Handling complaints about supervisors


July 22, 1991|By Gerald Graham | Gerald Graham,Knight-Ridder

Jim Alley, a vice president, received a note from Eric Davis, an employee, complaining about the unfairness of his department manager. The employee reported to the department manager but chose to go around him and register his complaint with the vice president.

Specifically, the note accused the department manager of showing favoritism to certain people in making job assignments and in nominating people for company recognition awards. The last sentence in the note said, "Please keep this confidential. It could get me into a lot of trouble."

Alley called Davis and told him to talk with his department manager, but Davis refused, saying, "It wouldn't do any good. He just gets mad."

Alley believed in the open-door policy, but he was uncertain about how to handle this issue. Finally, Alley decided to visit with the department manager and talk generally about job assignments and employee recommendations.

Later, Alley also visited with employees in the department, as he did from time to time. However, this time Alley listened closely to see if he could find any evidence for Davis' claim.

Alley felt reassured about his department manager after the visits, and he called Davis and said, "I appreciate receiving your note, but I do not see anything that substantiates your claims. If you are still upset, I suggest that you visit with the department manager."

Even though Alley no doubt thought he had taken care of the issue, in my opinion, he violated three principles of downward intervention.

* Be as open as possible. Downward interventions should be very open. Alley should have shared the complaint with his subordinate manager. Although the employee asked for the issue to remain confidential, Alley should not have agreed to do that.

If the department manager misuses the information that Alley shares, then Alley should confront his department manager about how to handle sensitive information.

* Attack the real problem. The real problem is the relationship between a subordinate and his department head. To improve this, it is necessary to get the two of them together and talk directly about how to improve the relationship.

* Follow chain of command. The department manager should be responsible for managing problems in his department. Alley violated the chain of command and did not even allow the department manager a chance to handle the issue.

Let subordinate managers manage. To do that, they must have information.

Complaints about managers

Indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following:

It is generally effective for higher-level managers to:

1. Allow employees to go around immediate managers to communicate upward.

L 2. Withhold sensitive information from subordinate managers.

3. Assume responsibility for solving a subordinate's problem.

4. Allow subordinates to define what is to be communicated.

5. Check on subordinate managers without their knowledge.

6. Make unannounced visits to subordinate managers' departments.

L 7. Report observations of employees to subordinate managers.

8. Keep some secrets regarding personnel of a subordinate manager.

9. Trust subordinate managers until they prove untrustworthy.

10. Insist that subordinate managers be responsible for their departments.

Interpretation: Although some may disagree, consider the following to be correct: "agree" is 1, 6, 7, 9, and 10; "disagree" is 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8. Nine or 10 correct equals good, 7 or 8 equals average, 6 or less equals below average.

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