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I am an accounting manager. At the end of last year, my old boss (Ben, our SVP of accounting) resigned. I now report to Matt (our head of operations), who in turn reports to Steve (our partner). When Ben resigned, I had a meeting with all three of them. Ben had giving me a glowing recommendation, so they wanted me to take a larger role (which I have) and eventually move me up. After Ben left, I report to Matt (who has no accounting/finance background). Steve, the partner, had another Accounting SVP help out (let’s call him Rick).

I have continued to do my job and take on more assignments. However, I am having issues with Rick. Anytime I ask him to look at something, he doesn’t get back to me in a reasonable timeframe. Often, I just have to tell him, I am moving on without his feedback so that we can meet a deadline. I have talked with my new boss, Matt, and he has noticed the same issue as well, and in talking to others, who work with Rick, they have encountered the same problem. When I do have a chance to talk with Rick or get feedback from him, it is many times unhelpful, or he goes on a tangent. I have talked with Rick on the timeliness issue, and he has made promises to look at something by a certain time and proceeded to miss that deadline. I feel Rick only gets involved when he want to be involved/thinks it’s important.

I have asked our partner, Steve, about Rick’s and my role within our division. Steve has said that he wants Rick to provide “guidance”. Someone else asked this similar question in a meeting, and Steve again used the word “guidance” to describe it. I tried to get Steve to clarify “guidance”, and he said that Rick knows people and what they expect.

My question for you is, what is my role and Rick’s role (I report to Matt not him)? What do you think Steve meant by “guidance”? And what should I do about Rick’s slowness?

If I had to guess, I think they want to move me up and take over from where Ben left, but they think it’s a little early, and they want Rick to make sure stuff is getting done well until they are more certain. However, if Rick really doesn’t have the time to provide feedback, I’m not getting any good “guidance”. I feel like I should talk with my new boss, Matt, who agrees on this issue, and eventually Steve about it again, but I feel the only long term solution is to push Rick out of our division (but don't want to overplay my hand if I'm wrong). At the same time, I don’t want to push someone under a bus, but to be honest, I really don’t need Rick that much.

(Sorry for the long post. All names have been changed.)

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  • It's not clear what you are trying to accomplish with this question. You say Rick isn't helpful, but you don't need him for you to do your job anyway. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
    – Seth R
    Apr 8 at 20:02
  • He's still involved in our division, and I am not sure to what extent, I should stop asking Rick to review things, or requesting his approval. What's the best way to go about addressing this? Or getting more certainty about his role and my role in our division? (I'm worried it could backfire on me if I do it wrong.)
    – tradice9
    Apr 8 at 20:17
  • From what you've said, Rick is there to provide "guidance" (whatever that means), which he isn't very good at. But it sounds like you still do your job without a problem and so does everyone else. How is Rick affecting your work? It's still not clear what problem you are trying to address.
    – Seth R
    Apr 8 at 20:30
  • @Joe Strazzere - I ask Rick to look at stuff because my old boss Ben would. I guess, I'm not sure (because our partner, Steve, hasn't made it explicitly clear) where my responsibility begins and Rick's begins with Ben's departure. I could stop sending Rick stuff to look at, but that would mean nobody would be looking at anything that I do except me really.
    – tradice9
    Apr 8 at 22:14
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    I can't help thinking about this from poor old Rick's perspective. He's had responsibility for another SVP with no accounting background (Matt) dumped on him, plus the accounting manager (you) beneath Matt in turn. He's been told to provide "guidance", but has no managerial responsibility, and probably can't afford the time on top of his existing duties. Rick gets involved "when he thinks it's important". Now he's being cast as the villain of the piece, simply because he won't rubber stamp all your work, and which seems perfectly good without the stamp?
    – Steve
    Apr 9 at 8:43
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No way to be sure, but just to speculate, 'guidance' sounds like a euphemism for

  • Steve (partner) thinks there isn't a serious problem here / he's hoping you don't make it into one. So maintain status quo.
  • You may not be senior enough to get sole responsibility (yet)
  • There might be some specific area where Rick will become more relevant, or there's something other than "doing the work", e.g. he brings in some valuable network, or is just there to occasionally interface with other higher level people.
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  • I agree w/ your 2nd bullet point on "sole responsibility (yet)" & your example in the 3rd bullet point. When it comes to the day-to-day responsibilities that I am doing, I feel that I don't need Rick's "guidance" since he really doesn't have time to provide it like my old manager, Ben, did. (And it's worked out) Should I talk to/work on a plan with my current boss, Matt, to only decide on what things truly require "ick's guidance? To your 2nd bullet point, if I'm not senior enough (yet), there should be gradual transition to when I am senior enough, right? Am I thinking this through correctly?
    – tradice9
    Apr 8 at 22:29
  • @tradice9 - I'm too far removed from your situation, esp. finance & accting, to speculate further. Hopefully you'll get other suggestions. My observation is that 'guidance' can be one of these very broad terms, can be heavily context-based. // There might be another good question in your post: What should you do to get you on a path up to Ben's old position?
    – Pete W
    Apr 8 at 22:54
  • Honestly, getting to Ben's position is the longer goal, which is why my strategy for the moment has been your 1st bullet point "maintain the status quo". My boss, Matt, and the partner, Steve, seem satisfied so far, and I've thought about following up around July 1 or so to discuss promotion progress further in the context of an informal "mid-year review". Do you think this is a good strategy?
    – tradice9
    Apr 8 at 23:01
  • That sounds like a good place to explore possibilities for increasing responsibility etc. Again way out of my realm. Hopelessly general comment: get comfortable in your new role, take advantage of Rick's distant style to get take on more responsibility, try to attend meetings at a level you didn't have access to before, figure out how the management structure works and the people.
    – Pete W
    Apr 8 at 23:55
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our partner, Steve, hasn't made it explicitly clear where my responsibility begins and Rick's begins

If you want to advance in the company, when faced with this kind of ambiguity, you should just assume the maximum responsibility and arrogate the authority to support it.

In this case -- you should just start doing Ben's old job. It certainly looks like that's what Steve and Matt want you to do. They hope they won't have to teach you how to do the job, but just in case you have trouble with it, they have provided Rick as a fallback resource.

I can't tell what Rick thinks about it. You're in a better position than anyone to figure that out. He may consider you the head of a rival department, he may have confidence that you don't need his help, or he may just be a generally unhelpful person. It doesn't matter; you don't need him.

What you should do about Rick is just go ahead and run your department without his aid, opinions, suggestions, or (god forbid) guidance. Keep him advised though. Whenever you have to make an obvious decision, tell Rick what you intend to do unless he advises otherwise. Make it clear that you will interpret silence as agreement and concurrence.

This accommodates Rick's tendency to be unresponsive and, more importantly, falls in line with what Steve and Matt need you to do: step up.

Eventually you can demand the official title of accounting SVP, and then you can stop bothering Rick.

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  • You make a compelling point. This has been going on for three months. I was hesitant before, but now have a better understanding/can see a trend. I didn’t know what parts of Ben’s previous responsibilities Rick would step in for, which is why I was hesitant, and I don’t how Rick would feel if I (as you say) arrogate responsibility. My thought now is to discuss with my boss, Matt, to make sure he’s on board with me taking over more fully with possibly an FYI afterwards to our partner, Steve (just to CYA). What do you think about me doing that?
    – tradice9
    Apr 10 at 15:31
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Since several people have notice "Rick's" lack of responsiveness, it may be that the company is preparing for his departure. Decide which battles are important and which can be ignored. There may be additional politics going on at the SVP level that you don't know about.

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  • It's funny that you mention that. One of the VPs that I'm friends with (we complain to each other about things at the company) has said he thinks that about Rick. Should I talk to/work on a plan with my current boss, Matt, to only decide on what things truly require Rick's attention and cut him out on other things?
    – tradice9
    Apr 8 at 22:54
  • Because you can't count on "Rick", you need to get the job done without him. Plan around him.
    – David R
    Apr 9 at 15:17
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If Rick has been doing the job you have been doing, and perhaps doing it very well, I’m not sure what your issue is. You don’t say whether you have complaints against him or whether he is new and learning his job. So I guess I’ll presume you don’t have an issue with him. But rather, the issue is with the process. How long has Rick been working at the company, and how much, if any, is he responsible for? Should you just not worry about the question? Or is this an issue where you want to approach the boss and explain the issues to her in hopes she can help change things? And if it is, how do you feel about raising it in front of others, including Rick? Are you worried about how others will react, or should you bring it up directly? And if you can’t get anything more from Rick than, “I need your help with X,” then I think you should just move on to your boss. I don’t think you should be upset that Rick isn’t helping, or that you are unhappy with him. Instead, I think you have a problem with the processes you are being required to follow. That said, I wonder if you would appreciate a more concrete answer to your question about timing. Why is it taking so long for you to get a feedback? Is it Rick’s lack of clarity, or is it the department’s policies and procedures? Or is it something else? Have you asked for specific help and, if not, is there anything you can do about it? You can certainly question his performance, but I’m not sure you can create a great-tasting wound in your otherwise happy workplace if you proceed to pour out the entire situation to the entire group and to your boss in a direct fashion.

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