was boss wrong to share restructuring proposal with me?

A reader writes:

Recently my boss (boss #1) shared a departmental restructuring plan with me that included a potential promotion for myself and a demotion for my superior (his peer; boss #2). My other boss has been a mind-blowing disaster; blowing deadlines, showing up late, can barely write an e-mail above kindergarten reading level, etc., the list goes on. Her performance has forced up to pick up slack and we have grown to share our frustrations with this situation.

Boss #1 has been telling me about a restructuring plan that will make him director of the department, promote me to an associate director from manager, and demote her from director to associate director. He recently shared with me his written plan and asked for feedback before presenting to the Executive Director and CFO. My initial reaction was that he shouldn’t have shared the plan with me unless it was taken seriously by senior management, rather than a “wish list.”

When he returned from the meeting with senior management, I took him aside and asked if he could share the response with me and he said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the title changes, but they understand that someone needs to keep a closer watch on her.” And that was it.

My question is was this appropriate to share with a subordinate? It has made me feel somewhat duped by false promises that were never that strongly encouraged by upper management. Perhaps I’m taking this too personally, but what am I supposed to think about this?

This is an interesting question. On one hand, your boss clearly respects your opinion and wanted your thoughts and insight on what he was thinking about proposing. That’s a good thing. On the other hand, I agree with you that he set you up for false hopes and should have gotten aligned with senior management before talking to you. It sounds like he hadn’t even taken their pulse on the subject.

So while I agree that he should have talked with them before talking with you and that he handled it clumsily, I think the real question is, what’s the best way for you to look at this? You could stew about your boss’s error — or you could focus on the fact that he respects you, believes you deserve a promotion, shares his thoughts with you, and is aligned with you on the problems with boss #2.

Bosses will always make errors, because they’re human. But look at the other pieces that this one showed you.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Inside the Philosophy Factory*

    I think sharing the part of the plan that involved promoting you and demoting the other boss to be on your level could be appropriate… mostly because he needs your buy-in to make it work – and you could be in a precarious situation if you have to be on the same level as your tragically bad current boss.

  2. Anonymous*

    Think about it as the glass being half full, not half empty.

    Your boss is telling you that even if you don't get a promotion soon, he highly values your skills and contributions.

  3. clobbered*

    I fail to see what the problem is. I would rather know what my boss is doing and thinking rather than not, even if he can't carry through his plans.

    Your boss is not responsible for raising false hopes, unless he represented his plan as a done deal, which it doesn't sound like he did, since you knew he had to run it past senior management first.

    Be grateful you have a boss who is open with you about his opinions and direction.

  4. Unemployed Gal*

    I think its good that Boss #1 shared his promotion ideas with the OP, but for a different reason than the others have stated. This incident reveals just how powerless Boss #1 really is with upper management. Either they dont respect his opinion, or Boss #1 couldnt sell water in the desert. Hes stuck with an incompetent, kindergarten educated employee that he couldnt even demote, let alone fire. He also couldnt convince them that the OP deserves a promotion, and it sounds like he may not be getting one either.

    Why is this a good thing? Now the OP knows that he needs to demonstrate his own value to upper management, because Boss #1 obviously isnt doing it. The OP also knows that upper management wont touch incompetent employees or listen to its middle managers, which is a sign that this company probably sucks. If he does ever receive that promotion offer, he should think twice before accepting it. He could end up in Boss #1s situation someday.

  5. Anonymous*

    I'd take it as a vote of confidence. Unlike Unemployed Gal, I wouldn't assume without more evidence that Boss #1 is powerless. He might not read the top mgmt very well (always a risk, especially if one is a major but silent backer of #2) but this might just be stage 1 of a longer process. What you see, Boss #1 sees, and the top mgmt sees isn't always the same – especially if you are doing a really good job of covering.

  6. Anonymous*

    It doesn't sound to me like the restructuring plan would work without the author's wholehearted cooperation and support. So Boss #1 didn't have much choice but to share the plan with the author.

    I think the response afterwards may have been somewhat inappropriate. Perhaps Boss #1 could have been more sensitive to Boss #2's privacy by saying something like, "I"m not sure management will accept the restructuring plan as I've written it. They may choose to take a different approach." This would have let the author know they restructuring plan may be off, without revealing that Boss #2 faces potential disciplinary action.

    I think 'duped' is an unreasonable reaction. It doesn't sound like Boss #1 ever gave any indication that there was any kind of support from management. It sounds like that was just hopeful thinking on the part of this author.

    I think the best thing to do is to react with the maturity that Boss #1 believes the author to have–accept the setback, and keep it confidential.

  7. scott*

    No major harm done in all of this since it is clear that something needs to be done – like fire in poor performing manager. It would have been better for the boss to first get buy-in from his higher-ups, then share the plan to make sure you were on board.

  8. Anonymous*

    This is a good sign of Boss #1's confidence in you. But I'd still keep a distance from this situation in the future. Boss #1 was asking for a demotion for a colleague that was not his direct report. This has the potential to get extremely messy and you don't want to get involved.

  9. Author*

    As the author, thanks for these responses and perhaps my reaction was based on inexperience with a senior management team that lets incompetence slide. If I were in their shoes Boss #2 would be out the door. I think my frustration was targeted more towards them than Boss #1, who I do owe respect for valuing my opinion. Regardless, I think this company is not going to work for me for many reasons pointed out here. Thank again!

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