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In one day I went from being the junior member of a three person team to the senior member of a three person team. It's my first supervisory role.

Unfortunately one of the new members of the team is someone I shall refer to as Mr. Problem. This is his first job out of college. His behavior is often unprofessional (arrives late and/or leaves early without letting people know what is going on - even when it is planned (e.g. a doctor's appointment); skips meetings; doesn't apprise people of his progress; makes inappropriate comments about co-workers, customers, and other people; dismisses and refuses to follow best practices and standards; etc.). In spite of this, he seems to have upper management thinking he's some sort of expert, as he puts on a show of being enthusiastic and presents himself as a genius at what he's doing (I know better, but can't say too much - see the next paragraph).

The manager who decided to hire Mr. Problem moonlights as an instructor at the college Mr. Problem attended and had him as a student. It is obvious they are friends. While I wasn't trying to eavesdrop (one of their offices is adjacent to mine and the walls do almost nothing to stop sound) I've overheard conversations they've had about leaving this company and starting their own (which isn't uncommon in this company anyway). Since this manager is higher up than (but not directly above) me, I need to move carefully here. While I've never had anything more than suspicions of why (mostly involving the fact that he didn't get along with the first manager I worked for here - something I came to understand), this manager has always treated me with some hostility.

This morning the customer contacted me to request a change in the product we are creating for them. The change is in the work area of Mr. Problem, so he's easily the best person to make the change. While I'm not intimately familiar with what Mr. Problem has done, the change should be almost trivial to do, taking a half day or less. It will save the customer's employees considerable time when they need to use this functionality of the product. However, when I told Mr. Problem of the customer's request, he simply refused to do the task. His stated reason for refusing was that there is another way to accomplish what the customer wants. While that is true, it is more time consuming, which he admitted.

In theory, I'm supposed to be the supervisor here and Mr. Problem should be doing what I've directed. In reality, I have no power to reprimand him. Going to the next level is tricky, as mentioned above. Going above that seems likely to create even more problems than it solves for me. I could to the work myself, but have my own work to do and figuring out how to make things work within Mr. Problem's stuff will be much more time consuming for me than it would be for him.

So, should I restate my directive to him? Talk with Mr. Problem's manager buddy? Kick this to upper management? Just do the work myself?

Note: (In actuality, this is in the past for me and I didn't navigate the situation well. However, I think someone else might benefit from reading suggestions here.)

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    What reason did he use for refusing to work on the customer defect? – jcmack May 17 at 20:07
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    @jcmack: His only reason was that the change isn't needed, since there is a work around. I've edited the post to reflect this. – GreenMatt May 17 at 20:11
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    @JoeStrazzere: AFAIK, there wasn't a need for that to be done. I never balked at anything I was given to do, and the other subordinate was professional enough that I doubt he did either, even though he didn't like the work very much. – GreenMatt May 17 at 20:13
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    @GreenMatt Please can you clarify whether this person reports to you, or if you are just the recognised experienced person on the team – thelem May 17 at 20:16
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    @thelem: From the post: "I'm supposed to be the supervisor here...." At least that's how I understand it. However, with the complicated relationship of having a manager senior to me being buddies with Mr. Problem, it seems I don't have the authority I think I should have. – GreenMatt May 17 at 20:26
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Even though Mr. Problem is friends with a manager in a higher position than you, the buddy manager is in a different reporting structure and thus different food chain. While I wouldn't dismiss this friendship as unimportant to note outright, I also don't think it should prevent you from making the best decisions for your team.

Remember you were the one promoted to be a manager and not Mr. Problem and that should someone higher up thinks you're worthy of the manager job. Don't sell yourself short by thinking you're powerless in this situation.

While I'm not intimately familiar with what Mr. Problem has done, the change should be almost trivial to do, taking a half day or less. It will save the customer's employees considerable time when they need to use this functionality of the product. However, when I told Mr. Problem of the customer's request, he simply refused to do the task. He (accurately) pointed out that there is another way to accomplish what the customer wants, although he admitted it is more time consuming.

It's perfectly appropriate for an engineer to discuss a customer defect, weigh the pros and cons, and come up with a plan to fix. What solution I would pick and priority level depends on how many other customers use the feature and how important is the customer (size of deal, potential for up sell, renewal status and/or reputation). If customer accepts the workaround completely, no additional work needs to be done. If the customer accepts the workaround temporarily, put the real fix on the roadmap. If the customer rejects the workaround and the customer is important enough, consider the hacky solution and if it's sustainable for the time being. Then put the more maintainable solution on the roadmap. I wouldn't chose this option lightly, because you might get stuck maintaining a bad implementation.

However, when I told Mr. Problem of the customer's request, he simply refused to do the task.

Mr. Problem can certainly have an opinion about how best to use his development time, but at the end of the day it is the manager that is responsible for the performance of each individual of their team. Mr. Problem is expected to work on what you assign him to do. I don't recommend pulling rank right off the bat, but rather discuss as colleagues the best approach. Bring Mr. Problem into the decision process within reason and document what you discussed and decided. Pull rank as a last resort.

One of the new members of the team is someone I shall refer to as Mr. Problem. This is his first job out of college. His behavior is often unprofessional (arrives late and/or leaves early without letting people know what is going on - even when it is planned (e.g. a doctor's appointment); skips meetings; doesn't apprise people of his progress; makes inappropriate comments about co-workers, customers, and other people; dismisses and refuses to follow best practices and standards; etc.). In spite of this, he seems to have upper management thinking he's some sort of expert, as he puts on a show of being enthusiastic and presents himself as a genius at what he's doing (I know better, but can't say too much

While these are definitely issues that you should discuss with him in your one-on-one meetings and set goals to address them (remember to follow your company's policy for performance improvement), I feel as though they are independent of this particular customer issue scenario which you have described. Don't let your personal feelings about Mr. Problem cloud your judgement for this customer issue.

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If you have an under-performing and/or insubordinate employee, you need to make sure they get the message that their behavior is not acceptable. If they do not improve, you should work with your manager (hopefully the same person who put you in the new role) and HR.

It should not be your job to deal with the other manager You should work through your chain of command and let higher-ups deal with the other manager. While reprimand may not be the best action for you, the fact that you have no power here needs to be addressed by those above you. If they don't support your action, you will get nowhere.

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You are transitioning to a supervisory role. First of all you need to speak to your line manager and understand what is expected of you. Ideally you would do this by describing to them the role and responsibilities that you want, and asking them to confirm if that is what is expected of you. That way you get to frame the role in a way that suits you, and it proves that you have understood what is expected of you.

If your line manager says that you an advisor to the team, then that is all you should do. You should advise their line manager that they are not completing the work required and it is up to their line manager to sort that.

If you are the line manager of the team then it is your responsibility to get the team to deliver. If you kick the problem to upper management then you are saying that you do not have control of your team. You may want to discuss the situation with your line manager and get their advice and support, but if anyone needs to be disciplined that needs to be done by you so they understand that you hold that power.

Having said that, disciplinary procedures should be a last resort and this doesn't sound anywhere near that level yet. A good developer should want to produce a good solution to the problems they are presented with. Often this doesn't mean doing exactly what they are asked, but rather asking why something is needed and perhaps coming up with a better solution to the actual business problem. It sounds like this is what happened, but the customer said they weren't willing to pay for the better solution. At that point yes, you need to restate your directive and explain that the customer feels the first solution is good enough and that the better solution is not better value.

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You are a new manager. Congratulations! It's a hard job, and it takes time -- a lifetime, even -- to develop your skills and personal style. Be patient with yourself. Don't hesitate to ask more experienced managers for help. Ask the same kinds of questions you asked us about this situation. "How can I handle this situation?"

And, one of your duties is to teach a fresh-out-of-school employee how to work. That's a hard job, layered right on top of your other new hard job. So, again, be patient with yourself.

Whether or not you have the authority to fire Mr. Problem, you can try to teach him to work. In this situation, don't hesitate to sit down with him in person and in private. You can say something like,

"I understand your point about the customer's ability to do their job some other way. It's a good point: workarounds are always helpful.

"Still, I've instructed you to build a product feature for that customer. The customer has decided they need the feature. That decision is not yours to make. It is simply not your job, nor mine, to decide those kinds of things. Please do that work, and do a good job of it.

"I don't think it will take long. And, I think it will give you a chance to learn (whatever) about our product. Thanks."

Don't expect him to just say, "OK." That kind of feedback takes time to sink in. You may have to repeat it a couple of times.

About the erratic scheduling, use the same sort of conversation. (But do it in a different conversation).

"I, and our other team members, rely on you to be available to work with us during business hours. When you arrive late or take off in the middle of the day--for any reason--you need to let us know what to expect. You need to do this every time.

"I'm aware that in college you set your own schedule. But when you're working we need you to be present and ready to do your job on time. "

He may protest that he finishes his assignments, and nothing else matters. You might respond to that by saying,

"Yes, you do finish your assignments and that's good. But other things do matter. You have lots to learn from the other team members, and they have things to learn from you. In this company we do that by showing up and working together."

If, after you try to teach him, he still doesn't learn better work habits, he may have to learn the hard way. That's where you ask your human resource person, or your boss, how to fire him. Losing him won't hurt your company much. It will save you a pain in the neck. And your other team members will be relieved to have the slacker gone.

And: I bet you'll get new respect for assistant managers at McDonalds. Their job is to teach large numbers of teenagers to work!

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You are only responsible for making the project succeed. If somebody else in the team can do Mr. Problems tasks, let them do it, even if it takes a little longer. Document the meeting in which Mr. Problem suggests his solution, document that he agrees it could be done as the customer asks but doesn't feel like he should be working at the task.

Then go to your boss, tell him that customer explicitly asked "A" and Mr. Problem only want to implement "B", If you have a good rapport with him (and he is not a friend of the other manager) tell him that you may have overheard a discussion in the office about them potentially leaving.

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