How do I talk to my boss about changes in responsibilities.. that weren't at all what I expected?
June 27, 2007 8:34 PM   Subscribe

How do I adapt to unexpected and unclear changes in roles for myself and my immediate colleagues? A new person has joined my small department (we build and maintain web sites) and I was surprised to find out my boss has plans for this person to take on some responsibilities that I wanted.. and had thought I'd be assuming.. but now I don't know what to think. More detail follows..

My boss is not always so clear in explaining roles and responsibilities and maybe I don't ask the right questions or say clearly what I want, either. But it's hard to know what roles are even available. My workplace in general tends to be secretive and byzantine, and was recently reorganized and it often leaves me feeling left out and like I've done something wrong..

Basically the responsibilities in question here have to do with meeting clients and gathering requirements for projects. I thought this would be my role in the future, I've done some of it in the past few months and it's something I think I'm good at. I had some conversations with my boss that I am *sure* covered this area among other things and was led to believe I'd be moving in that direction. I develop sites as well, but we're a small department so everyone wears several hats.

I know the higher-ups planned for each department in our organization to have a "point person" to work with clients. Last I heard about that, again, I was very interested and thought I was well suited for the role..

But now this new person has joined and was immediately given the hat I wanted particularly, and I don't know if it's because my boss thinks I'm not suited to it, or if it's because the new person's skill set isn't technical enough to handle the development work, and my boss was pressed to make a good fit very quickly - leaving me out.

FWIW the new person has joined because of another department being dissolved, basically - the organization had to find a place to move people - so it's not a specific hire to fill this role. And personally we get along great and have been friends for a while, which makes it even more awkward to complain about! I just feel surprised, in a bad way, and unvalued, and cheated (I know better to express this in a serious conversation with my boss, though), because I've done a lot of hard work for the department under extremely challenging circumstances and gotten some very tough projects launched. I have my faults.. I can be undiplomatic and can get overwhelmed, but lately I'd really thought my boss had come to rely on me. Maybe he thinks I can't cut it as far as client interface/developing requirements. Still, as of a few months ago that didn't seem to be the case! I don't know what to think or what to ask him, even!
posted by citron to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Last I heard about that, again, I was very interested and thought I was well suited for the role..

Did you tell anyone this? If not, then how would they know? Ask for what you want
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:43 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: Frankly I wasn't sure that the role would exist - it's still being talked about by committees and not official yet - so I had my doubts about whether it would even be available.

Would not be the first, second, or third time something has been promised and then doesn't happen.

My boss has also talked in general terms about my role changing in the direction of more responsibility, and I thought we were clear given the people and skillsets we had at the time.

The addition of the new person is really a wild card for all of us and it happened very quickly.

It's one of those days where I find myself back at the "am I crazy or is this organization crazy-making" stage, and there is a sh!t ton of evidence to support the latter theory.
posted by citron at 8:55 PM on June 27, 2007

If everyone wears many hats, why don't you just continue doing your part? If your boss needs you elsewhere, it's their call. Would you just find the "point person" thing more fun?
posted by phrontist at 9:15 PM on June 27, 2007

Response by poster: It would be more "fun" to handle requirements. It's not fun, in fact, it's exhausting and often demoralizing trying to actually get things done in this organization. Things that should be easy are never easy and talented people get chewed up and spit out. (I am not ready to move on to another job yet for a number of reasons..)

Maybe I should look on it as doing me a favor in that I can focus more on development (I have a lot to learn still).. but I'm also worried it's just adding another layer of interface that will make the process more complicated than ever.. maybe I'm just having a bad day and the heat wave is getting to me.
posted by citron at 9:36 PM on June 27, 2007

It sounds like nothing is set in stone yet, nor will anything necessarily be set in stone. I do not think it is too late for you to clarify yourself. Tell your boss that you're very happy the new guy is around, but that you would like to make clear your desire to take on the role of point person, if such a role is available. Just make it so whatever happens, you won't be kicking yourself thinking 'if only I had expressed myself better.'
posted by infinityjinx at 9:38 PM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: Say to your boss what you wrote in this post. Say, "I think I've done a good job at this in the past, and I kind of assumed I would be doing more of it in the future, and I was looking forward to it." You can do this without questioning your boss' authority to make the decision — you're talking about yourself and how you fit into the job.

Maybe the boss hasn't put much thought into this decision, being distracted by the sudden reorganization. Maybe he doesn't realize you'd actually want to do this kind of work. Maybe he thinks you'd be good in the position you want, but he doesn't want to assign you to that role because he wouldn't be able to fill the other roles you're currently filling. Or maybe he thinks you wouldn't be good at the new role; that would suck, but it would be nice to know (perhaps it's something you can learn to do better). Anyway, you won't know unless you bring it up.

(My job can also be very vague about who's supposed to be wearing what hat, and frequently doesn't assign responsibilities in ways that make sense to me, and it drives me absolutely bonkers. I am slowly getting better at talking to my boss about it. Also, when it gets really bad, I start polishing my resume.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:59 PM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: I just feel surprised, in a bad way, and unvalued, and cheated (I know better to express this in a serious conversation with my boss, though)

Let me give you my point of view, as a supervisor (though a different [far different] industry):
You should definitely say exactly that. Chances are, your supervisor knows or suspects that you were going to feel that way, and has a (not exactly good, but) reasonable reason for doing that anyway. By bringing it up, you get to have a more big picture strategic discussion with the supervisor about why he/she did what they did.

Also, I'm never going to argue with someone doing my job for me. You know we got an extra person, make a plan for what we're going to do and show it to me. If it works, I'm happy you saved me some work and you got what you wanted. Win-win. Signature, done. If it doesn't work, I lose nothing, and you learned something.

So, if I'm your supervisor, I want to hear your story, but I really wanted to hear it before I made the plan. Then, I might have just gone with your advice. Now, your plan had better be significantly superior in all possible ways, or you're going to have to settle for a "maybe next time".

Which is still better than fuming about it in secret. You should have that serious conversation with your boss.
posted by ctmf at 10:18 PM on June 27, 2007

One of the best lessons I ever learned from my boss is "Don't ask, don't get". It's pretty simple. Bring it up, you've got nothing to lose.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 10:18 PM on June 27, 2007

Best answer: You should read my recent post, "Help me say this to my boss...'It sounds like you're about to hire someone to do the cool projects I thought were soon going to be part of my job.'"

From my experience, I do agree with the comment: Just make it so whatever happens, you won't be kicking yourself thinking 'if only I had expressed myself better.' I was seriously kicking-myself one day.

I'd try to drop all the "I thought I was good enough" stuff. I had that exact same mental dialogue going. From all the good feedback you got, it sounds like your boss thinks your good at that job. S/he probably just thought you were busy and could use help, and then looked at the new person's quals.

In my case, it turned out that there was more than enough work to go around. My boss didn't mind mixing up the division of labor and reassured me I could hang on to whatever work I wanted to do. The new person can do a bajillion other things. She's really awesome, and I've learned a lot from her. So, in the end, since everything worked out so well, I am a little embarrassed I felt so insecure and nervous and territorial rather than being positive and confident and open.

I'm curious if you've talked to her about what she likes about her job and what direction she'd like to move in. Maybe she wants to learn the development side.
posted by ruff at 1:59 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

This book has been mentioned on here a number of times before, but I myself just read it for the first time: Difficult Conversations will help you think about how to bring this up and make it a meaningful exchange with your boss.

Although you may not have time to go out and read a book first - it does sound like time is of the essence here.
posted by wyzewoman at 4:23 AM on June 28, 2007

Response by poster: wyzewoman - I have that book, funny you should mention.. :)

ctmf - Thanks! Re: "So, if I'm your supervisor, I want to hear your story, but I really wanted to hear it before I made the plan." I completely understand - this transition came out of the blue (time frame: approx. 1 week!) & the new person comes with a pretty clear (& hitherto full-time) set of responsibilities for a specific project already so it never crossed my mind anything would be different.

thanks for all other replies too. so much appreciated. I'll talk to my boss.
posted by citron at 7:10 AM on June 28, 2007

(I am not ready to move on to another job yet for a number of reasons..)

I think that might be a part of your problem. One of the most effective ways to move up in a field is to gather competing job offers. It's human nature that, once your boss sees external validation of your abilities in the form of outside interest in you, you look more desirable. Also, just as in the case of the new hire at your company, incoming new people are viewed as having a lot of potential, and little is known about their downside.

Conversely, if everyone knows you are not going to leave it makes you much easier to take advantage of. You can be given the hard jobs nobody wants and there's little point in giving you raises or perks.

So, even if you don't think you want to move, hook up with a headhunter or start looking yourself. Interview places with an open mind, and get one or more job offers that are real steps up (nothing merely lateral.) Take that to your present boss and negotiate for what you really want.

The caveat here is that you have to be ready to move if you're shut down. So make sure that competing job offer is something you'd be happy with.

I think in our new economy, everybody has to think like this. Believe me, if it would save them $100, they'd fire the lot of you, and if they didn't their stockholders would remove the management and replace them with someone that would. So why show them any loyalty?
posted by overhauser at 7:23 AM on June 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you..

I work in the nonprofit sector, I don't want to be too specific, but no stockholders to answer to, there aren't perks or bonuses, and I'm in the middle of some training for a specific certification that I really need in order to *be* competitive in the job market for my field (my benefits cover the cost of the training). It'll be a good six months before a job switch would be possible. Would that there were stockholders to remove incompetent management - incompetent managers stay on for years because they're impossible to get rid of. (My boss is not one of these people, by the way.)

I have got some stockholm syndrome haven't I?! :)
posted by citron at 10:33 PM on June 30, 2007

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