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I'm in a somewhat tricky situation and not sure how to navigate it.

A few months ago I took over a small IT team. I've been receiving very good feedback. However, the cost of that is me working extremely long hours.

Let me explain.

Management's expectations are very high and I'm working with just one person.

This person, let's call him Mark, used to work in a very independent way. My predecessor warned me that they like to "be forgotten", have their very small area they are responsible for and not be asked for more or to communicate.

(My predecessor was fired since they didn't deliver results. They had a bigger team of around 4 people so Mark was able to "disappear in the crowd". I was employed to make everything better. At the same time, I have fewer resources, just Mark.)

At the beginning I was giving Mark a lot of freedom. I asked him if he wanted to be responsible for the whole topic he worked on before. His response was very positive. However, when I asked him every week about progress, it was minimal or null. I organized workshops to discuss with him our vision. I sent him a list of things that needed to change. I did much more. He completely ignored that. He has always protested against me giving him more work (I honestly didn't and don't know what he does 40h/week given he has hardly any responsibilities).

I then started to send minutes after our 1:1s, but that's a bit difficult too. I write Task 1 hasn't been finished. He replies: "Actually I've finished it although I know not as well as you would expect" (what he means that I wrote him to do A using B and considering C, he just did C).

I was patient during my first 2 months, but then "had a talk" with him, afterwards also with HR and him. He admitted that he liked working independently and deciding himself what he should be working on but said he wanted to work on that.

A few weeks later, I'm still doing his job and don't know what he's doing 90% of his time. He frequently picks himself tasks and does them. The problem is these are things that aren't needed at all and will never be used. But hey, at least he has a hobby I guess.

I've tried organizing him training on the elements he didn't seem to understand. I even proposed that we record them, so he has a reference material for the future. We did. And then when he was expected to use these skills directly after the "training" he absolutely didn't. My time was wasted.

At the same time the guy had a good opinion before joining then my predecessor's team a year ago (he did a different type of job in his old position). And when I talk to my managers they say he has a solid reputation.

His job before he joined our team was completely different (non-IT). He likes doing what he did in his previous position. Actually, when we were still on good terms, I asked him about his career goals and he told me he didn't see himself as an IT person and would like to do what he did before. He then retracted because there are no positions open in his old team, so leaving us would mean leaving the company.

At the current point I feel lost. I feel bad expecting anything from Mark, as if I was bullying him. On the other hand, almost nothing he does is usable and I work till midnight to correct our deliverables. If I don't deliver I will probably be fired.

Any ideas?

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  • Do you, as a manager have any power to fire him and hire somebody else? It looks like you are doing the job of 5 people (and I doubt you are paid like 5). Jul 9, 2020 at 15:44
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    Something here doesn't add up to me, if he doesn't do any useful work and you are carrying what he was supposed to be doing, why not just fire Mark? Are you even his actual boss, hierarchy wise? Jul 9, 2020 at 15:45
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    A couple of questions. 1) You say the team has gone from 5 to 2 people. Are the responsibilities the same? It wouldn’t seem to be Mark’s fault there are three fewer people. 2) Mark has gone from a non-IT to an IT role. Did Mark initiate that move? Or was there a redundancy-type situation and he was forced into a new team? If Mark is really new to IT are the expectations realistic? Jul 10, 2020 at 2:24
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    To be clear, I can see you are overworked, but I fear you are blaming Mark entirely for this when there are broader organisational issues here. Jul 10, 2020 at 2:30
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    @user53727547 I wrote up a long answer before I saw your response to a comment here where you write: "My bosses think he's good". This totally changes everything. They fired/transferred everyone on his last team when a project failed but they kept him. The guy is basically a duck whistle that's used to get ducks to fly in front of shotguns. You sure you're on the right project? You sure his dad isn't best friends with the CEO or something?
    – HenryM
    Jul 10, 2020 at 15:18

7 Answers 7

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You're Mark's manager, therefore, you're resonsible for managing him and his work. He is responsible for getting the work completed. I'd start with asking him to write down what he does each day for the next week...the task he's working on and how long it's taking him. You'll just compare this to what he's been asked to do. Honestly, it doesn't matter if he likes to figure out what to work on independently; there's work to be done and you are now doing it. If you managers don't want to get rid of Mark, then I'd ask for extra compensation for doing your job and his.

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    When I switched to remote working full-time (this was before COVID, of course), I totally lost transparency with my boss, and then to make things worse, he got put onto a project that required 120% of his time, so the general managerial duties got passed to someone else. The new and old manager ended up asking for a daily update of things I worked on, basically tying that to my raises/promotions. Let me tell you, that helped a lot, not just to keep me accountable, but to organize and also to plan tomorrow's work as I was ending today.
    – Giuseppe
    Jul 9, 2020 at 20:04
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It sounds like Mark needs direction, and much more of a "hands on" approach than you thought. Some people have difficulty setting their own priorities, and meander when they don't have clearly set tasks, goals, and deadlines. It sound like Mark may be one of these. Given the fact that he has a solid reputation, this is probably the case.

Since it took some time to get to this point, it will take some time to recover.

You are going to need to sit down with him and reset your expectations.

In the short term, you are going to need to do a great deal of hand-holding and structuring. Get him into a routine, and be firm. He's now used to going off and doing his own thing. He needs to unlearn that habit.

Take the time, sit down with him, and followup, followup, followup until he gets in the right habits. Check in frequently and get progress reports, not just dont/not done.

Your initial mistake was not setting clear expectations from the beginning. Now you need to get him back on track.

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  • I've reset his expectations already. We now have a kind o f a simple scrum (dailies). It doesn't bring much. I could still document the dailies I guess (currently they are only verbal), but honestly, I have so much to do that spending even 10 minutes more on documenting this makes me nervous. And when I ask him to prepare a list of what he's done he's protesting a lot. I do try to follow up but when I receive the same status several times I'm just starting to lose it. I can guide him and I'm trying to, but I can't tell him all the emails he should write to get some kind of information. Jul 9, 2020 at 16:08
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    @Old_Lamplighter, his job before he joined our team was completely different. He likes doing what he did in his previous position. Actually, when we were still on good terms, I asked him about his career goals and he told me he didn't see himself as an IT person and would like to do what he did before. He then retracted because there are no positions open in his old team, so leaving us would mean leaving the company. Jul 9, 2020 at 16:24
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    Well, there you got your answer. Now if you could have added a country to your post...
    – gnasher729
    Jul 9, 2020 at 16:29
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    @user53727547 Well, then if you want to stay where you are, and not have to move on yourself, you will need to either do some heavy mentoring, or build a file and get him out the door. It's not an easy decision for you to make, and given you've been told that they don't want to fire him, mentoring seems to be your only option if you want to stay with the company; Jul 9, 2020 at 16:34
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    Don't make excuses, drill down. In a team of 10 someone can kinda get away with the same standup status every day. But if it's just him, you say "no, where specifically are you on that." "What do you intend to have done by tomorrow." You are going to have to get comfortable saying that you expect 8 hours of progress between those times. Set him goals of things he needs to complete, clearly communicate to him it's not acceptable when he doesn't complete them, and once you have 3 weeks of that you take it to your management and then possibly HR and say "he can't stay here."
    – mxyzplk
    Jul 9, 2020 at 19:24
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There's a strange mix going on here: you're both a manager and not-a-manager.

  • You're a manager because you have managerial authority and are ultimately the person responsible for the performance of the team. Basically, you're technically a manager.
  • You're not a manager because you're really just a coworker in a group of two, where each of you set your own priorities and you do more of the actual work. Basically, you're realistically doing the same work as Mark and are his coworker.

That's why you're getting such a weird situation. And, intuitively, there are two general ways to solve the problem.

  1. Switch it so that you're fully his coworker, and that Mark also reports to your boss (instead of you.) You're probably not going to want to do this, since it's effectively self-demotion.
  2. Make it so that you're fully his manager.

In other words: Set his priorities. Setting priorities is probably the most important core requirement of being someone's boss. The boss is supposed to have the best picture on how their subordinates work fits into the larger corporate picture, and have the best sense on which items are essential to finish first. After all, you're having regular communication with higher-ups in the company... what viewpoint does Mark have to the larger picture? How on earth should Mark be able to know whether the task for the Floobar project is more/less important than the fix for the Quixwek project?

And follow through with this. Are you having daily standups? If not, start. Mark's main area of focus should never be unknown to you.

I understand you're in a bad spot. Bad company, bad management structure, extremely understaffed team. And I'd probably be searching for another job and regularly pressing to get more staff. But if you want to stay where you're at and have some sanity, you need to change the manager/coworker schism going on.

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From your description seems that "Mark" is disregarding your authority and sabotaging your prospect in this position

I think it is time , in case you are a formally his supervisor, to have a stern 1 on 1, you need to be appraised of ALL his responsibilities and start setting up goals with strict followup on a weekly basis.

You should be prepared for resistance from him, given he was not accountable for some time, perhaps long time, his motivation for accountability is low to none.

Not sure if situation can be salvaged or he would have to be replaced.

Towards that, IMHO, you should look for number 1 - YOU, and document his "progress", or lack of such in order not to get fired yourself.

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I was patient during my first 2 months, but then "had a talk" with him, afterwards also with HR and him. He admitted that he liked working independently and deciding himself what he should be working on but said he wanted to work on that.

He's not a good fit for the current environment. I also love working independently. Being a professional means there's certain business practices that you have to follow regardless of how independent you are like respecting your boss's directives.

However reasonable people won't blame the worker for not doing what their boss wants if the boss presents those goals as optional. So I don't think you can blame him for the two months when you let him set his own course. Look at it as a lesson learned... I learned the same lesson once. As I said I'm an independent type so when I had to help hire for a relative's company I picked someone who on the surface reminded me of myself. I was their manager & I trusted them to be productive. After a whole month of ridiculous excuses and zero work done they were terminated. Then I found out about labor laws that say even if the person didn't do any work if they were officially "working" you can't skip paying them. Ha!

Now you know you need to nip it in the bud early.

At the current point I feel lost. I feel bad expecting anything from Mark, as if I was bullying him. On the other hand, almost nothing he does is usable and I work till midnight to correct our deliverables. If I don't deliver I will probably be fired.

You're the captain of this ship. At the end of the day nobody is going to want to hear excuses about how it's some lower level guy's fault that things crashed and burned. You will own it. You. This is how it works.

If you get fired will you have a fun time finding a new job? Would you be stressed about providing for your family/meeting financial obligations? What will happen to your reputation if you fail at this project? Think about these things more than Mark's feelings.

You could be the nicest person on earth and there will always be someone who thinks you're an a-hole. Mark is that guy today. Don't try to be nice. Be fair & have boundaries. They aren't the same thing.

Everyone is responsible for their own choices. Mark has chosen to ignore your authority and there are consequences for doing that in every company. You would actually be doing him a disservice to let things continue because in the end he'd probably be fired/laid off (if not by you then by the next manager) and you're teaching him that it's acceptable behavior which would only lead him into repeating the same mistake on another job.

Anyhow, I vote for getting Mark out of their asap and stop even expecting anything from him in the meantime. Just know that this project is 100% on you. Make sure your boss knows the situation too. I don't see where you have the luxury of mentoring him since your job isn't secure and the project timeline (sounds) relatively short.

I hope this doesn't make you mistrust independent types in the future. There are many of us who get how to balance things.

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He isn't completing needed tasks. He has no desire to do any of the tasks needed. He doesn't learn or remember training. It sounds like Mark is in the wrong position. Out of curiosity, how did he get from his previous team to the current one?

Option 1 (preferred): Help Mark and the company find a position that fits.

This isn't an easy thing to do, especially as it sound like there may not be positions for him within the company. It also sounds like this will completely empty your "team," so it puts strain on you until you can find replacement(s). If there isn't an availability within the company, then he should look elsewhere. It isn't anyone's fault there isn't anything available, there isn't a mutual need between the parties.

Option 2: Strike a bargain.

If option 1 isn't acceptable for whatever reason, try giving Mark some freedom after needs are met. "We need A, B, and C done this week. If you are done early (and only then), you can work whatever interests you among D, E, F..." If it doesn't work, refer to option 1.

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A few weeks later, I'm still doing his job and don't know what he's doing 90% of his time. He frequently picks himself tasks and does them. The problem is these are things that aren't needed at all and will never be used. But hey, at least he has a hobby I guess.

A job isn't a hobby, he can't just pick and choose what he likes and get paid. You obviously have deliverables and things that need to be done by a certain date, and he is supposed to have the skills or at least the motivation to pick it up ASAP. If he's not willing to do the work, or want to make an effort, remember that other people got fired for less.

I would say simply raise it to your higher up that you've tried to work with him but he's not cooperating and refusing to work, and that you've had to pick up his slack. And ask them to talk to him since it seems you can't get through to him.

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