Carrying a Heavy Burden

"Fred doesn't seem like a good fit for his job."

I always dreaded hearing those words from my boss, or any of several variants that included phrases like:  "bad choice," "wrong experience," "mediocre performing," and "wrong skills."

The phrase usually signaled the beginning of a battle, a battle over that particular employee's future.  This was because the comment was a signal that my boss felt I should take action (usually he wanted me to transfer, fire, or demote) with the particular employee.

And, invariably, I almost always disagreed with his assessment.  Which, almost always, led to resistance through argument, foot-dragging, or political infighting.

What I eventually learned, however, is that by resisting his demands, I was taking the performance of the subordinate in question onto my own shoulders, making the subordinate's performance effectively my own.

And that could be a heavy burden, indeed.

An easier, lower risk plan would have been to simply take whatever action my boss was hinting (or outright saying) I should take.  Fire Fred. Demote Diana, Transfer Ted.  It was what he wanted me to do.  And, tactically, it would have given me the opportunity to say "I told you so" in the future, should anything go off track as a result.

Although the benefits of following this course of action were plainly obvious to me at the time, in most cases I simply didn't comply.

This was because I almost always disagreed with my boss's assessment of the employee.  I didn't feel he or she should bear the brunt of the whims of a high level executive who "didn't see" what was really happening.  It wasn't right.  It wasn't fair.

This wasn't because I thought my boss was stupid.  In fact, he was one of the brighter people I've known.  It was simply that he was far away from the day-to-day dynamics in my domain, and I thought his observations were...wrong.

Fred might not be a good fit in one respect, but his goal orientation was holding the rest of my team together.  Diana might not have all the classical skills for her assignment, but she had others that brought a new perspective to the position and were producing results.  Ted might not have the experience of another candidate, but he had tremendous drive and inspired his subordinates to excel.

Every time I resisted, however, I was giving my boss reason to doubt my judgment.  I was, in effect, taking on the performance of the subordinate in question as my own.  If Fred failed, I failed.

But I usually had the advantage.  I was usually right.  Because I was much closer to the action.  Because I understood the employee in the context of the group where they worked.  Because I knew how their subordinates responded to them.

Until the time I was wrong.

Larry, like other subordinates under fire, was being scrutinized closely by my boss.  He put his faith in one of his subordinates who was failing in his job.  In that case, I suggested he consider replacing the person, but he resisted (much as I was doing when my boss pressured me to remove Larry).  But the subordinate hid performance issues, and ultimately cratered.  Soon afterward Larry fired another of his subordinates, and additional huge problems came to light.

It was too much, too fast.  While Larry had some incredible skills, he'd made too many mistakes in a short time.  Especially when he was under a microscope.

He and I both got the ax on the same day.

So just remember, when you stubbornly resist taking the personnel action your boss is hinting at (or demanding), you're shouldering the burden of that person yourself -- sometimes with heavy consequences for your own future.  18.2

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

Julia McCoy smells a rat, but maybe she should have waited until she was back in the U.S. to say so...

Julia McCoy smells a rat, but maybe she should have waited until she was back in the U.S. to say so...

To the right is the cover for INCENTIVIZE.   This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.