What a manager can do if the big boss puts a tag on an employee

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In my previous post, I described a common scenario and the mess it makes:

An employee meets with the big boss (the manager’s manager) in what is often called a “skip level” one-on-one.  Or the big boss sees – or hears about — some output of an employee, representing a small fraction of the employee’s output.  The big boss then makes a judgment on the employee – what I call a “tag” on the employee.  That tag now sticks on the employee.  It creates a big mess that puts the manager in a bind – how do you address this employee’s tag?

Here are tips for what the manager caught in the middle can do to handle the tag – whether good or bad.

1. Keep the tag in mind and wait for observed behaviors that are consistent with “the tag”

Ok, if the manager’s manager (“big boss”) is so keen at identifying employee’s essence and value, then surely there will be plenty of opportunities to observe directly the performance of the employee that has earned that tag.  Whether the tag is “negative attitude” or “rock star”, the manager needs to wait for opportunities to see behaviors that fit with this tag, and correct those behaviors.

If the manager is keeping a performance log on the employee, these trends should manifest if they are correct, and fail to appear should they be incorrect.

2. Ignore what your manager says and do your job of managing

Almost the same as the point above, but subtly different.  It doesn’t matter what the boss’s boss says. If you are managing your employee, work with your employee to make sure he meets performance expectations, provide feedback that drives to the desired behaviors, then, if the employee is performing the job duties according to expectations, then it kind of doesn’t matter what the boss’s boss says.  Your assessment is based on better data and you can justify it.

3. Have a “strategy session” with the employee

In a previous series of blog posts, I outline how not all feedback sessions are about correcting the employee’s behavior, but provide opportunities to reveal opportunities for organizational or strategic improvement.  This kind of “feedback” from the big boss could afford such an opportunity. The idea is to strategize with the employee on what to do in the future, and less to correct the employee’s behavior.

This third path is especially helpful because you are looking for insights on how to better improve the team, organization, and how you work with your leadership team.

4. Perhaps don’t put a tag on employees if you are the big boss, please?

And to you “leadership teams” out there, stop using “skip level” meetings as a way to assess the extended team members’ abilities.  This counts as one of those management short cuts that is ineffective.  Instead, you need to put this responsibility on your managers, and use the skip level meetings instead to teach you about your organization, not to teach your organization something or do delayed and non-specific performance management.  If you’re the big boss, you should be more artful than this!

Have you ever felt like you were “tagged” by your boss’s boss, whether positive or negative?  Did you then receive feedback from your boss?  Did this help or hurt?

For you management designers out there, what do you do to neutralize the potential toxicity of skip-level meetings and assure that they are used as a tool to move the organization forward instead of creating a political mess?

Related Articles:

What to do when your boss gives feedback on your employee? That’s a tough one, so let’s try to unwind this mess.

The Performance Management Process: Were You Aware of It?

Five reasons why focusing on weaknesses with employees is absurd and damaging

How to have a feedback conversation with an employee when the situation is complex

What inputs should a manager provide performance feedback on?

Three reasons why giving performance feedback based on indirect information doesn’t work

How to use strategy sessions as a way to manage indirect sources of info about your employees (part 1)

How to use strategy sessions as a way to manage indirect sources of info about your employees (part 2)

How to use strategy sessions as a way to manage indirect sources of info about your employees (part 3)

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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