Reporting to someone with a lower title
May 26, 2018 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm a senior scientist at a large corporation in the East Coast. Most of my colleagues, like me, have PhDs, a few are MDs, we even have PhD+MD, PhD+MBA people, etc., you get the idea. I report to a senior/executive director, and we recently had a new Scientific Director position created, and to my surprise, we were invited to apply for it, as opposed to the boss just appointing one of us to that new (higher) title and position.

There were three of us applying who have done work related to the new title's job description for several years. There was also a 4th candidate from my department who applied, but who had 0 experience with the line of work associated with the new title. To everybody's shock, candidate #4 got the job! Now the 3 unsuccessful applicants are quite unhappy about this, and worse yet, we have been told that from now on we will report to the new guy. So, instead of reporting to a senior/executive director, we will report to a scientific director. We feel like we are being moved down in the org chart, even thought our title as Sr Scientist remain unchanged. We have also been told to patiently train the new guy in the details of his new position, since we 3 are the experts, and he's not (!). What do you think of my situation? Should I quit? I love the company and its location, my parents live nearby, etc., I'd hate to move. But I've lost trust in my department's leaders.
posted by Julissa to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It is not clear from your post what the job duties of the new director position are, but is it possible they want to keep you three doing science, and have this new person doing more management and administration? If so, I would not be at all upset to be in your position. I certainly wouldn't quit until I saw the results of the change, since it sounds like you get to keep your pay and scientific duties, and maybe get someone else doing client communication, budgeting, scheduling, etc.
posted by agentofselection at 12:36 PM on May 26, 2018 [45 favorites]

It is hard to remember this but sometimes people are good managers in spite of not having, or because they don't have, your exact skill set. Managers should be good at managing people, and being good at your job doesn't necessarily translate into being a good manager. I support you in looking elsewhere but maybe try the new manager out for a couple months?
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:48 PM on May 26, 2018 [34 favorites]

In my limited experience, though in a different industry (tech), these little changes in org chart depth hardly matter in practice, and there's a good chance you will be re-orged again anyway.
posted by redlines at 1:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of the awful things that many organizations (mine included) do is determine "Oh - you are an AMAZING rocket scientist. Your ratings demonstrate there is no better rocket scientist in the building. We really need a manager to manage all of the rocket scientists. You're an amazing rocket scientist, so we'll hire you as the Rocket Scientist Manager!".

Then it ends up being sheer luck if the amazing rocket scientist ends up having the qualities and skills necessary to be a good manager, supervisor, hiring official and all of the other things that the supervisor needs to do.

Perhaps your organization is better than mine and is hiring a manager based on leadership qualities rather than rocket scientist skills? If so, please let us know where to apply. :) I wouldn't quit, instead just give this person the benefit of the doubt and let them prove to you that they don't deserve you giving them a chance (it sounds like your peers are not planning to). It would be a kind and generous thing for you to do, I've walked into situations where everyone thought I was going to fail before I got in the front door and it isn't fun. It would also be good for your organization and possibly good for you career-wise. If this person doesn't end up being a good manager, that would be the time to re-evaluate.

Good luck.
posted by arnicae at 2:10 PM on May 26, 2018 [14 favorites]

My manager could not do my job. He's not paid to do my job. He's paid to do all the things that allow me to do my job. This is how most everywhere I've ever worked, works. This is how most everywhere works, if they're doing things right.

The skills that make you a good scientist don't always translate into the skills that would make you a good manager, and if you were to be moved into a management position you would no longer be able to do the things that make you a good scientist.

To be honest, some of the best managers I've ever had were people who were totally clueless about what the team did, at least at first. But they were very good at managing people and processes and clearing the way so that the team could do the work without a lot of interference or interruption. And some of the worst managers I've ever had were "experts" who were promoted into a management position but had no management skills whatsoever.

In your case, you might find that your department leaders made the right call by moving this person into this position. I would also do whatever was needed to make sure this person succeeded at their job, because that is what the company leadership expects you to do. What you're describing is simply the way things work in big corporations, and if you quit and went to another job you'd see this happen again and again.
posted by ralan at 2:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [23 favorites]

It's very possible he makes less than you and/or aims at servant leadership. Both things definitely happen, particularly in domains where 'individual contributors' are highly skilled. I understand it all stings a lot, but maybe for a while you could temporarily suspend judgment and try thinking about him with the respect and consideration you would if you were in his position and had hired him yourself on better terms as sort of a project manager to go to meetings for you and coordinate work? If you find you wouldn't have hired him for that either, then sure, maybe time to move on.
posted by Wobbuffet at 2:48 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I agree with the general sentiments above by ralan, and suggest a 'wait and see' strategy. He/she might be a good manager, and might even make things better for you by assuming non-technical tasks that allow you more time to do your job. However your current management should be informed about your concerns but that you are (collectively) willing to work with the new person to get them up to speed.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:49 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're upset enough about this yo quit over it, why not have a conversation with your current boss about what led to this decision and how things are really supposed to work in the new structure? That will help you know if it's really a problem or just a misunderstanding.
posted by spindrifter at 3:17 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've been through that sort of "new level of management stuck in between, sort of makes you feel like you've been bumped down the org chart" kind of re-org a couple of times. Perhaps through sheer luck, I've generally found it to be a good thing - more people whose job is to get me resources I need, clear obstacles out of my way, and support me so I can do my job. If they're competent managers, it can work out very well.

That said, I really don't care about titles or hierachies, so I may be someone who is easily able to roll with this sort of thing. I've had colleagues who did not feel nearly as good about those same re-orgs because they cared more about the titles and the additional support did not balance out the new reporting structure. This may be down to personal preference/needs as much as the actual actions/people involved.

Of course, there's certainly a possibility of the alternate terrible outcome where this other candidate's promotion was a terrible idea, they don't bring management skills to the table, and you're just stuck training an incompetent on top of doing your own job. That would suck and potentially be well worth quitting over.

All of which is to say: Given all the pros of your job, I'd suggest you simply wait and see how you feel in a few months. You can quit just as well then as now./
posted by Stacey at 4:18 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

a good manager should free you up to do your technical job better and more efficiently. Being "bumped down" the chart can just as easily mean that you now have someone to shield you from stuff raining down from above.

If they've done their job well, the folks making this decision have hired someone with management skills -- including as mentioned above comms and budgeting, but also stuff like career development, project mgmt, conflict resolution -- as opposed to duplicating the technical skill set you have. If not, well, you'll find out soon enough. But give it a chance.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:50 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

You seem to have internalized one of the most bizarre and dysfunctional aspects of academia: the best scientists are not the best managers.

Unless "director" means something unusual at your company (e.g. "scientist who gets paid the most"), the job you didn't get is a management role. Getting this job would not have been a promotion. It would have been a career change. One of things a good manager will do is shield you from uncertainty and administrivia. You don't need a PhD to do that, but it's incredibly hard.

If you think you want to be a manager, read The Manager's Path by Camille Fournier. If you still want to be a manager, try and find ways to take on managerial responsibility in your current role.

If, on the other hand, you want to keep doing science, but with more "seniority" (i.e. you want more freedom and more money) then you may have a problem, because it looks like Senior Scientist is the end of the org chart for the "technical track" at your company. That's a great problem to discuss with your new manager!
posted by caek at 4:50 PM on May 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

In a functional organization, managers aren’t hired because they have the most technical expertise, but because they have been identified as the person who can best manage people and projects.

Your leadership has presumably decided you don’t need their hands-on management anymore, and identified the person best equipped to handle the day-to-day management. Management, while a great way to possibly make a bit more money, or to boost a fragile ego, is not usually fun and doesn’t come naturally to most.

Give the new person a chance. You might be relieved to be able to focus on your science work and not have to worry about budget, reviews, performance, quotas, and poor staff attitudes.
posted by kapers at 5:37 PM on May 26, 2018

I'm joining the crowd saying this is a good thing (in concept, individual performance may vary). Unless you're tired of being a X scientist and want a new challenge in managing people, this is not the job you want. You'll find yourself saying "I'm a scientist, and never get to do any science" a lot.

It's almost better (also worse, in different ways) if the person they hired doesn't know anything about what you do yet. That way they believe you when you say things, instead of filtering it though their own ego and outdated knowledge.
posted by ctmf at 9:37 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wait and see.

1) Do you enjoy doing science? If so, you avoided getting stuck doing management stuff and never having time/ purview to get your science on anymore. If not, if and when you do decide to quit, you can start looking into management positions.

2) This person may or may not be a good manager. Won't know until you've worked with them. That you were told to hold his hand, well, that sounds like you can win a political ally and train them to protect your department's (and your) interests.

If they end up being a micromanaging jerk, or unwilling to listen to the experts, you can quit then.

3) Is this Director position higher paying than the Sr. Scientist position? If so, I'd be annoyed.
posted by porpoise at 2:01 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Reporting to someone with a lower title...Most of my colleagues, like me, have PhDs, a few are MDs, we even have PhD+MD, PhD+MBA people, etc., you get the idea.

I can't help reading some snobbery into that. You have stated that it is a 'higher' title and position, but at the same time see the person who got the job as lesser than you because they don't have as many letters after their name as you do. So they are de facto below you just because of their lack of a PhD/Md etc. They got the job, they are not 'lesser' than you, just maybe more suited to the job than you are.

Letters after your name denote/signify a specialisation, in a broad sense. You don't give the department head position to someone with the most specific skillset. You need someone more generalised, and (as most others have pointed out) someone to manage and to get the organisational/administrative processes in place to make sure that all the specialised people (ie you and your other letter-obsessives) more focussed on their specialisations. That's good practise. It will likely help you spend more of your time doing targeted work. The idea that only letters after your name makes a superior *actually* superior is really quite snobby and maybe you should reflect on that a bit.
posted by Brockles at 4:30 PM on May 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

Brockles, I mentioned the degrees so that readers have an idea of the type of company I work for, and the sort of specialized work we do. No snobbery intended. Worse yet, the guy who got the promotion does have the exact same degrees that I do. So, I have no idea where your comment came from. The degrees were really only tangential to the story. Thank you for taking the time to comment, though.
posted by Julissa at 11:33 PM on May 27, 2018

Thank you all for the great replies! To clarify, I don't think that the guy who was promoted will do mostly administrative work. In my department, people who move from Sr Scientist to Scientific Director usually continue doing science, only they have more direct reports under them. Granted, having more direct reports means more time spent managing people, their salaries, reviews, dealing with problem employees, etc. But definitely, directors do earn more than Sr scientists.
posted by Julissa at 11:47 PM on May 27, 2018

So, instead of reporting to a senior/executive director, we will report to a scientific director.

This isn’t a demotion, it’s middle management. Most orgs are layered in this way as execs are too busy (or feel they’re too important) to handle the people-management grind. As someone who was promoted into management, that stuff is not tangential. Yes, I still have to produce work but the management work is a much bigger piece of the pie than I ever imagined.

Can you put your hard feelings aside for a little while to give this person a chance, and consider there was perhaps wisdom in selecting this person over the more established candidates?
posted by kapers at 8:27 AM on May 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

In fairness to Brockles, I also got a hint of snobbery in your post, especially since you consider this person to have a "lower" title than you. I just can't read that without coming away with the feeling that you consider yourself their "better" and are resentful that you have to work for someone you consider "lesser." That may not be the way you meant it, and I'll take you at face value on that, but that's how it came across to me.

At the end of the day the fact is that after interviewing all four of you, the company leadership decided that candidate #4 had the qualifications they were looking for to lead the team. These qualifications probably have nothing to do with science but with things like project management, team leadership, and budgeting. This leaves you with a few options:

1. Quit. However, and trust me on this, you will find this same situation in any other organization you go to work for. What you're describing here is simply how things work. This is how things are supposed to work.

2. Stay, but make things difficult for your new manager. This will end poorly, for you. Upper management won't care that you and your colleagues felt slighted by not getting this promotion, they'll just see three employees with poor attitudes who are not cooperating with their manager. It won't be the new manager who loses their job over this.

3. Stay, and do whatever you can to help the new manager succeed. This will end well, for you. Upper management will see that you and the new manager are working together as a team to make your department and company successful. This is what they want to see and are expecting to see from people who are grown up enough to have advanced degrees in science and are working professionals.

If you're actually interested in a Scientific Director position as the next step in your career progression, then once things are settled a bit schedule a meeting with someone who was on the decision-making side of this. Explain to them that you're interested in this type of position and you want to know what kind of skills you need to be working on in order to have a better shot the next time. The company may be willing to train you in the skills you need such as project management or budgeting or team leadership. This will be far more likely if you've been working hard to help your new manager be successful and are seen as a team player.
posted by ralan at 11:07 AM on May 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

I also got a hint of snobbery in your post, especially since you consider this person to have a "lower" title than you. I just can't read that without coming away with the feeling that you consider yourself their "better"

Then I need to work on my writing skills, LOL. All I meant to say is that the guy who got the promotion has less experience in this line of work than the other 3 who applied (not that he's any lesser than us). All applicants have the same degrees (MSc and PhD), and had the same title (Sr Scientist), and I think that our level of overall experience is comparable. The title I put on this thread has to do with the fact that, from now on, instead of reporting to a Sr Scientific Director, we will report to a Scientific Director.

I've learned a great deal from all the answers here, and I've enjoyed reading Ralan's replies to other threads too. Thank you!
posted by Julissa at 10:01 AM on May 29, 2018

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