6

Situation:

Some time ago I was told to take over a big area. "Take over" means basically "manage it and redefine it as it's not working" - change processes, optimise them, elaborate a strategy, etc.

Till that moment a different department was responsible for the area. A colleague from that area had managed it single-handedly for years and wanted to stay responsible.

The colleague, let's call him Max, did everything for me not to take over the area:

  • he didn't share with me info about the processes; it was info I couldn't get from other sources or getting it from other sources required a lot of effort

  • he answered me with huge delay; for example he needed 3-4 weeks to answer very simple questions, which I'm sure he didn't even need to check in documents; this slowed down my work; no real handover was organised although I insisted on it

  • he gave me incomplete or wrong information

  • he barred me from accessing documents he administered on the sharepoint

  • he pretended to be cooperative to gain time; for example we were both working on something (independently) and he promised me to "of course share information with me within a week", then when I didn't get contacted within a week, he wrote me he was super busy but was to share it within the next 2 weeks. You can see where this is going...

  • he went on a campaign against me with stakeholders involved in processes. He'd been with company for many years so he knew the people. I was new and although I tried to establish personal relationships with everybody this normally requires time

  • in a similar vain: we are using a ticket system for documenting problems. Max has access to the system. He started to read tickets assigned to me and contact people who opened them behind my back to propose them a "better" solution than I proposed; a "better" solution normally means an "ineffective manual solution", which we can do once, as a way of exception but can't introduce as a rule as I wouldn't be able to do anything else during my work time. That's why I have certain standardised processes for such cases, which I introduced for everybody. But this doesn't matter. Those people then see Max as "the good guy" and me as a person who doesn't want to help them

  • he started to make changes to the area I don't know about; he claims my boss knows about them, my boss says that's not the case

Max told me directly at some point that he's doing that to get his area back and he's got nothing against me personally.

My actions and problem:

After trying to solve the problems myself - by talking to Max, proposing cooperation, being super cooperative towards him and just doing my job as well as I could - and with deadlines looming I turned to my boss asking him for an intervention.

I was told it was mine to solve. When I insisted that he just needed to clarify the responsibilities, he accused me of lacking communication skills.

Max's actions are supported 100% by his boss.

Then Max started to organise meetings directly with my boss - who doesn't know anything about the area - skipping me. My boss reacts as if he was flattered and uses this to criticise me (implying that I can't build a relationship with Max but he is able to do so).

Max seems to be very skillful politically, so he understood that he should isolate me to get his area back. (I think so because before me another person experienced the same type of behavior concerning another area).

I know that during these meetings Max lies about me, telling my boss that, e.g. I request the same information several times, which is simply not true. This could be easily checked by asking Max for corresponding emails (we don't normally communicate f2f or per phone), but my boss doesn't want to hear about checking anything. All efforts to talk to my boss about it turn against me. At the same time, he expects me to re-define the area as soon as possible.

This has been going on for half a year. I don't have any support in my boss, who attacks me on a personal level for "not being able to solve that". I also have the other dept against me.

I come from a professional culture where such situations were escalated. You talked to your boss and asked him to clarify responsibilities with the problematic coworker's boss. That's why I find this situation unbearable. Is there a way out of it? I mainly mean my superior's behavior.

  • So who is responsible for this department? Is that written down anywhere? Does your boss have the authority to tell you to take over this department? – gnasher729 Jun 30 '18 at 13:16
  • @gnasher729, it's not a department. It's an area of responsibility, a big one, that has to do with what both the other and our department is doing. Both departments are affected by the decisions taken in this area of responsibility. – user_loser Jun 30 '18 at 13:36
11

You are working to take over an area that is actively defended by it's current "owner" with the help of their boss. Your boss is not helping you. While I do know a few exceptional people who would enjoy the challenge of a hostile takeover, normally, this is a dead end. Ending in a cliff. The only option you have at "winning" is to get off the road or in this case off this job.

Life is too short to waste it working for an incompetent boss. Your's is setting you up to fail. Go find a person that is worth working for (and by extend, a company that is worth working for. Your boss was not set there by "the universe", somebody hired him and kept him employed. That person is not really good at their job either).

  • 3
    The boss is not incompetent. OP was set as the guy to run a hostile takeover. It looks like Max is much better at fighting this than assumed, and OP's boss realises that Max may successfully prevent the takeover. So, he tries to keep lines open with Max. If OP were successful, they would be the bad guy, even if victorious, if they fail, they take the fall. OP is not politically savvy enough for this war - it's a nasty position to be in. OP should not expect any help from their boss, he has already cut them loose. Nothing to lose, perhaps they can jump levels (usually discouraged). – Captain Emacs Jun 30 '18 at 12:46
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    @CaptainEmacs If the boss put the OP in this position on purpose and without proper training, then that is incompetence. – nvoigt Jun 30 '18 at 14:00
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    Not necessarily, depending on the agenda of the boss. In any case, OP is well advised to either jump levels or prepare a fast move out. – Captain Emacs Jun 30 '18 at 15:11
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    @CaptainEmacs Whatever became of Hanlon's Razor? ;-) Although in this case the corollary (inspired by Clark's Third Law) seems to apply: any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. – AllTheKingsHorses Jul 4 '18 at 11:13
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    @CaptainEmacs I picked it up in a TWP comment ;-). To me, it's the explanation why you don't need coordinated conspiracies or scheming supervillains - only sufficiently incompetent / lazy / selfish people for things to go to sh*t. And a reminder that incompetence may be an explanation but it isn't an excuse. – AllTheKingsHorses Jul 4 '18 at 11:22
10

"I was told it was mine to solve" means you will not get help from your boss. You already know you will not change Max by telling him "what you are doing is working" and presumably his boss feels the same.

You started your post with a sentence in the passive tense:

Some time ago I was told to take over a big area.

You need to go to whoever that was (your boss or whoever) and say very clearly:

When I agreed to take this over I assumed Max would help me. When he wasn't helping me I thought I was not asking correctly or communicating properly. [Refer to the meeting where your boss told you to solve this.] But now, I know this sounds paranoid, but he is actively blocking me and has told me so: "Max told me directly at some point that he's doing that to get his area back and he's got nothing against me personally."

Dealing with this kind of thing takes more than just communication skills. He wants the responsibilities back. He knows what I need; he's just choosing not to give it to me and even to undermine me.

Big deep breath. Calm yourself. Eliminate anything approaching whining or complaining from your voice, your face, your posture.

I can't continue to fight him on this. I need the company to give me the authority to do this area properly, and Max to be told to help me, or I will not be able to work on that area any more. I came here to [write software, design bridges, sell insurance, whatever] not to fight politics with a person who doesn't mind undermining the company's goals to meet his own needs. Is anyone going to take the position that I deserve the information from him, the access, the control of this area?

Another big breath. Wait. No threats yet about what you will do. Just stand there and wait.

Probably your boss will tell you that you need to do this alone. Still.

That is what I have been doing. I have put forth an enormous good faith effort that is not working because the other person is not acting in good faith. He just wants to keep his area. I am happy to take over that area and do a great job with it. I am not interested in the job of "fight Max for that area." What can be done so that I can focus on doing a great job of [activity/area] and stop having to fight Max about it?

Again, breathe, wait. You have ended with a question. The boss should answer it.

If you start to get through, get some sort of real plan - not just telling you to communicate better, but a true co-operative plan with you and your boss and probably Max's boss, who should be giving Max enough to do that this Machiavellian stuff is less attractive -- then fantastic. If you get embarrassed silence or platitudes about "Working smarter" then just look sad and say something like

I see. You've given me a lot to think about.

Then leave. And really think hard about what your boss is saying by making this yours to solve. About what job you were hired to do, what you find yourself doing, and how you think about that.

2

Your question rings a bell because I was in a very similar position. Instead of taking over a project to a person I was in charge of migrating a project from the main branch to our much smaller local company branch located in a different country.

You will only succeed if:

  • The guy/team you are taking over collaborates with you or
  • You have solid management support that makes sure you get the collaboration and support you need.

It looks like none of them applies to you, so I'm afraid you are doomed to fail. This happens quite often in big companies and my personal case was no different. I faced coworker hostility and the team didn't collaborate with me at all. When I reported the situation no concrete support was given except 'do your best' and therefore the migration never happened.

I would recommend you to start looking for a 'side-step' within your company and to not stress yourself too much since it's out of your reach. In my case I came back from the international assignment to my old position and the blame of not making the migration happen was put not on me but on the global company strategy from headquarters.

1

Is there a way out of it?

Not unless you're more proactive.

You can go over your bosses head or have a personal talk with the guy, or job search.

Personally I would job search because it looks like you are being set up as a scapegoat and your boss is not doing his job. Going over his head may not work and will make things worse for you.

  • I can't "go over my boss's head". My boss's boss is the CEO. I would be fired on the spot. – user_loser Jun 30 '18 at 9:12
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    you are that easy to replace? – Kilisi Jun 30 '18 at 9:16
  • 1
    Everybody is replaceable. And a new person at level A is easier replaceable than a person at level A+1. Not to mention CEO is not a person to take care of conflicts. – user_loser Jun 30 '18 at 9:20
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    Competent CEO's would replace a boss that they recognised was not doing his job, he's worse for business than a normal employee. If both your boss and the CEO are incompetent, then you should be job searching – Kilisi Jun 30 '18 at 9:26
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    I don't see a winning scenario for you, so do the best you can until you get out – Kilisi Jun 30 '18 at 9:28
-1

First of all, you have my sympathy, you are in a difficult situation.

I don't believe there is a simple solution to this. There are many problems here so may I suggest you break them down into individual issues so you can address each one.

  1. Your relationship with Max
  2. Your relationship with your boss.
  3. Max's relationship with his boss.

Issue 1 Max as you say likes his/your job, it is of course perfectly fine to like your job. Perhaps finding out why your manager wants you to take over might help. It may be a power struggle between your manager and his manager, or it may be their manager has dictated it. Once you know the source of the orders you will know your mandate and be able to use it to back yourself up (assertively). You could also explore what Max wants to do next, by finding out what he wants to do you may be able to help him direct his attention to want he wants to do and release the responsibilities you have been asked to take over.

Issue 2 You need your manager to back you up. You state in your title that he is you superior, this may indicate you have the wrong mindset. Managers are there to provide a steady stream of work and to remove obstacles to doing it. They are not 'better' people, just doing a different job. Even the bad ones try to do this a bit. To do this effectively your manager needs to know everything that is going on. You might also want to disclose your emotional state about things too, this can be a two edged sword though. In my experience disclosing it as unemotionally as possible works the best, I keep my opinions to myself but disclose the effect they are having on me, e.g.

'So and so's comment makes me feel sad'

Rehearse what you want to say and refrain from off-the-cuff remarks.

Issue 3 This is not something I recommend you attempt to change yourself. However, it sounds like it is based on wrong information and that is important to know to be able to analyse the situation.

-

Techniques

Talk face to face. 90% (or thereabouts) of communication is not the words. Talking to each other despite how distasteful it may be allows you to gauge reactions, get buy in and avoid delays due to missed information/misunderstanding/etc...

If you ask for something by email and don't get it then politely ask again, then again copying in your manager, then their manager

"I'm sorry to ask again but I need this information to do the work my manager has asked me to do."

If you keep having to do this your manager should forward it to their manager.

When you see their manager in the office say hello, good morning, lunch was good today. If there is any feeling of animosity this may help allay it and show that you too are human (I practice this to everyone - although not all the time!). They may start to discuss things with you. Getting them to talk to you will allow you to assess their opinion of you.

If in doubt say nothing. (there have been a few situations where I have read it wrongly and glad after when I worked it out that I didn't say anything)

Ask your boss politely to be included in meetings he has with Max so you can do your job.

Make sure you have a reputation of getting-the-job-done and being easy to work with. In all things I tend to put that first, above progressing.

Be assertive not passive aggressive - look up the definitions for yourself, I found that I needed several definitions before I understood the difference. I am not saying you are, from your well thought out question above I would say you are frustrated and that can lead to the temptation...

Keep a record of each problem and how you solved it, this will enable you to see which methods work to solve it.

As you say, keep it professional, these are your work colleagues not your friends. They are also humans with problems and difficulties too.

My background. Managed teams from 6 to 300, directed multi-national company changing projects. Done the grunt work (which I like the best!).

I wish you the best.

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