How to deal with credit stealers

What should employees do when their seniors steal the credit for their work and deprive them of the appreciation that they rightly deserve?

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Shaila, a budding marketing professional, began her career with an FMCG firm. It has been three years since she started working in the marketing department of the company, post her MBA from a grade II management college in Mumbai. Shaila is not just an ‘ideas’ person, but a very hard working member of the team with expertise in creating PowerPoint presentations. Whenever an important project or a new strategy is conceived, her immediate boss or senior, Sheetal — who comes from a top notch MBA college and is only a year senior to her academically — offloads a major part of the work onto Shaila. Shaila doesn’t mind it because she enjoys the work, and she also feels good that her immediate senior relies on her and entrusts her with important work.

Once, Sheetal’s team was asked by the head of marketing to conceive a marketing strategy for a new product launch. Shaila came up with an idea, which the team liked and unanimously agreed to, and together they decided to flesh it out further.

When the idea was presented to the head of marketing, it was met with much appreciation and excitement. Sheetal immediately took all the credit, making up a story about how she had conceived the idea while travelling to a small town in UP. Not once did she acknowledge that it was Shaila’s brainchild.

A dumbstruck Shaila was left unable to speak her mind for fear of disrupting the harmony of the team before an important launch. She also feared that she would be blamed for unnecessarily blowing up the issue and creating a hue and cry.

Although it wasn’t the first time that Sheetal had unfairly claimed credit for something she hadn’t done, this time, Shaila felt truly wronged.

Being an important project, acknowledgement and recognition of her contribution would have given Shaila a much-needed career push.

Trying to maintain silence in the matter took a toll on her. She was heartbroken, demotivated and felt cheated.

Witnessing someone else being appreciated and lauded for work that is done by oneself can be very frustrating. Most professionals, at some point in their careers, have had to face situations where the credit for the success of a project — which resulted solely from their utmost passion and hard work — goes to someone else. More often than not, the applause is bagged by a senior. How should professionals who have been deprived of the credit that is due to them, deal with this?

What should be Shaila’s next step? Should she speak to the head of marketing separately? Would he judge her if she did? Or should she just keep mum and accept it as her destiny and consider it her sacrifice for the larger good of the company?

Should she resort to the last option and leave the company altogether? What should she do? Here is what some prominent HR leaders have to say:

Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Bhilosa Industries

I would never advise anybody to leave the organisation. Shaila was not unaware that her immediate boss had the habit of taking undue credit, or passing off others’ work as her own. Being a junior employee, she needs to learn how to navigate things without crossing paths with the immediate boss.

In my experience, with a little smartness, any professional can keep the super boss informed of each and everything. There are informal channels that can be used to keep the super boss in the loop. For instance, in this case, it would have been a good idea for Shaila to stay in touch with the key people in the organisation who are close to the head of marketing. It could have been either the secretary of the head of marketing or another colleague of his, whom he interacts with closely. Through such contacts, Shaila could have informally passed on details of what actually happened and how she herself had mooted the idea.

Had she been smart, Shaila would have marked the head of marketing in all the mail trails, while communicating the idea, and openly sought an opinion or feedback. It would also have been sensible for Shaila to chat with the head of marketing and convey the message casually, during informal gatherings in the organisation, about how the idea was conceived.

Going to the head of marketing and cribbing would be wrong. The message should be conveyed smartly to the super boss in a casual way without it appearing to be a complaint. All super bosses are very smart and are either aware of or manage to find out the truth.

An informal chat can also be routed through the HR. The latter can facilitate a meeting with the super boss. A last resort can be to informally communicate to the HR how one’s credit was stolen. After all, the HR does update the functional heads about such issues in their own way. One has to be cautious about how close the HR is to the concerned super boss, in this case, the head of marketing.

Anil Mohanty, head of people, Medikabazaar

As a leader, the correct way is to give credit to the team for any success. In this case, it is very important for Shaila to convey to the immediate manager that whatever has happened was not right.

It is very important to let Sheetal know, in an indicative way, how a manager should behave when it comes to celebrating the success of a team.

Shaila should wait for the right opportunity, say a team meeting, and praise her boss in front of the marketing head. At the same time, she should smartly convey that it was a team effort which resulted in success. Shaila should make her boss realise the beauty of collaboration and team work, and the importance of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. Also, if Sheetal’s attitude of stealing credit from others continues, then it should be smartly brought to the notice of the head of marketing.

Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Solara Active Pharma

Stealing credit for a junior’s work reflects the insecurity of a manager. The managers should always look at the success of a team member as the success of that particular person only, but in case of a team’s failure, the manager should own that failure. That is how cohesive teams are created.

This also fosters trust. In this case, the past relationship between Shaila and Sheetal really matters. If this incident has happened after Shaila has worked with Sheetal for two to four years, then there is a major issue. There is a definite breach of trust between the two. I think Shaila should first seek clarifications from Sheetal on why she took all the credit for the idea. Besides, Shaila could also take the emotional route. Taking Sheetal out for lunch or coffee would be ideal. She can then tell her how hurt she was at the meeting for not being appreciated for her effort. It would have to be a career talk, which would have to be dealt with in a very positive manner.

If there is no satisfactory explanation from Sheetal, then Shaila should speak with the head of marketing. Every company has a provision for a fire side chat with senior leaders. However, Shaila should not reach out to the head of marketing before clarifying matters with Sheetal first. Also, while speaking with the head of marketing, Shaila needs to be confident and believe in herself.

Such small matters can be detrimental to a person’s career. These instances can also lead to cultural changes in the organisation. In such cases, it is better to first clear the air by discussing with the immediate manager and then move on. If this does not work, and if Sheetal has a habit of perpetually stealing other people’s credit and Shaila has also been a victim of this in the past, then this is definitely not the place for Shaila to waste her talent in.

This is also an opportunity for the head of marketing to exhibit his ability to manage such situations. A lot also depends on the kind of relationship the head of marketing and Sheetal share. If they are high on trust, then there will be a higher likelihood of the junior employees not getting their share of credit or being often ignored.

The culture of the company also plays a role. If the organisation believes in sharing credit with juniors, there is hope. If the company has a culture where the bosses end up taking their team’s credit, then in all likelihood, the head of marketing will take all the credit from Sheetal as well.

An employee should resort to quitting only if the support of the super boss is also missing. This is then an indication of the organisation being a lousy one. In such an organisation, the employee should only stay to learn or till he/ she gets to work on new projects.

This article first appeared in the HRKatha magazine.

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