Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I work as a web developer on a small team of four people, and we often collaborate on projects. It was just three of us for a while, and we recently hired a fourth person. He was hired primarily as a back-end developer, but also to do front-end work (mainly HTML and CSS) when we need him to.
The problem? His HTML and CSS work are terrible. This is his first "real" job out of college, so I understand that he has some catching up to do as far as honing his skills (as well as how he conducts himself in the office, but that's another story entirely), but I don't think that excuses his lack of front-end coding skill if that was part of his job description. I'm currently trying to jump in to help develop one of his projects, and I've wasted the past two hours trying to pick apart his code into something I can use. My other co-worker has met the same frustrations when trying to use this person's code.
My boss doesn't often deal with this employee's code, so I'm not sure he knows how bad it is. It took us a long time to find someone to fill this position, so I think my boss is just glad to have a back-end developer here at all. As new employees, we are supposed to have three-month reviews with our boss to discuss our progress, but this employee was even let off the hook for his review.
Should I go to my boss with my concerns and frustrations, and if so, is there a professional way to do it that doesn't sound like I'm "tattling"? My other co-worker and I are incredibly frustrated by having to deal with the bad code, and wasting so much time trying to decipher it before we can do our own work. It makes it very hard to do our jobs when we have to spend hours cleaning up someone else's code before we can add our own.
Alison Green responds:
Assuming you have even a halfway decent manager, this is something he'd want to know about. And frankly, even if he's not a halfway decent manager, he still needs to know about this, because (a) it's a problem affecting your work and (b) it's his job to do something about it.
You're concerned about tattling, but that's a concept that doesn't really apply here. You're not reporting that your co-worker was five minutes late or is making a lot of personal calls or complained about your boss behind his back -- you're raising a significant work issue that's getting in the way of your being able to your job. That's not tattling. That's surfacing a problem that needs to be solved.
Go talk to your boss and say something like this: "I'm concerned about the coding work Bob has done for projects X, Y, and Z. What I'm seeing is _____, and the impact that's having is __________." That second spot might be filled in with the amount of time you're spending fixing his work, delayed projects, or so forth.
This should trigger your boss to take a closer look at your co-worker's work. But if your boss is a bad manager, it's possible that he'll try to avoid dealing with the problem, by excusing the problem as just being the result of Bob's being new, or telling you to just keep helping him, or making vague noises about doing something about it and then not actually doing anything. If that happens, then you need to go back to your boss. This time, frame it as asking for advice. For instance: "I'm not able to move forward on project X because of the number of errors in the code I received from Bob. How would you like me to handle it?"
There's one other thing you might try if you're willing, and that's talking to Bob directly. It sounds like he's not getting a lot of feedback from your boss. Are you willing to give him some? You might be doing him a real favor by mentoring him a bit and seeing if that makes a difference. If he doesn't have the skills, then he doesn't have the skills -- but sometimes people need to clearly hear about how their work could be better in order to realize it's something they need to focus on fixing. And that's especially true when someone is right out of school and isn't used to doing professional work at professional standards.
But you should be keeping your boss in the loop, either way. This is something that he's responsible for handling.
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