I work for a small non-profit organization and we have no HR. Because I have some seniority, I’ve been assigned as a supervisor to one of our part-time workers, who also happens to be a friend of mine from high school. She is in communications and often makes mistakes on print and online publications. Even before I was her supervisor, I’d sat down with her and told her she needed to be more careful. That did not prove effective, as a few days later, she made another mistake and I had to e-mail her to remind her about the review process we established so we can avoid publication errors. Others in the communications team have also mentioned her making mistakes.
Since I became her supervisor, I removed her from online publishing, but now she is doing grant proposals and documents for the government, and is still making mistakes! I am usually the first one called into the boss’ office, because she cuts and pastes from drafts of my work(cut-and-paste is a common practice here), and doesn’t bother to check–or ask me–if the document is the final version, and therefore had been reviewed for errors.
She is also absent-minded when it comes to other things. For example, I requested that she make copies of her timesheet so I have records of her projects in case the boss asks me. She has so far done this only once. Also, another co-worker has complained that when she asks her to research something, she would agree, and then not do it.
I have no idea how to tell her that she really needs to be more focused and detail-oriented, especially since (a) I had done so in the past and it hadn’t worked, (b) she has a tendency to say “Okay,” and then no to do what we asked her to do, and (c) apparently she’s upset that I was assigned as her supervisor. Do you have any advice for me?
First, I hope that you were not made a supervisor strictly because you have seniority. That’s about the worst reason to promote someone. (Although, admittedly, it’s a very popular reason for promotion. Longevity does not=good supervisor material.) Because you are not sticking your head in the sand with this employee, it seems like you earned this role by more than not quitting.
Your first issue is that she is an old friend who is ticked off that you are her boss. Her failures could just be passive aggressive behavior–and may even be subconscious. This is a frustrating situation. Now, since she made mistakes before you became her supervisor, my guess is that there are some competence issues along with negative feelings.
It’s hard to have a supervisor who used to be a peer. It’s hard to be a supervisor to someone who used to be a peer.
I’m going to solve part of your problem right now. This is super-de-duper easy. Instead of trying to get your employee to ask if the document she is cutting and pasting from is a final version, you simply save documents as proposal42_draft.doc when it is a draft and then change it to proposal42_final.doc when it’s final. Easy-peasy.
Now, as for the other mistakes, what we need here is a shorter leash. She’s been told that she needs to proofread, or whatever, and she’s not doing it. Or, she’s incapable of noticing the mistakes. If it’s the former, then she has to run everything by you before she turns it in. This is a huge pain for you, but hopefully, will be a bigger pain for her and she’ll start paying attention. This also blocks her access to the big-wigs and can be very frustrating. But, until she can produce error free work, absolutely necessary.
If she’s incapable of noticing the mistakes then you’ve got a person who is in the wrong position. So, she either gets nudged towards the door or the position evolves to fit her strengths. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, by the way. I’m a writer, not an editor. I don’t have an editor over here (except for my commentors who can spot a misspelling or missed word a mile away), but I do at US News and she catches some things and occasionally changes my grammar to something clearer. She’s very good at it. (She’s a very good writer as well.)
If this person just needs a quick grammar clean up, then this might be a solution. If this person’s errors, however, are of the factual kind, this may be manage out situation. You have to decide if the problem is fixable. Include her in your decision making process.
Explain that these errors have got to stop and you are willing to help her with that. What support does she think she needs? Are the deadlines too tight? Does she not know how to do research? (The first page of Google hits does not equal “research.”) If it’s just sloppiness, then the short leash should help.
She may need a mentor who can help her through. Or, this may be too much effort for a part time person. (Yes, I can be heartless.)
But, work with her, not against her. Be clear in expectations. Follow up every time. And good luck.