How to make people in my office less...incompetent

A little background. I work as a mid-level manager at a mid-sized managemement consulting firm in NYC. The structure of my particular group consists of roughly 25 junior and senior staff level consultants that report to about a dozen mid-level managers at my level who report to about half a dozen senior management types. While it seems top heavy (and it is) the nature of the work is such that each mid-level manager has an number of projects, each employing 1-5 staff (there is overlap).

While most of the staff are competent and/or hardworking, many are not. Few are both. Problems include:
-Excessive tardiness or leaving work
-Showing up hungover or drunk from the night before
-Sloppy work
-Inability to create proper written communications
-Failure to complete assignments in a timely manner (or at all)
-General laziness and stupidity

Now, IMHO, the root causes of the problems include:
-Staff members are often assigned to multiple projects under multiple managers creating a constant tug-o-war
-Each mid-level manager has their own style of management and their own expectations ranging from not giving a shit to complete intolerance of mistakes
-Rampant nepotism and cronyism
-No accountability beyond the yearly performance evaluation
-Most of our management has been promoted to their positions in a relatively short period of time. Few have any leadership experience outside of the company. Only two (including me) have any formal management schooling.
-Many of our managers set terrible examples anyway - working from home on a whim, encouraging excessive drinking at company events (long after the other groups have called it a night)
-“Get it done now” mentality which favors just blasting work out and redoing it when someone catches a mistake.
So, any thoughts on how to get people to work better or should I just say “fuck it” and show up drunk tomorrow to dull the pain?

Well, you have worked with me personally long ago so you know the background. I work for a mega corp and I started out as a consultant and soon got hired as a permanent employee which was a negative reward in many ways. We have been getting killed for 2 years with conflicting priorities. The company model is to have 1.25 clients per senior analyst and I started of with eight of my own and now have 11. Four of these clients are urgent priority and are supposed to take precedence over the 7. The problem is that all of my urgent clients tend to be urgent every single day and conflict with each other basically every day.

I am left to figure it all out on my own and when I walk into the building every morning, I have to figure out not only who I need to make happy, but also who I can piss off. Someone or some group is going to get pissed off everyday no matter what I do and everyone on my very small team gets called into reprimand meetings at least once a week. I actually encourage people to put in a formal complaint against me when it is bad enough just so we can bring this stuff to a head once a for all. Three have done it but in a way that congratulates me through complaint if that makes any sense and then I get apologies from all over but nothing changes.

Multiple managers per employee is bad news and needs to be done away with. I have so many unofficial managers that I am left on my own and bound to come into conflict several times a day. Senior managers should do their job and see things at a high level like air traffic controllers versus pilots and take responsibility when things conflict. It sounds like upper management is failing on your side although individuals are making their own screw ups. If it is that widespread however, it is a management and organizational screw up. The only firm thing I can recommend is to have one authority figure that figures things out per employee so that they don’t get mixed messages and priorities and can be told at a high level, what needs to be done. They can’t know otherwise.

You’ve confused me with the word “consultants”. Are the problem people paid staff or hired contractors? Do the problem people report to you, to others, or to multiple supervisors including you?

What do you think you have the authority to do? Could you fire someone without getting some agreement from other managers? It’s had to say without a clearer understanding of your role whether you should kick some ass or start drinking.

They’re all permenant staff. The firm itself using a consulting business model. Similar to Accenture or Deloitte. Outside companies hire us for a particular project. A project is generally run by someone like me in charge of 1-3 staff members. I report up to a more senior manager who may have an ongoing relationship with that client. Everyone has a target for the number of hours they need to bill to a client every month.

Since the projects can be short term and you work on multiple projects, everyone has a permenant performance manager who is the person who manages their career.

I can’t simply fire anyone from the company. I can only speak for or against them during review time or exclude them from my projects. If you are excluded from projects by too many managers, you won’t be able to keep your hours up and one day someone will fire you.

I suppose I could also berate or embarass them, but I don’t feel that’s a long term solution.

I think a huge delusion (and I am not accusing you of it, just pointing it out) mid-to-high level managers seem to get is that the fact that a person is employed by their company is a benefit to the employee. It could be, but that’s an arrogant and dangerous approach. The incentives do not, typically, include employment itself – incentives are things like benefits, salary, experience, education, bonuses, good work environment and advancement opportunities. How much of that is clearly and explicitly dependent on performance?

If your employees are not doing something, ask yourself “Why should they?” and if the only answer you can come up with is “It’s their job!” then that’s your problem right there. It can be their job someplace else, and the implied part of the question should be “Why should they do for me and not for <insert competitor>?”. Remember, it’d be “their job” there too. Personal incentives and negotiation should be all you’ll need.

For starters, I strongly recommend regular Management classes for your people starting at the base supervisory levels and above. Then start to phase in some consistent standards of behavior, discipline and communications for Management.

You need to get a good grip on the top end and get some consistent behavior and standards in place before you can force that down the chain to your people. Otherwise you’re going to be extremely frustrated trying to enforce standards on the lower end that are sabotaged and contradicted by the middle levels.

For the real problem people, if you are willing to intercede; Meet privately with both them and their managers and set expectations. You need to let them know, in person and in private, that ‘this is what I expect of you’. At the same time letting their manager know what you are expecting of them in the process and that they too are going to be held accountable for their subordinate’s issues.

Get ahold of your hiring process. No one hires friends from previous jobs or outside the company. No one is allowed to work for or with a relative.

Break the Cliques. Hard. Bust 'em up. Transfer people or fire them.

This is where you are falling down on the job. It’s YOUR JOB to hold them accountable for their behavior and remind them that they set the standards. If they fuck up, it gives the fuckups permission to do the same.

I always hated this mentality. Never time to do something right the first time, but there’s always time to redo everything later.

One solution is to reward correct work over timely work. Don’t reward people for getting something done ‘on time’ if it doesn’t work - because it’s not actually done now is it? It’s only done when it works, so anything less has failed to meet the deadline.

This is the one area where I’ve been able to have some success in. I essentially have become the hiring manager for my group. Final approval is still done at the senior mgr level, but generally by the time it gets to them, it’s more of a rubber stamp. We’ve really managed to raise the bar since I tokk over this part.

As for the “friends and family” program, we’ve had mixed results. Our firm, like many others, encourages employee referals. The only consideration that gets you is that it guarantees the resume goes through the process which consists of up to five interviews. Not to mention if I know a candidate worked with someone in my company, I’ll question them about the person. We didn’t hire one guy because another manager had personally fired him at his last job (and his resume was terrible). I’ve turned down plenty of people who thought they could breeze on in because they were friends with someone. Sometimes though, a referal has turned out really well.

Unfortunately the only metric we reward is number of hours worked. Not quality.

I think one of the biggest problems is a lack of senior leadership. The senior management is mostly involved in external tasks like business development or whatever and are generally out of sight. Essentially, the actual work is managed by a feudel society of lords fighting over a pool of serf-like consultants.

How old is this crew?

Reason I ask: I heard a show on NPR recently which claimed that the youngest full-fledged generation in the work force (under 25 or so) is the ‘most-praised’ generation in history, and that older employers need to acknowledge the need to encourage this group for things that most baby boomers would say are “just doing their job.” Doesn’t mean they’re slackers, just a different dynamic.

I’m not really a baby boomer (born in 1959), or a manager, but I have to say that this agrees with what I’ve observed in the workplace.

I thought of this when I read groman’s suggestion.

I would also agree that cliques and cronyism can be very damaging to productivity.

Sounds like your consulting firm needs to hire a consulting firm to come in and streamline your operation, clear out the dead wood, and get you operating efficiently.

Then view this as an Opportunity.

That disconnect is common just about everywhere. The big bosses set their sights on external goals and assume that everything moves along on it’s own inertia and that someone is minding the store.

Be that person. Act the part, even without the authority, but without overstepping your bounds. Make suggestions, plan organizational changes, make yourself available to intercede, mediate and organize.

Before they decide they need to piss away money to hire the Bobs (the consulting firm) to come in and re-organize…or more likely try to sell more consulting at your expense.

Who do the Bob’s turn to when they need Bobs of their own :eek:

Mixed, but skewing to the younger side. Staff is mostly out of college to early 30s. Management is mid 20s - mid 30s. It’s not so much the Gen Ys who are the problem. Give them a task and a free lunch they’re good to go. It’s more the mid 20 somethings. They’re at that age where they’re not jazzed up just to have a job and they think with a couple years experience they should be running stuff. I’d like to give them more stuff to run but they make too many sloppy errors.

If this is true, then you don’t have much to work with. Smart people figure out how to do tasks quickly and with high quality. If your company discourages the “quick” through bad metrics, you as a manager are pretty much screwed. Employees aren’t dumb; they’ll work many, many hours churning out crappy work if that’s what the company rewards.

I hate that. I hate that so much I don’t have words for it. It’s the opposite of what gets my best results. It’s one of my biggest demotivators (others being things like… “several bosses with completely different criteria” and “stuff must be signed off on time even if it doesn’t go forth, back or sideways”, gee where have I just read that?)

If you want to get quality you need to start rewarding it. The rewards may be different for different people: to me, being able to go for a walk when I’m being unable to concentrate is very useful; I may have spent one hour in front of a blank page, go out for one hour, come back and whip out a 50-page document with screenshots, plus its translation to Spanish, in three hours. If I have to stay there, staring at the computer… the document will get done the next day. In companies like the one you describe, I’d get paid for 5 hours of staring at a blank page because going for a walk is “unprofessional.” In companies that want quality results, nobody peeps when I say “can’t concentrate, going out, anybody want candy or whatever?” Well, they may say “skittles for me, be a dear!”

And third or whatever the “management needs to be consistant” and “people should have a chain of command, not a web.”

Oh: some sort of reward and punishment should be in place for providing (or not) realistic due dates; at the very least, it should be part of the review process. And people who, when they see they’re not going to make it, provide an update before the excreta hits the revolving implement… God, those are priceless!

Years ago I had a bad manager who worked 80 hours a week because he liked it, and would expect us to do the same without any rewards.

We got to my annual review and he said;

“You know, I was originally going to knock you for constantly getting up from your desk and walking around the building. Then after a couple of months, I noticed that this is how you solve problems. You work until you get stuck, then you get up and take a walk. When you come back, you have a solution.”

That was 15 years ago. I’ve since learned that letting my managers KNOW that this is how I solve problems goes a long way toward deflecting criticism.

Then it’s like;

“Why am I getting punished for taking 8 smoke breaks a day when Chimera is always up walking around the building?”
“Because Chimera is walking around thinking through a problem. You’re taking 8 15 minute breaks every day.”

I know that you know this…

Your problem is your corporate culture. Fighting you culture will be hard - and perhaps impossible.

What I would try to do is institute quarterly “project performance reviews” or, for short term projects - when the project is done. Basically make them like the annual review - and use them in the annual review process. Have the project manager evaluate each employee on how much they are contributing (have contributed) to the project’s success. If you can all the mid level managers to do this, then you’ll have more of a short term evaluation methodology that you can use. I’d sell it as “you know, when I get to annual review time, I always have a hard time remembering exactly what the staff did and how they contributed to the projects at the beginning of the year - I don’t think its fair to them because we always end up weighting the end of the year so much heavier - its what we remember. Plus, since they are working on everyone’s projects, I have a hard time giving them good feedback they can develop because I often don’t even know how they did” Eventually, put some sort of number metric around it (I’d start without it though) that you can do a weighted average up and push to their review.

I managed consultants once and it was a real pain in the back end. Functionally, if they billed and the client was happy, there wasn’t a lot I could do - even when I realized that they weren’t doing skill development or networking or anything that would make it easier to sell them in next time, or worse, when I realized that this client liked them, but for functionally no reason other than personality and I was going to be so sunk when the client side manager moved on. We added metrics for professional development to the review process - which at least helped. Now I do project management - no one works for me directly, they just are resources on my projects - and that is a real pain in the back end because I’m “given” resources that I don’t ever get to review. I use a carrot approach - I always let their boss know when I’m impressed or at review time that they’ve made positive contributions to my projects. The stick approach doesn’t work at my company because the staff and the management close ranks and come up with all sorts of excuses why I’m such a bitch. The problem with the carrot approach is it private - I have a lot of loyalty from people who have earned my respect this way, but I don’t get cooperation from people who haven’t because they don’t even know its done (or if they do know, they don’t think I do it fairly).

As other posters have said, reward quality. I’m beyond disgusted with my workplace, which does not give merit raises (despite claiming to do so during the hiring process). I bust my butt at my job, receive stellar performance reviews, keep up with professional development, and I get the same piddling* 2% * annual raise as the people who’ve been doing the same damn bare minimum the same damn way for the past 30 years? Fuck that shit. Guess who’s sending out resumes to all the comparable organizations in the area?

(I’m sorry, msmith. I didn’t mean to rant so much in your thread. But if you can find a way to reward your competent employees, please do. And know that us hard-working, competent drones don’t like working with lazy slackers any more than you like managing them.)

I was at Andersen/Accenture for over a decade, ending up in senior middle management (helping lead my practice line within my geography; not one of the big dog Partners with a national leadership role).

The other posters offer solid advice. Your measures for success seem out of touch and your culture seems WAY too permissive. Either your leadership understands this and is looking to make a change or you are pushing on a rope. There are many negative things one can say about large management consulting firms and/or Accenture specifically, but they were all over these types of issues via metrics, the HR evaluation process, bonus incentive approaches, etc.

One obvious place to start would be to get your leadership focused on a Performance Survey from your Clients - your leadership is so focused on selling work that it sounds like they are asleep at the wheel when it comes to staffing and executing the work - the stuff driving you nuts. If you institute a client survey and get shit back for responses (very likely) - it certainly should get the leadership to sit up and take notice instead of selling more work and turning a blind eye behind them…

The problem is largely that this issue is much larger than you. The mid-level managers need to be brought into line and help responsible for their actions first. You cannot control your peers.

I worked in a similar position (bad peers at the management level) and there is no real answer. You can try to keep your people under control, but they will find it “unfair” that they are responsible when other people are let loose – and it is unfair.

Frankly your post reminds me terribly of my old job in so many ways - I wish I had an answer for you. The answer was a different job for me.

Ultimately the problem is twofold: the management expects lower level employees to show stronger work behaviors and work ethics than they themselves do, and nobody is held accountable for their actions. Furthermore, there needs to be clearer organization. You need to have people who have one boss (though they can work with other leaders, they should have one “report to” person). Without resolutions to these things, radical change is impossible.

I’ll join the crowd: the problem is not the employees, it’s the leadership. You know this, obviously. Thing is, you can’t fix the employees until leadership is no longer a problem. The best and brightest bunch of worker bees will turn into a gang of ass-picking baboons as soon as they recognize the suits above them don’t deserve their best efforts. It’ll happen almost overnight, there’s nothing you can do about it, and it’ll take fifty times as long to get it straightened out.

(I’m at a prominent technology company whose upper management turned over a while back. In six months we went from an industry leader to an industry joke. It was absolutely shocking how fast it happened, and it was entirely due to disconnected disinterest and occasionally outright incompetence filtering down from above.)

But that requires managers who believe you. Which is a separate rant altogether…