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From the case files of the reluctant manager: My first employee

My first management position wasn’t one I asked for, or even wanted. In fact, to say I was a reluctant manager is a HUGE understatement. I was happy and busy implementing a performance management system in a company that had retained me for a year for this purpose. I’d relocated from Canada to Southern California and was dealing with the culture shock of decorated palm trees for Christmas, people asking if it ever got warm in Canada, and Thanksgiving being in November. The project was successful, and the company owner and COO were happy with how things were going. So happy, in fact, that they wanted me to do MORE…FASTER. Now for me, this was a good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that everything was going so well, and I wouldn’t be sent packing back to Calgary early. The bad news was I wasn’t sure how I’d add on more projects. That was simple, they told me. They’d give me an assistant. In fact, they already had someone picked out. We can call her Alice.

The first time I ever spoke to Alice was when I was told she was my new employee. She hadn’t asked to be my employee, and knew nothing about what I was doing. She was a musician in a band and that was her career goal. Her mom worked for the company and got her the job.

I had no idea how to be a boss. The performance management program I implemented is pretty technical and rooted in behavioral psychology. It seemed like overkill to train her in that. My thought process was that Alice could manage the data and I’d initiate the new projects. She assured me she knew Word and Excel, so I put her in charge of the data.

So about the data. My performance management programs are VERY data centric. We collect a lot of baseline performance metrics, and then daily information for every employee in the program. It’s a lot of work, but it’s based on PhD work into applied science. There’s a lot to it, but suffice it to say, the data was a big deal. My mentor was a professor from Notre Dame, and he was only doing this project so he could publish it.

So to recap: I had an assistant I didn’t think I wanted or needed, and Alice had a new boss and new job she’d never applied for. I had no idea what she was supposed to do and a ton of data I was managing on a spreadsheet that was mundane but critical to the program, and Alice said she knew excel.

What do you think the right thing to do would have been:

  1. Start training Alice in the performance management program and have her take on a project from the ground up?
  2. Have Alice keep performing her previous duties while I drafted out a job description of what I needed her to be doing, along with the training?
  3. Tell my bosses I had no work for Alice and I’d let them know when that changed?
  4. Put Alice in charge of the data management because that was the item that needed the least specialized training, and could free me up to start new projects?

Comment with your answers, and I’ll let you know what I really did (it wasn’t good).

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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based mentoring and training company committed to equipping managers to overcome the typical tactical, strategic, and personal development challenges facing managers in growing companies. Will a full suite of mentoring, coaching, training, and on-call support available for managers and leaders, we’ve got you covered! For more information, visit our site or contact us for more information about how we help leaders and managers grow.