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Advice please: New to people management and don't know how best to deal with team member

(17 Posts)
themummyonthebus Fri 22-May-15 23:01:58

A WOHP topic! Wonderful! I hope to learn from everyone's experiences and I'm looking forward to some interesting discussions although the fanny gallops thread in Chat is also pretty interesting grin

And sorry in advance - I've just reread what I've written and it is looooooooong. But it's written now so I'm going to post it. Thanks in advance if you manage to get through it.

I've recently been headhunted to set up a team at a fairly small, established company. My team is tiny, one FT, one apprentice and one intern. I've inherited the FT-er from my now boss, who neglected to tell me that, as lovely as this colleague is, and very hard working in one specific role (which tbf is fairly high pressure and requires long hours during an approximately 2 month period in the year), is totally workshy for everything else. They have been there for ever, and as it's such a small company everyone is friends. I fear I'm being used to deal with this person's issues that noone else will do because of their friendliness.

Anyway, I've been doing objective setting with the team, and looking through this team member's previous reviews there are constant complaints from them about working hours, doesn't feel work-life balance is right, how there is so much to do, poor old me type complaints. The thing is, as nice as this team member is, they are clearly wasting huge amounts of time chatting, talking endlessly to colleagues about how to resolve total non problems, creating mountains of of molehills, vastly inflating the workload they have (apart from this specific activity), etc. They also never shut up. When you try to give them a task, you just get talked over about issues and problems that have been identified with whatever it is you'd like them to do, within 5 seconds of you starting to talk, without them even listening to the task description.

I don't know how to deal with it. I've never worked with anyone like this in my life. This is my first role where I have some people to manage, as well as my activity. As the team is so small, and there is so much to do, i really need everyone to muck in, but this person just sucks time and energy from everyone around. As part of the objective setting I gave praise on the obvious engagement/enthusiasm, and pointed out that the last few reviews had mentioned their tendency to get easily distracted, mentioned I'd noticed this myself and suggested they give some thought to making best use of time. But all I really want to say is, "Stop talking and engage brain! Can't you hear that everyone is constantly trying to get you to shut up about your totally inconsequential issues and get you to do something that actually adds value to our activities?"

I need strategies before I actually snap and say that

Today I tried setting an agenda with timings that I communicated before our meeting and reminded about at the beginning of the meeting. It kind of worked, but it was exhausting constantly fighting to try to get a word in to keep the topics moving on.
I scheduled plenty of time for them to talk with agenda items such as "Review of last year's challenges".
I also calculated timings for tasks based on assumptions that this person, and other people, have given me and talked them through when there were protests about, "I couldn't possibly do that in that amount of time." Eg, you do this task 40 times per year, it takes about 1 hour per time so that's 10 full work days, which equated to x% of your working time.

But I think it's all just gone in one ear and out the other. My N+2 would like to send them off on early retirement. Trouble is, I don't think N+2 realises how much this person does on the specific activity and I would be fucked without them to do it. I need to start succession planning but I have no budget to hire until next year.

Any experienced managers got any suggestions for how to manage this person? It might not sound like it but I really like them and i don't want them to be shuffled off into early retirement as I don't think that's what they want.

MarjoryStewartBaxter Sat 23-May-15 07:33:48

Poor you, that sounds grim sad

You mentioned that they are very good at one specialist area and they've also complianed about poor work life balance. Is there any scope to focus them on that specialist area, perhaps with reduced hours?

Have they explicitly said they're not keen on early retirement? Is there a way of suggesting it to them as an option? It really depends on what percentage of time the bit of the role they're actually useful for takes, but a compromise could be early retirement but they work 16 hours a week after they've retired on a contract (if this is possible in your organisation, I have a lot of colleagues who've done this bit we're public sector). If succession planning is required you have them focus on their specialist area and also create training packs, guidance etc in preparation for a handover as a full time role? This could keep them fully utilised until you get your recruitment budget.

florentina1 Sat 23-May-15 07:44:23

Is it possible that you communicate with them in way that is not precise enough?

Reading your post is quite difficult. You have identified a specific problem and asked for help. You have used 10 paragraphs to explain the problem, but many of them seem irrelevant to what you need.

Maybe you could rewrite your post in your head, with only the essential details. Then use that as an example when dealing with you colleague.

HappyAsASandboy Sat 23-May-15 11:33:41

Well done for tackling this instead of ignoring it, as it seems your predecessors have!

I think you need to be very organised to change this person's behaviour. It will take an inordinate amount of your time, and you'll need to stick at it rather than only in short bursts, or you'll keep going back to square one.

I would spend time planning out what you would like him to do over the next X months, and then plan the work as you would do it/would like it done. Don't involve the team member yet. When you've got a very good idea what the work entails, plan how to pass the task to the team member - you may want to hand all the 'ingredients' of the work to him on a plate and then supervise, or you might want to give him the problem and supervise him solving it. Either way, you need to give him a very specific target to reach in a fairly short time frame, and book in a meeting to discuss it at the deadline. The timeframe will depend on your work/the degree of time wasting, but I have had an employee before where we got to the point of meeting at the start and end of each day to set tasks/review them, where the others acheived more output with a quick half-hour supervision once a fortnight! It often seems like you could have just done the work yourself by the time you've put the time in to the supervision.

Eventually my team member produced the goods, saving him from a disciplinary, but I have to admit his natural behaviours were not changed, he came to hate me (though he remained professional about it!), and he moved jobs to get away from my micromanagement.

I have rambled, but my final advice is to discuss all of it with your boss before you change how you work with the time-waster. The last thing you want is to be accused of bullying and then be explaining to your boss retrospectively. Much better if he knows what you've got planned before he receives the moans about you!

Good luck!

themummyonthebus Sat 23-May-15 15:09:59

Florentins - criticism noted grin I did think as I was writing last night that I was rambling more than they do. I think that spending the whole day on their evaluation and then all evening catching upwith what I should have done during the day fried my brain.

I also wanted to include context. But in summary:
1. My colleague complains about being overworked.
2. In reality it's due to her never stopping, listening to the task setter and then engaging brain over what the required outcome might be.
3. I've tried preparing concrete examples to suggest other ways of working but she won't shut up for long enough to let me explain them.
4. She is sticking my time and energy that should be being spent on more valuable things. If I point out her that I am already working every evening to midnight and most weekends too, so I need her not to waste my time, she just says that she's working all weekend too.

Which is bullshit as her talks absolutely should not require this.

themummyonthebus Sat 23-May-15 15:32:01

*Tasks not talks, although that's an appropriate typo.

Marjory, in reality, the only thing she is doing is managing this specific area of expertise with a small amount of supporting admin. it probably takes about 50% of the total yearly working time but with it skewed to the first and last quarters.

Sandboy I fear your solution is the only one but I will sink under the weight of my workload if I do that sad

Thanks for the great advice. I think I'm going to have to broach succession planning/early retirement and try to sit my N+1 & 2 down for a more honest discussion about how to manage her. I fear her going on a pt contact as she will only get less and less done and at least under the current arrangement she at least manages to get the main tasks done.

Lots to think about over the weekend smile Thanks for all your comments.

wickedwaterwitch Sat 23-May-15 15:54:23

People like this are hard to manage, much sympathy.

I think you are going to have to be specific, brutally honest and keep telling her "you need to do x not y" and maybe "stop talking" !!

Or get her to handover the tasks only she knows how to do (dangerous single point of failure there anyway) and get rid of her.

I've managed people like this, it's a pita

wickedwaterwitch Sat 23-May-15 15:55:20

Specific feedback about it being rude to talk over people might be in order too

VanillaTwirl Sat 23-May-15 15:55:43

Do you give your team regular feedback, or is there a set time for formal appraisals?

I have always approached managing people in much the same way as I manage my kids tbh (I don't mean treating them like kids, but using similar approaches).
Be clear and concise in what your expectations of them are, and use carrot or stick as necessary.
Praise them for the good stuff, treat them for the amazing stuff and be firm with the boundary pushing - discipline as a last resort where necessary, but they are aware that it is an option if they do push it that far.
Be sure to pay them attention and be interested in their achievements.

If she is not performing as you expect/want her to, then you need to make it clear as she is not a mindreader; the short list in your last post is something to work with:
for e.g., points 1 & 2 are something I would put to her pretty much as you have.
Sit her down in private for a sort of formal one to one, and explain that whilst you have taken on board that she thinks she is overworked, you have to disagree - explain that you have noticed that there is a lot of chat and grumbling going on, and if she would just get stuck into the work and give the chat a rest, she would get much more done.
Explain that you have a lot of respect for the way she works on the thing she does well, and that if she applied herself with the same enthusiasm to the day to day grind it would make it easier for her.
Make it clear that you are a fan of constructive criticisms and complaints, but not generalised griping; if she has identified genuine problems or concerns, then try to bring solutions, not just problems.
Let her know that you value her experience and what she can bring to the team and that is why you expect more of/from her than the other two.

We used something called the 'bath tub' effect (the sloping shape of a bath basically), start with a positive thing, then hit with the area for improvement or negatives, then end on a positive.
It creates a positive feeling at the start so they know you appreciate them, this allows you to address the negative points, then you finish on a good note so they leave with a positive feeling.

Hope I've made some sense and not said stuff you already know, I don't want to sound like a twat!
(Also, don't know how much scope you have for a one to one, if that is an accepted way to do things where you work or not).

wickedwaterwitch Sat 23-May-15 15:57:07

Also make sure you articulate what's in it for them in terms of changing practices - they either let you help or they shut up

Often people love a good moan though and it can almost become a habit

Changeasgoodas Sat 23-May-15 16:48:38

"The Bath Tub effect" made me smile, that must be a polite workplace, it's called the shit sandwich where I am

I would caution you OP against bringing up retirement if she has not. You could be walking yourself straight into an age discrimination claim. Talk to your HR specialist before having such a conversation.

VanillaTwirl Sat 23-May-15 17:13:58

Shit sandwich grin

That works, too!

themummyonthebus Sun 24-May-15 08:01:23

Thanks Vanilla and WWW.

It's a shit sandwich here too grin She's had one already but tbh I think I'm going to have to give her am open sandwich next time wink

The appraisal on Friday was a one to one. That isn't a problem.

And I might have already told her to "stop talking" during a call the other day blush Not my proudest moment. In Friday's appraisal I had to practically shout over the top of her a few times and ask to finish my point as then she'd know what I'd like her to respond. I need to have a think about how blunt I'm prepared to be considering I have limited opportunities to hire.

And I fully agree that having no backup for her is dreadful. I need to work out how to resolve that asap.

Thanks again for all your thoughts.

VanillaTwirl Sun 24-May-15 11:21:50

She sounds tough!

I had one of these in my last job - loud, railroads others, talks over people as if her point is the only valid one....
The irony was that she was a genuine and lovely girl, with a heart of gold - that made her particularly difficult to handle as it wasn't completely black & white.

When you told her to 'stop talking' when you were on a call, did she?
If so, this might be the way to handle her then.

Issue instructions, rather than trying to have discussions - in her one to one, she kept talking over you - say "I'm going to talk, and I want you to listen; at this moment, I do not want to hear your opinion - but you need to listen to what I have to say as it is for your benefit".

Be direct and firm - if she is so thick skinned that she can talk over others without any awareness, then being quite harsh (but fair) may be the only way you can get through to her.

Good luck!

themummyonthebus Tue 26-May-15 21:25:31

Well I followed up last week's review with some very specific feedback of the type suggested above. I've had two discussions with my colleague today that have been efficient and to the point shock I'm not so wildly optimistic as to think she's changed a habit of a lifetime. I am however very thankful to you lot for giving me ideas and suggestions for strategies to deal with her, some of which at least seem to be having an effect. I have meetings planned with n+1/2 as well as HR as obviously there are more fundamental issues, but I'm now moderately confident I can find ways to manage her without resenting her for using up my valuable time and energy. Thank you all.

wickedwaterwitch Wed 27-May-15 19:28:04

Good for you. Be persistent!

cdtaylornats Wed 03-Jun-15 18:35:03

Our group tended to ramble on in meetings until our boss hit on the idea of scheduling them at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon. Meetings went from a whole morning to under 45 minutes. The strange thing was we were all on flexitime so it shouldn't have mattered.

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