Tech director 'qualifications'? Know the right exec

Thanks to an exec's influence, a director of dubious credentials comes on board and makes life miserable for the rest of the employees

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For some people, all it takes to get hired is to know the right person with enough pull to get you in the door, regardless of skills and experience. Then the rest of us have to deal with a co-worker who not only isn’t good for the job, but enjoys the backing of people in high places in the company -- that's what you call a lose-lose situation.

At one place where I worked, the tech director was hired through such channels. We were looking for a consultant to help with one of our projects.

Initially, our team interviewed three different candidates. However, our new CxO wanted in on the hiring. Our team thought two of the candidates would be a good fit for the job, but not the third one. The CxO disagreed and voiced a very strong preference for the third person -- and had enough clout to push it through.

How do you know each other?

We later found out that this new CxO used to work with this consultant, which helped explain why the CxO sang the consultant’s praises -- fair enough. More telling, even later down the line we discovered the consultant was related to the spouse of the new CxO. The push to give the project to this person definitely involved more than his resume.

I focused on getting through the project, thinking that at its completion after a few months that we wouldn’t see him again. Wrong!

The project wrapped up, but I was shocked to hear that this same consultant had been hired as our director. Neither I nor anyone on our team had any input, nor even a heads-up regarding this hire. I didn’t really have an objection to hiring a director per se, but there’s a difference between hiring a consultant to do one specific project and hiring a full-time employee with a wide scope of responsibilities.

I had two concerns regarding the hiring of this consultant as our director. One: He had less knowledge of the industry we were in than I did, which doesn’t give a lot of confidence. The other: Why didn’t the company advertise the position? This position was never posted internally or externally.

Nevertheless, when he started the job, I expected him to function as a director -- to guide and advise lower-level managers such as myself. Instead, he bypassed me and worked with my team members without my knowledge. In fact, I only found out when my direct reports brought up this concern with me.

Personnel problems

Since this director was hard to talk to anyway and such developments would lead to communications issues, I decided to let the CxO know my concern. All he told me was that I should work within the chain of command -- meaning I should talk to this director first. Irony of ironies: The CxO was telling me to follow the chain of command upward, but the reason I went to him in the first place directly stemmed from the people at the top not following the chain of command downward.

I tried to talk to the director. However, when I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss the issue, it inevitably ended up being a monologue, with him doing all the talking. When I tried to say something, he either talked over me or changed the topic. The same happened in informal conversations. At first, I thought he had something against me, but I noticed the same pattern when he talked to our vendors.

He'd ask questions of the vendors, but when they tried to reply, he almost never gave them a chance to speak. I could tell from the vendors’ body language they were getting annoyed, but were trying to hide behind polite facades. I nearly broke out laughing one day when he mentioned to me that some of these vendors were being so rude to him. (Note: I never had issues with these vendors before he took over the business relationship management aspect of my job.)

As expected, communications issues arose as time went by. When it was time for the annual performance review of my team, several of my direct reports asked me whether I was still doing their reports. Yes, that’s how bad things got, but there wasn’t much I could do -- other than leave, which I eventually did.