CUCKOO IN THE NEST
Q: My business partner and I started our company several years ago We're now in our 50s and the business is doing well. Recently, my partner's son joined us and took over much of my work. When I confronted my partner, he said he and his son wanted to buy me out of the business I am devastated - I thought he was a good friend and that we'd continue running the enterprise together for years. I don't want to leave the firm, but feel outnumbered by my partner and his son.
A: I'm afraid this answer may infuriate you, but my only alternative would be such pussy-footing tactfulness that I'd probably fail to get the point across. You need, I'm pretty sure, to begin to prepare yourself for an ordered withdrawal from your business. You may think this unfair - and it probably is - but the evidence suggests that your relationship with your partner has been less than open for some time and I seriously doubt if it can now be repaired.
For example: when it was first suggested that his son should join the company, you obviously didn't talk through the implications. That was the time, without heat or suspicion, to have discussed the future of your company and its management, but that chance has now gone, and I fear for ever.
You're perfectly free, of course, to reject his offer; but if you do, this is what you inevitably face: deeply uncomfortable working relationships with both your partner and his son; more and more menial and unrewarding tasks; and a corrosive sense of resentment that will make you an increasingly unlikable person - even to yourself. It's a bleak and undignified prospect and I hope you decide to exchange it for another.
Draw a line under your devastation. Practise being heroically dispassionate.
Recognise that, since you and your partner are in your 50s, it's not too soon to be planning management succession.
Insist on an independent valuation of your company. Don't flounce; take your time; be sure you get a fair price. Meanwhile, start planning the second half of your life: you should have quite enough capital to embark on another business adventure as well as securing yourself a fret-free retirement.
GLOWING REFERENCE, DIM EMPLOYEE
Q: We have recently appointed a new sales executive, who came complete with a glowing reference from his previous employer. The problem is, he doesn't live up to his credentials and I suspect that the glowing reference was written on purpose to encourage me to take a very average employee off the previous employer's hands. What's my best course of action?
A: I expect you've written a few references yourself in your time so you really ought to know by now how to interpret them. Always consider the author's motives first: they may spring from compassion, guilt or even - occasionally - a malign interest in disabling a competitor. But the net effect is the same.
The great majority of references over-praise and under-criticise. Always look for what isn't there. Not a word about reliability: why not? Learn how to decode hidden messages: 'An effective if sometimes unconventional approach with customers' means he's screwed up as many sales leads as he's secured.
If he's a real no-hoper, swallow your pride and give him notice: the sooner the better for both of you. And if he asks you for a reference, I imagine you'll craft it with unusual care.
THESE MEETINGS KEEP ME AT WORK LATE
Q: I have a part-time job as clerk in a law firm and leave at 3pm every day to go home to my children. Recently my office has started holding a weekly 'team meeting' at 4pm, which I am expected to attend. They say they can't change the time, but I'm not paid overtime for the additional hours spent in the office, and I end up paying extra for the childminder at home. What can I do if it's my preference against theirs?
A: On the face of it, this sounds wrong, and I can quite understand your sense of injustice. But let me probe a little deeper.
Am I right in thinking that the 4pm team meeting is an idea dreamt up by the team itself rather than by management? If so, this suggests to me that relationships among you all aren't as good as they should be. A team that really felt itself to be a team wouldn't be so thoughtless as to put one of its members to such expensive inconvenience.
Since you seem to be the only part-timer, or at least, the only member who leaves work at 3pm, I wonder if this could be at the root of it all.
I know it shouldn't happen, but the closer and more competitive a team, the more they will resent any apparent lack of commitment. You know it's not that, but teams are funny things. And if all the others have a beer or two after their meeting and you're the only one not there, the sense of distance between them and you can only widen.
If this analysis makes sense to you, and you've already tried to get the time of the meeting changed, and your line manager declines to recommend you for overtime, I think you should steel yourself for a change of job.
Flexible working hours have much to be said for them but they can play havoc with group morale.
Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP. Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP. Or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.