Submitted by mdave on
For the last few months, I have been part of a management transition and my unit has a new boss. The 'managing your boss' podcasts were super and really helped me get off to a good start since I had not experienced this as a manager. The boss is a nice guy, has good ideas, and has been very supportive of me.
There is, however, a catch. My boss has a direct that was hired by the previous manager a few weeks before he was re-assigned. This direct's job frequently has him playing a key role in projects and programs that I am responsible for. I realized from the start that my relationship with this person is very key for my division's success. The performance of this direct has been subpar since he joined the unit. Since most of his work has been on projects that are my responsibility, I have had to do a lot of damage control -- which he has not exactly appreciated.
During the first month or two with the new boss, I briefed him on my concerns regarding this employee's performance as it applied to my areas of responsibility and what I saw as the risks. We also agreed on what my role was in terms of providing feedback and direction to this employee and when the boss wanted to be involved.
One thing I noticed with the boss -- call it an unstated goal -- is that it is very important to him that people get along. Extremely important. It's been a couple months past our discussion regarding my concerns and the employee has made another set of very gross errors. In order to maintain the credibility of my division (and myself, and to avoid my boss being in an embarrassing situation), I again engaged in damage control. I have a future project coming up where the stakes are a bit higher and I don't want a repeat event -- and perpetual damage control is taking up too much of my time. It should be noted that the direct has not shown much improvement and can't understand what the problem is (besides me) since they believe they were a model employee in their old unit.
I need to meet with my boss again, but am feeling a bit cautious. Normally when I have a problem I at least have a couple of options for solutions. In this case, the reasonable options all point to how I think my boss should be supervising this person -- probably not a good idea. I'm getting down to three options -- none of which I like. Keep playing damage control, stop playing damage control in which case it would be really evident to the boss how serious this could be when the fallout starts (note: this is a non-starter for me. I just can't ethically get there. Also, one of the places the boss acknowledges that I have exceptional value to him is in my ability to catch potential problems before they happen), or start looking for a new place to work. Given the breadth of work the employee does for the unit, simply transferring him to my staff is not a very likely alternative.
I hate to be a taker on my first real post, and would appreciate any thoughts you folks may have. I’ve been really impressed with the caliber of contributors to these forums and don't recall seeing a question like this. Thanks.
Managing your boss - and their direct
Is there a middle ground? Since this person does not report to you, can you approach your boss to have him more involved with that feedback. I think you're spending a lot of time covering his tracks, but the person who Needs To Know doesn't know you're doing it!
What was your agreement about your boss' involvement? Has he been aware of the actions of this employee all along or will it be a surprise to him? Is it possible for you to step out of the way and allow him to see for himself?
Beyond that - what does this person bring to the table? What is he doing well? Have you been able to utilize the peer feedback model effectively for both affirming and adjusting feedback? Have you seen any value/change from it?
I have a lot more questions than answers!
(And don't worry about 'taking' - it's what most of us are here for - you'll be hooked, and next thing you know, you'll be giving all the time instead!)
Thanks for the help. There are a couple things that I could have explained a bit better.
Middle ground: This is part of the conversation that I need to have with my boss. The feedback I have provided to the employee has pretty much been ignored and some of the same mistakes have been repeated (things like incorrect information in public documents, poorly constructed legal conclusions, poor organizational skills and meeting management that cost other staff and externals time.) I was the acting unit manager for a spell between the old and the new manager. We had a pretty significant project during this period where many of these (then new) employee's deficiencies were exposed. I don't mind so much that mistakes were made, but I am concerned that mistakes are being repeated.
Track Covering: The boss knows this and has acknowledged his appreciation. My sense is that the status quo is okay because it creates the least conflict for him.
What was your agreement about your boss' involvement: The boss will not be surprised. I think he is catching on to the seriousness since he has requested some examples of this person's work that I have reviewed. Our initial agreement was that issues should be resolved at the lowest level (me) and that when it pertained to my program areas, I should be reviewing all work so that when it is elevated to him there is a complete and quality product. We also agreed that if his directs have questions/concerns regarding their work in one of my program areas that they were to communicate directly with me first. This was the model that was used by the previous unit manager and it was fairly effective.
Stepping out of the way and allow him to see for himself: This is a great idea. I'm just not certain how to do it in a manner where I feel that the risk is small that it will not put my division in an awkward spot. The other factor is that I've caught the eye of upper management in a positive way regarding my work in my current job and as the interim boss -- I've also been selected for my organization’s national leadership development program and seem to be getting recruited for some external assignments. I really don't want to jeopardize my emerging good reputation in this line of work.
What does this person bring to the table: This employee is not bringing a lot at this point. He has been in the job less than a year so there is still a learning curve – but as it has come to pass, there is not much learning or improvement going on. This is part of the rub. It’s new to my boss, but it is not new to me.
Peer feedback: Even though the person is technically not my peer, it has not gone very well. The employee is very sensitive, is convinced that I don't like them, and does not trust my motives. Several of my peers, unsolicited, quickly identified this employee has being a headache with a high grievance risk. I’m coming around to their point of view (on the grievance risk aspect) and this is part of why I would like to revisit the situation with my boss. I want to be certain that we are still on the same page regarding my interactions with this employee, the risk his performance is still creating, and any adjustments that I need to make.
Managing your boss - and their direct
Sorry for the challenges you're having.
I could be wrong, but my sense is that you're spending too much time worrying about what your boss thinks and what he wants. The problem is with your peer, and you keep telling us about your boss.
It seems to me that your boss is reasonably confident of your abilities, and doesn't want to be as involved as you think he should be (and I'm not a big fan of "should"s).
Your boss does NOT want to be involved. He wants YOU to solve this without him, and that means talking directly to your peer.
Specific question: how precisely and how often have you followed the peer feedback model? I don't sense that you have..and if you haven't, I seriously doubt that this problem is going to be solved [b]in a way that works for your boss.[/b]
I also think that there may be a lot more you can do proactively with your peer, rather than just giving feedback (however that may be occurring). I hope that you are communicating openly about status, and having regular discussions with this peer about tasks and deadlines and completions.
If you are not doing both - peer (model) feedback and proactive project communications, I wouldn't be terribly excited about getting the boss more involved yet.
And could you tell us more about what you do? It would help me understand the work flow and relationship better.
Thanks for the insight -- I had not considered that.
Specific reply: I have probably not used the peer feedback model as much as I should have. In terms of preciseness, I’d say that when I do provide feedback I’m pretty decent with the two steps – when you (cited the incorrect statutes in this brief), what happens is (our risk of being successfully appealed goes up OR it hurts our credibility when we have to retract the document and re-issue). I try to keep it pretty tight and action specific since he’s pretty sensitive. Interestingly, I find that I probably go out of my way to provide positive feedback when I can – but, in thinking about it, I don’t use the model for the good stuff. My bad.
Proactive communication: Part of the reason this issue has elevated is because I have drafted some guidelines/expectations for the role this employee will be playing in an upcoming project. Much of it is from some ‘lessons learned’ notes I kept on an earlier project – and I own a few of them like not having this type of document in place the first time around. I intended to vet it with my boss in advance knowing there is a good chance the employee may interpret it as some sort of referendum on past performance and may take issue with some of the expectations. Tactful delivery will be key. Fortunately, the employee and I communicate pretty openly about status, tasks, and such, but there is always the opportunity to do more.
Managing your boss - and their direct
If you are shooting for a positive outcome for everyone you have to improve your relationship with your peer. Positive feedback will help you out with that tremendously. You don't want your peer cringing every time you offer feedback. So, give lots and lots more positive feedback. Or if that feels uncomfortable, how about just plain praise? Either way, you have to open up the lines of positive communication.
Take the document you want to vet with your boss and show it to your peer. Or ask him to help you create the document, don't show him what you've already done. Make him a partner in this process instead of someone who has to be managed. He'll notice the difference and hopefully step up to the plate.
Then you can go to your boss together with the plan on the new project. Or if it's your project, you take it to the boss, but your peer has already signed on to his responsibilities. Your boss sees you working together and doing everything you can, so your stock goes up as a team player. If your peer drops the ball, again, there will be more clarity won't there.
Protect your project though. Break deliverables into smaller chunks so you don't end up with a huge mess. It doesn't sound like that has been a problem for you, but I just thought I'd toss it in for good measure. :)