I am a new "office manager" as well as many other titles.
My problem...I KNOW that I should not be doing the work for the person under me. However, there are always mistakes. So, if I have to spend time checking her work...I feel I should just do it. Now, I know this is not the right approach, but I do not know how to confront the situation. I have many new responsibilities and need to pass some down, but I take pride in my work...how do I deal with this?
Lost in Management.
At the risk of being overly harsh, if you can’t figure out how to delegate, you will need to consider stepping out of management, so I’m glad you recognize how critical it is to solve this problem.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you confront the situation.
First, the person needs to understand where he or she is making mistakes (let’s call her “Linda”). You would want to know, right? It isn’t fair to keep fixing Linda’s mistakes and taking on more of her work. She will begin to worry and wonder why you are doing her job. In the meantime, your manager will wonder why he promoted you in the first place.
Every time you correct one of Linda’s mistakes you rob her of the opportunity to learn—so she won’t make the same mistake again. So, simply point out to her where she slipped up (she didn’t do it on purpose—so use no blame). Explain why she needs to change it and give her suggestions, if needed. Then let her fix it herself. This will take more time on the front end but will pay off dividends over time, as you should find fewer errors. Tell your manager what you are doing, so he or she understands the transition you are making.
If you are pointing out errors, that’s one thing. But, if you are meddling with her approach, or if you insist that she do something your way, when her way will yield the same outcome, beware. You are micromanaging—and that is a sure way to snuff out creativity and job satisfaction. For the perfectionists among us, this can be very difficult to resist. Remember, you take pride in your work, but you have to let others take pride in their work, too.
If, after several weeks or months, you don’t see improvement, something else is wrong. Either she is unable or unwilling to work without making mistakes. One way to determine the difference is this: if you told her tomorrow that she would be fired if she didn’t clean up her mistakes immediately, could/would she do it? If she wants to improve but doesn’t know how, it’s probably a training problem (or she could be incapable of learning the responsibilities, in which case she isn’t a fit for the job). If she knows how to fix it but isn’t changing, it’s a willingness problem.
If she needs more training, and you don’t have the time or money to train her, you may be able to coach her by meeting with her for short periods each week, or pairing her up with a colleague, who can answer questions and help check her work. The time you are taking to do her work can be spent coaching her to do it herself.
If the pattern continues and quality doesn’t improve, she needs “the talk.” The words to use are: “I feel it’s only fair to tell you what could happen if you don’t turn this around…you could lose your job.” Often, people in this situation don’t realize how serious it is until you have this conversation. If “unwillingness” has been the problem, you should see an immediate turn around, or she will fire herself by looking for another job.
The bottom line is that you will never know if she can do the job until you stop doing it for her. And when you start setting expectations and holding employees accountable for their own responsibilities, you will be meeting the expectations of your own position. Once that occurs, you can do the job you are paid for, such as setting up more efficient processes, building the team’s expertise, and anticipating customer needs.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. She has a proven track record spanning more than 20 years, and is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Email your question to Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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