Professional approach to giving business owner bad news

Dear Joan:

I am caught between a rock and a hard place. We had a new manager start in our office about four months ago and office is going down hill. She speaks down to employees and does not support what the office is all about.

 

She is very defensive because she has not taken the time to learn the job. She talks about employees to other employees and shows favoritism. It is a doctors' office and the doctors do not have an open policy since she started. They are not aware that the whole office is out of control.

 

She uses her position to undermine us all. She is intimidated by me a lot and therefore I am not sure how she represents me. A lot of employees are coming to me but I do not want to be the spokesperson and sound like sour grapes. What is a professional approach before I have to leave a job I love?

 

Answer:

“We don’t want to be bothered with administration,” a doctor told me recently. “We do our job and we expect the front office to do theirs. Unfortunately, it was a pattern I’d seen once too often.

 

The “administration” side of the practice was in chaos. Long-time employees were threatening to leave, camps had formed and a silent war was being waged that was starting to be felt by the patients.

 

“Not wanting to be bothered” had not worked. Abdication rarely does. An owner can delegate responsibility and authority but he or she still has ultimate accountability for every part of the business.

 

At the risk of stereotyping, doctors, like other intensely focused specialists, often don’t have any interest or skill in running a business. Functions such as billing, customer service and managing employees simply don’t interest them. Unfortunately, these functions can destroy the business if at least one of the owners doesn’t assume accountability for overseeing that side of the house.

 

Your letter suggests that you are a respected, perhaps long-term, employee, since employees are coming to you to with their concerns. You mentioned that you didn’t want to “sound like sour grapes,” which seems to indicate that you may have wanted her job, or perhaps advised the doctors not to hire her. If these circumstances fit, you are in a precarious position if you complain, since the doctors may not trust your motives.

 

If you (or one of your colleagues) have strong credibility with one of the doctors, you may be able to speak with the doctor and tip him or her off about what is happening with the new manager. In cases of abdication such as this, I notice the doctor/owner often brushes off the problem and hopes it goes away. He or she doesn’t want to confront the issue and certainly doesn’t want to start recruiting all over again.

 

However, if you can show how the problems are affecting patient care and potentially losing valuable employees, you are likely to get the doctors’ attention.

 

Another approach is to say, “I know you’d want to know if there were some serious problems in the office, so I feel I need to raise a flag and alert you. Employees are coming to me and pressuring me to be their spokesperson but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. You might want to speak with some of them individually and ask them what is going on. The problems concern the new manager. I’m worried that things are going to get much worse if you don’t get involved now.”

 

This approach should start the wheels in motion. If nothing else, the doctors will probably pay more attention to what is going on around them in the office. Of course, if the rest of the employees are unwilling to back up your assertions, you run the risk of having one of the doctors speak to the new manager and trigger a defensive response that could come back to haunt you. However, if you are going to be forced out by her behavior anyway, you don’t have much to lose.


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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