Re: Ask The Mineshaft: Managing Minions Edition

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Somebody needs to be the dour old no-fun architect. Might as well be you. Then everybody else can still be all supportive.

The dour old nun architect should make sure all the little things, even pointless busy-work-y little things, are done. Everybody else should sympathetically listen to her complain about the dour old architect.

That's my idea, anyhow. I don't think I've ever really had to be the bad guy when managing people (might happen at this job, though. We'll see). When I did manage a few people and they were doing less than they needed to I pulled off the "more in sorrow than in anger" guilt trip pretty well. You could also try that.

partly lack of confidence (there was a bad episode when I was on holiday, apparently)

Tell us more!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 5:51 AM
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I don't call this delegating, but rather, er, Tom Sawyering.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 5:54 AM
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Also, if you're going to be hard on the girl and are feeling bad about it, doing less of this:
And there are plenty of things I'll do which she perhaps could; to be honest, with this type of work (early, conceptual) it's almost always quicker to do it yourself.
might improve your mood. If she's an intern, she's there to learn things, and if makes you 2% busier to make her 150% busier, it'll both help her understand the workload, help her gain the skills she needs to actually be useful, and make you a good boss, insofar as you're providing what an internship is supposed to provide. If she doesn't like you for it, well, who cares. She will.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 6:06 AM
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My working style prioritises autonomy and self-reliance. Difficult jobs - and I count my job as difficult - make demands on skill and stick-to-it-ness that just need to be faced.

This suggests you aren't giving much in the way of instruction. Perhaps she doesn't understand what you want and it too proud or embarrassed to admit it. Try a bit more hand holding.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 6:16 AM
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It sounds to me as though you're getting what you're asking for from this intern. You want something different, you ask for something else.

If an intern asks if it's okay to pass along a job to someone else, and you tell her it is, that ain't the intern's fault. If she's pissing people off, and nobody will say so, again, not (exclusively) her fault.

She's an intern. She needs a mentor to help her sort this stuff out. Sounds like you're kind of stuck in that role, whether you want to be or not.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 6:35 AM
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I basically agree with everyone else, but I'd phrase it as: be super clear and explicit with your communication. Just be very direct. People who miss social norms are usually relieved to be given explicit instructions, or at least they're not bothered in the least.

If something happens that annoys you and you didn't think to head it off ahead of time, just address it verbally, and provide her with information: "You need to write that report yourself, not sideways peer X" in a descriptive, clear way.

She'll react however she reacts, and we can't go through life trying to out-maneuver people's reactions.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:00 AM
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In grad school I had an early TA experience with a typical sob story about how giving this student a D would trigger a long domino-style series of awful consequences that would culminate in the death of kittens everywhere.

I liked the student and was pretty taken in by the story, so I consulted the professor to help strengthen my resolve not to alter her grade. He gave me a speech on how little we know about what's best for other people, as in: what feels like a terrible sequence of consequences may be just what the doctor ordered. It somehow made a big impression on me on the value of shaking off people's reactions.

This is just to share. Doesn't have much to do with the question anymore.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:04 AM
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Something that wasn't explicitly in the question, but I think might be underlying it a bit; I tend to get a sense that a lot of managers think something along the lines of "You can teach skills, but you can't teach work-ethic or character. If someone isn't energetically enthusiastic on day one, give up and throw them back."

And I do think that's a mistake. There are a lot of different personality types out there, and there are people who present as lazy and surly under some circumstances that are capable of working hard and effectively in the right environment -- while it's not always worth it to shape your management style to your subordinates, it can be rewarding. That story about the paralegal was a huge lesson for me: I had completely written her off (in what was a kind of sexist way) as a lazy-ass who was trading on being adorable (which she was) so that no one would call her on being useless. And I wasn't wrong in my evaluation of her prior behavior, I was just wrong to have mentally written her off: in an environment where working hard and well was how she got rewarded, she was a fantastic worker. We just needed to communicate firmly to her what kind of environment she was in.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:24 AM
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I was an official at an athletic event where one kid kept committing a foul. Not a particularly terrible or violent one. I warned the coach he needed to rein the kid in or he'd be ejected. Coach tried to sell me a sob story that the kid was disabled in an extremely particular way that consistently lead to his elbows popping out whenever he got close to another player... For an instant I felt terrible. Then I realized he was a fucking liar.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:26 AM
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We just needed to communicate firmly to her what kind of environment she was in.

I just skimmed this quickly, but is this early on in the process? If so, then the more senior person needs to step up, explain expectations, and mentor this person.

Junior might not have a clear understanding of what is expected. Junior might have been previously told what the expectations are. But, that does not mean that she understands it yet.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:31 AM
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It actually seems a bit as if the architect of the OP is complaining about having to manage at all; people doing things wrong, or not doing things, or doing the wrongs things is what happens when one person works for aother. Clear and firm communication and some degree of hand-holding is, to a first approximation, the job. If somebody who works for you isn't doing what they should, a strong case can usually made that it's -- if not more your fault than theirs -- certainly more your responsibility to fix than theirs.

But maybe I'm misreading, and the lines of communication are clear, open and transmitting of firmness, and she's cavaliery flaunting what she's been told repeatedly.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:33 AM
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9 is hilarious.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:33 AM
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11 might begin to have the flavor of a pile-on, which seems unfair. People fucking with your hard-earned competence, routine and contentment at the office is deeply, deeply irritating, especially when you didn't ask for them to be around. But, you know, work sucks, and the benefits if you can actually train your minion to point the ray gun the right way once in a while are manifold for everybody.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:35 AM
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Agreed. But what's with the flirting? Is this real, or self-delusive? Is the intern manipulative, naturally enthusiastic, or what?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:38 AM
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Also, there has been flirting.

Let's not overlook this line from the OP. Despite how it's phrased, I'm assuming this is meant to be interpreted as "Also, the intern has been flirting/trying to flirt with co-workers." If the letter-writer is flirting with the intern, then you've got bigger problems.

But assuming it's the intern, I think a dose of cold water in the form of extremely blunt instructions about what is expected is in order. Not unlike what people are saying above, except, well, I'm meaner.

Don't be afraid to be explicit. "I'm assuming you're here because you're interested in this field and want to learn. When you palm work off on someone else, it makes me think you aren't interested. It's unprofessional. The reason I asked you to write the text is because we need to have it done for this presentation, and it's good for you to learn how to do it. If you have questions about what your draft should look like, ask me. But don't go and give the task to someone else. That makes me think you don't care."

And if the flirting has been egregious, I'd drag out whatever version of a personnel policy your organization might have, take her into a closed office somewhere, and say, "I know we gave this to you on your first day, and you probably haven't had a chance to read it in detail, but the reason we have these rules is because it's not OK to make other people feel uncomfortable. And that's what you're doing. Here are the rules. Read them again today and let me know if you have questions tomorrow."

Probably the lawyers here would have different advice, but assuming you're high enough up in your organization that nobody's going to get in a snit over you managing the intern, and assuming the intern doesn't have super-connected parents, that's what I do.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:41 AM
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That's what I would do. Thankfully, I have not been faced with this particular problem.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:42 AM
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the kid was disabled in an extremely particular way that consistently lead to his elbows popping out whenever he got close to another player

This is an actual condition and is widely prevalent in the NBA.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 7:44 AM
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I thought of another way to have fun with this: come up with a list of tasks that you could conceivably farm out to this person that would 1. be somewhat challenging for her, 2. require a fair bit of mentoring assistance from you and 3. would allow her to have useful creative input. Then come up with a second list of tasks that are 1. kind of a boring pain-in-the-ass, 2. sort of busywork and 3. useful to you and/or the firm but honestly the kind of thing that could go for a while without getting done. Ask her to do a task from list A and, if she tries to pass it off, say to her "hey, listen, we don't want you to do things you don't want to do, why don't you do [task from list B]" instead. Either way, you win! And if she doesn't do the task from list B, then you do stern-face.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:01 AM
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From the fact that the flirting was mentioned as an afterthought, I doubt it's egregious enough to be a problem in itself. My guess is that she's dodging work and trying to make it look better by being flirtily adorable about it. Which is a problem, but the flirting isn't really the problem.

I had a male coworker on an admin job back in the day who used to try to get me to do his annoying MS Word tasks by being flirty about it. I never figured out if he thought that was an effective way to come on to someone, or if he just didn't want to do his own work.

A couple of years after that, he mysteriously dropped dead in Central Park. I don't know if he ever found five dollars.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:02 AM
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Either way, you win!

Because nothing says winning like writing out lists of tasks and categorizing them according to tedium!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:03 AM
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You broke his heart LB!!!


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:04 AM
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Personally, I kinda hate working with interns/summer associates (almost all of whom I've liked personally) because I can never quite figure out expectations for people who kinda sorta but aren't really employees, and whom you're recruiting/educating as much as working with. Generally, I try to give them as much "real" work as possible but it's hard to really make someone part of a team -- with the expectations that involves -- when they're just there temporarily. There's just something unclear about the whole employment situation, which makes it particularly hard to set expectations.

But maybe "intern" means something different in Architecture, like just a pure junior employee.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:06 AM
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20: so make her do that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:08 AM
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Heebie's list of tasks by tedium:

1. Write witty Unfogged comments
2. Check Unfogged comments
3. Pick up HP
4. Say hi to Jammies
5. Make dinner
...
998. Floss cats
999. Clean grout on kitchen tiles
1000. Deca-Kobe!
1001. Write journal paper.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:12 AM
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A couple of years after that, he mysteriously dropped dead in Central Park.

I keep telling you guys, these phone cops feminists play hardball.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:13 AM
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24: somewhere in the top 10 is "teach integrals to sea slug, just to show 'em"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 8:15 AM
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my 6-year-old cracked me up pretty bad with suddenly ending a story with "and then I found five dollars!" for a second I thought: you read unfogged? jesus! but then I realized I must have Lghed OL sometime and given that as the explanation.

to 7: this is a comment theme in AA/NA stuff--maybe that last bump down the ladder is what they really needed to get sober! I still don't want people to go to jail, or get DUI's, or whatever. just sober up, motherfuckers! before the jail part. not that you can do anything about it. I stopped sponsoring my "hi, this is me with the wind rushing up the interior stairway of the building, and we live on the 23rd floor, and I'm on the widow ledge! wassup?" person. for a good reason, she found someone who can devote more time to her. she has gotten so much better in just 3 months. 45% less crazy, for sure.

I have nothing to offer on the managing; last week it looked as if I 'd have to fire our part-timer (secure in the knowledge that she has another part-time job) but happily she quit due to more work at the other place, so I didn't have to. firing someone seems like it would be horrible. on the whole, I'd go with "really specific instructions." people often don't know basic things we think "everyone" knows.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:12 AM
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And so I have completed editing my dissertation. No more excuses for reading Unfogged!

Home to sleep. I'll submit it tomorrow.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:32 AM
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IME when highly motivated and hard-working people take on their first managing jobs there are usually two main outcomes, both predicated on the incredibly poor assumption that all of their underlings have the same level of motivation and work ethic as they themselves do. Usually, the new supervisor is a super hard-ass, because they assume that, of course all of their employees will work 18 hour days until it gets done and it's totally not unreasonable to ask for amazing results every day. But sometimes, the new supervisor is super hands-off (read: prioritises autonomy and self-reliance) because they assume that, of course all of their employees know exactly what to do and possess the motivation and work ethic to do it without prodding.

Either way, it's a painful lesson to learn that a big part of your job as a manager is to provide motivation where it is lacking, one way or another.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:35 AM
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Wow, congratulations, W. Breeze! I've barely managed to get out of bed, and even that was not for long.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:36 AM
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29: maybe my own lazy and self-indulgent nature has helped me as a manager, you're saying. Hm!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:36 AM
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I'll submit it tomorrow.

Congratulations!!

No more excuses for reading Unfogged!

I can't tell if this means you're going to fall off the face of the planet, or comment more than ever, but without the guilt. Do the latter.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:42 AM
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28: Congrats Dr. Breeze!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:45 AM
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I second Witt's take on the matter. I'd probably be less mean, insofar as her sample dialogue sounds like it's coming from a manager who's fed up after having attempted to explain things several times in the past to no avail, and it's not clear from Annoyed Architect's letter that that's the case.

But -- this is based on the three years or so I spent on the management team in a structured office environment, directly supervising a few people myself and going to a few too many management retreats* -- Witt's use of language is right on, by which I mean: saying, "I need you to," or "you need to," or "we need you to" tends to be effective language, preferable over "you should," for example, or, when delegating a task, "Can you ...". Once a well-functioning team is established, "Can you" is normal and relaxed, but with a subordinate who's not quite getting it, it can be asking for trouble.

I sound like I'm lecturing to a newb; sorry, A.A. Pretty much what everyone else is saying: you'll have to be direct. If the junior is bright, and it sounds like she is, she'll get it. If others in the office are undermining your efforts (if she's playing the mom vs. dad thing, going to dad when mom won't let her get away with something), you'd need to nip that in the bud by speaking to dad. As it were.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 9:48 AM
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if the flirting has been egregious, I'd drag out whatever version of a personnel policy your organization might have, take her into a closed office somewhere, and ...

... put her over my knee! Right. That's what I'd do!


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 10:09 AM
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Congratulations, W. Breeze! Sleep well, and take care to reward yourself in some manner tomorrow (today?)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 10:13 AM
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Stop flirting.


Posted by: Charlotte Perriand | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 10:14 AM
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this is a comment theme in AA/NA stuff--maybe that last bump down the ladder is what they really needed to get sober! I still don't want people to go to jail, or get DUI's, or whatever. just sober up, motherfuckers! before the jail part.

Jail is nice to have as the stick with drug court as carrot.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 3:07 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09-30-10 6:01 PM
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