What do you do when all your superiors are incompetent?

I am one of two ‘staff’ under three ‘supervisors’.

I am good friends with the supervisors. The other ‘staff’ member is new (sort of. He worked here a year ago, now he’s back. and things have changed).

But lately they have been letting things slide, and one of them is making stupid mistakes. (the latest seems to have been letting the new ‘staff’ person do something important and then not checking over it) I’ve been e-mailing them as kindly as I can letting them know what mistakes have been made and/or work left that was critical. But it keeps happening and now I fear I am making myself a reputation for being an asshole acting above his station.

I’m just trying to avoid the office looking stupid to the bosses and customers.

How do you let people know of their mistakes without looking like an asshole?

Unfortunately, I think you’ve done all you can. You could drop off some anonymous lettes, but it sounds like they’d figure out it was you pretty quickly.

You could write an official memo, but that will probably backfire. Yes, it gets it down that you saw the shit before it hit the fan, but for some reason people don’t like that. Have you tried a face-to-face interview with one of the three stooges? How about meeting with someone who is on the same level as you? Gathering support from the lowlings would do what for you???

Other than that, you should always CYA (Cover Your Ass). Document EVERYTHING. Start a day-timer with notes and observations. If you are ever called to task for something that they screwed up on, your diary could save you. If you are able to walk into a meeting with references to emails, memos, notes, observations, etc people won’t mess with you. Shit rolls downhill, so make sure youare protected, THEN point fingers.

Take care-

Authority: I teach Human Resources to MBA students.

There’s no specific actions I can suggest, but I can offer some food-for-thought and general comments.

First question is who will suffer from the results of their incompetence? If you’re part of a large organization, so that sooner or later their errors will catch up to them, then to a certain extent you can disassociate yourself from it. Do your best to catch and correct what you can, but shrug your shoulders at the rest. It’s not your responsibility to make incompetent superiors look good. Neither is it your responsibility to help sink them, of course.

If you’re not part of a large organization, so that there is risk that the customers and business will suffer badly, then you probably need to be more dililgent in trying to catch errors.

When you do find goof-ups, do your best to be non-critical (that is, don’t make value judgements.) Report factually, avoid “loaded words” that might give offense. WRONG: “You stupidly couldn’t even add the numbers correctly.” BETTER: “There seems to have been a typo here.” Think to yourself: we’re all human and we all make mistakes (some people make more than others), and so everyone needs back-up to help catching and correct mistakes.

I don’t think I’d use emails for that, unless there was no choice. Emails can be misread in terms of tone. You want your tone to be friendly, helpful, cheerful, matter-of-fact … not critical, not “gotcha again”, not scolding. That’s best done face-to-face… although you might document in an email later, “Just a reminder that …”

BTW, I would be sure to start documenting. It might just be a little diary you keep for yourself, it might be emails recounting meetings, whatever. But you might want to Cover Yer Bum (CYB) by having documentation. Memory plays strange tricks if this explodes months from now.

Now, having said all that, I suggest that you need to think carefully of what the future is likely to be. Think realistically. What do you think will happen long term? And then you need to ask where you want to be or need to be.

For instance, if it looks like a trainwreck is inevitable, with the whole thing going belly-up, then get the hell out as fast as you can. Maybe an internal transfer, I don’t know what the place is like. OTOH, if you think the dumb clucks will be fired and you’ll come out of it OK, then ride along and CYB. Bottom line: analyze what you think will be the long-term outcome, and (given that outcome) what’s the best thing for YOU to do.

Good luck. It’s really tough when your boss isn’t doing his/her job. Leaves you kinda stuck in the middle.

I work in a relatively small company where the tiniest mistake can affect the perception of the company by the customers and of our ‘unit’ of the company by the rest of it.

I have already decided to stop using e-mails for this purpose. As said I am good friends with the people in question. They see me as an equal and they value my abilities and opinions (I am the only one with a Degree, albeit a low scoring one). So I will keep it verbal. After greeting them at changeover for instance I will say “Did you see that e-mail about [time critical task] from [boss]?” and they will probably understand why I am asking them.

The problem in this small company is that the bosses and people outside my unit of operation see mistakes by the unit as caused by all the people in the unit. If something stupid happens because of the unit then all the people in the unit are stupid. This bugs me as I am quite proud of my ability to run the unit (when it’s my turn) beyond the ‘call of duty’ (so to speak). So it sticks in my heart when the whole unit is criticised for one person’s mistake.

Often times I have sent an e-mail to the boss defending the unit and saying things like “for [reason] this won’t happen again” knowing, while I am typing, that It probably will.

On the bright side. The weakest link (the guy who could most appropriately be called the ‘boss’, and also the most incompetent) recently left. A guy who I disliked intensely. Just being in the same room as him was a source for discomfort. So now that he has left I am with people I get on well with and it will be easy(ish) to speak to them in person about mistakes which I know are their fault.
Not to make a big deal out of this, it will fizzle out over the time (when the other ‘staff’ member has picked up the ropes, and when all the little mistakes and errors in judgement have been corrected in the one ‘supervisor’ who makes them.)
Thanks for the good replies. and the luck,

I don’t think it’s going to be a trainwreck (well, not within the unit anyway. the company might well become a trainwreck for entirely different reasons).

I am starting to think of it as a machine, or a compter program with many little bugs, each needing to be debugged one-by-one. Or a machine which until recently had a bad cog, which caused damage to all the other cogs. but now that the bad cog has gone the other cogs need time to improve.
(I feel like bart talking to lisa using shoe-lace tying analogies!)