I'm an HR manager of a small company. My boss lives on the East Coast. His assistant, who works in the West Coast office with me, is up for her first annual review. I think she seems good and should get a traditional merit increase, but my boss is telling me she's terrible and doesn't deserve a raise.
He hasn't ever given me anything to write her up for, and the only solid criticism I can get out of him is that she, "doesn't anticipate [his] needs." I think he is out of line. What do I tell my employee when she asks why she didn't get a raise? That my boss is unhappy that she is not psychic? I am embarrassed to be in this position.
Stuck in the Middle
Dear Stuck in the Middle,
First of all, you need to clarify the reporting chain. Are you the assistant's boss or is he? Granted he's your boss, so at the very least, he's her boss's boss, but who is her direct manager? As a general rule, you wouldn't be her actual supervisor as HR manager. It's complicated by the fact that you are physically in the same office as the employee and he is not.
Even if he's her manager on paper, you are likely taking on this role in person frequently. This clarification is important because the answer will help you determine the amount of push-back. If you are her supervisor, by all means, you should go to him and say, "Jane reports to me and she's met her goals, and I want her to receive a raise." If you're simply the HR manager, then you can push back, but in an advisory way, " Jane has met her goals and should receive a raise, as all employees who meet their goals do."
Regardless of who her boss is, it's critical that you have this conversation with your boss before presenting her the information. It would be a disaster to say, "You stink and you're not getting a raise. No idea why!" He needs to articulate something other than she doesn't anticipate his needs.
You'll have to coax this out of him. Ask him questions like, "Can you give me an example of how Jane didn't anticipate your needs?" and then listen. It may be something perfectly logical—like for every project when he does A, she should do B, and that enables him to do C, and for whatever reason, she doesn't do B until prompted. It may also be something completely illogical. He does A, doesn't tell her he's finished with A, only talks about Q, and then gets mad that she didn't do B. If his reasoning is illogical, push back. But, even if you are her direct supervisor, as your boss, he can have the final say (presuming there isn't someone above him).
If he refuses to authorize a raise for her, you can't imagine one out of thin air, or hide payroll from him for eternity. So here's what you say: "Jane, John feels that you aren't anticipating his needs as you should. So, unfortunately, you won't be receiving an increase this year." She'll freak, and you'll have to direct her back to John.
Ultimately, the most important thing to do is ensure this doesn't happen again. She, and everyone in the company, needs clear goals and expectations. These need to be written out and checked off throughout the year. Otherwise, you'll find yourself in this position again and again—if not with this assistant, then with another employee.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady
Photo: Creative Commons
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