Hey Solve HR Team-
I have a huge problem and I’m not sure what to do about it. I’ve been a manager for about two years. When I was first promoted, my team of five was fully staffed and functioning reasonably well. We had challenges, and although we were busy, we had enough time to get our work done and also look at how to address them.
Since then, I’ve lost my two most senior people. They left for better opportunities at other companies. I asked myself what I could have done to make them want to stay, and I realize looking back that I could have seen it coming. My management team wanted to move two more people to another office, and the two team members currently in those positions didn’t want to relocate, so they found other jobs. I was able to replace one of them, but I took too long to fill the other position, so now management has given that headcount to another team. Meanwhile, I’ve only been able to replace one of my senior people. The other opening has been sitting out there without any qualified applicants coming in.
The real problem here is my manager. She has been the subject of a lot of complaints within the company, mostly for targeting people and making them so miserable they leave. Now she is doing it to me, and she’s also hounding the last original team member and forcing me to try to manage her out the door. This employee stepped up to fill in the gaps while our team has been in tatters. The performance of my team has been dismal because we have been so shorthanded. My manager wants to blame this employee.
So not only do I now have a team of three people trying to handle the work of five, but I’m now on a performance plan and I am being forced to put my employee on a performance plan too, even though I don’t believe she deserves it.
Any help you can give me would be appreciated. I don’t know how much longer I can take this.
Hanging on by a thread,
Whew! That is quite a crazy situation. It’s not that uncommon that middle management has opinions about what front-line managers should do with their teams. What is kind of weird here is that your manager is trying to do your job for you. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll ask why that is happening.
The factors you mentioned, like the repositioning of the two jobs, the moving on of senior employees, and the remaining team members struggling—all of these are things that can happen at every company. I agree that having them all happen at once is difficult, but they do happen and they are problems that every manager needs to know how to deal with.
Here’s the question, though: have you made it clear to your manager what your plan is to solve these problems? I’d imagine that your manager has to answer to executive leadership about the sorry state of your team’s performance and present a plan of action. In an ideal world, that plan of action would come from you.
It sounds like your manager may have a reputation for being difficult to work with. Heck, she may even be a bully and incompetent when it comes to helping you figure out what to do. However, that doesn’t absolve you from your responsibility here. You must come up with a game plan. I’d recommend it include the following:
- A clear sourcing, recruiting and onboarding plan (in conjunction with your talent acquisition team) for replacing your other senior team member
- Regular team meetings and one-on-ones with your team members, with clear goals for both the team and each employee
- Appreciation for the great work that IS being done during this difficult time, but also a refusal to back down from the responsibility the team has to keep your work on track, even without being fully staffed
- Remaining available and engaging in ongoing listening and responding to your team-being consistent and caring during this time is critical to their success
- A communication plan to keep your manager (and executive leadership) informed about what you are specifically doing to address their concerns and creating and adhering to a timeline to get the team back on track
Once you get beyond the current crisis, then it will be time to evaluate how your team is aligned with the strategic direction of your department, and your organization as a whole. Take responsibility for understanding not only how your team fits into the big picture, but also planning for the tactical elements that will get you there. Then follow up to ensure that each one of your team members clearly gets it, and follows through with their part.
It’s not easy learning how to get work done through others, which is what a successful manager does. Your manager may be doing a pretty poor job of it, so you may need to learn what not to do by observing her. One final point-you mention that your remaining original team member “does not deserve” to be put on a performance plan. You didn’t say this, but I assume that being put on a performance plan is a first step that could eventually lead to dismissal, so that makes it a big deal. I’d be careful about treating any team member more harshly than others, simply because your manager commands you to do it. If you performance manage your direct report without understanding why, you will be highly ineffective in managing her, your team’s engagement and performancewill suffer, and you could even create legal risk.
You must, therefore, outline what you know about this team member’s performance, let your manager know that you don’t currently see the need for a performance plan, and that you are open to initiating one in the future if you see that it would be appropriate. Also let your manager know that you are undertaking some improvements (see the bullets above) and that you would like to see how that plays out before taking any action with regard to this specific employee.
She may say no. But if she sees that you are taking responsibility for your team, she may decide she can stop trying to do your job for you, and give you some time to figure things out on your own. It’s worth a try. If not, then you must get a clearer picture of what skills, abilities and competencies you need to help your team member develop, and be very clear in your expectations for improvement. Frame the conversation in terms of helping her succeed, and then do your best to do that.
And if all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to start looking for a new position. You may not be able to make your current situation work, but even if you move on, I’d encourage you to reflect on the situation, discuss it with a trusted mentor, and learn what you need to know from this experience. It will make you a better manager.
Kelly & The Solve HR Team
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