The Hazards of Being Dependable

by Evil HR Lady on October 15, 2009

I am a production manager at a trade org/not for profit.

I love my boss, who is a great guy, but not the best manager. As long as things get done, he’s satisfied, but procedures and work flows have suffered.

About 80% of all projects cross my desk. I can get anything done and I pride myself on being very capable. The problem is no one sees me as a manager or leader, just another worker bee.

My boss has often praised me and told me he’d fight for me. But it’s been 2 years since my last raise and I’m getting very unhappy about my role and my compensation.

The raise (or the lack thereof) is a red herring. Yes, it’s a problem (and here is where lots of people jump in to say, I don’t even have a job, let alone a raise!), but it’s not THE problem.

There may be many problems, so I’ll suggest a few.

PROBLEM A: You aren’t good management material. Ouch, I know. But consider the possibility. Some people are fabulous individual contributors, but lousy managers. Your boss may see that you can and do get anything done that he asks of you, but also sees that you lack the skills to manage others.

Many people are surprised that being good at a job doesn’t automatically make you good at being the boss. They are entirely different skill sets. If you look at senior leadership outside hires, they sometimes come from different industries altogether. This is because the skills needed to manage aren’t those needed to make the product.

SOLUTION A: Sit down with your boss and express your desire to move into a management role. Explain that you feel you may be lacking a few skills and want to develop those. Ask for advice, mentoring, training, etc. Just because you don’t have good management skills now, doesn’t mean you can’t gain them.

PROBLEM B: There’s nowhere to go from here. You didn’t say your non-profit was small, but in my mind I always think small when I hear non-profit. (And yes, I know there are some large non-profits, but humor me.) You may be ready to move into a new role, but there isn’t one for you. Promoting you would require a huge reorganization that wouldn’t benefit the organization–just you.

SOLUTION B: Once upon a time I worked for a Credit Union that had a grand total of 142 employees. There was no one between me and the head of HR. If she left, they would have had to hire from the outside because I was in no way ready for such leadership. But, there was no place to promote me either. So, I looked for another job and found one and left.

I needed more experience before I could fill the position “above” me. You may as well. Leaving is one option. Another option is moving sideways. Gain experience in a different group, preferably one that has room for growth.

PROBLEM C: You are too good at your job. This, unfortunately, happens. Managers can’t figure out how they could possibly function without their star employees and hold them back. They aren’t trying to undermine their careers; they are trying to make their own careers successful.

SOLUTION C: Leave. Or find another department with a position available and post for that. Please note that if this is the problem your manager may still have the ability to prevent your promotion.

If you don’t want to leave (or can’t find a better job), the harder thing to do is work with your manager on this. This can have fantastic results, by the way. You need to be clear that you are looking for management opportunities, but you don’t want to leave him in the lurch. Present a plan for how you will fill the position you want and how you will train your replacement.

This can be scary, though, because we want our managers to think, “I could never get along without Sally.” (Unless of course, your name is Jane and Sally is a huge brown-noser.) The fear is that if you demonstrate that he could get along without you, you might find yourself out of a job. This probably won’t happen, though.

Again, when you start this conversation you need to emphasize that you want to stay with the company, you just want to be in Role X, and you need his help to get there, and you will help him replace you. This is a HUGE benefit to the company. Make sure you show it that way.

PROBLEM D: Your manager is a jerk who will never pay you more money, will never allow you to get promoted and will continue to pile work on you no matter what.

SOLUTION D: Suck it up or leave. Wait it out until he leaves and maybe you’ll get his job, but probably not because if you’ve been there 10 years without a promotion, his management will assume there’s a problem with you.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

m3ggiesue October 15, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Ten bucks says this person is a woman. I think that because of a book I just read, Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office. The problem could simply be a self-promotion issue.

I have no stake in this book whatsoever, and will tell you it suffers from vague coaching tips, but it has provided me a lot of material to consider in how I present myself at work. I'd recommend it to any woman who's wondering why her career isn't going the way she believes she deserves it to: http://www.amazon.com/Nice-Girls-Dont-Corner-Office/dp/0446531324.

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Jennifer Riley October 15, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Dear Evil HR Lady,

Your blog is always the first one I turn to. You are entertaining and always insightful.

This topic, like all others, you gave great advice with multiple options.

Keep up the great work!

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Anonymous October 15, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Dear overly dependable,

You stated that you pride yourself on being able to get anything done. Try applying that train of thought to your current situation. Promotions and raises are not automatic, especially in today’s market.

However, if that does not work, simply ask the boss why you are tasked with 80% of the work and have not gotten a pay raise in 2 years. Down fall of this direct approach is, you may not like what you hear, so be prepared. Good thing about it is, at a minimum you will have some constructive advice to work with in making a decision on what to do next.

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The Touchy Duchess October 16, 2009 at 6:39 pm

This is incredibly blunt, incredibly good advice. I'm in a startlingly similar situation at work and I thank you for helping shed a little objective light. I tend to get emotionally tied up in the companies I work for, so to consider leaving feels disloyal, like hitting the town to check out my options before breaking it off with a current lover. I often need to be reminded that it isn't personal.

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talentedapps October 16, 2009 at 10:25 pm

One thing to consider is that it is easy to be stereotyped. I attempted to talk about this a bit here: http://talentedapps.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/can-they-imagine-you-in-the-role/

- Meg

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Lee October 19, 2009 at 2:16 am

Sorry Evil HR, but I think you missed a key problem / solution.

Problem E) The boss is a nice guy but doesn't realize you need/want a raise.

Solution E) Ask for it. Don't just walk in and ask. Rather, read up on the best way to get more $$$. Check out the book "Get Paid What You're Worth."

Also, in line with the earlier comment about women and the corner office, read the book – Why Men Earn More: And The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap. Both are at Half.com for a few bucks.

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Career4Change October 19, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Evil HR lady.
I am an absolute follower of your blog and love the fact that you offer quite a number of options for this person to think of. Most of the times when there is a 'visibility' problem, people do not take merit for what they do and then, they get surprised to see somebody else doing it (usually a boss or co-worker). I think this person should appreciate more her own net-value and start taking ownership of her/his career to move the job in the direction she wants it to, or look at the other options you wisely offer. It is easier to blame the boss than to ask the tough questions that put 'oneself' in such a situation.
Best success!

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Anonymous November 7, 2009 at 12:00 am

I just want to say spot on with the POSSIBILITY of (A). I'm a dependable, creative, bottom lining mofo of a workhorse. I kicked donkeys and took nombres for years, and finally got my shot at management. I both hated and wasn't very good at it. I didn't suck, I just wasn't good. If you're a star producer, there may be a third path of increased self-direction which is a sort of vertical-lateral move. I have a boss now, but I'm largely left to my own devices and yes, it's true, compensated like I don't need a lot of hand-holding or instruction. Thanks for telling it like it is – I am a fabulous, outstanding worker. I am also a terrific manager of projects, of timelines, of deliverables, of anything which is not people. I don't even lack people skills – I just lack the will to manage. My desire to be promoted was a desire for recognition and compensation. When management turned out not to be the best fit, I turned my brain to figuring out how to make a position which gave me those things without the onerous chore of people management.

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