Lynne Curry: Manager's misdeeds carry great risks

Lynne Curry

Q. One of our senior managers gets away with murder. He's my boss' brother-in-law. Whenever "Patrick" blows it, the rest of us go to our boss, who tells us he'll take care of things, but he doesn't -- unless "taking care" means smoothing things over or paying money to settle problems.

Over the least three years, we've lost many good employees. Some Patrick sexually harassed or simply creeped out. Others got fed up with Patrick's demeaning comments or flagrant drug use despite our company's alleged zero-tolerance policy.

I plan to give our boss a "Patrick goes or I do" ultimatum. Any suggestions?

A. Your boss needs to understand the four risks he takes by letting Patrick remain an untouchable.

Don't count on it staying with the company.

Remind your boss he can't hide secrets like Patrick's behavior without risking the company's reputation. Media giant IAC experienced this when executive Justine Sacco tweeted, "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" to 200 followers. Earlier she tweeted, "I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night," and got away with it despite her high-level public relations position.

Before Sacco landed, the hashtag, HasJustineLanded Yet, became the most popular trending topic on Twitter. Her employer took the hint and fired her.

Add it up for him.

Because fed-up employees generally leave one at a time, your boss may not realize how much he has paid to keep Patrick. Shock your boss out of "things aren't that bad" by calculating the entire cost for him.

Warn him about unintended consequences.

When your boss allows anyone, particularly a senior manager, to violate a policy without consequence, he loses his company's ability to enforce the policy. He can, in fact, anticipate a discrimination lawsuit the minute he terminates an employee racially different than Patrick for drug use.

He further risks widespread cynicism by letting a senior manager slide while enforcing policies against rank-and-file employees.

Let him know the personal hit he takes but don't threaten.

Let your boss realize his continued denial results in others losing respect for him. At the same time, realize your boss' family relations may make him feel his back is against the wall. If you give him an ultimatum, he may fight back and take you up on your offer.

Q. One of our supervisors is just not cutting it and we need to demote him. He's a proud man and a good hand, but he blows it every time he needs to enforce discipline. We can't afford how loose things have gotten. Half the time, he tells his employees he doesn't believe in our policies either, basically telling them they can break the rules. Despite this, the guys can't stand him because he lorded it over them when we promoted him.

A. Before you demote him, have you given him the training or coaching he needs to succeed? Many organizations promote good hands and let them fail. The problems you mentioned, an initial power trip, the lack of disciplinary skills and not realizing he can't send mixed messages, fit many new supervisors.

If true in this case, consider giving him training and a second chance as demoting proud employees generally permanently crashes their morale. If, however, you decide to demote him, follow these guidelines.

Show him respect by discussing the demotion and then listening to everything he has to say.

Let him know you want him to remain with your company because you value him and consider him a good hand. He may feel like a complete failure.

Explain your reasons for demoting him if he asks. If not, don't pour salt into the wound.

Let him know if you'll be maintaining or reducing his pay, or if he'll make more money because he'll regain overtime eligibility. Agree with him on what you and he will tell his former employees. You don't want him shamed.

Finally, be prepared for anger, unexpected questions or your employee losing morale and offering his resignation.


Lynne Curry