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I apologize in advance for the length of this post. I'm hoping I've provided the important details without being too lengthy.

I work at the headquarters office of a non-profit professional/trade association. We have a total staffof about 65 people. Last year, I was promoted to manager and given the authority (with my boss’s guidance) to create a position for and hire a staff person that would report to me. (Our small, 3-person department was growing and we needed help handling the work we were bringing in.)

I struggled with managing the individual that we hired almost immediately. I was brand new to management in an office setting (and fairly young – I’m 30), managing someone in a newly created position, who assisted not only me but several other people with responsibilities that did not overlap with mine at all. I remember thinking “Now I know why managers are paid more;” managing staff was more stressful to me than any project. I wanted so much to get it right.

I found Manager-Tools and implemented one-on-ones and the feedback and coaching models. I was pretty sure they were helping. But I still struggled with this individual; essentially, I failed at communicating with him effectively for reasons that I still do not understand. His behaviors – not paying attention to detail in the duties for which we hired him, while regularly suggesting new and higher lever work for himself – led me to believe he either misunderstood or was unsatisfied with the level of responsibility for this position. He did not seem to find the administrative work important enough to get the details right, yet that was what we hired him for. I regularly gave him feedback on specific behaviors, and addressed my larger concerns in his 90-day review.

Within a week of his review (while I was on vacation), he put in his notice. In many ways I was relieved that I could start over. It was probably the best possible outcome for both of us. In talking with other staff that worked with him, many shared some of my same frustrations and observations.

That said, in his exit interview he said that while he respected me and that I clearly was knowledgeable, I was a bad manager (without further elaboration, unfortunately). I cannot help but take this to heart. Now we are hiring again for a restructured position that will work for only me, and that has a bit more responsibility.

I do not want to make the same mistakes with my new hire! (We’re finishing up first round interviews this week). I have a few questions:
[list=1][*]At what point are errors to be expected because s/he is still learning the position and at what point are errors indicative of an unwillingness to pay more attention to detail? How much time should I allow for the learning curve?
[*]How do I encourage my employee to develop professionally without giving him/her the wrong impression about his/her current role in our department?
[*]I will be implementing one-on-ones, the feedback model, and the coaching model from the start. I will be the one training this individual for many of his/her tasks because I am the one currently doing this work and know it the best. Any other advice?
[*]Am I a bad manager? ;)[/list:o]

itilimp's picture

If you're registered on Manager Tools then you're not a bad manager, you're an improving manager ;)

Hard to know for sure what they mean, but if they couldn't articulate in an exit interview why they thought you were a bad manager to work for then I wouldn't worry about it too much. Just continue to do your best in applying the principles you learn here.

It may be that they had different expectations of the job role and were trying to make it into something it wasn't. If this is the case you need to be very clear with the new hire about the scope of their responsibilities and the standard required (be specific) before you talk about development opportunities that may be open to them. Back to basics. You do the job you are hired to do, and if you can do more on top then so much the better; but you don't fail to deliver on the reason you were hired (in reference to previous hire).

Hope that helps take the sting out a bit.

RichRuh's picture

Karen,

I wouldn't worry about this at all. It sounds to me like he was disgruntled with the position, and just wanted to get in one last (unprofessional) zing before leaving. Oh, and quitting while you were on vacation, that's just plain cowardly.

Two more points:
1. It's perfectly natural to feel responsible when someone leaves.
2. People who do, and people who ask the question "Am I a bad manager?" almost NEVER are...

--Rich

damcg63's picture

A few things about your post that I want to put out there:

- If you are concerned about how you are doing as a manager, you are already ahead of the pack (a few others said this - they are right!)

- This was a mis-hire, which is something that no manager wants to do, but all of us do from time to time. These are mini-disasters so the important thing is to learn and prep like crazy for the next person. Be thoroughly ready for the interview - get a book on interviewing candidates and have the questions ready with key points you would like to hear in the answers. Then make it happen.

- Next, pat yourself on the back. The person was a mis-hire and they [b]LEFT[/b]. I have had 10-year managers who have dragged on with under-performers for years. Or worse, you end up with a documentation death march - THIS IS MUCH WORSE. My guess is that the person left because you did a good job of letting them know what was expected and sticking to your story and approach. Ultimately they did not see themselves succeeding in the role so they quit.

In my first management role, underperforming folks ate me alive. You did well here. Work on that next hire now!!! :!:

-Dan

Steve Howell's picture

I agree with the above - this post means you are far from a bad manager! A bad manager wouldn't care about the opinions of peers or staff, nor would they seek to improve.

From your description it sounds like the problem was that your employee continually failed to live up to your expectations of performance. There could be several reasons for it.

If other staff thought the individual was underperforming then it does not sound like you set the bar too high.

I might question the job description next - was it accurate and measurable, and did you use those metrics to appraise against? (My boss usually forgets such details, which means I have to go an extra mile to figure out what he really wants!).

If you think the job description was clear, and measurable - particuarly when compared with others in the area. Then perhaps the individual concerned was simply a bad fit for the job. If they had decided they didn't like the job, then they are never going to do well at it. You would have to change the job or change them. The latter of which can't be done if they don't want to.

Keep trying!

pneuhardt's picture

I agree with everything said above. I just want to add one small thing about your former employee's zinger on the way out the door. It is important to remeber that there are people in this world who will always blame someone else for their own issues and problems. Perhaps this fellow was such a person.

aspiringceo's picture

I would like to echo what everyone else has said; you're not a bad manager and you have come to the right place to start your journey as a great manager. Stick around read what folk have to say, ask more questions and get involved. What happened to you has happened to all of us at least once.

Edmund

GlennR's picture

Ditto, ditto, ditto to the 10th power.

Here's my added value: Having listened to dozens of exit interviews, let's just say you should take the remarks with a grain of salt--about the size of a baseball.

I doubt you're a bad manager. But you are an inexperienced manager who is learning to be a more effective manager.

Don't take feedback like this personally. Take it "professionally."

Regards,

Glenn

mjpeterson's picture

Going back to your original post. You indicated that the individual said you were a bad manager but did not elaborate further. Did you do the exit interview, if so then you should have pushed for more detail on this. In the MT way, ask for what behaviours you exhibited that he felt made you a bad manager.

However, since it actually sounds like you did not do the exit interview, he probably was just getting in a cheap shot at your back.

pneuhardt's picture

It has been my experience that in most companies, it is HR that conducts the exit interview. Moreover, it is ofen a very junior level person in HR conducting the interview. That is one reason I put very little stock in the information collected in those interviews. In the case of disgruntled employees, they tend to turn in to emotional rants and the person conducting them does little if anything to steer them back to verifiable specifics.

ashdenver's picture

Karen,

I'd like to echo the sentiments of those above me in the thread. I'm glad you're here and you care enough to look within.

That said, I'd ask you to follow the words of Don Miguel Ruiz: "Take nothing personally." Remember that everyone's perceptions are different. I might find fuschia, burnt orange and purple a lovely combination of colors for my hat but you might think the hat is hideous. (Truthfully, I would too!) So if he thought you were a bad manager, it's possible that his idea of a good manager is someone like Donald Trump or Janice Dickinson (screamers, yellers, degrading & condescending toward others, etc.) Without specifics (cuz he was too chicken, maybe), you can't know what it was that made him think you were bad.

All you can do at this point is move forward.

When you look back on your career, surely you've had 'good managers' - can you try to emulate them? "What would Sally do in this situation?" "How would Bob handle this person?" There's a lot to be said for mentors and role models. They don't even have to actively be involved in your career!

In general, I've seen new managers go a little overboard in a few areas. Since I don't know you or work for you, please know that these are just random comments from my own personal experience and in no way a reflection of you, your performance or past managerial skills.

[b]1. Micro-managing. [/b]Many new managers want to be sure they're completely in the loop so they don't get blindsided by things and they think the way to stay in the loop is to be involved in every little thing. It doesn't work. It backfires. It pisses people off. Trust your people to a basic extent. Check for a pulse on a regular basis. Spot check when you can but overall, delegate their jobs to them. You've got your own to do!

[b]2. Homogenous expectations. [/b]I'm a control freak and I like things to be done in a very specific way. Those ways work for me, very well in fact. I will make sure I have shared my system with new hires - "Here's how I do it and here's why it works" - but I still allow them their own personal style. As long as the results are there, let them work their own way. They don't have to be mini-me's. If there are performance blips along the way, we might have a counseling session on that specific item and I might request that this particular item be handled MY way for a period of time to see if that improves the trouble spot but I've rarely had to insist. This insistance is usually only after I ask "Here's what needs to improve; looking at your current process, what thoughts do you have on how to improve?" If their way doesn't work, then I insist.

[b]3. Work the differences. [/b]Everyone needs to be managed differently. Just like no two kids are the same, no two employees are the same. Some need praise on a regular basis. Others cringe at the thought of being singled out. As a manager, it's up to you to determine the best way to handle each person and if you're not sure, you need to reach out for assistance -- your own boss, a mentor, a self-help thing (like here) or a professional enrichment course/seminar. Surprisingly, I've found that the best way to find out how someone wants to be managed is to just ask them.

"I want to do one-on-one sessions with you but it seems like you're bored each time. What would you prefer?"

Sometimes the answer is as simple as "I have too much to do on Thursdays at 2pm; could we just play it by ear and if something comes up, I'll send a meeting request for a time when both our schedules are clear?"

"Sure thing. I'll cancel the recurring weekly apointment and put a monthly reminder out there for us."

Usually when these conversations happen, I've found that I'll have much MORE communication from the employee simply because they're more comfortable and they feel I'm more approachable, more willing to work with them, more flexible. I might spend ten or fifteen minutes with the employee every other day as things come up rather than an hour of dealing with a distracted, irritated person who clearly doesn't want to be sitting in an office with me for an hour at a stretch.

Hope some of that helps - good luck!

misskaz's picture

Wow, what great encouragement and advice! Thanks, everyone. I do feel better about how things ended with my last staff person, and more confident about the future.

We will be doing second interviews for the new position next week, so I'll be sure to keep you all up to date as things progress. I'm excited to be able to use M-T techniques from the beginning with the new hire.

Thanks again,