how to encourage the boss
October 5, 2011 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday I was called into what turned out to be a humiliating tag-team meeting where my supervisor and the department director took turns berating me for my job performance over the past year. Short on specifics and long on phrases like "you don't display ownership of your projects," and "you're always late," etc. All this is odd because just a couple months ago I got an un-scheduled mid-year raise and 'ata-boy from the director. Yes, one of the same who was pounding on me yesterday.

The good news is that neither of them are micro-managers, but the bad news is that this has happened before (to me and other employees) and the pattern seems to be that they store up complaints/annoyances/issues and then unleash them all at once a couple times per year.

Question is, should I gift them a copy of the One Minute Manager book? Or point them to a pertinant blog post about managerial leadership skills? Or just keep my mouth shut and look for another job?

Brief history: the current supervisor was my peer when I hired on 4 years ago, but has since enjoyed 2 promotions (to my 0) and just coincidentally happens to be same ethnicity as the director (different from me) but I'm sure that is merely incidental. Everyone involved is technically competent, but the company offers no training, managerial or otherwise, and it shows.
posted by markhu to Work & Money (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There is no point in turning it into a bitching match. Just set up a meeting with a legal pad and a list of your various assignments from the last year and ask for each one what you can do to improve the results.
posted by JJ86 at 11:30 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why do you think they're going to respond to feedback from you? Do they seem like people who are going to take criticism well?

The good news is that they've done it before, to you and others, and so far nobody's been fired (or you would've mentioned it). However, I wouldn't assume that you aren't going to be the first.

I would look for another job as a matter of urgency. I would also take copies of all good feedback you've had from them and forward it to your home email - not that it's likely you'll have recourse of any kind unless you belong to a union, but you'll need records should it come to that.
posted by tel3path at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

May I make a third suggestion?

You said that the director was someone who berated you this time, but praised you a couple months ago. Could you meet with him privately to discuss things further, and get more specifics? Something like: "hey, I remember a few months ago you had good comments about my performance, but then just yesterday you seemed really upset. Since that's a big shift, I really want to try to not have that happen; can you clarify exactly what it was I did to make your opinion change that much, and pinpoint some concrete things to work on so I don't do that again?"

It strikes me that overtly pointing out their foibles may backfire on you; but playing slightly dumb with the "first you said this, but now you said that, I'm all confused now" will both help him communicate with you better and may also subtly tip him off that he's treating you kind of weird.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2011 [45 favorites]

If this were my company, this would be a sign that someone Upstairs is prepping to fire you and/or demand your resignation/transfer (and I would be prepping my resume), but it sounds like that's not necessarily true for your company.
posted by muddgirl at 11:33 AM on October 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Giving them a book is passive aggressive and unproductive. You need to learn to manage up. This requires lots of written communication.

I suggest you write down all your current projects and goals, forward that to your supervisor, and then schedule a meeting to review and talk about them. At the end of the meeting, you will provide him via email a revised written list.

It is always a good idea to have a current resume and to engage in some passive job-searching, just in case.
posted by gagoumot at 11:35 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Responding to negative feedback from your superiors with management tips sounds like about the worst thing you could possibly do. "You're always late" and "you don't display ownership of your projects" sound like very concrete criticisms and you should probably make some effort on both of those fronts. Spend a month making sure you always show up early, follow up on things you're involved with that seem to be languishing on someone else's desk, then check back in with the director. Once you're sure he's satisfied that you've addressed the points he mentioned, it might be worth mentioning that you found the delivery of the criticism disconcerting and would prefer that such things be addressed with you immediately, rather than saved up and dumped on you all at once.

I'm not sure why you brought up ethnicity if you don't think it's relevant.
posted by contraption at 11:37 AM on October 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Sounds like someone's pounding on them so they had to make a show of pounding on you to show that they care. I like, though, the idea of setting up a sit-down with a legal pad so they can address specifics and letting them know that you'd like to improve - for the good of the company.

Oh, and make sure your resume is current.
posted by Man with Lantern at 11:40 AM on October 5, 2011

Seconding the idea that "You're always late" is pretty specific. Are you often late? That may help people answer your question, as what you're describing can either be legitimate concerns on their part, or an overbearing management style.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:44 AM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've learned to not let any negative feedback from management go without a full scale response. You think I'm doing something wrong? Are you willing to burn time talking in depth about how we got here, and how to fix the situation? Put next steps in writing? Work with me to make sure there's appropriate follow through?

If the answer to any of those things is "no" then what you just told me doesn't actually matter to you - which means it certainly doesn't matter to me. If you're not willing to do the real work - as a manager - to address the situation, then I'm certainly not going to, either.

OP, it sounds like you just got pulled into a bitch session. It's not worth another minute of your time. Even good bosses have the occasional fire and forget pity party. If those become more than occasional, it's on you to go look for another job. Doesn't sound like this one's worth keeping, anyway. If even these bosses (sometimes) recognize the good things you bring to the table, someone else will, too - and maybe without the crazy flip flopping.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:55 AM on October 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: One thing you might want to consider is that in both cases you actually weren't performing but they thought you had the underlying talent/skills to be a high performer.

I.e. the raise and the attaboy are the carrot. You are now getting the stick. Perhaps more stick now because your manager has said they will deal with your motivational issues [and I'm assuming it is how they see it] by giving you more cash and praise and seeing if you respond.

And so, having not worked, they have two issues: they've backed strategy 1 (carrot) and it's not worked and they still have a person who they see as underperforming and not sufficiently motivated.

They could be terrible managers of course. And while I am about to write a paragraph criticising you I am on the internets, I am not your manager and I obviously don't know the nuances of the situation.

However, it is worth considering your own behavior, because in the event they aren't your proposed solution seems immature and passive aggressive to me and from my experience some people who do things just like this fit the mold of the talented-but-lazy kind of employee who tends frustrates managers because they, the manager, recognise their potential but can't realise it.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:58 AM on October 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice. To clarify the "always late" criticism... that wasn't in the context of being on-time to meetings (I am) or missing deadlines (I don't), but it was about multiple tasks scheduled to be done over a 2-week period and some sort of vague sensation about not doing them in the right order or bunching them all up towards the end of the allocated time. As with the other "topics", when I asked for specifics, there was either one ancient outlier, or none.

I also appreciate the feedback that giving a book is passive/aggresive. But I feel like I want to say something to someone beyond the also excellent advice above about "subtly tip him off that he's treating you kind of weird" and "found the delivery of the criticism disconcerting and would prefer that such things be addressed with you immediately, rather than saved up and dumped on you all at once."

In other words, it bothers me that there is no management training at this company, leaving it kind of a chaotic "might makes right" kind of situation. Maybe this sort of systemic suboptimality is just out of my scope.

Thanks again, folks.
posted by markhu at 12:07 PM on October 5, 2011

It's a bear to address that on the spot, all the more when it's a surprise and the contentions are vague.

Agreed with those who have suggested requesting a follow-up meeting with the director and going in to it as prepared as possible to relate your past and present doings, ask questions.

A friend once suggested politely, humbly (putting the ball in their court by) asking them for their advice about how to address the issues. "Can you help me..."
posted by ambient2 at 12:12 PM on October 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks also for the straight talk about looking for particles of truth while being shat upon. There are some situations where my performance is not always 100% and would like to improve.
posted by markhu at 12:13 PM on October 5, 2011

I worked for a company that somehow evolved itself into a review culture that encouraged more "negative" reviews in the fall, leaving "room" for positive/improved reviews in the spring. I found my early reviews there mystifying in their swings until I was around long enough to be let in on the story: they gave raises only after the spring reviews.

Since you've said this has happened before, maybe there's a pattern...?
posted by Pufferish at 12:14 PM on October 5, 2011

My boss is a horrible manager. I haven't had a formal annual review yet but colleagues do & they dread review time because he gives zero feedback all year long and then slams them at review time with everything they've done wrong all year. So I'm proactive (I tend to be anyway, but I need to be with this boss). I ask him for feedback all the time. If he doesn't use my copy, I make sure I know why. In meetings I pin him down on deadlines and scope of work so that everyone knows what's expected, at least of me. I ask for training when I feel I need it and I let him know when my workload is light. (Right now I am teaching myself excel via the interwebs because my workload is light, and I told him as much.) On his request I developed a tracking list of all the projects in our department, and even though I'm the only one who uses it, I refer to it all the time, touch base with other people regularly so that I know when to expect projects to hit my desk, or even just to keep it updated, etc. He will probably still slam me at review time, since that's his M.O., but at least I will be prepared to respond professionally when he does.

So I would suggest following up with more than one discussion with the boss; rather I would follow up by regularly seeking feedback and clarity wrt deadlines, workload, time mgmt, etc.
posted by headnsouth at 12:20 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Being called into humiliating tag team meetings is a team culture thing and no amount of venting to said individuals or other people in the organization is likely to change anything. The two options most likely to work are either to manage up the way head south suggests where you over communicate and check in with the director a lot or look for another position in a team with a more healthy management style.

I worked for someone who literally made everyone on the team completely miserable because of her insecurity and lack of management skills and all efforts up to and including going over her head for help failed miserably--even when her whole team turned over within a matter of months. The final solution for everyone was to just leave.
posted by Kimberly at 1:06 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Second Man with Lantern. Forty plus years in the maze that's what it looks like to me. Someone a rung or two up told the tag team to put you on notice. It is not inconceivable one or the other suggested the precipitating event that began all this and belonged to them was yours. It will only embarrass them or piss them off if you ask for clarification or better direction, either way you lose.

Sharpen up that resume.
posted by KneeDeep at 4:07 PM on October 5, 2011

You might also see the follow-up as a fighting-back tactic, in the sense that you are not letting them off the hook with swiping at you, now they have to spend time talking about your goals and projects in great detail, which isn't nearly as fun or easy. It's possible this will deter them from doing this in future, should you stay, because they know they'll have to do the follow up.

None of this speaks well for them as managers, of course, so if you were to leave you could hardly be blamed.
posted by emjaybee at 8:44 PM on October 5, 2011

Best answer: Document, document, document. Send them a follow-up email thanking them for their advice, and make sure you cite their suggestions/criticisms of your performance. Then document the ways in which you respond constructively to those items. This will serve you well in your next conversation about your performance, and is your insurance policy in case the bitch session had any underlying purpose besides "just the way they do things at this office." If their criticisms were unfair or unfounded, you should have a follow-up chat with them. Do the exact same thing after this meeting - document, both with the reasons why you found the criticism unfair and with the outcome of the conversation.

You should also be documenting the positive reinforcement you are receiving from management.

In all of your responses to management, whether in the meeting itself or in writing afterward or around the watercooler, never be anything but professional. You are a good employee who is both competent currently and also continually focused on becoming better at whatever-it-is-that-you-do. Though rarely necessary, you take criticism well and are showing improvement over time. Don't give management any ammunition to show otherwise.

Giving your supervisor a book about management skills, or subtly suggesting that he could do better, is the opposite of professional behavior and the last thing you want to do. Expect nothing but a negative outcome if you go down that road.
posted by hootenatty at 9:24 PM on October 5, 2011

Response by poster: Update from OP: About 6 weeks later, my supervisor told me he thought I was operating at higher level and wanted to give "positive feedback." I thanked him and said my biggest change was simply trying to be more visible and communicate more, but when he replied about it being more than that, I just clammed up (with a pasted-on smile.)

I truly think that visibility is a major factor, which is difficult for my introverted self. I have no problem participating in meetings, or giving scheduled status updates. But I seem to have a knack for "flying under the radar" since I'm not naturally chatty or one to toot my own horn. If I develop a tool, I document it on the appropriate place on the department intranet site, send out an email announcing it, and mention it in the next team meeting. Then I shut up about it.
posted by markhu at 1:57 PM on December 8, 2011

Response by poster: FWIW, an update: the boss's boss got kicked upstairs, and his replacement was even worse, so I found another job. Start next week. It was a good 5 years, the last 1-1/2 years of boss troubles notwithstanding.

Believe me, I've exercised an admirable amount of restraint and charity in this post. The emotions run far stronger and are quite raw. Looking forward to putting this all behind me. Thanks for the advice.
posted by markhu at 6:00 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Congrats and good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 5:18 AM on March 2, 2012

« Older How to set up routines to avoid anxiety and...   |   To Drobo or Not to Drobo: That is the Question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.