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I'm the marketing manager of a very successful start-up and the social media manager who I have been managing for the past two months and a half is really bad. She's incompetent, she's a bad colleague and completely impossible to work with. I didn't share this with my manager, the CEO, because I didn't want him to think I was complaining and I also thought I could manage her without interference.

Last week, the social media manager basically took a day off without telling me and I caught her, she screamed and cried and said she disliked working with me. I let her do her work but give her tasks which she never completes, so every week I have a day where I ask her the status of things, she usually freaks out and comes up with different excuses why she hasn't done those specific jobs. She said she hates the pressure.

Anyway, this week my manager asked me to write my appraisal of her and send it to him. I sent a very negative appraisal of her, but very honest. He avoided me for a few days and today he actually told me that my appraisal says more about me than about her.

He basically said during the last 2 months I should have complained to him about her so he could sort her out. And that going forward he would manage her and the new member of the team we're hiring, an SEO manager.

So basically (he didn't say this but it's basically it) I'm no longer the team manager. His secretary then proceeded to send an invite to me by mistake, for social media meetings to happen next week where I'm now excluded from.

What did I do wrong? Why am I being penalized for giving a bad appraisal and how will I be able to do my job without having to comunicate with the rest of my team?

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    It sounds like your manager didn't appreciate the lack of communication about the situation and was surprised by the bad appraisal. May 21 at 17:36
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    If this employee is that bad, why did you wait two months to mention it to anyone?
    – sf02
    May 21 at 18:40
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    The CEO told you. You aren't being punished for giving a bad review. The CEO is protecting the organization because you failed to do your job. You don't complain about employees; you inform your leader of the problems you're encountering, you indicate your solution, and you seek feedback on that solution. Then you implement and report back with progress. May 21 at 19:16
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    As an addendum to the question by @SFo2 - is there ANY paper trail for your issues with her? at all? If she's been a problem for months, surely you have writeups and communications with others not the CEO (since you didn't want to bother him) about her problems?
    – WernerCD
    May 22 at 3:07
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    @randomator: you didn't share them immediately with your manager. Re-read your comment to me. The entire comment says "it's not my fault. They like her more". It's a lame excuse for not doing your job. This isn't me being mean. These are the exact same words I've given to my direct reports who have used this excuse with me. May 23 at 0:44
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What did I do wrong? Why am I being penalized for giving a bad appraisal?

The CEO told you what you did wrong:

He basically said during the last 2 months I should have complained to him about her so he could sort her out. And that going forward he would manage her and the new member of the team we're hiring, an SEO manager.

As a manager, it is your job to manage people. Teach them, train them, hire them, fire them.

If somebody is not performing at the level they need to be then it is your job to fix that.

If you can't fix the problem yourself, and it isn't going away, then you need to escalate it as soon as possible so that it can be fixed.

You knew there was a problem, you let it persist for 3 months, and then dumped it on the CEO.

If your problems are going to become the CEO's problems, just with a 3-month delay, then they may as well cut out the middle man and manage the team directly. Which it seems like they're doing.

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    A little addition to the last point: oj really "dumped" it on the CEO. They could have had a talk about how they couldn't write a positive appraisal, but instead just wrote something that was clearly out of spec for the given task, blaming it on someone else.
    – DonQuiKong
    May 22 at 9:20
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    @Kaz is there something I can do now? Do I have a new meeting with him on Monday and explain what I did to help her? Do I tell him what issues I had with her so he's aware? In the meantime, he did the appraisal alone with her, cut me off the meeting without even letting me know. I only found out because the invitation was deleted.
    – Randomator
    May 22 at 23:16
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    @Randomator - Look inwards to what you could have done different, avoid passing the blame for what the CEO has indicated you failed to do, do those two things and you might salvage their trust in you. It was probably smart to exclude you from the appraisal by the way.
    – Donald
    May 23 at 18:55
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    @Randomator the comments here are harsher towards you than I would have expected. In some places, upper management specifically does NOT want middle management peppering them with updates all the time. The timeline for bringing these issues to your boss varies from place to place, but it sounds like at your current job, your boss did want to know about this issue earlier. So just use that as your lesson here, you didn't do anything wrong with how you handled the (terrible) employee, you just needed to alert your boss earlier.
    – Graham
    May 24 at 13:16
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    @Graham, exactly. When I tell my boss about issues with the team members we hire from a vendor, she asks me why I'm telling her that. I normally reply something like "So that you know the situation, know what I'm planning to do and can veto the proposal if needed" but she's not convinced anyway. All my bosses were like that. The OP has found a unicorn.
    – BigMadAndy
    May 24 at 21:19
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Last week, the social media manager basically took a day off without telling me and I caught her, she screamed and cried and said she disliked working with me.

How did you catch her? Why did she scream and cry? There seems to be something missing from this story. Did you lose your temper?

Anyway, this week my manager asked me to write my appraisal of her and send it to him.

Considering the timing of this request, it's likely that she complained to him about you or your management style.

...he actually told me that my appraisal says more about me than about her.

Clearly, he believes her, not you. Or at least, he believes that your management style is not effective.

Do you have a close personal professional friend you can share a copy of that appraisal with?

What did I do wrong?

Not knowing what really happened last week, we really can't answer that question for you.

And that going forward he would manage her and the new member of the team we're hiring, an SEO manager.

But this is actually an interesting experiment. Do not quit right now.

If this employee is as bad as you believe, the CEO should have the same difficulties managing her. In which case, just wait and see what happens.

If on the other hand, things do work out with her. See what you can learn from your CEO's management style. No one becomes a perfect manager overnight.

Then, if you still want to quit, quit, but do not quit before you found a new job first and try not to quit before you've indeed confirmed what you could have done better, otherwise, you're likely to carry that same management style into your next job as a manager.

and how will I be able to do my job without having to comunicate with the rest of my team?

I know the CEO had a meeting with those two without you, but that doesn't necessarily mean you've been excluded from all future marketing discussions.

You should work on your resume and put some feelers out there, but do not assume the worst. If you assume the worst, it's just going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also, you need to take a look at your contract and employee handbook. If you have any stock options or Restricted Stock Units, you need to take them into your calculations. And if you do quit, you need to realize that you may be forfeiting severance pay and unemployment benefits. So do not jump the gun.

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    "Do not quit before you learned from your mistake" Great. You could put that in bold, because there are too many people who never learn. They either stubbornly keep thinking they we're right, or they run away before understanding the root cause. E.g. OP might be right, but CEO doesn't believe him.
    – Chris
    May 21 at 23:09
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    I really like the spin on this... I would add that attempts at conversations with the CEO should happen to alleviate one of the other problems - communication. Stay and learn? obviously... but the first lesson here should be the CEO had no knowledge until the appraisal (or the complaint from her right before it. Another lesson? First to cry is often the one seen as the innocent party). Sit back and watch is not the right lesson... learn? absolutely... learn how to communicate.
    – WernerCD
    May 22 at 3:02
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    The "caught her" part seems to say as much - negatively! - about the OP as it does about the employee.
    – jamesqf
    May 22 at 17:38
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    @Randomator, In the future, the next time you manage someone who doesn't do their job, use a PIP (a performance improvement plan). Focus on the lack of results, not on the behavior. If someone lies to your face, do not contradict them, let them save face, even if you later file a PIP with the help of HR. In that PIP, you do not even need to say that they lied, or that you caught them, you can just say that the worker is not performing adequately (whatever their excuse may be). Privately, you can tell HR/the CEO that this person lied to you repeatedly, but do not write that down. May 23 at 1:52
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    You're dealing with an adult, not a child. In most places, strategies you would normally use on a child or a teenager, such as using guilt and shaming, are usually frowned upon in the workplace (outside of McDonalds and other places that routinely only hire teenagers, and even in those places, those kinds of strategies are still usually frowned upon by most people when discovered). May 23 at 1:59
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As a manager, you're responsible for the performance of your team. From your description, one of your team wasn't performing, and correctly you attempted to deal with it, without bothering the CEO. But from what you've said that didn't work; she didn't get better and the situation just persisted.

At this point, you should have flagged it, even if it was just to say to the CEO "this is happening, it's not resolved yet, but I'm on it and think I can take care of it". Maybe even it would have reached a point when you could have said "I've tried but it's just not working, can I get your help here?"

Instead, the first he knew of this was the appraisal.

Maybe you could explain to your CEO that you now appreciate you should have flagged it earlier and would like another opportunity to manage again, but there's no guarantee they'll be ready to accept that.

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    This! The difference between raising and handling the problem is especially important. To put matters into context, imagine that you task your report to complete a project. You have regular meetings with them, they say everything is fine. Then you ask for a detailed report of the current state of the project and they inform you they've been stuck for the past 2 months! A manager cannot manage what they do not know about, and therefore whenever a problem arises and is not solved promptly, it's important to raise awareness of it to your manager, even if you're working on it. May 22 at 12:18
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    Agreed - my short motto is that appraisals should not be surprises. Not to the person being appraised, and not to your manager. This answer explains that point very well.
    – TylerW
    May 22 at 21:09
  • Should I make a list of the big issues I have with her and share them with him so he can be aware? As a CEO he doesn't have time to dig dip or check on the status of things. If he's managing her going forward he should know.
    – Randomator
    May 22 at 23:21
  • @Randomator shouldn't the CEO have all that from the review already? For managing her going forward you could ask him they want such a list and send it if asked. But I'd make sure it's about current and future work (so it assists with managing) and isn't just a list of past misdemenours, because I worry that would just seem like finger pointing. May 23 at 10:58
  • @MatthieuM. that's not what happened, this person was not in charge of a particular project. She took over social media which was dead before. Just by posting every day, even if she's crap she will still be successful. Also, he gave her budget so she boosts all her posts, so of course she's going to grow social media. And that's all he sees, all the other crap she's doing badly, is irrelevant to him because the flashy stuff (growing on different channels, even if slowly) is happening.
    – Randomator
    Jun 3 at 10:06
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The golden rule is to keep your manager in the loop. Always.

Especially when the problem is with a team member. You knew she is not working as expected. You should have told this to your manager the first day, instead of waiting until the appraisal is rolled out.

Your manager seems he has no clue what this Social Media manager is like and is not sure whether firing her would be wise so he decides to manage her himself.

What did I do wrong?

You didn't communicate. This led to you creating a bad impression of yourself.

You can apologize (not sure if this will fix the problem) or maybe try searching for a new position.

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  • What can I do now? Can I explain the issues and what happened after all this?
    – Randomator
    May 22 at 23:35
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    If your manager is open to listening go ahead. Not sure what impact it will have on your cause.
    – Gabrielle
    May 23 at 8:35
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    Yes, with the benefit of hindsight it's clear what the OP should have done, but the truth is most managers, especially at higher levels, don't want to hear about problems. @Randomator, not sure if you've seen the excellent series Succession, but I recommend it to you if not for the extraordinary humor than because it exposes corporate mechanisms so well. And what you're doing through is one of the motives there.
    – BigMadAndy
    May 24 at 21:28
  • @BigMadAndy, yes, I've watched that show and absolutely loved it... I am unfortunately a very nice person and despite the horrible person I hired, I protected her whenever I spoke to the CEO and always left him out of any issues I was having with her. The main part of her work, publishing daily on social media was being done, even if badly done. Publishing zero compared to publishing daily plus adding ad money will help social media grow and that's what she was doing.
    – Randomator
    May 24 at 22:49
  • @BigMandyAndy, I kept in the background helping her with other tasks, making sure when she presented it to the CEO it was well done. Now I'm paying for it.
    – Randomator
    May 24 at 22:50
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I agree with the others. What you did was create a perception of a very rigid office politics structure that wasn't actually there. And then you acted within the rules of that imaginary system.

So, you sold yourself a bill of goods.

The bigger problem is what you didn't do: act like a normal manager and use gold-standard accountability methods to document the person's performance (or lack thereof). So for instance you should have written a document stating your task expectations for the week:

Per our discussion, your focus this week will be:

  • Enable "Pay via PayPal" on the retail checkout page
  • Resolve the dispute with Constant Contact over how we subscribe customers to our email list
  • Create product listings with photos for 34 of our new products

... and then at intervals either a) asked for written status reports back, or b) taken a verbal point-by-point status report, record that in notes, and share back the notes with the employee asking for corrections.

Thanks for giving me a status update this Wednesday morning. My understanding is:

  • For PayPal checkout, there is an additional contract we must sign, and you sent that over to Legal for review and are awaiting a response.
  • Constant Contact says no auto-add customer emails, they want opt-in (box unchecked by default), and so you implemented that.
  • You took photos of 8 of the 34 products. The other 26 are enroute from China. Of the 8 pages you created 6 and will create 2 today. You wanted clarification on the other 26 and I said get the listings up ASAP without photos, and you thought you could have that done by Thursday.

... and if you got something wrong, they'll push back on you with an email and say something like "no, I meant half of them done by Thursday".

What does that matter?

Without that, the best you can do is a "rag session" in which you complain about the person, because you don't have any facts recorded: not anything on paper. There is no way for that not to sound political.

With it, it's a simple matter of documented facts: here are the expectations, here are the status reports.

The difference is as simple as that.

But there's more... when it's simply documented like that, and you see the facts spread out on paper, *then your conversation with your manager stops being "good person/bad person". and starts being about "what the obstruction is: training, lack of resources, ergonomics, workflow, morale, etc." And then you can (often easily) clear those barriers and get the employee "running on all cylinders". And that's what management is all about.

Without that, you are reduced to politics/gossip... and that makes a manager think two things: #1 you don't have very good management skills... and (possibly because of #1): #2 you are a creator/instigator of destructive office politics.

Politics is not a thing you want in your office (unless you suck), as it is a corrosive force that harms morale, undercuts a merit-based corporate culture, and makes top performers quit because they are good at performing not politics.

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    +1 on politics being a corrosive force. Always merit first. Transparency and honesty beats politics almost everytime
    – Anthony
    May 24 at 3:43
  • Thank you for your answer. You are right. I created a rigid environment in the last few weeks and that's not really how the company works. I did try to give her some defined goals but I should have done exactly what you said. She told my boss I micromanaged her and he told me he dislikes it. I did it in the end because nothing got done or whatever was done was done with loads of mistakes. She obviously spinned it.
    – Randomator
    May 24 at 13:17
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    Yeah, when they don't do their job, that starts showing up in the status reports. After the 2nd or 3rd status report, where it becomes obvious it isn't going well, then you go figure out what they need and provide it, and if that means closer oversight so be it. Point is, it's all on paper. May 24 at 18:28
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The CEO has to deal with the fallout of the social media manager who hasn't been doing her job for God knows how long, which almost certainly means the salary paid to her has essentially been wasted. Not to mention that the work she was supposed to do, but didn't, has cost the company additional money via lost sales. ON top of that monetary pain, the CEO has to find a new social media manager to replace her, and since you've proven that you aren't competent at management, they also need to find a person to do the job you were supposed to be doing.

Oh, and they didn't expect to have to do ANY of this, because you didn't tell them anything, so you've essentially dropped a massive boulder on top of all the other responsibilities and stresses they're dealing with. And you're surprised that they're upset with you?

Your responsibility as a manager is to solve subordinates' problems as best you can, and escalate the problems that you can't. You knew the social media manager was a problem but didn't bother even trying to solve it, nor did you escalate it. You essentially stuck your fingers in your ears and hoped it would go away, and of course it didn't, and of course it came back to bite you.

You didn't do your job - not even poorly, but at all. That may or may not be entirely your fault, depending on the amount of training you were or were not given, but you could have at least made an effort, and you... didn't.

At this point you should be thankful that you weren't fired outright. I hope you're at least good at marketing, because if you aren't, I think you're very quickly going to find yourself being shown the door.

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    "You knew the social media manager was a problem but didn't bother even trying to solve it" It sounds like the OP tried, but didn't succeed.
    – nick012000
    May 24 at 1:57
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    So what could they have done differently? It's very easy to tell someone to "do their job", but that is not helpful by itself. What does "do your job" mean?
    – numenor
    May 24 at 11:14
  • @ian-kemp that's not what happened, I had many meetings with her and tried to help her but she is quite an unstable person, she cannot handle anything that isn't constant praise. The slightest remark will make her go crazy with anger. She was like that since week one. She also uses the fact that I'm not English to attack me and say she doesn't understand me.
    – Randomator
    May 24 at 13:10
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    I didn't downvote, but OP apparently did try to solve it - they just didn't inform the CEO that there was an issue. The main issue is that the OP should've escalated the issue sooner than they did. May 24 at 17:03
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IMHO, you may have not recognized an entitled "employee" that perhaps linked to upper management on a personal level.

I would suggest to start looking for a new position

And, if you really like this company, try to do the end-run to your bosse`s boss, in order to shed some light on the situation in case they are not aware of it

In my experience a futile attempt as management usually stick together in all stuff issues

Update: LoL, Sorry, missed a part where his manager is the CEO.

Then my conviction that the incompetent "colleague" was hired for her out of work performance is strengthened.

Keep it alive and find a new place :)

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    I don't think OP can do an end run around the CEO.
    – BSMP
    May 21 at 20:26
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    I'd love to see that conversation... "Hi... I have a problem with the CEO. Who does Elon report too?"
    – WernerCD
    May 22 at 3:04
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    @WernerCD uh... Grimes? (Paraphrasing what the CEO of a company I work/ed for would say)
    – Michael J.
    May 22 at 3:30
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From my experience, most managers would prefer to hear about serious problems sooner rather than later (which is why the CEO is upset that he's just hearing about this now).

Also, the fact that you've been managing her for months without giving any indication that there was a problem and suddenly gave a very negative feedback "out of the blue" probably undermines your credibility in this area.

Also:

Why am I being penalized for giving a bad appraisal...

You're not being penalized for giving a bad appraisal - you're being penalized for not informing the CEO of a problem that's been persisting for months.

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  • I managed her for two and a half months, she was on a temporary contract and the goal was to make her permanent after three months. Do you think it was that long? Also, I didn't mention, this all happened after I announced I was pregnant. Part of me thinks the CEO (my manager) is escalating it because of that. He's pissed I'm going to be away and he's kind of using it to exclude me from projects, etc.
    – Randomator
    May 24 at 22:54

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