Greetings. I'm new to MT, and have been listening to the podcasts for a few weeks during my commute.

I have some problems with one of my directs (we'll call him J.)that I hope you all might be able to help me resolve. I apologize in advance for a long post, but I really need to lay this all out. Hopefully my thoughts are coherent.

I've been in my current position as an engineering department manager for about 3.5 years, and I inherited J. from my predecessor. J. has been with the company for over 20 years. He currently has 8 of the engineers reporting to him, as well as some hourly technicians.

J. has a mountain of technical knowlege inside his head, and he knows where all the skeletons are hidden. With almost any technical problem that arises, J. can remember when the same thing happened X years ago and what they did to fix it. The problem is, he cannot or does not want to manage.

He gives some fatherly coaching to his engineers, but does not hold them accountable for results. In fact, if his engineers fail to meet an objective, and the project manager (who also reports to me) starts to get on their case, J. will jump in and defend them. But if J. is in a staff meeting and the production manager starts criticizing something he did, he won't respond to defend himself.

He arrives late to almost every meeting that I schedule, if he arrives at all. Part of the problem is that he doesn't seem to read his email. We schedule all of our meetings with Outlook. Most of the time he doesn't respond to the notices.

Speaking of emails, he doesn't respond to at least half of the emails I send to him. Nor does he respond to any emails that may involve his reports. There could be an urgent problem or something going on with his engineers, with him being copied on every message, and he will not respond. Usually it's me responding saying "Mr. X, I will review with my team and get back to you", or "Engineer Y, please provide a status update."

He cannot meet deadlines consistently. He puts in more hours than probably anyone else in the plant, but he does almost everything himself. His engineers go home on time almost every day while he fails to complete things on time. It's to the point where any date I ask him to meet means very little to me, even if I ask him to provide the date himself. I think he does not delegate enough, and with the lack of accountability of his team, I don't know if it would do much good.

Communication from him is almost non-existent. I love his ability to work independently, but unfortunately his lack of a backbone with the other department manager results in him working for whoever yells the loudest, which many times is not me. A lot of the time I hear from other people about things that he is doing that I had no knowlege of, and would not have necessarily wanted him to work on.

You can probably tell that I am beyond frustrated. When I started out, I could not live without him because I did not have the technical expertise. Now that I've been here a few years, that has changed. I have been constantly asking him to check his schedule, get to meetings on time, respect the due dates he provides, etc, but talking hasn't worked.

Replacing him is really not a possibility. Due to local laws and his seniority, he would have to be paid a huge severance package, and business is bad right now, so it would never get approved. So, I have committed myself to turning this guy into a responsible manager, if it doesn't kill me first. I realize that a lot of these problems are probably at least partially my fault. This was my first departmental management position and I'm learning as I go.

In the past I have been directly managing and providing feedback to his reports in an effort to fill the void in leadership. The first thing I am going to start doing is holding him personally accountable for their actions, and managing them through him.

My other problem, maybe a mistake, is that I have been having daily meetings with him in order to stay on top of what he is doing and making sure he is focused on the big priorities. This is micromanagement, obviously. Instead, I am going to stop the daily meetings, but I am going to hold him accountable for reporting to me what he's up to and what his status is.

I'm going to try and help him delegate his tasks to his directs, and try to teach him how to do it. I'll suggest that to manage the work, he could make a list of his active projects, next actions, due dates, and status. Review it regularly and adjust as required.

I really don't know if he has it in him. I get a sense that there is an unstoppable inertia in the way he has been doing things, and I don't know if I can get him to change his behavior. If I can't, I'm going to have to basically do his job for him (similar to what I have been doing, but even more so).

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

US41's picture

If I were your boss, here's what I would say in response to all of that: "Tell him to stop doing the bad stuff, start doing the good stuff, and keep on doing the things he wasn't messing up. ."

Drucker says that your job as his manager is to set objectives and measure his performance against them. So do that.

1. Set him some clear cut MT objectives, just like in the podcasts on setting annual goals:

When you set his goals, make sure they revolve around what you want him to start doing and keep doing. Write down exactly how much of it you want him to do.

2. Have him report in to you every month on his measurements against those goals. He should come to every fourth O3 with you with his numbers against each of them.

Here are some objectives you could set (examples only - modify as needed):

* Set 5 objectives for direct reports, print out, and provide to management for each direct by 1/15/09
* Provide (number of directs) written summaries of measurements against direct's objectives monthly - 11 times by 12/1/09

Arriving late to meetings, defending himself, not responding to email, not delegating work - these are best handled with feedback.

If you set him some solid objectives with measureable, countable "objective" goals, he will have to deliver on them. If he doesn't, then in that monthly O3 during the last 5 minutes you look at the report and say, "My friend, you are missing all of your objectives. You need to step it up or no raise or "performs well" score for you next year. Capiche?"

That will have him working for you, which you can also address with performance management. "J, you are missing your objectives, and I've noticed you spent a lot of time doing X for Mr. Dude over there. Mr. Dude is not your boss. X is not one of your objectives. You need to say no, or it is going to cost you money. I'm not your Mom. You have to stand up for yourself."

Hold your O3's weekly, give feedback, coach, delegate.

Set objectives, measure performance.

It works. But not without the goals/objectives at the beginning of the year for the next 30 days, 90 days, and year... you have to make absolutely clear what you want to


Perhaps a good way to roll this whole rehab program out to him is to hold a Hot Wash with him right now about the last month. What went well, and what to take another look at.

The hot wash is an awesome tool. It's like a BFH in a mechanic's shop. Just about any time you are stuck, you gather you and one other person - your directs - or the whole world - and you do this and get a million ideas and develop an action plan.

If he fails, then step him down and put someone else up there as the manager and let him walk around as an independent contributor. Don't blow a fuse trying to fix the guy when others are waiting to take his job and would do better.

fchalif's picture
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I like US41's advice. I encourage you to follow it.

I have similar issues with some of my directs. I manage a division of 150 staff in a manufacturing environment. We have grown from a staff of 20 12 years ago when we started up. I therefore have staff now with "managerial" responsibilities who really do not display any of the behaviors required of a manager. Your scenario with that technical manager is similar to mine with a few of my technicians.

I like US41's approach very much and i will implement something like it. My challenge is scarcity of trained\trainable technical staff, not so much that I could not make that staff member redundant. And again, as always, you have to be human about this. Have you communicated the issue clearly to him? At one point, you may have to go down the road of the Late Stage Coaching Model. See Podcast.

TomW's picture
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Are you doing the management trinity with him? If not, I'd start working on that immediately.

Start one-on-ones so you can build a relationship with him.
Slowly work in positive feedback, so he knows you notice his successes and want to help him succeed.
A couple months later, start in adjusting feedback.
Document all of it.
If he responds, great.
If he does not correct his actions, start systemic feedback (covered in the facetiously titled cast, "How to fire someone... almost").
If that still fails, then terminate him.

As a manager with a problem employee, you must either guide change in the person's behavior or allow him to succeed somewhere else (or be someone else's problem).

tlhausmann's picture
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Based on your message, it sounds like you are at the same site. I would add that _urgent_ matters are better handled via a phone call rather than email.

MgrEric's picture

Thanks for all of the excellent advice. We're shut down this week, so that will give me some time to research the information you have provided me and formulate a plan before we come back next week. I do have 1-on-1's scheduled to start with my whole team in 2 weeks, so at least that part of the Trinity is in the works.

This website and podcast are really an excellent resource. I wish I would have found this 3 years ago!

I will post back in a few days to let you all know what my game plan is.

MgrEric's picture

I wanted to take a moment to give an update on this situation and what I decided to do.

I scheduled a meeting with him, and in the meeting I explained all of the things that I appreciated about him and that he was doing well. Then I told him that he was not performing at the level I expect in terms of management, and that he was going to have to make some big improvements in that area.

I assigned him some specific objectives for the coming 2-3 months:
- Read a book about basic management skills and give me a summary
- Delegate at least 50% of his current workload to his subordinates
- Clearly define the responsibilities of each person under him
- Define which tasks cannot be done by his people and must be done by him; the rest should be delegated
- Maintain an open issues list or task list for his group, showing the current projects being worked on, who is assigned, the due date, and current status; he is to send it to me on a weekly basis for review before his one-on-one
- Check email 2-3 times per day, respond to urgent items within 3-4 hours, and respond to normal items within 24 hours
- Arrive on time to all meetings, or if not possible because of some good reason, call the organizer before the meeting to advise
- Prioritize our department objectives first always, and if a request from outside creates a conflict, review with me to re-evaluate priorities; we do have internal customers after all, but sometimes they do not plan well and they put us in a constant state of emergency with last-minute demands

This covers most of the issues I have with his performance, and my intention was to be very clear on the expectation without telling him how to do it at a micro level. I hope I was successful. I will be giving him feedback throughout the process, and we will have a more formal check-up in 2-3 months.

fchalif's picture
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Congrats for sticking with it and sitting with him. Keep tabs on yours and his behavour over the coming weeks. Focus on reinforcing feedback when you see him do new stuff based on your interaction with him.

Keep it up.

mikehansen's picture


Kudos for reaching out to the MT community and following through. The only thing I will add to the good comments above is to remember that you are not in a time crunch with this effort.

You are asking J to make significant changes in his behavior. What is most important is that there is progress and the long term picture. Where he is in 6 months or a year is what you are really after, so do not get discouraged if there is not a 180 in the first 2 months.

Finally, do not be afraid to suggest taking him out of a management role down the road if he is not being successful. He may be a great individual contributor and thus an asset to your organization.

Take care,

MgrEric's picture

Mike, fchalif,
I appreciate your comments. I am asking for quite a change, and it won't happen overnight no matter how hard he tries. The purpose of the check-up review is to make sure he is making progress. As long as we can see improvement I will be satisfied.

I have a feeling that once he starts managing better, his stress level and work schedule will benefit, and that should motivate him to keep improving.

I'll provide updates here periodically in case this discussion could be of benefit to someone else.


AManagerTool's picture

I'd like you to consider one more option. If coaching, feedback etc fail, move him out of management and back into engineering. He might actually thank you for it. This sounds like a classic "welders dilemma" problem.