What's your problem?

What's your problem? - The finance director of my company has been stealing significant sums from petty cash. I have proof that it is her, but I'm not sure how to deal with the situation. I can even sympathise with her - she is bringing up two children on

by JEREMY BULLMORE
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The finance director of my company has been stealing significant sums from petty cash. I have proof that it is her, but I'm not sure how to deal with the situation. I can even sympathise with her - she is bringing up two children on her own and is struggling with large debts left by her ex-husband. She happens to be excellent at her job, and fits in very well with the rest of the team, and I'm not sure that I want to lose her.

You have proof that a trusted director is a criminal yet you're keeping it to yourself. This makes you an accessory.

Sooner rather than later, someone else will rumble her - one of her staff, an auditor, another director. You may have convinced yourself that you're protecting her, but in fact you're exposing her to the most hideous risk. Once her crime becomes public knowledge, she'll have to be fired. And, for a financial director who's also a single parent with heavy debts, the consequences would be quite appalling. Her only hope of an equivalent job would be to lie her way into it.

So deciding to act is the easy bit: you have no choice. Working out exactly how to do it is more difficult.

Start by defining your ideal outcome. It sounds as if you'd like to keep her - but you can only do that if she pays back the money and stays straight.

Pick a Friday afternoon: she'll need the weekend to collect her thoughts.

Tell her you know everything, tell her you rate her, tell her you trust her, tell her you want her to stay. If you think she deserves it, up her pay a little.

Offer her legal help: she should be getting more support from that ex-husband of hers. Present her with a long-term repayment plan. And make it absolutely clear that there can be no second chances for her.

Put it all in writing, confide in at least one of your boardroom colleagues (preferably your chairman), lodge the letters with your lawyer - and hope.

If it all comes out later - and you should assume it will - then you will be seen to have acted both compassionately and responsibly. But do please act soon.

My company has not been doing so well recently and I have applied for jobs elsewhere - but now it is rumoured that the company will soon start looking for voluntary redundancies. Should I put everything on hold and wait for a redundancy pay-out?

You may be trying to be too clever for your own good. If you're unhappy with your existing company, don't stop applying for jobs elsewhere Finding the right one may take months; so if you put your search on hold and the rumoured redundancy payments fail to materialise you'll lose valuable time.

But do be picky. Don't take the first thing that comes along. You have the luxury of an income while you look - and if by chance the voluntary redundancy payment does crop up, that'll be a bonus. But, over the long haul, a job that you enjoy in a company with prospects will be worth a great deal more to you than any one-off payment.

I don't get any feedback from my boss and find it very hard to gauge how I am doing. Although I've mentioned this to her, she remains noncommittal and I still feel as though I'm working in a void. It's making me feel demotivated and I'm beginning to lose pride in my work. What can I do to resolve the situation?

It sounds as if you have good cause for concern here - but we need to be sure. It's just possible, you see (and don't get huffy, now) that what you're actually longing for is not more feedback but more praise. When we say to others: 'I want you to be absolutely honest with me,' what we often mean is: 'Please tell me how wonderful I am.'

Presumably your boss has other people reporting to her; does she keep them starved of feedback, too? Or is it only you?

If it's only you, then you have a next-stage question to answer. Is she more reticent with you because, although your work is good, she has an irrational bias against you? Or is it because (at least in her eyes) you're not as good as the others? Try very hard to be honest with yourself.

If it's yes to either of the above, then the problem you have is particular to you. The fact that she remains noncommittal could simply be reluctance on her part to come clean with you. (I know she should, but not all bosses can bring themselves to say hurtful things.) So be more upfront. Get her alone and say: 'I know you think my work inferior. Please don't worry about my feelings - am I right or wrong?' Put like that, her reaction will tell you all you need to know.

But if, after all this self-examination, you're still convinced that the problem is a general one and lies less with you than with her, you must make another appeal. This time, do it formally but helpfully - and with one or more of your colleagues. Don't be reproachful - just make it clear that you'll all be happier and better motivated if you get regular feedback, good and bad. And suggest a starting date.

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: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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