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I work at the tech support desk for a financial services company and having trouble dealing with a (relatively) new hire who at best doesn't seem to be picking up the job and is oblivious to it, and at worst totally underestimated their job duties and workload and deceived their way into what they thought would be an easy job.

This person was hired at a second-level support position ostensibly because of prior experience in the IT industry as a ".NET Developer", but the more time I spend trying to work with them, the more it seems that they oversold their expertise and experience. What's more alarming is that they seem utterly incapable of the teamwork necessary for what we do (which is primarily tech administration/support), and seem to be totally oblivious to the consequences their actions have on the rest of the team.

Despite multiple attempts to directly coach this person on this subject, they do not seem to be learning and instead of taking responsibility and learning, they retreat into anxious excuses.

For about 8 months, I've been trying to give this person the benefit of the doubt (since I know that development work, if that's what they really did, can be very different than day to day troubleshooting and dealing directly with users, and I empathize that there's a lot to learn). However, this person seems to be the IT archetype of someone who perpetually repeats their first year in the field. (There are others on my support team who ostensibly have many years of experience and also fit that description, but that's a separate topic...)

Personally, I'm very happy with where I'm at since I enjoy hacking on things to make them automated and can manage customer service pretty well, in addition getting some great on the job training with sysadmin work.

However, this person continues to be a drag on my productivity, despite me telling them directly at least twice that they need to take more responsibility/ownership for the work that they do, and try to recognize when their actions are a drag on the team. For them, good intentions seem to be more important than the actual results.

I have been (rightly) scolded before by one of our sysadmins not doing enough work for myself to solve problems and relying on someone else to solve my problems, so I can empathize with this person's fear of asking for the wrong kind of help. However, they are in this exact situation that I was in before (and I told them exactly that), but they have not been able to learn from it.

Some examples of their behavior:

  • I had prepared a bag of miscellaneous cables/supplies to take with me to a site visit that was an hour's drive away, but this person decided they would take the entire bag supplies with them for a less time-sensitive task at an office that's a 10 minute walk. My trip had been on our department calendar for at least a week, but this person showed zero cognizance how how much their actions (and relying on my prep work to cover their lack of planning) ruined my plans for that day.

  • Not knowing basic roles in our department (in this case that only full domain admins can reset an AD administrator password)

  • Asked me if we are able to do a certain thing for an end user, and when I said that we are not, rather than trying to think through who would do it they simply played the guessing game.
  • A typical workload for us at any time is between 15-20 tickets or so at a time (including day to day issues and projects), but I frequently hear them sigh multiple times a day and say "oh god" under their breath, despite not realizng that they have a very light load compared with others.
  • Asking me how to disable an Outlook plugin, while I was managing a flood of user tickets from a major system outage, not even bothering to Google it first.

Being an introvert and someone who likes to teach and help, I take part of the blame for not being more direct with this person while these things happened and being too helpful instead of letting them learn, but at this point I'm not sure what's the best course of action. They do have a (somewhat superficial) technical interest in solving issues, but seems incapable of applying themselves in an organized way to be effective at the job. When they re-encounter a task they've been shown how to do multiple times, they have no recollection of doing so (I'm not expecting total mastery, but just asking that they have a general recollection of the basics).

I'm at a point where after giving this person many opporunities and being as polite as possible, I now realize that I've been covering for them and doing far more harm than good.

Here are the options I'm looking at, and their downsides:

  1. Start being curt and replying with "You should know this", "Look it up", "I'm busy" - I'm most inclined to do this, but know that based on them being anxious that they will likely just shut down and stop them from asking questions altogether
  2. Write detailed instructions and delegate a task to them (that requires planning/organization) as a test, but risk having more work fixing their mess later.
  3. Play dumb with them, document mistakes and refusal to learn from them and hope that my supervisor will eventually have cause for discipline (not likely since for better or worse, upper management tends to be deferential, at least for the time being)

Fortunately my direct superior sees this exact behavior for what it is, and is extremely supportive of what I deal with, but we're both unsure of how to deal with the situation, given their anxious personality. My boss has been beginning to rely on option 1, but this person hasn't gotten the message from that either.

I know this is a classic problem for anyone that works in tech, what is the best way for me to salvage them?

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    Shouldn't that question be asked here: workplace.stackexchange.com – user8838 Apr 26 '18 at 2:40
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    IPS really can't tell you what to do, just how to do what you've decided. I'm not sure this question is quite on-topic here. (workplace doesn't seem to care for that distinction so much, and will be likely to give you better advice specific to being a manager) – Bilkokuya Apr 26 '18 at 16:00
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I've hired and fired technical staff. Let me preface this with one thing that your post touches on but doesn't address: talent is a critical component of working in IT (or really any job). The work can be learned, but that requires an underlying talent for the position and if that talent is not there, learning will NOT be easy. Putting it another way: I may want to play professional basketball but if I'm only 5'4 and am uncoordinated, no amount of effort or desire will enable me to do that job.

First of all, this person's competence is your boss' issue, not yours. So don't feel overly responsible for it. You want to do what you can, which is admirable.

Let's put aside the past and look at the present. You are covering for your co-worker. That needs to stop. They see you as a crutch. They aren't exercising the intellectual curiosity that an IT professional needs to have to be successful. It's been 8 months, which is about 6 months longer than it takes to pick up basic tech support skills. Enabling that is a poor interpersonal skill. Here's where I'd start.

I'd chat with your co-worker. "Bob, I've come to realize that I'm doing too much for you and have made you reliant on me. My work is suffering as a result, and I'm not doing you any favors. Starting today, I'm going to encourage you to do the basic research. Any question you ask me, I'm going to ask 'what have you tried? I don't expect a doctoral thesis, but I do expect that you have done basic troubleshooting and research before you ask me a question." Then hold him to that. Be firm but polite.

"How do I disable an Outlook plugin?" "What have you tried? What have you looked up?" "Well, nothing..." "Go and do some research; let me know what you find out. When you have something, come back and ask again." Insist on their doing that - they will gain confidence in their ability as they find more and more solutions by themself.

This sounds like you're cutting him loose, and in a way you are. Successful IT staff have the ability to look things up and think independently; if he refuses to do that, you're better off finding that out quickly and having your boss deal with it. Carrying an underperforming coworker teaches them that they can underperform and is a terrible interpersonal skill - you do not help them grow and develop. An important interpersonal skill as a mentor is not helping them learn - it's teaching them HOW to learn, self-teach, and self-correct.

Encourage him to start doing those basics of the job. When he asks who does something, encourage him to find an organizational chart. If one doesn't exist, make him call around to people who he thinks might do that. The chase will teach him about others in the department, build relationships, and give him an idea of IT as a whole. Again, that will help build confidence as he starts to swim for himself.

WRT #2: I'd do that as a Project Manager but not a co-worker. If there's a more complicated task, have them write up what they plan to do and go over it with you. That will teach them more and give you an idea where they need to grow. Also, giving a person a detailed process discourages thinking and makes the person into a checklist-doer. You want to teach them how to learn and think, not blindly follow a process.

WRT #3: that's the final straw and more your boss' job. I would focus a lot on #1 and #2 before I got to the point of this. Once I hit that point, though, I'd say this, "I've been helping you a lot. It's time for you to swim on your own. After today, I only will answer questions that you think you have an answer to and need confirmation or to bounce a potential solution off of."

In the end, divorce the person from the job they are performing. Nervous personality or not, your boss pays them to do a certain job and pays you to do a certain job as well. If this person can't do his job, and that detracts you from doing yours, then your boss is, quite frankly, getting mugged. Be supportive and friendly, yet firm.

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I have had the same problem working at a college . I was surrounded by incompetence to such a degree that I was accused of arrogance simply because I didn't ask others for help. So, I chose to be a facilitator.

I learned that certain people just need the right kind of attention to get them over the initial hump; to give them confidence in themselves. It seems that certain individuals are primarily concerned with being liked by others, and work is secondary.

Once they feel accepted, nurtured and loved; through the devotion, patience and care of another; they suddenly perform well. Their initial lack of confidence rooted in not being liked by others clouded their minds with anxiety.

So, when someone came to me for help, I'd sit down next to them, and say, "Tell me how 'you' would approach this problem." Whatever response I received, I would always gently navigate back to the individual and what they were thinking regarding the problem.

That takes more time in the short run, which no one has enough of to begin with, but many times it succeeds in the long run, where rational methods fail. Many people just require help to be nearby, like sitting next to them, and suddenly they can swim or ride a bike. They just needed that security to get them going.

You might take a seat and ask, "Where do 'you' think you should look for a solution?" That implies somewhere else besides from you. People like your coworker certainly are deserving of pity.

If they persist in taking advantage of you, simply state, "I'm willing to help you. But you have to help yourself. Take a few minutes to think about it."

Then, walk away for three minutes. When you return, sit down and say something like, "How do 'you' think we should solve this problem? I'm interested in your input." People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.

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This is a fairly familiar situation to me, having 17 years experience in 2nd and 3rd line support, and later in management of 1st-3rd lines. You have my sympathies!

First of all though, lets give this guy the benefit of the doubt. You reckon he has bluffed his way into this role, and I've seen plenty of that myself. But equally I have seen people with university degrees in various fields of computing and lists of Microsoft certificates as long as your arm who are equally incompetent.

One problem that many have in the transition between IT theory and practice is a shift in terminology and jargon. At college people learn the most up to date terminology, but in the workplace people either use older terms that they are familiar with, or in certain sectors there is a whole new set of terminology to use that is not necessarily IT related but necessary to understand the business. You mention that he asks questions he ought to be Googling, but he may not know what words to Google!

Really your department should have its own knowledge base and all known issues and fixes should be documented, even basic ones. If you haven't then that is something to consider, but is he even aware that there are online knowledge bases?

Everybody learns differently and are at different levels. "Coaching" may just be the word you use to describe any on-the-job training, but actually the word describes a particular kind of training - coaching, counseling, mentoring and consulting are all very different and you may need to adjust your style a little bit.

I personally find that people like you describe - less qualified than perhaps they had you believe - are scared that they will be "found out" and so the bluffs continue. They never really admit to what they don't know so you can never really know whether they have understood what you told them. You are not getting genuine feedback on their progression, so no wonder you become frustrated when it turns out they can't do something you already showed them how to do!

My best advice is to try create an atmosphere where they are not afraid to admit what they don't know. This is a business, so I recommend being firm but fair. At the earliest appropriate opportunity tell them:

There is a lot to learn in this job. We have all had to learn, and I'm always happy to explain things. But that only works if you're honest about what you don't know. If you don't understand something, you must say so. Nobody will think less of you if you haven't come across something before. It is far worse when people are embarrassed and try to bluff their way through something, because most of the guys around here really know their stuff and they instantly know when someone is bluffing.

This isn't meant to come over as a threat, but a dose of reality. People who know the job well will know when he's bluffing or screwing up. He might think he's getting away with it, or that "best endeavours" are good enough. Hopefully this comparison to his peers will encourage him to fix his attitude in that regard.

Next time they ask you a reasonable question, try not to show your irritation, and say something like this:

This problem comes up quite a lot, let me explain it to you.

And at every step of the way, check if they understand. It may be less confrontational to ask:

Have you come across this before?

...rather than:

Do you know what this means?

It does sound like this employee will take more time to learn than others. Getting him to admit that he doesn't know things, assuring him that he can ask questions and you will help when appropriate are your best chance at him learning his way. Of course, he can't ask you everything and you also need to direct him to online knowledge bases, and yes, tell him that Google is his friend.

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Simple solution. Every task should have a written solution, and steps to take. Suggest with them walking through some simple scenarios with how you deal with it and how they deal with it.

You will soon learn if they are incompetent, or just too nervous. It could be they are not cut out to have the level of social interaction your role demands.

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