.
I've argued a lot that in some situations not wearing a suit doesn't mean that you are not serious about working. But here the situation is reversed in a sense. He should wear what he damn well pleases, and not feel he must conform to what his group is wearing. I no more support shorts and t-shirts as a uniform than a suit as a uniform without a good business reason. Because other people do it isn't a good business reason.
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Old 05-03-2012, 04:28 PM
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I've argued a lot that in some situations not wearing a suit doesn't mean that you are not serious about working. But here the situation is reversed in a sense. He should wear what he damn well pleases, and not feel he must conform to what his group is wearing. I no more support shorts and t-shirts as a uniform than a suit as a uniform without a good business reason. Because other people do it isn't a good business reason.
Ok, but I didn't suggest he change his clothing at all. Actually I think he shouldn't change his clothing style at all from whatever he's been doing for whatever reason he's been doing it until he's worked out some of the issues here. It would be seen as pandering, as you mentioned before. He needs to tolerate this crew, not become one of them. And they need to tolerate him even if he wears a suit. I think the clothes are just a canard here.

Last edited by TriPolar; 05-03-2012 at 04:29 PM.
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Old 05-03-2012, 04:36 PM
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You say he doesn't follow instructions and then seems terrified of that being addressed. This makes me ask 2 questions:

1.) Are the instructions clear, in writing, and reiterated more than once?
2.) Are the instructions ridiculous?

I ask because I've run into both of these problems in the workplace before. At one job I had an ongoing project I was doing and I was told to email a list of people because they wanted to be able to track the contact in writing. So I did. Then I got disciplined for not calling them. So the next time I had to do that project I called everybody. Then I got disciplined for not emailing everyone. So the next time I emailed everyone and called everyone and I got disciplined because they changed the way that project was supposed to have been done while I was out on jury duty and now the emails were supposed to be in a different format. From their perspective I wasn't following instructions. From my perspective they were insane assholes who couldn't decide what they wanted. There is a chance that your current employee is running into similar issues that could easily be addressed without a problem through proper, thorough communication.
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Old 05-03-2012, 07:18 PM
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They can also smell contempt. msmith has on these boards before made it pretty clear that he's a fratboy, not a nerd, and that he thinks of the world in these sorts of terms (if I'm misremembering, I apologize, but I think that's a fair summary). The OP spends a lot of time mocking them as weird and talking about the place as a nursery school. Seriously, unless he can get over his prejudices, I think he needs to ask to be reassigned to a frathouse office where he's able to respect his subordinates.
I don't know if it's an issue of "respect" so much that I understand the "fratboy" mentality more than the "nerd". I get guys going out for drinks after work. I don't get role playing card games.

It does seem like the "nerd" mentality is they have to think they are smarter than everyone and they don't like being corrected.
  #47  
Old 05-03-2012, 07:21 PM
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I don't know if it's an issue of "respect" so much that I understand the "fratboy" mentality more than the "nerd". I get guys going out for drinks after work. I don't get role playing card games.

It does seem like the "nerd" mentality is they have to think they are smarter than everyone and they don't like being corrected.
When you refer to the office as a nursery room, it's about respect. If particular employees are having trouble being corrected, that's an individual employee problem; when you project it onto an entire subculture, you limit your ability to manage people from that subculture.
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Old 05-03-2012, 11:38 PM
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It does seem like the "nerd" mentality is they have to think they are smarter than everyone and they don't like being corrected.
There is a grain of truth to both your perception of them and their perception of you. They perceive themselves to be smarter than you. Well, it's certainly true that they are probably better at technical work than you are, otherwise they'd have hired you to do tech work, wouldn't they? You perceive them to think they are better than you -- well, they probably do think that, a bit; I've never met a tech person, including myself, who didn't secretly (or, sometimes, not-so-secretly) think that tech work was more meaningful than management. However, the thoughtful tech nerds will still understand that management is important and has to be done by someone.

Does anyone like being corrected? Especially by someone who doesn't understand him? I've certainly seen times when management was not very happy about being corrected by tech staff.

That's why we keep harping on finding a peer mentor for this guy, by the way.
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Old 05-04-2012, 07:33 AM
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I know what you mean about him, but he has an opportunity to learn something here. Leaving aside his contempt for people different than him, organizations do need some people who are the stickly bean counting type. Both sides in this equation need to develop some tolerance and flexibility.
And he's been promoted into this role. Presumably because management outside this branch does think that his "tone" is more appropriate than the "tone" of the nerdy techs. If the nerdy techs break him, its possible that they'll like his replacement or the replacement policies even less.

I also suspect msmith's Doper personality is somewhat more mocking and blunt than he actually is in real life in a professional setting. I know my Doper personality is not a complete match for my real life personality. Just because we read some contempt into his posting, doesn't mean that 1) its actually there or 2) if its there, its enough there to be detected in real life.
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Old 05-04-2012, 08:21 AM
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And he's been promoted into this role. Presumably because management outside this branch does think that his "tone" is more appropriate than the "tone" of the nerdy techs. If the nerdy techs break him, its possible that they'll like his replacement or the replacement policies even less.
I think you're right, that's how this happened. It's not necessarily choosing one or the other, but upper management may want to see some balance in this situation.

Quote:
I also suspect msmith's Doper personality is somewhat more mocking and blunt than he actually is in real life in a professional setting. I know my Doper personality is not a complete match for my real life personality. Just because we read some contempt into his posting, doesn't mean that 1) its actually there or 2) if its there, its enough there to be detected in real life.
I'm constantly shocked that Doper's personalities may not match their real ones. Am I the only one who's the same in real life as I am on-line? Anyway, I suspect his posts reveal something about his nature, but probably not exactly the way he sounds. For instance, I suspect he is somewhat intimidated by these 'nursery school kids'.
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