Saturday, June 19

How to Help a Struggling New Manager



Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. How to support a struggling new manager.

I manage a newish manager, Jane, who has a team of four. Her team includes Rose and Lisa, newly joined from elsewhere in the company but experienced in their roles. In fact, they have more experience than both Jane and I in this work.

Both Rose and Lisa have performance problems. Jane has been addressing these. But I’ve discovered that they are ignoring direct instructions, and Jane is having lengthy circular discussions trying to persuade them to do as instructed. They are at a level where they work independently and it would be appropriate for them to push back a little on managerial suggestions if they have good reason to, but this is going too far. What can I do to address this without undermining Jane?

I have been clear to Jane that this behavior is not acceptable and justifies a formal performance-improvement plan, and suggested that she make it clear to them that that’s the next step if this continues. She is very supportive of her team, and really wants to find a way to make it all work, but I worry that she is spending too much of her time on them and they’re not going to repay the effort.

It sounds like you’re going to need to be very hands-on in coaching Jane through how to handle this. As a new manager, she’s not likely to have the skills or instincts to do this on her own, which means that you should play a very active role in guiding her through it. That should include coaching her in what to say when Rose and Lisa ignore direct instructions (give her specific language — new managers often don’t have it) and walking her through the process of getting them on performance plans. 

And you need to make it clear to Jane that while you want to give her some leeway in managing the situation, there are certain things that are non-negotiables, like that she can’t allow a pattern of insubordination to form and that she’s ultimately accountable for the performance and culture of her team, which means she does need to take action on this stuff and get it resolved. Addressing employee problems is one of her job responsibilities as much as anything else she’s responsible for doing well, and you need to coach her on that (and ultimately hold her accountable for it) just as you would for any other new responsibility she took on.

2. I think my employee’s emotional outbursts might be hormone-related.

I manage a business with eight employees, which includes one supervisor, Diane, who oversees most of the remaining staff. One of those staff members, Kristine, is a very good employee but periodically has very strong emotional reactions to work situations.

In reviewing my notes following Kristine’s most recent outburst, I’ve realized that these emotionally charged reactions occur at a regular interval of every four weeks. Based on the notes and other information informally shared by Kristine, it seems very likely that these behaviors are hormone/PMS-related.

While I have no intention of suggesting to Kristine that things may feel worse because of PMS, would it be completely inappropriate for me to help her supervisor make this connection too? Am I making too big a leap in my assumptions about this?

Even if I don’t say anything to Diane about it, is it inappropriate or “too soft” (I don’t want to be a pushover) of me to use a little more caution in addressing errors, requests, etc., during these times of likely increased sensitivity?

I think you can legitimately point out to Kristine or her manager that this happens at regular four-week intervals, but I wouldn’t speculate to either of them about why that might be. At most, you could say something like, “Given that this is happening at regular intervals, it might be worth talking to a doctor about whether there’s something medical going on.” But anything beyond that is too personal (and also gets into really problematic historical territory about women and emotions).

And don’t treat her differently during those time periods. It’s too personal, it’s speculation, and you might be wrong. (And a lot of people — everyone? — would be mortified if they learned that their boss was tiptoeing around them when they suspected they were having their period! I am cringing just thinking about it.)

Most important, what you need from her doesn’t change regardless of the cause of her behavior: You need her to stop having disruptive emotional outbursts, and that’s true whether it’s caused by PMS, her monthly book club meeting, or anything else.

3. My co-worker tried to reassign my work to other people.

My co-worker covered for me while I was on vacation for a week. When I came back, she sent an email to the team, including me and our manager, about the tasks normally assigned to me that said, “Team, this is how we will divide the task’s responsibilities…”

What I should do? Should I confront her or should I just send an email on top of the one she sent saying “Thanks for your help, but l will take it from here”? Or in the email, reassign responsibilities?

That’s odd enough that it might simply be a miscommunication about who would continue managing that work once you were back. Talk to her one-on-one and see if you can figure out where the disconnect is. Say this: “I’m actually planning to take all of this work back over, just like it was handled before I went on vacation. Is there anything making you think differently?”

Assuming she doesn’t have an explanation that makes sense, then say, “OK, I’m going to send out an email letting people know these are just coming back to me like they normally are,” and then do that.

4. Mentoring a student with questionable social media judgment.

My alma mater recruited me for an alumni mentoring program, which connects successful professionals with undergraduate students interested in similar career paths. I accepted and was assigned a student in her senior year. I ran her name and school in a Google search (as most hiring managers would do) and found her Instagram account, which had pictures/videos of her partying, her roommates smoking up, and dressing in lingerie … in addition to her Twitter account, in which she regularly references nude photos, late-night drinking, etc.

I personally don’t care that she does these things, but the world doesn’t need to know, and I have tried communicating to her that it could negatively impact her search for internships and jobs. I’m not that much older than she, but I think that her age and/or naivete lend themselves to her carelessness in posting these things. She’s interested in corporate PR, and I’d love to help her succeed, but don’t know how to help when she won’t register the very basic advice I’m giving.

If you’ve been direct with her (as opposed to hinting) and she’s told you she doesn’t care or disagrees, then, yeah, there’s not much more you can do. If you haven’t been direct yet, that’s your next move, and you might frame it as, “It’s so universal for hiring managers to turn down candidates for exactly this type of thing that it’s considered pretty open-and-shut” and “In PR in particular, your social media presence is judged as part of the assessment process, and this is automatic rejection material — can you tell me how you reconcile that with your desire to keep this stuff up?”

But otherwise this is a lesson she’s going to have to figure out for herself.

5. Turning down former employees’ offers to volunteer.

We have had a good handful of employees leave in the past few years for various reasons. We hold a large, very impactful conference each year and the former employees sometimes want to volunteer at this conference, but for various reasons we do not want that. We have plenty of volunteer help, and having them come back in so soon is awkward for current employees, along with other reasons.

I am trying to put together some professional wording to send to them when they inquire about volunteering, but I am kind of at a loss. Any advice?

“We’re all set for volunteers this year, but thank you for offering!”

Or, “We’re trying to bring in volunteers who haven’t worked with us before as a way of broadening our reach, but thank you so much for offering.”

(I’m taking you at your word that you have good reasons for not wanting to use the former employees, but is it really that awkward for current employees? I wouldn’t think it would be unless people left under odd circumstances.)
 

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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