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Thursday, February 5, 2009

is my boss wrong to consult with someone else about my work?

A reader writes:

I work in an 8-person field office of a major national nonprofit. Our office is currently in the midst of a major collaborative initiative which has placed increasing demands on our Executive Director's (my boss) time. My boss is so busy cultivating relationships with volunteers and funders that he spends less time on the day-to-day management of the organization. I would say that the amount of time he spends on these activities is too high, even by nonprofit organization standards. Morale is low as people are feeling spread too thin.

Over the past few months, he has increasingly leaned on one of my colleagues to oversee his day-to-day management responsibilities. In many ways, my colleague has become a de facto deputy director. I respect my colleague, but I was angered to learn that my boss gave her a draft of my annual work plan for feedback without telling me first. I was particularly upset that my boss gave me additional responsibilities based on my colleague's feedback with involving me in the discussion. Work plan development has always been an employee-manager activity in the past. Am I out of line for feeling upset that he shared my work plan with her without first telling me? I don't mind her input, but I'm upset at the lack of communication and now have questions about about how my performance will be monitored and by whom.

It sounds like your boss, at least for right now, needs someone in a deputy director type position. It's not good for anyone if the executive director doesn't have enough time for day-to-day management. And it sounds like this colleague is someone whose skills he respects, so it's not unnatural for him to be leaning on her in this situation.

However, clearly he could have done a better job of communicating that. There's a good chance your colleague is thinking the same thing; she's been put in a potentially awkward position herself, by being asked to share pieces of the managerial burden without the boss explaining that to anyone.

My advice to you is to approach your boss and say that you hadn't realized he'd be bringing your colleague in on your work plan, and although you didn't mind it, you'd like some clarification about how you should view her role. You must be non-defensive when you say this, both in tone and wording. Do not sound like you're objecting to it; you're just seeking information. (If you sound defensive and he's actually about to announce that she's becoming the deputy director, things are going to get off on the wrong foot. Plus, you don't want to give your boss the impression that your ego is getting in the way of your ability to appreciate that this may be a smart way to help him manage his time.)

Frankly, if you respect this colleague and think she could do a good job as a manager, you might even suggest that to your boss as a solution. You mentioned that he doesn't have enough time to do his job properly and that people's morale is suffering, this might be something that could help. (That depends hugely on her skills as a manager, however. Don't suggest it if you don't see potential for to be good at it.)

I actually once got promoted into a job that way. My boss had way too much work on his plate and desperately wanted to get out of his day-to-day management responsibilities, which he was always giving short shrift to anyway. I was in the process of figuring out that I really liked managing, and so he created a #2 position and put me in it. It turned out that I loved all the stuff that he had hated and paid attention to the things he had avoided, so it was a win-win for everyone ... except the people who didn't adjust well to having a peer become their manager. Don't be in that group, if that ends up being the direction this goes in.

But really, just talk to the guy and ask how you should relate to her.


Anonymous said...

This is actually a very common way to transition someone into a higher level role. Usually though, a smart manager would announce as he/she is handing over responsibilities - like "Suzy is going to be helping me out with the annual work plans. Please submit your work plan to her for review and feedback prior to giving it to me." You're right that this person is probably about to become your new boss, so whatever you do, tread lightly!

Anonymous said...

Reminds me about an Irish software company that I worked in. I was only in the place a week and they (one of the co-owner directors) was asking me about a fellow Project Manager and what I thought about him.

So I asked myself, who are they asking about me.

Turnover was 50% in twelve months with a staff of only 16 employees.

It said a lot about the bosses. They eventually were forced to sell the company at a fraction of what they were hoping to get for the company.

I think I can recall the word to describe them, ah yes, it was Jokers.

Some bosses should have no interaction with their staff. If they are hopeless, they should have the foresight to see this (if they are any good) and employ HR Managers.

As Homer Simpson would say Dooh!