A manager writes:

I was at a meeting where my boss said something I knew to be untrue when reporting to her boss about the status of a project to centralize the order supply process. When her boss asked about staff experience with it, she let him know only the positives, not the serious problems I had reported to her the week before.

Not only am I concerned that she lied, but I now feel pressured to support the lie. What would have happened if her boss had asked me to describe my staff’s support? I also wonder if she doesn’t care about the consequences of the problems continuing.

Should I have mentioned something at the meeting?

Answer

Integrity is important in an organization’s value system. I also appreciate that you are aware of the dynamics of levels of management and the importance of trust in the relationships between you and your boss, and you and your team.

You are in a very tricky situation as it is risky to contradict your boss in the presence of others, especially her boss. It is better to first deal with your boss, alone, to make sure you have the whole picture. If you had then been asked directly for your opinion of your staff’s feedback you could have deferred by saying you are closely monitoring the situation and following up on any concerns.

It is important to follow-up with your boss as soon as possible after that meeting. In preparation, I suggest that you consider three self-reflection questions, and then I have a suggestion.
  • Ask yourself if you are jumping to the conclusion that your boss is lying (strong word!). Do you know enough about any previous or follow-up discussions that your boss may have had or will have with hers? There may be background to this particular meeting that affected what your boss decided to share.
  • Review how you have communicated your concerns to your boss. Have you been as clear in describing your staff’s feedback, and the consequences of the problems they are experiencing?
  • Have you asked for your boss’s agreement that the problems you described are important? Have you put forward solutions to the problems and sought her support for those?
If upon self-reflection you feel that there is more you could do, clarify your concerns about the ordering process with your boss:
  • Send a short memo and refer to your message as an update on the concerns you have previously shared. (Doing so, documents that you have shared the concerns. If you can, be specific regarding the date and circumstances under which you shared these; i.e. ‘at our monthly check-in last week’).
  • State any actions that you feel need to be taken, or potential consequences if things are left as they are.
  • At the end of the memo, mention that you will follow-up in person at your next meeting, or sooner if the matter is urgent, to confirm your shared understanding of the problem and next steps to be taken.
If you feel that you have already taken all the appropriate means to communicate your concerns, and had heard from your boss that they were important, your next step is to make sure effort will be made to correct the problems.
  • Ask for a meeting to debrief from the previous meeting with your boss’s boss
  • State your concern; e.g., ‘I am confused that when your boss asked about the ordering experience, you didn’t include the problems my staff had communicated. Are we still on track to deal with these?’
  • Look for confirmation of the corrective actions. Your boss may also share why she chose to not say anything about the problems at the meeting with her boss.
  • If her behaviour fits a pattern where she tends to ‘hide’ problems from her boss, especially when it is detrimental to you solving your staff’s problems, be sure to document all communication with her. Also, communicate your staff’s feedback when it can be shared with others, where possible; for example, during discussions at management team meetings.
Over to other managers, would you say something at the meeting or hold back?
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