What do you do with legacy responsibilities after an employee makes a lateral move? I once had an employee who came to my team from another team. Things were going along swimmingly but after a few weeks, he mentioned that the manager on his former team had yet to fill his old position and still called on him to tweak and add to a database he'd worked on.
Initially all involved had agreed that my guy would continue to help out for a short time until a replacement could be found. But here it was three weeks later, and his old manager hadn't even begun to find someone to take over the duties. I guess she figured there was no hurry since the work continued to be done.
I called a meeting with this manager and nicely suggested that she couldn't expect my guy to continue to do both jobs. I thought everything was understood but two weeks later, the employee was still getting calls to tweak the database or to fix some problem. He was finding it hard to maintain both sets of duties but told me that he would continue to do so, if I "wanted him to." Of course, that was not a good reason as far as I was concerned. I didn't want him to keep doing most of two jobs just because he thought he would in some way get me in trouble by not continuing the work.
I called another meeting, again with the old manager, but this time I included our mutual supervisor. I laid out the problem, including how unfair it was to expect this guy to have to do extra work past a reasonable time frame. My fellow manager countered with, "Well, if he were my employee, I'd make him do both." In other words, I had the power—by virtue of my position on the corporate ladder—to force one of my employees to do something even if it was unfair. She was implying that I didn't have the guts to manage a team the way it should be managed. I didnt lack guts, I just didn't have the need to treat my team members like they were my own little Bob Cratchetts. But was I being too easy? Should duties that further company goals come before all bandwidth issues? I then knew why they called us "middle managers."
Things got a little heated, with our supervisor looking on like a deer in the headlights. I reasoned that if someone is on my staff then it is my responsibility to see that he is treated fairly. The manager had had ample opportunity to find someone for the position but didn't take the necessary steps. Ultimately, it felt like I was being too touchy-feely in my approach but the other manager was a little too like Alec Baldwin's character in Glengarry Glen Ross. It became a matter of where to draw the line between what is best for the company and what is best for one employee.
The result was that someone was hired within the next two weeks and my guy wasn't called upon in the interim unless it was absolutely necessary. I'm curious to see how other managers would have handled this and what your opinion is regarding the balance between employee morale and company goals.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.