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I am part of a team of 5 software development engineers in a large multinational company.

Last week there was a screw up. A customer escalation came in on Monday, my manager was specifically tagged in it. He didn't answer. He was asked for an update on Thursday. I haven't seen an answer to that either. On Friday, a director and a VP, in the chain of command of my manager, were roped in to the conversation. Still no answer from my manager. He logged off for the weekend and another team, from a different time zone, that reports to the same director was called in on Friday night to deal with the situation.

On Saturday night I get an email from the director to whom my manager reports asking me to evaluate my manager. I see this on Monday, check with my teammates, and sure enough we have all received the same email. The is no mention of the incident from the previous week. The questions sound typically corporate, leadership, ability to deliver on objectives, strengths and weaknesses.

The problem is that, in my opinion, my manager is the personification of incompetence. I cannot, in good faith, give him a good evaluation, and I have no interest in lying. On the other hand, I cannot give him a bad evaluation either, because to me that's like going over my manager's head to snitch on him to his boss. I cannot ignore the questionnaire that the director sent me either.

I've been given a deadline to submit the response by.

Surely this is not normal behaviour by the director? If I were to speculate, I would say that the VP has put pressure on him to produce a scapegoat and now he is looking for us to produce ammunition for him.

I've never been in this situation before. I don't know what to do. I feel like I have no options at all.

What options do I have?

Thank you for your help in dealing with this situation 😊

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    When a person is a personification of incompetence and behaves like your manager does, I think it is fair to answer this to the director. But factfully. – guest Sep 22 at 14:31
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    This sounds like a common "360 review", and my bet is that the director is just trying to cover his documentation bases before showing this guy the door. – Joel Etherton Sep 22 at 22:46
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    There is nothing wrong with going over someone's head in order to display their incompetence. In fact, your director specifically requested it. – yeah22 Sep 23 at 0:29
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    @JoeStrazzere If an employee refused to participate in a 360 degree review of a manager who was a potential problem, I'd assume that the employee had been corrupted by whatever poor culture the manager had created and I'd let them both go. – tbrookside Sep 23 at 0:39
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    Sounds like you're in a position many people would love to be in. You haven't gone over your managers head because your views have been directly solicited by someone more senior. Don't forget your manager has probably carried out many similar reviews about yourself and if they are as bad as you say they are then it could have been a lot more unfair than yours is going to be. Just be professional above all else and don't make anything personal. Be honest without going over the top or labouring the same point – rdab Sep 23 at 10:15
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Given the situation and the (likely) motivation behind the Director asking each of your team, I think I'd advise the following:

Be factual, truthful, and CAREFUL.


Consideration #1:

You are all being asked, and the same person is going to review all of the answers. This means that if your answer is noticeably different to your colleagues' then the difference will be noticed. If you try not to throw your boss under the bus, but everybody else does, and the Director decides to fire your boss, then they are not going to have a positive opinion of your answer.

Which leads to the first piece of the advice: Be factual.

No opinions, no subjectivity, just concrete statements that you can back up if challenged on.


Consideration #2:

Your Director is probably pissed with your boss, and looking to fire him, and gathering evidence towards that end. Covering for your boss is not going to endear you to said Director.

Alternatively they may be friends with your boss, who is going through some undisclosed (to you) personal issues which excuse their recent screw up, and the Director is looking for evidence to defend your boss against HR/the rest of the company.

If I had to bet I'd say it's probably #1, but be aware that you don't know this Director's motivations, and this situation is definitely political. Given what it probably is, I would recommend going with open and complete truthfulness. But be on the lookout for contrary evidence.


Consideration #3:

Assuming you're going to write something factual, truthful, and not positive towards your boss then be careful not to implicate yourself.

Saw your boss commit gross misconduct and did nothing about it? Not a smart thing to admit to.

Watched this escalation sit unhandled and didn't check in with your boss, or somebody else, to solve an obvious problem that you were aware of? You'd better think of a good reason why not.

You thought your manager was the "personification of incompetence" but nonetheless did nothing to help the company mitigate the damage he was doing? Better have a good reason for that one too.


If I were you, I'd would take a long think about your strategy here:

Who are you going to be in this report?

Did you notice bad things: Yes/No? Which things specifically?

If No, how did you miss something so obvious that your other colleagues did?

If Yes, why didn't you report something to someone, raise concerns, seek clarification form your manager?

And so on and so forth.


If you can navigate this situation well, and your Director likes what he sees then it's a potential fast-track to a promotion. If he doesn't, then you have a potential roadblock going forwards.

You might be able to get through the situation without particularly grabbing their attention one way or the other, but I wouldn't bet on it.

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    Great answer! I would not want to bear the stress you must go through if you analyze every decision you make this carefully. – psaxton Sep 23 at 2:40
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    I dont disagree with this answer, and think you should indeed be very careful, and think that all the above situations are possible, but I do think this is a very polical aproach of the situation. I cant come up with how to improve, but it could use a little "You can also use this to improve the situation by offering constructive feedback" – Martijn Sep 23 at 8:11
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    Maybe the Compliment sandwich? Say something positve, say something that 'could improve', end with something positive. youtube.com/watch?v=ewIT_KAQQlU – Martijn Sep 23 at 8:16
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    great answer! shows that "snitching" is not the big thing to be concerned about here. – Woodrow Barlow Sep 23 at 19:00
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    There is an art of giving empty praise and spelling out damning arguments as compliments. You end up saying the same things but without exposing your back side to the corporate storm. When asked, "is your manager good at organising", say he often attends meetings on time. When asked to say something good, say "you enjoy the freedom to do anything you want". Is your boss giving clear instructions? "It's great he lets you figure things out on your own". The boss is probably on the way out, but things can change, you don't want to have written evidence that calls him incompetent. – Bennet Sep 24 at 9:04
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Let me turn this around a bit: do you want to work for a company that never gets rid of incompetent bosses?

Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't turn this into a "Burn down everything!" scorched-earth occasion, ripping your boss to shreds.

But I also wouldn't omit or sugar coat everything to meaninglessness. Your boss is incompetent, and that incompetence caused the company a great deal of problems last week. Your answers, while polite and professional, should be a reflection of the boss. Why are you viewing this as 'Giving Ammo to the Director'? This is you answering a direct question about your professional opinion of a manager.

Likewise, let me flip another thing around: It doesn't reflect well on you if you're unable to identify good and bad management.

If you're a professional, you should know what makes your performance good or bad - and you should know how a manager can help or hinder that. Let's say you're a welder on a machine shop. You should be able to say, "A good manager makes sure the maintenance on my gear has been done regularly, that the logistics for the materials is there so I have what I need to work on, and that my output is making its way downstream." And if your manager was good, you'd be able to say, "Yeah, Bob's great! He's on top of our maintenance schedule, and is quick to correct any problems getting materials."

Forget about the politics, about 'giving ammo', or anything like that. If the director asks you a question, simply answer it in a professional and polite manner, focused specifically on your job and whether your manager enables or hobbles your productivity for the company, with specific examples. And since you say that your manager is incompetent, most of those answers and examples will be negative ones.

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@Kaz's answer is really good. I would like one more thing, a concrete strategy I found useful in similar situations.

The questions sound typically corporate, leadership, ability to deliver on objectives, strengths and weaknesses.

It seems like you can answer in "free" text to at least some of the questions. Instead of describing him as "the personification of incompetence", do describe where his skills would be useful.

Instead of saying: "He is bad in A, B and C."

You say: "We needed A, B and C, he is good in A,D and E."

Examples:

  • Leadership: "Our team consists of motivated specialists. Mr X's skills will excel in an environment where a tight control of unmotivated workers is needed."
  • Ability to deliver on objectives: "The latest projects had a focus on high quality and a delivery in time. Mr X does mainly focus on the timely delivery and the outward appearance of the product."

This is honest, professional and polite. You give them the option to let him go, but you also open a window for them to transfer him within the company to a post better suited.

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    This is honest, professional and polite Otherwise know as office politics. :-) – StephenG Sep 22 at 23:49
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    All the answers are good, but this one stood out to me because it mixed together the good with the bad. This would provide insight to your reasoning. Even though your bottom line is "he is incompetent" (inferred preferably) it shows you gave thought to the question instead of simply a data dump or throwing the word out there. – Steve Sep 24 at 23:44
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Don't speculate - be careful not to assume any motivation behind being asked this, whether you think there might be positive or negative consequences for your manager. As others have said, be truthful, factual, and careful.

What I haven't seen anyone mention, that I believe is critically important to consider, is that you should not say anything that you wouldn't say to your manager directly - there's always a chance that what you say will be shown to them, or that they otherwise come to know. Even if there was no risk of that (and if it's written down, it's never zero risk), is it really fair to tell someone else something about someone, that you wouldn't tell them about themselves?

This may be controversial, but depending on the workplace environment, and the relationship that you have (or don't!) with the director in question, consider replying as a team. There are pros and cons - if the email you received in any way indicated that this should not be discussed or should remain confidential, do not do this however.

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You said it:

The problem is that, in my opinion, my manager is the personification of incompetence. I cannot, in good faith, give him a good evaluation, and I have no interest in lying. On the other hand, I cannot give him a bad evaluation either, because to me that's like going over my manager's head to snitch on him to his boss. I cannot ignore the questionnaire that the director sent me either.

The italics part is the answer to your question, while the bold part is where you are overthinking. It is not your intention to tell your boss' boss how your boss behaves: you and your team have explicitly been told to do so.

Therefore, be clear, honest, factual, and give as many objective motivations as possible to your assessment. That's pretty much it, simply do your part and see the results. You aren't snitching anyone here.

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Could we speak on the phone? is my preferred solution in cases like this. I often would make this request via a separate email thread so there is less of a link. Nothing in writing, and none of the lack of nuance that comes over with email. Then you can be as blunt as you like without fear of reprisals.

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    Even then, start out with FACTS. You might carefully join in on a reaction to FACTS, but you might also prefer to make it clear that you are not taking any side. – rackandboneman Sep 25 at 22:24
  • Agree. Yes - always as factual as possible. If nothing else paranoia is a good policy. – dothyphendot Sep 25 at 22:30
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Personally I would not feel comfortable doing this, it is certainly not part of your job requirement.

However, if you are to do this, do it in person, ask the director for conversation on the matter.

This is a rare occasion where you do no want a paper trail on what is said. You do not know where your email may end up, someone completely out the loop may one day see it and may think you were simply back stabbing your manager.

Other answers have pointed out that you wouldn't want to work at a place with incompetent managers, but what your director is doing is very sneaky IMO.

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  • Letting you company know about incompetent or potentially dangerous (depending on industry) is absolutely part of the JD. If even a manager is doing thing in a shop area that's hazardous to themselves or coworker, it's no different than a manager losing money and business. Both need to be reported, especially when upper mgmt is specifically asking for info about the manager. And no, it doesn't matter if it's a manager, line worker, or anyone else. Problems need to be reported so they can be fixed, rather than get worse. – computercarguy Sep 25 at 16:27
  • @computercarguy I agree with the hazardous part, but performance wise it is not the OPs job to evaluate his manager. It's his mangers manager responsibility. He could put him on a performance plan, not ask other employees to stick the knife in, that is totally unprofessional. – PeterH Sep 26 at 7:55
  • The way I read the situation is that the upper mgmt is trying to determine if this is just a 1 time deal or if it really is a recurring problem they need to address with a PIP, as a PIP is usually the step before showing someone the door. – computercarguy Sep 28 at 15:54

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