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Recently my friend, a software developer, got into the following situation while working at a giant software consultancy.

He had a few suggestions about improving a software development process which he shared with his manager. The manager heard him and then promised to consider his suggestions. A few days later, my developer friend receives a mail-trail from his client showing that the manager has provided excellent ideas for process improvement and everyone in the team would be implementing them. This mail-trail did not mention any credit to my developer friend who actually shared the idea with the manager.

The manager suggested the improvements to the client after he heard them from the developer. This can be confirmed by the dates in the mail-trail.

It is very hard for anyone to have their credit stolen. Is there something he could have done before or something that can be done now to make things clear to everyone?

How to deal with a manager who suppresses your ideas and suggestions and uses them for their personal benefit?

EDIT:

Some overview about the company and the work:

This is a giant Indian consultancy, one of the top 10 software consultancies in the world. There are over 3000 people working on this project, 15 of which are led by the manager. This person is just a line manager and the team members are directly report to the onsite team and the client. The client and the onsite team have direct discussions with the team members individually during annual performance reviews and appraisals. This is where the issue raises, as because everyone is visible, the manager is using his subordinates' suggestions to rise in the eye of the onsite team and the client.

I am myself working in another company, where I get the same visibility but fortunately I have team leaders here in India and onsite who encourage suggestions about process improvement and give due credit for them.

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The ideas can't be that great if they can be passed by word of mouth through a manager, and then implemented by someone else. Maybe this is something instantly recognizeable as "doh, obvious, let's do it"? Deep ideas in software require a specific patch to be delivered, or a very detailed description. Then you get the credit, because the manager can't explain the idea or how he came up with it (watch Working Girl, 1988, Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver). Anyway, how does your friend even know the final implementation was even the same as the intended embodiment of the original idea. –  Kaz Jul 22 at 19:35
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So who do you think the customer is going to blame when it doesn't work. It's not like the boss can say, "The other person I gave credit made the mistake, so don't blame me." isn't going to work. –  JeffO Jul 23 at 18:22

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Here's the advice I'd give the friend...

1 - Check in.

If this came up in a private discussion with the manager, then that's where it should return. Take the mail, and go to the manager and ask why. Try your best not to be accusatory.

A good number of ideas have been raised that the manager may not have mentioned the developer by name because he was representing the team and making a commitment for the team in talking to the client. That's fair. It's also fair that the idea was mentioned by a number of different people privately, so it's not as unique and special as you think. Or even that it's an idea that the client brought up to the manager, and the manager ratified it, knowing it was a good idea from inside the team as well.

Unless the manager is saying "this idea which I alone came up with with no help from anyone" - it's not safe to assume that he is taking credit.

2 - Look for a repeated pattern

There's a big difference between a single mail for a single instance and a repeated pattern of taking undue credit across a wide variety of audiences. If you see this happen over and over again, with a variety of different ideas and audiences, consider going over your boss' head and raising concerns, or finding a new boss. Particularly if you've already done step #1 and not gotten a satisfying answer.

3 - Offer ideas more publicly

When I've had a boss or colleague I really didn't trust, I've gotten in the habit of avoiding being brilliant privately. I'll give the team my good ideas, but as a group at status meetings, or group problem solving meetings. Because I work in an environment where my contact with management is far wider than just my direct supervisor, it's also pretty easy for me to get a good idea out to multiple managerial types without necessarily "going over the boss' head" - for example, if you are talking about a process improvement that could benefit more teams than your own, offer it to all relevant managers or get a working group going with 2 managers, and a diverse set of team members from at least 2 teams...

Then it becomes obvious without saying it, that you are the source of some good ideas, and makes it much harder for your boss to claim credit when others in the company see your good work.

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Another good idea to enact after step 2 or 3 may be to start keeping an engineering binder with ideas and dates recorded and countersigned by a peer. Most companies with interest in acquiring patents require their employees to keep such records. –  Doresoom Jul 22 at 13:57

When working for a consulting company, the face of the company is the boss. To the customer, they normally don't really care where the productivity came from, they care about productivity. In this case, the process improvement came from your friend, and it was the boss' job to evaluate it and then present it if he thought it had merit. The fact that he didn't mention your friend's name is incidental. The fact that he brought your friend's idea up is good. It shows the boss has a high opinion of what your friend says, and that will lead to more good stuff from your boss.

Think about it like this: your friend don't work for your client, your friend works for your company and on this consultancy for this particular boss. Your friend's ability to get more cash, promotions, etc, comes from your boss not the client. Now, after some time, as your friend invests himself in his boss, he may be brought forward and shown as a positive example of what your friend's company can bring to your client.

So, the fact that the boss didn't give by-name recognition to your friend's client isn't surprising. Its a bit jerky, to be honest. However, politically, its not a huge issue. Pressing it, depending on the jerkiness of the boss might be a misstep at this point.

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I agree that pressing the issue wouldn't be beneficial for the OP's friend. Just want to add that it might be a good idea if in the future the friend communicates his ideas in writing - via email, for example. Then there will be a trail if it is needed for some reason. And keep a copy of this trail offsite as well. –  greenfingers Jul 21 at 15:45
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I would add that the friend should add in his yearly performance report, or whatever equivalent is used an entry documenting his idea. –  CGCampbell Jul 22 at 0:15
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+1 for "the face of the company is the boss". Keep in mind that this works two ways -- if your friend screws up in a way that adversely affects the customer, it's the boss who cops the flak. –  BenM Jul 22 at 22:40
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"Your friend's ability to get more cash, promotions, etc, comes from your boss not the client." sure, until the friend wants a job somewhere else, in which case clients such as these are important professional leads. –  AAA Jul 23 at 2:15
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I have edited the question to provide you with a bit of background. Please check. –  Rachcha Jul 23 at 5:06

The manager represents the team, and accepts the credit as the representative of the team. As a manager, I can't have 3 or 4 people on my team,each insisting that I recognize them by name to the client, and explicitly give them credit for their little piece of the project. That would be insanity. And what if I were managing 150 people, each of whom wants ... ? Enough is enough.

I have functioned as middle manager a number of times, and none of the top management ever mentioned my name to any of the clients. That's the way it should work. The firm as a whole gets the credit, so far as the client is concerned. And what difference would mentioning my name toi the client would make anyway? The client will forget within less than two minutes.

Your friend might have a case if his contributions were ignored or downplayed at their salary reviews,but we will worry about crossing the bridge when we get to it.

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Give the manager the benefit of the doubt. He probably pitched it to the client as being from the agency, not himself individually. A lot of clients have a hard time admitting that they need an agency to help them, and try to "spin" things to their own management as, "If we just had enough people ..." Thus the client's manager is (likely) trying to lobby for headcount, and not admit their shortcomings.

If your friend really wants to play it well, your friend should send an email to the agency manager (NOT the client) thanking him for putting his idea in front of the client, expressing appreciation at the agency manager used his suggestion.

If your friend believes his manager is trying to "steal" credit, then your friend should thank him verbally in front of the whole agency team. Your friend would then make everyone aware of who actually came up with the idea while thanking the manager for doing what he actually did - evaluate and present the idea. It's a little passive-aggressive, but it puts the manager in a bit of a corner - the manager can either accept the praise graciously while acknowledging the source of the idea, or he will have to go "whole hog" on trying to steal credit in front of the group. Tread carefully here, though.

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Might differ depending on country/state, but everything created for your company, or while at work, is usually (by law even) the property of your company. As an example, if you work for Microsoft, and come up with some brilliant idea to "revolutionize" how windows operates, you do not own the idea, Microsoft does.

The recognition comes internally, either by colleagues or even your boss patting you on the back (preferably both, I guess).

There is a positive side to doing it this way anyway. The boss and company has the responsibility to handle the products and decide if ideas are good or not. If they find an idea to be good, but that same idea ends up being hated by consumers, it's the boss\company that take the hit, not the individual who came up with the idea to begin with.

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In addition to the good answers already provided, it is worth looking at three possible aspects for this question - namely is the problem that

  • your friend was not mentioned when discussing with the customer? This is normal: a company talks to a company, hiding most of the teams
  • your friend was not mentioned in the internal note requesting the implementation? Depending on the scope and size of the teams it may or may not be OK. Usually it is OK not to mention individuals in that case.
  • your friend was not recognized by his manager? A "good work" acknowledgement right after discussing with the customer would have been most appropriate. The same after the internal note has been sent is still fine, though a bit late. Then there is the formal and review of accomplishments at year-end where the point should be re-raised and discussed - in the perspective of consequences (raise, promotion, ...)
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