Getting credit for your ideas / combating someone who steals/takes credit for them
December 16, 2008 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Do you know any effective strategies for getting credit for your ideas and work? One of my coworkers (a gentleman my senior by 20+ years who was recently quietly demoted below me because his lack of vision and tech skills) is regularly taking credit for my ideas at work and outside of work among industry leaders.

What's worse, is he's much more well-connected than me in the industry we work in (it's a small world) and it appears he has been telling stories about all the great work and ideas 'he' is coming up with. Also, multiple times now I've had people approach me and ask me what it's like 'working for him.' ... He's been telling people that I'm his employee.

I'm pretty introverted, humble and was raised to respect your elders. I really don't feel comfortable bragging about my work. And I'm not trying to get someone fired or embarrass them but I'm starting to get frustrated and I'd like to get some recognition for my ideas. It seems at a time like this -- when heads are rolling left and right from layoffs in our industry -- it's especially important to make your worth known at your company and at potential employers. (I'm more concerned about the latter.)

I've asked him gently to give me proper credit on projects twice now and he's agreed and been very cordial when we talk about it, but he continues to 'forget' to share or give credit. What's worse, is I've tried to lead by example and every opportunity I've had, I try to promote other coworker's work (including his) to my superiors and when I can, publicly in the industry. I kinda hoped the good faith effort would eventually come back to me and this guy would be respectable and fess up, but it just doesn't seem to be happening.

Anyone have any suggestions on how to deal with someone like this and how to get credit for your work and ideas, without being a self-promoting jerk?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Publish a company blog? It sounds like you talk about these things in the industry anyway. If you have a company blog to promote what you all are doing in the industry, the blog post can say who was on the creative team.
posted by Pants! at 5:57 AM on December 16, 2008

Just go to his cube with a smile and say, as though you think the whole thing was a joke on his part, "have you been telling people I work for you?" (hold the smile)

Generally, my advice would be to act as though you had no fear. Cuz, really, living in fear is far worse than anything your afraid of.

(why are worried about embarrassing someone who's walking all over you?)
posted by mpls2 at 6:11 AM on December 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

When talking with others with incorrect conceptions you can always use subtle humor. Like "oh he said he came up with that all on his own did he?! Hahaha, what a card!"
posted by norabarnacl3 at 6:19 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Send emails to your boss and/or your boss's boss after you've sent them to him as an "FYI."

For example your email to him goes 'Hi Earl--I've finished report A and website B--feel free to distribute. Thanks, Anonymous' and then yank that item out of your sent items and send it to your boss "Hi Boss -- Just an FYI. Thanks, Anonymous"
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:48 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

He is your staff member. These are performance improvement topics. Stealing credit is poison on a team. When is his employee review? You should ask for his self assessment so that you can write his review. One thing to request in a self assessment is an inventory of accomplishments and contributions to projects. With his self assessment you can have the conversations - you've taken credit for Project A. From my vantage point, your contribution to Project A is about 10%. Why do you see that differently?

Another thing is to officially delegate work to him via email in a manner that establishes the pecking order. "Bob, please take care of this detail for Project A. I know I've assigned you several tasks in the last few days. Please stop by my office if you need help establishing priorities or if you need me to find another resource to help you meet the dates." CC people as needed. It would be very hard to claim he's your boss if you are obviously establishing the priorities for his work.
posted by 26.2 at 7:01 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I once knew a guy who came up with a new type of interface after hours at his work. It's somewhat common when coming up with something new to give it an unambiguous name so you don't end up with two things called "New Interface". So, he named it after himself throughout the design and documentation. So we had a JimPort, a JimInterfaceLibrary, and a JimMessageDecoder. I'm fairly sure they even retained this name when they shipped the product.

Well, there was no doubt in anyone's mind as to who came up with the idea and did the bulk of the implementation for the JimInterface.
posted by Mike1024 at 7:19 AM on December 16, 2008

I think your problem is in the phrase "self promoting jerk". Getting the credit you deserve in a professional situation does not make you a jerk. Allowing a coworker to take credit for your work on the other hand...
posted by merocet at 7:51 AM on December 16, 2008

I agree that you shouldn't be worried about respecting someone who isn't respecting you. Be firm, professional, and unapologetic when you tell him to stop taking credit for your work and when you clarify for others that no, you don't work for him.

I'd also second the suggestion of a blog. That's one way I establish which ideas in the industry are mine, because I publish them in my blog. For that to work, however, the blog has to be widely read. Then if someone "adopts" one of your ideas, people will (ideally) remember having read it in your blog first.

I also agree that pasting your name on everything possible should help. For example, a supervisor of mine took credit for an interactive info thingy that I created (he told a prospective client that he had created it, even though I was standing right next to him). This would have been impossible if I had put "by PatoPata" on the first screen. His tech skills were so weak that he couldn't even have edited that out.
posted by PatoPata at 8:16 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've asked him gently to give me proper credit on projects twice now and he's agreed and been very cordial when we talk about it, but he continues to 'forget' to share or give credit.

This part confuses me. If you are equals, how is he able to take credit for these projects? It sounds like at some point you're putting the project into his hands. Examine his opportunities to take credit for your work, and see if there's something you can do about it at that point.

Also, document your work, with dates as often as possible. I was in a similar situation, where the credit for a big idea (that I came up with) "somehow" got transferred to another person at my office. I cleared up this "misunderstanding" quite quickly the next time someone mentioned it by offhandedly remarking "oh, I remember coming up with that... still have my notes that led me to that idea." Having that tangible proof was key. Keep proof of your work - and share those early stages with others.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:40 AM on December 16, 2008

also, when you share ideas/knowledge/work ensure that the rest of the team/clients or whoever is present, try not to be in a position where you have to communicate such things to him alone. if you are communicating by email copy a load of people into the email.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:22 PM on December 16, 2008

I don't think you should use the subtle humor or polite confrontation strategies, especially in front of colleagues. You've told him directly and he continues to credit hog -- the subtle approach won't work. He is older, demoted, worried about lay-offs and importantly, maybe did not 'come up' in an environment of mutual support and collaboration. He sounds fearful and aggressive. I am a big fan of documenting everything to him -- tell him that in order to keep yourself super-organized, you're going to re-cap meetings, conversations, project plans, etc in an email ... and then do so faithfully. Confide in a superior (no you are not a tattletale, you've already tried confronting him nicely yourself) and then use the cc (or bcc if you have to) to keep that superior in the loop.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with thinkpiece's assessment. Subtle humor does not work in this situation.

I had a very similar issue at work recently. A co-worker (slightly superior to me) was taking credit on big projects she had been assigned, but were completed by me and others. She apologized to me privately, but did not correct anyone's assumptions.

I began updating my superiors more on what I was working on. I took things to them for their opinions or suggestions. It's great having the input from someone with experience, and they could also see when I was doing this girl's work that she was pawning off onto me.

You don't have to be malicious or a jerk about it -- just honest. I learned that I had to be a little self-promoting just to make sure my bosses knew that I was an asset to the company. It was a little difficult, because I AM a little shy and introverted when it comes to my superiors, but it's been well worth the effort. I'm much more respected for my work than I was because now they see what I do.

The bonus to this tactic is that you never have to even point out to anyone what this guy has done. People will see it for themselves.
posted by 3fluffies at 1:36 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Via written memorandum, order him directly to cease discussing any and all projects regarding the company with outsiders without your prior written approval. Indicate that should this order be disobeyed, disciplinary action may be taken.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:23 PM on December 18, 2008

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