Resources for giving constructive criticism to employees?
February 27, 2013 2:32 PM   Subscribe

I work with someone (technically an assistant, but in reality does work for multiple people in the office, with most of their consistent work coming from me), and need to have a conversation regarding accuracy, timeliness, etc with them. Any suggestions or links to resources for the best way to approach this so they don't get defensive?

We've had a conversation before, several months ago, about accuracy, and it has improved since then, but it's still not where it needs to be. Some tasks are forgotten completely, some are simply not done to the level I need them to be done to.

We've also discussed timeliness, and an effort was made for a while, but they are still not on time consistently. (Lately, they've been emailing day of that they won't be in for various reasons. We need someone who will be here consistently.) They were hired before I was, and were not given much guidance at that time. They have not been recording time on their time sheet accurately, (not recording breaks/brief lunches appropriately, and saying they were working on projects at that time). I've discussed with my boss, and boss has agreed this is a problem, and asked me to discuss.

I feel like we need to set new expectations for the position, and frame it as a "moving forward, this is what we need" rather than a "here is the laundry list of what you've been doing wrong".

This is basically the last step before hours are reduced/ended. What's the best way to go about it?

I've looked up PIPs - our office really isn't that formal. If we do let them go, we will likely not replace them - I can do most of the work myself at this point, although it will create more of a time crunch/certain things will need to be rescheduled.
posted by needlegrrl to Human Relations (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How clear have you been about how crucial these tasks are to this person's continued employment? You say you've "discussed" and "had conversations" - you need to make crystal clear that these things need to improve. I understand if your office isn't "formal" enough for PIPs, but you want to make sure that "informal" doesn't mean "unclear direction for employees" or "poor management."

You might want to look up some posts on Ask a Manager about managing low performers.
posted by radioamy at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is a textbook "too many masters" situation, which is not the employee's fault, and you admit as much that they're under-titled. Moving forward, what this employee probably needs is to stop being tasked by everybody. Do they have the power to say "no" to anybody?

Perhaps you should be the gateway to their tasklist if you're the one who has to speak to them about performance. This all really sounds more like a management problem than anything else.
posted by rhizome at 3:09 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

What about having a morning meeting where you set expectations and talk about what you need to have done that day followed by an afternoon meeting where you talk about what has been done that day? It might be helpful for both of you. It doesn't have to be an ordeal but it's a way to stay on someone who is struggling. And it might take up more of your time but if this colleague then starts acting appropriately, it may save you time in the long run, especially if the alternative is cutting this person's hours or possibly letting them go altogether.
posted by kat518 at 3:30 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is basically the last step before hours are reduced/ended. What's the best way to go about it?

OK, this is what you need to do when a significant change in work hours or termination may occur:

1. Have a meeting. Explain your expectations. Put them in writing.

2. Also explain that these expectations have to be consistently met or hours will be reduced/ended. Put this in writing as well.

3. Set regular reviews -- e.g. every two-three weeks. Again, let the person know at your meeting, verbally and in writing, that this will happen. If things improve to what you need, provide lots of praise and eventually end the reviews. If they don't, document that and reduce/end the hours.

Be nice but be clear.
posted by bearwife at 3:44 PM on February 27, 2013

How are tasks managed/projects tracked in your office? Going electronic will help your staff keep track of what they are responsible for and when while giving you hard evidence about both problems and progress. Outlook tasks, group calendars, help desks... There's no end of task management options.
posted by headnsouth at 4:04 PM on February 27, 2013

I don't know if it would be helpful in this case, but the most effective/best manager I've ever had always started the conversation by saying "is there anything you need to help you (whatever)?"

It was an opportunity for him to reiterate how important that it was for stuff to be done to a certain level of quality, or with a certain timeliness, or whatever, but by starting it that way it gives the manager an opportunity to listen to any real issues the employee is having, and to see if there's a way they can be addressed. Task management software (even if it's GoogleDocs) can be a big help with this.

Honestly, though, the whole 'emailing day of that they won't be in for various reasons' just sounds like they aren't that committed to the job-- although of course 'various reasons' could be anything and I wouldn't want to make that assumption without knowing whether they're dealing with medical issues for themselves or a family member, or something equally legitimate.
posted by matcha action at 4:11 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of sitting down and saying "I know you weren't given much guidance in the past, and I just want to sit down and talk about how your work fits into the overall function here and what the priorities for your work are now". I also agree that asking them how they feel they're doing and what issues they can identify is a good way to get them engaged and feeling less like they're being called on the carpet.

You might be too informal for a PIP, but it would be good to meet with them and then give them a written outline of the issues you've discussed and the actions you expect them to make. This can be in an email or memo and can be phrased in such a way as to be more a "OK, these are the issues we discussed, and these are the concrete things you're going to do about them"--more like a list of goals and objectives, along with your "going forward, this is what we'll do" approach.

That's really what a PIP is--they sort of get a bad rap as being the nothing more than the last step before firing, but if they're done right, the real point is to establish some mutually-understood goals and clear criteria for success so that both parties are on the same wavelength. It does neither of you any good if you come out of a meeting thinking "boy, I really gave it to them! This is the last chance this bozo gets!" and he/she emerges thinking "Well, she had some nitpicky issues about my time sheets but overall she seems pleased with my work".

If this person is really assisting multiple people, he/she might benefit from some help prioritizing, but it also sounds like maybe they're just kind of checked out or disorganized. If that's the case this may not be the job for them.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:21 PM on February 27, 2013

I've looked up PIPs - our office really isn't that formal.

Well, it should be - you're formal enough to be considering firing someone after all.
posted by jacalata at 4:51 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, that's a disconnect for me, too. Why care how good the employee's work is, then? There's a kind of "well, we're not formal enough to have established procedures, but by golly this person isn't meeting them!" feeling I get from this question.

Also, if this person is salaried, timesheets are a huge insult and signal of management incompetence.
posted by rhizome at 5:39 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Employee is part-time and hourly - the rest of the office is salaried, which I think is creating a disconnect. I do get the feeling that they are just checked out and not committed.

I've suggested being the gateway in the past, in the effort to help with the "too many masters" problem, but they declined. (I don't feel like this is the problem, from watching them, however.)

Perhaps I'm looking at PIPs the wrong way - most of the resources I saw basically said they were a CYA sort of document, not something that really helped the employee improve. If this employee hasn't checked out, I would like to get them back on track.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:52 PM on February 27, 2013

PIPs *can* be used as CYA, but don't have to be. Both my husband and I are managers and we seem to be at about 2 out of 3 times that we've implemented, the PIP has been successful.

The approach we take is that expectations are laid out clearly (you will arrive by x each day, you will record hours accurately, you will meet x specific goals for accuracy). These goals have to be objective. The employee needs to own meeting their goals and are responsible for setting up a weekly meeting with their manager to report progress/maintenance in meeting goals. There needs to be a specific amount of time after which either they have shown they can meet the goals or they're out/other relevant action (so yes, there are consequences). Once they have proven they can meet the goals and have passed the PIP successfully, they are accountable for maintaining their new standards. Typically we write in that this was their last chance and if they cease meeting goals we move directly to consequence of not meeting conditions of PIP. The manager needs to own their management as well, which it sort of seems like they aren't in this case.

It's a way to provide the employee with some direct coaching and really clear expectations. Some people see this is their wake up call and respond really well, the rest either are really checked out or are really not suited for the work they're being asked to do, in which case it's a difficult kindness to send them out of the nest to find something that's a better fit for them and also find someone that's a better fit for your organization. It's a good faith effort on the part of management to give someone a chance to own their responsibility to accomplish what they're getting paid to do. But it requires that everyone, both manager and employee, are accountable for carrying out their respective parts of the dance with integrity. The manager is ultimately responsible for all the work their employee is doing, even if someone else provides them with tasks, else there's not much 'managing' going on...

Providing constructive feedback is similar, but without the consequence necessarily so frank. Sometimes I start out with 'what is your expectation of how x is handled?' Starting from where their expectations are and helping them understand from that point what your expectations are and what needs to happen to get there, and then having the authority to hold them accountable for meeting the expectation... Definitely harder to do if you aren't the manager, but making sure you're both on the same page in terms of expectations (reasonable and achievable) goes a long way.
posted by susanbeeswax at 1:39 AM on February 28, 2013

If they are an hourly employee, working in a salaried office: are they being held to expectations of a salaried employee, or an hourly employee? Is there a maximum amount of hours you will pay them for?

I think it's very common for someone to "check-out" when they feel overwhelmed, and if there are too many masters, that can be especially true - everyone wants something, everyone thinks their thing is the most important, and there are only so many hours that can be done.

Also, given your description of how the timeliness is happening/being managed, I wonder if it's a stress issue? Sometimes people who feel like they're failing at work tend not to want to go in even more, because they're afraid of confrontation/failing more. (I feel like there was an AskMe about this from the other perspective, but can't find it.)
posted by corb at 4:14 AM on February 28, 2013

I technically work for a department, as opposed to a particular person, though one person is my supervisor. This is a rotating role. I have had 7 supervisors in 8 years. I work for nine people directly, six or seven people indirectly, and countless others on the periphery.

My job is to keep the department running, so department oriented matters are prioritized, followed by individual needs, followed by the small random tasks that continually crop up.

I'm not always able to get everything done that everyone wants done when they want it done. And I'm full-time and hourly paid. In a part-time position that was working for more than two people, I'd be drowning, too, because my limited hours would be claimed by everyone! And I'd have less ability to prioritize as I needed to.

I think, as someone in a similar position to your assistant, that you need work with her to clearly define her role, clearly define the tasks or role she should prioritize ( department? Individual? Customer?) and make that clear to everyone else. If her hours can't be increased, then specifcally placing tasks on specific days may help --- Wed is always Task A, Thu always include Task a follow up alongside Task B, etc.

But I think clear definitions of her role, responsibilities that are made clear to the entire staff she works under will help. I aso think more hours in which to get things done could help, counter intuitive as it could seem. But if he is overwhelmed because she has to fit 8 hours of work in a 4 hour shift, then extending her 4 hour shift gives her more flexibility to get things done, and would hopefully decrease any overwhelming feelings she's having about getting the work done.

This is all assuming she wants to do well. If she wants to float by, that's a different concern.
posted by zizzle at 5:41 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the comments - looks like I really need to step up as a manager. I didn't feel I had the authority to really do so, but now that I've spoken with Boss, I think I do.

They have the ability to work as many hours as they like, up to 40/week - it's definitely not a situation of too much work/too little time. I think there may have been other contributing stress factors outside of work, as well, that have been recently resolved.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2013

"Up to 40hrs a week" doesn't count for much when everybody wants their thing done "ASAP," and even "ASAP" becomes an impossibility if the person is perpetually interrupted.
posted by rhizome at 11:44 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

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