Subordinate Taking Credit For My Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a subordinate lying to gain credit: My question is: it has been a day since, do I talk to her about this undermining action of stealing credit?

I asked a subordinate to write up a how to manual on her duties in regards to using a particular software program. I gave her a date (one week) in which to do step by step print screens and step by step instructions for a 5 minute procedure. The first due date came and she said she didn’t have the time to work on it. I told her we had to have it done so that I could see if I could follow the instruction (as I am not familiar with the software I’d be the perfect guinea pig to test the instruction’s accuracy), second due date came, they were on my desk.

I tried to follow them, and became stuck on the 3rd page, print screens and instructions were missing. I made notes and gave them back asking for corrections within 2 days. She made corrections, so I tried again, I again was stuck early in the process. I decided at this point that I needed to sit with her and start over, I spent one to two hours per day next to her watching the process, and saying “okay, print screen that, and write in what you just did”.

Finally we finished and I was able to follow the directions. I came to work the next day and she told me, “guess what? So and so was here (a bigwig regarding this software from our corporate office) and I showed him the instruction binder and he said it was the best instruction manual he has seen yet because the old instructions didn’t have as good of print screens!” I said, “that’s great!”

She said, “I told him that you just wanted me to write step by step instructions, But I said, no way! I’m a visual person and need print screens.” Needless to say I stood with my mouth hanging open. I said, “Why would you say that? Do you not remember me sitting with you showing you what to print screen, and teaching you how to write a step by step manual, and you said you didn’t know how, and I told you that I would show you?”

She said, “Oh, I mustn’t have heard that.” My question is: it has been a day since, do I talk to her about this undermining action of stealing credit? We’ve had talk after talk about her interrupting me while I try to give instructions, trying to finish my sentences, and then she gets it wrong.¬† And talks about making suggestions at meetings to directors about changing our major processes before she has spoken to me about making any such suggestions. And this one has just topped it off. Do I talk to my supervisor first or address this head on?

Signed, Supervising A Loose Cannon

Dear Supervising A Loose Cannon:

I can imagine how you felt! After what you had to do to get a good product from her, the employee made it seem she was the one who got the work done right–in spite of your meticulous approach. I’m just surprised she told you about it. (Which makes me think some part of her conversation was to get a reaction from you.)

Some people might think this is not a serious issue, but I think it is a big issue for one big reason: She lied. She lied to make herself look good. She lied to make you look bad. She lied when she said she didn’t remember your input. After all, it was something that had happened over a considerable length of time, culminating in a full day of work two days earlier that was in direct contradiction to what she reported. If she would lie to make it appear she did something that she didn’t do, she would also lie to make it appear she didn’t do something, or lie to cover for not getting it done on time or lie about not knowing how to do it.

This links with her action of making suggestions at meetings without discussing them with you and her habit of interrupting you when you’re giving her directions. It sounds to me as though she doesn’t want a supervisor, apparently thinks she should be one and is bound and determined to put you in your place, which is, at best, being a peer of hers.As you can tell, I’m frustrated on your behalf! I think you should talk to your supervisor first, to get his or her opinion.

The last thing you need is to take something on but be told to back down. Rather than put your emphasis on the subordinate taking credit, put it on the fact that the subordinate blatantly lied and made it appear you would have done a bad job without her insistence. This undermines the whole section. Ask your supervisor for the best way to not only deal with the employee but also to ensure that the lie is corrected. Your concern shouldn’t just be that you didn’t get credit, it should be that someone in a high level position now has an impression that you may not be dependable for high quality work.

That could be a huge career issue at some point, according to your organization and its culture. You don’t say how big a wig the big-wig is, but perhaps your manager could assist you by contacting him and saying that she heard he (Mr. Big-Wig) had been to the office and had seen the instruction manual. Your manager could say that Lisa (the subordinate) had mentioned the Big Wig being there. The manager could say, “Something she said made me think she implied it was her idea to include detailed print screens. I feel that I owe it to her supervisor, Jan Franklin, to let you know that Jan spent days with Lisa coaching her through the process and the final product was largely due to Jan’s efforts.

I’m happy for Lisa to receive praise but it would be unfair for it to appear that Jan didn’t insist upon high quality work.”

I don’t know if you can persuade your manager to support you in that way or not, but it seems to me that she should. Maybe in the process of expressing your concerns she’ll see why this is more than a case of someone taking a bit of credit.The problem is knowing what to do next. Trying to make this a matter for organizational discipline would probably look bad because of your role in it. Further, you wouldn’t want to take action without investigating to find out exactly what was said. That would require interviewing Mr. Big-Wig and asking him about the conversation. My experience is that people in those positions don’t want anyone to get in trouble for talking to them.

So, this will probably be a matter for a section level written warning to cover the concept of failing to be completely truthful to someone outside the section–and in the process undermining you and making the section appear less than effective.If you have a conversation with the employee about this and she again says she doesn’t remember your role, don’t get into a lengthy argument. Tell her you have her first drafts and you know exactly what you told her to get her to the final product and you’re disappointed that she would say she had no recollection of a full day of work that you two did together.

I have sometimes ended that type of conversation with something like, “I want to give you a chance to make this right so we can work together in the future without me wondering about your truthfulness. Can you think of anyway to reassure me about that?” (Or something similar.) Often employees have made commitments not to do it again. Or, they have refused, which has given me something to document for consideration the next time–and there always is a next time.I hope these thoughts are useful. I may be jumping on the problem a bit more severely than you intended, but “Lisa” seems to need to be dealt with more harshly than she has in the past, if she genuinely said what she reported to you. Best wishes to you and if you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.