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At my work several months ago I pitched a new project which got accepted; the owners, bosses, and management loved everything, from the clean designs to the detailed work that went into designing everything.

Part of the proposal was a complete brand design, from colour pallets to imagery specifications, business/personal messaging, etc. Everyone unanimously agreed that the brand was 'spot on' and signed off on it. Since then, I designed everything to specs and standards, and everything synchronised beautifully.

Now we're about to physically print off a huge number of advertising assets, including magnets, pamphlets, and other marketing materials; but one of the co-owners (the one in charge of my division) has gone off and rejected some of the carefully branded materials, and has had new materials made with generic clip-art and completely off-brand design. It can't even be identified as 'belonging' to the product, and to make matters worse the re-branded assets are what the world will see first. Not even the designer that made them likes the new assets, and my direct managers are complaining that the materials will just be thrown away since no sane person would want to keep them.

How should I approach the situation, and get that boss to back down on their decisions before we roll out hundreds of thousands of mistakes?

The Resolution

I've selected the answer I think is best (see below), but I'm posting the ultimate resolution here as it played out, as I feel it gives good insight on a managerial level

The "brand correct" designs were discarded in the end; the co-owner just hated the first designs, and my re-pitch was declined when I spoke to her directly.

At this point, I spoke with my manager and advised that I would no longer work on brand-related materials from home, on effort that had no guarantee of being used. They know I have an aggressive time-line on the core product, so it essentially offloaded all design work to our graphics department. I should note I'm also the most experienced graphic designer in our office, so my manager considered this a significant loss.

Knowing how dissatisfied I was, my direct manager stepped in and she did her job very well. What she proposed and worked towards was a modifying the ad to more closely follow my brand guide. My manager knew I wasn't interested in approving the new designs, but still included me in the process so I would at least see the progress despite my disinterest.

My manager not only accepted my offloading of the art design, but also encouraged it; the project was becoming personal and that I shouldn't attempt to shoulder everything. My manager also pointed out I probably would never be satisfied with anything but my own designs, and admitted that even though she agreed they were a step down - this is still closer to having a 'brand' than any of our products have ever been, and did express it was well done.

So my boss is still happy with the revised materials, I'm not red-in-the-face upset at the materials, and there's less pressure on me to both please everyone, myself, and finish the project. Advertising materials will still pass thorough me and I'll point out anything glaring, but I'm not to intervene and do the work myself.

Overall, it's important to just get the managers active; it can be easy to forget that managers don't just push down, but they also exist to push up as well - and that it's their job to facilitate communication between both sides. The only comment I would leave is that the manager was aware of the issue, but only acted after I had decided to stop all extracurricular work, which could have been avoided

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@Phillipp; I read that question earlier, the difference between here is the pre-existence of approved materials, especially since other controlling parties also approved the design. More/less this could also be phrased "a high level employee is going rogue". –  Kver Mar 4 at 17:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

How should I approach the situation, and get that boss to back down on their decisions before we roll out hundreds of thousands of mistakes?

You could use a process similar to when you made your original successful pitch.

Remind the audience of the reasoning behind the original design, but this time compare your design and the new design. Point out where the new design is lacking in light of the original, already approved goals, and where your design meets those goals more fully. Try to educate your audience.

Have your direct managers in the meeting with you to help provide their viewpoint in addition to yours. Try to make it more than simply your (professional) opinion, versus the (not so professional) opinion of one of the co-owners.

Try not to make it a win/lose situation ("get that boss to back down") and more about everyone doing what is best for the entire company.

And be prepared for one of the co-owners to still say "It's my company, we'll do it my way."

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A manager has the right to tell his people that they are wrong, and has generally been given his job for good reasons. It's your job to communicate your conclusion to your manager, and it's their job to communicate further up the chain, unless your organization is culturally flat (i.e. the CEO has stated that he wants to be told by the hierarchically lowest members of the organization when he's wrong), then going outside this chain of command could be career suicide, or at least end your position in this particular organization.

It sounds like you've already done your job. The best thing you can now do is to continue to do your job to the best of your ability. If you think this managerial behavior represents a pattern of mismanagement, and if you think your organization is not going to appropriately correct it, then the best thing for you to do is to start talking to others in your industry about your interest in finding a firm with the kind of management that you want.

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When things come down to opinion a vs. opinion b within an organization for anything that will eventually be customer facing, whenever possible, take it to the customer.

Ask 5-10 of your customers to come in and offer their opinions on option a vs. option b. Try to ask questions that provide specific direction towards one or the other. For example, if one of the reasons for the new branding was to instill confidence in the brand, ask "which of these solutions exudes more confidence in your opinion?"

It can still be tricky if one of the internal opinions is the boss's. Sometimes the boss just gets what the boss wants because they're the boss. But good bosses should at least consider what their customers say.

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