Boss can’t recognize underling’s incompetence

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceMay 14, 2014 

Q: One of my employees is an incompetent drama queen. “Lindsey” makes more serious errors than anyone I have ever supervised. It can take hours to correct some of her mistakes. On top of that, she plays such childish emotional games with her co-workers that two of them have threatened to quit. This is a family-owned business, and Lindsey has somehow managed to convince the family that she is a wonderful employee. If I mention any performance issues, she immediately runs to the owner and tells him that I’m treating her unfairly. Once she even called his mother to complain about me. I would like to terminate Lindsey’s employment, but the owner will never agree to that. This situation has become so frustrating that I have begun looking for another job, despite the fact that I love working here. Should I keep trying to fix this problem or just continue my career elsewhere?

A: Before deciding to jump ship, make one more attempt to get your boss’s attention. Simply describing Lindsey as careless and disagreeable will not be sufficient, because that contradicts his firsthand experience. Since she always acts angelic in his presence, you must clearly demonstrate what happens when he’s not around.

Start by carefully documenting Lindsey’s errors over an extended period, showing exactly how these mistakes have wasted time and money or harmed customer perceptions. Arrange for her unhappy co-workers to discuss their concerns with the owner. Once you have proved that a problem exists, you can then recommend a reasonable solution.

Instead of requesting immediate termination, suggest that Lindsey be given a performance improvement plan. Draft some remedial action steps and review them with your boss, then request that he join you in discussing the plan with Lindsey. His participation is important, because you need to maintain a united front.

If the owner seems willing to participate in this process, that’s an encouraging sign. But if he takes Lindsey’s side or offers only tepid support, odds are that you will never be allowed to truly function as a manager in this parochial company.

Q: Six years ago, I left the business where I had worked for 23 years because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I held a highly paid position at the time, but I would feel lucky to make half as much now. During job interviews, I’m not sure what to say if I’m asked about my previous salary. Interviewers probably think I was crazy to leave such a high-paying job, so how do I assure them that a lower salary would be perfectly acceptable?

A: Given your six-year employment gap, most interviewers will assume that you have learned to survive without a hefty paycheck. Their greater concern is likely to be your motivation to work. If you can convince them of your eagerness to rejoin the workforce and your ability to make a meaningful contribution, they should have no trouble accepting your downsized salary requirements.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics” and writes for McClatchy-Tribune News Service. Send questions to yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.

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