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Am I expecting too much?

By spacepebs ·
Late last year I was promoted to manager after 7 years as the sole IT staffer for our company. At that time, I was told I could hire an assistant to do most of the PC support tasks. I hired someone who is technically very able but seems to be very scatterbrained. I've had numerous discussions with him regarding the need for attention to detail but every day is a new adventure. How do you teach someone a skill like attention to detail? As his manager, I am responsible for his actions and can't seem to make a difference unless I scrutinize everything he does. FWIW, he's otherwise a good employee that works hard if I keep him busy, very even-tempered and good with our users.

-pebs

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Let Him Fail

by Wayne M. In reply to Am I expecting too much?

Somethings can be taught and somethings must be learned by experience and what falls into either category varies from person to person.

Let your assistant establish his own style; he needs the freedom to do things his way. Let him be responsible for his own work. If he stumbles, let him resolve the problem. Let him see the results of his decision. If he is part of a major foul up that results in a dressing down, make sure he sits in on it. Don't point fingers at him and take full responsibility, but by having him sit in on the conversation he will realize that you are taking the heat for him.

It is difficult to find the balance between too much oversight and too little. Over your career, you find yourself making both mistakes, but that is part of learning. It sounds like you have a good staff member; let him gain some experience even if it means allowing some scraped knees and bloddy noses.

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No

by amcol In reply to Let Him Fail

Your advice sounds more geared for raising teenagers than managing a professional.

No one in a professional environment should be allowed to fail. There's too much at stake, in terms of impact to the organization and personal careers at the very least.

This person seems capable from the description of being able to do most aspects of his job except for organization. Send him to a time management class, make him write down his daily goals and then review them with him at the end of the day (EVERY day), make him document his activities. There are any number of effective techniques to get a disorganized person to work in a more organized fashion, and they all involve making sure the individual understands they're personally responsible and will be held accountable.

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One Step Farther

by osumiller In reply to No

Take Amcol's advice, and go a little farther. Instead of a time management class, find some kind of "boot camp" environment and throw them into it for a week. After just a few days of being screamed at, harrassed, and the like for every slightest mistake (incorrect movement, look, action, dress all down to the very smallest of details), the staffer would have a whole new outlook on coping with stress, as well as how they manage their time, and their attention to detail. It would build a great deal of character.

check out http://www.academyleadership.com/proinfo.asp

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Look at the Problem Logically

by Wayne M. In reply to No

I think that if one looks carefully at the issue described, the only real option is to delegate and let the assistant do his job.

First, what is the problem to be solved? The post is very vague on the nature of the problem and on what a solution might look at. It is fair to surmise either of two alternatives. One, the assistant's work is inadequate and the assistant is either unaware or unconcerned about the situation. Two, the assitant's work is adequate, and the supervisor is unaware of this.

Given that there is already a history of discussions between the assistant and supervisor, it is unlikely that additional "training" will change attitudes in either of the possible cases. The issue must be moved from one of potential issues to one of objective results. The assistant must be given the authority to do his tasks as he sees fit and both the assistant and the supervisor need to observe the results of that approach.

I do not agree with the belief that it is a manager's responsibility to eliminate all risk of failure; this restricts the benefits of success. No, I would not give a staff member a task that he is guaranteed to fail at, but neither would I give my staff only tasks that they are guaranteed to succeed at. The strongest staff members are those who can fail, take stock of the situation, adjust to it, and come back with a solution.

As a manager, I can decide when to take risks, but to develop my staff, I must allow them to take risks.

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Again, no

by amcol In reply to Look at the Problem Logic ...

The post is reaasonably clear on the situation. The staffer's work is more than adequate but he's disorganized. The manager has recognized the staffer as performing quality work and has brought to his attention the disorganization, but the staffer has been either unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

If you really believe that additional training will not help, then you're saying by extension that the staffer should be fired. If he can't learn from training then he's highly unlikely to learn from bitter experience, and in that case you have someone for whom there are only two choices...tolerate the behavior or fire him. My takeaway from the post is that neither choice is acceptable, nor would either be to me were I the manager in question.

I never indicated in any way that all risk of failure should be eliminated. There are smart risks and not so smart risks, and allowing someone to fail just for the educational value in my mind does not fall into the smart risk category. I think the real question here is whether or not the manager has identified a problem that needs to be fixed at all. It's common among young managers to feel that they have to be in control of everything, all the time. This staffer is described as someone who gets the job done, just maybe can't prioritize too well. Maybe that's actually OK...maybe it's enough to have someone who can produce value while needing regular management assistance to figure out the day's to do list. Not everyone can work completely independently.

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Aside from time management

by gadgetgirl In reply to Am I expecting too much?

set him the task of making his own checklists. He will do the minimum at first, but you should also read the checklists; follow his checklist, with him alongside, and if he does anything not in the checklist, inform him to miss that step: in effect, getting him to understand that if it's not on the checklist, it doesn't get done. In doing this, he will see the amount of detail that has to be included.

If he's good with the users, try your best to keep him. Time management may be all he needs; that, and the time at the start of the morning to plan out his goals for the day, no matter what they are.

Hope this helps

GG

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Lead and Encourage

by RB_ITProfessional In reply to Am I expecting too much?

Does your employee have a clear understanding of what is expected of him each day? Perhaps you have given him too much freedom (at least initially). Maybe you should reassess your approach by limiting his tasks, and setting a small list of daily goals. Make sure he understands those goals, and hold him accountable to meeting them each day. Reward him for accomplishing the goals, and make sure there are appropriate consequences for not. I agree with the other poster in that he needs to understand the impact his actions have on you and your department. Once he has mastered accomplishing these small number of goals, slowly increase his responsibilities, while continually monitoring his performance.

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Thanks!

by spacepebs In reply to Lead and Encourage

First, thanks so much for the input everyone.

I didn't include a lot of detail in my original post as I really wasn't sure if I was going down the right path. Some of the suggestions mentioned are already in place. Each night he sends me a cumulative weekly report detailing what's been done and what is in progress. Each morning we meet to review the previous day's report, adding in what was missed, making corrections and prioritizing for the day. He's currently working on checklists for the routine items and creating a manual of sorts for those out of the ordinary things. I've also sent him to a couple of one-day seminars to help him with his organizational skills which are sorely lacking. I wouldn't mind so much if he were only disorganized physically - it's the mental disorganization that's giving me trouble.

I'm hesitant to let him go too far on his own as this is his first position in a corporate environment. He has little experience prioritizing and is easily lead astray by those who persuade him their issues are more critical than others. Additionally, in the course of my years here, things have run smoothly and I need them to stay that way. I will continue as I have and try to be a positive influence. He's really a good employee - it's the details and decision making that bog him down more often than not.

Thanks again - you've all helped more than you can know.

-pebs

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A sign of the times

by donkey_butter In reply to Thanks!

I teach at a local community college. I have the same kind of issues with my students. I've had to rework my curriculum to remove any room for interpretation. I?ve spelled out what exactly it is what I want when I want it. I?ve put the onus of completing the work on them, if they don?t complete it they know what will happen. Initially the students were a little confused but quickly got the idea and are doing well. They know what to expect of themselves and what I expect of them in terms of work. This is all an attempt to teach them what the "real world" (professional environments) expect of them. I was surprised to see how few people had any skills or knowledge in this area. I am afraid this is a sign of the times in general (at least in my experience).

1. You are using the right approach with the daily NOC lists. You have to remember that maintaining a network for a small/medium sized company can be a pain in the *** because of all the details. Remember when you first started working, not everything came to you right away. Additionally, it may be time to let your baby go. It can be hard, you?ve built something you are obviously proud of, but if he is in the trenches, he is going to run it the way he wants regardless of what you want.

2. Not everyone is a rock start when coming out of school. As the academic world is really different than the professional world, there is a learning curve. He will become more efficient over time. People learn and work in different ways. As a manager it is your job to find the way that works for him. I can remember the first 9 months of my first ?real? job, I made so many mistakes it was nuts, but I am a better person for it. That is all part of the experience.

3. I have to agree with the idea of letting him sit in when you are getting yelled at or when a problem arises. As a team you guys have to work together, when he sees that the team is not doing so well, it may be motivation enough to get his act in gear. You may want to set up a penalty system when things go wrong such as having him come in on Saturday to fix whatever the issue is. I know that if I had the potential of having to come in on the weekend to fix something, I would make a real conscious effort to make sure it was done the right way the first time. This goes towards teaching him personal responsibility as well without having to come off as a complete hard-***.

4. Lastly, why not confront him on the fact that his head seems to be elsewhere? There could be issues at home, with the girlfriend, school etc. that keeps his attention somewhere other than work, he may be working a few jobs. I don?t now if you?ve done so or not, but ask him what the deal is. There is no sense in beating around the bush. As a mentor you should take an active interest in the lives of your teammates. You don?t have to show up at their parties or whatever, but it may be as simple as the kid not getting enough sleep, so why not ask what?s going on.

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Deja Vu

by APH In reply to A sign of the times

Wow, spacepebs, I thought your post was just my inside voice in print.

I had an employee who was virtually identical to yours, except at 27, he had a few years of support experience in a business environment as well as customer service experience.

I tried all of the things donkey_butter suggested, daily lists, allowing him to learn in his own method - research, by doing, self-paced training, one-on-one, you name it. I even asked why his head was rarely at work (typically got a lot of stories about family issues which I referred him to company provided employee assistance programs).

It finally boiled down to one thing that my manager and finally determined (which pretty much doomed the relationship) - he thought he knew everything and only wanted to work on what he wanted to. Tasks that he wasn't particularly interested in weren't done to completion, or on posted deadlines, or instead of researching the solution so he could learn, he just wanted the answer directly so he could go on to another task.

After a year of coaching, directing, redirecting, even asking him what we could do to assist him, we finally let him go.

I do agree that not everyone is suited to working independently, but with a small department with a large user base, when do you deterimine how much managing becomes hand-holding? How long do you follow up daily before you spend more time managing the employee than other aspects of your work?

Conversely, what do you do when you have other employees on the staff who are self-motivating and are receiving less attention due to the other employee?

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