Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reader Advice: Going to Bat for Your People

"Ted" sends in the following situation at work and asked me what I thought. It probably sounds familiar to many (edited for length):

Dear Director,

I want your advice on a situation I am dealing with that is touched upon in your post, Going to Bat for Your People. Here's the basic structure of my IT department:

Deputy VP - Hasn't gone to bat for anyone since Babe Ruth; Clueless and incompetent

Director - Can't Make any decisions without talking to her boss

My Boss - Great boss. Secure person. Understands my abilities and trusts me.

Me - Senior Engineer, Great Performer

I applied for a special type of vacation time so I could take a college class during working hours. This is in addition to the 12 hours I am taking at night, and this class is only offered during working hours.

After speaking with my manager and working out my schedule, we calculated I would only miss 3 hours of work PER WEEK for 16 weeks, and that my work would not be affected whatsoever. The forms were submitted to the Director and are supposed to be approved by the Director and forwarded to HR.

As usual, the Director would not sign them until after consulting with the Deputy-VP. The Deputy-VP would not sign them until HR was consulted. HR would not give an official answer or recommendation until the request was signed by the Director.

(DM: A typical bureaucratic Catch 22)

I am disgusted. I have worked my ass off in this organization and have seen the most incompetent people (e.g., Director and Deputy-VP) promoted solely because of past relationships and not because of competence. My manager (i.e., the one who MANAGES me) has full faith in my abilities and has no problems with the request, but the Director and Deputy-VP rarely - and only if absolutely necessary - sign anything unless it is to their benefit.

Do I cut my losses short, or do I do I push this to a higher pay-grade than the people who will not put their name to anything?

To summarize, you have a great boss who supports you, but he doesn't have the juice to push things through the upper ranks. And the upper ranks are too busy playing politics and CYA to do anything special for the rank-and-file beneath them.

I don't have to tell you that you're a pretty bad situation. If the senior managers are that political, it is likely the people above them are even more so. Remember that culture starts at the top. So I think trying to spring-board around them would be a waste of time. The upper echelon at this organization is not going to do any favors for someone at the bottom in unless you happen to have something on them (stock option backdating evidence, expense statement shenanigans, photos of them with barn animals, etc.).

In addition, it doesn't sound like your organization will do anything that is not in the employee handbook, no matter what a great worker you are and how much your immediate supervisor supports you.

The only solution is this: will your immediate boss provide cover for you for those three hours a week you're gone? It doesn't sounds like the senior managers exactly practice "management by walking around" and are safely enclosed in their office playing that all-time favorite game, Office Politics. So if you're gone, and your productivity is not reduced, who's to know? (unless you have one of those office sign-out things, radio tracking at work, etc.). This is asking a huge favor of your boss, so he would be carrying around a pretty big chip on you.

Otherwise, I think you are going to have to let this one go.

My long term advice: get out of there as soon as you can. This may mean hanging on while you finish your night classes, but this is definitely not an environment to develop a career in. It's great that your immediate boss goes to bat for you, but it sounds like he is very limited on what he can support you with on your career development, and no one above him is going to help.

Any other comments or views?

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