my team keeps complaining about a coworker in a different department

A reader writes:

I’m a department director; my department is on a different floor than the main part of our office. I have a friendly relationship with my staff and the people who work for me are generally great. I really enjoy my job. When I do have complaints, my personal philosophy is that my staff shouldn’t be my sounding board. For example, I don’t complain about my boss to my staff. I figure I don’t need to transfer my stress to them, and I don’t want to spread negativity around the office.

A portion of my department’s workflow has to go through an administrative person in another department. This person reports to another department director. We have a new person in this role – she started 6 months ago – and she seems overwhelmed. From my perspective, she’s disorganized, bad at prioritizing work, and slow to learn tasks. Unfortunately for her, she’s following someone who really excelled in this role, and the new person suffers in comparison. I’ve found her really difficult to work with, and I’m actively doing my best to minimize the amount of our work that has to go through her – but there are some things that just have to cross her desk, no matter what.

Because my department is physically separated from this administrative person, I hear a lot of complaining about her when my staff has a negative interaction. Some of it is just venting, but sometimes someone will approach me for help in dealing with her. Last fall, when she was brand new, I did my best to speak positively (or at least neutrally) about her. I knew she was facing a big learning curve. At this point, she’s still failing at things she should have mastered, and I’m having a hard time not letting my frustration show. I have no role in deciding whether or not to keep her (she’s still on her probationary period), and so I’m working under the assumption that we’re stuck with her.

What should I do when my staff complains about this person? And how should I handle my own frustration? I find myself sliding into joining the venting about her, and I don’t feel good about it – but it’s really hard not to!

You need to talk to her boss. If it’s at the point where your team is that frustrated by her, and you see that their complaints are legitimate, it’s something that her boss needs to know about. In fact, I’d argue that you’re obligated to raise the issue with her boss, since it’s getting in the way of your team’s work. It would be the same as if your team was chronically not getting the IT support they needed, or if their phones were regularly going out in the middle of work calls — you’d need to talk to whoever was responsible (or their boss) and advocate for your staff’s work needs.

Plus, you mentioned that this person is still in her probationary period, which means there’s some time-sensitivity for alerting her manager. Put yourself in her manager’s shoes — wouldn’t you be really frustrated if you weren’t told about these issues until months from now, when people who could have alerted you to them earlier didn’t? (And you might be assuming that her manager must know about the problems — but that’s not always true. Usually a good manager would know, but not every manager manages as closely as they should, especially with new people. And sometimes there are things that truly are hard for the manager herself to spot, but which others are in a better position to notice.)

So talk to her boss. The conversation isn’t “Jane sucks and you need to fire her.” It’s “Jane’s work is getting in the way of my team getting what we need. How can we solve this so we’re still able to keep our work moving?”

As for your staff, I’d say this to them: “I hear you. I’ve talked to Lavinia about the problems we’re having and I’ll keep following up with her if the issues you continue. I appreciate how frustrating this is, but I want to give Jane and Lavinia a chance to address our concerns. Let’s give them a bit of time to work on the issues I’ve raised, and see if we can get them solved.”

{ 92 comments… read them below }

  1. A Teacher

    Please do something about the person that’s NOT doing her job. Where I work, our person that doesn’t do her job is kept “because she’s nice.” I like her as a person to talk to but at some point its become problematic because we end up doing her jobs and don’t have time to do it. Our administration keeps saying they will do something and yet 3 years later, she’s still here and still doing minimal. Its really frustrating and my tolerance for her lack of work has diminished significantly.

  2. SJP

    OP, You say this person is overwhelmed. Are you sure she’s just not having enough time to grasp these things because she is so swamped? When I first started my job 7 months ago I started at a quieter period that soon got extremely busy and unfortunately I did get some stuff wrong due to still learning the role but sheer amount of work stopped me from fully being able to have the time to grasp a big and busy admin role? (Basically a PA for a group of 20 or so consultants) I also had to organise 4 oversea’s trips for the same week just before Christmas.. you can imagine my stress levels..
    Can you have an objective look at the situation and is she very capable but just really struggling cause of workload, or is she actually just incompetent?
    If it’s the former then maybe frame it to her boss that she’s making mistakes and you’re frustrated, as is your team, but state it as it’s because she’s overwhelmed with the amount of work and could someone else support her until she has grasped the role properly…
    Just a thought from someone who’s boss actually realised I made little mistakes due to sheer volume and complexity of the role rather than my competence

    1. fposte

      That’s definitely frustrating for the employee involved, and I understand why it was for you. In this case, though, that’s not really within the OP’s purview; she doesn’t manage this person, and it’s not likely to be fair or appropriate for her to take on that kind of management approach.

    2. Sadsack

      I don’t think it is OP’s place to suggest reasons why the admin isn’t keeping up, that is for the admin and her manager to figure out. OP just needs to bring what he knows to be the outcome to their attention.

      1. SJP

        True, I guess I just wrote it down as a suggestion if they see Admins or other employee’s being overwhelmed and then making mistakes.. and it’s not surprising for someone still kinda new to be making mistakes if they are struggling with work load.
        I mean they may be struggling due to workload cause they’re not very good at their job, but they may also be struggling because of a boss who isn’t stemming flow of work to someone still pretty new..

    3. T

      You raise a valid point, but I don’t think that the OP needs to determine why the person isn’t doing well. He or she just needs to let that person’s manager know and work on a solution. The admin’s manager needs to look at workload, etc., to decide if that’s a determining factor. However, I would be concerned about the admin having so much trouble with the OP’s department (and possibly some others) throwing as little work as possible her way.

    4. OP

      I’m really not able to say if she’s swamped or not. My opinion is that she’s not very good at prioritization of tasks, but I know that I don’t see the entirety of her workload. Regardless, the person who could support her (and did when she was brand new) is part of my team and has her own work to get done, and part of the problem is that we just don’t have the time to keep going with that arrangement.

      1. EG

        From personal experience, I can say that if she’s receiving requests from multiple departments there is a good chance that she’s overloaded with work. I posted Friday in the open thread about dealing with multiple department requests of me. Her manager should know what her workload looks like, and if not, a conversation with the manager should prompt a conversation with her on how better to manage the workload or delegate tasks elsewhere if possible.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think lots of people here are seeing this through the lens of their own experience. It’s totally possible that the workload is too high, but it’s at least equally possible that she’s just not performing at the level the role requires (and that someone great could do). We really don’t know from the outside — but that’s something the OP doesn’t need to figure out; she just needs to let the person’s manager know that her team isn’t getting what they need.

    5. Artemesia

      this is not the OP’s problem. Her job is to make things work for her own team and that means being aggressive about forcing the other director to manage her employee. Nice is fine. But persistent and insistent is also important. The OP’s job is to facilitate her team’s work; this person is inhibiting her team’s work. Her job is to fix it and to fix it she needs to not be ‘understanding’ but assertive about the need to bring this employee up to speed — she doesn’t care how they do it — better management, more support, firing her and hiring someone competent — she just needs to push till it gets done and with a focus on impeding productivity.

    6. Not So NewReader

      I think if you had a couple of examples of recurring problems that might be helpful for her boss to get a clearer understanding about the nature of the problem.

      But I am finding it hard to fathom that her boss has no clue. It could be that her boss is right on this problem and does not mention it.

      1. Jessa

        It is possible that she’s completely up on the work her boss sees, and because the OP has not made a big deal of what’s happening to the other team, her boss does not know. The other boss cannot see into the OP’s team to find out that things aren’t working out, unless those tasks are specifically things the boss sees or knows about – if a report has to go to both the boss and OP’s team, maybe the boss would know. But if all Boss’s reports get done, and the one that has to go to OP doesn’t, why would her boss necessarily notice that?

  3. Meg Murry

    Is the work she’s doing for your department the same as what she is doing for the other department, or is it a different task just for your department? If its a task just for your department, consider whether she needs more training or more documentation on how to do the task.
    Is the concern that she screws it up or just that she’s slow? If she is screwing up, consider whether its something that she needs to be re-trained on or if she’s just not following the procedure. If she’s slow – have you given her a timeline or deadline?
    Either way, I agree that you need to talk to her boss about it. I recently was in a position where technically I was supporting 3 different departments, but I will admit, I prioritized the work for my immediate boss first – mainly because she was there and visible, and was the loudest and fastest to complain when her tasks weren’t being done. So you may need to be a bit of a squeaky wheel to get your group’s work prioritized, and don’t just assume that dropping something in her inbox that used to have a 3 day turnaround will still happen in 3 days.

    1. OP

      The work she does for us is the same as for other departments – the work flows up to our equivalent of a board of directors, and it all goes through her. There are some other tasks that involve our department that are done for the organization as a whole. The concern is both about mistakes and about speed, because sometimes if the work isn’t done in a timely fashion, it might as well not have been done, as some of it is time sensitive.

        1. OP

          I believe so, but it isn’t me that’s setting the deadlines – the other department sets the deadlines and we respond to them, by sending our work to the admin.

  4. CAinUK

    Alison’s suggested approach is great – and I wanted to echo it for another reason: if the manager of that other department finds out you’re venting about his/her staff without addresing it directly, you are going to damage that relationship! So def stop the venting alongside your staff no matter how tempting – even if you don’t get the result you want (which I hope you do). You can have a sympathetic tone, but keep to the professional line.

    Also to note: this is the entire point of a probation period, so don’t worry about flagging this ASAP! I’d want to know this for sure as a manager.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Barest minimum you could tell your staff that they should not be overheard with their venting. They need to think about where they are standing when they start a conversation.

  5. alma

    As someone who once followed a “rock star” in a similar role… I’m just gonna say that rock stars do not always rock at training their replacements. :/

    That said, I think speaking to her boss is absolutely in order. It’s a workplace problem that needs to be solved regardless of what’s causing it. If nothing else, the admin may need to hear from her own boss that your work is a priority.

    1. brownblack

      I am in a position that sounds somewhat similar to what this person is facing – it’s a little overwhelming, with many conflicting priorities, deadlines, multiple people to support, etc – except the person I replaced was NOT a rock star. People complained about him ceaselessly and he was in the job for like, 10 years. So even though my job is tough, I still feel confident that I’m doing a better job than him!

    2. Anonsie

      And there are rockstars who feel like being the rockstar is more important than the work actually being done and being done well, and are more than happy to not hand things off effectively because it only damages someone else’s reputation.

    3. College Career Counselor

      Arguably, it’s not the rockstar’s job to train the replacement, it’s the supervisor (or someone else) who needs to do that. The rockstar may have given two weeks’ notice and was long gone before the replacement was even interviewed, let alone on-boarded.

      1. alma

        If your replacement arrives before you leave, and your supervisor tasks you with training said replacement, then yes, it is your job. Of course that’s not always how it shakes out, but I don’t think my comment implied this was a universal scenario.

      2. OP

        Yes, in this case, the rockstar was gone to another company long before we interviewed the current admin.

        1. Stranger than fiction

          In that case I feel a little more sympathetic to this admin now although I agree with Alison. If the other person was gone her training may not have been up to par and her boss may not have known every little nuance of the job like the other person did

    4. SophiaB

      To play devils advocate, it can be tricky to train people who don’t think how you do to do a job that you’ve built up around yourself. I have the kind of brain that can play Tetris with half a dozen tasks to fit them into my day. I can’t explain how I did that, I’ve just always worked that way.

      If a key part of the admin’s role is balancing competing priorities and she’s just no good at that, there’s not a lot of training that will help that.

      1. Lamb

        But if she’s “just no good at” “a key part of the … role” she either needs to improve or someone else needs to get on that key part of the role (if she’s overworked and can’t handle the analysis of the TPS reports, maybe that task could be shifted, but in the case you mentioned of balancing competing priorities, that is a key element of the entire job, and someone who can’t meet that requirement even after guidance on what to favor getting done, then they should be replaced.)

  6. Snarkus Aurelius

    Keep a list of all the things that are getting screwed up and the results of it. Make sure you don’t editorialize anything. In case there’s any pushback from the other manager, have this list ready to go to point out a history of incompetence.

    In my experience, people want to write these incidents off as one time things so they don’t have to take action. Putting everything in a list paints a more definitive picture.

    When I did it, the bulleted issues took up two single spaced pages. Nothing was ever done, but at least my boss stopped telling me that the guy who reported to me was having an off day or family issues.

    Make sure this list is for your eyes and the other manager’s eyes only. You don’t want people piling on out of spite.

    1. Jen RO

      Thank you. My situation is different, but it just… never occurred to me that I could write things down and see if a pattern emerges! (I’ve been wondering if I suck at explaining or if some of my reports are simply not listening/not getting it.)

  7. Ann O'Nemity

    Since the previous employee was so good, I wonder if it’s possible that role can’t be easily filled.

    It reminds me of the time I worked with an absolute rock star. She was amazing and always willing to stay late and go the extra mile. But instead of getting promotions, she just kept getting more and more work assignments. Eventually she quit for a better job two full levels higher than her old one. It took over a year and two failed replacements before the company realized that the job had grown way too big for one person.

    1. RJ

      I completely agree with this. While I have been unfortunate enough to work with people who are a poor fit for the job (and a couple who were just incompetent) it is important to recognize when systemic forces are impacting someone’s ability to do their job.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius

      Although I’ve been burned more by rock stars, I’m highly suspicious of any extreme label when I don’t know the person. A bulk of the time, it had to do more with feelings than competence. A few so-called rock stars I’ve known were the sweetest people ever, but they were either totally overwhelmed, giving the impression things were getting done just to keep the peace, pushing themselves to work beyond normal work hours to get things done, a favorite of a higher up or some combination of all of them. Opposite goes for the people who were supposedly terrible. I’ve seen those people be more direct or pushing back against unrealistic demands or just not liked.

      In this case, I’d be taking a closer look at that rock star.

      1. James M.

        Rockstars by reputation =/= self-proclaimed rockstars. The former have earned the title by consistently performing well above the level of their peers. You seem familiar with the latter already.

    3. Jessa

      Just because one person did a job, does not follow that another person can handle the whole workload. I know when I left one job they needed two people to handle the load. Mostly because in addition to the regular support stuff, there was a lot of data entry and tracking work, and I just happened to type crazy fast at data entry (and was very able to slot it in between other things.) When I left they gave one person the task work and handed the data entry off to a receptionist that until then just answered the phones and it didn’t matter if it took her all day to get the stuff entered around that.

      Also it’s very possible that she does not have a good grasp of what is a priority and how to make those decisions and to know she has the authority to push back if someone is demanding she do something RIGHT. NOW. to her face, when she has stuff that needs doing.

  8. TT

    Six months seems like a fairly short amount of time to come to such negative conclusions, especially if she’s filling big shoes.

      1. LBK

        A year!? That seems unreasonably long to give someone. I can see it taking that long to master a role or have confidently encountered all ad hoc scenarios, but I’d say you should feel comfortable starting to gauge someone’s competence in a role by the third month. Even if they’re not totally trained in every aspect or they still have to ask questions on some tasks, at that point you should at least be able to tell how well they’re catching on and if their general work style is meshing with the role.

        1. Hlyssande

          In my small group, we don’t consider people fully trained until about a year now due to the number of procedures and databases and standards that newbies need to know.

          1. NoPantsFridays

            Same here, larger group, but we too don’t consider new hires/transfers fully trained for a year. However, that’s an 80/20 thing, meaning they’d probably be 80% trained within 3-5 months.

        2. Elizabeth West

          My clerical job at the materials lab took six months to master–and my boss told me that would be the case on the first day. She didn’t want me to get discouraged. The reason for that? A LOT of very persnickety procedures, especially with sample handling and record-keeping.

          Once the six months were up, I had the job well in hand. If I’d only been given three, I probably would have died of frustration.

          1. Annonymouse

            But the 3 month/6 month timeline is not to see if you’ve mastered your new role but can you?

            In 3 months you should have a decent gauge of how quickly someone learns tasks, how open they are to feedback and corrections, how much they understand the core tasks/concepts of their job and if they are able to succeed.

            At 6 months they should feel comfortable enough with the way the business/process operates to suggest some changes or question why do we do things that way? Or to take initative to learn more tasks/more in depth training.

            You should see if they are going to succeed at this point.

            The only reason you wouldn’t is if the job drastically changed a few months in.

      2. Adonday Veeah

        Even if it takes a year to be able to wrap your arms completely around a job, a reasonably decent employee with a reasonable workload will not be a hindrance to others for that year. Six months is a decent amount of time to determine if there has been progress.

    1. LBK

      I think it depends on the role and the responsibilites in question, but it’s not unreasonable that core job responsibilities would be expected to be mastered by that time, especially if they’re not particularly technical. If this is something she has to do every day, I’d say 3 months is the limit for when she should be able to do it without assistance at least 85% of the time.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, it really varies depending on what the role is. But that’s really for the person’s manager to assess; what’s relevant for the OP is that her team isn’t getting what they need, and that’s what she should bring to the other manager’s attention.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger

        Well, the OP isn’t their supervisor, so it’s not their job to assess the capabilities of the person causing the bottleneck, just to point it out to that person’s supervisor and let them handle it. And if they don’t handle it, the OP may need to talk to their own supervisor about the workflow.

        1. LBK

          Agreed, I don’t think this is the OP’s problem either way, but as a manner of putting her own mind at ease (“Am I crazy to think she should be able to do this by now?”) I think it’s impossible to categorically say that any given time period is reasonable or unreasonable. Although I do stand by 3 months being a generally acceptable timeframe in which you can start to feel confident in your opinion of how well someone is learning (are they asking a lot of repetitive questions? are they able to take on certain tasks themselves?), even if you can’t judge their mastery of the job at that point.

  9. some1

    I’m seconding Alison’s remark that the admin’s director may have no idea that these issues exist, or the extent of the issues. I’m an admin and it can be common when you are one to not have your direct supervisor understand what you actually do day-to-day, ntm how long it should take to turn around Tasks X, Y, and Z, especially when they have a totally different type of position.

    1. Not Here or There

      This +1! I’ve worked as an EA for most of my career and one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the role is managing expectations. I’ve never worked with an executive that really had any idea of what exactly I do, the processes I have to go through or the amount of time any particular piece of work will take. I certainly would never expect them to know that, that’s not their job.

      However, that makes it very challenging to manage expectations. It is especially difficult in a situation like it sounds like this admin is in: she’s having to handle tasks for multiple departments, is new to the role and is following someone who is a “rockstar”. Rockstars in the admin world are hard to come by because it really does take a very specific set of skills along with a willingness to always be behind the scenes and to take a lot of drudge work and turn out awesome results (not to mention that with a few exceptions, admin positions generally are not super highly paid, considering the hours and expectations, and only rarely have any opportunities for advancement).

      I would definitely talk to the admin’s supervisor. It may well be that she has a lot of processes to learn and the supervisor has specifically told her that your work is not the priority. You may think she should have mastered what you want by now, but you really don’t know what her day to day is. Rather than sit and fume, bring it up (just the facts, try and keep opinions out of it) and see what they have to say.

      1. some1

        Right, and another thing about admin tasks is that tasks can be added or subtracted as business needs change, and those changes wouldn’t necessarily be communicated to you. It’s easier to for the LW to say, “Well, when *Susan* had this job, everything was done better and more quickly.” But for all you know the admin has more responsibilities than Susan did, and she has inferior or less resources, or something else that you wouldn’t be privy to.

        1. Not Here or There

          Or the business decided they wanted to hire someone with less experience because they wanted someone cheaper… This happened when one workplace replaced me, they hired someone fresh out of school and then were constantly frustrated with that person for not knowing the things I knew or being able to do things as fast as I could. I would get calls and emails from my old boss complaining about new person. Well…

        2. Kelly L.

          Yes–I was wondering if there’s any possibility that this admin isn’t even supposed to be doing this thing–whether the rockstar had just kind of taken it on unofficially, or whether it had been removed from the tasks of that position because something else was going on. So new admin may be like “Why does OP’s department keep sending me these things?”, especially if the change came before she was even hired.

          1. OP

            No, what she’s doing for my department is a core component of her work. At this point, we are trying not to send her things that seem more tangential, but certain things have to go to her.

            1. some1

              Is it possible that the volume of this task changed though? This has happened to me as an admin. I started processing TPS reports for five people, an next thing I know I am doing it for 15.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                It’s certainly possible, but I want to point out that that shouldn’t change what the OP does here. She needs to raise the problem to the person’s manager, who can then figure out how to best resolve it from there.

                1. some1

                  I don’t think it changes what the LW should do, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that th LW might not have all he info she thinks she does to conclude that the admin is slacking off.

        3. Anonsie

          Especially when Susan had been there for a while– Susan knew people and people recognized her, she knew when the rules on paper could be bent or worked around, all kinds of things her replacement won’t be able to know or do right away.

      2. Ama

        In my experience, if she’s assisting multiple departments it’s even more likely that no one has a good grasp of what her full workload looks like.

  10. IDK

    It can be overwhelming to be the successor of a rock star. Keeping things in perspective, “rock stars” take time to develop. I was not considered a rock star (in my current role) when I started a year ago but I am now and have increased the responsibilities of this position.

    I’m not dismissing the issue but try not to look at her like she’ll be a clone of the other employee. Also, she may not have received adequate training or support. She may be trying the follow the former employee’s work habits to a T instead of finding her own groove. For example, One Note is my BFF, if I took over a position and they said “just keep notes in Notepad” I’d struggle to keep up. Just my perspective.

    1. OP

      I do think that part of the challenge is that the new person has very different work habits than her predecessor, and that’s seen as a problem by some of the staff. It’s been hard to separate out what’s a real issue and what’s just personality conflicts. I don’t want to elevate complaints that are just people not quite used to a new person in that role.

      1. OhNo

        That’s one thing to consider when you hear your staff complaining about the new admin – is this something that can actually be changed and is directly related to work? If it’s not, you can shut that kind of personality conflict talk down outright (nicely, of course). It might help if you’re only hearing things that you can actually take to their boss, rather than just general complaining.

  11. brightstar

    Document what is affecting your department and bring it up to the person’s supervisor.

    As others have mentioned, it could be that the work load needs to be re-assessed. I was a rock star in an EA role in one of my first jobs out of college. I managed to do everything well and timely but constantly felt overwhelmed. When I learned they thought I was “too valuable in that role” to be promoted, I found another job. After I left, I learned they parceled my work out to four other persons because my replacement couldn’t handle it.

    But that is that division’s director to decide. All you can do it to bring it to their attention.

  12. RVA Cat

    I expect this situation to come up more and more as the economy improves — these “rock stars” had to settle for underemployment during the recession, but now their prospects have improved and they’ve moved on to bigger and better. Now the employer has unrealistic expectations for the position, especially for what they’re probably willing to pay.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Or as someone said a above they hired someone way cheaper and less experienced

    2. Jessa

      Yes, they get a rockstar and then they have no idea what a normal, reasonably talented person can do in the role. And if this worker is slightly below reasonably talented, because they went for less experience, that only makes it worse.

      1. Manders

        I’m having the same issue at work now! The admin hired after me is fine at her job, but she doesn’t have exactly the same blend of skills as me, and so the boss is convinced that she’s not performing up to par. I took the job for less money than I might have been worth because I had just moved to town and was in a tight spot. Finding someone who has my exact skills and experience AND is willing to work for a low wage may not be possible anymore.

  13. Ann Furthermore

    Much good advice here. I’ll add that it’s important to talk to her manager, because she may be directing this person about how to handle things, without realizing that there are unintended consequences. Also, maybe her manager is not aware of what the “rock star” predecessor did for you, and what the impact to you is if those things don’t get done. Is that possible? She probably is doing her best, and if she’s getting good feedback from other people, she may not be aware that she’s causing issues for you.

    It’s also possible that there are things going on that you’re not aware of. I hired an AP person once, and she’d been temping in another department. She was really smart and quick to pick things up. But when she started working for me, I noticed that things slowed down a bit. The Negative Nancys were griping about her socializing too much, but I didn’t think that was it. She’s an extremely extroverted and friendly person, but I didn’t observe her wasting a lot of time during the day. So after talking with her, I found that she was still being asked to help with things by people in the other department. She also told me that, on her own, she’d tried to be extra-helpful and do some hand-holding with internal customers, because the person she replaced was a bit of a battleaxe. My new employee told me that after the battleaxe retired, people had been telling her things like, “Oh, it’s so nice to have someone friendly and helpful to work with!” So she was going the extra mile to make nice with everyone and repair some of those relationships. Good instincts, but it was causing work to get backed up.

    I talked to the manager of the other department and told him that he needed to stop asking her to help with things, and then I coached my employee on ways to still be friendly and helpful, but also keep things moving along.

  14. B

    Please on behalf of your employees bring it to the supervisor and acknowledge to them there is a problem and you are trying to work on it. As the employee it can be very frustrating when that is not acknowledged. I agree with you about keeping your complaints about your bosses to yourself, however, by acknowledging the problem to your employees there is a sense of validation and that you are on the side of trying for a solution. It can alleviate stress.

  15. TCO

    I’ve been in a similar position as OP’s reports lately: I rely heavily on the work of someone in another department and she’s just not up to the task. It helps me to know that my boss is aware of the problem, understands how it affects my work, and has had many conversations with the manager of the other department about this employee. The other department head is aware that her employee isn’t a great fit for this task (though good at other projects) but doesn’t have anyone else to put on this project. Her low performance is still frustrating for me, but it does help to know that my boss and her boss are both aware of the problem and doing what they can to mitigate it. I really value that my boss gracefully toes the line between acknowledging my concerns and letting me know she understands where I’m coming from, while making sure to still stay semi-positive about the things the other employee does do well. I also appreciate that she lets me know that they are working on the issue, but in a way that doesn’t violate the other employee’s privacy.

  16. OP

    Thanks to Alison and everyone who has commented so far – I was really seeing this as a “how do I deal with my team” problem instead of a “being a good teammate to the other director” problem, so it helps me a lot to re-frame it. I heard some complaints this morning from my staff, so I asked for some additional specifics, and then went down to discuss this with the other department director. She wasn’t surprised, asked a few clarifying questions, and asked me to let her know if things get better or get worse. It was a good conversation.

    I will definitely keep in mind some of the suggestions about validating my employees’ feelings – I think it will help me to manage this situation to be able to say that I’ve taken it up with the other director, and try to separate general complaining from concrete concerns that I should pass along, as requested.

    1. TCO

      As you separate the general complaints from concrete concerns, it would help to document the specific issues and how they impact your outcomes and bottom line. I know my boss (who is dealing with a situation similar to yours) really appreciates when I can document specific incidents where the other team’s under-performing employee had a significant impact on the final outcome.

    2. Rat Racer

      Thanks for following up – it’s always heartening to hear stories with happy (or directionally happy) endings. In case you haven’t heard it enough spread through the comments, you sound like a very thoughtful manager. I find one of the challenges of management to be constantly on my best behavior in front of my team. It can be very tempting to join when your staff complains about another department – it feels like bonding when you can all rail against that crazy employee in X department – (I mean, what is Wrong with that person??)

      But even though it’s tempting, I think it’s critically important to take the high road and not join in the complaints, because every action a manager takes is a cue to her team about behavioral norms. And by joining in the venting, you can start to create a culture of complaining and gossiping. My hat’s off to you, OP, for doing the right thing and addressing this with the Admin’s manager.

      1. anon attorney

        I agree with this. In my first management role 15 years ago, I had to deal with a poor performer in another department who could be a bottleneck for work my team needed to complete. I didn’t rate the guy at all and was pretty open about that. Ultimately the short term payoff from bitching with my people wasn’t worth the political problems, and I think it undermined my own reputation. When I moved from that job I made a conscious decision not to openly criticise coworkers or vendors – while acting on poor performance – and I think it improved my credibility, as well as just being a better organisational citizen (to coin a term). Kudos to OP for being alert to this issue.

    3. hayling

      Honestly I see it more as “how do I support my own team” rather than “how can I be a good teammate to the other director.” But nonetheless I am glad you took some action and that it seems to be going in a good direction.

  17. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    I have to deal with this more often than I’d like. It’s a balance between supporting my people (always!) and not allowing the matters to spiral down into an salvageable situation. My folks are on the whole very good which means they may not have enough tolerance for people who do things differently or are held to different standards by their own managers.

    So, some of it is me conveying “Our Ways are not Their Ways” and lets work this out with as much tolerance as we can muster.

    However. When a matter like this is brought to my attention, it is point and center on my radar and my people know it. I will not tolerate my folks’ time being unduly wasted by Other People’s poor procedures or inadequate training/supervision and as you can imagine, this makes me very popular with management at corporate or in other business units who might serve us in some capacity.

    I offer help, I offer process analysis, I offer training sessions and I offer strategy meetings. All of those offers usually get me….. good god, put the best person on that one because [first name] is on the case and do not screw her stuff up and make sure you get it done first.

    Not that all of those offers of help were actually intended to produce that effect, or anything. ;)

  18. Lily in NYC

    I missed this yesterday, bummer. I am dealing with the opposite issue -we have a new hire in my dept. and I’ll admit I’m not all that thrilled with her personality. Of course I never let it show but she’s been here less than a month and I’ve had at least 4 people from other departments complain to me about her attitude in meetings. I think they tell me because I’ve been here a long time and I’m an EA – it’s kind of like being a bartender in that people say stuff to me they might not normally say to someone who shares their job title. I don’t really respond but I’m wondering if I should let my boss (her boss as well) know.

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