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posted: 7/20/2014 7:33 AM

Work Advice: When to speak up if you see problems down the line

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Q: Our organization has hired a new director. I am one of a number of division heads; above us, there's the associate director, and above him is the director. The associate director is feared and disliked for his duplicity and dictatorial nature, though few have come forward because of his vindictiveness.

I am reluctant to begin my relationship with the new director by complaining about my immediate superior. However, the associate director has created an unbearable work environment. From what I have heard, the new director would be appalled. How do I handle this without coming across as a snitch or malcontent?

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A: When you meet the new boss, ask about her philosophy on managing workplace conflict. Is she a stickler for the chain of command, or is her door open to anyone with a problem? Does she prefer to intervene early in a conflict, or does she want workers to resolve it themselves? An effective manager will take note of those questions without your having to implicate anyone.

Meanwhile, if your associate director is any good at duplicity, he'll be lying low and trying to ingratiate himself with the new boss. But when he inevitably sheds his "good guy" skin and strikes again, you can find out just how effective the new director is.

Q: I have been promoted to manager of a different department. For years, I have heard complaints from frustrated staffers in this department about a specific co-worker. They say he doesn't pitch in and help, has fallen asleep on the job (there are photos to prove it), has a negative attitude and is generally not pulling his weight. I am not sure if any corrective action has been tried, but given continuing complaints I've heard, it seems not.

I want to be fair to the staff member in question, but I also want to send a message from the outset that change is coming. I have considered telling him in private that there is a negative perception about his work performance, and engaging him in a discussion that may lead to self-awareness. Or do I start everyone with a clean slate, set clear expectations for the entire department, and deal with performance problems as they come up?

A: Taking this guy for a woodshed talk based on hearsay (OK, photos) will just get his back up. Better to start everyone at zero, set standards, and step in when they're not being met.

But that doesn't mean you can't incorporate your background knowledge into your management style. Make it known that you will be conducting regular check-ins and redistributing workloads as needed.

Meanwhile, try to connect with everyone personally, including Shirky McSnoozalot. You might learn that his behavior is the result of health or external stressors rather than his being a slack-of-all-trades.

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.

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