I got the e-mail below on March 29. Somehow, it didn’t register in my brain so I didn’t respond. Here’s the e-mail:
Hi there – love the blog!
The situation is as follows:
Smart, single, long-time employee at management level evades meetings with, but texts senseless messages at odd hours to, his nominal boss. I say nominal because he loves to deal with the boss’s boss – and go drinking and partying with that guy. The senior manager agrees the guy doesn’t seem to be working much, but wants them all to get along, and give the junior manager more chances. There are lots of strange messages left at the office or at home, when middle is usually available on his cell. This has been going on for a year or so. Middle manager accidentally discovered that junior has quite a debt load, but he is well paid and unencumbered by wife/child/mortgage etc. His erratic behaviour (missed meetings, late arrivals, argumentative and hostile conversations, lack of follow up on business objectives etc.) coupled with the odd finances leads to suspicions about drug use, or maybe gambling. Just where is this money going?
Question: does middle manager wait for junior to implode? Or does he say something to HR? Senior manager will not listen as this is now his favourite drinking buddy and he has never fired anyone, ever (ok, the company has lots of issues, but middle/junior are my focus.) Implosion would get junior out of the company, especially if he started stealing to meet his habit. Middle manager could hire/promote a new person, and start anew.
Great question and oops on my part for not noticing. I e-mailed the author back and asked if she still wanted an answer, since it had been so long. Here is the response:
Timing is everything! Whilst middle waited for junior to implode (and he was working on it) some of junior’s reports staged a coup. They met with HR (in this case, HR is represented by tres cool smart jock type who does not play politics.) They all threatened to quit as they could not deal with the erratic behaviour, and one of them reported a cash stream that mysteriously ballooned after junior handed over the control – to the tune of serious money. In short, middle did not have to go toe-to-toe with the big boss to get this guy fired. They are likely to support him through rehab and hold some sort of job for him, but the stealing is not going to make that easy.
Any comments would be welcomed, as there will be a big post-mortem on this: why it took the line staff to call his bluff etc. when higher-ups could see it, or at least parts of it.
So, that particular problem was solved, but it was solved in entirely the wrong way. Not that Junior’s reports did anything wrong. Good for them–somebody needed to deal with it–but they shouldn’t have to.
Why do higher-ups ignore problems? The same reason I sometimes pretend I don’t notice the offspring eating in the family room. It’s against the rules and she shouldn’t do it, but sometimes I am just too lazy. Of course, managers are also scared. What if they guy freaks out? He’s already proven himself unstable–plus he’s buddy buddy with the head honcho. They are taking a huge risk in doing something.
Of course, it’s exactly situations like this that we pay managers to handle. If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be in management.
As for the big boss–he needs to cultivate a company culture where people can come to him with problems without getting in trouble. The fact that the problem employee was good friends with the big boss shouldn’t insulate him. And, ultimately it didn’t.
The fact that problems got solved by the underlings taking matters into their own hands means that there was a misperception among middle management on how senior management would react.
The first thing I would look at is communication in your company/department. And then a good hard look at culture–is merit what matters, or is it knowing the right person? Are your managers trained to deal with such things or are they promoted because they were good at “doing” and just thrown into managing? (That’s how most companies do it, by the way.
I’m glad junior got help. And I apologize for procastinating. But, hey, why do today what I can put off until tomorrow?