The executive director of my small firm believes the best way to manage workers is to leave us to our own devices. I know that’s better than being a micromanager, but it means that, for example, she tolerates employees’ showing up late (or even taking the day off) without prior notice and without a legitimate reason…
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The executive director of my small firm believes the best way to manage workers is to leave us to our own devices. I know that’s better than being a micromanager, but it means that, for example, she tolerates employees’ showing up late (or even taking the day off) without prior notice and without a legitimate reason.
I find this lack of accountability demoralizing. I have even considered quitting, but it might be hard to find work in our firm’s niche field.
Our performance review is coming up. We are always asked, “What is your opinion of how you are managed?” I want to be honest, but I’m concerned about coming off as spiteful. (Although given the standard set by my colleagues’ behavior, I’m pretty sure nothing I could say or do could ever get me fired.)
So what’s the best way to bring up problems with management to managers? ANONYMOUS
The best managers seek out and appreciate the thoughtful feedback and suggestions of their employees. That said, let’s face it: In real life, nobody enjoys being criticized. This is one reason performance reviews in general tend to be such a dreaded ritual.
Another reason is that many of us — managers and employees alike — often struggle to live up to that “thoughtful” standard, and end up re-enacting the Airing of Grievances from the Festivus holiday imagined on “Seinfeld.” (This may be particularly true in the case of anonymous-feedback reviews.)
So while you may have every right to resent your colleagues’ sloth and your boss’s lackadaisical attitude about it, merely venting is more likely to make you seem petty than it is to result in change.
Start by identifying more tangible and neutral problems, and work backward from there. Maybe a client’s concern wasn’t promptly dealt with because X showed up late, or a staff meeting had to be rescheduled, inconveniencing multiple people, because Y was a no-show. (If you can’t come up with any specific examples, you might want to rethink what the real issue is here.)
Now challenge yourself to envision a practical solution. Not “Stop being such a lazy manager!” but more along the lines of: Everyone needs to clear any deviations from the regular work schedule in advance, or whatever. I don’t mean it’s your responsibility to solve the problem, but thinking about it in a concrete way may help you articulate the issue in a form that makes it easier for the manager to address.
The ideal situation is to offer enough dispassionate information to prod the boss to reach the right conclusion (that is: the one you want) on her own. Even if that isn’t possible, it’s useful to think in terms of problems and solutions, not complaints.
And of course it also helps to lace your critique with (honest) positive feedback. If X and Y are otherwise good colleagues, and there are real upsides to the boss’s general confidence in her staff, say so. This underscores that you’re not saying everything is terrible — just that some things could be better.
I am friends with a young colleague who’s an ambitious, hard worker. I’m also friends with his boss, and she has confided that this co-worker is not on track for a promotion because he comes across as a chronic complainer. She doesn’t think he could motivate a team.
I’ve seen in my young friend a lot of what the boss sees: frequent complaining about management, his co-workers, even the quality of the cafeteria food. Yet I don’t think he sees himself as a whiner. He believes he’s simply pointing out areas where the company could improve. So he truly has no clue that he isn’t going to get ahead.
Should I give him heads-up career advice, when none has been requested?
E. R., SEATTLE
Here’s another thing that makes the review process so frustrating: basic human squeamishness. Clearly, this boss ought to be offering some version of this critique directly to the relevant employee. Even more clearly, she should certainly not be sharing it with you instead.
Managing a colleague is not your job. So if the boss brings this up again, you should politely inquire whether she has, you know, actually told this guy what her issues are with him.
That said, it’s only natural that you’d want to help out a friend. But you’ve been put in an awkward spot. If you say (or even hint), “Our boss told me she thinks you’re too much of a complainer to be promoted,” he’s probably going to interpret that more as a sign that people are talking behind his back than as a friendly heads-up.
One strategy might be to wait until the next time he makes an unproductive complaint — and call him on it. This doesn’t have to be a confrontation, but point out that there’s a big difference between supposedly identifying flaws and actually coming up with plausible solutions. (See the answer to the question above for more on that.) And perhaps add that, as a friend, you wouldn’t want him to be pegged as a mere complainer.
He may not react well to this, and it may not be worth putting a personal relationship at risk for someone who won’t listen. So be tentative at first — but emphasize that you want him to get ahead. After that, it’s really up to him.
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