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I'm a manager at a small company. My team maintains product and marketing data. One of my team members, a graphic designer named Amelia, is an increasing source of consternation.

Amelia has several positive qualities: she's talented at graphic design, invariably punctual, eager to please, glad to be part of the team, and generally agreeable. She's worked here for three years, and I believe intends to remain with the company indefinitely.

Unfortunately, Amelia is the least intuitive person I've ever met. If a task is simple and straightforward, she executes it quickly and without error. But if a task requires any degree of intuition, her output is substandard or not at all what was expected. For examples, in the past month, Amelia:

  • ... gathered the wrong data for thousands of products, despite the context of the task making it clear what type of data was needed.
  • ... ruined the packaging on several products during a photography task, apparently not thinking or realizing that these would be shipped to customers.
  • ... botched a week-long HTML editing task which she apparently did not understand, although I took great pains to explain it clearly, and provide resources, and give her abundance of time.
  • ... continually deleted all of her sent emails, despite being told in the past to preserve emails for record-keeping; she thought the don't-delete-your-emails rule only applied to one's inbox.

Regardless of the type of task, she will 'miss' something. She just doesn't get it. I don't know another way to describe it. These are all the mistakes of a brand new employee, not a three-year veteran.

I've taken steps to meet Amelia halfway: I moved her desk next to mine so that she could ask questions more easily, and I endeavored to provide especially-detailed task descriptions. But that was a year ago, and I have not seen much improvement.

I spoke with my supervisor about this problem. My supervisor has worked with Amelia on a handful of past projects, and agreed 100% with my assessment of her startling lack of intuition. Amelia was apparently pulled off past tasks for small mistakes and inadequate understanding. This mirrors my own management of Amelia, as I've continually narrowed her responsibilities in response to mistakes and incomprehension.

This problem is cresting. Management is assigning me larger, more complex projects, and is instructing me to delegate more to my team. I need to micromanage less, and Amelia requires micromanagement. I don't trust her to work independently, nor did my supervisor, and so her future on my team (and at the company) is in doubt.

How should a manager handle an employee with no intuition? Is that sometimes grounds for reassignment and/or termination in and of itself?

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    Amelia works at the company for 3 years. That should mean her qualities outweigh her challenges? I would expect a good manager to maximize and focus on those qualities. – Totumus Maximus Jul 31 '17 at 9:38
  • I don't really get how all of this is about her supposed lack of intuition? Most of this is about experience (as you said, not typical 3-year veteran mistakes) and using that experience (connecting it to your current task). Intuition is doing something right without previous information about it. She clearly should have the knowledge about some of this (she was explicitly informed about the mails at least) and does ignore it or is unable to use it. She is more careless than unintuitive to me. – skymningen Jul 31 '17 at 11:15
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    This seems a lot like a personality feature. Amelia is likely dreamy, perhaps a bit absentminded or distracted with a tendency to focus more on the task instead of the reasons of why she is doing the task. This often leads to a good job performed over faulty initial assumptions (that her mind automatically considers secondary). Try breaking the tasks into more controllable or less ambiguous steps. And also check how she performs on creative tasks (aesthetics, interface, etc.). Depending on the results you might want to consider specializing the functions of Amelia. – armatita Jul 31 '17 at 11:49
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    This question is basically "How should I discipline my employee?" This is not a crowdsource your management duties site. This is about questions and answers. We can probably help you with guiding an improvement in one of these issues you have, but the question would need to be broken up into dealing with a specific issue rather than all of them. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 1 '17 at 15:46
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    Glad I could help. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 1 '17 at 18:07
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I think calling it "lack of intuition" is part of the problem. I personally don't see a connection among your 4 examples that I could call "intuitive." What I've seen you describe is several specific behaviours:

  • not thinking about the consequences of some actions (eg damaging product without realizing it was still going to be shipped)
  • not generalizing easily from one example
  • not checking in after doing one or two things to be sure of being "on the right track"

Perhaps a more intuitive person would do this without being told. That would be handy. But you can't tell Amelia to be something different. You sure can tell her to do something different, though. Since you like her, and want her to do well, you can take the time for this.

If there is something she needs to do a thousand times, you can ask her to check back with you after 5 so that you can confirm her progress before she does the other 995. If there is something like HTML that she is floundering at, give her permission to get help rather than just flounder. Note that this is not micro managing where you are over her shoulder watching her and asking her what she is doing: this is her coming to you to check things with you before going too far wrong. When she makes a mistake, be sure to tell her not just "you did x and that was wrong" but also connect it to the larger patterns. Take the emails: to help her understand the rule, the larger pattern is that we don't delete any emails, whether sent, received directly, cc'ed, from a mailing list, or whatever. The other larger pattern is that she misinterpreted the word "emails" too narrowly to mean just "emails I received". Be sure to point out both "bigger picture" items.

If she denies these patterns, has no idea what you're talking about, or doesn't see the connections then I would recommend you find her something she can do or fire her. I have had people working for me who couldn't see patterns I was pointing out, and pushed back and said I was wrong. I was unable to change their behaviours despite trying for far too long.

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    "I have had people working for me who couldn't see patterns I was pointing out, and pushed back and said I was wrong. I was unable to change their behaviours despite trying for far too long." - I used to be this kind of employee when I was brand new to the workforce. You can't train that out of someone, they have to want to make those changes. Unless there's enough evidence to persuade you that they are capable of adopting that mindset, it's time to acknowledge that sunk cost and take action to get yourself and your team on track. – jcam3 Aug 1 '17 at 19:54
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How should a manager handle an employee with no intuition? Is that sometimes grounds for reassignment and/or termination in and of itself?

I'm not sure I'd use the word "intuition" here.

But assuming you are asking the equivalent of "How should I handle an employee who still doesn't 'get it' after 3 years of trying?" here's how I would answer.

Assuming this lack is important, and assuming that you've already tried all remedial actions you can think of, I'd start the process of removing the employee. If there is another role for which she is qualified and might have a chance of "getting", then I'd offer the reassignment. Otherwise I'd start whatever PIP process you have and move her out of the company.

Small companies in particular need everyone to contribute. If this worker isn't, then she would be better off elsewhere, and so would your company.

I've had a few employees like that, and ended up letting them go. I would never let a problem like that linger for multiple years. But now you need to deal with what is in front of you.

Note: union rules / local laws / etc - all of these might influence the actions you can and should take. You first need to decide what applies and what does not.

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Might Amelia have some autistic type characteristics?

Some people just aren't good at intuiting things that aren't explicitly spelled out - on the other hand, such people are frequently wonderful at picking up on minor details that more intuitive people might lose in the big picture.

If that's the case, maybe spell things out if you're giving Amelia a job that needs someone to fill in the gaps, or maybe give it to someone more intuitive, and look to her for tasks that work to her strengths.

  • Agreed - that's why I said "might have some autistic type characteristics" rather than just autism. I'm aspie myself, and very much aware of this. Some people are good at some things, some are good at others - sometimes characteristics come together in autism or other conditions, but sometimes somebody just happens to have characteristics that are familiar to people with knowledge of a particular condition. This doesn't mean that they have the condition, just that it's familiar. – Brother Phil Aug 19 '17 at 13:04
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I dont know if this is possible in your kind of job but, maybe make Amelia work in a duo ?

So there will always be someone with her to raise a red flag if something looks blatantly wrong, or at least to question her choices.

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I believe you need to help Amelia know the outcomes you are trying to achieve. You need to concentrate on what you want, not how to do it.

Giving her more guidance about how to do her work will lead to less behavior you call intuition. It is also not sustainable for you in the long term or rewarding for her. Instead of giving her more instructions on a task spend your time telling her what a good result would be. Tell he how her work fits into the bigger picture.

For the data gathering example, instead of trying to describe what data to gather talk to her about how the data is going to be used. What decisions are you going to make based on the data? Who is going to be using the data?

For the photography task, talk to her about what messages you want the packaging to deliver to the customers.

When you follow up with her, ask her how well she thinks she achieved the outcomes. Does she think the data gathered can answer the questions you have? Does she think the photographs will give the correct message to the customers? If she thinks so, have her explain why she thinks that. It’s more important here that you correct her thinking than tell her which was the correct data to gather or how to edit the photographs differently. When you agree that what she did doesn’t achieve the goals then you can talk about how she could have done the task differently to achieve these goals.

You goal should be to give her more autonomy and more responsibility for the outcomes of her work, not to find better ways of instructing her on her tasks.

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