What's your problem?

At just 29, I've been appointed regional manager of a supermarket chain. But my manager is making my life a misery.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

 My background is this: I attended public school, got a first from Cambridge and an MBA from London Business School. My career progression in the supermarket industry has been rapid but, unfortunately, my manager has a chip on his shoulder about me. He left school at 16 to stack supermarket shelves and worked his way up. He thinks I'm wet behind the ears and detached from the 'real world' because of my privileged background. I know he's wrong, but he rebuffs any friendly overtures from me. His comments on me will have a real impact on my future career in this firm. What can I do?

A: Some years ago, I was sent a similar question but with one crucial difference. It was hilariously clear from the language my correspondent used that he deserved every bit of the stick he was getting. He had no doubts at all about his social, academic and managerial superiority; he clearly despised all those less well spoken than himself; and he thought his managers were deeply privileged to have him working with them.

In your case, I'm happy to say, I can detect no hint of such delusions.

Less happily for me, this means that I can't simply repeat the advice that I gave to my previous correspondent - the thrust of which I shall leave to your imagination. Yours is a tougher problem.

The brightest chink of light I can detect is your undisputed progress to date. To have been appointed a regional manager at 29 must mean you've impressed a number of senior people.

Supermarket chains being the efficient organisations that they are, you will have been regularly evaluated in writing and recommended in writing for promotion, and files will exist in the HR department that testify to your abilities.

You seem to have done all you can already to ease the tension between you and your chippy manager, but to no effect. If the situation continues for much longer, it will seriously damage your confidence; and when confidence suffers, so will performance. So the time has come, with all the attendant risks and worries, for you to take your problem to a third party.

You'll know better than I who that third party should be: maybe your chippy manager's manager, or maybe the HR director. Stay cool and reasonable.

Resist open criticism of your manager: simply register your belief that he and you are incompatible and put in a request to be assigned to a different chain of command. Don't ask for judgment in your favour.

This may not be as risky as it sounds. Your manager has been around since he was 16. He may be highly valued, but his personal characteristics will be known and noted. And any dismissive comments he may make about you will certainly be assessed in the context of your previous evaluations.

Good luck.

- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the both Guardian Media Group and WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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