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I have a notebook that I keep meeting notes, current work and future projects I'd like to do. Oddly, all these future project ideas I had listed out are now being completed by my coworker. The coworker is copying my detailed ideas and using them. The only reason I found out was because of an email he sent our leadership spouting his accomplishments and he did not include me on the email. I got CC'd on an email from leadership thanking him for his work.

I am also his team lead if that makes any difference.

What can I do besides hide my notebook?

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    Are you asking the question so that it does not happen in the future, or are you looking for a way to clear doubts on the (potentially) already stolen idea? – Etsitpab Nioliv Aug 19 at 15:32
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    Does the tool where you write these ideas have some kind of changes history? (like google docs), if yes, you could present that to your manager as proof – Felipe Pereira Aug 20 at 0:29
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    Is it a digital notebook or a physical? – Pieter B Aug 20 at 7:10
  • Do these notes have timestamps / dates somewhere and do you have dates of said "epiphanies" of your (soon to be ex- (?)) colleague? If you have proof of what you're saying, what is stopping you from going to a boss (pref the one dishing out praise) and showing him/her what's going on? – rkeet Aug 20 at 11:48
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    Do you leave the notebook accessible (logged on) when you leave? If yes - why? Can you check some logs such as in case of windows the "event log" to see who turned your netbook on and logged on? – puck Aug 20 at 15:33
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Does your company have a clear/clean desk policy? i.e. no sensitive documents to be left on the desk/"out" when the employee is away (usually overnight, but it depends on the company). Put your notebook in the desk drawer and lock it.

Years ago I had a similar problem where an office junior would take our ideas to a senior manager who would burst into the office the following day with a great idea "he had just come up with".

It's unprofessional (although very funny), but my colleague's solution was to invent plausible sounding garbage solutions, then watch the manager's face when asked what the benefits would be or how it could be implemented. Eg we should store all dates in hex to avoid the Office 2016 problem and leapfrog our competition.

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    This is brilliant. Real-life Dilbert xD – user2818782 Aug 20 at 6:25
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    In Dilbert by now you, @user2818782, would have been tasked to convert all dates to hex! Or at least to join a workgroup to decide if hex or oct has the most long-term benefits. – jvb Aug 20 at 10:21
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    A mauve block-chain will work better because it has more RAMs. – user2818782 Aug 20 at 11:31
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    @user2818782 pretty sure you can download more RAM :p – rkeet Aug 20 at 11:42
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    A variation on the classic leak test: give a different story to each potential leak and based on which version becomes public, you know who has loose lips. – dwizum Aug 20 at 18:32
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Make your notes publicly available (within your organization or team).

Securing your notebook will be an easier option, but as you've asked for other approaches you might consider this one.

This will be varyingly convenient depending on how your workplace operates, but if you have something like a Sharepoint site or internal blogging service you can keep your future project notes there instead of on a notepad in your desk. Alternatively you can meet regularly with your boss and go through your ideas for new projects. As long as it's only accessible to the appropriate people in your company or workgroup you shouldn't have to worry about confidential information leaking as a result of this practice.

You can be more creative as well, making things like ranked-choice surveys for executives to vote on which projects they think should have the highest priority, etc.

In any case you are creating a contemporaneous record of your ideas in a manner which identifies them as yours-- update histories, your boss' notes, and so on put ideas "out there" but still identify those ideas as your own.

I, personally, would also include a note in my notebook outlining that I know what the snooping coworker has been up to and am not pleased about it, ideally with some kind of tamper-evident countermeasure (like a thread taped across the drawer which will be broken if the drawer is opened). A change in your practices will be obvious to the snoop anyways, so there's little reason not to be a pointed in making sure they know why those changes are happening.

  • While I love this idea, it's potentially dangerous, as OP might forget his notes are public and take notes that are safe for him to make public. – Etsitpab Nioliv Aug 19 at 15:34
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    @EtsitpabNioliv Good point, I've added a bit more about access restrictions and keeping the information "public" only for the appropriate people. – Upper_Case Aug 19 at 16:20
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Step 1:

Is there any chance he came up with the same ideas independently?

Sometimes there are only a limited number of solutions to problems so really seriously think about whether that has happened here. That doesn't change the next step but might inform your approach.

Step 2:

You are his team lead. Call him into a private meeting room.

  • Ask him why he was working on things without your knowledge.

  • Ask him what the things were and where he got the list of them.

  • Ask him why he sent an email to your superiors without including you on it.

  • Ask him why he felt the need to do any of this. Was he trying to be helpful? Does he feel like he is not getting recognition? Does he not feel like he's working on things that are interesting enough?

Do not accuse, do not judge. Just ask and let him answer. Maybe he'll have good answers, maybe he won't.

Based on that make the following rules clear:

  1. If he's working on something you need to know about it. You are the team lead and the one with visibility on priorities and goals.

  2. He doesn't look at other people's notes without permission (not just yours). That's just basic politeness.

  3. He does not email higher ups in the company without you knowing about it and very definitely not without including you. Going over your head unless it's with a specific complaint about you is not acceptable.

These are all things that an employee should know, but sometimes they need reminding of.

Once you've had that discussion you may decide to just let it slide or you may do a follow on email to the one from management thanking him for completing the items on your list so quickly.

  • There was possibly one project that he came up with, the only problem is he was using my my artwork I created for the page. Which is how I had drawn out my idea. He just copied my picture from another webpage and made a not good looking version. I like the idea of having a private meeting. I want to get along and have a good relationship, but there need to be boundaries and mutual respect. – K Lee Aug 23 at 23:57
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I once had a coworker who copied my code. It was brought to my attention after a QA person asked why both our codes looked so similar. At first, I thought it was merely a coincidence because after all there's so many ways to do something.

What I found out is each night I would push to my Github account with all my branches I worked on the day. Just as a backup. I named each branch by the issue ticket I'm working on and you can easily see each commit I made. The Git account is private but anyone within the company can view anyone else's account except outside the company.

I decided to go in deeper. I'd name things a certain unique way, even putting hashtags into variable names and so forth. I checked the released code and sure enough my code with my unique hashtag was on it. I'm not sure why this person did this but the issue with my coworker was due to shyness and aversion to speaking with others. This person would go to extreme lengths to not talk to people and working with this individual became very frustrating. After a while the boss figured it out.

This is what I think you should do. While your coworker might see the same problems you're seeing and arriving to the same conclusion, you have to be sure. Put something unique in your journal that you know someone can't just come up. That way you can have proof before seeing the boss.

  • That is a great idea and I'm sorry that happened to you. – K Lee Aug 23 at 23:58
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If I was you, I would be having a chat with the boss about this, and I'd obviously want to be reasonably sure on my suspicions.

The reason I'm complaining to the boss, of course, is because this dishonest conduct defrauds the company and makes me feel less inclined to jot down my ideas.

Also, my notes would contain an incomplete picture of different ideas. Maybe there are some important elements that is getting missed because it's still in my head. Maybe by running behind my back with my ideas, you'll be running with a good idea, instead of a great idea.

What I would say about your situation however, is you have notes, he has actions. Maybe it's time to start taking those notes, and turning them into initiatives. You should from time to time mention these ideas to your boss, flesh them out, write plans. Good ideas are of no use on paper, they need to be acted on.

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A possible approach - Keep two notebooks 'for a while', one current "master", and the other a copy with a time lag of say 2 weeks. The master is not accessible to anyone but yourself. The copy is.

Within one week of writing an idea in the master notebook, share it with the boss. After having shared it, copy it to the 'copy' notebook.

If the coworker is true to form they will start implementing and sharing ideas "of their own" some while after the boss hears of them from you.

2

I went through a similar situation. A teammate was taking advantage of my ideas before I introduced them to my superiors.

My solution was to hide any idea or suggestion from public eyes and present it in a "continuous improvement" document for the Quality Assurance department. This documentation ended up in the hands of the CEO, the head of the Quality Assurance Department and the head of my own department.

Although some of these ideas were never carried out, in the end it became clear that there was a flow of ideas for improvement of which I was the author. And not only at the level immediately above, but also much higher.

TL;DR: Keep your ideas for yourself. Document them and throw them up to higher levels.

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