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Sunday, September 7, 2008

new manager doesn't trust us

A reader writes:

I've been confronted with a situation at work that violates what I would consider a level of professional trust, but my direct management doesn't seem to agree, and now I'm left wondering if I'm the one who's wrong. Let me explain...

My organization puts on a yearly conference, nominally for us, but in reality because we believe our customers appreciate it. We had a new director come in last year about a month before the conference, and one of her pieces following that experience was her strong assertion that the conference was our conference and we needed to treat it that way. It was generally believed that this statement was a direct result of a couple of things: One, a lack of enthusiasm for the conference following last year's event was obvious among a number of us. Two, certain staffers were not seen throughout the conference (off-site), even though they were at the hotel and participating.

We're now a year later, about to head into the conference again, and the latest direction is that the entire staff is to submit their daily schedules during the conference to management. The stated purpose of this exercise is so that management knows where everyone is during the conference and who is available to help. I have difficulty believing that statement, given the experience of last year. If that was truly the intent, wouldn't it make more sense to ask for that information in an inclusive manner, such as "volunteer to staff a session or work the desk" and then ask for those who don't volunteer where they would like to help? I just feel like the actions of a few has caused an overreaction, and I feel that I and the rest of my organization doesn't have the trust of management, even given the stated intent. Am I overreacting to this?

Well, it indicates a belief by your manager that things won't go the way she wants them to unless she manages the conference differently than it's been done in the past.

I guess my question for you is whether this is really so offensive. Are there other things your manager is doing that make you feel she doesn't trust you to behave like a competent, responsible adult, or is it just this? If there are other things, are they things that could not be interpreted any other way, or are they things that might simply be the result of having a new manager come in, with different ideas about how to structure things?

I'm not prejudging the answer to that, but it's worth considering that there are situations where it would make sense that a new manager would be more heavy-handed than her predecessor. For instance, if the old manager was very hands-off and the results weren't as outstanding as they could have been, the new manager might be doing everything right in trying to run a tighter ship ... but it could feel to you and your coworkers like the new sheriff in town is a real pain in the ass, because of the way it contrasts with what you were used to before.

On the other hand, maybe that's not the case at all, and your new manager is being inappropriately heavy-handed/micromanagey. I don't know -- but you will, if you evaluate the situation and all the context you have (objectively, by the way, which is the hard part). If your objective evaluation leads you to conclude that she's not being an ideal manager, the next step is to figure out what to do with that info. The answer may be nothing, depending on the extent of the problem and how much it bothers you, or it may be to talk to her about ways you can better work together.

Good luck!

2 comments:

HR Maven said...

AAM, that was a great comment on the new director - is she changing other things that affect you? I would be interested to know your role in the organization.

Here is one comment that caught my attention:
One, a lack of enthusiasm for the conference following last year's event was obvious...

What made this obvious? Where did the feedback come from? Did you lose clients because of it? Cause hard feelings?

I am involved in a number of organizations that put on professional conferences for their members. It's a ton of work and honestly, when the organization's employees don't want to be there, you can tell. I also found it surprising that these employees were expected to 'volunteer' at these conferences. I would not be happy. Is it possible that its showing?

If the leadership in your organization got feedback from clients that employees were less than enthusiastic, I could see why higher ups might get involved. Your new director has had a year and may be trying new things to ensure that it goes really well this year.

In time, it may revert to the old way. But make sure that you aren't STUCK so much in the old way that you can't embrace the change.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts all the way around, thank you. In brief, yes, there are other things that have changed that I am greatly in favor of and support, so I don't believe that this is an issue where I'm resistant to change.

I think my problem, the more that I think about it, is that this has been done in an environment of exclusivity rather than inclusivity. One of the biggest pieces of communication change that was promised by our new director was inclusivity, and that is truly the one piece that hasn't happened.

One of my colleagues called this a "death by a thousand cuts", and maybe that's my issue. We've been promised changes that haven't happened, and therefore my disappointment is based on raised expectations rather than reality.

As for the lack of enthusiasm question raised by hr maven, the feedback came in an all-staff meeting following the conference where almost none of us were interested in offering suggestions for improvement or volunteering for additional conference duties. Our customers are a captive audience (we're a funding agency that they are subrecipients to), so that wouldn't be a major issue, but yes, the demanded "volunteering" has been an issue for years.

I'm not in favor of the old way here, don't get me wrong, but my assessment is that we've committed to only half of the change and haven't committed to completing it.

Thanks for your comments so far, AAM and hr maven, and I'm looking forward to reading more ideas.

cwsjd99