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Just enough rope to hang herself

Dear Office-Politics,

I work for a small company with only about 20 employees. Recently my boss hired two women who are sisters on a 3/4 time basis, which has been unheard of in our company, both the shift hours and the fact that they are related. The older of the two sisters soon became a problem for us, the younger sister is not an issue.

The older sister quickly established herself as a favorite with the owner. In the few months that she has been there she has tried to take over and make decisions for all departments. The boss gave her a lot of responsibility to start out with, and everyone noticed that she had problems getting her job done. It was her responsibility to make sure that all the departments received their work for the day first thing in the morning. It is often late afternoon by the time it arrives. To add to that she is constantly taking care of personal business and can’t answer the phones or help customers, which is also supposed to be her first responsibility. She is what most companies call the receptionist.

I offered to help handing out the assignments and my boss said no. I no longer complain if no work shows up until late afternoon.

Now, to make matters worse, she has taken over a very high profile new position. I did ask for this position but I expected someone with more seniority to get it, but in case anyone else didn’t want it I thought I would be chosen. I feel that my boss will be very disappointed.

He wants her to take over this new department, do her old duties, and also a manager has announced she is moving on (because of the new girl), so my boss also gave her that department as well. I feel that this new employee lacks time management and organizational skills, does not have the necessary education and qualifications, and will not be able to handle all the added responsibility. I have worked very hard for the last two years to help our company succeed, but the new girl has gotten all this attention which is clearly not warranted from merit or seniority. I loathe when she asks me to help her and try to avoid her.

I do not feel that I can approach my boss as she is his favorite. We are such a small company that we do not have a system for this type of concern to be expressed. I do not want to leave the company, but I feel that the atmosphere has become toxic, so I am not sure what steps to take next.



franke james

Dear Confused,

My quick take on it is that the receptionist has been given just enough rope to hang herself. I can’t see her surviving long. Stand back and observe. Keep your eyes open. Document your observations. Our minds can get very sloppy in recollecting things and it’s amazing the insights you can gain if you keep good notes. Hope this helps… I will send it off to an adviser.

Franke James

Response from Confused:

Thanks for your insightful and fast reply, it has helped tremendously. I will take your advice and I thank you for forwarding my letter.


timothy johnson

Dear Confused,

At first blush, I agree whole-heartedly with Franke’s feedback. You probably will not need to do much to cause this individual’s demise. It sounds like she is on an express train to disaster.

You can, however, help facilitate and expedite the inevitable before it has an irreversible effect on your company. The joy of small companies is that – with so few people around – accountability is heightened pretty quickly.

Ask the boss if you can take on a role of “continuous improvement coordinator” to identify ways to contribute to the bottom line (NOTE: I didn’t say “identify problems” – you want to appeal to the owner’s pocket book). I doubt you’ll have problems finding team members to help you with this.

Then, focus recommendations around specific areas of accountability for this individual. A prime example is the work assignments. The problem statement might read: “Departments are not receiving their work assignments first thing in the morning.” Then document what the consequences are (as it relates to customers and profits… don’t even mention the “twisted sister” in your recommendation… everyone knows she’s responsible). Finally, share a list of recommendations to solve the problem by removing the responsibility far away from the femme fatale (again, don’t just say that you want to take it over; that may come across as too transparent)

The trick here is to keep data separate from emotion. Let the accountability and the results speak for themselves. You merely become the “humble vessel” through which the message is delivered. Bosses may have favorites, but if the data shows that the favorite is not doing her job, it would take really dense boss not to act on it.

One caveat: it does seem odd that the boss
1) hired sisters
2) is protecting an obvious underperformer.

Methinks I smell a bit of nepotism here (family members, family friends, or is there something going on between the boss and one of the sisters?) If this is the case, it will make it even more imperative that you focus your efforts on objective data and also that you tread with caution.

I hope this helps. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Best wishes,

Timothy Johnson, Author

Timothy Johnson is the author of Race Through the Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006) as well as the upcoming GUST – The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007). In addition to writing, consulting and coaching, he teaches MBA classes at Drake University on Project Management, Creativity, and Office Politics.

  1. One Answer to “Just enough rope to hang herself”

  2. The advice you have offered has helped me feel better about the situation at hand — although the co-worker in question has received another promotion, yet again. I do not resent it. I fear that there is nothing I can do about this situation besides trying to ignore it. She has become slightly more competent at her job and with a few more months of learning the problems with workflow should resolve themselves. Thank you for your gracious advice, it has helped tremendously.

    By Feedback from Confused on Feb 9, 2007

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