How to deal with bad bosses

Tuesday - 11/1/2011, 12:30pm EDT

John Palguta, vice president for policy, Partnership for Public Service

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The impending departure of Undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness Clifford Stanley, who faced an inspector general probe into his controversial management style, has underscored a challenge in the federal government. How can agencies nurture effective leaders while weeding out the toxic ones?

John Palguta, the vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris that the end result at DoD appears to show the system is working.

"Ultimately if someone is not performing, whether it's an entry-level employee or a high-level manager, folks can be held accountable and most often, in the federal government, are held accountable, including top managers," Palguta said.

However, there's often no roadmap for dealing with and, ultimately dislodging a poor-performing supervisor, Palguta said.

He recounted his own experiences working in a previous administration for a political appointee, who tried to make life difficult for career employees deemed not loyal enough to the current administration.

It wasn't until one of the targeted employees, a GS-13 management analyst, went to The Washington Post with his story that the manager was removed. However, by that time, the employee had also left.

Palguta said the first step is to identify the problem, which can often be done through the Office of Personnel Management's Employee Viewpoint Survey.

The survey, which among other things, measures employee satisfaction with their agencies "doesn't give you all the answers," Palguta said. "It doesn't pinpoint folks, but it tells you when something's going wrong."

There are also some steps employees working for poor managers can do:

  • The direct approach. Air your concerns with your supervisor and see if that help.
  • The reality check. Ask yourself: "Am I seeing things differently?" "Is there something I am doing?"
  • Try a third-party. Take your concerns to a neutral third-party, such as an HR official or an agency ombudsman.
But there are also some things employees simply shouldn't do.

Don't try to divine the motives of bad manager, Palguta advises. Instead, focus on observable behaviors. "Focus on things that are actually happening, rather than 'I think they have some kind of agenda in their head.'"

Also, don't try to sabotage a bad boss by slowing down your work or doing a poor job, because that can "boomerang" back to you, he said, and reflect negatively on your reputation.

Another tool that can help identify struggling supervisors is a 360 review — a confidential survey of peers, supervisors and even those employees who work under a manager — to glean a fuller picture of their progress.

The 360 reviews are used not to bash the supervisor but rather to give constructive feedback," Palguta said. "Here's what people around you are saying. You might not realize it."