My column, Workplace Referee, is designed to help employees and managers gain better insight into each other's point of view (POV). Have a situation you'd like me to address? Please submit it by email here. Don't worry, I'll keep your identity private.

My New Boss Refuses to Help Me

Employee POV: A month ago, my old boss of five years retired. He was replaced by an internal employee from another department. From the day the new guy took over, he has refused to help me. When I ask him a question, he gives me an annoyed look and says, "Really? You can't find that answer for yourself?" After a couple of weeks, I got the message and just stopped asking. However, now it's at the point where my work is suffering because there are things I need from him but I'm afraid to ask. I thought I was on a good career track here, but now I'm thinking it's time I simplify my career goals and find a new employer.

Manager POV: When I took on my new role as manager of the department, the previous leader sat me down and outlined the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. In particular, he mentioned that one employee tends to be needy and that I'd be best served if I encouraged him to start figuring out things for himself. I've been pushing back as advised and it seems to be working. However, he's also been a lot more quiet and moody, which I don't appreciate. I'm thinking about sitting him down and explaining what was shared with me about his previous performance, but I'm not sure that will help. It might just be time for him to move on. I wouldn't be too disappointed if he chose to leave. I know someone from my former department who would do a wonderful job in this role.

Who's at fault?

The person most to blame here is the former boss. If he wasn't happy with the employee's performance, why didn't he address it while he was in charge? Instead, he was a coward and passed the problem off to the new manager. And that manager wrongly chose to come down hard on the employee without explaining why. That said, one thing most employees learn the hard way is when we get a new boss, we essentially get a new job. No two managers lead the same way. This directly affects our ability to do the job. New managers should be treated with care. Make no assumptions things will be done they way they've always been done.

What can both sides learn from this?

In this situation, I would advise each side as follows:

Employee Takeaway: It's not too late to sit down and build a communication strategy with your new boss. Set a meeting and ask for his expectations for the role and how you can judge if you are meeting his expectations. Let him know that you love your job and want to get to a place where he is more than happy with your performance. Clear the air and tell him you understand he wants you to be self-sufficient, that you are working towards that and would appreciate guidance on how you can find the answers you need in a timely manner. Think of it this way: You're a business-of-one selling your services to a new customer. Your goal is to find out what you need to deliver to delight this customer.

Manager Takeaway: You inherited an employee who wasn't meeting expectations and was unfairly led to believe he was doing a good job. You need to sit him down and share what was said about his past performance. I guarantee, as hard as it will be to hear, he will appreciate the honesty. This also puts you in an incredible position to turn the performance of this employee around. One of the most powerful leadership skills you can build is the capacity to get the best out of the people who work for you. Instead of writing him off, why not step up to the challenge and make it your mission to help him become a top performer? Your reputation as a leader will benefit from it. People love to work for managers who make them feel capable and empowered. Loyalty and high productivity will be your reward.

Published on: Mar 1, 2017