38

First a bit of a background:
The company I work for recently transitioned to a new ERP. This took about four years to go live with and we finally did so a few months ago.
During this time, it was realized that the company never really had an IT department, but rather 3 programmers to run the system. As the transition took place, the decision was made to let two of the programmers go, while leaving one (me) to hold the fort down while we went live with the new system.
When we finally went live, the decision was made to actually hire most of the third party team we had hired to transition as part of finally creating a proper internal IT Department. This includes the previous boss, who we will call John, (who is an amazing asset) of the third party provider. I, as the programmer who has been around the longest, have been appointed head of the IT Department.

Now for my problem:
John is the one that the other two employees have been reporting to for the past year and a half. They continue to report to him even though he is no longer their boss and I am. John himself is extremely ego-free in this situation and wants me to be the boss. Even more, he wants to help me gain recognition throughout the company and within the IT dept., but the other two employees still by nature go through him.
Another thing to throw in is that John actually wants me to succeed. He has been a team manager for a while and is amazing at it, while I have only started now. We have had an amazing working relationship for the past few years and now, even though I'm technically his boss, he even gives advice on how to communicate with 'his' guys. An example is that a few days ago, I was going to send an email to the team with some updates to our schedule. I ran it past him and he made some critiques. I appreciated his input and changed the entire focus and tone of the email to reflect what he explained to me.

So my question is:
How do I get these two other employees to report to me as opposed to John?

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  • 8
    Can you give some examples of things these employees are doing, and crucially how does John respond when they do? Aug 25 at 6:24
  • 7
    Are you able to articulate maybe how not going "through you" is harmful? Aug 25 at 6:30
  • 9
    So, does John report to you or someone else? What is the role of John now? Aug 25 at 6:31
  • 4
    How does this "reporting to John" work? Does John hand out new tasks when they are done with the old ones?
    – nvoigt
    Aug 25 at 7:02
  • 9
    What does "lead programmer" entail on your team? Is John expected to manage day to day tasking on the team? Is so, then it sounds like you're leap-frogging him. If not, then what is his role?
    – bob
    Aug 25 at 14:33
132

If John wants you to succeed, ask John to reply to every report you should get but he gets instead: Sorry guys, I am not responsible for this anymore, please run this by Menny.

If John does this persistently enough, they will naturally go to you after a certain time.

If this works, it's a great solution, because it preserves everyones goodwill.

8
  • 8
    This. If they respect John enough to continue to see him as their leader, they'll follow his lead in reporting to you when he tells them to do so.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 25 at 14:13
  • 30
    My only quibble is "run this by". I think that's a little too...informal(?) for this situation. Maybe just "this needs to go to Menny"
    – Kevin
    Aug 25 at 15:07
  • 2
    This is the best solution, but what if John doesn't do this? I would suggest addressing that in the answer as well. Aug 25 at 15:19
  • 4
    @BernhardBarker I didn't answer that part, because it feels like a new question to me. This depends on why John doesn't do it. Is it laziness, a power fight, something else? How is the politics in the company? etc... I hope my answer combined with DeveloperGuy's answer are simply good enough to resolve the situation.
    – Benjamin
    Aug 25 at 15:31
  • 1
    Yep, if John isn't 100% on board with this and actively telling his previous subordinates who to talk to about their questions, any attempt to fix this issue will fail. Aug 25 at 17:38
45

I think you need to rethink your outlook and consider how you want to lead your department and how it functions.

You mentioned in comments that John is the lead programmer, and you are Head of IT Dept. These two roles therefore mean it is not a flat structure, but your comments and post indicate that it is, or is the way you have taken it to be.

My question in response is do you need all aspects of work to flow directly from you to those individuals and manage them directly, or is this an opportunity to define how work should be managed via your lead developer.

One suggestion is that you clearly define the responsibilities that you have, and those that John can take on in the lead role, as he needs to have that autonomy for him to succeed. You then work directly with John for deliverables, and collaborate with the wider company where priorities etc interact with your department and how these can be achieved.

This then leaves you time and opportunities to take on other tasks including the people/career development, tech strategy, setting priorities from the business etc, but John is there to ensure they are met, standards are kept etc. This may mean a reduction in day to day dev work for you, but with a capable team including John, you will be able to achieve more.

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  • 13
    This. Is John's title as lead programmer an actual leadership role? Or is it just honorary? If the former, then it sounds like OP is trying to (accidentally) leapfrog John and manage John's reports rather than managing John. The key is, what authority is John supposed to posses. This is a good answer.
    – bob
    Aug 25 at 14:33
  • 3
    Yeah, don't fix what isn't broke. I get the anxiety of not charge of things and therefore not being in a "manager". But as head of IT, there should be more strategic stuff the OP can find to do? This answer suggests some, but maybe hiring is another? That might make them comfortable delegating task-assignment. If not, the maybe there is a problem here. Aug 25 at 15:40
  • This should be the top-rated answer. There's more to running an IT department than telling programmers what to do. OP should be focusing on the bigger picture and letting 'John' handle the programmers.
    – Aaron F
    Aug 27 at 9:33
35

Sounds like you're in an amazing position. You've got a competent team with a team leader that the team respects and is a highly competent manager.

So... what's the problem? You're in charge of strategy, while John can be in charge of tactics. That's exactly how it should be - as long as John is accomplishing the things with his team that you decide are appropriate from a strategic sense, it's perfect!

If that's not the case, then you would need to make a change - but it sounds like it is, at least for now. Meet with John, make sure he understands the strategic goals and is aligned with them, and then be the strategic leader - and be happy your time is freed up from the mundane day to day stuff!

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    This. In military terms, John seems to be acting as a (very competent) platoon sergeant. You are the commissioned officer in charge of the platoon (and as the company grows, most likely you will be in charge of more teams than one). Your job is to make sure John is "on the same page" as you, not to micromanage everyone individually.
    – alephzero
    Aug 25 at 17:12
27

From one of your comments:

John doesn't necessarily undercut me, but advises them what to in a situation and they are now unavailable for tasks I need to assign them

If John is assigning them tasks which are not in accordance with the business's properties, John is undercutting you, even if he's not doing it deliberately. If possible, the way to fix this is to talk to John, make him more aware of the business's priorities and then hopefully the whole situation goes away because everybody is aligned.

If it's not possible to do that, then you need to tell:

  • John not to assign tasks
  • The team not to accept task assignments from John

There is a non-zero chance this will result in John, and maybe more, of the team leaving.

4

How do I get these two other employees to report to me as opposed to John?

Assuming this is official:

He [John] has been a team manager for a while

Then you are head of IT and are John's boss, and John is the boss of the other two devs. As such, the chain of command is as follows:
You -> John
John -> other devs

So the devs can report to John, and John report to you. That allows you and John to discuss strategy of what is required with the dev team, from a business point of view, and John and the devs to discuss actual code based problem solving and approach etc as a dev team.

Unless you want to handle actual code based discussions, then you are more a dev manager than head of IT.

All this said, given there are only 4 of you in total, I'm not sure such a fine grained and strict approach to who reports to who is necessary? Can you all not just discuss things together when needed? Perhaps setup a group medium like Slack where things can be discussed visible to all 4 and decisions can be made from any "level", whether you as a business decision or John as a dev team leader(ish) position?

1

How would the company benefit from them reporting to you and is there another way to achieve this?

Your should separate between your personal feelings and the needs of the company. The easiest solution might be to make John your right hand and just let them report to him. It seems like your department thinks, John should have your job. That's okay. Make it work for you - for example by trying to free up your job by moving up the ladder.

It's hard to say if this specific strategy will work for you. But in general, try shifting your frame of reference. Changing facts (they prefer John as their boss) takes a lot of work and can lead to hard feelings. Try making those facts positive instead of negative.

For example: John is a promising employee who has taken over some of your duties and has been fulfilling them well, setting himself up for a higher position and thereby freeing your schedule to focus on strategic and important tasks, setting you up for a higher position. The best possible outcome is for both of you to get promoted instead of your department breaking over some fight. And the best way to get there is to push Johns promotion. If instead of x developers you have x-1 developers and a manager below you, you have actually promoted yourself ;).

1

You mentioned, as one of the practical consequences, that:

John... advises them what to in a situation and they are now unavailable for tasks I need to assign them

Other answers have addressed the interpersonal element, but it strikes me that what you also need, both for this situation and to keep the new department organized, is to stop taking tasks right out of the email stream and start using an issue tracker for everything (as close as possible).

I would create a support@example.com email address and when someone emails, a new ticket is created. If someone emails you, John, or any other developer, they can forward it to the support address and gently remind the user about the new procedure.

The right system will give you visibility into what the team is working on and, perhaps more importantly, at the end of the year you can show your own boss how the department is doing and show evidence to back up any requests you may need (for new equipment, more developers, etc).

It's a little pain to set up, but it will be worth it.

-11

Realistically, you start looking around for another job. You're surplus to requirements here, sooner or later the big bosses will notice. They had no problems with firing two of the original team. Sorry.

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    It's truly amazing how for any question on The Workplace, someone will inevitably say "look for another job"...
    – 0xFEE1DEAD
    Aug 25 at 16:50
  • @0xFEE1DEAD Possibly because when a work situation is FUBAR, or making you unhappy, the best thing IS to get out? Aug 27 at 17:35
  • I don't agree with your assertion that this situation is FUBAR. Your "answer" would be a lot more useful if you could at least explain why you think it's beyond repair. Sure, quitting is always an option but at this point you're just stating the obvious...
    – 0xFEE1DEAD
    Aug 27 at 18:10
  • John is better at the job than @Mennyg is. This is not a stable situation. Aug 27 at 21:00

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