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Career Q&A: Manager prevented from correcting workers

Q: I work in a small company where the owners refuse to do anything about incompetent employees. As a department head, I am not allowed to confront poor performers because the top executives, who are all family members, say they "don't want to rock the boat."

To compensate for the slackers, our high-performing employees must constantly take on extra work. Staff morale is terrible and people are beginning to complain about getting burned out, but the owners don't seem to care.

I feel completely useless as a manager, so I'm beginning to wonder if I should look elsewhere. What do you think?

A: You may want to heed the inner voice that says it's time for a job search. The owners of any family business have complete power, so the culture inevitably reflects their personal leadership style. These particular leaders appear to be wimpy managers who are terrified of having difficult discussions.

Unfortunately, many small-business owners have had little or no management training, so they lack an understanding of proper performance management techniques. Your bosses may not even realize this is something they need to learn, so criticizing them would be counterproductive.

Instead, if you wish to make one final effort, try appealing to their self-interest. Identify what the owners value most — profits, reputation, morale or whatever — then paint a clear picture of how your inept employees are damaging those outcomes. Next, present a coaching plan for improving their performance.

But if that approach falls flat, consider looking for a more professionally managed company.

Be a manager and end bad behavior

Q: One of my employees constantly calls at the last minute to say she will be arriving late or not coming in at all. "Ginger" also leaves early on a regular basis, so she seldom works a full eight-hour day. Although she has no health problems, her absences average about one day a week.

Unfortunately, Ginger is not in a job where the work can accumulate until she returns, so her co-workers have to pick up the slack. Even though I own the business, I sometimes have to finish Ginger's work myself. This has become very frustrating. Can you help?

A: To be perfectly honest, this is the kind of question that makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Since you own the business, why on earth are you putting up with this behavior? You could quickly eliminate the problem by simply acting like a manager.

At the moment, Ginger appears to be running this show. She not only takes time off whenever she likes, but she also finds her work completed when she returns. Although you may not realize it, you have been rewarding her for slacking off, so you need to establish some new expectations.

Hopefully, Ginger will choose to comply and conform. But if she ignores your warning and continues to set her own schedule, just replace her with someone who actually wants to work.

Prod the boss about promotion

Q: After our marketing coordinator resigned, I expressed an interest in her position. My manager said that I could immediately take over her duties and start using her title. He promised to talk to his boss about making this change permanent.

Based on his comments, I assumed I would be getting a promotion and a raise. That was several weeks ago, however, and he has never mentioned it again. Meanwhile, I am continuing to do both my old job and the new one. Should I ask what's going on, or would that be inappropriate?

A: Since you already have the work and the title, you have every right to know when this promotion will be finalized. As long as you inquire in a calm, professional manner, your supervisor should not take offense.

For example: "Now that I've been working as the marketing coordinator for several weeks, I wanted to find out when my title will be officially changed. Do you know when I might expect this to happen?"

Once you have that information, you can ask about your raise and the timeline for filling your old job. But if your boss seems to be waffling, then you need to find out whether he actually intends to follow through with this plan.

Career Q&A: Manager prevented from correcting workers 02/16/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 6:48pm]
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