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Workplace Solutions: Set Up To Fail

Workplace Solutions: Set Up To Fail


As a shareholder, I was thrilled to get hired as a management trainee by my tribal organization. Shortly after I made it past my office politicsprobationary period, our agency’s deputy director encouraged me to apply for a senior position, one in which I’d write grants and oversee contract compliance.

When I hesitated, saying I didn’t have enough education to handle the job’s duties, he told me I had the right stuff, would be a fool to turn down the chance for more money, that our organization wanted shareholders in leadership positions, and that he’d get me the training I needed.

I applied for and received the promotion. A day later, his daughter got the position I vacated. Apparently she had been the No. 2 choice when I’d gotten hired.

I discovered I’d walked into chaos in my new position. There was no paperwork to guide me. When I looked at the grants we had, I found we were out of compliance with federal agencies. After I told our executive director my concerns, he accused me of being “Chicken Little” and screaming “the sky is falling.” When I said we needed to re-file our reports with the federal funding agency and potentially return some of the money, he accused me of insubordination. We argued and he fired me.

I brought my case to our board, telling them I’d been set up to fail and should be rehired into my former position. They upheld the firing since I lacked the education specified in the job description, was in my probationary period and had argued with the executive director.

Do I have any recourse?


That depends on whether or not you qualify as a whistleblower. You may, as you potentially uncovered your agency fraudulently accepting federal grant money, and your executive director fired you after you brought this to his attention.

You can find out whether you have whistleblower status at the national whistleblowers legal defense and education fund. You can get additional assistance and coaching from the whistleblowers support fund at

As a whistleblower, you can negotiate or sue for reinstatement or a cash settlement. You need to first think, of course, of what suing does to your tribal organization.

If you don’t qualify as a whistleblower, you have limited recourse. Although Alaska recognizes the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and your deputy director appears to have enticed you to apply for the promotion, he may honestly have felt you were a good applicant. While he may have wanted you out of the way so his daughter could get your former job, that doesn’t equal to setting you up to fail.

It’s regrettably common for new hires to find chaos when they take over positions. Further, while your executive director should have listened to your assessment and supported you in remedying the problems you uncovered, many shoot messengers bearing bad news, and you reacted by arguing, rarely a successful strategy.

Next, unless your agency’s personnel policies define it differently, most organizations restart the probationary period time clock after promotions or other job changes.

That said, you have other low-cost or no-cost alternatives. You have a history with this organization, and your executive director may be willing to reconsider his decision to shut his ears to your concerns and fire you -- if you make the first move. What if you apologized and asked for a second chance?

Alternatively, you may want to reflect on lessons learned and make a choice. Do you want to still work with this executive and deputy director and under this board? Or would you rather move on?

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Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR and owner of the Alaska-based management consulting firm, The Growth Company Inc. consults with companies and individuals to create real solutions to real workplace challenges. Their services include HR On-call (a-la-carte HR), investigations, mediation, management/employee training, executive coaching, 360/employee reviews and organizational strategy services. You can reach Lynne @, via her workplace 911/411 blog, or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

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