Enterprise Software

How do you deal with an inept support pro…who's the boss's son?

We're kicking off the revival of our What Would You Do? column with a vexing situation you might have encountered: an incompetent tech who can't be fired. See if this story sounds familiar and share your thoughts on the best way to handle the situation.

Welcome to the revival of our What Would You Do? column, a forum for sharing your knowledge and experience in dealing with the people issues that support pros encounter. In this week's scenario, you will meet an IT manager overwhelmed by complaints about an employee she is unable to fire. If you have ideas about how a satisfactory resolution might be achieved, send them to us. Don't hold back, and don't be afraid to be creative. You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting to the discussion below. We'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion and present them in a follow-up article.

The bad hire

"I am a technology supervisor for a school district. Almost two years ago, a new position was created for a computer support specialist to assist teachers with their technology issues and to provide support in the computer labs. Normally, when hiring for any new or preexisting technical position, I am the person responsible for interviewing all the candidates and making the final decision. In this case, however, I was told that a committee would be formed and charged with the task of selecting an appropriate candidate.

A short while later, an announcement was made to the effect that an e-commerce graduate, who also happened to be my boss's son, had been selected for the position.

I was shocked, as in my opinion this was a clear case of nepotism. Not only was I excluded from the hiring process, we had direct experience of the candidate's incompetence. Jeff, the young man in question, had worked for us as a summer intern the previous year. During this time, he proved himself to be an ineffective communicator with less than adequate technical skills.

I expressed my disquiet to the administration, but my concerns fell on deaf ears. I was simply told that it was not my concern, as Jeff was not my responsibility.

Three months later, Jeff was transferred into my department.

The complaints soon started to roll in, primarily calls from principals complaining about Jeff's lack of motivation, inability to communicate, and deficient support skills. Three principals even went to the trouble of writing him up. After one particularly ugly scene involving one of the principals and Jeff's mother—my boss—Jeff was placed under the charge of a different administrator, but still within my jurisdiction.

A few weeks later, Jeff's mother informed me that she was trying to get the administration to approve a new position for a hardware technician in my department. She then confided in me that her intention was to move Jeff into the new position—with more responsibility and a higher level of pay. Unable to see any resolution to this increasingly insufferable situation, I felt I had no choice but to resign. I did not want to be responsible for the actions of an incompetent employee whom I did not have the power to fire.

Time to move on?

On receipt of my letter of resignation, two of the top administrators asked whether anything in particular had precipitated my decision to leave. I informed them that the combination of inadequate compensation and the intractable situation with my boss's son made for an intolerable work environment. Discussions were held and promises made, so I stayed, optimistic that the situation would soon be resolved.

Four months later, my boss's wishes were fulfilled; the new position was created and immediately occupied by her son. All that was needed to complete the transfer was a signature of approval from the superintendent. Meanwhile, my boss called a meeting with me and the CFO, hoping to elicit my support. Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, I voiced my concerns, only to be told by my boss that she would personally take full responsibility for her son and that I just needed to let her know if he was not working out. I politely informed her that this was not reassuring, as all attempts to approach her about her son's incompetence in the past had not been well received. At this point, the meeting deteriorated into a shouting match, with her accusing me of being a poor manager and not providing her son with adequate training or encouragement. I ended the conversation by informing my boss and the CFO that if they proceeded to promote Jeff against my wishes, I would resign.

For more than a month, the battles raged on. Finally, I prevailed and was able to hire a well-qualified candidate from outside the school district. Unfortunately, this did not resolve the situation with Jeff. To placate his mother, the administration raised his hourly rate above that of my more experienced technicians. Now, not only do I still have to deal with regular complaints about Jeff, but also with a morale problem within my department."

Your take

If you were in this member's situation, what would you do? Are her only options to resign herself to the situation or quit, or is there a third alternative? If you have any suggestions, or have been in a similar situation, we want to hear from you. You can participate in the discussion below or e-mail your ideas. Be creative!

Share your support dilemmas
Have you ever been neck-deep in a really tough situation at work—one that required you to wrestle with your conscience, tread carefully around colleagues and supervisors, or possibly even make compromises you weren't happy about? If so, we invite you to share your story with the community.

Send us a description of your dilemma, with as much detail as possible, and outline any steps you've taken to resolve the situation. We'll fictionalize the accounts we use to preserve anonymity and present them so that other members can offer their opinions on how a situation might best be addressed. If we use your scenario in a future article, we'll send you a TechRepublic T-shirt.

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