I am in a higher ed environment. We are growing leaps and bounds and even have a new President whom most of my colleagues and I hope will make for a less toxic work circumstance.
The hierarchy is the same here as in most institutions. For my teams purposes, there is the President and then the Vice President for business operations; his assistant VP and then our Director and two assistant directors. There are a couple of long time employees left. Myself at 8 years, my colleague is closer to 20 and then our boss who is probably close to 10. Recently we have had 2 promotions given to folks who have not been here a cumulative of 6 years, and do not possess the experience necessary. We are dealing with millions and millions of dollars, and ultimately accountable to the Dept. of Education. These folks promoted above my colleague and I are dictating work that they themselves do not fully grasp.
My issue is that a couple years back the toxicity was at it’s worst… The director bullied her way into her position by every means at her disposal: lying, manipulating, and removing those who posed a threat. The problem is she removed one of the top 5 best employees from the department. Without reason at all. Our department packs the most serious punch in terms of revenue. The person who was removed from our team was vital to several of the most important populations we serve. Needless to say, those populations have since dwindled, and have been challenged to get what they need. HR does not care because they are protecting business operations for whom the President has just 2 years familiarity with.
My question is: Since our current boss is part of the evil plot to take over the world and her boss is a walking toxic billboard along with his boss; would it ever be appropriate to schedule a meeting with the President to give him the inside scoop? The political side is that you ‘do what you are told’, but the ethical side is that our constituency is decreasing steadily by the lack of knowledge or desire to do what is right by those who are responsible for their recruitment and retention.
Please, I am begging you for help.
Majoring In Disaster
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear Majoring In Disaster,
There are a couple of things we may want to address up front. First of all, my heart goes out for you. Working in a university setting, the office politics can be highly more cut-throat than in the average “cubicle-dwelling organization.” However, even with that being said, we’re going to have to face a fundamental truth: we cannot change the past. We can, however, learn from it to affect the future. What your director did two years ago or even recently probably cannot be undone, so it would be challenging to make that correction.
If I understand you correctly, your management felt threatened by their direct reports, so they removed them, not thinking about the ramifications to the department or to your customers. Now you want to know if you should talk to the President of the University to tell him how evil they are and all they’ve done?
Life after the dust settles…
One thing I encourage my workshop attendees, my clients, and my students alike to do when faced with an office politics conflict is to assess the final outcome. What is the end state that you are seeking and is it realistic? What do things look like after the dust settles? Are you hoping that the President will remove the two mis-performing management staff? Then what will happen next? He’ll promote you and your colleague so you can fix the problems? Or maybe he will outsource the accounting and finance function, and you may lose your jobs. The point is that you cannot predict what the outcome will be by removing the poorly behaving managers.
What’s the goal?
Instead, let’s positively focus on your stated goal. If I understand your letter correctly, you want to improve the service to the neglected customers to regain your market share in that area. So why not make a case to your management and to the president that these populations are not being served as well as they once were, and here are the financial ramifications to your institution because of it. Then present them with 3-5 alternative solutions moving forward about what can be done to address the problem, complete with positive action steps and quantifiable data. In project management terms, we call this a business case. Simply put, you are creating a compelling case for why you want your management to take action on the business issues of addressing this population. It may very well be that the university has decided not to address these populations any longer (for a number of reasons), but that decision never reached you. That, in turn, leaves you scratching your head about seemingly illogical solutions.
Shooting the Messenger
Notice that I have not said anything about addressing the issues of your management with the President. Unless you have at least a casual relationship developed with the president, informing him of others’ bad behavior comes across as nothing short of organizational tattling, and it will probably look worse on you than it does on them. If, on the other hand, you are able to forge a professional relationship with the President, then you will have many more opportunities to bend his ear when it occurs. If your “management expose” becomes his first view of you, it could be politically damaging to you further down the road (again, thinking about the final outcome).
Your safety net?
You may want to be thinking about your next career moves as well. It sounds as though your management may be “cleaning house” to make room for new employees of their choosing. If you are perceived as undermining them, no matter how noble your intentions, you may become next on their target list. If you care about your institution as much as your letter indicates, perhaps you could seek a position in another department away from these two individuals.
I wish you the best!
Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.com
Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant
Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.