How do I explain this to my boss?
January 5, 2017 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I am being considered for a promotion and am scheduled to have a chat with my boss about it next week. At the same time, I'm going to need to tell my boss that a colleague (at the same level as me but newer) hasn't been doing his work and that I've had to take it on in order to meet a deadline. How do I explain this to the boss in a way that doesn't come back to bite me?

My colleague has been with the organisation for over a year now and I've been there three years. Although I'm at the same level as he is, he was assigned to me as a resource and I was asked to manage his workload. I gave him one of my projects (with my boss's agreement) after he shadowed me on it for a number of months. By the time I gave it to him, the work was nearly complete and there was about a month's worth of work left for him to do, and he had over six months in which to do it. He kept fobbing me off promising me he was doing it but it turned out he wasn't. With only a couple of weeks left to go, I had to take on most of it and do it myself as it became clear that my colleague couldn't or wouldn't (I'm not quite sure which one).

My boss has a way of twisting things around and blaming people for things that aren't their fault. I'm afraid he is going to say I should have known the colleague wasn't doing the work. There is some truth to that but at the same time I found it very difficult to press my colleague on the matter because he would just push back and tell me it wasn't my job to manage him and that he thought we should be working as colleagues. Our supervisor (not the person I'm referring to as boss) actually told me to stop micromanaging my colleague. It turns out that he did indeed need to be micromanaged.

I could use some help please in coming up with a set of words I can use to explain what happened to the boss without ruining my chances of promotion and without blaming things on the supervisor or the colleague.
posted by hazyjane to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"It became clear to me the work wasn't getting done. I was getting conflicting feedback about my role relative to the project, thus I felt a personal responsibility. Given the circumstances, the expedient thing to do was just handle it myself and let the powers that be sort out the personnel end of things later, as they see fit."
posted by Michele in California at 12:52 PM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, why shouldn't you blame things on the supervisor or the colleague? It was your colleague's job to finish the project, and your supervisor's job to make sure the colleague did his work. Neither of them did their jobs, obligating YOU to do their jobs.

I'd just lay out the facts in a straightforward fashion, and any attempts to put the blame on you for not supervising or doing his work, despite direct instructions not to do either, should be met with factual statements: "My supervisor directed me not to manage Colleague's workload." Or "Colleague told me specifically that he was proceeding with the work. I discovered on my own that the work was not actually done."
posted by Autumnheart at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2017

Well, honestly, you do need to accept some personal responsibility here. Saying "But it's not my fault!" is exactly something bosses and managers don't like hearing.

Because, there is always something you can do about it. Working with difficult people is a skill developed over time, and is a valuable skill because, well - it's hard to do. Michele's advice is good; you admit that there was a problem, you couldn't exactly solve the primary cause, so you did what was necessary.

But, you still need to consider, or present some options. "I'm not exactly sure how best to handle the situation when a peer pushes back on something, without having to 'run to mommy' to tattle."

I recommend not 'blaming' (same thing as saying "it's not my fault". Though Autumnheart's second point of laying it out straightforward fact-based, to explain your conundrum as a basis for asking for guidance in the future on how to handle a similar situation is warranted.

You can bring it up as "say, this has already been handled, but wanted to know how best to handle a similar issue in the future.. I was conflicted on how best to address it at the time, but was more focused on making sure the work was done... appreciate your advice on what to do in the future and how best to work with peers.."

Make it a learning/development point, which the boss, if they are a good boss, should be happy to undertake in the pursuit of developing their employees.
posted by rich at 1:22 PM on January 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

I think you did fine with accepting responsibility in that you did the work to make sure the project was completed.

I think you are right to try to not blame anyone. Just as your hands were tied due to bureaucratic BS, they may have also been blocked by factors you were unaware of.

My experience in the corporate world with dealing with a higher ranking colleague who was quick to accuse was that sticking with the facts and trying to problem solve did wonders to make her less of a bitch to me. She came to me and accused me of something. I said I did no such thing. I gave my side of the story. We found a system error was the cause of the situation. Someone else had to implement procedural changes to stop it from recurring.

Yes, it is hard to avoid getting dragged into the blame game. If you can pull it off, the social BS at work may improve. Setting the example is the most effective way to cure something like that. People will not give you credit, but they will often follow your example -- because it works better than the crap they currently do.

posted by Michele in California at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there any way that you can talk with your boss about the promotion next week in one discussion and then have another discussion with your boss about your colleague in another week or two? I don't know what your timeline is for your promotion, but it seems as though you might not want to talk about both your promotion and the problem with the coworker in the same conversation. Because it gives the situation a little time and space to "air itself out" a little. If that makes any sense at all.

And maybe in the meantime you could have a kind but firm dialogue with your colleague about the need to pull his own weight. He might need some help, or he might be slacking. It's hard to say. It is what it is.

Good luck with your promotion!
posted by strelitzia at 3:08 PM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think the way that this could bounce back on you is if your manager thinks that you haven't done a good job managing him/developing him as a contributor to your office. The fact that it dragged on so long and you neither resolved it with the colleague nor sought help from your manager (on becoming a better manager yourself) is part of what could be held against you.

The fact that he's on the same level as you, and does not report to you, should mitigate that for a reasonable person, but it sounds like your boss might not be a reasonable person.

What is the urgency, though, for making this known to your boss? I don't see any need to. If you get the promotion, you'll be in a better place to handle it.

Making this your boss' problem means that you risk being perceived as someone who makes your boss' life more complicated, rather than easier. Unless you have reason to think he's the kind of person who actually values transparency (as opposed to the kind of person who thinks of himself as valuing transparency), I would just keep it to yourself for now.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:45 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

If this is actually resolved why would you bring it up at this meeting, which should be about your promotion?

If you are still supposed to manage this person's workload you need to call a separate meeting with both your boss and supervisor. Ask for clarification as to what your role here is supposed to be as they appear to have conflicting views.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:57 PM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

There's a couple thoughts that come to mind.

First, since you're being considered for promotion, the boss may have used this instance (of assigning the colleague to you) as a learning experience for the future. By your description, it certainly was.

Second, there's seems to be a conflict between the boss approving you in charge of a project and a person, but your direct supervisor is against your management of said project and person. This reads as you have a functional boss with a operational supervisor. Having 'two managers' can be frustrating.

I agree with others in the thread on presenting your case with straightforward facts that you've included. In the end, after determining there was a problem, you stepped back in and satisfied the project deadline. If the boss wants to know each person's contribution, answer with the facts.
posted by mountainblue at 5:40 PM on January 5, 2017

Thanks, all. I need to talk to my boss about the situation as soon as possible because it will almost certainly have gotten back to him already - otherwise I would delay. My colleague makes significantly more money than I do by the way as he was brought in on a much higher salary - he's a man and I'm a woman. If his laziness and incompetence cost me this promotion I'm going to be livid! His workload has been minuscule compared to mine and he hasn't even done it. It's maddening.
posted by hazyjane at 7:18 PM on January 5, 2017

One way to do this is to frame the conversation as a request for guidance, where you ask your boss for advice on how to manage a tricky situation (in this case, that your supervisor told you to back of micromanaging this guy, but a lack of oversight meant he never did the work.) It can even be worked explicitly into the promotion conversation - "I've been working on developing management skills since Bob was assigned to me, to get ready to be promoted; and I wanted to get your advice on a situation that has come up..." It's not subtle, but it beats "hey I just want to let you know that Bob and Supervisor are both terrible."
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:46 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

The other reason for framing it as a request for guidance is it will give you a definitive answer on the relationship you have with your boss.

If you go with what fingersandtoes suggests above and your boss works with you to help you grow and learn the chances are they'll be happy to have a colleague who isn't a fuckwit like the other two.
If your boss is unhelpful then chances are you're being exploited by all three.

Scenario 1 gets you the promotion.
Scenario 2 gets you an updated CV and looking for an exit without wasting years being exploited.

Finally, when broaching the subject of peers' poor performance if you are looking for validation that your opinion is correct it will come across as whining. Trust your take on the situation and have confidence in your worth. Either your boss agrees with you or doesn't and seeking their agreement won't change that.

The supervisor and highly paid idiot were unprofessional. Accept that as fact and look for help in how you should have dealt with a situation which appears to have gone on for 5 months longer than it should have. If your boss doesn't help get the fuck out of dodge.
posted by fullerine at 10:54 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

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