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.
Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. My employees keep going to their old boss instead of coming to me
The person who formerly held my position was promoted and works right down the hall from me and the three people I supervise. Rather than come to me, the people I supervise go to their former manager with problems and questions. If she tells them something, they will do it, even if I say something different.
I have been here almost two years now and this has gotten very irritating. What do I do?
You have to manage. This has gone on two years too long.
Tell your employees that they need to stop going to the old manager with problems and questions and to come to you before taking assignments from her, effective immediately. And then you need to create consequences if they continue. The first consequence might be a serious conversation about why they're disregarding your instructions, the second might be a more serious conversation ("I'm concerned that this is continuing, and it's becoming a serious problem that could affect your job here"), and the third might be a final warning that if they aren't able to work with you as their manager, you will replace them. And then you'd really need to follow through--if this staff can't see you as their manager, you need to replace them with a staff who does.
You should also talk to the old manager and tell her clearly to send them back to you when they come to her, and not to assign them work rather than going through you.
Also, make sure you do some soul-searching to see if your own behavior has played any role here--are you as able to help with their questions as she is? Do you delegate as well as she does? Are you accessible? If not, that's something to work on too.
2. My boss is hostile to another department
Another department in my organization has had a bad rep over the last few years. They've gotten a lot sorted out in the last 18 months and have a good vision of where their program is going now. My department is fundraising, so we need to understand our organization's programs to be effective at raising money for them.
My boss and others managers on my team approach any interaction with the other department with skepticism and veiled hostility, as a result of the previous years of bad communication. My boss also has a loud personality, including, often, an aggressive tone in meetings. In a recent meeting with the other department, he was pushy and confrontational in asking questions about their structure and programs. You could see the other people visibly tensing up and getting defensive. I know this other department has presented on their new structure before and none of this should have been new to my supervisor. It's like he ignored the last nine months of meetings and updates from this department. I think that at times he's confusing being direct with being a jerk. Since this other department needs us to fundraise for them, it's an imbalance in power where they have to play nice and take all of his aggression, and he and the other managers can be as big of jerks as they like.
I get along pretty well with my boss. But this attitude towards the other department is coming across as unprofessional to me and others in our department. In the future, how can I help make these interdepartment meetings more productive and not get overrun with patronizing hostility?
I think your best opportunity here might be behind the scenes: Talk to your boss about the changes that you've seen in that department and how differently they're operating now than they used to (assuming you think that's true). Try nudging him toward a different viewpoint on that department than he currently has.
But beyond that, this probably isn't your battle to fight. The head of the other department should be tackling it head-on if your boss is crossing a line--and your boss's boss should be picking up on his attitude toward the other department and addressing it forthrightly as well. There's only so much you can do as someone working for this manager.
3. When should I call references?
I am a relatively new manager working at a public agency and am now looking to hire a new person to assist me. My question is about hiring practices and how to avoid opening your agency up to liability while also getting the information you need to make a good choice.
Specifically, when is the right time to call references? Can this be done when you still have a large pool of applicants, or does this have to wait until after you have narrowed the field and held interviews? If you call one person's references, do you have to call every person's references? What if they list a company they worked for and you know someone there that is not listed as a reference, is it OK to call your contact and ask their impression of the applicant?
Wait to call references until you've finished your interview process. At that point, you should have one or two candidates you think you'd like to hire, and that's when you call references. You can call them just for your one top finalist, or if you have a couple of people you're having trouble deciding between then you can call references for each of them to help you make your decision. But there's no point in calling references before that point--it would be a waste of your time, and a waste of the references' time (and thus rude to your candidates, who are having their references called prematurely).
And it's fine to call people they've worked with who aren't on their official reference list, but you should never do that if the contact is at their current employer, since that could jeopardize their current job.
4. Can I apply for a position "for new grads" even though I'm more experienced?
I had been working on the West Coast and moved to the East Coast because of my husband's job a year ago. I started my job search three months back. I have a degree in engineering and am looking for technical jobs. Recently, I saw a job position that mentioned the job type as "new grad non-co-op." I understand that this is a full-time opportunity. Can I, an experienced professional, apply for this job? I really like the job description and it will be a very good start. Are the new grad-type jobs meant only for new graduates or can experienced professionals also apply? Why does the job description specify the job type as new grad?
Well, they've pretty clearly stated the profile of who they're looking for, and you're probably not it. Their wording tells you that the level of work and responsibility is lower than what you're used to and qualified for, and that they're planning to pay far lower than what you, with more experience, would normally expect. It's not impossible that they'd be willing to hire someone with significantly more experience, but it's going to be an uphill battle.
5. Paying internal hires less than external hires
I am a hiring manager who has recently had a bit of trouble with our HR department about the compensation rate for a role. I think the role should be compensated at the rate that we compensate others in roles of the same responsibility/experience.
The going rate for this role is higher than the internal rate. If I promote someone internally, HR will want to compensate the person at the internal rate, but they seem to be fine with paying an external person more--a lot more--for the same experience. In my mind, I think that is a disservice to my staff. Is this a normal practice or is it fair that I bring it up and push for the market rate for this person?
It's not uncommon at all, but it's a horrible practice and you should push back against it as strongly as you can. Point out that this practice will only encourage your best staff--the ones who are getting promoted--to leave the organization in order to earn a fair market rate for their work, and that's exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve. If you want to retain your best people, you can't offer them salaries that penalize them for already working for you.
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