Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. How to tell an employee that I’m not promoting him.
I am in a tough position. I have decided to not fill a position for a team leader rather than hire the sole internal candidate for the role. My reason for not hiring this person is because I need someone who will mentor the new members of the team, and my concern that he would not be good at this was confirmed during the interview. He was very arrogant and focused on how he believed he was better than anyone else on the team. He said nothing about the team, nor had any suggestions for where he could be an effective team leader. In fact, he needed to be prompted to remember the name of the newest member of the team, despite the fact that he sits right next to her and has worked with her for the last four months. (This is only a team of five people, by the way!)
I do not think he will take this news well and may act out once I tell him. What is the best way to deliver this difficult news and lessen the negative fallout? I want to be honest but I am concerned at his reaction upon hearing my decision. He is skilled at his current role, just not the role he applied for.
Meet with him in-person before you announce the news to everyone else, and say that you’ve decided not to offer him the position and wanted to give him some information about why and the opportunity to ask questions if he’d like. Then be straightforward with him. Explain that you’re looking for someone who will mentor new team members and focus on making the team more effective, and that those didn’t come across as priorities for him in his interview. If it’s true, tell him that you’d be glad to consider him for a promotion in the future if he demonstrates improvement in those skills.
If he reacts badly, tell him that you understand that it’s disappointing news. You could offer to let him take the rest of the day off if it’s practical to offer that. But after that, you should hold him to normal, professional standards of behavior–and if he’s disruptive or toxic, you’d need to address that the same way you would any other problem. (Meaning, in this case, that you’d need to shut it down and have a serious conversation with him about expectations for his behavior, even in the face of disappointing or frustrating news.)
2. Should I revoke a job offer?
We extended an offer of $80,000 to a candidate whose requested range was $80,000 to $90,000. This was the high end of the $70,000 to $80,000 we budgeted for this position. He came back and asked for $85,000. We countered with $83,000. He countered again with $84,000. We held firm at $83,000. He accepted and said he would be available to start on a date two months in the future. He lives locally so he doesn’t have to move and is not in a senior position.
To me, this is red flag behavior as it demonstrates a lack of compromise and respect for the start date needs of the employer–he didn’t even ask, he told us. It also took him a week to give us an answer. Frankly, I want to rescind the offer. What is your advice for handling what seems like sheer entitlement and a lack of teamwork before he even starts?
The salary negotiation doesn’t seem at all problematic to me; that sounds like a pretty normal negotiation. The announcement about the start date sounds a little off–normally that’s a conversation, not a mere pronouncement, especially when there’s a two-month wait involved. But it doesn’t sound prohibitively off, and I can’t tell how the conversation went. Did you express that you preferred to have him start earlier? Was there any conversation about why he wanted the two months? It’s possible he has a good reason for it. And there are jobs where a two-month wait would be fine–although it’s not something he should assume without discussing it with you.
If it’s important to you to have him start sooner, give him a call and talk about whether that’s possible. But assuming he seemed reasonable and professional throughout your hiring process (and assuming you did a thorough reference check before making an offer and didn’t find red flags there), I can’t see any justification here for revoking the offer–unless you actually do need him to start earlier, in which case you’d explain that and see if he can make that work.
3. Should managers also be individual contributors?
I’ve noticed that middle managers do an awful lot of work I associate with individual contributors, like running a process or producing monthly reporting (ie, not just signing off on a deck, but creating the slides themselves). Often the assumption seems to be that managing a team is something you do in your spare time around the edges of your “real” job. We also don’t have standard management training for new managers–it’s usually left to people to figure things out and get informal coaching.
My husband says this is outside the norm for corporate America–that well-run companies push (and train) managers to prioritize management activities and enable their teams to create work products. Of course there are some functions managers are going to perform themselves, but he says their primary focus should be guiding and developing their team, and removing roadblocks to their work as needed. This sounds like a good idea to me, but I’m wondering if A) this is generally accepted as the way things should be, and B) if a preponderance of companies actually do it.
It generally depends on the size of the team being managed. If you’re managing two people, that’s not going to take up all your time and it makes sense for you to have significant responsibilities outside of managing them. On the other hand, if you’re leading a team of 12, you should be spending a sizable amount of time on the work of managing (setting goals and big-picture strategy, monitoring progress against those goals and course-correcting where needed, giving feedback, coaching, problem solving, hiring, etc.). Even then that might not be your whole job (although in some cases it might be), but you should have a significant portion of your time carved out for it–not try to do it on top of a full-time workload of your own individual stuff.
This is actually one of the biggest adjustments most managers go through–accepting that much of their time will be taken up by the work of managing rather than the work of producing something. They figure they should spend just as much time as they used to do their own work, and they try to fit management in between the cracks. This leads to a terrible cycle, where the work they delegate gets done poorly because they didn’t invest the time to manage it well, so they take on more and more of it themselves, and then they have even less time to manage other work They should be overseeing. This isn’t always the manager’s fault; Sometimes it’s because their employer doesn’t fully accept that managing well takes a real-time investment, and so they overload their managers and don’t leave them time to manage well.
Do a preponderance of companies actually see things this way? Well-run ones do by definition, since they’re not going to get well-managed teams if they don’t. But as with anything, there are plenty that don’t fit that model.
4. Asking staff for feedback on me when I’m doing their performance reviews.
My organization’s annual evaluations of staff are coming up. I have frequent one-on-ones with my team and they are also accustomed to frequent conversations/emails/etc. It seems like we have good communication going. But I would like to ask them for some feedback on me.
I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. Basically, I would like to know if my communication style works well for them (because I always want to be adjusting as needed), and I would like to know if there’s anything they would like to support with in the next year. I thought if I just asked about those two things, my staff might find it helpful, and it could be really helpful for me. But would this be too weird?
Not weird at all! It’s a very normal thing to do, in fact! You’ll probably get better insights if you ask them to think about those questions ahead of time and come prepared with thoughts when you meet so that you’re not putting them on the spot. This kind of thing is normally more useful if people have a chance to reflect and gather their thoughts (just like you probably wouldn’t want to give a performance review off the cuff). But it’s a great thing to do.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.