A member of your team takes the ball and runs with it. He or she shows initiative by identifying a project and then sees it all the way through to completion. The only problem is it doesn’t align with any of the strategic priorities of the department. And oh, by the way, the final project also made its way to your boss before you were made aware that your employee was working on it to begin with. As a result, you have egg on your face in front of your boss and you’re also forced to provide “constructive” feedback to one of the members of your team on misguided initiative.
Most managers I know provide a great deal of autonomy to their employees. They provide guidance as needed and are always available to answer questions or to act as a sounding board when their team members are about to launch a project. In this particular case, the manager didn’t want to micromanage, but also didn’t appreciate having to hear about a project from his or her boss before hearing about it from his or her own team. A communications issue–the solution in this case is relatively simple. The manager asked members of the team to keep him in the loop on any key projects they’re working on before communicating externally.
The bigger concern, as a manager, is the loss of time and resources that the employee spent on a project that doesn’t align with the strategic priorities of the office. Had he been able to catch it early, he could have refocused the project. Instead, he was left with providing constructive feedback on how to keep it from happening again in the future. To keep it from happening again, you need to instill check points without making your employees feel like you’re looking over their shoulder. Start by making sure that you frequently (and clearly) articulate your strategic initiatives. Then, be sure to check in with members of your team periodically to see what they’re working on. Some managers prefer pre-scheduled individual meetings with their staff every other week. Others prefer to pop in periodically to see how things are going. Either way, the important thing is that you check in.
To help avoid misguided initiative, check in with each member of your staff (whether formally or informally), clearly define and communicate strategic initiatives for the department and create a culture that allows members of your team to feel comfortable coming to you with questions along the way. By doing so, you can avoid having to provide negative feedback on something that should have been seen as a positive.
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).