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I'm a new manager. My predecessor was let go, the management wasn't happy with him.

There's this one colleague in the team I manage, whose productivity is low and whom I need to repeat many times for him to do his tasks and who always finds all kind of excuses not to.

Using the convention from Ask a manager, we are a llama management company. He used to be responsible for just one small step of llama management, llama combing. This position doesn't exist as an independent position at any company I know. It's too specialized. It's like having a cook, whose sole responsibility is buttering the bread. The demand for llama combing at our company is low so he used to have a really relaxed job with a lot of free time. Even my predecessor admitted that.

Some time ago, I asked him to take over a bit more of llama grooming activities from other team members. At first, he was very optimistic and told me he was happy to.

The problem is: he doesn't do that. 

I ask him on Monday to please groom two llamas this week apart from his llama combing activities (if I don't ask him, he won't do that at all, although he knows that's his job now).   He tells me all kind of excuses:

  • "Llama combing will definitely take me at least 3 full days this week" (it won't, unless his work organization is horrible),
  • "Some problems with llama combing may come up and I won't be able to take on any llama grooming at all, so if I were you, I wouldn't hope I will do much this week" (something can indeed come up, but something small comes up every week and we need to incorporate it in our work; if something huge comes up we can discuss it and adjust priorities if needed).

I did ask him about reasons for this attitude, but got no response apart from assertions he has no time and inability to explain why.

It's not about skills: llama grooming is not difficult and we have a good support network - can get some coaching easily. He knows that.

I don't want to lose him, but I'm at a loss about how to motivate him. What is the way to go here?

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  • 6
    Sounds like you should start looking for a replacement who would be more productive - you have a responsibility to employ the company's resources wisely...
    – Solar Mike
    May 30 '20 at 7:14
  • 4
    What is Ask a manager?
    – Helena
    May 30 '20 at 8:44
  • 3
    @Helena it seems to be a way to anonymize things while having a consistent terminology. askamanager.org/search-results?q=llama May 30 '20 at 8:47
  • 2
    How difficult is llama combing? Could someone else be cross-trained to do the job?
    – Helena
    May 30 '20 at 8:52
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    It seems like he doesn't do much. Why don't you want to lose him?
    – nvoigt
    May 30 '20 at 9:15
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There's this one colleague in the team I manage,

Then it's not a colleague but your subordinate. There is a difference. While you should listen to him it's ok that you formulate expectations which deviate from his view on the world.

I don't want to lose him, but I'm at a loss about how to motivate him.

Why don't you want to lose him? This may sound provocative, but think about the things he is good at, and then assign these tasks to him. Maybe "llama combing" is not the right task for him. You may thinks it's easy but to me it sound a little abstract, and i have seen many excellent developers which as soon as the tasks were about getting alignment between different parties by clever use of language it was hard and stressful for them.

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