Q: I’m not sure what to do about someone stealing my ideas. During a recent business school project, I was teamed with another classmate who seemed to like my approach to the assignment. “Michael” generally followed my lead and seldom made suggestions of his own.
After awhile, I noticed that another team’s presentations were sounding very similar to ours. When I overheard Michael talking with them, I realized that he had been giving away my ideas. Although this felt like a betrayal, I decided not to confront him about it.
Instead, I sent the other team an email complimenting them on their progress and suggesting that we get together to compare projects. Now I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do. How should I have handled this situation?
A: Your current dilemma provides a textbook example of the problems created by unclear expectations. At the beginning of this assignment, you and Michael should have asked your professor whether teams were allowed to exchange information. If so, then the two of you could have agreed on what was appropriate to share.
As it was, Michael simply followed his natural inclination to collaborate, which seemed to you like a violation of trust. Even though you felt strongly about this, as indicated by the words “stealing” and “betrayal,” you elected not to discuss it. Instead, you invited the other team to a meeting without asking Michael’s opinion, thereby treating him just as he treated you.
To avoid replicating this muddle in the business world, make a habit of always clarifying expectations with your manager and your colleagues. And instead of bottling up resentments, learn how to resolve your concerns in a calm, professional manner.
Q: For several years, I have been the maintenance supervisor for a ski lift company. Our new general manager says my employees are not performing properly and that I’m not doing enough to motivate them. In his view, “motivation” means threatening disciplinary action.
The only problem with my crew is that management has never provided any training on ski lift maintenance, so they don’t have the required skills. Now my boss is implying that if my employees’ performance doesn’t improve, my own job might be at risk. What can I do about this?
A: Your manager needs to learn the difference between a skill problem and an attitude problem. Here’s the standard question for differentiating the two: could the employee do this task correctly if their life depended on it? If the answer is no, then there is clearly a skill deficit, and neither carrots nor sticks will have any effect.
Of course, the real problem may be that your boss doesn’t know what ski lift maintenance requires as managers often lack knowledge about the jobs they oversee. In that case, give him a list of the necessary abilities, highlight areas where your crew needs improvement and provide information about available training programs.
A quick internet search for “ski lift maintenance training” will indicate which schools offer this instruction and why it’s so important for your customers and your company.
Reach Marie G. McIntyre at yourofficecoach.com.