May 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm #160499
Last week, someone I know was discussing a problem in their office.
He offered to help on a project that no one else wanted to do, and because he performed so well on that project he has gained a reputation, and now coworkers from outside of his department are asking for his assistance on their projects. However, his boss does not like this (perhaps out of jealousy?), and has been preventing him from working on these projects. While these projects would help with his personal career growth and development, the boss is concerned that his “plate is too full”, and that they will lose him as their employee if he keeps working with other departments.
If you were in this position, what would you do? Would you push to work on these other projects, or stay confined to what your boss asks?
May 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm #160535
First conduct a hyper critical self examination of performance on the current job. Are all assignments completed within schedule to the expected standard? Have there every been any requests to push back the due date on a deliverable because of time demands from outside projects? Have any completed assignments been less than the best because of time demands from other projects? etc. It might help to discuss these questions with a knowledgable neutral observer. If the answer to any of them is yes, than politely decline the additional assignments and focus on the current job. If the answer to all of them is no, than have a more informed conversation with the boss.
May 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm #160533
Are these other projects better suited for the employee? Are they more prestigious?
Basically, if your goal is to get out of your boss and work in another unit, take these outside projects and be willing to deal with consequences (current boss not happy).
If these projects are just side projects that probably won’t lead anywhere, stay focused on the day to day.
Also think of other ways to keep the current boss happy – maybe there’s a win/win.
May 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm #160531
The employee’s position description (PD) is the basis upon which the supervisor assigns work so, the employee should also be certain this project work is appropriate to the PD before deciding whether to press the issue. One must also take a look at the grade level of the project work being performed or requested of the employee. If the supervisor is holding back on assigning projects because these types of assignments are not intended to be “regular and recurring”, then the supervisor is exercising good position management.
May 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm #160529
Always hard to get a real feel for a problem like this without really being able to understand both sides.The plate is too full opinion could be legitimate, I think if the employee really wants to prove that’s not the case he can go to his supervisor with a schedule of what his day usually looks like and what he gets accomplished to prove that he can handle the extra workload.
May 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm #160527
Shouldn’t the focus be on what is ultimately best for your “customer”?
May 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm #160525
As previously noted, there are two sides to this story.
The boss has a responsibility to ensure that his mission/goals are met and clients satisfied. This requires him/her to make assignments and evaluate the performance on those assignments. If the assignments do not fill the subordinate’s day adequately, then the boss can make adjustments to them accordingly. Also, the employees in the other organizations who are asking for help may be underperforming in their jobs and their bosses have asked your boss to have you not help.
The employee has a responsibility to his boss, but also to him/herself. If they’re capable of taking on additional work that makes both themselves and their boss look good to others throughout the organization. Discuss the possibility of incorporating “troubleshooter” into the regular job assignments. Since this involves cross-organizational work, bosses in other units would need to buy in. Ultimately, there’s always the option of moving into another unit/organization/job where the employee can exercise their particular skills.
May 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm #160521
This is clearly the best response yet. Do these project enhance the experience for your customers / stackholders? If so, someone should be doing them. I see too many employees, public and private sector, working as if mindless drones when in fact, we are creative, intelligent beings. We shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture, and getting “stuck” in tasks that we repeat regularly because our boss tells us to or because it was in our original job description without an occasional assessment as to what those tasks accomplish is a barrier to improvement and the ability to adapt to what going on in the world outside your workplace.
If I thought these projects were important and my boss was pushing back on me working on them, I’d take it a level up and see if they are part of the strategic direction and get a second opinion.
May 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm #160523
This depends, is it for the organizations benefit to listen to someone else??? The employee might actually do something great for the organization, rather than doing something good for one “man”.
May 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm #160519
This could lead to a very interesting discussion during your annual performance evaluation.
May 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm #160517
Personally I think that’s the tough part. You have to walk that line carefully but I think your allegiance is to your agency (and public service) to do the right thing and have biggest impact than your direct boss. Thoughts?
May 14, 2012 at 6:31 pm #160515
John van SantenParticipant
I worked for a manager who arbitrarily decided what I was capable and not capable of doing without consulting me in any way on workload. I sympathize.
That said, managers are ultimately responsible for the output of their group as measured in several ways: tangible expectations from customers and superior management structures, perceived expectations about division of labor, turf, and cultural expectations about interagency interactions at superior, peer, and subordinate levels. The “rules of the road” are often unstated and quite differently understood at each of those three levels. It is virtually impossible to critique another organization from limited data such as this, although it is quite easy to contrast the (limited) story with textbook organizational theory and popular management literature – and the situation portrays the supervisor as being pretty bad.
For instance, saying “it is all about the customers” does not give employees independent decision-making choice on how to provide that service without coordination with the rest of the organization. The choice to assist other departments can be contrary to institutional behaviors that seek to deliver consistent interfaces, for example. If the thought is that management “doesn’t care” about customer service, so the employee is “making the right choice,” then it can quickly lead to anarchy as each person decides for themselves what good customer service should look like. The scenario does not, of course, provide sufficient data to draw that conclusion, but suppose it were true – the employee choosing to help others may be right, but the organization itself could be fatally flawed, and such assistance devolves to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic“.
Rather than proscribe a solution, as if there is only one answer for all such situations, the combination of employee motivation, unbiased assessment of performance on supervisor-assigned work, and communication regarding aspirations and ability to multitask seems most likely to lead to an outcome everyone can live with. Ultimately, the employee should conform to the supervisor’s expectations and attempt to influence those expectations, but regardless of those discussions, the employee must be willing do what is expected by management. Otherwise, it will be a tense working environment, trying to use documentation such as PDs and Performance Evaluations to attack and defend each party’s position, and worse, possibly attempting to get the supervisors management to overrule their position. That is almost the definition of dysfunction in the workplace, contrary to the goals of harmonious team efforts to meet common goals and objectives.
It may be that the employee has, indeed, grown to need a different management style and/or freedom to work with management. Perhaps that also means they need to move to greener pastures. It’s funny how a simple hypothetical can end up with a suggestion for a career change as a possible solution – the question as posed did not seem to imply there were major undercurrents that could drag a person into a very different day-to-day reality (but it is true; work itself is a compromise to get along with each other and not get overly upset by the small stuff). Good luck!
May 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm #160513
Maybe the Boss should be publicly thanked for the friends work by the other departments. Maybe this can lead to growth and development for both parties.
July 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm #160511
I’m actually developing a program at EPA that would institutionalize this practice (side projects). We’re calling this program, the Skills Marketplace….so managers can post projects (that would not require more than 20% of an employee’s time to complete) and employees can apply to work on them. Think Google’s 20% time but project driven. The focus is both on enhancing an employee’s career and professional development while at the same time providing an easy way for project managers to draw upon in-house knowledge, skills and expertise to support their projects. Communication between the employee and their supervisor and a shared understanding of expectation is key. An employee still has to accomplish the duties of their current position while taking on the side project. By providing staff with this opportunity to explore their interests and develop their skills, the added benefit is that they will be more engaged and productive in their home office responsibilities.
July 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm #160509
Managers have a budget, and a given number of FTEs. It will very rarely be the circumstance that a case can be made for budgeting more FTEs for their work unit because one of the people assigned to it is busy with work that does not fall under the purview or within the work plan of that unit. Just doesn’t happen.
I’m not going to place the higher value on sticking with the workplan to the sheer neglect of the public interest (which, presumably, that other outside help is in service of), but the manager has to have some realistic sense of what resources are at their disposal at any given moment should the demands on their unit suddenly change. Any planning they do should not have to include “Well, so-and-so might or might not be available to assign to this”. Similarly, whatever outside help this person is providing can easily translate into leaving people in the lurch because their actual job pulled them back. That’s not doing anyoe any favours.
Naturally, all of this will depend on the sort of help being provided and the extent of commitment. I’ve done pro bono “outside gigs” for other agencies, but they involved a day or afternoon, not a week’s unavailability. It also depends on the nature of the work done by the unit, and how predictable the normal demands are, as well as how close to the bone that work unit is resourced.
July 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm #160507
“and now coworkers from outside of his department are asking for his assistance on their projects.”
I think it’s been said several ways, but this is clear cut. You work on what your boss assigns to you.
– Perhaps these requests are not going through proper channels? The co-worker’s boss should ask this guy’s boss for the assistance: “My guy could really use 1/2 a day of mentoring/help from your guy. What do you say?” And if the other department can not occasionally return the favor, then this guy’s boss may be forced to say NO.
– The other department’s staff needs to understand how the project works; they need to maintain it in the future. All assistance needs to be done in a fashion where the resulting project is owned and understood by the other department, not this employee. This boss is wise to be hesitant. His staff should not routinely take on responsibilities that belong to other departments.
July 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm #160505
I would try to identify an advocate, who was a peer (fellow manager) of my Boss, who my Boss respected. I would ask them if they would be willing to, “off the record,” compliment my Boss on allowing me to work on projects that benefit the entire organization and how that makes my Boss look good.
I would also approach my Boss directly and ask them to help me identify and pursue my career goals. I would say to my boss: “I’ve been asked to work on several projects with other departments and I’ve enjoyed being of greater service to the organization. I would like to continue to grow my skills and experience, while continuing to make you and this department look good. What are your ideas for the best way to do that?”
Lastly, I would speak to my HR Director and communicate the same comments and questions I spoke with my Boss about and ask HR what internal opportunities were available or forthcoming, that might provide me with a chance to broaden my experience and maximize my value within the organization.
July 25, 2012 at 2:33 am #160503
David B. GrinbergParticipant
I think the answer can be simplified this way, Allison: an employee should abide by the wishes of his/her supervisor/manager/boss unless the requested project/task involves something illegal, immoral, unethical, or just plain stupid. Remember, whomever you report to has a considerable influence on your work and career — such as performance appraisals and work assigned, for starters. Thus, I believe it’s best to tred lightly on such matters.
July 25, 2012 at 2:36 am #160501
David B. GrinbergParticipant
Nicely put, Diana!
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