First rule of organizational life: Don’t make your boss look bad

Dear Joan:

I am an Account Executive for an inside sales organization.  In short, I have been dealing with what I feel is an ineffective leader/manager.  Over the course of three years, I have been asking this manager questions pertaining to major parts of my job, specifically territory management, adjustment processes, goal attainment, etc.  I have been given no answers most of the time, “I don’t know, but I will follow up,” with never any follow up, and various other excuses such as “I’m new and still learning” responses. 

 

I have utilized the open door policy in our building and consulted other managers for the answers to my questions and been chastised for it. My whole team has been brought together by other managers and told that we need to stop inundating our manager with questions and to come to them.  However, our manager has instructed us this is not acceptable. 

 

She has made poor decisions on a frequent basis. Please note that I understand the manager’s right to mandate work hours, however, our team had been working hours that were agreeable to our manager for quite some time and only after she received her first very low scoring “pulse survey” (survey given to her team to grade her performance), she decided to change the hours for the whole team.  I met with her and explained that her whole team is very upset about this change and confused as to why the change was made.  We did not feel that it was for the good of the company but rather in retaliation to our honest opinions of her performance.

 

The struggle is not with work hours per se, but it is with all of the other issues that have happened where she is concerned.  She has been unable to give us answers that we need concerning the most important parts of our jobs.  I just so happen to be the only person that has spoken up about it.  I have gone to her manager on two occasions regarding this with no improvement.  Upon my second visit to her manager, I was told that I need to learn how to work with her amiable personality. 

 

I then took the matter to the Vice President via a telephone conversation.  After the VP’s investigation, we met again where she explained several of the answers I had been asking for.  She stated that she did not feel I have done anything wrong by coming to her, that she discussed with the two managers the issues at hand, she felt personally that my manager is intimidated by me because I am so knowledgeable, etc. She also said that it was not appropriate for my boss’ manager to tell me I need to learn to work with my boss. Rather, she needs to learn how to work with me because she is a manager. 

 

I had asked for a transfer to another team and the VP stated she thought a transfer would not solve the problem but that solving the problem would be to correct these issues of concern. She agreed that my manager is lacking in knowledge and has instructed her to do various things.  However, I have now been brought in for a meeting with my manager where she had another manager at her side and proceeded to list the things I have been doing wrong, to include un-professionalism, insubordination, etc. and have been instructed to write my own action plan on how I plan to improve.  I have two stellar performance reviews with no mention of any issue concerning professional behavior. In fact, she has praised me in the extra comments sections.  I have not been counseled on any issues regarding this, other than the times that I have gone to other managers for answers she could not provide.  I asked her what the protocol is for such matters as waiting four months for a follow up to my questions and there is still no answer to that except that the bottom line is I am not to go to other managers at all.  It is unacceptable for me to utilize the open door policy. 

 

I am not sure what I can do at this point.  In a follow up letter from the Vice President, she states that I have met the metrics for a promotion in status, which was another issue I felt my manager was holding me back on-- due to being essentially a whistleblower.  The Vice President asked me as a favor to her would I please work with my manager for a month and a half or two months and see if she promotes me because she wants my manager to feel good about this.

 

She obviously cannot usurp the managers she has in charge for obvious reasons.  The feeling I got from the Vice President was that my promotion would happen by May.  I can see now that this is not going to happen as I am now being put on an action plan.  I don’t know what to do, since every little instance that happens that would normally be looked at as human nature is now a “problem” that I have.  What can I do?  Thanks.

 

Answer:

One of the first rules of organizational life—“open door policy” or not—is not to make your boss look bad. Unfortunately, by going to her peers and over her head you have exposed her (and her boss) and they aren’t happy about it.

 

The fact that you have been a good performer has saved your job to this point but you may have gone too far. Your boss clearly sees you as insubordinate and she feels embarrassed and probably angry.

 

Even if the Vice President, two levels above you, is in your camp, you must get along with your own manager, and her boss, to succeed in your organization.  I recommend that you hold out an olive branch to your manager. Explain that you realize you stepped over the line but that you were desperate to get the answers you needed. Assure her that you recognize your mistake and that you had no intention of embarrassing her. Apologize and ask her how she would like you to work through her to get the information you need. That will become your action plan. Because you have been forbidden to go over your manager’s head, you are in a bad spot. If you tell the VP what is going on, the situation will probably get worse.

 

If that doesn’t result in a better relationship—and hopefully the promotion the VP wants to grant you—the relationship is probably damaged beyond repair.

 

I suggest you keep to yourself for six months, stick to your action plan and see what happens. Her manager and the VP know your needs and have heard your story. It’s up to your manager’s manager and the VP to make the next move.

 

If things get progressively worse, you will lose nothing by going to the VP and telling her what is going on. But beware, it could be the last card you play in this company.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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