I wrote to you last year, “Snake Handling Not in Job Description“. You tendered good advice. Since then, the agency has ruptured. Tragically, one Animal Control Officer committed suicide as a result of the toxic culture, gossip and loose lips at work. Last August, the Field Supervisor resigned. Six weeks ago, the Division Manager (my boss) resigned after having a mental and physical meltdown. I’m next. The “snake” is still there.
I am the Shelter Supervisor and also acted as the Field Supervisor for 8 months during the vacancy, with no additional compensation. My annual review stated that my performance was exemplary. After the first round of interviews did not produce a quality candidate for the Field Supervisor position, the decision was made to re-open recruitment. That round, I applied. Then the Division Manager resigned. As a by-product of her gradual meltdown, I had been working far beyond the scope of my job description in an attempt to “cover” her shortfalls. I had nearly complete autonomy in procedural decisions regarding the Shelter. It was assumed by most that I would act as the Interim Division Manager.
I digress to the economic crises and budget shortfalls. I was told the City Counsel listed four high level management positions that were to be dissolved. One of the positions was a Senior Management Analyst that has very close ties with the City Manager. She was put in place as the Acting Division Manager, (nearly $10,000 annual salary increase) despite the fact that she doesn’t know sit from sick’em about animals or shelter operations. I am concerned that she immediately perceived me as an obstacle to her efforts to permanently secure the position. I understand that, as she has a brief opportunity to prove her abilities. She is highly educated, well connected, and possesses political and public administration savvy.
During a candid meeting, shortly after her installation, I expressed frustrations that I had been filling both positions with no salary adjustment for eight months, and was unable to perform both positions at maximum effectiveness. The remedy I sought was a Lead designee for kennel and field, to lighten my workload. This would have involved a 5% salary increase for me and each Lead designee, while continuing to save the vacant Field Supervisor salary.
Flash back to the Field Supervisor recruitment. Selection was put on hold to allow the permanent Division Manager to be involved in the selection process. Rather than allow me to continue as the interim, she selected an Animal Control Officer as the interim, (nearly $10,000 annual salary increase) removing my inherent advantage for selection. He has no college education and virtually no supervisory experience, but he is a great guy. Additionally, this created a severe shortage for the field staff, so she brought in an unqualified crony from another city that has a sordid HR history. It scares me that she fought upper management to place him and she won. Rumor says he is desperate for a job after being terminated from his previous job and is seeking upper mgmt. Why is he willing to accept a part time temporary position chasing dogs? She told me that I was very likely to be selected for the permanent position, but there was no qualified staff to backfill my position. Historically, I was given authority as next in charge in the Division Manager’s absence. It was given to the Acting Field Supervisor this time, with the explanation that he has not had the opportunity and may not in the future. Truth or smoke?
I had intended to seek the Division Manager position, but after falling a few rungs down the ladder during her tenure, I felt it was pointless for me to enter the competition for her position.
I mentioned that she has no experience in Animal Services. She also has no history of the inherent and ongoing conflicts, or the battles fought and won. An example would be the Shelter’s relationship with our Veterinarian. It is a contract for services wrought with conflicts of interest. The Veterinarians’ desire is to make money by providing services to shelter animals. The Shelter’s desire is to provide a minimum standard of care at an affordable price to satisfy California Animal Law. I have walked this tightrope. Historically, the Veterinarian is to provide a daily check of the population, and “necessary treatment” which translates to freedom from discomfort during the legal holding period. Now, the Vet has a naive ear to gain a larger role. Again, I understand that it’s a “dog eat dog” environment, but my performance is based on “live release” statistics and budget. Live release involves selecting the most desirable animals for adoption or rescue and culling the rest as quickly as possible. Now I’m being told by the Veterinarian how to manage the kennel population. I am moderately educated. Five years of college, AA, AS. No BS, MS or Ph.D. I am however a “subject matter expert”. The Acting Division Manager stated “I have eight years post graduate education and the Dr. has more…She is very busy and doesn’t have time… You need to accommodate her on her schedule…” I fear the result will be that I am way over budget for veterinary services, my adoption/rescue statistics will decline, and I will be forced to euthanize healthy adoptable animals to make room for animals that are receiving treatment.
Another example would be “the snake”. She too has seized the opportunity to create havoc. She has resurrected the fight against supervision that I thought had been fought and won. After sitting in on a staff meeting, the Acting Division Manager instructed me to address each of their concerns via email (evidence mail). If you were to refer back to my original “snake handling” request, the concerns are the same.
Now, to personalities. She is, as I mentioned, highly educated and savvy. She is well poised and composed. She has a pleasant personality and humor. I typically do as well; however, the events that have occurred during the last year have me disheveled. Metaphorically, she would be an intelligent, stoic Borzoi; I would be a highly trained Jack Russell/Pit Bull mix. Constant composure is not a natural ability for me. I speak too freely and apparently don’t play the game well. My feelings get hurt. I espouse. She met me at my wit’s end, as compared to my normal operating demeanor.
I am concerned that she is inadvertently or intentionally providing somewhat negative feedback to the Department Head regarding my performance. She has assured me that I was on the “A” list with the Department Head and Assistant City Manager. She sought my opinions and feedback and now I fear I said too much. I fear I have sorely disappointed her.
Here’s where I beg your help…
Is there a Management Coach Service available that would allow me to routinely seek advice as to how to handle these situations before I open my big mouth?
Is it typical for subordinates to be allowed to take control of a meeting and sabotage a supervisor? Does that constitute hostile work environment?
Do I have any claim that I was overlooked for two positions where I met the minimum qualifications and two people were selected that did not?
I mentioned that I feel I have not lived up to the expectations of the Acting Division Manager. Her words and her actions do not match. Do I ask? I fear I would get the canned response to keep me trudging along.
Is it unacceptable for me to be open and honest? Too familiar?
In summary, I feel I am a high performing, quality employee that is lacking management/political savvy and finesse necessary of upper level management. I fear it will inhibit my chances for advancement. I failed to impress. I’m told I am defensive. I am. How do I survive the current crises and where do I go for immediate help with personal growth?
Thank you in advance for your efforts,
Animal Control Supervisor
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear Animal Control Supervisor,
First, I’m sorry that your efforts to remove the snake from my last response didn’t pan out, but it sounds like other issues in the department took the attention from her.
You are in an understandable position of frustration. You are a rational professional who is trying to manage her career in the midst of extreme conditions. However, that may not be enough in this case.
Let’s step back and look at the situation from the perspective of your acting superior for a moment. She was called into a meltdown situation (one suicide, stress-related resignations, etc.). I’m guessing she views her role as something akin to a “new sheriff in town” who is called in to restore law and order. As such, she will probably be suspect of any and all existing staff (yourself included). Even you admitted that her first impressions caught you at a low point. So what you are interpreting as cronyism, she’s viewing as housecleaning.
The wait you are experiencing to get your desired position and pay raise may be due to a couple of different possibilities. The new sheriff may be playing a waiting game to see if you have the stamina to survive before rewarding you. She’s gauging you for herself to see what you’re made of. The more likely scenario is that she views you as tainted goods left over from a bad situation and is dangling the promises out there long enough for her to find your replacement. Based on your letter, it sounds like the political credibility is on her side.
While I normally encourage people to put up a good fight when they believe in themselves and in their cause, I might recommend you update your resume and get as far away from this situation as possible (i.e., different governing body and jurisdiction). In recruiting, there are companies and projects known simply as “resume stains” because of their negative reputation. It’s probably best that you manage your career before this toxic environment becomes a resume stain for you. Besides, it’s always better for the career and the psyche if you leave on your terms rather than on theirs. If you can swing it financially, give yourself a break between employment opportunities just to allow yourself to emotionally, physically, and mentally regroup.
To get to your other questions:
Yes, there are professional coaching services available on everything from day-to-day perception management to communication to career counseling. I always recommend having a mentor, whether it is somebody you have to pay or whether it is done out of friendship.
Normal behavior under normal circumstances does not allow for overt sabotage in the workplace. I have encouraged covert sabotage before when an incompetent colleague needs to be exposed for what s/he is. Unfortunately for you, proving hostile work environment may be challenging.
You may have something to your claim of being overlooked for two positions. If you were backfilled by people who are not protected classes (age, race, gender), you may have a legal claim, in which case contacting an attorney would be in order. Since you work for a government agency, the last thing any of them wants is to be on the front page of the paper for a discrimination suit.
You probably will get a canned response if you ask about your performance and/or your advancement. As I mentioned earlier, she’s playing a waiting game with you… an emotional cat-and-mouse, if you will.
It is possible to be too open and honest. I recently provided very candid feedback to somebody in my life, and he took it very defensively. However, given his aversion to personal accountability, I expected it. My reasons for being open was because I wanted a written record of my perceptions of his performance (I cc-ed in a couple of critical stakeholders). There are times when I play my cards very carefully and dole out information on a need-to-know basis. Before you open your mouth to speak or hit SEND on the email, ask yourself this: What are the ramifications of what I’m about to communicate? How might it be perceived? How can this come back to bite me? If you can answer those three questions and remain OK with the responses, then communicating openly might be a good course of action.
I hope this helps. Again, I’m sorry you are having to endure so much in the workplace. Based on this letter and on your previous one, it does sound like you work in a breeding ground for toxic behavior, and I would venture to guess the animals are better behaved.
I do wish you well in your decisions.
Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.com.
Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant
Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.
An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.