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Recently I conducted a review of a direct with my Director. At the review my direct proceeded to throw me under a bus by bringing up a litany of my perceived transgressions without previously bringing the concerns to me. 

Much to my chagrin, my Director really took her side in the review and came down on me a bit harshly in the review with the direct, and then later during MY performance review gave me a great review, with some feedback on improving my relationship with my direct. My Director has done this in past reviews, and I believe she does this to make the direct feel comfortable in expressing concerns and to gather feedback that will help both me and my direct develop. A bit uncomfortable for me - but hey - she's the boss!

Since the review my direct's behaviour has become overtly hostile, with very short and snippy replies and starting strange argumentative discussions over the smallest thing, as well as going over my head to my Director when I assign a task or provide direction that she disagrees with. I believe she feels a bit empowered by my Director's reaction during her review.

My Director has noted this change in behaviour as well and I have spoken about it with her. She has asked me if she would like the three of us to sit down and address the issue, and I would much rather have the opportunity to address this first myself.

My direct has shown signs of being overwhelmed by the work, even admitted to feeling overwhelmed during her review, despite having several years of experience in her role at another organization. I previously performed her role while also managing the responsibilities of my current manager position, with fewer staff then I have now. The volume of work should not be the issue. I believe that my direct is not being forthcoming with the real cause of her discontent.

My issue is how to productively engage with a direct that feels empowered to cause disruption, and seems likely just to dig in and involve my Director rather than address her real concerns with me.

Any thoughts?

jrb3's picture

(Okay, someone chime in with the link to the appropriate podcast/s with guidance for Barry to consider. :-)

That impression of her being overwhelmed might be the talking point to engage on -- once you're ready to engage.  If it's indeed overwhelm, and because of a major life change (health issue for herself or family member, death in family or circle of friends), you might be able to help make adjustments along with clarifying expectations.  Your director might have insight, or at least suggestions.  Any insights from your other directs?  Perhaps ask someone at HR, or some reliable person she already spends time with, if your directs are in the dark.

Meantime, you and your team still need to get results.  Not sure what that might mean for your other directs, or for others your director is responsible for.  For instance, I've taken on part of a colleague's workload for three weeks when she went through the aftermath of a miscarriage.  The curt responses and inappropriate escalations are suitable grist for feedback -- where are you with the Trinity?

When you do engage, for least distortion of communication, stick to the observable behaviors (per the Feedback Model/Tool) and keep it framed within the concern you have for her and her effectiveness within the organization.  I'd avoid touching on how you and the director perceives her not working the "litany" of concerns with you first, as I suspect that will muddy the waters.  A follow-up addressing that, after addressing the overwhelm, can happen later.

-- Joseph

robin_s's picture

Just out of curiosity:  you conducted a review of your direct, with your Director.  Is this normal?  It seems like it would be an uncomfortable situation for a direct., and one that would put her on the defensive.  Was she surprised or embarrassed by anything you might have brought up in her review?  Did you conduct any type of review with her in private first?  It seems a bit like a kid being taken to the principal's office.  This is not at all to say that her behavior toward you is justified, but embarrassment is a powerful human emotion, and if that came into play, it might be a contributing factor. 

I agree that your Director's response during the review, while perhaps well-meaning, may have had the effect of diminishing your direct's respect for your authority. 

I had a similar situation in a previous job.  Our CEO had an open-door policy (meaning anyone could talk to him about anything).  I was fairly new to the company, whereas my directs had been there for many years.  One of my directs in particular would go to the CEO every time she was unhappy with anything I did or asked her to do.  She felt empowered by his willingness to listen.  She was also often openly hostile toward me.  This situation continued until we got a new CEO, with whom she didn't have a prior working relationship.  Once that happened, amazingly our relationship improved overnight.

The take-home lesson for me as a manager was to be friendly and open with all employees, but respect the authority my directs have over their teams, and not empower my skips to bypass their immediate bosses.  A friendly and open boss can unwittingly undermine her own organization if she's not careful to respect the chain of command.

DaHahn's picture

Take the feedback and work towards implementing it.  You are the manager and expected to deal with the situation as the senior person.  Begin using MT's guidence if you haven't done so already.

Start building trust between the both of you.  Without trust, there is no foundation.  One on One's and a change in mindset to curiosity vs judgement is a step in the right direction.

Good luck!

barrytur's picture

Thanks for the insight - it worked to open the dialog.

My direct gave me an opportunity to address the issue of being overwhelmed and I jumped on it. A coworker had approached her with a small change to a task she was working on and received a bit of a cold shoulder, so I was approached separately with the change and the suggestion that it may need to be reassigned to another person. I popped over and informed her that I heard about the change, knew she was busy, and asked her if she needed assistance, which she accepted. She then told me again that she was frustrated with the workload and when I asked if she could elaborate said that she was unable to talk about it yet. I just responded by saying that if I don't know about it I can't resolve it and that my door was open when she was ready.

An hour later she was in my office with some specific questions about a particular process that she felt should be handled differently.I immediately set up a meeting with the appropriate staff person that needed to be consulted for her to present her concerns and either resolve the issue or receive clear feedback on her ideas. I felt that she needed to have the opportunity to voice her ideas and concerns without me in the way, so that she could see that I am ready and willing to hear her concerns and move on them to get them heard. The additional benefit will be to let her experience the fact that I have other partners in the organization to satisfy and I am not the sole architect of her frustration.

I am not certain that her issue will be able to be resolved to her satisfaction, however I gave her the opportunity to address her concern, and that I will respond much more readily to specific concerns rather than general and ineffective statements of being overwhelmed.

As far as the Trinity goes - the culture of our organization frowns upon regular standing meetings and I have had my hands slapped for conducting one on ones. I try to compensate by having informal "how are things going?" conversations with directs but frankly its not as effective. This particular case is an example of why one on ones are important and I plan to use this as an example to try to get them going again. I am doing fairly well with regular feedback and find positive feedback really gets the good results.  

barrytur's picture

Quite frankly with my Director present both me and my direct were both uncomfortable and put on the defensive. I did have concerns regarding the quality of her work from time to time and addressing them with my Director present was definitely a factor here. My Director insists on being present and actually determines wage increases without my input at all. Not ideal at all.

I had briefly considered doing a shot across the bow review first, by doing a review saying that I would like to submit a review citing the quality concerns, but won't pending some commitment to change results - I think that if the concerns remain next year I may very well take this approach. By next year though if the concerns are still there I will question my own ability as a manager!

barrytur's picture

Thank you for the comment about curiosity vs judgement. Valuable insight.