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I work at a small startup company, comprised of mostly technical people. Our company is currently undergoing a tough time (we just had to lay off 3 people) and we're under a lot of pressure to finish off our product and start selling it. There are not many hands to work on it and a lot of work still to do.

One of my colleagues was hired by my boss to do 'research', as in investigate other avenues in which we can expand and make use of other types of technologies, hardware, etc. He knows little about our platform and has never done any work which has had any impact on our platform or resulted in anything useful.

I understand that it's not up to me what the focus of my colleague's work should be but it does not make sense to me to have someone working full time on these sorts of projects when we're in such a critical time, when we could direct more resources towards core activities. How can I bring up this issue with him?

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3 Answers 3

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You probably can't (or, rather, you probably shouldn't).

Unless your boss is completely divorced from the day-to-day operation of the company, he's presumably aware that there is a lot of work to do and not as many people to do it as you'd like. He's also, presumably, aware that he has one employee whose primary job appears to be looking at future strategic direction rather than working on current tactical challenges. That may or may not be the right business decision but it's your boss's decision to make.

If you think that your boss is unaware that there is a lot of work to do, by all means bring that up to him. If you think that your boss is unaware that the timelines are tight, by all means bring that up to him. If you think that your boss is unaware that there aren't enough developers, by all means bring that up to him. It's highly unlikely, however, that your boss is unaware of these things.

Now, potentially, when you are talking with your boss about project timelines and workloads, you might suggest that would be helpful to you if your colleague was redirected from strategic work to work on some of the current pressing tasks at least for the next few days/weeks/months. That's a reasonable suggestion to make. Don't be shocked, however, if your boss prefers that this colleague continues working on these future-focused tasks. If he does, you realistically need to accept that decision.

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This is a very useful answer, thank you. I think what you said about suggesting to redirect my colleagues work was also a very good one. It would at least highlight to him that I think resources are not where they should be, and perhaps it could illuminate for me why he thinks it's better to have him pursuing this instead of working on the core platform. –  yakka Aug 24 at 8:31
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@aykyu: "I think resources are not where they should be" it's probably best for you if you can reassess your opinion, and convert it in your own mind to either "resources are not where I would put them" or "I do not understand why resources are where they are". I don't just mean this is a better way to present it to your boss (although it is), I mean it's best not to commit in your own mind to opinions that you form outside your area of work and therefore with only part of the information or future plans your colleagues/boss have. –  Steve Jessop Aug 24 at 12:01
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@DavidMulder: True but to a limit. I've only worked in small and medium-sized companies, smallest being 4 employees excluding me. In my experience, it is necessary even in small companies not to overrate your opinions as "the company should do this" when the subject is outside your responsibility. Even when your input is welcome and will be taken into consideration, it's a simple courtesy to respect the fact that someone else, whose responsibility it is, has already considered the the issue just as thoroughly. And they will appreciate you respecting their competence until proved otherwise. –  Steve Jessop Aug 25 at 13:27
  1. Your colleague may not be familiar with your platform but that issue was most likely acknowledged in the interview process and found to be manageable. Your colleague was most likely hired on what he knows rather than what he doesn't know.;

  2. Your colleague is obviously not doing the same type of work that you do, but then he was most likely not hired to do the same work as you. So your evaluation of HIS output based on YOUR responsibilities might be totally off the mark;

  3. It looks like you are objecting to the existence of the position itself, which is 'research', not just your colleague being in that position, The decision whether that position should exist is most likely above your pay grade;

Right now, you're conveying to us the impression that you know more than the boss and that you know enough about how to run the business to tell him what to do. I don't see much good for you marching into your boss's office with that attitude.

You could be right, and the chances are that you may be punished for being right. Or you could be wrong and you may be punished for being wrong. Either way you are punished.

Right now, it looks like your responsibility and the rest of your group's responsibility is to get the product to the point where it is in salable condition. And it looks like his responsibility is to figure out how to sell the product - that's a very different responsibility. And it looks, given your evaluation that he has not contributed much to your team, that your product is not going to fly off the shelves by itself and that he's got a tough row to hoe. Maybe the problem is with your product rather than just him?

You may find in retrospect that you may have the easier job of the two of you. Because his job is most likely to help generate revenues for the firm. From a product that may be quite a challenge to sell. You should hope that he is successful. Because if he is not, your firm closes its doors and you are all looking for a job.

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This may be implied by what you say, but the punishment is for the attitude, not separate punishments for being right if you're right or wrong if you're wrong (the way it's presented might differ slightly). It's an important business skill to be able to assess each of your superiors and learn in what ways you can safely make a suggestion to them that they might either disagree with, or agree with but resent your assumption they hadn't already considered it. And also of course to identify the rare and dangerous superiors to whom there is no safe way to make a suggestion. –  Steve Jessop Aug 24 at 11:58

How do I advise my boss about a colleague who I believe should be let go

How can I bring up this issue with him?

Unless you are specifically asked to evaluate others, or unless your role typically involves this type of advisory capacity, then you shouldn't bring up this issue with him.

Workers do the work. Managers manage.

This colleague was hired by your boss. Thus, its extremely likely that your boss knows what this individual's background and familiarity with your platform is. You probably wouldn't be telling him anything he doesn't already know, and would risk coming off as a whiner. In tough times, you don't want to be the whiny one.

Instead, you could talk with your boss privately and indicate that you feel that your team needs more hands-on help. Focus on what you believe need rather than what you believe your company doesn't need. Don't talk about who you feel is redundant - that's not your job.

It would be up to your boss to decide if he will bring on more help or not, and if so how to fill the position and manage his budget.

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