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BLUF: Could anyone here recommend a professional manner to handle another person assuming credit for my work?

My boss emails me questions on how to handle certain situations or what procedure would I recommend for this that and the other. Then, she removes my name out of my reply and forwards it  on word for word under her name to her supervisors and other departments. As if she came up with these great ideas on her own.

I've only found out about it because it happens that sometimes people will reply to all and copy me in, as some of these topics involve my particular niche, at which time I realize she's been passing my strategies off as her own.

I've also seen her passing around documents and reporting tools that I've built as her own creation.

I get it that we're on the same team, and my quality work is good for the company, and a successful company is good for my continued employment. In addition, she's my boss, so I can't exactly tell her to go figure it out for herself. But something about this habit seems ... wrong.

I don't feel right going around or over her to complain about it.  I *really* don't want to sacrifice my professionalism to try play her game (I'd probably fail anyways).

The most professional way to handle this that I can come up with is peer feedback, but I'm not sure how to do so with a smile. Cuz, I'm not. Smiling about this, that is.

Help?

thebeezer's picture

It sucks, but you have no winning moves other than to continue to produce and work on your relationship with your boss. If you try to do something "clever" to make it obvious to others what is going on, you'll almost certainly shoot yourself in the foot somehow.

Frankly, I'm unsure if this would be considered unethical or not. Your boss does deserve credit for your work, and you do as well. It's not an either/or situation. Unfortunately, your options are to either stay and accept this as part of your environment, or look for other positions.  

I'd love to hear other takes on this as this is a tough spot to be in. Best of luck to you.

Roger

cim44's picture

You could tell your boss specifically what you've observed - facts.  And how that makes you feel, and how you perceive the impact on your career / performance.  I'd suspect that this manager is quite aware of what they are doing, but you never know... you could give them a chance...

All other things being equal, I agree with the beezers options.  But if you could provide more info, that would be helpful.  Eg. how are you perceived by your bosses boss, how you are perceived by your bosses peers, has your boss acknowledged your contributions in formal performance reviews (and is it documented) how is your boss perceived, can you move easily into other areas of the org, how long have you been there etc etc

Bottom line, you have to be able to live with yourself going to work each day, working for such a boss can be soul-destroying.

Smacquarrie's picture

 You have to be very careful here. I have seen it go both ways. Either they are unaware of the perception or they are doing it purposefully. If they are unaware they may be appologetic but will usually take care to rectify future occurrences.  if they are willfully doing this it will negatively affect your future. Bring it up casually by mentioning the email you were later copied on. Do not bring up any others you may know of. Ask if it was in error or if they were trying to just get it moving.  I have worked someplaces where if it didn't come from senior management it was not considered.

Let us know how it turns out.  

svibanez's picture

I agree that the manager has the right to take some credit for their directs' accomplishments.  In theory, the directs accomplished more than they would have otherwise because the manager was doing his/her job.  Our job is to bring out the best in those who work for us.

I've had a few bosses like yours and didn't like it one bit when they took credit for my work.  I made sure to note the accomplishments in my performance review inputs, and was quite happy when those same accomplishments were left in, and occasionally emphasized more than I had originally.

If your boss doesn't allow you to share the credit, such as by mentioning them in your reviews, then it may be time to find a new boss.

I'd love to hear how this turns out for you.

Steve

DiSC 7114

mike_bruns_99's picture

You don't.   Period.  Your boss is not your peer or another person. And treating her like a peer with adjusting feedback is a good way to get yourself fired.   

Yes, it stinks to feel you don't get "credit" for your contributions. Work is not about credit. It's about actions and results that support the goals of the organization.    

The better approach is to turn your manager into an ally. Hopefully, you have a forum with your boss to discuss career growth and progression. This doesn't have to wait until an annual review. The last third of a one-on-one is fine.  In that forum, work with your manager on a plan to increase your effectiveness and value to the organization.  

This will, by definition, give you additional visibility in your organization. 

US41's picture

 Your manager has the right to take credit for all of your work. Your manager pays for your work by employing you, and all of your work belongs to them, not to you. Likewise, all of your work and theirs belongs to their boss, and so on. You sold your work to the company and your boss when you agreed to be paid to do it. Complaining about getting political royalties for your work is in violation of that assumed contract between you. Your complaint will sound insane to your boss, more than likely.

I am a manager and also engage in this behavior. I will ask my directs for guidance, because I want them to have a voice in how we operate. Sometimes, they will write something brilliantly, but I know it has a better chance of success with my name on it. I send it up with my name on it. I always expect my boss will do the same if they like. It is their property the minute it is handed to them. More power to my boss, too, because my boss's success is my success. The more I contribute to it, the more likely I am to be pulled along up the ladder. The better my reputation is amongst my boss's peers. The more likely my boss is to give me those perqs like extra days off I don't have coming to me, early out, late in the morning, long lunch, or other little signs that my boss loves my work and loves me. Having one on ones at Starbucks for an hour instead of in his office is nice, too. 

Now, I try not to put my name on their work, and I will usually put forward after the idea is accepted who it really came from and give full credit. I also will forward the message to my employee and let them know exactly what I did and why. I don't do this very often, but sometimes it is a good technique to provide my folks with cover. 

Your job is to make your boss shine. Complaining about them shining due to you is just crazy talk. ;-)

BTW: No matter what happens, never give feedback to your boss if you ever wonder if you should. You'll be absolutely certain you are close enough to your boss that some rare, limited occurrence will happen when advising them is appropriate, and then, you had better be very, very careful to provide your opinion or what you would do and avoid criticizing them. EVER.

melissas's picture

Wow, thank you for the new perspective. I understand that my employer owns my work and never had a problem with that. In all my years, I've never replaced any of my directs names with my own in a communication, document or publication, so it never occurred to me that was acceptable.

Don't think I'll pick up that habit, though. Still seems a bit like plagiarism to me, and I'm proud to show off that I work with geniuses. ;)

I didn't get the impression from the peer feedback cast that it was about criticism or correction, though. I thought it was more like a "just thought you'd like to know" sort of thing. Like, it's discouraging for me when you ask me how to do something and then tell everyone how you came up with those ideas on your own. Just thought you'd like to know. 

What do my skip bosses think of me? My manager hasn't done any reviews, all my work gets filtered through her, and haven't been any opportunities for me to interact with them otherwise, so it's difficult to say.

Thank you for all the well wishes, I'll just keep my nose clean and my head down and see how things go for awhile.

jkatzman's picture

This is a difficult problem, and some of the contributions here offer useful advice and models, but I sense that they may not have got to your deeper concern. To really help you think through this, we need to make a couple of critical distinctions, and think a bit more broadly.

I'm going to start by saying that the focus on ownership is the wrong way to think about this issue. Wrong for you, Melissa, and equally wrong for the other forum members who used it.

There are 2 parts to this question. A personal question, and a "how to behave as a manager" question. Obviously, we start with your personal concern, which should focus on growth vs. sabotage. On the mangerial level, its a question of ownership vs. stewardship...

PERSONAL

The points others have made about making your boss look good are valid. But that doesn't seem to address your real concern. Try this on: what if the real issue there is INVESTMENT, not ownership. Will the knowledge that you entrust to your manager pay off? You're worried it won't. You may be right, but others here have found that it can pay off.

If you think of this as an investment question, instead of an ownership/theft question, it may help remove a lot of the emotion. It may also open up better follow-on thinking. Perhaps your top questions about this manager need to be:

1) Are they incompetent, or long-term insecure? This is critical. An incompetent is a bad investment, and is also insecure. Bosses can have jitters for a while, especially if they're new, but those that remain insecure are dangerous investments. Many will look for ways to slightly sabotage their most competent help in evaluations, etc. That way, those people won't "escape," which keeps them around as a resource that helps the boss hang on to their position. A position that isn't likely to change very much, or very fast. When CIM44 talks about "soul destroying" bosses, I bet this breed was in mind.

If you conclude that your boss fits this category, you need to begin executing an exit strategy. It may take time, but your time here will hurt your career. This is a character problem, and even THEIR boss can't cure them. You certainly can't, even if you're in an organizational culture (and yes, there are some) that accepts this kind of feedback.

2) How have other people fared under them? If they're new to an organization, there may not be a trail. If they're not new, one good thing to find out is how many people have worked with them and made forward or lateral progress in the organization. Bosses have histories, written in people. Ask around, discover your bosses' history, and chat with some exes. Tools like LinkedIn make this process both broader and easier.

My only advice here, other than operating with good due diligence thoroughness, is to keep your questions positive. "What made you want to take your current opportunity?" "How do you feel you were prepared for success working (here), and what should I pay attention to?" Innocuous, positive, can't get you faulted, but if people want to dish, they will.

These kinds of questions let you focus on the INVESTMENT you are making in your boss, and whether it is earning you a sufficient return. Some, like SVIBANEZ, found that it did. If it doesn't, you'll know to leave, either laterally in the organization, or right out of it. What's more, you'll know exactly why.

MANAGERIAL

As managers, we should also be asking ourselves how we should conduct ourselves here. US41 is a good model, even though there's 1 sentence I completely disagree with:

"Your manager pays for your work by employing you, and all of your work belongs to them, not to you."

Not just no - hell, no! And yet, US41 is an excellent managerial model.

Here's the flaw: I knew a manager who believed such things belonged to him. He tried to do what one routinely does with belongings, and sell them on the open market. He had some very pointed, difficult, and well-deserved conversations with local law enforcement.

Your manager does not OWN anything at the company, down to the pens on his or her desk. Nor do they PAY for anything, unless you're in a start-up or something. Not their money. Not their goods. Managers who believe otherwise are risk factors for serious ethical problems, and can get themselves and/or their companies in big trouble.

Fortunately, US41's action say he (?) doesn't believe in that either. Instead, he acts like what a manager is: a Steward. Your boss is entrusted by you and by the organization as the Steward of your work, just as she is the Steward of the other resources the organization has entrusted her with. As you are the Steward for your direct reports' work.

When US41 decides that forwarding with his name on it instead is more likely to get a good proposal accepted, that's being a good steward, making sure that good work is less likely to be wasted. It's also showing a lot of trust on his end, because he's putting it out there with his name alone. If it's wrong, saying, "oh, that was my subordinate" isn't really going to protect him.

If it's right, however, he mentions that later on, he makes sure some credit is given, and he makes sure that it shows up in performance reviews (ditto SVIBANEZ' boss). More to the point, he tells his people what he's doing, and why. This is good stewardship of the people the organization has entrusted him with, as it develops them and makes them more likely to stay. It also demonstrates return on his subordinates' trust.

As managers, failure to be a good people steward, especially of strong contributors, is very, very expensive to the organization. It's something we want to avoid in ourselves, and weed out below us.

Does this help you, Melissa?

melissas's picture

I am deeply humbled and empowered by your detailed response. Indeed, you've hit the nail on the head on both points.

I do feel capable of keeping my responses positive. Based on her treatment of others in our team and in the company, I suspect that my investments will not trickle back down, but she is only some months into the job, so I could be wrong and I can keep an open mind for awhile more and see how things turn.

Thank you, and thank you to everyone for indulging in this discussion.