8

We were between managers for a while recently and I was taking instructions directly from the owner of the business. This was the case for a couple of months so I became very familiar with my duties as the owner/big boss expected them to be done.

The new manager is now giving me instructions that are in conflict with the owner’s priority schedule for me (which I was not informed would change in anyway upon the manager’s arrival). The owner is on holiday, so I have no means to check with him. The new manager is new to the business as a whole and has only been working for a few days.

It seems clear that I should just follow my manager’s direction. But if I know for a fact that missing out certain assignments will have a very negative impact, then should I simply do as I’m told? I’ve told the manager I have concerns but they’ve brushed these off and told me they’ll take responsibility.

However if the manager is giving incorrect direction by virtue of being new and not knowing the business yet, I am concerned that the owner, whose instructions to me have been clear, will blame me for allowing the business to have a real crisis next week.

How can I handle these conflicting instructions professionally?

24

I’ve told the manager I have concerns but they’ve brushed these off and told me they’ll take responsibility.

I suggest you put this into writing, an email or similar, so you have a paper trail to back you up in case this turns out to be a problem.

I also believe that one should follow the orders that your direct manager gives; the chain of command works better that way. If the owner wants that done, he should tell your manager about such things so he can relay them to you.

  • Yes. Get your new managers instructions in writing. – JazzmanJim Jul 26 '18 at 21:01
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    To be clear - the email should contain the manager's instructions, followed by the boss' instructions which would be unfulfilled or otherwise impacted. – HorusKol Jul 26 '18 at 22:09
  • @HorusKol good suggestion – DarkCygnus Jul 26 '18 at 22:17
6

I would write a email to just your manager. Example like so,

Manager, Confirming the changes to widget X. The owner is currently out on vacation and wants widget Y by Z, but I will drop that and pursue widget X to meet deadline W.

That way it's not offensive to your manager, but at the same time put the ball in his court that he is authorizing changes going against the owner. If the owner asks why you didn't do widget Y by Z, simply attach the email in the reply and say you were shifting focus to widget X to meet the deadline W.

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    I would tweak the wording to "Please confirm that you want me to change the priorities" so it can't be interpreted as you pushing to drop the owner's priorities, but otherwise, this. – Geoffrey Brent Jul 27 '18 at 5:30
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Get a written (mail) confirmation that he got your advice and declined to follow it, and then do what your manager says.

If you are questioned by the boss - you will have the chance to prove what has happened.

4

In the US Navy, I was taught this about conflicting and contradictory orders:

If an enlisted person in the naval service receives an order, which annuls, suspends or modifies one received from another superior, he or she shall immediately represent the facts to the superior from whom the last order was received. If, after such representation, the superior from whom the last order was received should insist upon the execution of that order, it shall be obeyed. The person receiving and executing such order shall report the circumstances as soon as practicable to the superior from whom the original order was received.

Works for me as a civilian too.

  • Perfect - you just need to do it with a "paper trail" - actually emails, not paper. – Volker Siegel Jul 27 '18 at 5:10
  • I think that is the basic idea of most answers - just less rhetorically compact than the US Navy! – Volker Siegel Jul 27 '18 at 5:11
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The owner in this case is who sets the strategic direction of the company.

The manager's role is to help in implementing that direction by managing people. Doing some changes, like modifying priorities without altering the direction is normal work for a manager. Changing the company's strategic direction can only happen if there has been communication between the manager and the owner.

Consider what kind of changes the manager is implementing.

  • Strategic. Like stopping working for a client and doing work for a new one. This can only happen with the knowledge and agreement of the owner. Ask in written the manager if the owner is aware and in agreement with such change of strategy. Don't follow the manager's plans unless you are given a written confirmation.
  • Tactic. The goals are the same. The manager is changing things like the order/priorities for task completion or team composition. This is normal work for a manager which can generally be undertaken without involving the owner. Just follow suit. Do get a paper trail in any case.

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