Hi all,

I've recently changed jobs and landed at a position of a director where I have 4 teams reporting into me. I have 2 medium size teams (13 people total) and 2 microteams (1 person and 2 persons) which will eventually grow. This is a software/IT organization.

I've came across MT about a year ago and I've been in this current job for about 3 months. I have 1:1s with all directs and started rolling out positive feedback.

One of my directs, let's name him Bob, who is a "1 person team" used to work for my boss before I joined. My boss shared with me that this guy needs to be pushed, because he's someone who would slack off if there is a possibility. Therefore he needs close supervision etc.

When I ask this guy on what he's doing, he tells me that he's busy on this and that and that he's fixing problem X and problem Y... I can't really verify that, because given my position I can't just dive into his area of responsibility and learn all the details of his work (I am capable of that in theory, I'm technical and can be hands-on). So I have a suspicion that he really overinflates what he's doing, but I don't have proof (btw, I'm high-C, high-D, so I *need* proof before taking action :-)).

On the other hand, my boss is pushing me to get on top of this and get more output of this guy.

What would you guys recommend? What practical steps can I take to address this?

How can a high-C person manage someone if he doesn't know all the details? :-)

Thank you so much for your input!

mattpalmer's picture

Get clear and precise about what it is this direct should be delivering, then set deadlines and hold him to them.  He says he's "fixing problem X" -- that sounds to me like he's describing what he's doing, not what is going to be better/different when he's done.  Start thinking about it in those terms, either getting him to describe it, or you interpret "fixing problem X" as "changing the code for the frobnicator so that when you press the button, it frobs rather than exploding" and get his confirmation that that's what he's doing.  Then discuss with him when he'll definitely be done with that, and to let you know when he's finished so you can let people know, have a party, cross it off your "stuff that's broken around here" list (you're a high C, you've got that list, I know you do), whatever.  A sample conversation might sound like this:

You: Hey Fred, what are you up to today?

Fred: Oh, you know, this and that.  I might try and see if I can fix the frobnicator.

You: You mean that problem where when you press the "frob" button, about half of the time it vents steam rather than frobbing the widget?

Fred: Yeah, that one.  It's been annoying me lately.

You: That'd be great if you could fix that so it frobbed the widget every time.  It's been on my "damn that annoys me" list for a while now.  Any thoughts on when you'll definitely have that done, so I can cross it off?

Fred: Oh, I dunno... not sure how long it'll take?

You: Well, could you take a look into it this morning, and let me know by, say, 3pm today, your worst-case deadline for getting it fixed?

Fred: Yeah, I can do that.  Shouldn't take long.

You: Thanks dudine, really appreciate it.

Notice how I turned Fred's "fix the frobnicator" into "when you're done, the frobnicator will frob the widget every time the frob button is pressed"?  Getting that clarity is important, because there's now an objective outcome that everyone can judge whether or not it has been done.

Now you set an alarm on your phone for 3pm.  The deadline isn't "this afternoon" or "close of business" or "after lunch", it's "3pm today".  There can be no debate about whether or not the deadline has passed -- it's either before 3pm today, or it's after 3pm today.  When (I doubt it'll be "if") Fred doesn't get back to you before the deadline, it might sound like this.

You: Hey Fred, what's the good oil on what's involved in fixing the "frob" button we talked about this morning?

Fred: Oh, hi.  I haven't had a chance to look at that, it's been pretty hectic.

You: Sorry to hear that.  I'm a bit disappointed, I've been getting pretty excited about the "frob" button getting fixed since we talked, and I'd be really keen to know when it'll be fixed, because I'm sure plenty of other people would like to know too.  Could you look at it now, and let me know in a half hour what's involved?

Fred: Hmm... yeah, OK.

You: Great.  I'll check back with you at 3:45 if I haven't heard from you by then.

At this point, Fred's got to be pretty dense if he doesn't get back to you by 3:45 with some sort of answer.  If it's a big job, where he says "oh, it'll take three weeks to fix", you can either call bullshit, or let him have that point -- getting the frobnicator fixed might be worth his thinking he's put one over on you.  That's your call, based on your best understanding of Fred and the job to be done (and what else Fred might legitimately have on his plate).  Eventually, once Fred gets hooked on the taste of sweet, sweet positive feedback for getting stuff done, he'll stop wanting to draw out getting things finished, so he gets more tasty affirmation.

For a legitimately long-term deliverable, try breaking it down somewhat.  I know there are plenty of things that don't really lend themselves to that (I'm well aware that fixing a bug in an unfamiliar codebase can take five minutes, but finding it in the first place can take a month -- or an hour).  Still, it's rare you can't get some sort of interim reporting -- it could be as simple as having Fred check the foo and bar modules, and once they've been ruled out as potential causes, Fred will let you know that whatever the problem is, it isn't in those modules.  This keeps Fred on task, and gives you more opportunities for positive feedback.

I think I've given you enough to get started with.  Some casts I'd recommend are "Develop a Sense of Urgency in your team" (part 1, part 2) and if Fred gives you pushback about getting better, there's always "My Direct Doesn't Want To Change" (which is, in my opinion, a latter-day hall-of-fame cast).

Best of luck!  As a straight-up high D, I can say that your high C tendencies are a very potent benefit here -- I have trouble keeping focused long enough to hold people to account, and your detail-oriented nature will give you a real edge.

mike_bruns_99's picture
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Thanks!  I have a manager who is struggling with holding her directs accountable for their deliverables. She's a C, but doesn't have the technical expertise or experience to handle directs that use their knowledge power over her. I sent her this thread, and we'll review in her one-on-one next week.

It's one of the great benefits of our community, when someone describes something with perfect clarity, to share something much better than what I've been struggling to convey.

Thanks again!

mattpalmer's picture

Hi Mike,

Without the expertise or experience to be able to smell bullshit, a manager does have a harder time of it, there's no denying it.  However, relationship power is still the most effective sort there is, so becoming super effective in O3s is even more important than it would be otherwise.  The other part of it is making sure the results to be delivered are clear and objectively measurable.  While your direct can't evaluate code quality or whether a garment has been sewn to spec, she can still identify whether or not business value is being created, and hold her directs to that standard of result, rather than a more "in the weeds" measurement that someone who had been there and done that could use.  In some ways, having that experience (of having to talk in business value terms) will be of more benefit in her future career -- I know that at times my focusing on the details has been to the detriment of the bigger picture that I was supposed to be watching.

cynaus's picture
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Awesome response. Helpful for me too right now; Thanks dude ;)


xbedpn's picture

Hey Matt,

thanks for your suggestions, this is something I'm starting to implement!

On the other hand, this guy is also responsible for some infrastructure that is shared between departments. Therefore when there is a need to use this infrastructure, he gets involved (people talk to him directly over email, IM, or just walking over). That happens pretty often.

This is where it's really hard to tighten things up for me. A setup may involve multiple short-duration actions (update configuration, push, check), which are hard to predict. Also, there are chunks of time between actions that could be useful for the "routine" development work (e.g. fixing the "frob" button). I know I would use those to be productive. But he doesn't seem to and the concern is that he uses the irregular work as an excuse. Any recommendations on this one?

I really appreciate your input! Thanks!




mattpalmer's picture

I would recommend still getting deadlines from your direct, and holding him accountable for them.  If you wanted to be quite hard-headed about it, you could simply give him negative feedback on missing, and keep telling yourself, "There's no 'why' in feedback".  If you wanted to be a bit softer about it, when you ask for a deadline remind your direct to account for distractions.

I would recommend you coach on priority management (what some people refer to as "time management") at the earliest opportunity (as always, there's a cast for that -- part 1, part 2).  The book, "Time Management for System Administrators" by Tom Limoncelli might be worth pointing your guy at, it's whole focus is on how people in a reactive role can help themselves be more productive.

Possibly the most important thing is to encourage your direct to say "no", or at least "not now".  From personal experience, I can say without question that can be incredibly difficult to do when you're valued for your ability to JFDI.  Getting distracted by the "urgent but not important", when it's more interesting than the "urgent and important" you're supposed to be working on, is something that's haunted me for many years.  If you work out how to conquer that, please let me know.  (grin)





mike_bruns_99's picture
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In addition to Matt's points, make it clear to the direct that while sometimes unexpected priorities can cause deadlines to be missed, it's critical that they let you (the manager) know early.  

And there's a cast for that:

The important thing is for him to communicate as soon as he suspects he could miss his deadline.  It focuses the feedback into a different direction.  He may legitimate believe he did the right thing, by working with his customers on the infrastructure and ignoring the frob issue.  However, he absolutely has the time to send a quick IM that says:  "Boss, I'm stuck fixing an infrastructure issue, it will take me about an hour.  I should have the frobnicator fixed by five-fifteen.  I'll stop-by before I leave and show you the fix.

markjennifer08's picture

It seems that you have been very stressed taking the work into consideration. I would like you to try out certain tools that could help you manage the things in a streamlined manner. In your case I would recommend hours tracking tool from Replicon to be the best tool to check out for which along with the hours tracking also helps manage the tasks and projects simultaneously. The expense management is also a vital part of the tool to be taken care of.