my new hire keeps uncovering problems … and I’m embarrassed

A reader writes:

I’m the head of a small organization. A year ago, we hired a new person to fill a newly created position. Jane has 15 years of experience and knows what she’s doing in her field. She is finding problems and issues in many areas. She is gracious about these issues, doesn’t point fingers, and is happy to fix the issues herself. But every time she points out an issue, I find myself getting defensive. The problems are always big ones, not tiny ones, and things we should have caught much earlier (like serious issues with the accuracy of our database).

I’m embarrassed by all the problems and how lax things have gotten and I know it reflects back on me. But, instead of wanting to fix the problems, I often feel as if I want her stop pointing things out and just let things go. The other staff have become defensive and argumentative with Jane about the smallest things. Jane has come to me with some of the issues with the other staff and I’ve not been her strongest advocate because I understand where the others are coming from and am sympathetic to them.

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

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. 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.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. cindylouwho*

    Jane sounds like a real rockstar both in her technical work and her communication and confidence. I hope LW and their employees can see this and be more open to her. It must be difficult for her to continue to bring these issues to everyone’s attention!

    1. tinaturner*

      They’re lucky to have her. And LW would only look humble & insightful if she talks to the staff about not getting so defensive.

      If Jane leaves they’ll STILL know they have all these issues, so why let her leave? Maybe some of them need to leave?

    2. Random Dice*

      Feedback is a gift. Jane is walking around with a bouquet of blessings for all of you.

      That is such a powerful reframing. Competence is judged by how we deal with issues once they’re identified, not by having been perfect forever / being perfect going forward.

      Celebrate her work publicly! It may help others, when you celebrate Jane’s identified fixes, by saying “I know in some areas I initially felt embarrassed and that I should have caught it myself, but on reflection I realized what a gift it is to find problems before they become an issue the hard way. Thank you Jane, and thank you to everyone who helps us avoid stepping into potholes.”

      It also teaches your people that you are safe if they raise issues to you – they won’t have career repercussions. That may make your quiet-to-date employees more willing to speak up when they know something isn’t right.

      1. Lily*

        “That is such a powerful reframing. Competence is judged by how we deal with issues once they’re identified, not by having been perfect forever / being perfect going forward.”

        I needed this comment so much today.
        Thank you.

      2. Productivity Pigeon*

        “Feeeback is a gift.” Is a lovely way of putting it.

        I am a dreadful ballet dancer. I love dancing but I’m
        Absolutely Dreadful, it’s not just false modesty.

        Someone told me that corrections in class are a GOOD thing because it means the teacher believes you can improve.

        I’ve taken that with me in my professional life and it’s never failed me yet.

      3. Momma Bear*

        Often it’s not a moral failing but just the limitations of the process or knowledge at the time. We have a new SME who is helping with something that got started 3 years ago under someone else. We’re re-doing things to be better because now we know better, thanks to this SME. It’s not a failing on the part of the person who first started it or any of the team who followed a process we thought was best. Know better, do better. I do agree that things need to be reframed in the context of everyone moving forward, not Jane lurking in dark corners finding fault. You can’t fix what you don’t know. You know it now. So, as a team, go fix it. Bring it up as a team effort to address a thing that needs to be done, vs anything assigning fault or blame. Thank Jane for catching it.

        Also, far better that Jane find it than a client or it’s found when it causes a huge problem and accidentally releases all the llamas onto the highway or something. In the end Jane is helping all of you save face.

    3. David S.*

      A-promote her.
      B-give her a raise if you can’t promote her.
      C-if you do anything that doesn’t include a or b you deserve to be unemployed.

    1. English Rose*

      As another “Jane”, came here to say this. I sometimes sense my manager’s defensiveness and it’s not necessary. I know the reasons things need fixing and take the view we’re all in this together.

      1. Anonymath*

        Yes, I’m another Jane, brought in from the outside with extensive experience specifically to assist in getting this new program at my new company in better shape, but my supervisor has gone all the way past this letter writer to actively hostile during the almost two years I’ve been with the company. I’m actively searching for alternatives at the current company, as my supervisor is now so obviously hostile that I’ve been getting apologies from some of my colleagues.

        1. Anonymath*

          I almost I almost wish I could print this out and give it to my current supervisor, but I’m afraid he’s too far gone for it to be any good. This is such a perfect encapsulation of what I’ve been experiencing since I arrived at this position almost two years ago.

    2. Throwaway Account*

      I’m a Jane who left, and they have continued to only hire people who are not Janes. You can imagine the impact of that on the problems!

      In my case, most coworkers loved me for my willingness to point out problems and fixes, but most of them are gone too!

    3. Overit*

      I was the Jane at my last job. When I left, they replaced me with an unqualified and unmotivated and deeply passive person. She will l never bring up the many problems and will just do as she is told. I am sure my boss LOVES her.
      The place is being run into the ground but who cares as long as the boss is never challenged?

      1. Shandra*

        Or the place doesn’t go out of business, or a big shot doesn’t suffer professional repercussions.

    4. OrangeCup*

      I was a Jane in my last job, handed a 50 year old mess (I was a collections manager for an art collection), but was never given the tools or staff I needed to actually do it properly. I knew what all the problems were but wasn’t going to kill myself to fix them quickly. Slow and steady and act my wage was my motto. Then we got a new boss and flying monkey colleague who were only interested in blaming me for why there were so many problems left to fix and why hadn’t I solved them all myself already! I’m no longer working there, I’m at a collection with the same issues but one who appreciates me, understands it takes time to clean up a mess and gives me anything I need to fix the issues, including tools and staff. And pays me better – which is even nicer!

    5. Quinalla*

      Being a “Jane” is for real encouraged/celebrated/etc. at my current employer – we’ve built a big part of our company culture around it. It is so nice to be somewhere it is appreciated and taken as helpful feedback vs. an attack or complaining or whatever else folks dismiss it as.

      And I get it, defensiveness is a natural human reaction, but it is also something you can work to reframe. I LOVE when people find things wrong with tools/processes/etc. I’ve developed – legitimately. I used to get pretty defensive, I’ve mostly moved past that now and it is great.

    6. Lily*

      I am so grateful for all the Janes I’ve had in my life.
      They’ve helped me/are helping me be a better human being.

    7. Beth*

      I’ve been Jane also. Thank heavens, my current job has mostly been a good place for Jane-ing!

      I did have enough experience by the time I started it to keep my tone and focus on “Problem to be solved”, with a heavy emphasis on being tactful about my discoveries and proposed solutions. It has helped a LOT.

    8. semicomposed*

      same. I have been a “Jane” in many jobs that absolutely were not ok with it and made it clear to me that it wasn’t welcome (but of course only after the fact, after asking “does anyone have any questions or concerns” and then just being completely offended that, well, yes, I do have questions or concerns). Now I’m absolutely thriving in a role that was pretty intentionally designed for a “Jane,” in an org that is all-in on continuous learning and progress over perfection — I definitely still carry plenty of anxiety about being that squeaky wheel from past experiences, but now several years in, our systems and processes and overall quality of work are SO vastly improved that I can’t help but be confident in all my “Jane-ness” going forward.

  2. MAW*

    I feel like perhaps the letter writer might benefit from flipping the script in their head, if they can, to “thank goodness Jane is catching all these things; we did a great job as an org in deciding to hire someone for that position and she’s doing so well at it. it’s such a relief to have someone backstopping our team by helping us fill the gaps in our time/resources/skills”

    1. LizardOfOz*

      Agreed, based on personal experience. One of the things I worked on as a SW dev and a (former these days, happily) manager was framing every bug report as a positive contribution from the reporter, because not everyone who encounters a bug will make the effort to report it even if you’re nice about it, but a whole lot fewer will if you’re rude.

      This goes especially for the reports from our own people, because they did us the awesome service of finding the bug before a customer did (or at least if one had, they did not report it, which is sadly all too common).

    2. Pottery Yarn*

      This right here! Say it out loud, both to Jane and to the rest of the team. Remind them (and yourself) that she is there to help make things run better so that everyone can succeed and achieve more. As a fellow Jane, this is what I have to say TO my defensive team members, but I’d love it even more if my boss would highlight these things to others, instead of having to do it myself.

  3. Heather*

    All of Allison’s advice is great but I would say there is one more issue to address because fixing what is broken is great but preventing things from breaking is also important. Maybe the company could use a checks and balances system to ensure multiple people look at things before finalizing and moving forward. So many companies rely on multiple eyes to catch errors before they become problems.

  4. Retail Dalliance*

    Alison definitely made the LW seem a little more tame and reasonable in this iteration of their letter. The original letter was coming in HOT back in April 2019! :D

    1. Throwaway Account*

      Is the LW more “hot” in the 2019 version?

      I’m not sure. The original started with: “I’m the problem, and I don’t know how to stop.”

      1. Retail Dalliance*

        That’s a good point. I think the original opening softened their tone a lot, but their original adjectives were definitely spicier than they are here. I think my impression is that LW came across as a lot more bothered than they are here in this version of the post. I think ultimately the integrity of the meaning is the same.

  5. SoloKid*

    Instead of looking at it as defensiveness, look at what things are important enough to have an effect on the business.

    There may be database inconsistencies, but what are the impacts? Was it an old transactional database nobody uses? A payroll database where people have been underpaid for months?

    What are the argumentative people actually arguing? “We’ve just always done it this way”
    vs “Nobody has touched that database in a year”? A good leader has to know the impacts of fixing vs ignoring old things. Every company has “tech debt”, aka the “we will get to that someday” pile. Jane doesn’t have the historical context for many of your systems so seeing that something is “wrong” doesn’t always mean “bad.”

    I’ve spent time as a database engineer so I know old timers Have Opinions. It is your job as leader to sort what gets worked on and what can safely be ignored. And as a leader, it is also your job to clearly communicate why fixing certain things will help reach goals so you don’t leave a sour taste in your senior employees’ mouths.

    1. SoloKid*

      I was going to also say re “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 actually much easier for newcomers to find and address mistakes.
      – old timers saw the mistake, and it didn’t effect anything, so they continue to ignore it
      – old times saw the mistake, tried to bring it up, previous leaders said to ignore it
      – old timers saw the mistake, tried to fix it, realized that was far more effort than other workarounds to address the issue
      – new people are not used to a process and have had other creative ways to tackle the same problem at other organizations

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also, old timers saw the mistake but had too much preexisting work to take it on, where a newcomer who isn’t already bogged down might be able to address it.

      2. Lucy P*

        For us, old timers saw it, tried to change it but it got too annoying to try to fight their coworkers who didn’t care.
        In 10 years, we’ve only hired 1 new person and that was almost 4 years ago. Newbie walks in from lunch one day and says, “Gee, doesn’t anyone here know how to close a door behind them?”. Such a simple reflection was just a minor example of all the things gone wrong in the office.
        Sadly Newbie didn’t last long because the project they were assigned to went south (due to no fault of Newbie, but because of pre-existing, insurmountable problems that management wasn’t aware of until Newbie was brought on board).

      3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        An additional situation, a specific one-off event from my department.
        I was in my position for five years. We hired two new people.
        they were learning the process:
        Open the gate,
        Walk the llama out.
        Close gate.
        Put llama on track.
        Click llama “llama being groomed” button.
        Whoosh, llama went to grooming.

        We all did it every day. New woman comes in.
        She does the process. Everything is fine.
        She works up the nerve to ask about the sign.
        Yeah, just switch it from “llama in” to “llama being groomed”
        She says, “but the sign reads “llama at lunch.”
        None of us noticed. We were performing by rote.
        open, walk, flip, shut. whoosh.
        Llama still went to grooming despite the sign, so it was never a “problem” so we never noticed.
        At one point lunch came before grooming.
        When that process was removed, the wrong button was left to do the right task.
        By that time, we were in the habit doing four things. Just kept doing them.
        But we just kinda laughed about it. Put in a ticket and got it fixed, because overall, it was just funny.

        1. Impending Heat Dome*

          Oh yeah, an ongoing cascade of “This is wrong in the correct way, as opposed to being wrong in the wrong way”. We’ve had to overcome a few iterations of that in my workplace. At some point, a new person comes on board and is like, “This is bananas. How am I supposed to know what a correct result looks like?” and it wakes everyone up a bit.

      4. My Useless 2 Cents*

        1000X yes to reasons 2 & 3. Coworkers are getting defensive because they know the mistakes are there but haven’t been provided with or supported in their efforts to fix it in the past and now feel like they are getting shamed because of it. From my past experience, there is nothing more annoying than a new coworker pointing out all the inefficiencies and problems that you’ve been brought up repeatedly in the past and the boss suddenly going “OMG, how did we not know about all of this! We’ve got to fix this pronto!”.

      5. Rosalind Franklin*

        The biggest one I see?

        Old timers evolved slowly into issues. We did A to address B. Slowly, B becomes less and less of an issue. A newcomer comes in and doesn’t see B at all, and can question “why do we do A?”

    2. Gail Davidson-Durst*

      Exactly what I was thinking. You can’t fix everything immediately regardless of importance. This looks like a job for *dons red-orange-yellow-&-green cape* RISK MANAGEMENT!

      Bonus: if Jane is that good, she can help document and prioritize the issues, and will be used to a risk-based approach.

  6. Mo*

    I’ve been a Jane! I seem to have a knack for seeing underlying problems. It’s not always appreciated and can get you fired!

    My one suggestion would be to create some sort of structure for Jane reporting these problems as she finds, rather than just taking them to the responsible parties. It will help LW take stock of the broader picture and keep track of what has been found. Also, having them come in as memos which can be dealt with at a time of LW’s choosing can help cut back on the reactivity and embarrassment. Having the news that changes need to be made coming from LW rather than Jane would be an improvement as well.

    1. Allonge*

      I was going to say, it would be easier on everyone to have these issues flagged in some kind of systematic manner, instead of one by one.

      I find it difficult to believe that they all can/should be fixed with the same urgency; and if OP picks out what has priority, it’s less on Jane that X needs to be fixed.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I like your response a bit better than Alison’s TBH. First and foremost is not to hit them with death by a thousand papercuts — if you’re going to be overhauling a whole system of errors, do so with a plan in place, communication for where you want to end up, and a period of training to get there, not by pointing out every single past error one-by-one, constantly, for weeks or months.

      Different doesn’t have to be wrong if there is context for why it ended up like this; sometimes this dumpster fire was the best possible solution to a bigger dumpster fire but has now outlived its usefulness.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Oh yeah, I related to this because sometimes I feel like I’m always the one finding problems around here.

  7. Audrey*

    I have so much appreciation for this LW! Such great self awareness about this, they sound like a great manager.

    1. certaintroublemaker*

      Yes, it feels like they’re 90% there just by recognizing and copping to the problem!

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Agreed! The first thing the OP is worrying about is “How do I stop doing this bad thing and not resent my good employee”. That says a lot.

  8. HonorBox*

    I was hoping there was an update to the original letter, but it doesn’t appear so.

    I commend the LW for writing this because it shows that there’s understanding for the challenges and a desire to make change.

    I think Alison’s advice is spot on. Admitting to Jane that you’re embarrassed, you appreciate her bringing problems to light and are working on addressing them is going to help a great deal, I’d guess. And ensuring that your team is on board is critical. Jane isn’t finding problems AT them. She’s finding problems that have arisen, and recognizing them and addressing them allows the business to grow. Jane is going to be beneficial to the business, and by extension, the rest of the team because everyone is going to be more successful.

  9. IMightBeJane*

    Oh wow. I had to login here to comment for the first time ever because…if this were a current letter…I would seriously think I was Jane. While I don’t have any friction with other staff at our small organization, I do seem to keep finding big/small problems (real issues that make us look sloppy or are obstacles to getting my own job done) that I bring up to one of our leadership team, whose portfolio they fall under. I want to fix them, not point fingers. And she is very gracious but I know underneath she feels both defensive and that she is being criticized.

    I would love some advice on how to offer constructive non judgment support and solutions from “Jane’s” perspective!

    1. KWu*

      It might help to try stating the leaders’ goals right before you bring up the problem, which helps remind people you’re on the same team and want the same things.

    2. Impending Heat Dome*

      What about something like, “Hey, I noticed something about this process that would be a real win if we addressed it. Currently XYZ happens, but if we changed it to ABC, then we would get $RESULTS.” Maybe also add, “If we leave it alone, we might be fine, but it might also lead to $DETRIMENT. I think it would be a good opportunity to do ABC and close that gap.”

  10. Hailrobonia*

    In my old team, when we would hire a new person I would explicitly say “one immediate way you can contribute is being a set of fresh eyes. If you see anything that you feel can be improved – from “fixing the formatting on an email template” to “streamline the approvals process” don’t hesitate to bring it up!

    1. Rachel morgan*

      This exactly. I’ve been in my job nearly 6 years (library director), and with each new employee I hire (and it applies to old staff as well!), that if you notice an issue, see something that needs improving, or have an idea that might help the library function better, tell me! I want & need to know about all this. I can’t fix it if I don’t know it’s an issue, and everyone comes in with new, fresh ideas – and finding issues, which is great, too.

      When I came in, I had to fix a lot myself, as things had either fallen by the wayside, been pushed aside, ignored or just they didn’t know it was an issue. No judgment, just solutions.

    2. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

      Yes! And if their suggestion wouldn’t work for some reason, it’s important context for the new person to know and might be more memorable to them than if that context were just told to them. Whenever learning or training can be a conversation, it should be.

    3. Pierrot*

      Yup, this was emphasized by one of the directors at my org during my 6 month evaluation. I’m active in the union (which we’re lucky to have) but there are operational issues that have come up and sometimes it takes a new person, or a few in my case, to say that the current approach is causing a lot of headache. And my predecessor was good at her job and good at training me, but I’ve implemented a number of changes to her processes because from day one I was told to find what works for me and take the initiative on making suggestions. Fortunately the fact that I make suggestions and point out issues has been well-received.

  11. Megan*

    Jane sounds great and the manager sounds terrible. To be resentful towards Jane, who’s picking up the team’s shoddy work, as a manger, is wildly inappropriate, it’s simply time to be accountable. It’s not enough to recognize the errors, to be resentful they’re brought up is a disservice to the organization.

    1. ad astra per aspera*

      I don’t know that this is a super fair response. The LW is having an emotional response, knows it isn’t fair, and is writing for advice on how to not let that emotional response guide her actions. It’s an understandable emotional place to be in—every problem with the organization feels like it’s personally her fault, since she’s the one in charge. That’s not to say she has a free pass to let that emotion control her actions, but she’s allowed to feel the emotion.

      1. Random Dice*

        Agreed – this manager actually seems very open to growth! It’s a wonderful topic to reflect on and try to improve on.

    2. LizardOfOz*

      I actually disagree on the manager being terrible – though I’m side-eyeing the coworkers who are actually acting on their resentment of Jane -. While they’re not being a great manager, they’re having a normal human emotional reaction to something and the important bit is that they’re recognizing it’s inappropriate and asking help on dealing with it.

    3. Not An Expert*

      Jane does sound great, but the manager sounds like an average human being, who’s admitting to their instinctive emotional responses to criticism and asking in good grace for ways to avoid those emotions derailing things. They may be an imperfect person (as most of us are), but they’re also wise enough to find out what they need to do to improve.

        1. Kella*

          Saying the OP is a “terrible manager” is unkind.

          OP wrote in because they knew what they were doing was wrong and wanted help fixing it. Just repeating “What you’re doing is bad” is extremely unhelpful advice.

    4. Dinwar*

      Tell me you’re not a manager without saying you’re not a manager…..

      The reality is that for every Jane there are twenty people who THINK they’re Jane, but in reality are just causing more problems than they resolve. Most of the time people do things for reasons, and a Jane needs to be VERY careful to understand why things are the way they are before they call it out as a problem (or be very well-versed in policies and procedures if what’s being done violates them). Most of the time–the vast majority of the time–the “problem” is really just things not being done the way Jane wants it done. It’s actually to the manager’s credit that they realized Jane is the exception here.

      Further, I said below that it feels like Jane is taking power from the manager. That’s because this is a common way to do so. It’s like driving a car with a back-seat driver commenting on everything. The wanna-be-Jane assumes all the authority, while the manager takes on all the responsibility. And a manager can’t spend all their time dealing with a wanna-be-Jane; it sucks their attention away from REAL issues, and every time I’ve seen that happen things have gone sideways is major ways, often dangerous ways. Again, it is to the manager’s credit that they realized Jane is the exception.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I disagree – as a manager I should know what is and isn’t an issue worth spending time on, which are worth fixing, and which are not really important.

        I’ve been both Jane and the LW, and this is a normal reaction. LW is already ahead of the game by recognizing the problems – I don’t see why assuming this is the one exception where a Jane is correct would help anything

        1. Dinwar*

          “…as a manager I should know what is and isn’t an issue worth spending time on, which are worth fixing, and which are not really important.”

          I agree, but there’s a gulf between “should” and “do”. And human nature is to deal with the noisy thing first. Someone constantly harassing you about things that don’t matter will absolutely sap your energy and focus. Even if you dismiss it, that takes time–time you could otherwise have spent doing something productive. And if the wanna-be-Jane does this often enough (they usually do, in my experience) it can cause major disruptions.

          “I don’t see why assuming this is the one exception where a Jane is correct would help anything”

          I’m…not sure what you’re saying here. I’m discussing (and offering an explanation for) why the manager’s reaction makes sense.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            On that last part, I didn’t word it very well but was saying I don’t think it’s helpful to assume that most of the times the Janes are wrong – I’d take it on a case by case basis

            I do agree the particularly noisy folks are tough to deal with. I’ve certainly been guilty of giving them too much airtime.

            1. Dinwar*

              I can agree that it’s not helpful to assume the Janes of the world are wrong. It is, however, a natural tendency when you’ve had to deal with enough wanna-be-Janes to assume that acting like this is a wanna-be-Jane instead of a real Jane. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not condoning it, but it’s a thing that happens and you can’t blame someone for a perfectly normal reaction. To fight that reaction is in fact praiseworthy.

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                Treating all Janes like random noise is a really good way to make sure *nobody* points out problems. Which might be what some managers want.

      2. Khatul Madame*

        Thank you, I am glad someone said it. I have seen many wannabe-Janes, most often new hires, flagging processes or practices that were intentional. For example, when I joined my current department, I was profoundly unimpressed by [an aspect of its operations]. It took several months for me to understand the root causes, and to understand that fixing this particular aspect in isolation would be wasted effort. I was fortunate to be able to share my observations with my manager, who gave me the space to figure it out.

      3. amoeba*

        But in this case, the manager actually agrees with Jane that those are indeed real (big) problems that need to be fixed, so not sure how this applies here?

    5. Lilo*

      I think there’s ground for criticizing LW for letting this play out for way too long. A year is way too late to aggressively go to back for Jane with the coworkers are being hostile.

      It’s good that LW wanted to change and I hope they were able to turn it around. For any future managers, yes, this needs to be aggressively aggressively a lot earlier.

  12. Beth*

    It sounds like OP is feeling embarrassed and defensive because they feel like problems like this could only have arisen from sloppiness or laziness or incompetence. While it absolutely makes sense to look at the root cause just in case it is one of those…a small organization coming across big issues that need resolving is also a normal part of growth!

    When you’re small and doing a lot of the work on a very minimalist staff, of course some of your work is not up the standards that an experienced specialist would implement. Until you reach the scale where you can afford to bring on an HR specialist, a database admin, a project manager, a security specialist, a full-time finance specialist, etc, you’re going to be running a lot of those functions as generalists who are doing your best but don’t know all the best practices and nuances. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it badly. It just means there’ll be a future point where you grow enough that your generalist work doesn’t scale up well enough, and you need to hire Janes–experienced specialists who do know those nuances–to come in and revamp things.

    I wonder if it would help OP and their colleagues to mentally frame this as “Our team saw a problem and addressed it by hiring Jane, clearly that was a great move, cheers for us” rather than “It’s so embarrassing for us that Jane is finding the gaps in our previous practices.”

  13. Lilo*

    The best thing to do in this situation is to firmly shut down anyone fighting with Jane and support her 100%. Jane’s potentially saving everyone’s jobs, if the errors are that serious.

  14. Dust Bunny*

    We hired a new department head after 37 years with the preceding department head. Preceding Department Head had basically built the department and had done a lot of good work, but became sort of disconnected with best practices in our discipline over time.

    New Department Head had quite the mess on his hands when he took over and, yeah, he had some questions, but mostly he wasn’t that judgmental about it and we all just agreed that this was a new era and we were just going to move forward, picking up the loose ends as we went.

    I don’t think your situation is that uncommon. The long game here, though, is that your organization will be a better place, and will be easier to keep in shape, if this stuff gets handled.

  15. Taketombo*

    I’ve been a Jane (but not hired to be a Jane) and for my continuing employment I’ve adopted the “one-strike-I’m-out” rule:

    If I notice something is horribly broken, going to consume hours of every employees time entry month to do, or otherwise unworkable, I will speak up – either in a meeting, or usually after the meeting via e-mail so I can cool down and don’t say things like “what kind of idiots are you?!?” – and lay out why I don’t think this is going to work.

    I almost always get a response that I’m being a Debbie downer. After 20 years, I just let that go … and (again, to stay employed) I try to never say “I told you so.” It helps that I’m now in a professional union, so if my bosses want to make everyone spend four hours a month on their thing, well something else isn’t getting done, but I’m outta here at the end of the day.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I’m similar. I’ll bring up an issue, but if they don’t care to fix it, I’m not going to keep bringing it up. I can’t remember if it was here or Captain Awkward where I read something along the lines of “you can’t care about something more than the people affected by it care about it.” If I identify a broader problem in how we work but the people doing that work don’t care, it’s not worth my energy to care *for* them. Nothing will change without their buy-in anyway.

  16. AdoraJar*

    Another lens to view this through, is that during that earlier phase of survival, your org did what it had to do to make through day by day. Now you’re in a better place and can do better. Give yourself some grace for the decisions you made then, and focus on moving forward.

    Feeling defensive isn’t helping anyone. Sure, that might have been the best you could do under those circumstances, but it’s not the best you can do forever.

    1. Grey Coder*

      Yes! I have heard this expressed as “the system is perfect, given the forces and conditions that built it”. But then things change — organisations grow, people come and go, business conditions change, new standards and technologies come in, etc etc.

      If you have been involved in building a system/process, it’s normal and human to feel strongly about it. But you can also say, “yes, that made sense when we only had one llama wrangler, but you’re right that we can do better now we have a whole team.”

  17. Rainbow*

    Oh, I’ve been Jane. I left. I couldn’t leave immediately for personal reasons but my fellow Jane left within a year of starting, not normal in our industry. I stayed nearly three terrible years and hated it. The defensive people just sucked to work with, frankly. “I know we have a problem but I’ve been here 20 years and I like it”, like, …ok? I went somewhere where yeah, we still have historical problems, but people actually want to work together and care about fixing them. OP, if you actually want to keep Jane, do something.

    1. Jade*

      Glad you got out. I was transferred willingly with two others to fix a very broken department. I was gracious about it. The amount of resentment to change was astounding.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Hire someone to fix problems, then get mad when they actually do their job, instead of grateful they are helping save your company? Wow.

    2. Jiminy Cricket*

      I really don’t think this is fair. The fact that the LW wrote in for help shows that she does appreciate Jane’s contributions and is looking for advice on how to manage some very human feelings so that she can make the most of those contributions.

      That’s the opposite of toxic.

        1. Pierrot*

          First of all, AAM’s guidelines are that we should be kind to writers (even ones whose letters were published in the past). That doesn’t mean comments can’t be critical, but telling a LW who’s genuinely asking for advice on how to improve that they’re toxic is not helpful. If we responded to every manager who recognizes their flaws and seeks guidance on how to improve that they’re toxic or bad at their job, fewer people would ask for help. I think that does more of a disservice to employees who are dealing with problematic bosses. Also, anyone who’s already feeling shame and defensiveness is not going to be receptive to “feedback” that just perpetuates the shame.

          In my experience, for every manager like this who recognizes the issue and is seeking advice on how to do better, there are 4 who won’t even consider the fact that the employee may be right and has good intentions. I would definitely not want to be in Jane’s position, but I give this manager credit for realizing that she is not approaching this the right way.

          1. 2e*

            LW is undoubtedly doing a good thing by naming the issue and asking for advice.

            I think it’s reasonable, though, to have some compassion for Jane—which means acknowledging that LW has probably been much too slow to address other employees’ attitudes. After a few months as a Jane in the environment LW describes, I’d be pretty miserable…

            Alison’s advice addresses this element of the problem very effectively, IMO, and I hope that LW implemented it.

  18. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I’ve been a Jane and was fortunate enough to have appreciative and supportive managers. It’s so easy to judge when being a Jane but it’s best not to because you weren’t there when it happened.

    In one case, I was finding all sorts of missed and forgotten things but the person who missed them all, she had undergone treatment for breast cancer twice already and was getting radical surgery to prevent it coming back a third time. I was backfilling her during her recovery. Compassion and discretion was clearly required when I found the mistakes.

    Kudos to you for recognizing the issue and the potential. That’s not something everyone does.

  19. so very tired*

    I’ve been the Jane for the entirety of my career in marketing and I’m public enemy #1 lol. Decision makers REALLY dislike the Jane in general. It’s tiring when you’re trying to make things better for everyone around you and for the people coming up behind you, and they’re just interested in shutting you down.

    I admire how OP is checking themself for feeling defensive. This is such a rare thing among decision makers. If OP is reading this, I say keep being self aware and really listen to this Jane as well as other Janes that will come along and try to adopt the changes as you can. I know everything the Janes of the world recommend will be feasible (budget, bandwidth, executive stupidity/ego), so find the wins where you can. I’d say you’re already halfway there by being aware.

  20. bamcheeks*

    LW, I think the first part of Alison’s response is really important. You are feeling defensive because you see these things as a criticism of you and of your organisation: you need to depersonalise that and turn it into “we didn’t focus on these things because XYZ was more important”, or “we didn’t focus on these things because we didn’t need to: it’s only with the transition to being a larger and more stable organisation that it’s become important” “we achieved XYZ without this stuff, but to achieve the next phase, we need to.” Or maybe it is actually *you*, and this is the kind of detail you struggle with: that’s also OK, you don’t have to be good at everything, you just need to hire a Jane and excel in supporting her to do it instead. A key thing that you need to internalise is that neither you nor your organisation needs to be perfect to be successful: someone finding things you can do better is not a criticism of either.

    But once you’ve internalised that, you do need to support Jane, and be positive and realistic an out the change process. Perhaps both you and Jane (or even a third employee who is ready for it) could look for training on change management, and make sure you are recognising the potential extra stress and discombobulation that your employees are experiencing, and finding ways to compensate for it. You don’t want to wreck the good work that Jane is doing, but if any of her work is creating new work for your other employees or new processes that have a upfront time cost, it’s really important to recognise and make alllowances for that *even as* you’re driving the work forward.

    Good luck!

  21. Dinwar*

    The company I work for encourages this sort of thing. You become blind to things that are going on at your job, the same way someone with cats often goes nose-blind to the odor. Having someone with fresh eyes come in and identify issues is a valuable asset to a business. Something to remember: If you find it internally, you have identified a potential problem. It’s not really a problem until it affects someone outside your group.

    I’ve worked with Janes before. It can be really frustrating, and it’s really easy to take it personally. The reality is that it’s not personal, it’s about the process. And how they approach it matters a LOT here. Someone coming in saying “How are you dealing with this laundry list I’ve identified?” is going to cause a different reaction to someone coming in saying “Hey, I noticed this, here’s my idea on how to fix it, you okay with this?”

    Something you can do is ask that she submit a list of issues daily, weekly, monthly, or on whatever schedule you can handle. Make it part of Jane’s job, and manage it as part of her role. Part of the frustration comes from the fact that when someone constantly finds issues it feels like you’re not in charge, like they are taking power from you. By scheduling it and managing it, you put yourself back in the driver’s seat. It sounds a bit petty, but it’s a psychological reality.

    The other thing you can do is encourage Jane to go into QA/QC. I’ve encouraged some staff to do that. Again, this puts you back in the driver’s seat, and shows that as frustrated as you can get you still appreciate what Jane is doing and acknowledge it’s necessary. Again, it’s about how you appear. Someone saying “I’m super frustrated, but it’s a necessary process and you’re doing a good job” comes across very differently from someone who just says “I’m super frustrated.” I can work with someone who gets irked at me but acknowledges that my job is necessary; I can’t work with someone who just gets frustrated with me.

  22. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I’ve been hired a few times to be a Jane. It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. This is usually the response you get. I was lucky that in my most recent role, it tapered off over time as people saw positive impacts. I hope that happened in this case too, but if not I hope Jane was able to end up somewhere that valued her more.

    I get that OP is working through these emotions and wants to do better. But given how low the starting point is and how long this has been going on, I’m not confident that meaningful change happened on a timeline that saved Jane from either burnout or just getting fed up with this environment.

    1. Banana Pyjamas*

      I feel you. I was a compliance manager for six years, and the higher level managers regularly decided we aren’t going follow Pyjamas suggestion because the state oversight body doesn’t care if we’re following the guidelines exactly, but that we are consistent in whatever we choose to do. Well, in 2023 we had a data conversion to a database that follows the state guidelines exactly. All the things I identified over those six years had to be corrected in a matter of months to complete the conversion and be able to meet the state’s annual deadlines. Not only was it harder because of the tight timeline, but many of the items would have been more easily addressed in the prior database because it had a batch change function for those items.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        This sounds vaguely like the fun and games associated with Y2K (which was a *much* bigger deal than people think–five Russian missiles were launched, fortunately not nuclear ones, at midnight in Moscow due to related issues. It could have been lots worse).

  23. Lauren*

    If OP the leader feels this way, I’d be concerned about resentment among staff. Consider announcing that “Jane is here to move us forward with corrections. I’m less interested in how we got here or who is at fault, because it should rightly fall on me as the leader and more interested in getting corrections as fast as possible and moving forward. Try not to take it personally if you worked on these items. I know it can be hard and I am struggling with that too, but it’s all about getting to a better position together.”

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This. Most of us are not raised to learn how to take criticism, even if it’s constructive and even if it doesn’t even blame us personally, so reassuring people that what’s past is past and we’re going to move forward doing A, B, and C is helpful towards reducing some of those feelings. You won’t eliminate them, of course, because people gonna people, but it’s helpful for someone in leadership to explicitly say a less blunt version of “I’m not going to hold the past errors against anyone, so let’s move on.”

      1. Dinwar*

        Even the fact that Jane’s actions are being framed as criticism is contributing to this. The fact that Jane isn’t looking to place blame means she’s not criticizing, she’s evaluating and improving. And while this can often be uncomfortable, it’s not a criticism to say “This can be done better”; it’s the way any person or organization improves.

        Framing what Jane’s doing that way can take some of the sting out of it. Even better, it may encourage others to do so. One way to do this is to ask people in one-on-ones “What is one thing I could do to make your job better, easier, or more efficient?” I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have an answer to that question. And if the manager implements two or three of these ideas, it’ll encourage other people to look for more. Jane is a mindset, and one that can be learned!

  24. Fluffy Fish*

    Old letter but OP and others in similar positions:

    It is SUPER common for a new person to come in as find endless issues. They’re new and fresh – they’re not looking at things with the blinders one often develops when you’ve worked somewhere and doing a lot of things on autopilot.

    What it is is a great opportunity to make improvements that benefit everyone. What it’s not is an indictment that you’re all big dummies who’ve been doing it all wrong.

    BTW you get the credit for hiring Jane either directly or by having smart people who work for you who recognized her as an expert and asset.

  25. CommanderBanana*

    The best – and by best, of course, I mean the worst – is when organizations hire someone specifically to spot and address entrenched problems and THEN resent and stonewall (and usually eventually fire them) for doing what they were hired for and told to do.

  26. J Smith*

    Just came here to say that I am a manager going through this right now with two rock star new hires. I know the issues they’re uncovering are from serious, long term under-staffing. Externally, I acknowledge that what they’re finding is accurate and problematic and empower them to fix and create a sustainable solution. It’s TOUGH on the ol’ ego. I try to remind myself that if I was mentoring someone through this, I’d tell THEM about how understaffed they’d been for a loooong time and that this is a great opportunity for change for the better. Good luck.

  27. Stephanie*

    I used to work in manufacturing quality and this was basically my entire job. Although I didn’t always have solutions, ha. Nor did anyone else. It sounds like Jane is great at what she does. Just make sure things are documented so you don’t have repeat issues.

  28. Jam Today*

    I’ve been on both sides of this, both the person who points out the broken stair and the person who’s been stepping over the broken stair for years after getting nowhere trying to fix it. Its *really* hard not to be defensive, and sometimes all you can do is remind yourself that you did what you could with the tools you had, grit your teeth through the temptation to say “I told you so” (to management) and “I know but…” to the person pointing out the problems. If it gets momentum to fix things, then great. Its a bummer not being the one who got it over the line though, man do I know that.

    From the other side, having been on the receiving end of it, if I come in new to a situation my lesson has been “do everything you can to not ‘come in hot'” and understand that most people *also* know about these problems and either ran out of ideas, or ran out of leverage to fix them, and are exhausted from trying. The one phrase I never say is “why don’t/didn’t you just…” Its so insulting; avoid that at all costs.

  29. Someone Else's Boss*

    I love this question because I think this is something a lot of people struggle with – whether or not they have power over the “Jane” they fear. The ability to see your own behavior and know it’s not ideal is so, so rare. Kudos to LW for identifying their shortcomings and seeking advice to grow!

  30. Elle by the sea*

    That’s exactly the point of hiring a new employee with a lot of experience! It’s also the question of a fresh pair of eyes – if someone is new to your business, she will be able to notice problems that went unnoticed by the people who had been working with the current system for too long. That’s something to be celebrated, not resented.

    LW, please feel happy and lucky about your new hire – that’s exactly what you need to take your business to the next level. And that fact that Jane is gracious about the errors, isn’t pointing fingers and is volunteering to fix them indicates that you have found a real treasure in her. Don’t be embarrassed, work with her to produce great results and support her. Otherwise you might lose her soon.

  31. I work in HR, that's why I'm so fun*

    Did Jane write this? I kid, but the LW seems so self-aware that I’m surprised they couldn’t get to the answer themselves.

  32. Tess*

    I’ve been the “Jane”, the boss getting defensive and allowing me to be bullied really took a hit to my mental health. I had to leave without anything else set up..I can’t even look at a computer now without having a panic attack. I’m glad you’ve recognised this but please do something about it!

    1. Gecko*

      100% same. Currently between jobs but thankful I got out before the last one ruined me completely. Janes are very often ‘used and abused’ by management and colleagues who seem to forget that Jane is also a person with thoughts and feelings. Hope things come right for us both soon!

  33. Jennifer Strange*

    I know this is an old letter, but for what it’s worth I was a Jane when I started in my current job. I wasn’t hired specifically to fix standards, but I did come into it with strong knowledge of the database they had just started using. When I found issues or ways that they could improve practices my thought wasn’t “Wow, they must have really low standards” or “Man, they must be dumb for not knowing this”, because I knew that a) they were a small and overworked team who had higher priorities (hello non-profits!) and b) their strengths weren’t in what I was doing, but in what they were doing.

  34. I mean really*

    I am the Jane at my company. I’m fortunate to have a great manager who agrees with the need for change and backs me up at every turn. Please advocate for Jane, OP! She’s going to do incredible things.

  35. Busy Middle Manager*

    To frame this, I work in software and there are many Janes. Maybe reframe it to ask yourself, why do I think Jane is so unique?

    After a few jobs and a few new coworkers who found stuff well after I thought I had found everything, I realized: every company has some things marked to the wrong price, every one calculated the price wrong for a few things because few people know how the formula works, every website has one glitch or link that’s missing content, every company misinterpreted a few laws and it hasn’t been caught because it hasn’t caused any big problems, every company forgot to automate a few basic functions, usually because someone who was going to do it left and someone has been filling in doing it manually.

    I could go on and on. If you have knowledgeable customers or sell directly to a large market, oftentimes their complaints uncover things happening to multiple people too

  36. Shandra*

    I wasn’t hired as a fixer, but I saw a lot of inefficiencies at a large PastEmployer. They had a lot of lifer employees, so in some ways they hadn’t kept up with the changing times.

    For instance, I was surprised to find they didn’t have a prepaid account with a vendor that was integral to our business. We could book the service as needed with a credit card, but that meant expensing the charge.

    They finally went prepaid during Covid WFH.

  37. TheOtherOne*

    I was a Jane. I work in a highly-regulated field for a highly-visible employer. I was threatened with termination from my management position after finding serious errors and refusing to “learn to look the other way.” Day after day I dragged myself into the office waiting to be fired; I only stuck it out because I had a strong attachment to my employer and its work. I ended up being demoted so my manager would no longer have to deal with me. The first manager who replaced me was fired after less than three months; the second lasted almost a year and a half. This seems to have gotten peoples’ attention and the person who threatened and demoted me was fired herself. I am still there and enjoying my job more than ever. So for all the Janes out there, take heart. I firmly believe that people eventually get what they deserve even if it does not happen soon enough!

  38. sulky-anne*

    I admire Jane because what she’s been hired to do is tough. People in this situation need their manager’s clear support. For managers in this situation, I think it would help to be clear to the team that the new person was hired to give critiques and feedback (although not in a rude way). So if they have a problem with being told to change, they need to take that up with the manager.

  39. Eddie B*

    Or the LW could do what literally every employer I’ve ever had this experience with has done: say “Thanks for bringing this to us, we’ll take a look at it when we can,” then have the first person up the chain who can do anything with the info refuse to consider some lowly peasant might be right about something – if they even look at it at all. Even when that person specifically asked for input from my team, then I took it upon myself to gather everyone’s opinions, solicit feedback on my own suggestions, and compile all of that into an easily-digested format with concise explanations for the rationale behind each suggestion.

    Ahem. Not that I have a specific example in mind on that last part. I’d say I’m happy to no longer work there, but as I head into month 7 of being unemployed, the shine is well past worn off.

  40. Impending Heat Dome*

    The saying goes, “A people hire other A people, and B people hire C people,” because B people don’t want to be challenged or proven wrong.

    I credit LW with wanting to be an A person, even if it’s an uncomfortable process. In the long run, fixing the issues that Jane is finding is going to make all their work so much more effective! Hopefully LW can emphasize that these are growing pains, and that it’s not a criticism of anyone’s work (…even if it kinda is…), but it’s about how nobody can know everything or be great at everything. Having a Jane there to find “opportunities” (cough) to fill in those holes is a good thing. And hopefully there is leadership buy-in to actually address those issues.

  41. RAM*

    Having been on the other side.. I’ll throw in another perspective. My company hired a Jane to tell us what was broken. She brought up completely fair things, but I completely resented it. Everything she told me about the processes being wrong, I was already aware of. We had gone through some major understaffing in our department (at one point we had 3 people to do a team of 15 people’s jobs), so yes, we had let go of many standards in an effort to keep the lights on. While nobody was directly blaming me, it certainly felt like it. I knew things that could use some reworking, and I was getting there, and this felt like a slap in the face. I took the first job out, and quit 2 months after Jane started.

    What would have helped was bringing me into the process and asking ME where I thought the top priorities lay, instead of bringing in an outside party to tell me what I already knew.

  42. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    Thank you for addressing this and for such a well crafted response to Jane’s manager. I too am a problem-finder like Jane and fairly new to my organization; I’m really detail oriented so I find issues just doing my normal daily processes, but it is tough having to keep bringing these issues forward without being seen as the snitch or interpreted as getting others “in trouble.”

  43. Uti*

    I think it’s important for Jane to not continue being the sole Quality Manager at this organisation. I would ask for her input on what to do, but then bring in resources and focus for quality management and next steps.

    Right now it sounds like everything is on her shoulders and you are mostly looking into how to not be defensive, but I think it’s even as importante for Jane to see you being active in catching these things as an organisation and put resources to it, so she can focus on her job and not continue being a kind of whistleblower. Or maybe she likes the role and could get an official title + salary to it.

  44. ariel*

    Gosh I’m curious about how this all turned out. Hope the LW and Jane were able to make Jane’s job less of a battle and more collaborative.

  45. Elbe*

    “It embarrasses me that I resent her for so quickly seeing things that no one else saw or thought about or cared to check.”

    I agree with the advice that the LW needs to get to the root cause of why these issues happened. It could be that there were outside factors, like cutting corners due to understaffing until someone could be hired. Or letting some things slip a little while putting out other fires.

    But if there aren’t any major outside factors, the issue could very well be that the current team is not able to perform at the level that the organization needs. And, based on the letter, I feel like this is perhaps likely in this scenario. It’s one thing for people to flag issues, but not have the resources to fix them. It’s something else entirely for them to be entirely missed, as the LW describes.

    It’s great that Jane is flagging and fixing all of these issues now, but if the other employees are not able to do their own work better moving forward, more issues will just come up later. The LW may want to involve some of the other employees in this clean up effort. This way, they can learn from Jane and also the LW could get a better sense for if they will be able to see these issues on their own in the future.

  46. FormerNonProfiteer*

    This letter really resonated with me as someone who I think was a ‘Jane’ at a very small nonprofit. When I tried to bring up issues that I felt needed to be more efficient or that were affecting the organization, I repeatedly felt like I was shut down. The board members did what they wanted to do without consulting me or treating my input seriously. I was labeled as too ‘unfriendly’ in my tone with the board members and made to feel like I was stepping on too many toes. In the last couple of months before I left, I was put on the early stages of a PIP, most of which was related to tone policing and other unactionable feedback (there were no specific metrics, only vague statements like ‘Make meetings better’).
    I’m still processing what happened and have currently stepped away from nonprofits as I sort out how I feel about my experience–I left in September, so it has already been a few months, but this is tough to work through. I genuinely felt like a failure from it. But maybe the real issue was that I was a Jane. Worth noting that my replacement does not appear to be a ‘Jane’ at all, and I think that’s how the board prefers it, unfortunately.

  47. Laika Rollingstone*

    I was Jane. I was hired for a brand new role because they knew they were lacking in my area of expertise. I identified all the things that weren’t being done because there was no one to do them before and started building out changes to close the gaps. I was let go less than a year in for “not being a good fit” without ever receiving any feedback. I wasn’t surprised as I could feel my boss’s defensiveness growing and his enthusiasm for changes waning. I learned a lot…and was thrilled to return to my previous employer who values continuous improvement. If you hire people to fill a gap, let them fill the gap.

  48. JaneDough(not)*

    LW, you get gold stars for acknowledging how difficult this feels and for knowing that there’s a different way to handle it. That’s more than half the battle.

    Best wishes as you push yourself to try something new, and then grow, and then have more success at work from growing, and then have the pleasure and satisfaction of knowing that you pushed yourself to try something new despite the difficult feelings. (Which most, if not virtually all, of us would have in this situation, btw.)

  49. Jenn*

    There are 2 issues here, (1) the content of what Jane is pointing out and (2) the emotions. For (1): great, you’re getting feedback, insight, and ideas for course corrections. For (2): people feeling threatened get defensive, and it escalates with repetition, so try getting Jane’s feedback in batches or focus areas and cut back on the number of times. Should allow staff to manage emotions and focus on the content

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