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Dilemma of the Month: How Can I Share Managing Duties With a Manager Who’s Totally Different?

Back Article Aug 4, 2022 By Suzanne Lucas

The owner wants everyone back in the office at least a couple of times a week. This is a small business with only two managers: Jane and me. One of us needs to be in the office every day. This is fine. We worked out a schedule. The problem is, Jane and I have very different management styles. Instead of managing our own people, we are now managing everyone half the time. I feel like I can’t overrule Jane’s bad decisions, but I also feel like I can’t let them stand. How do I work this out?

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Hybrid work schedules are my favorite scenario. People get the benefits of less commuting, more time with their families, and interaction with coworkers. It also brings a new set of problems. Let’s fix one of them.

First, I’m going to make two assumptions.

1. Everybody is working a hybrid schedule. Or at least, everyone who wants to work from home sometimes is. This answer would be very different if the employees are in the office full time while the management comes and goes as they please. (And the answer would be to stop that. It’s either everyone or no one.)

2. This is purely a management style issue. Jane isn’t saying, “Go ahead and get drunk during lunch! Sexual harassment is OK!” She’s simply different, and you feel that sometimes these “different” decisions are not OK, but they aren’t illegal or immoral. If Jane were making illegal or immoral decisions, you’d need to go to the owner, say what is going on and let the owner fix it. 

With these two assumptions, let’s tackle the problem at hand. The employees get yanked back and forth on what they should do because they report to two managers with very different ideas on what should happen.

I suspect this affects the ultimate work product as well. After all, if you say “prioritize project A” on Monday, and Jane comes in on Tuesday and says “prioritize project B,” the poor employees don’t know what to do. The result will be shoddy work on both projects.

How did things function before the business went hybrid?

A question: How did you handle this when everyone was in the office full time? Assuming this isn’t a new job for either you or Jane, think about how things went then. I suspect that you managed team A and Jane managed team B. You and Jane probably coordinated together, but you left each other’s teams alone.

You need to do the same thing here.

Remote management isn’t as different as people think.

You’re making a classic remote management mistake, not knowing how to manage people you can’t directly see. Jane should be managing her employees five days a week, and you should be managing your people five days a week. When Jane’s employees have problems, they should call her. Your employees should contact you.

You and Jane can fill in for each other in an emergency. If one of you is on vacation, or there is a screaming customer at the door, then the manager on duty handles it. Otherwise, your employees should escalate to you and Jane’s to Jane.

This will take some retraining for the employees. If they are used to approaching whoever is in the office, you’ll need to train them to go to their actual boss — whether in the office or working remotely. 

You do need some unity, however.

When you return to a stricter division of duties, there will still be times with overlap, and both you and Jane need to be on the same page as each other and the owner. You say you want to fix some of Jane’s bad decisions, but I suspect she also wants to fix some of your bad choices.

The issue you two need to resolve is what is best for the business. If you allow your employees to come in late while Jane writes people up for being five minutes late, it will breed resentment among the employees. If Jane prioritizes X and you prioritize Y, you’ll run into conflicts. You and your boss need to work those things out and be consistent with them.

There are a lot of management styles, but the company culture must be consistent. How things look in the company depends on the owner’s ideals, the industry, and goals. You can’t have a well-run company and a well-run department with multiple cultures.

Once you, Jane and your boss agree on this, you have to support it even if it’s not your first choice. If the boss decides that company culture is that people can come in whenever they want as long as they get their 40 hours in, which drives you insane, then you have to grin and bear it. Or you may decide this company isn’t for you. That’s OK as well.

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