A low-level participant at a meeting felt he was helpful by pointing out why the proposals of the CEO could not be put into action. The CEO did not find this kind of thing, and he conveyed that message to the employee’s boss. The manager, trapped in the middle, turned to me for help: how could he protect his employee — who was good at his job — from the CEO who saw him as a naysayer?
If you find yourself in this situation, it can be difficult to find out what to do. You might consider doing nothing, hoping that the dispute would blow over. You may feel forced to change your team member, or in the worst-case scenario, you might also feel pressured to force your employee out of the company.
It may be tempting, or even fairer, to try to protect your employee from negative feedback you don’t agree with, but if your boss has complained to you about the behavior of your subordinate and hasn’t seen any immediate change, the ongoing tension may affect your own boss relationship. So this may not be the path to follow.
So how can you balance the demands of managing the performance of both your subordinate and the expectations of your boss? You may have the urge to make a “business argument” for the interest of your subordinate — but that’s not likely to win the day if you can’t fulfill the fundamental style, speech, and attitude tastes of your boss too. Instead, try some of these possible ways to bridge that gap.
First, try answering those staff questions. What are they bringing to the work table? Which contributions did they make as a part of your team and enterprise? What areas have they been told to constantly improve, and what steps have they taken to make those improvements? Do they understand the expectations of your boss and, more importantly, do they meet the expectations of your boss?
Once you take a clear honest look at their performance at work and can confidently say that they’re killing it and doing everything you can to meet and exceed expectations, then we have located the issue and it’s time to move to the next step.
Next, uncovering the source of the friction is essential. Typically, in this situation, you might have been willing to overlook the behaviors or styles your boss doesn’t like, either because you see the benefit of the trait, or because you know it doesn’t stand in the way of performance or collaboration. One growing example of this is a disparity in personality.Leaders may have a clear personal preference for extraverts, and may appear to underestimate the efficacy of quieter, less talkative workers.
To ensure that you understand exactly what triggers the dissatisfaction of your boss, ask focussed questions to identify concrete behaviors and actions. Does “more assertive” mean , for example, speaking more definitively or loudly in meetings, or being willing to interrupt others? Or is it more physical, as if it were looking more confident and decisive on the basis of posture, gestures, space? Once you learn what your boss’s turn-offs are, you’ll be able to coach your subordinate in a more explicit and understandable way.
Next, intend to give your subordinate minute and thorough feedback about things you never considered important before. Explain the dangers of not taking the senior executive ‘s frustration seriously. You may need to give personal or stylistic recommendations including details such as how early to arrive for a meeting, a specific email writing format, or even grooming or clothes. As petty as some of these things may sound, they’re completely non-trivial if the change gets a positive response.
You might also try to delay the inevitable by lowering the level of interaction between your boss and your subordinate. This approach can work in the short term, but it’s usually stressful and draining because you have to do a lot more interference running the work. On the other hand, it may be worthwhile as an interim tactic if it preserves a much-needed skillset, or other important relationships. Just keep in mind that the problem is likely to crop up again, and put more work on your shoulders.
If you don’t perceive the need yourself, it can feel unwarranted and even demeaning to supervise your employee in this way. But keep in mind the bigger picture: Maybe your boss has heard negative feedback from colleagues who were not candid with you about your subordinate. Perhaps your supervisor may have seen signs of culturally unacceptable behaviour, ability deficiencies, perhaps attitudinal issues you haven’t seen because your subordinate is diligent to keep you content.
If your employee is avoiding making the required improvements, consider alternatives. Their career and peace of mind may benefit more if you recommend them elsewhere in the company for another role, or even negotiate a generous exit arrangement. By holding them on a team where the senior leader really can’t bear them you don’t really do them any favours.
It’s likely that your manager and supervisor would never get along well with each other. Instead of shrugging off the issue as a personal choice, investigating the situation more thoroughly is prudent. If you can help your subordinate enhance efficiency, while preserving your own positive relationship with your manager, you are more likely to retain a successful employee.
Check out my related post: What to do if our boss doesn’t notice your work?