when you work for jackasses

A reader writes:

I landed my dream job after graduate school in this tough market, in part thanks to your awesome advice. Now that I have been working my dream job for over a month, I feel like I’ve been sold a bill of goods when it comes to my supervisor. During the interview process and in subsequent meetings now that I am on staff, he says all the right things about his management style/philosophy, welcoming feedback, being collaborative, and using best practices… but in reality his behavior does not match what he says.

For example, he refuses (yes, refuses!) to give me and the other case manager an updated comprehensive list of our clients that we are contractually obligated to serve. I’m pretty sure said list does not exist, which is a whole problem on its own, but his refusal to share vital programmatic information is frankly frightening. The client list that he did give us is outdated and incomplete, yet he says he fully expects us to meet with all of our clients. Both the other case manager and I have politely and professionally pointed out that we cannot possibly meet with all of our clients if we don’t know who all of them are. He will just refer us to the outdated list and reiterate that we are expected to meet with all of our clients.

It’s like he has no clue a disconnect between his actions and philosophies exists, like he is so incompetent that it doesn’t even occur to him that his actions are preventing me and the other case manager from doing our jobs, and ultimately hurting our program. He is the dreaded manager who doesn’t know how to manage and apparently has no clue about it. I also get the impression that his supervisor is pretty hands-off and disconnected from our day-to-day operations, which is probably why this has been able to fester. According to the other case manager, it has been like this for as long as she has been here, somewhere around seven years I think.

I know in previous posts you suggested that walking away from bad management might be the best long-term solution, but what about managing up? What can I do to help move my office in the right direction? Everything else about this job is perfect for me and my career goals, so how can I make the best of this?

I wrote back and asked, “So what happens if you’re direct about it and say, ‘I’m confused about how we can meet with all our clients when we don’t know who they all are. How can we determine who they are?'”

Our letter-writer responded:

Last week, the other case manager emailed him, “The issue seems to be that we need to be provided an accurate list of the clients we are reporting on. There have been numerous requests for this information over the years. What are the names of the 320 clients we are accountable for?” The other case manager CC’ed me, a case manager from a different program that we work closely with, and the director (our supervisor’s supervisor) on this email as well.

My supervisor responded with “Let us discuss at our one-on-one the best way for you to report by Excel the number of clients that you serve weekly and which required/permissible services they are provided as mandated by our grant.” As you see, he didn’t even address the real issue. This is what I mean when I say he refuses to give us this vital information. He even made it sound like it was a performance issue with the other case manager, which it is not…

Since I was CC’ed on this email exchange, I responded with “I understand that the meeting is your one-on-one with the other case manager, but I know that I would like to have a concrete sense of this information as well. I would greatly appreciate knowing the outcome of your meeting and the best way for me to serve my caseload of clients.”

After this email exchange, the director scheduled a meeting with all of us to discuss our program goals and targets. At that meeting, the director went on about how important it is for us to meet with all 320 of our clients and didn’t leave time for questions or discussion. The conclusion of that meeting was that we should meet again without the director to discuss our program services as required by our grant and the issue of the client list never got addressed. It’s like the director doesn’t want to deal with it and my supervisor doesn’t know how to deal with it!

Okay, let me warn you up front that this is not going to be a very encouraging response.

On top of the fact that your manager is a terrible manager, I suspect he’s also just not very bright. Telling people which clients they’re responsible for managing is as basic as it gets … and then still not doing it after you’ve pointed out the problem and asked directly for it?

You’re never going to get what you need from this guy. Even if you get the client list issued solved (which apparently will take way more energy than it should), there are going to be tons of other problems in the future. He’s beyond inept, and his license to manage (if only there were such a thing) should be taken away.

And his manager, the director? He sucks too. He saw an email exchange that made it clear that you guys haven’t even been told who your clients are, despite directly asking, and his response was to deliver a group lecture that had nothing to do with the problem? And moreover, he’s left your ridiculous manager in place for years. So we can’t expect much from him either.

You asked how you can manage up to move your office in the right direction. But you’ve tried the obvious — being specific about what you need and aren’t getting — and it got you nowhere. I think you’re asking for something magical that doesn’t exist, unfortunately.

The only thing that I can suggest is that you be far more direct — and concise, so that there can be no room to miss what you’re saying. For instance, follow up with the director (since he opened the door by having that meeting with you), and say this: “We do not have a list of all our clients. We have asked Joe for it several times, and we still don’t have it. We obviously can’t meet with our clients when we don’t know who they are. How can we get this list?”  That’s more direct than what you’ve been saying so far, so it’s your best chance of getting what you need … and yet you’re working for such a pair of stooges that you still might not get it.

I realize, though, that the client list is just one problem out of many, and you’re asking about how to deal with the overall problem, not just this. Overall, if you don’t want to just get the hell out of there (and I can see why you might not, with only one month of work experience behind you), my advice is to simply accept that you work for jackasses, and there’s little you can do about it. This is part of the package as long as you stay. Your best bet might be to talk to people who have been there longer and find out how they work around your boss, because I’m sure they’ve developed strategies.

Or you can learn magic and then use a potion or spell or something. That probably has an equal chance of successfully turning these guys around.

I don’t mean to imply that bad managers can’t learn to become better managers. Sometimes they can — but it requires the type of intervention that you’re not really a position to provide, unfortunately.

Want to read an update to this post? The reader’s update several months later is here.

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Your advice is spot on. I spent years early in my career lamenting to myself and to co-workers about bad managers. But if I had had SOMEONE to tell me like you’re telling this reader to work around this person so that I could have held onto the job as long as I could, my career would be different. It took me far too long to learn to just give jackasses a wide berth.

    1. Monica*

      Your advice is great. If you can’t handle this for fix this then run from the job.

      In trying for a fix again I would use the total number of clinets quoted by big manager as a visual (mathmatical) aide. The big manager named 320 as the amout of clients. Point out that you only have X number in *your* excel sheet that you were given on this day by dumb manager. How more obvious than that can you be?

      Good luck.

  2. Anonymous*

    I used my speed reading powers to skim the question, so I may have missed something in the process. But, as I understand this issue you know who your clients are, but you don’t have an updated list? Or are you saying that no lists of clients exists, updated or otherwise?

    A client list must exist somewhere, even if it means having tech support scan drives and archives to find it or going through accounts receivables to find out who is being billed for services rendered. “Jack ass” boss aside – take the bull by the horns and find your own list.

    Go through the roladex or whatever electronic contact lists and find those clients, they are out there!

    1. Anon y. mouse*

      I believe the issue was that the boss had given the OP a partial list of clients, but not a full one, and the OP suspects a full list doesn’t even exist.

      Good idea to go to Accounting to get client info. If a full list isn’t being kept, IT may not be able to help you much, but it’s worth asking. If you choose to take this approach, I’d run it past the boss first to make sure you don’t have the appearance of going behind his back. You can probably phrase the issue in a way that will make him realize, hey, this way you’re doing all of his hard work for him, and his life will be easier if he just gets out of your way.

      That said, I’d be applying to other jobs. Those two ‘managers’ are too stupid to live, let alone work for. AAM might correct me here, but you’re not required to list all your jobs on your resume. It’s pretty normal to skip over unrelated temp work or short-lived ‘oops, that was a disaster’ jobs like this one. Just present your resume like you’re straight out of college. It’s not unusual to spend several months after college looking for that first job, especially right now, so the gap shouldn’t cause suspicion.

      Good luck, either way.

      1. The OP*

        “Those two ‘managers’ are too stupid to live, let alone work for.” I am going to put this on a card and read it every time I need to remind myself that I need to work around them to do my best.

        And unfortunately, the jackasses are in charge of our grant funds, so they are “accounting” as far as what I have access to.

        I’m going to stick it out as long as I can. Although yes, this is a disaster in many ways, this is all actually happening at a very well-respected employer in my field. Well-respected enough that it will actually look amazing on my resume and outsiders was NEVER suspect this could even happen.

        1. class factotum*

          I had the impression this was some kind of non-profit, because if there was actual billing of clients who were not being served (because the OP did not know they existed), those clients would be raising a stink before paying the invoice. But when an organization is paid by someone other than the consumer of services, then this kind of disconnect can exist.

          How are they getting the grants? Are they making up clients? Do these clients really and truly exist? Is there fraud here (in the grant application process) or just idiocy?

          1. The OP*

            The program is a non-profit through a federal grant and clients, who have to apply to be a part of the program, receive our services free of charge.

            As far as I know, we can’t make up clients because we have to use Social Security Numbers to report on clients. Apparently our reports are making the grade according to the Feds because the program has been re-funded several times, but I can’t imagine how that is possible.

            And yes, I think idiocy coupled with pure and utter incompetence is clearly at work here. Both managers got to where they are because they were good at client services, not management.

      2. Jamie*

        Excellent point – if there’s no full list out there IT won’t be able to help you – and even if there is a list IT typically can’t dispense other users files unless on the request of someone high ranking enough to authorize this.

        If people had any idea how much time is wasted in offices everywhere by IT explaining that they cannot generate data which doesn’t exist you would cry.

        I’m 100% in agreement with Alison that someone just has to come out and bluntly tell the director that you’ve asked repeatedly and don’t have a current list – which is preventing you from doing your job. Ask very directly and then stop talking – they may fill the dead air with an answer. Or they may not, in which case I would keep bringing it back to this original point – letting them know talking about other specifics of the objectives are irrelevant without the list.

        1. Anonymous*

          If people had any idea how much time is wasted in offices everywhere by IT explaining that they cannot generate data which doesn’t exist you would cry.

          Isn’t that what /dev/rand is for?

        2. The OP*

          The “current” incomplete and outdated client list is a print out from IT based on last year’s annual report. There are 296 clients on it (when there should be 320) and at least 70 of them are no longer eligible for our program for this year. It is a mess.

    2. JessB*

      I was going to suggest something similar, go around your manager if going to them isn’t working and going to their boss isn’t working either.

      I’ve worked in a similar situation, where people would come to me instead of my boss, whispering that they knew they should be asking Emily (yeah, I named her, I’m bad ass), but she was so awful they just couldn’t face the fight, and then the wait, and then another fight, so would I please help them? I was delighted to help everytime, and it actually made my job more interesting by working closer with another department.

      OP, I hope that your situation works out. It feels so deflating when you realise your workplace isn’t what you thought it was, and this is such a frustrating issue to be having. As Alison said, this one issue is probably symptomatic of other issues you have with him. If it helps, you sound awesome! Way to try and take control of a bad situation, for yourself, your co-worker and your clients.

      1. The OP*

        Thanks for saying I sound awesome! I certainly want to part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    3. fposte*

      Oh, you’d be surprised. I’ve definitely been in workplaces where information like this was in people’s brains only, or was distributed among a few stickies at the boss’s house, the back of an envelope in her purse, a few notations on his phone, and a file somebody started a year ago . And yes, it does mean that clients get forgotten, ignored, and pissed off.

  3. Diane*

    You can try to get more information about clients in a couple of ways: by figuring out who they probably are, or by going over your manager’s head to the director of the grant-funded program.

    If you can get a copy of the grant that funds your program, you’ll see the parameters used to identify your clients. It won’t give you a client list, but you’ll get a sense of how clients are recruited, selected, or assigned, if such a thing happens. Look at how and where intake happens. It’s possible somebody farther up the pipeline has this information. It’s also possible that your agency is wildly out of compliance.

    If your agency is audited by its funder, the director of the grant program is in big trouble and your agency could lose funding — or even pay back funding for services not provided. Somebody above your boss’ boss has got to care about this. The big question for you and your fellow caseworkers is how high you can go without losing your jobs. Alison and others can speak to the idea of whistleblowing better than I.

    1. The OP*

      I can almost certainly agree that our program is “wildly out of compliance.” But my inclination is to do as much as possible in-house to get us on the right path before taking it any further.

      It is also worth mentioning that I am still in a probationary period and can be let go without cause for the next 4 months. It will be a delicate balance of being direct to get things accomplished, but not stepping on toes.

      1. Mike C.*

        Unless you’re a contracted employee, you’re always under probation and can be released without cause.

        1. The OP*

          Based on my appointment type, I won’t be on a contract per se at the end of my probationary period, but at that point they have to show cause to let any employee go.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hmmm. I’m skeptical of that. Unless you have a contract, in most states they can let you go at any time for any reason, as long as it’s not a reason that violates anti-discrimination laws. Even if their employee manual, for instance, says that employees won’t be fired without cause, “cause” can be as simple as “we don’t think you’re fitting in here” or “we don’t like the way you handled this memo.” So I’d be curious to know what you’re basing that on!

          2. The OP*

            AAM, I’m in California… The “Personnel Policies for Staff Members”which covers me states that “staff may be terminated from employment because of misconduct or failure to maintain appropriate work performance standards.” It’s my understanding that this creates an “implied contract” that I cannot be fired without a “legitimate business reason.”

            If I’m wrong on that, please let me know or where I can get clarification!!!

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            They can define “failure to maintain appropriate work performance standards” as almost anything. All it really means is that they have to give you SOME reason — but they could pretty much make one up if they wanted to.

            Believe me, you can be just as easily fired after a probationary period as before one. Probationary periods are fairly meaningless, both legally and in practice.

      2. Natalie*

        You sound like you’re in the US, so unless you’re signing a contract after that probationary period you can always be let go without cause. Don’t assume it will get magically easier to change things after your probationary period is over.

        1. The OP*

          Trust me, I don’t think it will get any easier after my probationary period ends. I hold no illusions that that will ever be the case given the situation.

  4. Charles*

    If I read this correctly, the real problem isn’t about an inaccurate or incomplete list. It is a about manager who does NOT lead. The list was just an example of his lack of leadership.

    AAM is correct here in that being more direct could be more helpful. Yep, a foot planted directly on a donkey’s butt will cause him to move.

    Not to offend the OP or the other manager; But, I felt that original email was a bit “wimpy” in its language. “The issue seems to be . . .” Why “seems”? Why not say “the issue IS”?

    AAM’s direct language in her sample – “We do not have a list of all our clients . . . How can we get this list?” – is the way to go. Also, remember being direct doesn’t have to be accusatory or confrontational – just clear.

    Now, take that directness and apply it to all other issues. Also, remember that a foot planted directly on a mule’s butt will not cause her to move in the direction that you desire; it will just cause her to move. She might just kick instead.

    So, if the manager pushes back or holds such directness against you; then start CYAing. And look for ways to get things done without help from the manager. You’ll be happier. Include him on your decisions; but don’t expect help from him.

    Lastly, if this is your first job (dream job or not) out of school don’t expect it to be perfect or last forever. Nothing is and nothing does.

    P.S. One of these days, I will use such directness in my job search/interviewing – “what else do I need to do to convince you that I am THE candidate for the job?” Except I’m too wimpy in that I am convinced that will make them NOT hire me.

    1. The OP*

      This is not my first job; this is my first full-time, career-track job after graduate school. I certainly don’t expect it to be perfect or to be here forever, but its reasonable to expect that this not be happening.

      I do intend to plant my foot firmly and “directly on a donkey’s butt” to help get this program back on the right foot.

  5. bob*

    I’m with Diane, someone is a heap of trouble here. I hate to be the pessimist but it sounds to me like one or both managers are playing a shell game so they can’t be held accountable for a pile money. I work in a highly technical field and I’ve seen a couple of idiot managers over the years pull stunts like give an employee a project with no instructions, no scope of work, no hours, no nothing and you can guess how that went.

    My advice is get the hell out as quick as you can before they try to hold you accountable for something you have no or only minimal control over.

    1. The OP*

      No worries about being a pessimist… In this situation, I am coming to think of myself as a positive pessimist because I am hoping for the best but will start planning for the worst.

  6. Anonymous*

    This is the most sobering issue I have read. The position is described as a “case manager” and you have 230 clients you are responsible for. This sounds like a social work posiiton and those clients sound like they could be either children or the elderly. If that is so, you may have a legal duty to report the severe mismanagement to the state. Look at it this way – if there are 230 vulnerable people out there for whom you are responsible and you don’t know who they are, YOU can and will be held responsible if something happens to one of them. Management usually protects managment, as you have already seen, but there is no one to protect the rank and file. That’s one of the reasons unions came into existance, unfortunaltey.
    Over the years we have had several incidents in my state where childen “disappeared” from the system and each time the news media caught wind of it. Management was criticized, but the rank and file social workers at the bottom of the totem pole were villified literally for weeks in the media before finally being fired. Try getting a job anywhere after that kind of publicity. Seriously, if you value your good name and professional reputation, I would get out of there so fast it wouldn’t be funny.
    Another thing to consider is that if you report them to the state while still employed there, your name will be mud and they will start looking for ways to fire you. Get out, then report them and tell whomever oversees the agency what is going on and why you left. That protects you and the people being served by this agency.

    1. The OP*

      I can assure you that even with this problem in management that none of our clients are in any danger.

      I will start documenting all of this so that I am as insulated as possible should it hit the fan. As far as the other case manager and I are concerned, we are performing to the best of our abilities given what we have.

      Obviously, I do value my good name and professional reputation, and part of my value system is not jumping ship without at least trying to make things better. If this came to light in my next job search, I want to be the person that put in an honest effort to see a program managed well and not the person that got out of Dodge.

      1. bob*

        An excellent idea. Bcc: yourself to an outside email address with a few important emails and make sure your keester is covered should someone start investigating. I doubt if anyone would give you much grief over confidential docs but I think the risks outweigh any possible repercussions for being a party to a fiducial meltdown.

  7. Anonymous*

    In regards to the list problem, the OP needs to write in the plannest English possible: Who are our clients? Where is the most recent updated list?

    Otherwise, it leaves the potentiality of the manager to twist the blame onto the employees. He may not be that bright to quote from the letter, but it’s sometimes those sorts of people who know how to manipulate. You have to cover your behind and not use fluff words when trying to write politely.

    1. Cruella*

      Be sure to include the statement: “This list we have is incomplete”

      My question is, why do these two case managers not maintain their client list themselves? Is this a new project that they’ve never had this list or have they been expected to maintain it all along, which is why their boss is giving them outdated information.

      1. The OP*

        To give you an idea, I should have an active caseload of 160 clients (half of the 320 total). Based on the list that I was given with 118 names, after removing 40 clients that are no longer eligible for services, I only have 78 active clients.

        I maintain the incomplete and outdated list as best I can, but don’t have access to enough information to fully update the client list–and that information should be available from my supervisor.

  8. BB*

    I agree that the manager is a tool, but since he only cares about the numbers you report in Excel (he’s interested in what I call ‘checking the done box’), why don’t you just create a summary view in Excel like this?

    clients from partial list: 280
    portion of known clients served: 98%
    # of clients unable to be served due to lack of complete list: 50
    required services provided: a, b, c
    permissible services: x, y, z

    Obviously the details by client need to be listed after, but since if you copy your manager’s boss they’d only read the first few lines anyway, they’d see the two most important things on the second and third lines – first, that you’re doing your job by taking care of 98% of the clients you know about, and second, that there are a bunch of clients you can’t take care of because your manager won’t give you a complete list.

    Also, you should create a pie chart (I think pie charts should be banned, but senior managers seems to love them) showing the split between the # of known and unknown clients (e.g. total is 320 per the OP, and you don’t know who the unknown clients are, so unknown is just total minus known…).

    1. The OP*

      I really like your idea of prominently listing “partial” on my client list along with my other numbers. That seems like a really concrete and irrefutable way to reinforce that I am doing my best with limited information that should be made freely available to me. Thank you!

  9. Jamie*

    If you plan on staying I would document every single request for this list – both verbal and emails – and save the emails.

    So if (when) you are confronted during a performance review with not meeting your obligations pull out the time line and give it right back.

    I’ve seen people get dinged (and financially affected via their bonuses) for not meeting metrics when they were prevented from doing so by their own bosses.

    That one can’t be held accountable for things beyond one’s control is such a basic concept…but this inexplicably goes on all the time.

  10. Anonymous*

    I would be cautious….not that there is necessarily anything wrong here, but when there is grant money and managers who don’t document and are uncommunicative, sometimes there is grant money being used for non-grant purposes.

  11. Joey*

    Consider contacting the grantor directly. Depending on where the money is coming from this might keep you out of the line of fire when the crap hits the fan and they eventually find out the funds are being misappropriated or the org is not in compliance with the grant. On the off chance there are no compliance concerns they are likely to have enough documentation for you to re create a client list.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you do this without explicit permission from your boss, you almost certainly risk getting fired. If it’s not in your job description to manage the relationship with the grant-giving entity, this would a major breach of chain of command authority — and they’d be justified in feeling that way (because no matter how screwed up things look from your perspective, they might be perfectly satisfying the requirements of the grant, and you alarming and/or confusing the grantor in that way could wrongly jeopardize continued funding).

      1. Charles*

        AAM – I totally agree – DO NOT CONTACT THE GRANTOR.

        Unless there is clearly fraud going on, and the OP has evidence that it will hold up in court, this is a VERY bad idea.

        The grantor will call into question what exactly is going on at that agency/department. Heads might just have to roll. Not only will the OP get canned, she will get a reputation of “throwing a monkey wrench into the works.” No one will hire her in her chosen field with that kind of reputation. (and the truth be told neither would I – ignoring the chain of command just because she had a hunch?) And it sounds like her field might have a lot of “inbreeding.” That is to say that managers in one agency will know managers in other potential places of employment.

  12. Joey*

    Agreed, but the point I’m trying to make is the op stated he’s pretty sure the grant is”wildly out of compliance “. Especially if it’s a govt grant that has a ring of illegal activity to it and possible whistleblower protections as a result.

    1. The OP*

      From my perspective, when I say “wildly out of compliance” I mean that there is no feasible or reasonable way we can be meeting our grant objectives with what is going on. Just. No. Way.

      I don’t think anything illegal is going on, but clearly we are not in compliance with our grant if we are funded to serve 320 clients and don’t even have a caseload list to reflect that.

  13. Susan*

    @Charles – I’m keeping your donkey reference on a 3×5 card in my portfolio – that was great! And so true, especially if you work for anything government related.

    1. Charles*

      Glad you like it – it didn’t take much thinking on my part as I have worked with so many “stubborn” mules over the years. Unfortunately, a few of them have kicked back, and Ouch! that’s smarts.

  14. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For what it’s worth, we’re all getting very focused on the client list issue (my fault; I focused on it in my response), when the problems here go way beyond that one specific thing. She could solve the client list issue but she’ll still be working for people who can’t manage, aren’t too bright, and apparently will get in the way of her ability to get things done.

    1. The OP*

      I think it’s easy for people (myself included) to hold on to concrete things like the client list because it seems like it should be a straight forward thing to fix.

      Also, you were right, deep down I was hoping there was some magical solution that would make this all better even though I know better.

      But yes, the client list debacle is just a symptom of the larger problem with management.

  15. Gina*

    I tend to question whether management is truly ignorant about this issue. As others have speculated, I wonder if they are fraudently increasing their caseload numbers in order to receive additional funding. The fact they continue to provide an outdated and overinflated client list to staff makes me think they are intentionally increasing their head count (thus, making more money in the process). The fact that they continue to dance around this questions makes me further inclined to believe it’s poor management by means of fraud than ignorance.

    p.s. Alison – As an HR person, I must say I love your site. You answer real life questions with a very practical approach. In HR, we tend to get bogged down in rules and policies, but your responses address how we can better manage and establish best practices.

    1. The OP*

      I still think its ignorance and not willful fraud. We can’t get more money by reporting more clients, so that is not in play here.

      Really, I think part of the problem is that management doesn’t fully understand who is and is not eligible for services or have a working definition of what an “active caseload” should be although all of this should be known and clearly communicated to the staff. What they tell us, what the grant says, and what my understanding of the regulations are should all be the same, but they are not.

      But, ignorance of the rules and regulations (which should be their jobs to know) is no defense.

  16. FrauTech*

    I’m not convinced your manager’s boss is in on this. The email your fellow case manager sent “It seems that…” is pretty vague. He probably got bored, didn’t read the whole thing, and asked your boss what it was all about. Then your boss made up some story “well they’re not keeping up an updated list blah blah blah” and his boss bought it.

    It also doesn’t seem like your boss has any better avenues than you do to obtain this list. You need to start working around him. Contact the government agency if necessary. You can plead ignorance as a low level employee who can’t get the information internally. I’m not convinced fraud is going on here, just incompetence. If you think there really is no list, I’m not sure what constantly asking your boss for it is going to accomplish. Seems like you have all the seem opportunities he does to get an updated one.

  17. Anonymous*

    It makes me very happy to see blogs like this. This is the kind of straight talk we need in business!

  18. Interviewer*

    To me, it sounds like the fairly menial task of data entry (updating the client list) has been lost in the shuffle of all these highly educated people in one office. It sounds like you need a List Keeper.

    Does someone in the office find out about new clients? How? Phone, mail, email? Devise a brilliantly simple but failproof method for funneling that information from the recipient to the List Keeper. Standard form in the inbox with all the pertinent info. That client then gets added or dropped, edits are made as info is shared, and you can count on the list to be current and accurate at all times.

    Not sure if this will work for your group, but I offer it up as a possible solution. Since you’re new, you may not know all the moving pieces & parts but maybe you can discuss it with your team to figure out what would work best. And also, just know that sometimes you have to do your job in spite of management.

    1. The OP*

      Oh, if only it was that simple! What you suggest is exactly what the other case manager and I want, have asked for and recommended, and are not getting. Our manager should be the List Keeper.

  19. Anonymous*

    This might make me sound like a slacker rather than the gung-ho employee we all should be, but what’s wrong with just focusing on the viable clients on the outdated list? Do a great job with those clients, add new ones as they come up, and if anyone asks, say: “This was the list I was given.” I know you’d love to be a case worker extraordinaire and nail down everything — I would want that too — but sometimes circumstances just don’t allow it. Do the best you can within the limits these bozo managers have set and don’t stress about it.

    1. The OP*

      I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with concentrating on the active clients that I do have. But, to me, there is certainly nothing “right” about not trying to serve all of my clients and fulfill the grant objectives. I don’t want to settle.

  20. Anonymous*

    I agree that you boss is a jackass, and this is a symptom of a larger problem, but it also sounds like you can’t really work around him until you get that list. I also agree with everyone else that you need to be as direct as you possibly can about the fact that you don’t have a list of your clients. Do not be wishy washy or vague. Think of it as a talking point. Every time you meet with your boss, make sure you mention that you don’t know who all of your clients are. Say that every time you meet with your boss’s boss as well. Try not to be adversarial about it, but mention it every time.

    I think you’ve also established that your boss doesn’t have the list and probably can’t make one. So you should probably try to make one on your own. If they have to apply to be clients in this program, where are the intake applications being kept? Can you find someone in that office and get the stack of applications?

    If this is a situation where the clients might contact the office on their own, you might be able to get whoever is the first point of contact with the public to keep a log of the clients who call, and you can check them against the lists you have. Think about every type of interaction the clients might have with your organization, and then speak to the person who would have interacted with them. You won’t be able to build up a list of all the clients right away, but you might find a few more, which is better than nothing.

    1. The OP*

      The thing is he SHOULD be able to create the list, he SHOULD be maintaining the list. He does all of our recruitment, all of the applications are in his office, and he verifies that applicants are eligible–at least I assume he does all of things, because that is supposed to be his job. Both the other case manager and I have in fact created our own lists, but are still nowhere near having a complete and accurate list.
      And unfortunately, I don’t think getting potential client names from the front desk is a viable option, but we are trying our best to get this information in spite of our manager.

      1. Amy*

        If your boss is really the one who is doing all the recruitment and is personally responsible for creating that list, I’m even more convinced that he’s just overwhelmed.

        If you assume that he simply needs assistance–not that he’s incompetent, but that there just aren’t enough hours in the day–what options might that open up?

  21. Amy*

    Alison’s best advice is to be extremely concise and direct. And that’s good advice in many work situations. My reasons for this are a little different than what I’m seeing in others’ responses.

    I see a combination of two problems. One, the director and supervisor aren’t slowing down long enough to hear what the problem actually is. All they are doing is jumping to conclusions based on too little information. The feedback they need is not another long detailed description of the confused state of the case managers, but a simple “I need you to eliminate distractions long enough to listen closely to me for one minute,” followed by as short and succinct a description of the problem as possible so the essence of the issue can be communicated before they notice their Blackberry flashing at them.

    The second problem I see is that the case managers are assuming that the behavior they observe is motivated by negative intent: They’re out to get me, they’re stupid, they’re jackasses. By holding these negative assumptions about the critical players in their world, the case managers are putting themselves at a disadvantage and limiting their own options.

    Assuming *positive* intent–assuming that the supervisor and director are each doing the *best* they can with the intent of doing the *right* thing–is truly the best way to increase options for finding an accountable way to achieve desired results. Most likely, they aren’t getting up in the morning with the intent of screwing over their staff.

    If you ask for something and the response isn’t even related to what you asked for, chances are extremely strong that you are dealing with a busy mind. That’s going to be true of most people in most situations. The answer is to ask them to slow down and calm their thinking long enough to listen for understanding. Don’t assume they’re jackasses, because you’re going to have a hard time getting results anywhere with that approach.

    1. The OP*

      Jackasses was actually AAM word for my leadership in this situation, not mine.

      Going back to my original letter, I said my manager “says all the right things about his management style/philosophy, welcoming feedback, being collaborative, and using best practices… but in reality his behavior does not match what he says.”

      From what he says, I believe he has good intentions and wants to do right by our program. Based on his behavior though, I assume he doesn’t understand that he is not living up to those good intentions… the road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? Its that lack of understanding that makes me assume he is incompetent.

  22. Susan E*

    My two cents: you have little chance of having your manager give you a list of 320 clients because a list of clients is dynamic and if no one has been keeping it up, 1) no accurate list exists and 2) the 320 number is outdated. The actual number of clients could be less (minus the people no longer eligible) or it could be more (since you don’t think it includes all the people who have applied) . In your situation, I would work around as best I could while there : 1) as others say, document that you asked for an updated list, 2) update the list you have as you work with it and provide periodic updates on the clients to your manager (I contacted x, y and z and they are no longer eligible due to a, b, c) and 3) ask your manager to send you the names of any new clients you should add to your list. If nothing else, you will be doing your job as well you can and updating your half of the list as you go along. From what’s here, I don’t know if you have enough evidence to know if this is incompetence, fraud or extremely poor communication.

    1. The OP*

      Unfortunately, the way it works is that the total number of 320 can NEVER be outdated based on our grant. We are funded to serve 320 clients, and when clients are no longer eligible we should be recruiting to maintain 320 active clients. Not understanding this, not managing a grant program effectively to meet this requirement has got to be incompetence.

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