Two readers write in with the same problem.
Reader #1 writes:
I have a co-worker who has been here for a period of 8 months, and we are part of a team – she loads items to be placed onto the site that I work for (and is the basis of our company) and I keep in touch with the publishers/accounts. Since this past November, she has not been taking notes, placed the wrong items on-site losing sales for the company and discrediting the company's reputation, and is general a hassle to work with.
I have made some of these items known to my manager this past November; however, I am ready to take a more detailed approach to my manager in hopes of being re-teamed with another member of the team or getting this co-worker some additional training. I don't want to seem like a tattletale or pointing fingers, but I'm a hard worker and it's bringing my efforts down.
Any thoughts on how I should approach my manager and still seem a team player (and have the best efforts of the company in mind)?
And Reader #2 writes:
I'm a communications coordinator and am having difficulties working with my web person/colleague, J. J. does not report directly to me (or my supervisor) but because a number of my projects involve the web, I find myself working with her often and in a project management role.
This past year has been very difficult and distressing in working with her. Firstly, her skill level is far below what is required in her position. What this has resulted in is many web projects that go through a "trial and error" process (reply forms not working, poor design/navigation, broken links, "page under construction", etc.) - often for as long as a year. The quality of her work is not an accurate measure/reflection of my work, and this is what I'm most concerned about. I've been assessed as a top performer in my department and have worked hard to gain credibility among my directors. However, I fear that my work suffers whenever I am paired with J. And, as this is the web medium, much of the final product is viewed publicly, more often with my name attached to the project rather than hers.
Her performance standards are also lacking in her punctuality (late for meetings), missing priority deadlines (she will miss important deadlines or provide them at 4:30 pm on the day it is due), and there is a general feeling of resentment in the department (not from me, but others) that she is unfairly granted extended vacations when she does not have the seniority (or the performance record) to do so.
I have researched and produced a business case study outlining my needs for having a web person with considerably higher skill qualifications to achieve my communication plan goals and objectives. The proposal is sound, with the input and support by others outside of my department who have also struggled in working with J's shortcomings. Unfortunately, we are not in a budget position to create a new position, which means she's not going anywhere fast. I have also resorted to documenting our emails and tasks in order to make sure that I'm covered when it comes to deliverables that she has said she would complete in time, which often expends a lot of my time and energy away from my own workload.
Complicating matters even further - J's boss is completely passive and avoids conflict resolution at all costs. He asked me to provide comments on Js performance review earlier this year - and I reiterated my business case proposal and cited specific examples of where I felt she needed to be coached/supported in either correcting her mistakes or producing deliverables in a timely fashion. That was eight months ago and nothing has improved, and I've been asked again to provide a performance review as she approaches surpassing her midpoint salary grade.
What can I do in a situation like this? I can see no end in sight of having to work with her and with more large (and visible) projects looming in the next year, I'm becoming increasingly agitated by her performance. Also, this is preventing me from adding projects to my own portfolio and in submitting my work for industry awards, because the end product looks like crap.
Okay, this is one of my favorite topics. First, I want to note that the standard advice when you have a crappy coworker is to keep your mouth shut unless the coworker is interfering with your ability to do your job and get results. As it happens, in both your cases, she is. However, since we're discussing it, I want to mention that I don't always agree with that limit. As a manager, I want to know if my people are getting demoralized by a coworker's shoddy performance, even if it's not impacting their work directly. And I want to know what they might be observing that I haven't picked up on, so I can pay closer attention. To be clear, I don't want to hear about it repeatedly, but I do appreciate a one-time heads-up, delivered in a discreet, professional way, if it comes from a solid employee. Does every manager share this stance? No, of course not. But I believe plenty of the good ones do.
Okay, back to the questions. In your cases, the coworkers are affecting your ability to get good results, so this is pretty clear cut. Go to your manager with specific examples of the problem (feel free to take notes in with you to keep your thoughts organized). Keep it impersonal and unemotional -- keep your tone even and measured, not frustrated -- and explain that you feel uncomfortable bringing this to the manager but it's affecting your own results and the company overall. Ask her how you should handle it.
For Reader #2, your nemesis has a different boss from you, and he's passive. That's fine -- that's where your boss comes in. Your boss can address the issue with the other boss directly and if she doesn't get what she needs, she can escalate it to her own boss. (And when you talk with your boss, make sure to mention you've provided feedback to the other boss in the past and it hasn't made a difference.) If your own boss shies away from confrontation, you may have to nudge her -- but hopefully you have a decent boss who will do her job and address this crap. And if you don't, honestly, get out -- if you have a passive boss, you'll never be able to get what you need.
By the way, as a side note: In some situations I'd advise talking to the coworker directly first and seeing if you can solve anything that way. But I'm becoming increasingly convinced that incompetence of this sort rarely changes, at least not without some extreme hands-on management by a vigilant boss.