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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Office Politics at Play

I am an IS Customer Services Manager of a large Children's Hospital.

I have an issue that I would appreciate your input on. Another IS Staff member, non-management, applied for my position, and did not get the job. I need to work with this Staff member on project related installations. This person does not report directly to me.

This staff member is determined to provide no cooperation, but it is done in a manner of giving the appearance that she is so busy attending to other fires that any request I have is either ignored, or not answered for an unacceptable period of time.

I have spoken with her direct manager, also less than an agreeable 'alliance' type of person.

I have bent over backwards with this staff member, trying praise (for the smallest things), favors when she 'conveniently forgets' she needs one of my resources, utmost cooperation. And, still she is seeking to underhandedly try to make me fail. Well, it won't happen. I have since gone to my VP to advise of the continuing issues and ask for direction.

The latest issue is a project pulled from her and given to me with pretty much no transition. She horded so much information we are now left with an issue of asking for additional funds for required equipment for a project with a 'closed budget'. My initial thought is to make her invisible to me, but, I am then becoming the type of person she is. While I am extremely capable of getting things done, there are some things that are better answered by this Staff member, rather than having to go to Finance, Purchasing, etc., and making IS look stupid. HELP!

First, my deepest apologies for you having to go through all this. Just be grateful she doesn't actually report to you, or it could be worse.

I know, I know, I'm not being helpful or reassuring.

What you have here is a resentful information hoarder. There are some people out there that subscribe to the belief that their value comes in knowing things that non one else knows. If they tell you, they lose their power. This, of course, can be quite frustrating for everyone else. (And not to mention, the world tends to fall apart when this person goes on vacation--which is part of her subconscious plan to show her value.)

I'm going to suggest two ways to go about this. One is through her boss.

When she says, "I can't do that because I'm doing x," just accept that answer from her. Then e-mail (document, document, document) her boss and state, "I need Y and my understanding is that [bitter woman] is the only one who can provide that for me. She, however, is doing x, and is unable to assist. Is there someone else on your team that could possibly help?"

Then go on to explain the project and what help you will be needing in the future. At everyone one of her refusals or delay tactics, respond in the same, calm manner, to her boss. You can cc her on the e-mails so you know her boss knows.

Now, you also have a problem with her manager, a "less than agreeable" type as well. Even less than agreeable types get fed up with constantly having to defend poor workers.

Now this method can either work, in the sense that manager will finally crack down on his annoying employee, or it will fail miserably, as both of them will grow to resent you even more!

Aren't you glad you sent me this question? Ruining your life even further in three easy steps!

My second option is to realize that she's not going away and she's not going to get over her anger at not getting your job. In this method, you just become realistic about your expectations. You are going to have to reach out to finance, purchasing, etc.

You ask [bitter woman] (via e-mail) for information on x. She responds, "I can't do that. I'm busy doing z." You take that e-mail and forward it to purchasing, "I am so sorry to bother you, but [bitter woman] is swamped. Can you help me with X?"

Gradually, you'll begin to gain the knowledge that this woman is hoarding (and you get your staff to gain it as well), and you'll develop good relationships with other departments. Thank them profusely for all their help. Send over a box of chocolates now and then.

"Purchasing Department--I'm so sorry to have bothered you for so many questions, but you've been so helpful and responsive. We couldn't have finished this project without your help." Attach that to a large box of chocolates and send it over. Trust me when I say they won't care that you are bothering them. They have food. (It's amazing how people that complain, complain, complain about how little they are paid will make the world move for some free chocolate or pizza.)

The end result of this method? Well, you are gradually phasing out your need for [bitter woman]. Keep your VP casually informed. Don't complain or whine about it, just casually mention it. "Boy, [Bitter Woman] must be swamped. She never did get around to providing the necessary information for the project we took over for her. I had to go to purchasing. So, do you have any exciting plans for Thanksgiving?"

Information hoarders are a major annoyance. Angry information hoarders are almost impossible to deal with. Good luck.


Wally Bock said...

As is so often the case, the Evil One has given sage advice. Harken to it. Especially harken to the need for documentation.

One of the really wonderful uses of email is to let people document their own behavior. You could build a case and go to the unhelpful person's boss. But that casts you as the troublemaker. But by sending her emails asking for help, you get her to document her behavior. A thank offering to the Gods of Technology is probably in order, right after you buy Evil some thank-you brownies.

jen_chan, writer said...

Ah, if there were only an easier way of dealing with these types... But first, it would be personally satisfying to gloat on the fact that you got the job she couldn't get. Uh... Of course, this wouldn't help the situation much. But I really like option number 2 better. The best way to go about this is to befriend the other departments and have them on your side. That way, you won't feel quite so defeated when this bitter lady starts acting up again.

Just another HR lady... said...

Ah, I love these problem employees. No one will control them, and they will never leave of their own volition. (which is perhaps what her manager is hoping she'll do??) :-)

If you have no control over her actions (i.e. she doesn't report to you), and you've attempted to speak to her manager without result, then it's up to you to find a way to make things work without her or around her, since you still have to produce results.

There is a reason this person was passed over for the promotion, and I think you can now see why. She was probably angry and bitter long before she didn't get this promotion. Most likely the other departments would prefer to deal with you anyway, so I agree, go about building your own network of information and contacts in a positive way. Eventually "angry and bitter" will be phased out of any important projects/ initiatives, and she will cease to be a wall blocking your way to results.

The only person's actions we can truly change is our own! :-)