A reader writes:
I have recently been offered and accepted a job I am so excited about. It is an associate VP level for a solid company that has truly invested in this area of the business. I have been working a long time to get to this level of position. I gave notice at my current job, and yesterday was my last day, I am taking a week off before starting my new position.
While interviewing for the new position, the SRVP mentioned one of my potential direct reports, M., had only been at the company for three weeks and they were discovering she is a bit more “self-taught” than she and her resume indicated, and that I would likely need to give her a lot of coaching/direction and possibly let her go. She mentioned this because if she is going to be go, they want it to be in her 90-day probationary period, which would give me about a month to assess and coach her.
When I went for my second interview, it really was just so I could meet all team. M. happened to be on PTO that day, so I didn’t meet her.
Today my SRVP was in town and asked if I wanted to meet at the office and go to lunch since she will be back at her home office on my first day. Over lunch, she mentioned again that M. was not able to do the work at the level they were expecting, and she feels strongly that M. is going to have to go. As we returned from lunch and were saying our goodbyes I noticed through the glass doors some of the people I had met who would be on my team, and saw another woman walking with them.
That woman is my new husband’s ex-wife.
As soon as I got home, I did a little digging, and she is M. She is the person who will be reporting to me who is “self-taught.” I know her entire resume is a lie — my husband told me, and I know her job history has been a lot less stable than her online resume and LinkedIn profile indicate.
What do I do? I don’t think it is appropriate for me to be the one to coach her, manage her, and certainly not fire her. I would be 100% able to give her a fair shot, but if I do have to let her go, it is going to be perceived as some sort of … crazy new wife thing!
What and when do I tell the SRVP? I would be willing to postpone my start date by one week, but beyond that…? I don’t think it is fair to show up on day one and have M. find out then I am her new boss, and I don’t want to be the one to tell her.
Tell your SRVP today. Like right now, within the next hour.
You definitely can’t be the one to fire M. — there’s way too much potential for drama and for you to perceived as a vengeful ex-wife.
So call your new boss and explain the situation. Say that you put it together after seeing M. there the other day, and that you realize this complicates things. Then say something like, “Because of the complicated personal relationship, I don’t think I should be the one to let her go if that’s what needs to happen. If things are at the point where it’s clear that’s going to be the outcome, would it make sense for me to delay my start date by a week so that can happen before I start?”
If your boss tells you she thinks you can handle the situation and it will be fine, say this: “I appreciate that, but given the relationships involved, I think M. would perceive the decision as personal, which could cause problems for the company, and it could poison the well with my new team. I want to make sure the decision to let her go can’t be seen as a biased one.”
It’s likely, though, that your boss is going to see this as you do and will want to avoid the drama of the new wife firing the ex-wife. Just lay it out clearly, do it right away (so she doesn’t wonder why you waited to raise it), and be clear about how you’re proposing handling it.
Frankly, this would get even more complicated if M. weren’t going to be fired and if you were walking into a new job where, surprise, you’re managing your husband’s ex-wife. That could be unworkable for a bunch of reasons. Either way, the best thing you can do is to alert your new boss ASAP and figure out what makes sense from here.