My boss is not doing a great job and I don't know what to do
May 18, 2017 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I have big issues with a newish boss and I'm not great at being tactful when dealing with work issues. I often trip over my words and the points I try to make often sound overly critical of others. Can you help me approach this and not be a jerk?

My boss was hired 6 months ago to head up our department. We are a company that makes a specific product. She has a lot of experience in a similar industry, but not with our specific product. This is part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that she is a bit of a diva. She has a big name in her former industry and she was probably hired based on her reputation.

I have many years of experience with the product we manufacture. I feel that I'm being used for my expertise and that she may be presenting the information I've given her as her own. But I'm trying to work with her and help her learn about the product.

The worst part for me is that she recently cut my hours, but has said on several occasions that she, herself, doesn't really need her job, or any job.

She farms out work on the side to personal friends of hers and then gives me their "projects" so I can apply their ideas to the product we manufacture. A lot of the work she farms out is unusable because it's being created by people who don't know our specific product.

She also regales us with stories about other famous people she used to work with and shopping the world for exclusive bags or shoes. We are supposed to be impressed by this, I guess. Meanwhile, there is a lot of work to be done, but she takes all the time she needs to tell these stories until she decides there's a work emergency. Especially with my hours being cut, I could think of a million better uses of my time.

I need this job. I am reallly good at this job and I've been trying my best to work with her. I'm at a loss. I feel disrespected and feel that the company hired her for her reputation. My hours have been cut, yet other people are being given work that I would be able to do correctly the first time and I'm spending time correcting their work.

I've brought up these things and suggested ways that my time could be better used, but I think she just wants to use me for my knowledge and have me execute these "great ideas" that "no one has ever done before". The ideas may be new to her, but they aren't new to the product - she doesn't know the product well enough to know better.

I feel like I'm the only person in this company who doesn't buy into her crap. I'm worried she's making really bad choices for the company and it concerns me that no one else seems to see it. What do I do? I haven't spoken to any coworkers about this nor my boss' boss. I am trying to stick it out and hope that she leaves or the company‚Äč realizes she isn't doing a great job. I want to limit the information I give her, but it's difficult to do that because we still have to make our product.
posted by crunchy_cereals to Work & Money (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Read the book Difficult Conversations. It will have some good tips for how to think about what these issues mean to you, and how to approach them with her so that you can reduce her likelihood of feeling attacked.

Also, you're applying for new jobs, right? Because no matter how perfectly you broach these topics, it may not end well.
posted by bilabial at 1:30 PM on May 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

"she may be presenting the information I've given her as her own"

This is pretty much what bosses do. If she's saying "I made this all on my own", that's one thing, but if she's just presenting it without attribution either to you or herself, that's the way it goes. Unless you make an artisanal product, nobody really cares about where something comes from, and your boss isn't really obligated to break down everyone's contributions to the finished product when she shows it to her superiors or to clients.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten is to use this to your advantage and frame your suggestions to make your boss think your idea was her own.

"suggested ways that my time could be better used"

I actually commented on an AskMe yesterday about this. Sometimes bosses are wrong, and you have to decide whether you want to do what your boss says, or what's right. I personally vote for what's right. But you have to understand when you're making that choice that it's going to bring a lot of shit down on you, because you're ignoring what your boss is telling you.

Your boss, and everyone's boss, has two main priorities: not getting shit from people above them, and gratifying their own ego. Going against what she wants you to do violates one, and often both, of these priorities, so of course she won't be happy with you. You have to balance that against how right you think you are.

"A lot of the work she farms out is unusable"

From the way you've described it, it doesn't sound like it's supposed to be usable. It sounds like she's farming out the brainstorming/idea process, and then giving you her friends' ideas to put into a usable form. Again, you have to decide for yourself if this is something you agree with. But keep in mind that your job is basically to do what your boss tells you to do, so not doing it is a quick way to unemployment.

"there is a lot of work to be done, but she takes all the time she needs to tell these stories"

She's the boss. She makes the priorities. If that's what she wants to prioritize...

"she, herself, doesn't really need her job, or any job"

Not her problem, or yours. Whether she needs the job doesn't matter. Someone at your company WANTS her to be doing the job.

"she recently cut my hours"

Now you have more time to look for a new job, because this one sounds like it's going to hell pretty quickly.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2017 [20 favorites]

You're the person closest to her that can "out" her incompetence. She both needs you to make her look good, while marginalizing you to keep you from interacting with others in an effort to keep herself from being found out.

Run from this job. Run.
posted by jbenben at 3:00 PM on May 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

Pragmatically speaking, it doesn't sound like you're good at your job anymore - because this IS the job now. The job is now fewer hours, listening to her shitty stories and cleaning up other people's messes. It's very unlikely to change back To the one you enjoyed.

I've been there, so I feel for you and am sorry for your frustration. But it sounds like it's time to move on. Is there another department to look into? Does she have a history of job hopping maybe?

Some people can adapt to these shifts when new bosses are hired - no matter how awful the new boss is. But that's really the only option. It's almost completely unrealistic to think you'll "out" her incompetence and get her fired or performing the way you think she should.

It's shitty, but it's that simple. She's the boss, so the job is what she says it is.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:30 PM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sometimes bosses are wrong, and you have to decide whether you want to do what your boss says, or what's right. I personally vote for what's right.

As a boss, I will certainly agree that bosses are often wrong. But I will also say that employees sometimes think bosses are wrong when they actually are not. The boss often has more visibility or context than the employee does, and is making decisions with the broader context in mind. This is part of the job of being a boss. Things that don't obviously make sense at a micro level can still make sense at a macro level.

It's dangerous to assume that your boss is an idiot, especially when you seem to be the only person in the company who seems to believe that...
posted by primethyme at 3:37 PM on May 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Additional information: I was hired by the CEO a few months before my boss and told that my position would grow into a director position, which is obviously no longer the case. It's a startup company, but in an industry I've been in for a long time. Myself and the others on my (small) team were blindsided by the decision to hire my current boss. I used to work directly with the CEO, but have now been almost completely cut off from her. I know that the CEO has no problem with me at all, personally or professionally. CEO has also said (to the entire company) that her door is always open for anyone to discuss things with her. But is it, really?

I don't want to run quite yet, although I am looking for a new job. I'm totally playing the part of "she's the boss, so this is what my job is now" and I must be doing a good job of that because I'm basically the last man standing from the original team.
posted by crunchy_cereals at 3:45 PM on May 18, 2017

Response by poster: primethyme: As a boss, would you want to hear your employees concerns or have a conversation with them? In this particular instance, I don't think my boss is an idiot, but there are definitely issues. Do you have suggestions?
posted by crunchy_cereals at 4:15 PM on May 18, 2017

Do not attempt to manage your immediate boss. Do not bring any of these criticisms to your immediate boss. Go to the CEO. Let her manage your boss. Do not talk about your feelings or about personal traits of your boss that you don't like. Talk ONLY about how these new management practices are impeding your ability to do your job well, and ask your CEO to help you.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:21 PM on May 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

I would recommend reading Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry by Albert J. Bernstein. It has kind of a gimicky cover and presentation (vampire this! vampire that!) but actual ideas are well laid out and deal with real types of people who, for whatever reason, inflate themselves above the needs of those around them. They can be your spouse, your neighbor, your co-worker, or yes, your boss. I found that the types the author describes applies to many people and the techniques used to communicate with them are also frequently effective. You may find your boss in here and go "oh!" and that may shed some light on how you should move forward.
posted by Crystal Fox at 4:25 PM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you were given to expect that you would eventually grow into a director position, and the hiring of this woman means that is no longer than the case, then they are signalling to you that they do not value you as much as they once did, or said they did. They've already cut you off at the knees--complaining about her work habits is not going to get you anywhere. Time to look elsewhere.
posted by praemunire at 5:34 PM on May 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I know that the CEO has no problem with me at all, personally or professionally. CEO has also said (to the entire company) that her door is always open for anyone to discuss things with her. But is it, really?

Well, you don't know this. CEOs are really good at insulating themselves and appearing like the nice guy while leaving middle management to get on with being the bad guy. If I had a quarter for people I have heard say some variation of the above sentence, I would be a much richer person.

I'm a boss myself and I winced a bit when I read your post. I'm generally hired into roles where the people above me want to make a large change in the ways of working and don't trust their operational team to make anything more than very small changes. I'm sure that some of my direct reports, now or in the past, could have written a very similar post about me. And maybe pieces of it would even be true! Who knows? In your career, you do the best you can and go on with that.

So, maybe it's her and maybe it's you-- I'll tell you that what makes me a little bit suspicious is the formula where a specialist says "I'm a specialist in x, I was brought in to do y, and now I have a new manager who doesn't understand x and they're making a lot of really bad changes." You hear that a *lot* during change-- it's practically textbook. And if the rest of the company is okay with what she's doing, you may need to accept that she has information or context you miss and that the problem may be you.

This said, one thing that is a serious red flag for me is cutting your hours and putting her friends first. It's also a concrete place to begin the conversation which doesn't boil down quite as much to "I don't trust you or like you.". Do you need the hours? I would frankly focus on this for a conversation. I would start with her and say something like:

"Hi Victoria, I would like to talk to you about my situation. When I was hired, the intention was that my role should expand. This was a clear part of the conversation with xxx and xxx. While I understand the company is making some changes in direction and I appreciate this changed role for me might be off the table right now, it worries me quite a bit to see it going the other direction! I was hired with xx number of hours and now I find myself with yy. I'm afraid that it causes me financial problems and it also seems to me to indicate you don't see a future for me within the company. This may not be true, which is why I wanted to talk to you about this directly. Can we talk about how I can work back to the hours I need and also discuss my career potential at WidgetCorp?"
posted by frumiousb at 5:44 PM on May 18, 2017 [15 favorites]

If you want to stay at this company and move into a director's position, that should be your only focus. Nothing else should matter, even though she may be an insufferable person.

frumiousb has the script to use. You want to talk to her about becoming a director, what you need to do to make that happen, and go from there. Get a timeline for when you can expect a promotion. If she's cagey or otherwise makes it clear you're not going to be promoted, then you need to move on.

Bad bosses happen. All you need to worry about is if she's going to be bad for your career and then act accordingly.

(And I get how much this sucks and is unfair; unfortunately this happens to pretty much everyone at some point in their working lives.)
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:12 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Almost nothing you are talking about has any relation to the quality of your boss's job. A boss's job is to increase sales, cut costs, or both. If she has a plan to do that and is implementing it, she's trying to do her job. (The results will decide if she succeeded.) Very few organizations, and almost no startups, care to micro-manage a boss's style and methods -- especially one hired from the outside in the first year of her tenure -- beyond the barest of legal compliance requirements. Relatively few organizations want to hear complaints about such a boss's methods from one of her subordinates unless they are violating compliance requirements of some sort.

I will agree -- if you are an hourly employee who has had your hours cut, that's a very very good sign that no one in your organization regards you as on any kind of track to a director position. If that's important to you, you'll probably have to leave.
posted by MattD at 8:05 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing frumiousb and MattD.

I nodded in recognition at this, by the way – I've edited to put the two together.
"Myself and the others on my (small) team were blindsided by the decision to hire my current boss. [...] I'm basically the last man standing from the original team."

I've seen this so many times that it's hard to moderate my knee-jerk reaction, but when a new boss comes in and an entire team is disappeared without a peep from the CEO? Well.

Business objectives can be very different from good management practices. In any case, frumiousb's script is great.
posted by fraula at 11:46 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

"employees sometimes think bosses are wrong when they actually are not"

Absolutely. What I'm trying to get across to the OP is that if they choose to disobey the boss and go rogue, they run the risk of not being around to find out whether the boss was right or not. They have to ask, is this the hill they want to die on? Maybe it is, and if so, go for it, but be aware that it's dangerous.

"I'm basically the last man standing from the original team"

Another HUGE red flag. The company doesn't like the way you were doing things before. They can't send this message any more clearly. The old way is no more. Sounds like you've got to get used to the new way, or join your former colleagues elsewhere.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:02 PM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel like I'm the only person in this company who doesn't buy into her crap.

Okay, yeah, definitely look for a new job elsewhere. Things won't be the same again here.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:42 PM on May 19, 2017

They're going to fire you if you don't quit first. I would be seriously looking hard for another job. Cutting your hours was basically them suggesting that you quit.
posted by empath at 5:30 PM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

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