Subordinates giving less than 100% often just need a blueprint

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in Your Office Coach

Q: "One of my employees shows me very little respect. I recently became the manager of a senior center, and ‘Sharon’ is my assistant manager. She is older and has been here for twelve years, but I have credentials that she lacks.

"Although Sharon has a lot of experience, she never shares any information with me. She also picks and chooses the things she prefers to do. For example, she enjoys attending meetings, but avoids helping me with activities. I would like to ask her to answer our phone, but I know she won’t want to do that.

"Whenever I’m out of the office, Sharon receives extra pay to serve as the acting manager, but she never performs any of my duties. She just sits at my desk and takes messages. I think she should make an effort to learn my job so she can fill in when I’m away.

"I also feel that when Sharon has down time, she should come and ask if I need help with anything. On several occasions, I have found her reading a novel or playing cards on her computer. How should I handle this situation?" Irritated Manager

A: You must be assuming that Sharon has psychic powers, because apparently you have never told her about these expectations. As the manager, you need to establish her duties and see that she carries them out, even if you find her age and experience to be slightly intimidating.

To get started, draft a job description for the assistant manager position and review it with your boss. Meet with Sharon to discuss her newly-defined responsibilities, but don’t just issue orders like a drill sergeant. Instead, ask for her input and adopt any suggestions that seem useful.

To insure that she never runs out of work, give Sharon a list of pending projects to complete as her schedule allows. Then, if you find her playing solitaire, simply ask her to tackle one of those tasks.  

If you want Sharon to share information with you, set aside time for regular meetings and keep a list of topics to cover. With more open communication, perhaps the two of you can eventually become an effective management team.

Do you have trouble giving people clear, direct instructions? You may need to shift your communication style: Are You a Direct or Indirect Communicator?

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