Career clinic: My GC takes credit for my ideas – what can I do?

“I’m a senior lawyer in a major construction company and we’ve been undergoing a lot of change management in the last few months. The strategy consultants spent a week in our department.

Our GC who barely troubles himself with what happens day to day in our business and tends to be busy “strategising” with the bigwigs ended up co-presenting a paper to the board which was absolutely based on the recommendations on how to run risk management I had given to the strategy consultants. I even have copies of documents that I had written and given to the consultants that ended up verbatim in the final report – and he gets the credit.

I’m furious but I have no idea where to turn. Should I just look for another job? How can I make it clear to senior management that the ideas were mine?”

Ray Berg

Ray Berg, managing partner, Osborne Clarke
Taking credit for other people’s work can happen in any corporate environment. While there is always going to be both healthy and unhealthy competition, most companies believe in the benefits of teamwork. But even in supportive environments there are some bosses who may feel threatened by their colleagues, or believe that they are entitled to own everything their team produce. This can result in taking credit for the work you produce, as it was a ‘team effort.’

I can imagine how frustrating it must be for you given the valuable contribution you have made. Recognition for great performance is as important as monetary reward for most employees. If you’re interested in climbing the ladder within your company, and your boss takes credit for work that might give you an opportunity for a promotion, the best advice I can give you is to speak up! When you feel you have lost your sense of worth at your job and you feel unnoticed or unimportant, it’s time to do something about it.

A good way to go about this is to constructively approach your senior lawyer raising the issue with a solution for how you feel it could have been better presented to the business. You do not have to be confrontational, but it is worth mentioning (preferably face-to-face) that you felt it would have reflected better on the legal team as a whole if the suggestions were as a result of the collaborative efforts of the in-house team, which shows everyone in a good light.

Richard Shoylekov, Group general counsel, Ferguson

Do you get on with the GC? You are obviously upset about your ideas not being recognised, but did you share them with the GC at all? If, as you say, your GC doesn’t trouble himself with the day to day, does he even know that the ideas came from you? Consultants can be very good at taking ideas from the client and making them look like their own!

Why not talk to your GC – somehow introduce the subject, explain how you gave input, that you were really pleased that your ideas made it into the final report, that you really care about where the department is going and that you could contribute to the change management process to help it get there.

You could tell your GC how you feel but it might look like you are somehow resentful and selfish because you want to take the credit. If you can show that you can rise above that – that you are happy about the outcome, you support it and want to make it work, then maybe you don’t need to look for another job just yet. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to see your ideas turn into reality and see them through?

Michael Chissick, managing partner, Fieldfisher

This can sometimes be what happens when consultants are used for this kind of work. Perhaps the GC engaged them in the first place. Assuming you have a good relationship with the GC, go and speak with him/her. Going above their head to senior management may not be the best first step. It may be something you do as a last resort, if you feel like you are not going to get any credit, but the chances are the GC needs you for implementation as you came up with the ideas in the first place. This could be an opportunity to make yourself an indispensable member of the team.

Chris Anderson, head of legal services, Brighton & Hove Albion FC

This reads like you have deeper workplace issues and frustrations with your boss? If so, it sounds like you should be looking for another job.

In the immediate situation, it is difficult to see a positive outcome. If you go around your boss to senior management he will likely resent you undermining him. You might win the battle but he’ll still be GC and in the longer term you’ll lose the war. You also risk not being seen as a team player by others in the department.

I’d try to speak to him, calmly and without getting agitated, and express that you felt that you had contributed a lot to the project, but that this hadn’t been acknowledged. It’s better than letting your anger fester, and if he doesn’t respond positively then at least it clarifies that you should leave.

Phil Hagan, director of group legal, Phoenix Group

You sound pretty upset at the whole situation – I just wonder whether you are taking it a bit personally and potentially missing a good opportunity here. I suspect this is more cock-up than conspiracy.

Sure, the GC operates at a strategic level and is rarely involved in day to day matters but that is how it should be. Indeed, it could be a sign that they have the confidence to trust the legal department to get on with the normal legal advice and they don’t feel they have a lot to add on operational aspects.

As for the risk management paper, it’s one of the dark arts of consultancy to take solutions and recommendations created in one part of the client and then present them back to another part of the client, without giving credit (and whilst charging a hefty fee in the process).

Joking aside, this is a great opportunity to ensure the GC is aware of your role in preparing the recommendations and the hard work that went into them.   I suspect that they will be very grateful to you and may well be happy to openly share the credit with you.

On a practical level, wow about volunteering to be involved implementing the recommendations? Given your background, you should be well placed to do that. Or, if you prefer to move onto a different topic, you could explore with the GC working directly with them on similar matters in future. I expect they would be really pleased to hear you offering to help and would now have a lot more confidence in your abilities.