I’m embarrassed by the problems my new staff member is uncovering — and keep getting defensive

A reader writes:

I’m the problem and I don’t know how to stop.

I’m the executive director of a small (8 staff) but old nonprofit (40+ years). I’ve been the ED for eight years and most of the staff have been with me for five or more years. A year ago, we hired a new person (“Jane”) to fill a newly created position and it’s been a challenge. Unfortunately, the challenge is with me and the other staff!

Jane has 15 years of experience in the role, seems to be a team player, and seems knows what she’s doing in her field. Because of her experience, she is finding problems and issues in many areas (lax proofing, website maintenance, data management, etc.) She is very gracious about these issues, doesn’t point fingers, doesn’t blame, is constantly saying she’s just ‘trying to solve a problem’ and is happy to fix the issue herself because it directly impacts her work. But every time she points out an issue, I find myself getting defensive and know the other staff does as well.

I think I’m feeling embarrassed by all the problems and how lax things have gotten and I know that reflects back on me. But, instead of wanting to fix the problems, I often feel as if I just want her to shut up about them and stop pointing things out and just let things go. The other staff have become highly defensive, territorial, and argumentative with Jane about the smallest things. We all work together in the same office space and the tension is very noticeable at times. Jane has come to me with some of the issues with the other staff and, to be honest, I’ve not been her strongest advocate because I understand where the staff are coming from and are sympathetic to them.

But, obviously hiding my head in the sand isn’t going to fix this situation or help us reach the five-year goals we’ve set as an organization. Reaching those goals is one of the reasons we hired Jane.

I should also clarify that the problems she is pointing out are almost always big problems, not tiny ones, and things we should have caught much earlier (like serious issues with the accuracy of our membership database).

It embarrasses me that I resent her for so quickly seeing things that no one else saw or thought about or cared to check. It’s embarrassing to feel that “sort of maybe good enough” is the standard I’m now accepting and my staff feels is okay. But at the same time, no one likes a new person coming in and pointing out ongoing mistakes and problems and issues that everyone else was fine with either not seeing or ignoring. Ignorance is bliss … until it’s not.

How do I let go of my defensiveness and support Jane and how do I get the other staff to do the same? I’m worried that, after a year, it may be too late and she’s already looking to leave. If so, I won’t blame her but hope to turn things around with either her or the next person we bring on.

It’s so good that you recognize this is happening and can break down what’s going on in yourself emotionally that’s causing it. So often in situations like this, the person in your shoes isn’t honest with themselves about what’s happening, and just pushes out their Jane, often framing it to themselves and others as if their Jane wasn’t a good culture fit. And then when they need to rehire, they often hire less competent or less experienced people who don’t feel so threatening.

I think you’ve got to do three things here:

1. Do some reflection on your own where you really lean into your embarrassment about the problems that Jane is uncovering. Don’t pull back from thinking deeply about those things (as we all sometimes do when something is embarrassing or painful); instead, jump in and take an unflinching look at why those problems came about. The answer won’t necessarily be “because I didn’t care enough” or “my standards were too low.” Maybe there’s more to it. Maybe you truly didn’t have the resources to be on top of all of this. Maybe you had other priorities that needed your focus and, while this wasn’t ideal, you actually did choose the right things to focus on, even though it necessarily meant other things would get short shrift. Maybe you’ve hired too many junior/inexperienced people and not enough senior/experienced ones (really common in small nonprofits). Maybe you trusted that things were being taken care of but didn’t have the right systems in place to let you know if they weren’t. Or yes, maybe you set the bar too low.

I don’t know what the answer is here, but you need to figure out what’s really going on, because you can’t really solve it otherwise. For example, if the answer is that you just trusted things were being taken care of without having systems to ensure that, then you need new/better systems for how you’re managing. On the other hand, if it’s that you did make the right trade-offs about where to put attention, you should be explicit about those trade-offs and why you’re making them so it’s clear that these are deliberate choices made for strategic reasons, not born out of chaos.

2. Talk to Jane. Tell her that you’re thrilled to have her there, her work has been excellent, and you realize what how tough it is to have to point out problems to the people responsible for them. Tell her that you see the issues she’s raised about coworkers being territorial and defensive — and tell her you’ve seen those reactions in yourself as well. Explain that you’re doing a lot of reflection, both on how those problems came about and on your own defensiveness. Tell her you’re embarrassed, because you are and it’s okay to admit that! And tell her that you’re committed to getting that under control and creating an easier atmosphere for her to work in, with you and with other staff.

3. Talk individually with the people on staff who have been argumentative and defensive with Jane. Tell them Jane is doing good work. Tell them you understand feeling defensive because you have felt that too, but that going forward all of you (including you) need to commit to stopping that and to welcoming Jane’s input with more grace. Explain that spotting and addressing the sorts of problems Jane is uncovering is essential to your organization being able to grow. It’s not about saying everything has been wrong up until now; it’s about what you need to change to grow and get better and fulfill more of your mission. In fact, explain that if Jane left, you’d want to bring in more Janes — because they’re what will protect the organization’s future. (That’s important to say because you don’t want them to just peg all this as on Jane or to figure they’ll just wait her out; you want them to understand that you are explicitly choosing to bring in Janes and will continue to do so.) Then take some recent examples of times they’ve reacted poorly to Jane and talk through what you will want to see instead in the future, so there’s no confusion about what is and isn’t okay. Explicitly ask them to commit to getting on board with this.

And then — crucially — you must enforce this. After these conversations, if you see more problematic behavior toward Jane, address it immediately. Pull people in to talk with you private, name what you saw that’s not okay, and hold the person accountable for making it right. Expect that you’ll need to be vigilant about this for the next several months. (And as part of that effort, let Jane know you’re committed to addressing this and ask that she alert you if she continues to run into problems. My hunch is that right now she’s only coming to you with the worst of it; let her know you’re actively working to fix it and want to know when it’s not working.)

Beyond that … it’s going to be really important for you to see Jane as a helper to you, not an adversary. You’ve got to reframe this in your head so that you’re both on the same side, and so you appreciate the work she’s doing to make your organization stronger. Think of leaders of small organizations who keep their organizations small because they’re threatened by what it takes to grow (in a lot of cases, what it takes to grow = Janes, and openness to them). You can choose to limit your organization like that if you want (in which case you should be up-front with Jane that you don’t want to make major changes, so she can decide to opt out if she wants), or you can choose the sometimes painful path to getting better. But you need to be honest with yourself (and the people working for you) about which you’re choosing. My hunch from your letter is that you want to choose that second path — you just need to more fully commit to what that means.

{ 255 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Audrey Puffins

    I recently read an article somewhere that said “feedback is a gift”. In that it’s normal to feel defensive and embarrassed and attacked, but the person giving you the feedback could have made the decision to just let the thing go and think poorly of you, but instead they’ve made the choice to offer you this gift to help you be the version of yourself that you most want to present to the world. I know it’s hard, but if you can reframe it this way for yourself, that’ll go a long way to helping you be more zen about it, which will in turn help your other employees be more accepting of it.

    Reply
    1. Lance

      Not to mention, the OP saying these are big issues Jane is finding. I get it, I honestly do; it probably makes OP feel like they messed up, like this is all their fault. It’s not. Sure, maybe some different oversight is in order to solve any sorts of patterns (and please do look for patterns, on the whole and in any specific people who are complaining; after all, solving the issues isn’t enough. you need to make sure those issues don’t recur), maybe some self-reflection to figure out how some of this happened… but ultimately, things happen, even big things, that we might not’ve seen coming, but aren’t our fault, as such. The most we can do is move forward.

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      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

        Not gonna lie, reading this letter, what came to my mind was actually “The Birdcage”. “Just say to yourself, you pierced the toast. So what. You can always get more toast.” The toast is pierced. You can’t un-pierce it, and there’s no point in beating yourselves up for piercing it. But you *can* work with Jane to establish a new mustard-spreading technique so it doesn’t get pierced again going forward.

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        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

          sorry, Lance, this wasn’t supposed to nest here, but whatever, I can’t un-pierce it now! (Mm. Pretzels and mustard.)

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          1. We all scream for ice cream

            Same. This comment was great–both for its philosophy of “don’t beat yourself up over the past; focus on what you CAN do” and for a reference to an amazing movie.

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    2. blackcat

      Yes, this!
      I have worked on hard on this in the field of being an ally to people from various minority groups.
      I’m gonna mess up. I’m going to say ignorant stuff.
      If someone corrects me, *it’s because they want me to learn.* They value me. They believe I am worth educating. So it’s my job to set aside my defensive reaction (“But I didn’t mean it that way!”), and thanks someone for taking the time to educate me, go process my emotions on my own, and do better. If someone doesn’t correct me, it’s because they don’t think it’s worth their time and effort.

      Jane wants to fix things! She doesn’t want to cause problems. She wants to fix them! She thinks they are worth fixing, and that you can fix them. If you stop hearing about problems from Jane, that means she’s given up on you (and is probably job searching).

      Reply
      1. Vemasi

        This is absolutely the case. There are so many people at my workplace whom I know it is not worth it to explain a problem. [I went rogue on that sentence structure, but it remains.] They just get the steps to get around it, or, “Yeah, it does that sometimes,” or I work around them. When you continue to put forth effort to explain or work through problems with someone, you are saying that you respect them and their input, and value their success. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing workshop, you know that someone who has a ton of criticisms of your work is usually someone who is over the moon about it, and just wants to help you make it better.

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        1. Jack V

          “If you’ve ever taken a creative writing workshop, you know that someone who has a ton of criticisms of your work is usually someone who is over the moon about it, and just wants to help you make it better.”

          Can I frame that? That’s how I react, but I never really thought about how to interpret criticism OF my work that way!

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      2. pancakes

        It seems problematic to speculate about Jane’s frame of mind, and unnecessary. Whether or not she thinks her coworkers are capable of fixing the problems she’s uncovered, it’s her job for now to continue uncovering them. She may already be job searching. Pointing out, in the meantime, that the donor database isn’t accurate, etc., is almost certainly essential either way. And it simply wouldn’t do for her to uncover these problems and decide to keep them to herself in an effort to avoid upsetting anyone. Characterizing her decisions to raise them as votes of confidence in her coworkers’ ability to fix them seems misplaced to me, and gratuitously personal. Whether her coworkers are up to the task or not, it would be strange and risky for her to unearth problems and keep them to herself — if she hadn’t discovered them, someone else in the future likely will / would’ve.

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        1. Audrey Puffins

          In this case, I don’t know that it matters one wee bit if Jane thinks her feedback is a gift or not, but if the LW chooses to take it that way, then it will help the LW.

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          1. pancakes

            I’m not convinced it is helpful for people to use occasions like this to reinforce ideas about themselves that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the scenario. I think it’s more helpful to try to be lucid than it is to contrive a self-flattering take on what’s happening and why. Thinking that Jane probably isn’t yet job searching because she still considers her coworkers worth trying to change is a perfect example — one doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the other, and it’s entirely possible she is already looking for a new job.

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    3. Quinalla

      Agreed that re-framing feedback as a gift helps so much. It is so hard, but try to do it as it will help. Jane clearly cares a lot to give you and your team this feedback despite the tension it is causing. She could just avoid the tension and keep her mouth shut, but she cares about the organization and her work enough to speak up and also thinks or hopes that you will be willing to listen.

      Part of this is embarrassment, but part may also be shame and in my experience we all react very strangely when we are feeling shame. Try to find someone you can talk to about it who will listen and won’t make you feel more ashamed. Try and talk to your employees about this too to help them through that.

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    4. epi

      This. Feedback is actually a precious resource that, very often, the person did not even have to give you.

      Ask an author sometime how easy it is to get someone to read a draft of their work and provide thoughtful feedback. Or a blogger how easy it was to build an engaged audience that responds to what they actually produce. Or think back to the transition from school to work, and the way that the frequency of feedback changed– and the way the information was more often focused on getting the product right, than on developing and mentoring you. A huge part of the value of an education that people will spend years of their life and go into debt for is simply in getting thoughtful criticism and guidance from experts. Never reject such guidance when it is not only free, it’s about your livelihood.

      Good feedback often contains the seeds of big picture information about your field that, in another context, would be considered exclusive information that most people would love to have. How does your work look to someone from a similar organization? What do other people in your field consider a high priority? A best practice? What do the types of people you will work with throughout your career care about, when evaluating the work of someone like you? Listen, and in the future you will anticipate their needs.

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      1. Feather

        ask an author

        Speaking as one, yeah: it is very, very difficult.

        And it’s also often difficult as HELL to hear it, at the exact same time, because this is something you put your soul into and it feels like someone is stabbing you. One of the most reassuring things I ever read was discovering that after a bad review or a critique of something that is particularly not-what-he-wanted, Neil Gaiman often announces to his entire family that he’s quitting writing, has clearly never been any good at writing, is a total failure, will never write again, and can’t believe he has shamed them all this long.

        And everyone says “Mmmhmm” and ignores this because they all know he will get over it and start writing again next week, it’s just right now He Feels Crushed.

        Knowing that made it WAY easier to deal with negative feedback, because I knew hey: even award-winning blah blah blah feels just like I do right now, like he is a fraud and should apologize to anyone who’s ever bought a book, so that’s a normal human feeling and now I just have to not act like a defensive twerp to my darling beta reader.

        And I think that’s something that can come up even more with non-profits than with other jobs because you’re almost never the ED of a non-profit for the wages and the glamour – you’re almost always there because it’s *really important* to you, so the feeling of failure is way higher.

        There’s a lot of really good stuff in the comments and obviously in the post (AAM is totally correct throughout), but in case stuff coming from that very invested author-creator-performer (as in stage-performer) etc end is useful:

        The very most important thing, to me, when dealing with this stuff, is framing the context as “there is no should-have-beens”. I will give myself, and everyone else, the grace and compassion of assuming that we were in fact doing the best we could with what we had, because “what we had” INCLUDES “the ability to see stuff that wasn’t working”.

        So often, a critique of the actual function in question (whether it be the function of a job/org, or of a creative piece, or whatever) ends up feeling like a judgement of your moral worth as a human being. So when “Jane” finds “okay we’re not doing this logging at all”, what we feel/hear is “you’re a bad lazy person and should be ashamed.”

        For me that’s where I end up feeling defensive and angry. I find it helps a lot to go okay: we were doing the best we could with what we had, but now we have someone who might be able to help us do BETTER, and also help us identify where we need to GET something different (be it a system or a mindset or whatever) because clearly what we HAD isn’t doing what we WANT.

        That the org hasn’t been working the way you want it to up till now does not actually mean you’re a bad person. Or even a mediocre person. It just means as yet the systems, tools and knowledge were not in place to do what you want, and especially if you can put AAM’s suggestions into action and Jane stays (but even if it is “the next Jane”), you’re taking the steps to get those systems, tools and knowledge.

        The second tip I have is have a totally non-work-related vent place where you can just go and say to someone/your journal/whatever “JANE FOUND SIX OTHER THINGS THAT WERE WRONG TODAY AND I FEEL TERRIBLE ABOUT IT” – give yourself space (away from Jane! or anyone who works with Jane!) to have those feelings, because they suck! And then remind yourself that this is about the above, not about your moral worth as a human, and go read the list again.

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        1. boo bot

          This is useful; I think the concept of detaching oneself from one’s work is incredibly important – and incredibly hard. This kind of deep investigation of all the issues in the organization is automatically going to feel invasive, and I think that creative work is an apt comparison in that way, because of how personal it feels.

          The best way I’ve found to frame this kind of thing is: the work is not an extension of me as a person. It is a separate object, already existing in the universe, that we together seeking to improve.

          That’s not to say I’m denying that I created it, but that it’s already out there, I’ve made whatever choices (and mistakes) I’ve made, and now the task isn’t to pass judgment on me, it’s to make the object work better. I think if you can try hard to see Jane as “the person who is helping me strengthen the organization” rather than “the person who is judging/criticizing me” it will help.

          Also: if Jane is bringing these issues to you all one by one, it might be worth considering a different format to communicate about them so you don’t feel like you’re constantly hearing about all the things you’ve done wrong. Is it possible to schedule regular meetings for her to update you and the rest of the staff, so it can feel more focused and potentially more collaborative?

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          1. gilthoniel

            Boo bot raised an important point with using a different format.
            There was a study long ago about terrible relations between waiters giving orders to cooks, who resented having orders barked at them. When the system changed to having orders written down, the dynamic changed completely.

            Bug reports and risk assessments are also common tools to find problems while avoiding assigning blame. And audits work too, if that’s how they are played.

            A risk assessment might fit with your culture. Here Jane would list and describe the risks that she has found. Your team evaluates and as a group (led by you and Jane) prioritizes the risks, and maybe even adds to the list.The payoff is that then the whole team owns them with far less resentment.

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        2. Suzanne Haskins

          “. . . the grace and compassion of assuming that [they] were in fact doing the best [they] could with what [they] had . . .” I’m a compliance consultant who often “finds” things that aren’t as they should be. I’m going to make those words into a card I can carry in my wallet to remind me to always speak gently when bringing those issues to light. Thank you.

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          1. It Can Wait

            I’m a federal auditor and I completely agree. It’s amazing what being gentle and kind to people (even people who make major, major mistakes and aren’t so kind at first) can do to ease their resistance to negative comments and open them toward discussion. I’ve had people who were hesitant to even let me in the building who, after I finish my audit, invite me to come back anytime.

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    5. Ocm in the wild

      I have been the driver of change management in a few instances and come at this with a key script and rule.

      Rule: we never criticize people, only processes.

      Script to start the conversation with the entire group: We are all coming to the table today knowing that everyone did their best with the knowledge and the resources that they had at the time. Now that we have new knowledge and resources we are going to reevaluate the process to ensure we are still making the right decision. Everyone is here because they care and want to do the best work they can do.

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      1. Jadelyn

        I once read someone talking about how they always assume people were doing their best within the context of their situation. The decisions made might not look like good ones from the outside, but we have no way of knowing every single factor that was part of it. It really stuck with me.

        Which is to say, that’s a fantastic script. Thank you for sharing it.

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      2. Kit

        We take this approach at my organization – we refer to ourselves as “a feedback-rich culture” and it can be really hard.

        Another part of our culture is that each of us is to “own the outcome” – I see that as relevant here because, to build on what was said above, owning the outcome of what has already happened involves the self-kindness to remember you made the trade-offs you made for a reason, and now you have Jane as a new resource. So what is the outcome you want to own now? As tempting as it is to push back, now might be the time to remind yourself that the next outcome you want to own and have your name on will be so much better.

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      3. Gumby

        Another wording of this is used in retrospectives frequently: “Regardless of what we discover, we must understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” ∼ The Prime Directive, Norm Kerth

        It is useful to state this, out loud, on purpose every once in a while to really open up the possibilities for improvement w/o blame.

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    6. alphabet soup

      This is such an eloquent way to say this.

      I always get really confused when people refuse to address an issue I’ve brought up. Because in my mind, I’m not bringing up the issue to yell at someone or cast blame. I’m giving them the opportunity to help resolve a conflict and learn how to work together better. Refusing to address the issue is refusing to invest in the relationship. Just as refusing to hear feedback is refusing to invest in your self-development.

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    7. Cassie

      Definitely. This is something we would teach the kids in ballet class. If the teacher corrects you, it’s because they think you have the potential to improve. If they ignore you, well, it’s either because they don’t think you can improve (usually not the case, because everyone has room for improvement) OR it’s because you react poorly to corrections and they don’t want to deal with a student stomping around, pulling faces, glaring, etc.

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  2. Sloan Kittering

    I some some changes in my small, entrenched team after we did some staff retreats / facilitated team meetings that took us out of the office to a neutral space. It broke down some of the defensiveness and we focused a lot on creating a new vision for the organization. Even though it’s not Jane’s fault, the team may have basically lost trust that she is there to help them and sees her as a threat now, so some team building can help with this.

    We didn’t do anything corny or physical, just had a facilitated discussion and some social time together.

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      1. Malarkey01

        I like this, especially if the problem is that everyone’s standards have slipped, we’ve developed bad habits, or if we need new processes and we as a team need to get back on track. It allows all the staff to reset and be part of the improvement plan and to sort of start a clean slate. Hopefully in a neutral offsite spot, and properly framed, the staff can get behind it and not see it as a result of Jane. It will also give you an opportunity to see who isn’t onboard with the new direction and decide if there needs to be further staffing changes.

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        1. Busy

          I don’t even think you need to call them out as “bad habbits” honestly. I have done change management almost my entire career developing and implementing systems within companies much like this.

          And honestly Alison explains it best – we were focused on other things because that is what we knew at the time and it was what was needed (or even thought we needed), and now we are going to focus on this. Trust me, if you remove any ounce of blame, you get where you need to be soooooo much faster.

          It doesn’t matter if its “true” or not either. Like they can all be incompetent nincompoops (probably not), but the changes require a different approach either way. And they can do the change or they cannot do the change. It is that simple. Like Sally could have been really great working xyz (even if xyz was totally incompetant and “bad”) but struggles with our new abc approach. Then that person leaves regardless. No one needs to come out and say anything negative about it. It is just a fact.

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          1. Vemasi

            I wonder if OP framed Jane’s onboarding as part of a process of bringing all this stuff up to the quality of their other work, or if her coworkers just know her as a new employee who keeps criticizing them. Was the fact of a process overhaul explained to them before Jane was hired? Were they given the chance to understand that they are doing good work, but the firm had grown to the point where they needed someone to fix all the things that had been smaller priorities until now? That it’s no one’s “fault,” just a fact? And does Jane have stated authority in her role to make these changes, and do her coworkers know it?

            I think a lot here might be solvable by clarifying Jane’s role, and showing how the old employees grew the firm to the point where streamlining was needed. And of course, not letting Jane get chased away by an ungrateful workplace when she’s doing a good job.

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    1. the corner ficus

      I like that it wasn’t a physical event. So many times businesses fall into a sort of trap of “adventure bonding.” Like the would-be white-water rafter mentioned, they can be so exclusive of people with limitations/disabilities. But leaving the facility, getting on neutral ground, is a great thing to do to facilitate communication.

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    2. WakeRed

      We have an annual retreat to talk about our challenges and goals across the team, always somewhere off-site and always with snacks. I second it as a great way to get out of the weeds and work together to understand each other’s work and put together a vision for the year ahead.

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      1. Former Employee

        Off-site with snacks and the only challenges are ones that are part of a discussion (no physical challenges).

        Yes!

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    3. Skate McKinnon

      It’s good to hear that retreats can work for some organizations… at least six people (including myself) left my last org within a few months after our full staff retreat lol

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      1. Sloan Kittering

        Hehe yeah I think it’s easy to get it wrong (adventure hiking, lavishly overdoing it – whatever the flaws of your org, they may be reflected in the retreat) but our modest offsite meeting was a good thing. Didn’t solve all the problems but it broke down some barriers to making progress. The facilitator was good, that helped.

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  3. Sunshine Brite

    Alison provided wonderful directions to take on this one. An additional step would be to explore why Jane is still the “new person” after a year. If you’re having difficulty accepting her as an integral part of the team, the rest are more likely to also exclude her.

    Continue exploring that defensiveness and if you’re having trouble getting unstuck on your own consider a therapist to help you move through this line of thought to be able to advocate for Jane and if she leaves not have a repeat situation with whoever would come on board next.

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      1. boo bot

        Same. It does seem like everyone else has been there for many years, which explains why one year still feels “new,” but that’s really all the more reason to pay attention to the dynamic.

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    1. Alianora

      I’m almost positive the team hasn’t accepted Jane in large part because they’re taking cues from their boss. If they see their director get defensive instead of thanking Jane for finding these things, it would be easy for them to think “Well, Jane’s just being nitpicky and judgmental, it was a mistake to hire her.”

      Reply
    2. Story Nurse

      Seconding the suggestion of working on this with a therapist, in addition to addressing this directly with Jane and the other people working there.

      Reply
  4. JJ Bittenbinder

    This is one of the best AAM responses I’ve ever read. Timely for me as well, as I am getting lots of…enthusiastic feedback on some things I’ve created recently and it’s hard at times not to take it personally.

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      1. Jadelyn

        Same! I am always so impressed by how Alison approaches things like this with exactly the right balance of compassion/understanding, tough love, and actionable advice for moving forward, and this one is a beautiful example of that.

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    1. The Other Dawn

      Agreed. I’m the Jane right now and I’m trying to be very selective in what I point out and how much emphasis I put on it. There are lots of things that are pretty entrenched here, either because of being too conservative or people being here a very long time. I’m trying to use a light touch, but still point out that although X is a not a requirement, it’s a regulatory “best practice,” and while there hasn’t been an issue yet, we could end up with a different examiner this year who decides to make it an issue.

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      1. Former Employee

        I wish I knew what this meant – best practice versus requirement.

        I used to be in a field where there were periodic audits of our files. Sometimes, the people who interacted with the auditor would have to push back when the auditor would try to replace our judgment with their own. The auditor was only supposed to comment if we did something wrong (used the wrong factor, for example) or didn’t justify our approach if we downgraded or credited something. The auditor was not supposed to ding us because they wouldn’t have judged the situation in the same way as the person who handled the account.

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        1. Observer

          So, here is an example of a legitimate “best practice”. Our password policy was lax. Our auditors said “There is no law requiring any sort of password protection at all, much less good ones. But best practice around passwords is X, Y and Z. If you don’t change to that, we’re going to ding you because you chances of a significant breach is much higher and your risk of liability is also higher because you’re not taking reasonable steps.”

          Now, the guy who wanted to ding us because he didn’t like the way our service contracts were set up (I mean the format of the contract, not the contracting process!) is another kettle of fish.

          Both of which are different from your example. I agree with you on that, though.

          Reply
          1. The Other Dawn

            Yes, we often have to push back when we’re hit with a “best practice.” Sometimes it makes sense to put in place, and sometimes the auditor or examiner is just being a PITA or doesn’t have the experience to determine what the impact would be to implement what he says is a best practice.

            Reply
            1. pancakes

              Implementing best practices doesn’t necessarily mean minimizing impact, though! And best practices aren’t meant to be one person’s opinion (“what he says”) in the first place — they are, by definition, professional standards.

              Reply
              1. The Other Dawn

                I realize they’re not meant to be one person’s opinion; however, it does sometimes happen like that in my industry.

                Reply
  5. The Ginger Ginger

    If you’re genuinely worried about Jane leaving, I’d have that convo with her ASAP. Don’t put it off if you don’t want to lose her.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      It would be nice if OP could find a way to promote Jane or give her a big bonus – show your support and send a message to the rest of the team that you really value her contributions. Plus it sounds like you worry she’s leaving.

      Reply
    2. That Girl From Quinn's House

      I have been Jane and she 100% is looking to quit. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, someone antagonizes her and she just walks out and never shows up again.

      Reply
      1. PB

        I have also been Jane, but in a different context (small academic department in a large university). Leaving that job was the happiest moment of my life. I know all my old coworkers threw out the work I did and went back to their old ineffective processes, and my new department is flourishing. No regrets.

        I do think the situation is salvageable, if OP takes the steps Alison outlines and keeps an eagle eye on everything going on, but I absolutely agree that they should plan to talk to Jane sooner than later.

        Reply
      2. StaceyIzMe

        Yep. People are only willing to tolerate that kind of difficulty in the workplace for so long, especially if they have experience and skills that translate to other options.

        Reply
    3. Engineer Girl

      Yup. I was Jane on one program. I received the same pushback and lack of support. And as the target (yes, that’s the right word) of semi hostile reactions from staff I wanted out.
      As the manager you need to support Jane. She’s there to create a working solution. Yet people are treating her like she’s there to cause problems, not fix them. The problem is the egos of you and your other workers!

      In my case I got out with the help of a director I had previously worked with. And you know what happened? The program failed in a spectacular multi-million dollar way. Because people were too ego driven. I also think that there was Dunning-Kruger going on. The people making the mistakes weren’t competent enough to recognize them.
      So you decide. Preserve the egos of the less competent people and have failure or listen to Jane.

      Reply
      1. Escapee from Corporate Management

        “As the manager you need to support Jane…The problem is the egos of you and your other workers!”

        This is so important. Change management only works if leadership supports it. OP, you have made the first step in recognizing the problem, but you now need to take the concrete steps Alison has outlined…and do it fast! I have also been in Jane’s situation and there is nothing worse than a manager undermining the change agent, even if it is done unintentionally and without malice.

        As for egos, this may be painful for you, but great leaders know when they need to change. It’s taken you a year to get to this point, so it’s not about just starting to do the right thing. Think of how you may have undermined Jane’s efforts in the past year and ensure you change those behaviors today.

        Reply
      2. RUKiddingMe

        “The problem is the egos of you and your other workers!”

        Thanks for saying this. I cant really say what I was thinking when I read the letter…but this will do nicely.

        Reply
    4. Sara without an H

      Hi, OP. I, too, have been “Jane” for an organization that wouldn’t me to fix all the problems, but not to change anything. It was rough.

      But I stayed and was successful because my manager had my back. You are the key to this situation, and it’s in your power to fix it.

      Try to think of it in those terms, and I think you’ll start to feel better about yourself.

      Reply
      1. Washi

        Yes, this is key! I was recently in a position where I was able to pull some reports that showed that a number of my coworkers are absurdly unproductive and straight up not doing key parts of their jobs, in ways that should have been caught much earlier. It was so instantly demoralizing – I had really liked our manager, but it was hard for me to reconcile my admiration for her and also the fact that she’d let things of this magnitude slide for so long (I also work in a nonprofit and it was affecting our mission.)

        The best thing she did was have a VERY frank conversation with me about how things ended up the way they are – a combination of making tradeoffs, not having the savvy to pull the reports I pulled, and taking people too much at their word that they were doing their jobs. The other big thing she did, which Alison’s otherwise excellent answer didn’t emphasize too much, was emphasize how valued I was on the team, that she saw how hard I was working, and that she planned to work behind the scenes to give me a raise and more recognition. Since that conversation, she’s really regularly thanked me for my work and taking on extra duties to get things back in shape.

        This 100% restored my trust in her. Organizations go through rocky times! The most important thing is being clear-eyed and honest enough to make the necessary changes, and OP, I definitely see that in you.

        Reply
        1. Vemasi

          I agree that on of the most important things here is that OP work through these issues and get on the level with Jane. OP can’t force Jane’s coworkers to appreciate her, but if Jane is doing a thankless job and even her manager doesn’t appreciate it, Jane is going to leave. Even if work is hard and tense, if your manager is championing you and really following through (not just paying lip service), sometimes that can make everything okay.

          A lot of people go through life and work leaving things unsaid, assuming that other people knowing their feelings wouldn’t change anything, or that people can pick it up without hearing it. Both with under- and over-performing employees, that is rarely the case.

          Reply
    5. serenity

      Agreed. Time is of the essence here, but there’s a better than average chance that Jane has one foot already out the door.

      Reply
  6. LaDeeDa

    This is partly why it is important to hire new people… to get a fresh set of eyes on things and someone who has experience with other ways of doing things. If, for example, donor database maintenance has always been done a certain way at this org, they may never have thought to run X report to cross-reference with Y.
    It has to be reframed in everyone’s mind that she isn’t criticizing their work, what she is doing is helping them all reach the same common goal— be an effective non-profit.

    OP- I am really impressed with your self-awareness and willingness to tackle this within yourself. It easier to blame Jane, but you aren’t doing that– I hope you feel good about that!

    Reply
    1. Psyche

      I do think the reframing would help a lot with the defensiveness. The SYSTEM they were using was flawed so now they are going to do it this new way, which is going to be so much better because it will make sure XYZ happens. That way it isn’t “You aren’t doing your job well. You need to be more careful.”

      Reply
    2. Sparrow

      I fully agree with this. It can be easy to let things that have always worked continue to work the same way without interrogating it further or looking for issues, ESPECIALLY if you have other priorities or concerns that demand more of your attention. I’m a person who’s constantly evaluating and assessing and trying to improve processes, and even still, I have blind spots that I might need someone else to spot.

      I think it’s really important that OP stress to their employees that Jane’s goal here is to do her job and help improve the overall organization, not to personally attack them and make them feel like a failure. That needs to be forefront in on of their minds. I also think being honest about his own feelings is also going to be critical in effecting change – it will look disingenuous if the boss starts speaking against actions and attitudes they previously displayed themselves.

      Reply
    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      Yes. Doing something a certain way because that’s the way it’s always been done is NOT a good way to operate.

      Reply
    4. PB

      I often think of the 30 Rock line: “New blood is the lifeblood of every company’s blood.” A silly line, but also true!

      Reply
    5. Vemasi

      Especially since, as I think OP is saying, Jane was brought in specifically to be a new set of experienced eyes.

      If that is the case, I would recommend OP really lean into that, and take Alison’s advice. Remember, OP, you knew that the organization was not up to meeting your 5-year goals, and that’s why you brought in Jane. You were sending time on the things you considered a priority. Then, when you noticed the slack in other areas, you actually DID NOT neglect it–you hired someone to bring it up to snuff. Jane! You have no need to be defensive. She isn’t your mom pointing out you washed the dishes wrong. Everything she finds to fix pays credit to your good management skills in noticing a problem and deciding to hire her.

      Try to reframe it not as Jane attacking you, but as Jane doing exactly what you want her to. Sit down and get yourself into that mindspace before moving forward with the other employees. Maybe ask Jane to adjust how she brings this stuff about (like, instead of pointing it out to everyone and asking if she can fix it, have her run it past you only, fix it, and then just update everyone that it’s been fixed), since it might just be her manner in bringing it up that is grating to her coworkers. Talk to her about how you’re feeling defensive, but she’s doing exactly what you want her to do and you appreciate it. And then present it to everyone as “Jane is here to clean up our processes so we can continue with our work,” and show through example that that is how you feel about it.

      Reply
    6. MCMonkeyBean

      Yes, it sounds like most of the defensiveness comes from feeling like they should have caught it themselves–and while it would be great if you caught this stuff earlier it’s 100% understandable that you didn’t! It’s so easy to fall into repeating your processes and when you have pretty much the same team around for a while you guys fall into your patterns and routines and there just isn’t much incentive to change because things feel like they are working just fine.

      Bringing in new eyes is often the best way to catch things that have gone astray in your processes so I think if you try to look at it less as “oh no, we should have caught this” and more as “catching this is the reason Jane is here” it might help a lot with the internal feelings of embarrassment and defensiveness. And setting up new processes to help catch things going forward wherever it makes sense to do so can help too I think, feels like you are part of creating the solution instead of just fighting the solution.

      Reply
  7. Leela

    OP please do whatever it takes to keep Jane! I’m often the Jane and I’m often shut up about things I point out, and then I watch helplessly as systems fail, workload piles up for easily avoidable mistakes, and our team gets fingers pointed at us for things I tried very hard to prevent, and then I leave because it’s so frustrating and demoralizing to not be able to do good work for bad reasons.

    As embarrassed as you are now, I guarantee you it’s nothing compared to what you’ll feel when she leaves and you’re left with things that are causing problems because you wouldn’t listen to her. And I guarantee you than when (not if) she leaves for these reasons, if any word gets out about it you will have a very hard time getting that good will back from the community and retaining good people.

    You really, really want someone who will be truthful with you, and it’s even better that she’s helpful and solution-oriented because those two things don’t always go together. You have something really special here, please don’t lose it so you or anyone else doesn’t have to hear that there are problems!

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I do worry that OP feels it’s too late, and they’re already thinking of “the next Jane.” I would encourage OP to put their efforts into a big turnaround where you make it explicitly clear to Jane that it took a while, but you’ve done some thinking and are now 100% on Team Jane and the whole organization is going to shift to being supportive – because turnover is killer for small nonprofits, you will lose all the momentum that Jane has built up with familiarity and knowledge, and there’s no guarantee you’d be able to hire another person even nearly as good as Jane. When you have someone, keep them! Hire more people to support her without losing her.

      Reply
  8. MuseumChick

    Oh the world of non-profits! I’ve seen this dynamic play out a number of times. Unless something changes quickly the most likely outcome is Jane will move on and your organization will be left with the problems going unsolved. I feel a but touchy about this because I have been in Jane’s position more then once.

    Alison’s advice is spot on. I think its especially important that you strongly back Jane up when other team members get defensive about what she is bringing up. It may help to remind yourself that none of this is personal. Everything is about the health of the organization. The medicine might be bitter but it’s what is needed.

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      One thing more, I want to stress, if there are members of your staff, what after you do what Alison lays out still cannot seem to work with Jane, you really need to think about if those are the type of people you want on your team. So often non-profits keep people on who are really not good for the health of the over all organization. Don’t fall into that trap.

      Reply
      1. Lobsterman

        I came here to say this.

        If things really are this bad, some people are probably going to need to find new jobs.

        Reply
      2. Escapee from Corporate Management

        Yes! OP needs to be loyal to the organization, not to individuals. They may be good people and OP has worked with them for a long time, but if they don’t want to improve, holding on to the them will just drive others away.

        Reply
      3. New Job So Much Better

        Not sure about non-profits, but in corporate world bringing in a Jane can signal to employees their jobs may be on the line. That contributes to the resentment.

        Reply
    2. CR

      Agreed, I just saw this happen at my non-profit. Everyone else was resistant to extremely necessary changes. The new hire quit after three months. I don’t blame him! Sounds like Jane should be the ED.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Wait, no, that’s an unkind thing to say to the letter writer. Jane may be fabulous at what she does and not at all suited to be an ED, and the letter writer may be excellent at her job but just needs to adjust in this one area, which she’s clearly wanting to do.

        Reply
        1. Daisy

          One area? How do you figure that? By the letter writer’s description these are multiple, major problems in several areas, and after a year Jane is still the only person noticing them. That doesn’t sound like being proactive and effective – is she ever planning to get anyone to do their jobs properly? And that’s all besides the letter’s main problem (letting the staff be snappy with Jane and being snappy herself, and failing to accept the feedback).

          Reply
          1. MuseumChick

            To be fair, what the OP describes is, well, very, very, very normal for a small non-profit. Someone wrote a longer post above about this, there is only so much bandwidth you have to deal with things. A lot of non-profits are chronically understaffed and under funded. Things get this way because people are usually overwhelmed, overworked, under paid and just trying to get through as many things as possible even if that means putting band-aids on things.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Exactly. It’s possible that the OP has mostly made the right trade-offs, who knows, or is dong the best most people could with the resources available. Her handling of Jane isn’t right but she knows that and wants to correct it.

              Regardless, there’s nothing here indicating Jane would be a better ED (a really hard and thankless job that involves a ton of raising money, not just spotting and addressing internal problems — in fact, ideally an ED would have a second-in-command to focus on the internal stuff although that’s not generally possible in such a small org). I mean, who knows, maybe Jane would be fantastic at it, but we have no way of knowing that from what’s in the letter and it’s an unkind thing to say to someone who wrote in wanting to fix things.

              Reply
              1. serenity

                You’re right, there’s nothing indicating that Jane would be an effective or appropriate ED and it seems a bit unkind to make that assumption.

                It is, I think, worth emphasizing that OP’s org has a number of problems that have persisted under her leadership and not resorting to the “oh, this is just normal for non-profits” response as others have done here. As someone who worked in the non-profit world for years, I know from experience that the sometimes painful process of hearing that your org is subject to a number of issues that you have either ignored or exacerbated is sometimes a very necessary catalyst for change. The message, imho, shouldn’t be softened or massaged for the sake of politeness.

                Reply
            2. ArtsNerd

              Exactly what MuseumChick said! To reiterate part of AAM’s response:

              “Maybe you truly didn’t have the resources to be on top of all of this. Maybe you had other priorities that needed your focus and, while this wasn’t ideal, you actually did choose the right things to focus on, even though it necessarily meant other things would get short shrift.”

              This is SOP in tiny organizations, and there’s nigh-impossible to avoid it until you build up to a larger org.

              Reply
              1. Kobayashi

                When I see someone like the OP who is honest about their own reaction and wanting to change because they know it’s in the best interests of the organization, that tells me this IS the right person to be the ED of an organization. That kind of genuine self awareness and reflection is very rare, and it is a critical trait for good leaders.

                Reply
            3. Vemasi

              Even for-profit business deal with things like this. For instance, in a small company, you might not have HR, and HR tasks might be done by the payroll person. Then, as you grow, you might eventually need a dedicated HR person. That person is definitely going to have to overhaul all the processes which, though they may have worked perfectly fine at the time, were made by someone whose main duty was payroll. The fact that you eventually hired that HR person shows that you were a good manager by noticing the deficit, and addressing it by hiring. The payroll person may have done a fabulous job with what they had, but it isn’t an insult when they have to be changed.

              OP’s workplace (probably) should be proud that they have grown to the point where they need more expert input on their processes, or even just that they achieved enough excellence to notice their own shortcomings and hire to patch them.

              Reply
            4. Glengarry

              Absolutely agree with this. I was responsible for change management at a non-profit that was sinking fast and found that yes, some of the issues were due to incompetent management decisions, but so much of it was simply the staff trying to do the best they could using the few resources they had, and basically floundering.

              Reply
          2. Washi

            It’s hard to tell from the outside, but often understaffed nonprofits put all their effort into external stuff directly related to the mission, while important but less visible things like a donor database fall into chaos. For example, let’s say this is an organization related to homelessness, and the ED is doing a great job getting the clients the resources they need, but internally, the systems are a hot mess. I have definitely seen this exact situation and it’s super common for staff to then get defensive about all the important things they ARE doing, so who cares if the database isn’t up to date and there’s no documentation of any services. And it doesn’t mean that the nonprofit or the ED is a failure in every area, just that there is some serious work to be done to turn things around!

            Reply
    3. dumblewald

      Yeah – while I haven’t been in Jane’s exact situation before, I used to contract for small nonprofits and observed these issues all the time – outdated websites, inefficient processes, inaccurate data. I would point it out but no one paid any mind.

      Reply
  9. CaddyGirl67

    It really takes a lot of courage to name yourself as the problem – and will take some work to get your team to follow your lead. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I came to say this. Admitting you made a mistake is like admitting you have a problem. It is also very freeing. Weirdly, when you own something you can let it go. It’s not some specter hanging over you waiting to screw you up. Aw, yeah, I didn’t update the database for the last six months. Here’s how that happened. Let’s get it up to date ASAP and review the maintenance plan. Is this a one off situation, 2 people on FMLA or is this system not sustainable for our current company?

      Reply
    2. Seeking Second Childhood

      Simply by saying “I… ME…. ” when describing the problem to the team? That will help them agree to follow OP’s lead. It takes out the fear of punishment if you’re all in it together with the boss.

      Reply
    3. Reba

      YES! This is an excellent example of the meaning of “vulnerability” in the workplace … since we were recently discussing some wild misapplications of that concept! It’s being direct, facing difficult discussions, acknowledging weaknesses and being willing to work on them and to learn from others.

      Way to go OP and best of luck making positive changes to your org!

      Reply
    4. Outofhere

      100% agree. Great managers bring in people with the skills and experience they don’t necessarily have themselves. If you get someone with those skills and the right, positive attitude, cherish them!

      (And they only become great managers by practicing and figuring out what works and doesn’t work – a lot of people would never admit their own vulnerabilities like the OP has here!)

      Reply
  10. Aspiring Chicken Lady

    You have a treasure in Jane … I would also suggest that all of the transformations of process and culture not be laid at her feet… or at the feet of the other miraculous Janes you have discovered you might need if she starts feeling a bit overloaded with expectations.

    This may be a time for the entire team to step back and look at the ways that EVERYONE can participate in a cleaner, better work process. That way Jane can be the catalyst, not the know-it-all. The team has other knowledge that she does not, and may add some of the clarity that seems desperately needed.

    Reply
    1. EnfysNest

      I was thinking of this, too. Make sure that everyone’s thoughts and suggestions for improvements are being heard. If anyone feels like their suggestions for improvements have previously been ignored / didn’t go anywhere or they feel like it’s pointless to speak up about their own ideas now, that’s going to make them resentful that Jane is being held up as the sole office rescuer, even if they can recognize that she is fixing needed issues. You want this to feel like a group effort for all of you to come together to make things better overall.

      I know there are some things at my office that could be done better that I’ve brought up before, but then gave up on because no one else would take any action and it’s something that needs cooperation from the entire team. Now the issue is still there, but I don’t even bother trying to bring it up before because I’ve seen that it’s not going anywhere. If someone else came in and was suddenly fixing everything and implemented a new system, as much as I would be glad the problem would be fixed, I would also be a bit resentful that she was listened to when I wasn’t.

      This will likely go over a lot easier if it comes across as a team effort, not just Jane sweeping in and cleaning up shop (even if that’s what’s needed).

      Reply
  11. Alton Brown's Evil Twin

    Is there some way operationally to let Jane’s “wow, here’s something terrible I found” news cool off a bit? Jane keeps a running log of issues, and OP and Jane meet monthly to prioritize them (or whatever frequency is needed). Then OP tasks one or more of the staff to fix them.

    That way, the decisions are coming from the boss, not Jane.

    This requires a little more distance and discretion, which may not be easy in a small office where everybody is used to being in everybody else’s pockets. And it may make things harder for Jane as she comes up to speed, since she won’t be able to ask off the cuff questions of the other staff members like “So why do we do X that way?” or “System Y is broken when I try to create a new teapot – did you know that? Am I supposed to use something else for teapots?”

    Reply
    1. Important Moi

      Interesting…worth considering I guess. At what point does Jane get to speak to her co-workers directly. Jane is not doing anything “at” her co-workers. In fact, per the letter “Jane is very gracious about these issues, doesn’t point fingers, doesn’t blame, is constantly saying she’s just ‘trying to solve a problem’ and is happy to fix the issue herself because it directly impacts her work.”

      Sometimes a soft touch turns into nothing different get done which can turn into “lax proofing, website maintenance, data management, etc.”

      I welcome your thoughts…..

      Reply
      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin

        True, Jane isn’t doing anything “at” the coworkers. And they should realize that. And Allison is correct that OP needs to squash their anger/resentment when they react that way.

        I’m just suggesting that OP find some ways to help separate the factual set of “things we gotta fix” from the emotional response of “Jane is making us change everything!!!”. One thing at a time…

        Reply
        1. Sloan Kittering

          This is true, Jane may even be grateful for the opportunity to raise things without them falling onto the list of “Jane problems.” There may be days where Jane finds three important issues on the same day. You don’t want to loose those insights but that’s probably too much mental burden for her to have to put up with.

          Reply
        2. Sparrow

          I like where you’re coming from here, but I suspect the emotional response is less “Jane is making us change things” and more “Jane is making me feel lazy/dumb/like a failure by pointing out an issue I created and/or missed for too long.” Even if the boss was the sole face of the “these are things we have to change” feedback, I think they’re still going to feel embarrassed and defensive. Boss may get the brunt of that reaction, but I’d really surprised if the negative feelings didn’t still go Jane’s way since it’s pretty clear at this point she’s the impetus. So I don’t think this fixes the problem, but it would help boss position himself as a supporter of Jane and of what she’s trying to accomplish.

          Reply
          1. Shannon

            But it’s literally the boss’s job to take the brunt of someone feeling embarrassed or defensive because they perceive they didn’t do their job correctly, not Jane’s.

            Reply
            1. Sparrow

              I fully agree, and I think making him the face of it would help and is worth doing, but I don’t think it would spare Jane from her coworkers’ negative emotions.

              Reply
      2. LCL

        Sometimes a soft touch is absolutely necessary because to reorganize a process, you need information and buy in from the people who are doing the process as it stands now. There is a place for the hard, this is the way it’s gonna be approach. But process changes, if the same group of employees will be doing the new process, does require a soft touch.

        Saying someone is not doing something at their coworkers is becoming a very modern cliche. While it may be true, if someone is on the receiving end of it because they are feeling burned by someone else’s actions, it can come across as really dismissive.

        Reply
    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      My concern with that approach would be that OP acknowledges some of these are pretty major issues and it sounds like waiting to meet and discuss them could be detrimental.

      Reply
      1. StressedButOkay

        Agreed. Finding issues with the member database is a huge, huge issue and needs to be brought up ASAP. I think that approach would work for smaller, less ‘immediate disaster’ issues but the critical errors need to be brought up as soon as they’re found.

        Reply
        1. StaceyIzMe

          The letter writer did say that these were issues of some consequence, so a “cooling off” period might not be advisable.
          I can’t help but wonder if some of the angst is a sinking sense that there are really quite a few holes in the proverbial dyke. That might mean some significant issues for the organization to address in order to survive as its current size and with its current impact. Perhaps it’s been contracting in its mission footprint without its staff and volunteers noticing and course correcting? We can all steep ourselves in the illusion of “how things are done” or “how things have always been”. But in a world where tech, processes and culture shift rapidly, that’s a risky organizational posture to practice.

          Reply
      2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy

        Well, there is a difference between ‘major’ and ‘urgent’. If the database has been wrong for 40 years, a week more or less isn’t going to make any difference. I know I would be a lot more amenable to being told what I need to fix in a regular improvements meeting than when I’m in the middle of picking out 2 dozen llama hooves.

        Reply
  12. Auburn

    I can so relate to this one. Having been at a nonprofit that grew and changed a lot over time. Many of us in the nonprofit space are just scraping by and good enough on things like databases is necessary when you have to make tough choices about where to direct those very limited resources. There is no fault in that. You said this is a new position so it’s reasonable that she may have some bandwidth to think about things that previous staff didn’t if under resourced and under staffed was the norm. Now you are growing, and you’ve set ambitious goals and now your staff has to grow and commit to meeting those goals and to meeting higher standards. It’s a tough transition. You have to message relentlessly about it and show real leadership to bring your staff along for the ride. And if you are anything like the organization I work for you will also have to make commitments of your own to provide professional development and possibly raise salaries and benefits to get and keep the kind of high performers you want on your team. Change is hard. Be gentle with yourself but be relentless in your commitment to higher standards and you’ll see pretty quickly who is going to get on the train with you and who isn’t.

    Reply
    1. Auburn

      I also wanted to add that it’s important for your legacy staff that in that transition you show reverence for what they’ve accomplished with limited resources and bandwidth. I’ve been the legacy staff listening to some new person who now has resources and is building off of the foundation we laid criticize our previous systems that we created out of nothing. It’s disheartening if it doesn’t acknowledge that context. Let them know that now you are investing in what they have built. Remind them of accomplishments and the importance of the work they have been doing all along. That said if people aren’t willing to come along you have to be willing to cut them loose. And fast. By now you may already know who those people are.

      Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        Yeah, a new staffperson at my org was laughing today with a coworker “didn’t they do ANYTHING before I started??” I was really put off, even though I acknowledge that we were struggling with staff turnover. This person wasn’t with us in the trenches when there was one person doing the job of four. There was a better way to put it.

        Reply
      2. StaceyIzMe

        I like this counterpoint. It sounds like a very useful perspective to keep in mind. Something like “honor all, harm none, move forward”.

        Reply
    2. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I agree. OP should really focus on this part of Alison’s reply: Don’t pull back from thinking deeply about those things (as we all sometimes do when something is embarrassing or painful); instead, jump in and take an unflinching look at why those problems came about. The answer won’t necessarily be “because I didn’t care enough” or “my standards were too low.” Maybe there’s more to it.
      I’m not in a nonprofit, I’m in financial. You’d think there’d be money, and there is. But there’s also an ultra conservative review process that keeps our department five years behind in creative tech. New people come in and are surprised by multi step procedures to create a simple document, because X program has this ability now. And it can devolve into Why are you wasting time? Don’t you know how to…
      And that sucks. So yeah, shine some light on what legacy employees have and do achieve.

      Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        And the issue may be the Board’s reluctance to make big changes, or sluggish fundraising in the unrestricted category – that’s not entirely just “low staff standards.”

        Reply
    3. LaDeeDa

      I think what you described is so common. I think it also it is common for a non-profit to use all the budgeting dollars to get a new updated system, but can’t really afford for people to train on the new system. And if people aren’t tech-savvy they may not have the ability to figure it out themselves or can only figure out certain capabilities. Non-profit staff often don’t get the training/development that employees get at many other companies, so it is really hard to stay current!
      When people feel like their skills have fallen behind they will get defensive– or heck, they may not even know that their skills are really dated. If they have worked there a long time they may not even know what is possible.
      When doing as Alison said- examining why these things happened, OP may find that is because the staff needs development, and that may be something they can plan and budget for

      Reply
    4. AnonEMoose

      All of this. Something else to keep in mind is that, as organizations grow, a lot of time more structure and process are needed, especially around things like communication. The things Jane can help you put in place now will help your organization grow, and ideally will put you in a position to build structures that will support that growth, not stifle it.

      Your nonprofit is 40. That is amazing. No joke. I know a lot of businesses, never mind nonprofits, that don’t last anywhere near that long. But organizations need to evolve, or they die. Try to think of what Jane is doing as finding ways to protect you, the organization, and the staff, and help put things in place that in the long run will make things better.

      Maybe another way to frame is that you and your staff have been keeping things going, and sometimes that takes all you have. Jane has the bandwidth (and, it sounds like) the mandate to look at and think about things in a way that you and the other staff just haven’t had the bandwidth to do. When you’re just trying to get through the day to day, you can’t, really can’t, take a step back and evaluate things. It’s not that you’ve been “doing it wrong,” although I know it feels like it when Jane comes up with another thing. You’ve just been focusing on getting it done at all.

      That’s not wrong, not in the least. But it also makes it hard to get to where you want to be. Do let your current staff know how much you appreciate them keeping things going. Do let them know you know this kind of stuff is hard to hear, but it’s important. And how what Jane is doing relates to where the organization needs to go.

      Reply
    5. epi

      I agree. I think this is nearly universal in small organizations– I experienced it a lot in a small research program. It’s very common to have a team made up of junior staff and lifers, who may be excellent at what they do, but lack the opportunity to learn from more experienced peers or the best practices somewhere else. Often, these teams have come up with very creative ways to keep things running with few resources. They may have no way to know that what they developed is already a thing, or another industry’s term for what they are doing that would have helped them find a solution rather than have to invent one.

      One of my favorite examples is in software. Read a discussion about Excel sometime, with people who rely on it a lot to do their jobs. Often some of the fanciest, most advanced users have just recreated database functionality in a workbook. They are really smart, creative people– truly. And many of them have leveled up so high at a useful skill, using mostly their own ingenuity, that now they are doing stuff that would give a professional database administrator hives. Whether that’s good or bad really depends on their own goals, and those of their employers.

      Reply
      1. TardyTardis

        This reminds me of the standardized worksheet I developed for sales expenses (before me, they were submitted manually, and I had to look up the right codes and handwrite them down). I was very proud of the worksheets, and we trained salespeople on it.

        Two years later, all the sales people went on Concur (where they should have been all along) and the expense reports were checked with scans of the receipts. By that time I had moved on, but I felt a little nostalgia for what I had done with the process.

        Reply
  13. Memyselfandi

    I love Alison’s answer.

    I am a Board member of a small non-profit and we have been experiencing some challenges. We called our state’s Center for Non-Profits, of which we are a member, and got a ton of great help and reassurance that what we are experiencing is very common and survivable. The letter-writer might consider their local Center if there is one.

    Reply
  14. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, I know this experience is difficult, but in addition to Alison’s concrete gameplan, I think it may help to really reframe Jane’s feedback in your head.

    My biggest advice is to adopt a growth mindset. Instead of blaming yourself for your standards falling or lack of functional systems, think about this as an opportunity for continued improvement and growth. I’ve found that when folks focus on deficits, they often feel embarrassed, ashamed, defensive, and resentful. However, if you reframe her feedback as actionable, positive efforts to strengthen your nonprofit’s infrastructure, you’ll begin to focus on how her feedback can enable your organization to be more effective instead of blaming yourself for the infrastructure not being there.

    It’s also important to remember that you’re not alone! Very small nonprofits often lack the systems, expertise, or resources to build out that internal infrastructure. I used to work in those nonprofits, and now I advise them. Even sophisticated groups with multi-million dollar budgets often lack adequate management infrastructure. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people with lax standards—it usually means they’re very good people without adequate resources or expertise. Now you have a really helpful and invaluable resource (Jane), and you’re getting a chance to reinvest in the organization’s mission. That’s an awesome opportunity. So think of Jane’s contributions as if they were a huge, no-strings-attached cash donation.

    Finally, I’m a huge fan of Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen’s Thanks for the Feedback, which can help you identify why Jane’s feedback is triggering the emotions you’re experiencing, as well as how to address those triggers within yourself.

    Reply
    1. Liz

      Seconding the recommendation of “Thanks for the Feedback.” My company has adopted it as the underlying theology of our feedback trainings, and it’s made a huge difference to our feedback culture. Reading it has made me better at receiving (and giving) feedback well – even, as the subtitle of the book says, when the feedback is “off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you’re not in the mood.”

      Reply
      1. hbc

        Thirding the book. I actually take feedback pretty well, but it really helped me understand how others might be reacting to the possible implications of what I said. OP definitely has work to do in receiving feedback (though her self-awareness is an excellent start,) but she’ll also have a lot of very careful feedback to give to others.

        Reply
    2. epi

      This is great advice. I would add that the data management issues the OP mentions are inherently difficult.

      Data management is incredibly important in modern workplaces, and when you find problems with it, it is urgent to fix them. At the same time, the amount of data and metadata we all work with is expanding exponentially. So are the available ways to manage the data– discovering those is its own data problem. The correct solutions depend on the type and amount of data you have and what you need to do with it, meaning it is inevitable that they will change. The organization of data and metadata itself constitutes information. (Ever documented the organization of a shared drive?) I have never had a data management solution that didn’t require any customization and creativity on my end.

      If you find out something is wrong with the way your organization is managing some of its data, that is called having a job and a pulse. The fateful day you learn you have been managing some type of data wrong and will need to restore it or fix it or clean it has a name: Tuesday. I work primarily as an analyst and my husband is a database administrator. Neither of us has our full wish list of data cleaning and management and documentation implemented. It is never-ending!

      Entire fields of human knowledge are dedicated to this topic. I have taken classes and read books about it, just in order to screw up less as a non-expert. Big organizations will employ experts to manage and secure their important data. As critical as it is to keep trying to get this right, it is inevitable and human to get it wrong. If the OP takes stock of what they have been doing, determines if it is still appropriate for their organization today, and acts on the information, then they are following the most important best practice here.

      Reply
  15. Cat mom

    I have been Jane – I have eagle eyes for detail and editing and have struggled with helping an organization meet its stated goals when those included “quality improvement” but were met with resistance.
    One thing I learned might help the writer above.
    You cannot fix everything at once, especially when “big things” are involved. Triage can help here. If Jane can group the needed changes into large and small, long-term and quick, and significant processes versus more tactical procedures, you and your staff may be able to meet together to triage some common goals. Perhaps Jane can log (or fix) typos on the website and in the database system while others come up with new procedures relating to QA for those systems going forward. In my experience, if people can help prioritize and brainstorm, and you as the manager commit to tackling a few things at a time, Jane can relax and let go of certain things because there is a plan in place to address them. Jane can identify areas of need and you can fit them into a longer-term plan.
    I’m impressed with your self-awareness.

    Reply
    1. Former Help Desk Peon

      I think this is great advice, and is something we do constantly where I work (software development and qa testing) – what needs fixing immediately (harms our core mission), fixing soon (harms our rep, usability, whatever), what works ok but can be improved, what actually works great and the users want more of. And then, of all those things, which are “easy” or “hard”, “cheap” or “expensive”, and use that to inform priority too.

      Our team meets once a week for a “kick off” to layout which issues we’re tackling in the next week, how we plan to do it, and how that fits in to our more long term goals.

      Reply
    2. Ama

      Yes, one thing I wanted to suggest was to make sure that part of the issue isn’t that everything Jane finds immediately becomes the new top priority. Obviously the big things need to be dealt with as soon as possible, but for less urgent improvements (especially those that might involve several time-intensive stages) scheduling its implementation for a quieter time on the calendar, or at least a time after the current round of improvements is finished, might make the staff feel less overwhelmed.

      The nonprofit I work for has been upgrading its processes across all facets of the organization and our CEO and Board sometimes want to get everything done as soon as they think of it. I’m implementing three major changes to my department’s processes this summer and I’ve had to start saying upfront that I can’t take on any more until they are complete. It has absolutely nothing to do with me being resistant to change and everything to do with simply not being able to take on a another major overhaul until I complete some of the overhauls I’m already committed to. (Thankfully my CEO knows I’m honest about my work capacity so this has worked okay for me.)

      Reply
    3. Troutwaxer

      Exactly this. Everyone should sit down (or maybe just Jane and the OP) and put all the problems into categories of importance labelled 1-5 (or “urgent” through “minor.) Then solve only 1-2 problems at a time, starting with the most important. And then make your improvements over a 2-5 year timeline. Bring the other people in one at a time. For example, tell the IT person that the contributor database is part of the problem. Explain the problems to the IT person. Give them a set of rewards for solving the problem, and support them if they need to learn a new programming language or install a new software to solve the problem. Etc. So each problem also contains the seed of one of your employees making some professional progress as well…

      Reply
  16. Lily in NYC

    This is a great answer! My office lived through this recently. We are a much larger municipal non-profit (600 people) and when we hired an internal insurance expert (we do a ton of contract procurement for city agencies) we found out that we were being incredibly lax with our requirements and not even following state law on some of them. Which is very bad, considering we are quasi-governmental! While we quickly worked to change our insurance process, our CFO became very defensive about it and started stonewalling our insurance expert because she realized our previous laxity made her look terrible. It is a huge job and the expert (Sandy) really needs at least 3 direct reports but our CFO only allowed her to get an intern (who was in grad school and wanted to work full time here). The intern quit after realizing she’d never get hired, and Sandy just gave her notice last month. All because our CFO is an oversensitive baby who can’t do her job well and will do anything to hide it.

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      I’ve seen this play out so many times. It reminds me of that letter awhile ago where the OP was asking if the work environment they had created was to exclusive. If someone is brought on to do Specific Job and then gets stonewalled, dismissed, ignored, or made to feel bad for doing their job, they don’t stick around for long.

      Reply
    2. StaceyIzMe

      You kind of have to wonder about that. Lots of people who are CFO might not know about the details of insurance. Why does it necessarily make her “look bad”? A “bad look” in this case is your description of her as deciding to “stonewall” and decline to staff appropriately…

      Reply
      1. Lily in NYC

        Not knowing the details is one thing. Not following state law when you are a municipal authority is a big deal and she should have known better (our legal dept. had been complaining to her for years that we were being too lax and the only reason she hired the insurance expert is because we were the ones held liable when a contractor messed up, because no one required them to provide the proper insurance coverage. It cost us close to a million bucks).
        She is terrible at her job in every way and is the most incompetent C-level person I have ever encountered. She is also covering up a huge mistake she made and her cover-up method is way worse than the mistake (fraudulent number fudging). Someone on our audit team confided in me because she was trying to figure out if she should go to the dept. of investigations and report her. Guess who got fired two weeks later?? That same audit person. Shady.

        Reply
        1. Lily in NYC

          Oh, and she was in charge of insurance herself before we hired the expert. I should have mentioned that! She is the one who personally reviewed insurance certificates and approved them. So seems to me she should have known what the heck she was doing.

          Reply
          1. Former Employee

            I’m surprised there wasn’t an investigation after the error cost close to $1M.

            Commercial insurance is very much a niche area and can be anywhere from fairly straightforward to incredibly complex. People who deal with it are not normally attorneys, but you have to have some knowledge of how the law works to understand why it can cost a significant amount of money if you do things the wrong way.

            It makes no sense to have a CFO in charge of insurance and your CFO should have been relieved to have the insurance monkey off of her back. However, when someone is not good at their job, they tend to be defensive about everything, so they don’t differentiate between what should be in their domain and functions that legitimately should not have been theirs in the first place.

            Reply
            1. Lily in NYC

              There was some sort of investigation but she managed to throw the project manager under the bus even though the CFO approved everything. Our CFO was the one who insisted on being in charge of insurance before that. I think your theory makes sense – she tries to control things she shouldn’t even be involved in because she is so worried people will figure out she sucks at her job (I guess she doesn’t realize how people feel about her; I am far from the only one). I think her house of cards will crash down soon enough. She’s been having a tough year (we have a terrifying new COO who seems to be figuring out that she’s a fraud).

              Reply
              1. JSPA

                When that happens around here, there’s often a layer of graft under all the surface incompetence. Not saying that’s what’s going on here. Just that the two go together very conveniently, as the incompetence provides partial / temporary cover for the intentional criminality.

                Reply
  17. Mazzy

    I absolutely love this question! I was Jane at my last job and yeah, I’d find and try to fix big issues thinking I’d get accolades, and that’s not how it went

    Reply
  18. Jessica

    Based on my experience working for multiple nonprofits, the issues Jane is uncovering are not uncommon. I think your organization is lucky to have Jane there to help shed new light on things and strengthen your org overall. And, as Allison said, it means SO MUCH that you recognize your defensiveness (which is totally natural) and want to move beyond it. So many leaders just completely resist this kind of opportunity to improve. They push out people like Jane, and their organizations suffer because of it.

    Reply
    1. Willis

      I agree that having Jane is a good thing for the org. Jane’s a member of the team, and better for the team to be able to recognize and address these issues before a Board member or someone external does, or there is a large, visible consequence. That would be way more embarrassing!

      Reply
  19. Stormfeather

    One thing I would add:

    Continue to step in if your staff keeps aggressively pushing back against Jane, EVEN IF you find yourself continuing to… not respond perfectly in the moment.

    It may feel hypocritical, and everyone hates being a hypocrite. But really, you’re only a hypocrite if you decide that you’re okay with reacting badly to her suggestions while still holding your staff to a higher standard. Just because you slip or backslide once in a while, it doesn’t mean you’re not committed to stopping your own bad reactions to her advice – it just means that you’re having to address it with yourself after the fact, rather than stepping in to stop others.

    And heck, even if you were a hypocrite, it’d still be better to stop the other staff’s resentment of Jane, even if you were still showing it yourself. At least it lessens the burden for her. (But definitely keep trying to stop it yourself as well!)

    Reply
  20. Forrest

    I feel a lot like a Jane in this situation. I moved to a new job eight months ago, and it’s NOT GREAT. I’ve been in a similar role for nearly eight years in two different organisations previously, so I have a reasonable amount of professional expertise to draw on. My colleagues (who have the same job description and responsibilities as me) are all great and are doing good work, but none of them have the same breadth or range of experience as I do (they’ve either been here a couple of years with relatively little pre-this-organisation experience, or they’ve been in this organisation for ~20 years.) So it’s their normal, whereas I am frequently trying to stop my eyebrows go up as I go, “We … do what now? OK, that seems … different?”

    I am not formally here to solve problems or anything, although when I started I was frequently told that it was such a plus that I was bringing a fresh pair of eyes and a breadth of experience. Interestingly, most people at my level fully agree that there’s a lot we could do better, but management is very much, “everything’s fine! You’re doing great work people! Don’t look at the numbers, I SAID DON’T LOOK AT THE NUMBERS.” I am trying to diplomatically push for change, but wow it’s frustrating and depressing. If I didn’t need to stay in this local area because of childcare/commuting issues I would be looking by now.

    Reply
  21. Seeking Second Childhood

    Alison, what would you suggest to *JANE* if she were writing in?
    I know someone who is not “Jane” but his situation sounds very similar.

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      My first though is, depending the the circumstance with your friend’s boss, they should have a sit down with their boss to discuss these issues. Something like, “When I accepted this position my understand was X and Y. I’ve noticed push back when I’m handling/suggesting improvement for/etc. for X and Y. Is there something I’m doing that you would like me to do different?”

      I’m sure Alison would have a much better script but basically something like that.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes, exactly — you frame it as looking for clarification about what they want from you/your role, and then once you have that info you can decide if it’s for you or not. If they say they want your input but they act like you don’t, I’d believe what they do more than what they say.

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      A request: People can absolutely flag problematic comments with links so they go to moderation to ensure I see them. But please don’t reply to your comments with links as a way to say “I want your answer to this substantive question” (a separate thing from “moderator attention is needed”).

      I am in and out of comments as I’m able, but time constraints mean I may not see/answer everything (and sometimes answering the question would mean writing essentially a whole additional blog post so I skip it unless I have time to do that). If people start trying to signal-boost their posts that way, it will become really overwhelming. (Seeking Second Childhood, I’m sorry to single you out for this — it’s happened a few times recently so I figured I should say something.)

      Reply
  22. Myrin

    Yay, I’m so glad the OP agreed to have this as a standalone post (since most people probably don’t know: she originally posted this in last Friday’s open thread and Alison asked if she could post it)! This may honestly be one of my favourite ask-and-answer duo, everything about this post is so amazingly helpful and insightful!

    Reply
    1. Grace

      Oh, it was this one! I saw Alison had taken something down after asking if she could use it as a post, and I’ve spent the last day or so wondering which one it was. I’m glad she did, this is a really insightful answer – and a lot of it applies to unwanted feedback in all parts of life, not just working life.

      (she says, as a uni student, glowering at her latest feedback in which the lecturer points out so many “but what about”s that it could be turned into a full thesis… I know she was just trying to help, and I’ve spoken to her about it and get where she was going, but OP’s train of thought is very familiar. I wanted feedback, but not *this* feedback…)

      Reply
  23. BRR

    Great letter and response. I work for a mid-size nonprofit with many people only have small organization experience and we’ve gone/are going through something similar. I would try and think of it as improving things going forward instead of trying to adjust the past/present. Maybe you can frame it to yourself as Jane excelling in her role? Having gone through this as Jane, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane was looking for a new job. It’s incredibly frustrating. But the thing is, if Jane leaves the mistakes and possibly the explanations behind the mistakes will still be there. Mistakes happen. Think of what you would like if one of your staff members came to you with a mistake. You’d want them to bring it up, hopefully know why it happened, and explain how it’s going to fixed going forward.

    Reply
    1. MissDisplaced

      If you’re a Jane in this situation, tell me do you often get the “You’re being too negative” thing when you find and seek to address issues?

      Do you often find yourself being blocked from fixing things you know you can fix or do yourself?

      Reply
  24. Loot

    Maybe it can help to think of it not as Jane going “gotcha, coworker!” when she finds mistakes, but rather “Problem eliminated!”?

    Especially since you say that it’s not just small mistakes that are being caught. It’s better for you (all of you) that the mistakes are caught now and corrected rather than the mistakes going unnoticed and causing an actual big *problem.* (Like accidentally running afoul the law, causing the company to suffer a hefty fine as an example. Or people’s personal information being stolen by someone who intends no kind deeds, thus damaging your company’s reputation.)

    It’s better for these mistakes to be caught (and then corrected) by someone internal in the company than someone external, too. And chances are, if the mistakes are big, they are going to be discovered eventually.

    It’s not fun being confronted with clear evidence that you’ve been slacking off or taking shortcuts or missing critical things, but going on the offensive against Jane isn’t going to change that.

    Reply
    1. LilyP

      This is what I was thinking! Next time Jane brings something like this to you attention, take a minute to really picture what the eventual consequences might have been if Jane hadn’t found this. Could you maybe have failed an audit? Gotten sued? Lost a major donor? Seen donations mysteriously decline because you silently lost a third of your contacts? Really sit with that scenario and how it would feel. Wouldn’t that feel worse than you’re feeling right now? These are the things Jane is *saving* you from! It’s easy for our very in-the-moment brains to see this as “bad feelings vs no bad feelings” when really it’s “some bad feelings now vs lots of way worse feelings later”. Good luck, you’re already on the right track just by writing in!

      Reply
  25. Artemesia

    The ED is responsible for the functioning of the organization and when lots of problems are uncovered, it is the ED’s fault. Thus Alison’s advice is particularly good here if the LW is to recover from this. I belong to an organization that just fired the ED because there was gross embezzlement by the person managing ticket sales and he didn’t catch it. The organization lost several hundred thousand and is unlikely to get it back since the thief has spent it all. Years ago I belonged to a professional association where the same sort of thing happened i.e. embezzlement by long time employee; the ED was fired in that situation as well. If the problems are serious — but not as serious as failure to hang onto the money — then being focused on using the talents of the new person to straighten things out is the only play. It might help to think of her as a lucky hire who has saved you from disaster. It is a situation to really get your head around. How you frame it will make all the difference to your future in the organization. Focus on what a good thing it is to be able to deal with these issues before disaster strikes.

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      Yeah, we fired our ED a couple of years ago because he let an ambitious and predatory assistant run the show. The two of them did a huge amount of damage to our reputation. We’ll survive, but I feel badly for the new ED who has to claw us out of the hole.

      Reply
  26. TootsNYC

    My teenage son introduced me to an idea when I was saying, “You should have done this earlier”:
    The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.

    In return, I told my kids, “Don’t lie to yourself about when it’s your fault, because you will shut down any opportunity to get better, to learn, to grow. You HAVE to be able to admit you’re wrong.
    “But likewise, don’t spend time beating yourself up–that ALSO doesn’t help you get better, or learn, or grow.”

    Some introspection is good in terms of learning WHY (as Alison points out) you fell short of a mark, because that will help you improve. Didn’t have anyone on staff who understood that? Now you know, and it can become an important part of any hiring you do–or any training of existing employees, or some targeted consultant-hiring.

    I would suggest looking for some metaphors here.
    You know how people live in a house, and it gets a little beat up, and then they need to sell it so they fix everything and remodel the kitchen? Then they spend the next 2 months saying, “I wish I’d fixed everything earlier, so I could have enjoyed it”?
    That’s you and your team. Jane is the remodeling contractor, and you guys are the homeowners. So REJOICE at the things she’s finding, because they’re going to be improved, and then your organization will be all spiffy and new, but you get to still work there!

    Or Jane’s the fitness trainer, spotting weaknesses or bad habits and setting out new plans to achieve the fitness goal.

    Also try to create a forward-looking outlook. This might be something you can ask Jane to help you with, in terms of the language she and you use.
    So not, “we should have been doing this all along,” or “this is wrong,” but, “Let’s change this database to X, it’ll be more efficient in the future.”
    It is a little bit like starting up an exercise program–it helps to say, “I’m going to be stronger, I’m going to be fitter, I’m going to be slimmer,” but it doesn’t help to say, “I’ve gotten so fat, I sat on the couch too much.”

    I would also say, drag this stuff out into the sunshine. Talk openly with people about how it’s hard to hear these things because it seems like a criticism. Acknowledge it with them.

    Reply
    1. Former Employee

      I was surprised that no one responded to this comment.

      I think it is a terrific approach that can work well for a group as well as for an individual, simply by changing the “I” to a “we”.

      Reply
  27. TCO

    This is great advice, both from Alison and the commenters.

    I find it helpful to think of organizational growth like a spiral staircase. As we climb upwards, we’re going to periodically revisit the same issues over and over (like technology, or bookkeeping, or management structure) but each time we visit the issue we’ll be doing at a higher level than before. It doesn’t mean that the former practices were necessarily bad at the time we instituted them; it just means that we’re in a different place now with different needs. This analogy was shared with me by a colleague at a small organization and it was really reassuring to remind ourselves that just because something needs to change doesn’t necessarily mean we were making mistakes before–we were just working out of an older set of circumstances that no longer apply.

    Every growing organization is going to discover that something that used to work well enough needs to be updated. If OP can be proud of this growth, rather than ashamed of the past, her organization’s future is bright.

    Reply
  28. AndersonDarling

    I work in performance improvement and this is a common feeling to have. You want to improve, but change is complicated and acknowledging that things aren’t perfect is also difficult.
    I would make sure that your entire organization is on board with making improvements. This isn’t just about one person making changes, it is about everyone striving to modernize and stay relevant. You are a non-profit so you are serving a group in the community, and everyone should want to do that to the best of their ability, so barriers need to be removed.
    Make sure everyone understands the results from these improvements. When the database is updated, you will have access to faster and more detailed reports so you can make informed decisions. When the shipping process is streamlined, then Joe doesn’t need to stay late every Thursday to close shop. Once people see that each step is making their lives easier, they will start to see where improvements can be made in their own work and ask for help making changes.
    And the big one>>> make sure people understand that these improvements don’t have anything to do with their jobs. No one will get fired because they didn’t know a different way to do their job. No one will be eliminated because a process improvement reduced their workload. It’s a non-profit so there is always more work! If the accounting workload is reduced in half, then the department can focus on benefit analysis, or fancier reports for the board meeting.
    This is a natural bump in the road and I’m sure you and your teams will eventually embrace all the improvements. And if you want reassurance, reach out to other non-profits and companies that have gone through big cycles of change. Their leaders LOVE to talk about their journey along with all the setbacks.

    Reply
    1. TCO

      This is great. If OP’s staff each had a list of extra things they wish they had more time to do (new projects, professional development/networking, research, strategic planning, cleaning out old files, etc.) it might help them get more excited about making their current practices more efficient and being a real partner in creating improvements.

      Reply
    2. Me

      Great points. Understanding the outcome and the reason often makes change easier for people.

      The flip side is to also listen to existing employees about the whys of something. Recently our org changed financial software. There were a lot of improvements, but it also caused a lot of problems for existing work processes. The push back wasn’t the end users hate change, but more finance is happy because it works how they want it to, but we still have to do x, y,z reports for our job that option is gone and finance didn’t even know it was going to be a problem (because they didn’t ask).

      Reply
  29. Me

    Everything Alison said. Plus

    I mean a lot of things do slip by because we are all human. Having fresh eyes on something is nearly always going to find errors.

    That said, having errors constantly pointed out even in a general none blamey way is going to feel, well, blamey. Are there things, like typos, that Jane can simply fix and move on without pointing out that it was wrong? I always have someone review my writing with the expectation that they will just fix little things.

    Then larger things that people should be aware of need to be changed should still be common knowledge. And of course if there’s a team member who is doing something to cause errors where the process can be approved should be brought to you as a process improvement.

    IN fact maybe talk to your employees about how excited you are to have Jane’s fresh eyes so we can make process improvements to do even better, AND that you also encourage the entire team to look at this as an opportunity to review processes and make suggestions for improvements.

    Reply
  30. literal desk fan

    As a fellow Jane, I feel for her. As someone with experience in continuous improvement, change management is HARD. Being an agent of change, as Jane is, is HARD. It isn’t just hard at your organization, change is hard everywhere and in everything. We all resist. So one of the things we learn in LSS training is how to manage change and get people on board.

    There are three key things here. The first is that when Jane points out issues, the issue is with the process, not with the people. You might use that to reframe your own thoughts about this, and you may want to emphasize that with your team. From your letter, it sounds like Jane already approaches these issues from this standpoint, but framing it like it’s a process issue might help you and your team come to terms with the things Jane is pointing out. It isn’t about you, your management, or any of your team members, it’s about the processes.

    Another key thing is data. Data really helps because it takes emotion out of it. It helps you present facts. So if there’s any data that can be / should be corrected in the process of changing things, that should definitely be presented. Again, it should be framed as a process issue, not a people issue. For example, in looking into your current processes, Jane might find out that it takes a long time to complete a task, or that a lot of time is spent waiting on information or correcting information, that amount of time might be something that would be good to know and a good data point to collect. And maybe the solution would be to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the task or reduce the wait time so that it’s something people have time to do. In measuring my own current processes, I’ve found it extremely illuminating to find out how much time it actually takes to do certain steps, and provides a really good picture of how it’s the process that’s really the issue and not the person completing the process or the person responsible for it.

    The last thing is engagement, and this is where Jane might need more backup. When changing processes, it’s key to include the people who are completing the processes in figuring out how to change them. If she’s saying, “X isn’t working, we’re doing to do it like Y now,” I can see how people would be resentful of that. But if she’s saying, “X isn’t working for A, B, and C reasons, according to our data. What suggestions do you all have for improvement?” That will get her much more support from your team, and probably from you as well. It will also help her out a lot, because you and your team probably know a lot more about the way things work than she does. If you can get your team more on board with the fact that things need to be changed, a next step would be to get everyone to work towards those changes together.

    Reply
  31. Falling Diphthong

    I think #2 is really important–it can be tempting to think that if we start to act differently, then people will notice that and we don’t need to awkwardly spell everything out. Early on, that can work. But once people have learned to deal with you in a certain way (defensive, walled off, etc) then your intentions inside your head about now being different may not be a message clearly and unambiguously carried by your actions, even if it reads that way inside your head.

    It’s sort of a variation on the true apology, where you acknowledge what your fault and how your actions affected the apologizee, explain what you’re going to do differently, and then do it–going straight to step 3 may not be enough.

    Reply
    1. JJ Bittenbinder

      This is fantastic! I love the concept, and the way it removes blame and recrimination from the thought process.

      Reply
  32. That One Person

    I applaud Jane for trying to make it as impersonal as possible while still trying to address issues. The thing is too, if they don’t get addressed then she’ll constantly be going around fixing them, which will just make her job unnecessarily hard while simultaneously might lead people to feel undermined when she’s constantly dipping into their work OR lead them to feeling harassed if she’s always having to ask for changes. In my experience people don’t like the feeling of being bossed around by someone of equal stature (and more so with a sense of “newness” to the team) so it’ll help a lot if these issues have your backing and are potentially addressed by you instead. I could be wrong though and she’s in a position that’s higher than some/most/all of your team and they’re just learning to accept new middle management – but would still be good to have your backing in this case.

    And even though it stings, sometimes people just need that new eye to things because you’re so used to your ways and how things look you forget the outside perspective. If you guys have a mission you’re driving forward…you want to think about that mission rather than personal comfort, which is hard, but in this case also necessary. If possible it could probably benefit the team to do some group thinking together so rather than all these “corrections/suggestions/questions” coming from Jane it’s possible other members on the team might be able to point things out while simultaneously having a ready solution and then it’s less that a person’s being attacked so much as there are issues in various places and yet they’re a team who can solve them together. Could be wishful thinking on my part, but it sounds like it’s not just one person whose dropping a ball either so it seems that it could be a team bonding experience to revitalize the mission into the forefront of their minds and how to improve.

    I do hope things go well!

    Reply
  33. Eleanor

    I’m a Jane at my work. I’m super detail-oriented and did a lot of work to overhaul & improve faulty processes when I arrived, which I was thanked for. The problem comes in when I point out poor procedures or unmet customer requests from a certain coworker who does very little work and is a known slacker. For reasons I still can’t figure out, our boss allows said slacker to slack away as much as his slacking heart desires, without any consequences. So anytime I do point out errors, I’m the one who is seen as the bad guy, the nitpicker, the nag. I’m always thinking of the good of the department when I point out his errors & lagging responses, but that doesn’t seem to count for much. It’s demoralizing & frustrating to say the least. Why do managers let slackers slack with no consequences?

    Reply
      1. Eleanor

        Good question (I think back to The Office episode where Michael’s little jerk nephew was hated by everyone), but no.

        Reply
  34. Marley

    I have this vision of the LW being surprised by all of Jane’s commentary–like, flinching any time Jane comes to talk with her because there’s likely another problem. She needs to systemize the feedback–and systemize the plan for addressing top priority items.

    So, as overwhelming as it is, parse through the list as a whole in terms of priorities, cost/time to fix, etc, and see what makes sense to tackle first, and what makes sense to hire someone to do, what that means for fund-raising, etc.

    It doesn’t have to feel like one bad thing after another–framed differently.

    Reply
    1. Troutwaxer

      Agreed. There can’t just be change. Pure change is nothing but chaos. But there does need to be a unified plan for change.

      Reply
  35. ArtsNerd

    As someone who’s been on both sides of the defensiveness — a SUPER helpful reframing is that this feedback is “growing on the work that’s been done before.” You got things to where they are (importantly!) and then Jane is pointing out where you can take things to an even stronger place.

    She’s not saying: “why weren’t you doing this!? you are bad at your job” but rather “moving forward, these are the improvements we should be making.” It can feel like the former but it really isn’t! Good for you for recognizing your own defensiveness, btw — a little self awareness goes a heckuva long way.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  36. Dust Bunny

    This sounds sooooo familiar.

    I work in a small department (four people) within a mid-size (45-ish people), established nonprofit. The former head of our department was here for over 35 years and basically built the department from the ground up. She was great at a lot of things, although as time went on and the department’s responsibilities grew, and also as technology advanced, she became great at fewer and fewer of them. When she finally retired, it took her successor years to ferret out all the documentation we should have had already in place, and we lost a few major long-term projects because she was unwilling or unable to deal with upgrading the software on which they were based (one database now exists only in screenshot .pdf images. Not kidding). She was advised often and with vehemence by our tech person that she needed to do this but . . . just wouldn’t. She also didn’t want to deal with interns and a bunch of other things, which kept our funding artificially low and mean that our next department head had to fight tooth and nail to get us any supplies.

    So you need to have a good non-blaming talk with your staff. A lot of this might be inertia, but some of it might be:
    1) Lack of training. People aren’t going to want to change if they’re intimidated by new systems.
    2) Lack of staff. If your workplace has gone along on X number of staff for this long and suddenly all this additional work is jumping out of the woodwork, be sure you don’t need to plan for bigger things such as more staff to do it.
    3) Resentment. We tried over and over to tell Former Dept. Head that she needed to change and she wouldn’t, and then when she left we all had to scramble to catch up. Fortunately, New Dept. Head was good about it and took a lot of it on himself, but if other staff have lobbied in the past for changes and been assured that everything is good, the fact that someone is finally listening to the New Girl may not go over well.

    But you need Jane. Trust me on this one.

    Reply
  37. Rainy days

    I’m impressed with LW’s introspection and ability to recognize the source of their problems with Jane. This truly is the first step to change, and one that many people would not be able to make. I would only add–most of your staff consciously or unconsciously model their behavior on yours. Your staff is being defensive because they see you being defensive and assume that a defensive stance will put them in line with their own leader, the one they’ve been faithfully following for several years. If you are publicly gracious and welcoming toward Jane’s ideas, most people will gradually realize that other behavior is not acceptable and act accordingly (of course, for those who do not fall into line, you will likely need to be firm with them in private).

    Reply
  38. Jamie

    I applaud the OPs self awareness and Alison’s answer is dead on and will likely be a huge relief to Jane to hear those things.

    I’ve been at my new job under 2 months and was brought in to be Jane. To do deep level gap analysis on various systems for compliance and opportunities for improvement. I haven’t gotten any defensiveness, but it’s always in the back of my head since I was brought in specifically to tell them where they were less than adequate.

    It’s not always a comfortable position to be in even without overt pushback so the OP is doing exactly the right thing by addressing it.

    Reply
  39. Sarah

    I love your letter. First for your openness, and second, because I relate to both you and Jane.

    I have been the Jane pushing for things to happen, and it’s so frustrating to hear – “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Alison’s suggested dialogue would go a long way towards repairing the frustration that Jane is surely experiencing.

    I have also been you, and I wonder if some of your response is based on fear and imposter syndrome. When I’ve felt like that it’s always been followed by worry that they’ll know I actually have no idea what I’m doing. That I shouldn’t be in charge and that I’ve just been faking it. I think that might be something to ruminate on as well.

    Good luck and please let us know how things go! I’m rooting for you, Jane, and your organization.

    Reply
    1. MuseumChick

      This makes me think of a strategy I heard recently that might help the OP! I was watching an interview with Pete Buttigieg. He talked about how when he became the mayor of South Bend the one thing he would not accept as an answer to anything was “because we’ve always done it that way.” Maybe the open could implement something similar, if the other people have a problem with how Jane want to improve something they can argue their point but the answer “because we have always done it this way” will not be accepted.

      Reply
    1. Augusta Sugarbean

      Me, too. OP, it’s pretty great that you are willing to write in and ask for help on this. I have high hopes for a positive update. Good luck!

      Reply
  40. Ruth

    OP — I would also recommend reading The Gifts of Imperfection ASAP. It’s been extremely helpful for me in stopping shame spirals and being more open in reacting to things like this. Not that I’m all the way there, but it’s been helfpul.

    Reply
  41. Heidi

    I really feel for Jane. She brings high-quality experience to the table. She finds problems that are hindering the success of the organization. She finds solutions to the problems that she finds. She doesn’t demand that others do work that she isn’t willing to do herself. She focuses on the important problems, not trivialities. She is diplomatic about it. She is doing everything her job asks of her and doing it excellently. And she is receiving all this resentment and push back in return. It must be so demoralizing for her. If I were talking to Jane, I’d say that this organization is toxic and doesn’t deserve you.

    I would add for the OP, among the other employees, do they really “all” have it out for Jane? Eight is a small number of staff, to be sure, but it’s kind of difficult to imagine all 8 feeling equal levels of unwarranted resentment against Jane. However, if there are 1 or 2 ringleaders that are setting the tone for the others, you might want to focus your efforts there.

    Reply
  42. Maggie

    Alison’s answer is awesome! I have worked in nonprofit operations for a long time and I have often been the Jane. I have never looked at issues that I bring up as something that previous staff did wrong. It is what it is and my job is to figure out how to move forward. I also doubt that she thinks that the reason it was missed is because no one cared to check. Nonprofits are notoriously understaffed, especially in administrative areas (because funders often don’t want to fund admin costs but don’t get me started on that). It is fantastic that you have a Jane now to focus on these things! Are all of your staff aware of the five year goals and the impact they would have on your mission? I know some nonprofits keep strategic planning at the senior level but it’s important to make other staff feel ownership of that work. If you haven’t already, it might help if you shared the goals and got them excited about the future of the organization. That will help put context to what Jane is doing.

    Reply
  43. Sneaky Ninja for this one

    You mention every time Jane points something out. That sounds to me like she’s coming to you multiple times a day. That would make anyone feel bombarded. Would it be easier if you had more feedback less often? Ask Jane to make a list and meet with you once a week? Once a month? Unless something is truly urgent. Then you can think, prioritize with her, explain the Why of the current system, pick what to correct, and then divide and conquer?

    Reply
  44. just trying to help

    Allison’s #2 recommendation might be the most important but the hardest to do. Letting go of our egos, being authentic and a little vulnerable with our peers and subordinates can be scary. In this situation, it is called for. It can be liberating to do once you realize no one is going to abandon you, think less of you, or attack you for it. You are doing this for the good of the organization, looking forward with responsibility and ideas, not looking backward and pointing fingers at who caused these problems. The rest of the staff need to know that, get on board with fixing the problems, coming with solutions, prioritizing them, and finally implementing them.

    Reply
  45. StaceyIzMe

    I have to say that OP may count herself as fortunate that Jane hasn’t had enough of poor systems for managing some critical processes (understandable for a variety of reasons such as resources, focus and follow-up) coupled with a grouchy, snarly response when she simply points out the problem and offers to fix it. If it’s impacting her work flow, she’s reasonably within her rights to do both. Honestly, I doubt OP can retain this Jane or anyone like her because while she has the self-awareness to break down what has gone wrong, nothing has come of it so far in the way of action. Change is painful, but it does sound like a few things have lapsed a bit below the standards OP considers acceptable. It’s true that we all either choose the pain and discomfort that attend growth or the pain and discomfort of maintaining the status quo. With a year or more of time under the bridge and a lot of ambient tension in the office, this one looks pretty unlikely to resolve well, unfortunately for all concerned. The power of habit is too great for most of us, individually. Here there is also a kind of group think that has set in that targets Jane instead of targeting the problem. That’s a tremendously dysfunctional environment, if so. Asking the larger questions about the organization’s culture isn’t going to be an easy task. The work of change isn’t something others in the office appear willing to take on and OP self-reports that she hasn’t been “her strongest advocate”. Honestly, it sounds pretty hostile for Jane. Yikes.

    Reply
  46. Not A Manager

    Sometimes I discover a Big Mistake that I made and I feel like beating myself up about it. Sometimes someone else calls a Big Mistake to my attention and I feel like beating THEM up about it.

    It helps me is to think, “how can I prevent this from happening again?” That shifts my attention from outcomes to systems. And it also helps me realize that being defensive and pushing back almost guarantees that Bad Thing will keep happening, whereas absorbing the information and acting on it will avoid that outcome.

    Reply
  47. Sick of Workplace Bullshit

    Poor Jane. That must be a hellish place for her to work. Good on you, OP, for realizing what you and your staff are doing, and good luck fixing it. Hopefully it’s not too late.

    Reply
  48. Scott M.

    I would really, really, really focus on resources and make sure that is not an problem. Almost always when I’ve seen these kinds of issues (big problems that everyone ignores until someone new points them out) its been because of lack of resources.

    It might be something else in the OP’s situation. But if it IS a lack of resources, then just supporting Jane is not going to be the only change that needs to be made. The OP will need to bring in more resources to correct the problems and make sure new ones aren’t created. More resources will help the staff from being defensive. Because otherwise, they are going to feel trapped and they will most likely take it out on Jane anyway.

    Reply
  49. Unruly Bluebird

    This post really hit home. I’ve been on both sides of this equation.

    For 10 years, I worked as a software tester. Let me tell you, even if it’s specifically your job, people do NOT like having their errors pointed out to them. No matter how nicely you do it. For a lot of years, I didn’t mind, but eventually it got to me and I wanted to do something that didn’t require a constant battle to fulfill the fundamental requirements of my job. It can really be defeating to not be appreciated for your contributions, and in Jane’s case it sounds like she’s giving them some really valuable insights into their processes and got nothing but grief for it.

    Now, I work for a consulting company that does design work. About a year ago, I had a customer who was unhappy with what I created. I tried a lot of different things, but couldn’t seem to hit on something that they liked. We had an internal session where other designers could give me feedback on my design. I was already frustrated with my customer (they would give me positive design feedback and then go to my leadership team and complain) and not really psyched for this meeting, to put it mildly. But, I re-framed the meeting in my head. I would accept whatever they said (helpful or not) graciously and remain positive. I told myself that my coworkers were there to help me; they were not denigrating my work.

    The end result is I got one or two things out of the meeting that I implemented with the customer. And when it came to review time, multiple people told my team lead that I’m really great at accepting feedback. I don’t want to be too Pollyanna, but the power of positive thinking can really make a difference. The story you tell yourself is important.

    Reply
  50. Buckeye

    My organization recently underwent a restructure, which involved several new Janes coming aboard. One helpful way I’ve found of framing these types of difficult conversations with long-term folks who are frustrated and defensive is that Jane isn’t necessarily stating that the processes were wrong from the beginning. The old processes may have been the right solution for the problems at the time or the best possible solution given capacity, strategic focus, etc. Any new proposed changes are simply in response to the natural fact that needs have changed overtime and now processes must evolve to meet new needs.

    Reply
  51. Hiring Mgr

    Don’t have much to add, other than one reason for the resentment of Jane may be that in addition to the defensiveness everyone has mentioned, it sounds like Jane wasn’t specifically hired to diagnose and fix these things, but just happened to discover them in the course of her work. While that shouldn’t matter at all, I can see how it addsd an extra layer of antagonism to those already so inclined.

    Reply
  52. JulieCanCan

    As someone who has entered an organization that was poorly run and stuck in a rut of “but THIS is how we do things!” despite “THIS” being old fashioned, slow and almost pointless, it’s nice to see a director willing to learn and listen and move forward with their eyes open. The defensive thing is crappy but understandable, and this letter shows they know they need to change.

    When I tried making some tiny suggestions or offered to help update the systems at my old company, I was shunned and treated like an outsider. They even said things when I was new like “We know you’re experienced with this and if you see ANY areas where we can improve, please tell us! We’re totally open to new things and will appreciate it so much.” It took about two suggestions about minor issues for me to learn that they actually wanted to keep in line with their old-school ways and they had no desire to change or update their ways of doing things. I stopped considering making suggestions and just rolled with their antiquated ways, and got out as soon as I could.

    Reply
  53. austriak

    Promote Jane to be over the complainers, even if in title only. As many have noted, non-profits sometimes have a hard time finding and retaining good people. You should be grateful that you have someone that can fix the messes of your organization. Try to learn about the root cause of why things were not how they were supposed to be so that you can address them. The root cause may end up being your people.

    I know someone mentioned that Jane should be ED. I had the exact same thought. Learn from this experience so that you are a better ED.

    Reply
    1. StaceyIzMe

      That seems like an extreme reaction, almost a plot point for a movie or from a fairy tale like the “Ugly Duckling” who turned into a swan. As unacceptable as the antagonism and negativism towards Jane may be (especially since it’s produced an ambient, toxic anxiety), the solution would be to stop being unprofessional, apologize to both sides (the older, seasoned staff for not explaining the benefits of the changes and the required behaviors for interacting with Jane and anyone else)/ (to Jane- for obvious reasons), and move forward with a conscious choice to be professional, growth minded and collaborative.

      Reply
    2. Washi

      I’m so confused by this! At least at the nonprofits I’ve worked at, being an ED looks (from the outside) to be like 80% raising money. Jane might make an awesome director of compliance or something, but I don’t see anything in the letter to suggest that she would be a perfect ED.

      I have Jane-like tendencies (very precise, like systems, want everything to be correct and orderly, highly attentive to detail) and those actually mean I would not make a very good ED. I can point out all the ways your data needs to be cleaned up, but the last thing I want is to schmooze with rich people or apply for a million grants.

      Reply
    3. Teapot Chief of Staff

      IMHO, Jane shouldn’t be the ED. The ED needs to focus on strategy.

      Jane should report to the ED as COO, chief of staff, or whatever you want the title to be.

      Reply
  54. gecko

    I’ve been both Jane and you to some degree, LW. As a software developer who’s not in a field where quality is prioritized (ie not healthcare, airplanes, or what have you) the way my team works means that our work product is guaranteed to have problems. Sometimes years later you’ll find something that works weirdly and have to go to someone and ask, why did you do it this way that’s creating problems, and then fix it. Plus that happens to me a lot as well.

    When receiving feedback like that, where there’s no doubt that you did something wrong, is really tough. There are, however, some ways to bear it:

    1. You right now are different from your past self who made the mistake or did the thing wrong. No one sets out to make a wrong decision; there were reasons your past self made the decision she did, and your present self can respect that while still coming to a different decision.

    2. Name your initial reaction and then get past it. “Oh, the database is wrong? My initial reaction is that we neglected the database for a while in favor of this paper list of donors for a reason. But in retrospect we should have kept up the database. I’ll figure out why we neglected the database later on; can we meet on Friday to figure out how we can fix this?”

    3. Jane is making a lot of changes; eventually one of the processes she introduces will also have a problem. Treat her how you want to be treated when you need to suggest a change to something she’s done. This of course applies a little more to a peer relationship than a managerial one, but I think it’s important to hold that balance in mind.

    Reply
  55. octopodey

    I recently received my doctorate of nursing practice, which entails an evidence-based project, so not a thesis, but still a giant project and paper. It involves many, many, MANY rounds of peer and faculty review and feedback.

    Digression: One thing you (should!) learn as a healthcare worker is that feedback isn’t about you – it’s about the consequences of your actions. There are better and worse ways to give feedback in healthcare but if you’re about to do something that endangers a patient no one’s going to worry about your feelings before stopping you, you know? And you’re grateful for it! If you are about to make a mistake that could injure someone, you will forever be thankful to the person who stopped you. It’s really easy to apply that principle to life-or-death scenarios (giving a med a patient is allergic to, for example) but becomes more abstract the further you get from that black-and-white scenario (I was *going* to get the allergy band for the patient but I was just doing this one other thing first, leave me alone!). Because then it feels less like help someone gave you and more like criticism, right? Even though it’s not! But our egos don’t realize that without a lot of training.

    So when I was removed from the bedside and was getting all this feedback for my project and paper, I adopted a “fake it ’til you make it” strategy. I might be fuming inside about the feedback (I did so much work! My project is so great! How dare you not acknowledge my superiority!) but I said “thank you” and metaphorically acted like they’d just saved me from giving the wrong med. And by pretending I was grateful, it soon became true. Because I HAD done a lot of work, and my project WAS great, but it wasn’t perfect, and the things they pointed out made it even better and didn’t negate everything I’d already done but were ways to improve. But that is SO hard to see. I literally made it a point to react “out loud” the exact opposite of my knee-jerk how-I-felt-inside reaction and it worked really well.

    So you don’t have to beat yourself up for your defensive feelings or think that just because you’re feeling them things you can’t make things work with Jane – you can feel however you feel in the safety of your own head and let it out at home if you need – but you do have to control what you show to your team and especially to Jane. You have to model the way you want them to react, hugely and publicly. Even if you don’t feel it immediately or wholly. Acting is totally valid. I bet it’ll come quickly if you start acting like you believe in it.

    Reply
    1. Former Employee

      Congratulations!

      I hope that all of the nurses you train/oversee appreciate your guidance and do their best to implement feedback that may well save a patient in the future.

      I had surgery last year and the nurses were great, the nursing assistants were wonderful and aside from having surgery and dealing with the aftermath, it was a good experience.

      While I can’t overestimate the importance of having a topnotch surgical team, once the surgery is over, the majority of the time in the hospital is spent with the nursing staff. It makes such a difference when they are both very professional and very warm and caring.

      Reply
  56. Jam Today

    Its so difficult being the person dealing with the broken stair, when someone new comes in and tells you that the stair is broken. I know the stair is broken. I told people about the broken stair when *I* showed up, or I told them the stair would break if we built it out of stale graham crackers instead of wood, or I was promised we’d built the graham-cracker stair but replace it with a real stair three weeks later but then we had to fight some other fire. Listening to other people getting lauded for things you tried to fix is demoralizing, for sure. I work hard on two things: being gracious / not defensive when new folks come in and tell me my workflow is insane, and not being the person “coming in hot” when I join a new company. If any good can come out of people pointing out all the flaws, its that I learned what not to do at a new job, because it makes the people around you feel terrible.

    Reply
  57. logicbutton

    Before talking to the rest of the staff, you might take a moment to think back on whether any of them actually may have tried raising some of the issues Jane is now bringing to you, but were unsuccessful in getting solved (because they didn’t express themselves directly enough for you to grasp the seriousness of the problem, or because you or they didn’t see a solution at the moment, or time to implement a solution, or whatever). It’s also possible that some of them may have noticed the problems but chose not to raise them for a variety of possible reasons, many of which have nothing to do with having low standards themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re *right* to act resentful toward someone who is pointing the problems out now, but it could certainly factor into why they’re doing it.

    In any revamping of your systems that you end up doing, you might consider the obstacles that people finding issues might face in reporting them or solving them on their own (for example, is the procedure written down clearly somewhere in a static location where they would think to look?) in order to ensure that everyone is empowered to raise and solve problems, no matter how big.

    Reply
  58. Happy Pineapple

    OP, I can’t thank you enough or stress strongly enough how important it is to recognize that you and your staff’s defensiveness is the problem, not Jane’s ability to find problems.
    I work in consulting where our job is to come in to organizations, half of which are nonprofits, and do what Jane is doing: finding issues and creating solutions so that the organization can be more efficient and successful. So, so many clients who hire us to do this react the way you do, it’s normal! They don’t want to address issues they failed to notice or be accountable for, and having a new person bring problems to light is embarrassing. However, the ones who resist change and stick their heads in the stand are at best wasting money and squandering potential. At worst, we’ve seen these organizations go bankrupt, close their doors, stay in total disarray for years, tick off investors and donors, or even be sent to jail when HR/financial errors cross the line from sloppy to illegal. This is your warning: Don’t be that organization!

    Reply
  59. anonymissed

    Each person doing their best shouldn’t mean that it threatens another. There should be room for everyone to shine, instead of scarcity mindset. Glad OP is seeking help on not being a dick to someone who cares about the organization and would rather bring up improvements…and didn’t know it would put them in an episode of Survivor.

    Reply
  60. Green great dragon

    I have almost exactly this. I am telling myself that yes I should have checked more, that I already knew details are not my strength (but I am good at other things), that I will do better next time. It helped to say some of this to my boss, and my Jane, and be clear that I *do* have higher standards than I managed to enforce in the past.

    It is hard. But I like seeing things getting better.

    Reply
  61. I was young once

    I have been in Jane’s shoes MANY times. Because of the nature of my work I work with fixing problems. Often these problems have been there for years. I have had to tip toe around and try to gracefully explain that X problem is because you’ve been doing Y for yeeeeaaaarrrs and to fix it you have to do A, B and C now. It’s often a hard pill to swallow especially for nonprofits because the folks care about their work and sometimes have been in those roles for years. Occasionally I have clients who just don’t want to see it and it makes it difficult for all of us all around and eventually I stop working with them because the project isn’t going anywhere.

    Reply
  62. Kms1025

    OP you hired Jane to do a job that you had either no time, no resources, no knowledge, no something that prevented you from doing. Look at this as a HUGE success on your part! Right person to fill the gaps that YOU know needed filled. Stop thinking of the negative blowback. The positive is Jane is accomplishing exactly what YOU hired her to do. Her success is your success in bringing her onboard. Change the optics in your own head and the actions of your other employees will follow. As usual, Alison’s advice is dead on perfect

    Reply
  63. LadyByTheLake

    I am the Jane — it is my entire job to come in to companies and point out “areas of opportunity.” I’ve been in the industry 30+ years, am detail and compliance oriented (I’m a lawyer), I’ve worked with ~20 companies and have seen just about every way to do things — what’s standard, what’s unusual, what works and what doesn’t. It can be so hard trying to help companies when they bristle at being told that what they are doing is not compliant. It rolls off me — I’ve had 30 years of pushback and I have a thick skin, but I wish that just once the initial response would be something other than “This can’t be wrong — we’ve always done it this way!”

    Reply
  64. GS

    Are you able to switch your internal metric of success from “number of things you did well [this month, or this week]” to “number of things you improved [this month, or this week]”? If you can celebrate those wins in process improvement, you start to look at the feedback Jane brings as enabling you to reach your goal.

    Things I’ve done to help me with this mindset: keep a list of things that have improved (how far you’ve come) and look at it/think about it. Set a reasonable number of improvements to make per month and put them in the calendar to think about or work on – even if I don’t know what they are yet, so that when Jane comes to me with something that needs improving I can thank her for giving me the heads-up and put it in that waiting space. Always, always say thank you even if it seems to come out strangely at the time.

    Reply
  65. Observer

    I want mention something that was alluded to, but I don’t think was explicitly mentioned. What Jane is doing is bringing you stuff that is not only important for your growth, but quite possibly for your survival. You as in “OP’s professional survival and reputation” and You as in “Your organization”. Because the types of things she’s bringing to you really are things that could destroy your reputation and / or that of your organization.

    A few more thoughts. Every time Jane brings something to you, talk to her (and others) about root causes and then put a plan in place to tackle that. You may not be able to put EVERYTHING in place all at once, but if you have the plan in place on a real and realistic schedule, you’ll start getting to things. It’s not just about having higher standards, but about how you make it easier and more likely for people to actually meet those standards. Whether it’s better reports (eg an easy to pull report on suspected duplicates in your database), different procedures, or changes to your software (eg better error correction in your member database).

    You also might want to reframe how you think about Jane. Instead of “she’s finding things I was too careless to think about” let it be “I outsourced thinking about a lot of stuff to her, and she’d doing an awesome job.”

    Also, think about the areas she doesn’t touch and see if you get someone like her into those areas as well. Like, if she doesn’t touch accounting, you may want to get a Jane into your accounting department, because if you have problems with your donor database, it’s a good bet that there may be problems there, too. It will help you fond other significant problems. But it will also help you be more positive about this – because your positive behavior generally influences your attitude.

    Reply
    1. LaDeeDa

      “I outsourced thinking about a lot of stuff to her, and she’d doing an awesome job.”

      Beautifully said. That is part of what being a great leader is about- you as a leader can’t think of and do everything, you hire people who are experts to take your plan/strategy to fruition.

      Reply
  66. anon for this

    That point about only hiring junior staff is one that sounds familiar to me. I’ve worked for a few organizations whose management are all lifers who have only ever worked at that company, and where most of the employees started at entry level. While there are benefits to this kind of approach, it can really cultivate a homogeneous culture and discourage dissenting ideas or new approaches to systems that are clearly not working.

    Injecting a Jane into this kind of culture can be painful, but ultimately I think very helpful. It must be very difficult from her perspective, and I admire her for continuing to give this feedback even when it’s obvious that it’s not welcome.

    Reply
  67. OlympiasEpiriot

    No advice, Alison gave a great response and there’s loads of good other ideas in the comments. I just want to say, you did yourself a huge blessing by being so open with yourself. This is really hard to do and the issue is going to take a lot of hard work. But, all in all, it will be so worth it.

    Also, please talk with Jane asap if you are concerned you might lose her.

    Reply
  68. Skate McKinnon

    I’m trying to feel empathy for the OP, but having been in Jane’s position I haven’t much empathy to spare. I do have empathy for the embarrassment part, because my brain immediately shuts down whenever I make a mistake and it is noted, but if you are the Executive Director of an organization, you need to have a handle on that. You don’t get to take your embarrassment out on someone else specifically hired to fix things. If you are finding multiple significant mistakes, you have much bigger issues to focus on than your embarrassment.

    I had a boss in the same industry who had petulant reaction every time a mistake was pointed out. It made for an absolutely miserable workplace where everyone just slowly became more and more disenchanted because we all loved the work we were trying to do, but the incompetence from the top held us all back until several employees quit.

    You can hire someone specifically to set up systems to fix problems, but only the person at the top can directly address the origin of those problems.

    Reply
  69. Sara without an H

    Hello, OP — First off, you have a rare gift of insight. Give yourself credit for that.

    Two things struck me about your letter: 1) You are interpreting all problems as the result of personal failings on your part; 2) you don’t have a clear vision of what your organization is and where it’s going.

    It’s easy to take feedback about problems personally, but that’s a really poisonous mindset. Reread Alison’s letter slowly, especially point 1. When Jane brings feedback about a problem, she’s not saying “You’re incompetent.” She’s saying “We have a damaged process that needs to be fixed.”

    Now make some coffee, get a legal pad and a couple of pens, and spend some time thinking and jotting down ideas: Why are you all here? You say that your organization is 40+ years old, you’ve been running it for 8+ years, and your staff (with the exception of Jane) have all been there for at least 5 years. With that kind of longevity, it’s easy to lose track of the point of it all.

    You say your organization has five year goals, and you’re in danger of not hitting them. How did you develop these goals? Were the staff involved? Do they actually challenge your team to do anything new, or are they just restatements of what you’ve been doing for the last five years, plus 5% for “growth.” What are you proud of and how can you do more of it? Would it be worth while to bring in a consultant to help your team develop a plan for the future? Some wag once said that, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Do you know where you want your organization to go?

    Lastly: I’ve been Jane. Trust me, she’s already thinking about leaving, and probably mentally making notes for a Glassdoor review. You need to get clarity in your own mind on what her role is. Why did you hire her? Try writing out a few points of what you wanted the person in her position to achieve and what she needs from you to achieve it. If you hired her to be a change agent, and then didn’t have the guts to follow through, that is a serious management failure, and one you need to correct as soon as possible.

    You can do this. Good luck!

    Reply
  70. Pibble

    You’re at a non-profit, so presumably you have someone or something you’re helping and you care about, right? Maybe instead of focusing on how Jane’s finding things you and the staff missed, it’d be more helpful to frame it as Jane’s finding these awesome opportunities to improve your services for the people/cause/whatever you’re helping (and as a bonus, she’s also willing to do the work!). If in the moment you aren’t thinking about how it reflects on you, but how it will help your mission, you might feel less embarrassed and more excited about Jane’s feedback. (Of course, it’s also important to do the reflecting AAM mentioned to see if it’s a symptom of a system that needs improving, but I’m thinking when you’re interacting with Jane and she’s bringing something up for the first time – focusing on how it’ll help your cause might keep you from fixating how it makes you feel and getting defensive.)

    Reply
    1. RainbowsAndKitties

      I love this answer. “Look at how these changes will make this process more efficient and ultimately help our clients better access our services”. It completely flips the script.

      Reply
  71. RainbowsAndKitties

    I’m worried that I’m going to be the “Jane” here soon. I’m about a month in at a nonprofit and i’m so grateful that the person who is retiring from the position that I accepted is here to train me. However, once she leaves I plan on making some changes. Any advice on how to ease into things when you are the Jane so that others don’t feel as defensive? I already plan on taking things ssslllooowwww and I’m lucky that I will have already had a few months working with the team without the ability to even try to implement any changes.

    Reply
    1. Skate McKinnon

      Try to have the person training you outline any existing procedures as well as they can. In writing. As you learn to do whatever tasks your job entails, you’ll come across methods that work better. I found it best to document these procedures and changes in method to slowly incorporate them and created physical procedure guides for others to use. Ask other people about their tasks and what the methods they are using may be lacking. It helps to make people feel supported and that they’re not necessarily doing anything wrong, but that sometimes someone who has never done X task may be able to see it with a new eye.

      Take advantage of the time with your team and try to suck up as much info as you can about their current methods and what they have trouble with.

      Reply
      1. RainbowsAndKitties

        Thank you! I’m definitely writing down everything and trying to keep everything as organized as I can (as far as “Current Procedure” vs. “Possible Changes”). I really appreciate your advice about talking with my coworkers about their roles as well. I’m sure that will just help with building relationships with them as well.

        Reply
        1. Skate McKinnon

          If you are serving in some sort of support role, I’ve found that people (not always in management, but sometimes) are actually very grateful and gracious when you present new ideas and ways that may streamline their work. I know that all my coworkers (and even the department heads!) we’re incredibly grateful when I published procedure guides for staff use, as there had been no real concrete steps listed anywhere before—even things as simple and routine as expense reporting.

          Also sometimes I just went rogue and created my own procedures and implemented them until their effectiveness convinced everyone they were better. But that’s not usually the best approach haha

          Reply
  72. MommyMD

    I feel sorry for Jane. Remember she was hired to do exactly what she is doing. She may very well keep the business from going down or doing something illegal. Your tone sets the tone for everyone else. Focus on your core values and help her right the ship.

    Reply
  73. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I want to applaud you for recognizing this is a ‘you’ issue and a not a ‘Jane’ issue. That’s a hard decision to come to.

    You have already gotten great advice but my only addition is to say that this is an easy trap to fall into. It’s not because you’re lazy or inept, it’s because your focus is elsewhere. This is why you have staff, it sounds like you may have been under staffed, quite normal for a non-profit! So now you have someone on board with that nose to sniff them out and the confidence to point them out, that’s fantastic. It’s not trying to rub your noses into the mistakes, it’s to address them and get them fixed in order to clean the place up from the “dust” that’s settled on your files so to speak.

    I’ve been Jane my entire career. Thankfully I don’t find myself in places like yours where I’m met with contempt and I’m known to be hired because of my keen sense of detail, even details that aren’t particularly my exact job. It’s hard work but it’s necessary. We’re “fixers” and “organizers”, I don’t judge because I know people are busy AF at their assorted tasks and no, not everyone can think to clean out the files from 2012 that have been rotting or update a database they don’t touch much, etc.

    Part of this is putting down your weapon and embracing your new sense of direction. She’s new? So what. She’s a team member. She’s pointing out real issues not perceived ones or ones that she’s digging at because well “this could be better” when really, it’s just fine the way it is.

    Embarrassment is a beast and you can slay it. Embrace it. Say that to her. Say “I’m embarrassed this fell off my radar and thank you for picking up the spillage.” just like if you dump over your coffee on your desk, ick a mess and “oh I’m better than this kind of rookie mistake, I forgot my spill-proof top!!”. It’s okay. It’s chill. You will overcome this just like you overcame that time you showed up with your shirt inside out or pants on backwards ;)

    Reply
  74. JSPA

    I’d frame it as,

    “Rules and oversight have changed with the times. We need to get current, before we can hope to expand. Jane is on our side. She’s saving out asses before someone less invested in our mission hands them to us on a plate. Substantive change is rarely comfortable. If there’s a way you want to hear about new issues, we can talk about ways that Jane can flag that when a conversation is about to be another challenge to our current practices. If there’s a best time, or a worst time, we can set times of the day for her to bring those issues up, so we don’t feel anxiety rising every time she walks by and says hi. But she is doing crucial work, we need her to keep digging and improving, and we need to be thanking her regularly and sincerely for every bit of it.”

    Reply
  75. Troutwaxer

    OP, think of this like playing a sport. Ultimately, the real opponent is yourself. If you let the feedback in, maybe you learn to swing the bat harder, and next time you hit the ball, it goes over the fence instead of into left field. Since you probably need to bunt, if you let the feedback in, you’ll become a batter who’s bunts dribble right out between the pitcher and shortstop then bounce around wildly, so they’re difficult to field… and so on. This isn’t criticism, it’s coaching.

    Reply
  76. Teapot Chief of Staff

    Allison’s advice is as always spot on, but I’d suggest going further.

    Appoint Jenny as the organisation’s chief of staff with a specific mandate to improve your processes and systems.

    Reply
  77. JSPA

    The short of it is, people need a chance to breathe. The long-timers, you included, need to know that there will be bombshell-free days and times. Jane also needs to not feel like she’s exploding, every time she slams into what must look like, to her, as another layer of bizarreness.

    So set some reasonable schedule. Reports documenting significant problems are to be dropped–except in exceptional circumstances, and then, only after clearing with you–only between 10 AM and 2:30 PM, MWF. And only after a meeting set up by PM, not by catching people at a task, or while they’re not in the hall, in the bathroom, in the lunchroom, or otherwise in passing (if any of that’s going on).

    If Jane finds a problem just before a cut-off time, she can research it more completely, she can research the options available as best practices, or she can add it to the list of “reveals” for the next day, and move on to something else. And then go take a walk, if she’s giving off “explosion vibes.” Jane can also be directed to address not only what must change, but to explicitly call out what can stay the same–especially when it comes to keeping a process feeling familiar.

    She can also be tasked with figuring out if there’s a way to keep doing in a way that’s RIGHT, some of the things you’ve been doing WRONG. (I’m thinking here of schools realizing that they have some particular breach in security that’s somehow persisted in a vacuum. Should individual grade school kids and individual voters (some of them ex students from 6-60 years ago) both be able to wander through the same back door, into the same not-very-visible-area, in one case as a shortcut home, in the other case, as a shortcut to the ball court? Heck, no. And locking the fire door (the interim solution) is a completely unacceptable fix. But does that there’s no recess that day? That school is out of session, that day? That teachers take their classes as a group from place to place, that day? That the door has a big (but breakable) cardboard sign taped over it, saying “no exit on election day”?

    My accountant often tells me that we can do things the simple way, or it’ll cost extra to do it right, in some more complex way. That’s often true. So finding out what people prize, in their process (besides feeling perfect, which isn’t something any of us can expect) may help you figure out where you want to go the extra mile to keep the process more recognizable, even if it becomes more complex on the back end; and where you want to simplify the back end, even if it means the process has to change more dramatically.

    Reply
  78. MissDisplaced

    Oh boy! Please, please take Alison’s advice to heart. Because otherwise you will drive Jane away. And Jane sounds good!

    I’m in something of Jane’s position myself and after two years of coming up against problems and getting anger upon acknowledging, or outright refusals to let me fix issues myself, I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall and I can’t do anything for a company that doesn’t want to change. Yes, I’m looking. Jane might be too.

    Reply
  79. Courageous cat

    Some of y’all are being terribly gracious and, in some cases, almost a bit congratulatory with the “It’s so great of you to recognize this!” stuff. I would probably feel downright bullied if I were Jane, and would feel a bit shocked if I saw my manager write in and get such gentle advice. There’s not much worth congratulating about this, if I’m being honest. Intentions don’t matter in the slightest, not in this scenario – actions do.

    My 2c, which might ultimately be similar to everyone else’s: it’s time to stop saying “I know I’m doing a bad thing but I can’t help it” to yourself over and over. If you know you’re doing a bad thing, then you need to stop waiting to inherently feel less defensive before you make any moves, and start making real, concrete changes right away (*despite* your feelings). Especially make those changes in regards to your “territorial and argumentative” staff. And maybe even postpone further self-reflection till after you’ve taken tangible steps to make Jane’s work life less miserable. Because it’s really easy to get caught in the trap of feeling that what you’re doing isn’t QUITE so bad as long as you keep recognizing how wrong it is, and it makes it easy to fall into inaction.

    Jane is pushing the organization to be better overall. That can be nothing but a good thing for everybody.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Because you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. By easing into and recognising someone’s intent and acknowledgment they’re reacting poorly, you gain their trust and therefore they are more likely to take your advice. Unlike just saying “You’re a jerk. Fix that.”

      Most jerks aren’t jerks to their core. They’re reacting out of fear and shame which is exactly the case here.

      Being overly harsh towards a perceived bully only makes it worse and you in turn take on bullying attributes in the meantime. So maybe chill and get off the high horse for a bit.

      Reply
      1. Courageous cat

        I think you’re being overly gracious, again, and I don’t really think it has anything to do with a high horse. I think my comment was reasonably constructive especially compared to saying “you’re a jerk, fix that”, but thanks for the condescension at the end?

        Reply
      2. Courageous cat

        Also with the “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is getting pretty close to classic tone argument, fyi. I hope you don’t, for instance, say that to marginalized people who are using an angry tone of voice, because that’s what that kind of thinking really bleeds into.

        Reply
    2. ArtsNerd

      The graciousness / positive feedback stems from the fact that OP recognizes that they are the problem and is actively asking for help in resolving it. It’s pretty normal here (and just in life, as a psychological response) to cut people some slack when they’re self-aware and on the right track about things they need to change in themselves, and are expressing vulnerability in doing so.

      If OP had written in about managing Jane’s behavior and not their own, the answer and comments would look decidedly different.

      Reply
  80. Dinopigeon

    I don’t think that some positive reinforcement could hurt either. Something like, “We’re all embarrassed by these errors you’ve uncovered, and the truth is we should have hired someone like you years ago to help with these issues. I can only imagine how much worse it would be now if we hadn’t hired you a year ago.” And then continue to reinforce that message.

    It also gives you something to say when you feel your defensiveness creep back in. “I’m so glad you’re here to help us address this problem.” And over time, that will help change your own attitude as well.

    Reply
  81. minuteye

    As well as the possibility that these issues were a matter of having other priorities, it’s also possible that the systems that are problems now were better options at some point!

    You mention the example of accuracy with a member database. Maybe I’m off-base, but my immediate thought there is: Probably when it was a small database, the easiest thing was to update it manually or just have one person manage it mostly by memory; now that the database is bigger, something more systematic or automated is necessary to keep it accurate. However, that doesn’t mean that doing it manually was an error, if something can be easily managed manually, investing the time to automate it doesn’t make sense!

    Past-you probably made the best possible choices you could with the information and circumstances that you had at the time. Trying to give that past-self the benefit of the doubt (and approach it with more kindness than judgment) might make you feel less defensive. Cause it doesn’t sound like you need to defend yourself from Jane (she’s not being critical or mean), so who are you defending yourself from here?

    Reply
  82. Lusankya

    I’m in an organisation that has gone through significant growth and had to update a lot of policies after being acquired by an international company.

    We’d also been in a growth phase before the acquisition, and I’d been making a lot of the old systems that were now too unwieldy or not up to our new requirements.

    There were a few reasons for this:

    I had an existing system, and then needed to add a new feature at a later stage
    I was improving & making systems on the fly, and often didn’t have time to implement more than a kluged together mess
    I was the only one who regularly used and maintained the system

    Now, of course most of my old systems have been supplanted by new ones. It’s sad to see my work go into the dustbin, but at the same time, I recognise that it’s already done its job. Those systems got the company to where it is today, and that is a success in and of itself. While they worked at the time, the scalability was never enough to fit what we have now.

    That didn’t make them bad, per se – it just made them the wrong tool for the job. Like if you were a famous violinist, you probably wouldn’t be using your first practice violin for a grand concert, but would instead use one that could really showcase the level of skill that you’ve attained.

    Reply
  83. parsley

    “Think of leaders of small organizations who keep their organizations small because they’re threatened by what it takes to grow.”

    Oh my god, this describes my ex-boss so perfectly that I feel like I’ve just been hit in the head with a mallet.

    Reply
  84. Token Archaeologists

    I’m in Jane’s shoes right now. And my manager is not being supportive, and does not have my back. At least not so far. This letter and thread were really helpful. A reminder for me to try not to judge, as the person catching the issues, and approach giving the feedback with patience. It’s something I’m going to have to do today, as I caught a rather big one with legal implications yesterday.

    Reply
  85. Ray Schindler

    I was Jane, my boss didn’t realize the hostile environment they caused me. I eventuality couldn’t handle getting beat up all day by everyone because I was good at my job. I eventually quit – they begged me to stay, I said no!!!! Now I run my own business and will never work for anyone ever again.

    Reply
  86. boop the first

    It’s okay to have feelings – you can’t control it. You CAN control your words and actions.

    Reply
  87. That Marketing Chick

    I was similar to “Jane” at a previous job, specifically when it came to proofreading. My boss got visibly unhappy when I would point out typos I caught after we had gone to press and the item in question (newspaper ad, blog, brochure, etc.) was already public, and I perceived she was upset with ME. However, she just about REFUSED to include me in the initial editing process, which seemed very counter-intuitive and was frustrating to me.
    I never could figure out why she wouldn’t use me as an editing resource more often – I’m GOOD at it – or why she got upset with me for pointing out the errors (or appeared to be upset with me).
    But from my perspective, it made me feel undervalued and unappreciated… and eventually led me to leave the company (for a better job).
    My advice is to use this as an opportunity for you and you team to improve – NOT to blame the messenger.

    Reply

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