I am part of a remote team. The person I support is not exactly popular, and the central office is trying to hire somebody loyal to them. As part of the change, our work is being effectively sabotaged: we are being given contradictory directives and cuts to our resources, to the point where there will be a bigger case to bring change.

However, I don't want company and customers to suffer because of this. But I don't know what is the professional way of dealing with this without skipping the next couple levels of management.

In any situation like this, where a department is artificially put in a difficult position to justify changes, what is the professional course of action?

(this question can be applied to most companies, I believe)

  • What happens when you follow chain of command on contradictory directives?
    – Myles
    May 29 '18 at 12:56
  • What happens when you point out the contradictory directives? May 29 '18 at 13:18
  • 10
    I try to live by Hanlon's razor. "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Is it possible that you are not being sabotaged? Is it possible that the difficult situations you are facing have arisen due to someones error or a mistake in judgement? How certain are you that the root cause is sabotage?
    – Lumberjack
    May 29 '18 at 14:00
  • I pointed out the contradiction, "they will discuss it", it's been weeks
    – Monoandale
    May 30 '18 at 10:56
  • 1
    If you don´t own shares in this company, the professional thing is usually to seek another job! This one sounds quite toxic!
    – Daniel
    May 30 '18 at 13:40

Document everything espescially the contradictory orders. Any time you get an order make sure you get it in some form of writting. Make sure it's clear when you got the order and who it came from. That way when somebody asks why did you do X instead of Y you can show them that that your were told on such and such day and time by such and such superior to do things that way. If your company has a formal process for requesting and documenting these orders make sure that those processes get followed to T.

When you get an order that contradicts a previous make sure you point out the contradiction, in writting. Make sure you add everybody who gave you orders to the email. If possible CC a common manager. Explain what the contradiction is then very explicitly ask which version of the order you're supposed to follow. Again make sure you get everything in writting.

Finally after you've gotten enough of these incidents documented to show a clear pattern I would escalate these issues up the management chain. Don't point fingers. Instead say something like "I think there is some confusion as to what needs to be done for project X and the requirements keep getting muddled. How can we avoid these issues going forward".

I think at this point it's clear that somebody higher on the food chain then you is determined to sink your ship. The purpose of all this documentation is so that you can show that you did everything you can and you are not to blame for the issues.

  • 3
    To add to what @lee-abraham brilliantly said, at a point in time, someone is bound to figure out what you are trying to do, and insist on using verbal communication e.g. Face to face meetings, phone calls, voice chats. Just write small summaries of each verbal encounter and send as an email for verification:As discussed, you have asked me to do so and so. This is how I understand what we discussed. I will assume I got it right, else please respond if I did not. And you make sure you CC all others involved.
    – Daydah
    May 30 '18 at 10:38

In any situation like this, where a department is artificially put in a difficult position to justify changes, what is the professional course of action?

Follow orders, you do not have the authority to be doing anything else, cover your back by documenting, collect your pay, spend it wisely. Eventually things will resolve one way or the other without you in the firing line.

It's not your company, your role, or your client. If everything goes South, a scapegoat will be looked for, so don't make goat noises before it even gets there.

  • 2
    = don't care. That's such a consultant attitude advice. While it may sound smart it's not wise. For example, how would you answer the question "What have you done about the situation?". Would you say " not my company, not my role, not my client"?
    – tymtam
    May 30 '18 at 4:52
  • 2
    @tymtam With something like "How can I have done something since I have not the authority ? Stepping over the management ?"
    – Gianluca
    May 30 '18 at 6:45
  • 1
    I was busy concentrating on my tasks not trying to preempt managements role or second guess my superiors
    – Kilisi
    May 30 '18 at 8:36

As the Podcast I will link later says, some people miss the vocabulary for this.

But it sounds like a culture problem.

Culture changes are always a top-to-bottom thing.

Change is always done by the management.

So you can leave the command-structure intact, and start with the next manager.

Get him on your side.

But be ready to have this problem solved from the C-Suite on.

Here the Podcast from Harvard Business Review.

Transcription available.

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