Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. I'm a new CEO -- how can I avoid criticizing my predecessor?
I joined an established nonprofit as CEO about 18 months ago. The former director was accomplished in many areas, giving the agency the appearance of success and stability (programs were successful, but not so fiscally). After starting, I learned that the agency was not engaged in fundraising, and its methods for raising income were no longer viable. I also learned the finance staff were only marginally knowledgeable about nonprofit finances, and the board was only marginally knowledgeable about the state of the agency's financial affairs. Very little infrastructure was in place for an agency with an almost $2 million budget.
Long story short, I am in the process of rebuilding our board of directors and our finance team while starting a fundraising program from scratch. The transition year while I have been learning how deep the problems are has been particularly awful. We are now in the process of turning around this huge ship, but it is not easy.
We have a truly great team. They are aware that we are in a financial bind right now, and morale is low. Most of our employees are committed to our mission and are working to help us pull through. However, they are having a hard time reconciling how rosy things looked two years ago with where we are right now. How can I frame our situation without throwing the former management and board under the bus?
Err on the side of transparency. You're right not to want to trash-talk the former management, but you should objectively and factually explain the situation. The basic formula is, "Here's the situation we were in, here's how we got there, and here's how we're moving out of it." If you stick to the facts and don't insert judgments (either in tone or in substance), people will get the information they need and can draw their own conclusions, without feeling like you're trashing anyone or trying to bias them. It's the difference between "the board wasn't paying attention" and "the board didn't realize that X was happening," or between "the finance team was a mess" and "the finance team was great at processing donations but unfortunately didn't realize we needed to do X and Y."
It will also help to put the biggest emphasis on the "here's how we're moving forward and regaining stability" part.
If you try to dance around it, it's much more likely to come across as if you're being shady or hiding something. Plus, people are going to draw conclusions about what happened whether you tell them or not, and it's much better for them to have accurate information when they do that.
2. Performance evaluation left on the office printer
My boss was working on my annual performance evaluation and printed a copy for her records to a community printer. The problem is, she didn't go pick it up. She printed it late Friday afternoon, and it sat there all weekend until Monday morning, when a fellow co-worker brought it to me, thinking I had printed it. When my boss arrived, she asked me if I "found something" on the printer. I replied, "You mean my evaluation?" She said yes, and I gave it to her and explained I did not find it but it was brought to me and that I was unhappy because half the office would have read it. She took it, said sorry, and walked away. No one would admit it, but I am pretty sure half the office did read it, with the other half being told about it.
I am very upset, and I feel the situation calls for more than a shrug and insincere sorry from my boss. How would you handle this, both from my perspective and my boss's? My evaluation was positive, which helps the situation a little, but I still feel ... violated, I guess, is the best word.
It sounds like she was a little cavalier about it, and I agree she should have sounded like she took it more seriously. But other than a more serious-sounding apology ("Oh, my goodness -- I hadn't intended to do that; I'm so sorry about that"), there's not really more that she could do. She made a mistake, she should take it seriously and let you know she regrets it, but it wouldn't make sense for her to zap everyone's memories or give you a bigger raise or anything like that.
That said, I can understand why you're weirded out; this is a document dissecting your performance that wasn't intended for anyone but you and your boss to see. Hopefully, any co-workers who saw it didn't stand there and study it, and if they did, they're really at fault for doing that.
3. Mediocre employee wants me to accommodate her school schedule
One of my direct reports, Jane, told me that she recently made the decision to go back to school and get a business degree. I was excited for her. Then she told me that because of the classes that she signed up for and the campus that she decided on (45 minutes away), she needed me to change her schedule to an hour and a half earlier. My heart sank. We have set schedules to maintain coverage, and the shifts are based on seniority. Not only do we not have a slot on an earlier schedule, but she doesn't have the seniority to be moved to an earlier slot if one were to open.
I explained this and she got upset, stating that we've made accommodations for others, so why not for her? This isn't entirely true. Other departments have made accommodations for school schedules, but these are for non-phone-based employees (unlike Jane). Also, the one employee who works closely with our department whom we've made serious accommodations for is an outstanding performer. Jane is mediocre at best.
I feel conflicted. I understand the importance of a degree and how frustrating it is to try to overcome the obstacles in the way of a degree. But there's no way that I can make these accommodations while being fair to the rest of the department. I'd have to create a spot on the earlier shift and move her schedule ahead of three people with more seniority (and who are all better performers).
You can support Jane in going back to school, while also holding firm that you can't disadvantage other, better co-workers to accommodate her. Just be straightforward about the situation. For example: "I think it's great that you're going back to school, but I'm not able to change your schedule. I don't have a spot on the earlier shift, and if one opened up, we have three people with more seniority who would be in line for it first. I can't change the promises we've made to them. You're right that other teams have made accommodations for school schedules, but those are employees who don't do phone work. Our schedules are more rigid here, and we can't do that. I understand that that means that you may not be able to stay on here."
And then hold firm. You shouldn't be breaking your own rules and disadvantage others in order to keep on someone you describe as "mediocre at best."
4. I'm worried I'll lose my new job offer during salary verification
I just got a fabulous job offer, but ran into a snag with salary verification from my previous place of employment. My last job was terminated after an acquisition. While I was employed there, I had a considerable shift in responsibilities and workload, due to the chaotic nature of the acquisition, and so I negotiated a higher salary for myself for the rest of the time I was there.
Fast-forward to my newly offered position. I gave the HR recruiter and background verification company my ending salary, only for the results to come back showing my starting salary only, which is a lot lower than what I ended with (almost 30 percent lower). I explained the change in salary and provided my W2s as proof. However, upon speaking to HR at my previous job, I was told that my increase in salary was awarded as a retention bonus, so technically, when I disclosed what I believed was my base salary, I was lying.
What do I do now? I'm afraid this will reflect badly on me, and could result in the new company rescinding its offer.
Explain the situation! "The number they sent you was my starting salary. The number I gave you was my ending salary, like you saw on my W2. When I contacted my old HR department about this, they said that they have my last salary increase recorded as a retention bonus, which is why they gave you that different number. It was never explained to me as a retention bonus; it was presented as salary. So I wanted to clear that up and make sure you know that I gave you the original number in good faith."
Also, boo to employers who ask for past salary information at all, which is none of their business.
5. Can being a podcast guest go in my job application materials?
I was recently a guest on a podcast about my industry. It was an honor to be invited, and I feel that my answers really showcased my skills, work ethic, and understanding of the ins and outs of the industry.
Is there any way to include this in my candidate profile when applying for jobs, be it on a résumé, cover letter, or LinkedIn? Or would it come off as weirdly self-aggrandizing? The podcast episode comes up when I Google my name, so should I just leave it to hiring managers to come across it on their own?
I wouldn't put it on your résumé; it doesn't quite rise to the level of résumé-worthy. But you could add a line in your cover letter linking to it and noting that it's a sample of your approach to issues in your industry like X and Y. (Be aware, though, that most hiring managers aren't likely to take the time to listen to much of it -- listening to a recording takes a lot longer than skimming written materials. But some might, if they're already interested in you.)
If you do mention it, make sure that it's clear that your point is "here's a link to listen to it," not just to mention the fact that you appeared on the show.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.