In the April 17, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader laments that the boss — uh — doesn’t tell the truth:
My boss lies about the availability of projects, about giving bonuses, and about promised help. I suppose the high road is the best and I should keep quiet, but I hate giving into this behavior. What can I do?
Bosses sometimes make commitments, then conveniently forget about them. What matters is the frequency and the intent of their forgetfulness. It seems your boss forgets a lot, and it’s clear you don’t like the intent.
A long time ago, I learned the value of the internal memo. When your boss commits to something, go back to your desk, write a thank-you e-mail, and send it to the boss along with a clear “cc” to yourself. (I would not copy the note to anyone else. That would be a clear threat, and I don’t think you want to do that as a first step.) It’s like money in the bank. You don’t just make a deposit; you keep a copy of the deposit slip. That cc is evidence of how much money you have in the bank. Meanwhile, your boss should get the message.
This approach to making people pay off on promises works pretty well. When you’re ready to make a withdrawal, present that “deposit slip” you kept in your file. Be very polite and matter-of-fact.
How to Say It
“Hey, Boss: I’m ready for that bonus (or promotion) you promised six months ago. Here’s the memo I sent you re-capping our discussion. Thanks very much for making that very valuable commitment to me way back then. You’re quite a boss, and that’s why I like working for you. I’ll take that bonus in tens and twenties, please.”
(No, don’t use those exact words. I sprinkled some sarcasm to amuse you, not to get you into trouble. Pick your own words carefully!)
One of three things is likely to happen.
- Your boss may never forget again (success!).
- Your boss may never make another promise (another problem altogether).
- Or, your boss might just ignore you. Then it’s time to take your deposit slip to the “bank president” (your boss’s boss or the personnel manager) and explain that you want to close your account — unless the “bank” settles up with you.
While one person’s lying is another person’s forgetfulness, I don’t cut any slack to liars, and I accept “I forgot” as an explanation only once or twice. If people don’t do what they say they’re going to do — again and again — then they’re jerks and not worth working with.
How do you deal with this kind of problem? Do we need to hang the culprits out to dry? Or can we discuss good ways to make people more accountable without having to hang them at all?