What do you do when your association with a problematic employee causes your employer to see you in a bad light?
I got a tough one for us. This week's e-mail came from a TechRepublic member who feels that others in the company are subconsciously lumping him in with a peer who is not performing up to par. Here's his story:
"I am in what I consider to be a unique situation. I have been with the company for three years now. I have established myself through accomplishments and work ethic.
However, I work at a remote location away from 90% of the IT group, along with another IT person. He is the individual who interviewed me, decided it was best to hire me, and also trained me in the ways of the company (and many other valuable things).
But our IT department is moving toward a project management-oriented organization centered around business cases and Return on Investment for the company.
My peer is having a hard time grasping the concept and, frankly, is showing a very weak skill set in the area of project management or in leading a group of people or processes.
I am nearly always associated with him when meetings are going on, or in e-mails. Some people even reference us as a unit — the phrase is always 'Joe and David.'
I am getting the feeling that IT management perceives Joe's skill set as my skill set.
I have a rather complete understanding of the Project Management-oriented methodology, and I am quite excited about the direction that our IT department is headed.
What is the best way that I can break that association with my co-worker without burning the bridge?"
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for an association with one employee to reflect badly on another. Usually, though, it happens to people who happen to be friendly with the office malcontent. It's why career experts suggest that when you're new to a company, you should sit back and regard the scenery before you start associating yourself with any particular person or group of people.
The relationship you describe, however, has developed organically, and the association didn't become problematic until your mentor started showing signs of a deficit in the area of project management. The physical distance between you and the workplace is another complicating factor.
The optimum solution would be to let others know that you're excited by the prospect of this new organizational structure and that you have the skill set for it, without further damaging the reputation of your old buddy. You might try contacting some of the architects of the new structure and offering to volunteer for smaller duties in getting it started. This will give you the opportunity to show you're on board and enthusiastic, as well as let you drop in terminology that shows your expertise.
Anyone else have any advice?
Got a career scenario of your own? E-mail it to us here. We'll post it anonymously, and see what kind of feedback your peers have to offer.
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.