I work for a very high profile not for profit. It is my first job and although I have been promoted twice in two years, I am still very young. I mention this because although I have a couple of direct reports now, and have a lot of responsibility, my boss still doesn’t see me as credible in some ways.
Here is the situation. About nine months ago my boss hired a marketing consultant—let’s call her Annette. She is supposed to be an expert on millennials and marketing using social media. She is constantly setting up meetings to brainstorm, but never actually does anything as far as I can tell. She was recently given a quarter time of one of my direct reports who is being driven crazy because she has no idea what she is supposed to be doing and keeps coming to me for direction.
Marketing is not my area and I have no idea what to tell her. But her precious time, which I could actually use to do something tangible, is being wasted. My boss waxes on about how innovative Annette is and what great work is being done, but nothing is actually happening. I try to point this out but am immediately shut down. We are a small, strapped organization and it is killing me to see our resources go down the drain this way. How can help my boss see that this consultant is full of hot air and a total waste of our precious time and money? I feel like the little kid in the story about The Emperor’s New Clothes!
Dear Little Kid,
It is so frustrating when you can see things no one else can see. And this case is a classic! I have worked with many consultants who are full of good ideas but fall short when it comes to execution.
My initial instinct here is to warn you away from trying to point out to the powers that be that the emperor actually has no clothes. It sounds like your boss has a vested interest in Annette. Maybe they are friends and you have no way of knowing. But experience tells me that in a situation like this, the person with the least amount of power will lose. So reign in your need to be right and focus on helping your direct report.
Since you are technically the manager of the direct report, request a meeting with Annette to clarify the goals, metrics, and time frames for tasks. If Annette refuses to meet, or refuses to set clear goals, document it and move on. When your direct report complains that she has no idea what she is supposed to do, send her back to Annette or tell her to just stay focused on tasks that are clear to her.
It isn’t your fault if Annette doesn’t get results from the time she has been allotted. Just keep your head down and wait for other people to notice what is obvious to you. It will probably take longer than you want, but I can pretty much guarantee that it will happen—eventually.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!