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This is going to be kind of meta. I work for a city government and am, and I say this humbly, probably the most technical person on staff. I've built websites, deployed with Docker, Heroku and AWS, worked on large data applications, autonomous vehicles, plenty of different database technologies plus I'm actually a mechanical engineer so I know how to program robots, CNCs... all the fun stuff. As a result of working those projects I discovered and fell in love with Stack Overflow (Love I say!!). The honeymoon is going on 7 years strong.

Naturally, when I heard that SO released Teams I became excited to introduce the service to my team (Even though Teams is best for developers, a SO rep has confirmed that my non-dev team could enjoy the service by hiding the technical mumbo jumbo).

I presented the idea to my boss Ken and he liked it so much that he called in James, my other boss, mid pitch. So I pitched James and at the end Ken turns to James and says, "What do you think about using this for your Leadership Development Project?"

James sat there not really saying anything so Ken asked, "Did you have any other ideas you wanted to work on?" to which James muttered and shrugged a little to the effect of, "No".

Ken liked the idea so much he suggested that if it were to work out well for our department we would spread it to the rest of the (600 or so person) organization. By the end it sounded like James would be the one to lead the deploy if he wants.

Being the "Let's get $H1T done" kind of leader person I am, I wanted start setting up accounts for my team right after the meeting (government, if you're not painfully aware, is really slow at lots of things. I've been trying to change that). I asked Ken for his endorsement and he said, "No, let's wait for James to decide if he wants to make this his project."

So it's becoming clear that this won't be my project and I won't get credit for it. Not only will James get organizational credit, but, if he desires, he'll get school credits too. What's more, last week I got an email from James asking basic questions about Teams and why it would be better than the alternatives (he's never even heard of Stack Overflow). On one hand my job responsibility dictates that I need to answer him but on the other, by answering him I would literally be doing his homework. I don't want to do his homework and I don't want him to lead the deploy of an idea I'd lead him throughout.

Context

  • Ken knows that I'm an engineer and that I'm being paid a fraction of my market rate to do this job.
  • I'm doing this job because it's an opportunity for me to fix a lot of broken stuff that impacts 10s of thousands of people. I can make my city better and that feels good. I don't want to quit. If money were the object I have other options.
  • Still, if I'm not getting paid well, I at least want to get credit for something that's going to be used by the whole organization.
  • My coworkers respect me. Even though I've only worked there for about 2 months my colleagues, including Ken, have said things to the effect of "You do really great work", "knows a lot", "he's (I am) a boss entrepreneur" (because I've started businesses).
  • I think Ken was genuinely trying to be helpful to James. I don't think Ken understands how this makes me feel (if he did he may not have recommended it).
  • The tricky part of it: Since I'm such a problem solver and there are so many of them here (technical and organizational), I see myself becoming the colleague who always has some criticism. Like I think people are beginning to think "nothing's ever good enough" for me. I've picked a lot of battles already and haven't lost any but I'm still "fighting" (I don't like that word) because there's A LOT to fix. I'm concerned that me broaching the conversation with Ken will enhance this image. Further, I fear people thinking I'm a credit hungry self promoter who can't play well on teams.

How do I convince Ken to let me be the one to deploy teams to our organization? Should I even have that conversation?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jun 18 at 11:26
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    If you're really hungry to feel like your helping people, look at doing charity work for something along those lines. – djsmiley2k - CoW Jun 18 at 17:00
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    Have you expressed to your bosses that you would like to lead this project? They might not even realize you do. If you did explicitly tell them so, what was their response? – marcelm Jun 18 at 21:18
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    Ken may be CYA. It sounds like "Let's get $H1T done" is causing the team to make questionable decisions. You are moving city data and business from the city government's security boundary to another's control. Has anyone performed a security architecture (SecArch) review? I doubt mechanical engineering has provided you the requisite knowledge to perform one. Did you talk to the city's lawyers? The county I live in won't even publicly discuss the makeup of workstations in its network in case it gives an attacker a toehold. They certainly would not ship data out of the security boundary. – jww Jun 19 at 2:31
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    @jww We really don't know enough about James (or the location of the entire situation, for that matter) here, but I doubt he'd be more qualified for the job based on what we do know. SecArch reviews? Those are more often than not skipped in my experience, especially in local government. – Mast Jun 19 at 6:27

11 Answers 11

105

There are a bunch of moving parts to this question, so I'm going to respond with a quote, attributed to Howard Aiken: "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." Or, in this case, your ideas being given to someone else.

Let's see: first, you talk about being a leader, and later, a technical leader. That's very different from being an organizational leader, especially in state government, or any other large organization. I realize there's a lot of appeal to the "Move fast and break things" mantra to an engineer, but such an approach can be incredibly problematic in a large, established organization. This isn't to say that such organizations don't need to be disrupted, but there are risks to doing so, and someone who is new almost certainly won't be aware of them. There are also going to be financial issues; based on your numbers, you're looking at this costing your organization ~$30,000 a year. For a government agency, there's going to need to be a fair amount of work done to justify that, possibly putting out bids, dealing with various laws, and so on. If you're in the UK, you also have to worry about the GDPR. It's quite possible that James is better able to deal with the organizational concerns involved.

Second, is also possible that your manager feels that this introduction of a new tool would be a distraction from the work he feels you do best. If you are the best technical person they have, they want you working on technical things, not introducing new tools to teams.

And, third, although this is hard to accept, ideas in and of themselves aren't really worth much. You know this; you're an engineer. Working implementations are worth something. Again, I'll refer back to the second point: is this the best use of your time? And the first: are you prepared to deal with all of the bureaucracy that will likely be involved in making this happen? Do you even know all of the people you'll need to talk to? Is it possible James is better suited to make this happen than you are? Or that part of what he'll be learning in making this happen is all the people he needs, and rules he needs to follow?

To close with a personal anecdote: years ago, I had an idea about consolidating the many, many outdated reporting tools we used into one place, with a single view of the world. I took it to our senior technical person, convinced him of the merits, and then he got people assigned to work on the project. None of those people were me. And for a while, I was bitter about this. It was, after all, my idea, but other people were doing the fun development work, and other people were getting the credit. And then I grew up, at least some. Those people were far, far more suited for doing the type of development necessary, and did a far better job than I would have. Was it my idea? Yes. And it took years for the little scream in my head of "That was my idea" to go away. But the people who deserve the credit for the new tooling are the people who wrote it, and the people who saw that I wasn't the right person to actually implement the idea. Ideas are easy, most of the time; implementation is hard, and figuring out which new ideas to embrace is hard.

I'd bring all of this up with your manager. Not necessarily that you're underpaid, relative to the private sector, as that's almost certainly known, but clearly, you are lacking some sort of recognition that you crave. I'd ask why he handed the idea off to James. I'd also think about what it is you actually want: the recognition for the idea, or to make life better for your fellow workers. It's possible that you can't have both.

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    ^^ so much this. Bureaucracy imposes all kinds of nightmare headaches that engineers are generally not prepared to deal with when it comes to getting organizational changes approved and contracts signed. Anecdotally, some governmental organizations may not be able to sign the standard service contract with SE Teams that regular businesses do, so there might even need to be lawyers involved to draft appropriate service contracts. Let the people who know how this stuff works handle it. – asgallant Jun 17 at 18:15
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    I love your perspective on this. One correction to your project cost - will be closer to $300 per month, not 30k per year as per not for profit pricing. – AnonyWorker Jun 17 at 23:21
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    The only price I could find was essentially 50/person/year. If there’s a nonprofit or government price (two very different things) it isn’t publicized. But at a large org level, the price probably isn’t that relevant, to be honest. – Kevin McKenzie Jun 17 at 23:33
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    I disagree. Ideas are cheap and easy. In any long-established organization, you're in a target-rich environment for making improvements; the skill lies in prioritizing, and in getting others to help. Leading isn't about doing everything yourself, and getting credit for it. Leading is about enabling others to do things, and seeing that they get credit for it. – Kevin McKenzie Jun 18 at 16:53
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    I love how much this answer highlights all of the nuances that some of us aren't aware of in other people's jobs. To bring this full circle, there are circumstances where the org leaders need the insight of someone more technical to clarify key points, function aspects, etc. Which was brought up at some point in the question as James asking questions about Teams, and the advantages it brings. – TCFP Jun 18 at 18:22
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So you are saying that you are underpaid but this is fine because you can help people and you enjoy that, but you could make more money elsewhere. And Ken either ignores this, or doesn’t even realise.

I’d talk to Ken and make sure he understands that you are annoyed, and why you are annoyed, and that he might lose you over this sooner or later. Make sure he knows this is important to you, and that you are not going to do the homework for someone else.

What will happen? It depends. You will win, or you will lose. If you lose you find a job that pays what you are worth, maybe less satisfying, but long term you will be better off.

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    i would also highlight not bringing up "I'm not getting paid well" with boss. – Oct18 is day of silence on SE Jun 17 at 1:04
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    +1 to not bringing up the salary part. It's not necessary to complicate the story – jcmack Jun 17 at 8:05
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    How is this now about salary when OP is asking for management responsibility? The two aren't necessarily tied nor does it seem that OP is interested in salary. – Frank Hopkins Jun 17 at 14:28
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    I don't think this is relevant. People in government are almost always underpaid relative to the private sector, and they accept this either out of altruism, or for the additional stability a government job provides, or some other reason. I think there is the germ of an answer here, that Ken doesn't realize (and OP may not, either) what will motivate the OP, and that's important, but focusing on pay doesn't address the base issue. – Kevin McKenzie Jun 17 at 16:46
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    Pointing out to your boss that you might move on if you don't get your way is not the way I would recommend handling this. I would suggest making it clear that this is very important to you, but suggesting you might leave over it might start them thinking about replacing you. – Eric Jun 18 at 0:16
21

Personally, I would reply with an email that says:

"Perhaps, it would be better if I answer all your questions in person."

Set up a time with James (without Ken). Meet up with him. Answer all his questions to the best of your ability (don't worry, you can't really do all that all research for him, he has to read most of it himself anyway).

Then, tell him about your problem. The fact, that you'd like to start using the tool with your team, but that Ken blocked you from doing that because of James. See what he suggests.

If he doesn't suggest a solution for you, then offer one of your own. That you start using Teams with your own team (with him as an observer) for him to get a feel for the platform.

Then, see how he reacts. After all, you've only spoken with Ken. Don't go by what Ken said. For all you know, James may let you start it and James may have no problem sharing credit with you. At this point, you don't know what he's thinking and you need to find out.

  • I'd suggest talking to Ken first, and getting the OK, otherwise, this could be seen poorly by Ken. – Kevin McKenzie Jun 17 at 16:47
7

It doesn't sound like "James" is being proactive about your plan, which could indicate that he isn't too keen on the idea. There are a few different scenarios that could be taking place:

  1. James is lazy and would love to steal your idea while doing as little as possible
  2. James doesn't see any value in your plan and is smart enough to come up with his own leadership initiative
  3. James doesn't see any value in your plan but is not sharp enough to come up with his own plan

You want to play each of these scenarios a bit differently. Briefly:

  1. This is the most dangerous scenario and you will never get your plan back until James has tried and either succeeded, failed, or tainted the idea forever. Give James a starter kit for SO Teams. Give him maybe 3-4 bullet points outlining the advantages of SO, a link to a technical implementation guide, and a link to help forums. If he pushes for ideas/support then redirect him to elements of your starter kit. If he really pushes then ask if he wants you to take ownership of the project.
  2. Talk to James. Help him brainstorm an idea that he actually likes and then reclaim your idea when he bins it. This is actually good James as well as yourself because it means he will be pushing through a change that he finds exciting and believes in. It also fulfils the academic objectives that the task is supposed to fulfil.
  3. Tricky. You could try approach 1) or approach 2) but it is likely/possible that James will struggle to complete the project or his coursework or both (both bad outcomes that you want to distance yourself from). Public workplaces can be a bit odd with odd rules. If you think it is valuable to the organisation that James obtains the qualification (e.g. you think he is unimaginative but would be an otherwise robust and decent manager) then you could take a third approach where you assist him as much as required but let him take the credit. e.g. you could handle all of the practical implementation, give him some easy but public-facing tasks, then allow/encourage him to take credit for the entire process or underplay the technical aspects of the task. This would be a very selfless approach but it sounds like you might be open to that kind of thing, in the right circumstances.

Obviously life is tricky and broad solutions do not fit all circumstances. Adapt the ideas as you see fit.

6

my boss Ken and he liked it so much that he called in James, my other boss

Is Ken a boss to James? Are they on the same level? Having two bosses is a terrible, terrible thing.
What happened is what I would call "putting you back in the row". I don't know your organisation chart but it seems that Ken would prefer if you pitched this idea to him through James or to both of them at the same time. How the Ken acted toward James show that Ken is the one to tell James what to do.

Yes, I would talk about that with Ken, mostly to make things clear to YOU. Because it looks like Ken is punishing you two at the same time. James for inactivity to do his project and you for coming with ideas directly to him and omitting chain of command.

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    Terrible, but not unknown. I am a contractor to the US Government and answer to three GPOCs, all technically the same level. Such is life. (of course, my true 'boss' is the COR, who is none of the three, but he doesn't supervise day-to-day) – CGCampbell Jun 18 at 12:52
3

You're seeing this event as a threat to your ability to show how much of a problem solver you are, and this is certainly a valid point of view. But let me take the opportunity to offer a different take: What if this is actually an opportunity in disguise?

  • It may be that Ken is actually giving both of you an opportunity to show your worth.

  • In James's case, he may be evaluated on how well he coordinates the necessary administrative efforts to promote the tool. If he fails to do so, you may have to step up in order to save the initiative.

  • In your case, to see how well you can work with others. A great deal of institutional/corporate value of a given professional is related to his/her capability to perform as a team member.

Now to a more personal point, if you allow me: you see yourself as a problem solver, and I'm sure you're technically capable. But an institutional problem isn't just technical. These often have a considerable interpersonal component as well, and to properly solve these you need to bring others to your side. Criticism is OK, but remember that across the table there's a human being as well, with feelings and fears.

A much better outcome than turning into the "nothing's ever good enough" guy is to be the "team lead guy" - a reliable, understanding and motivating professional that brings the best out of people.

TL;DR: Help James as much as possible, document your efforts, and be ready to answer the call of duty.

3

Haha, government work. I've been there as well. No love for people who want to get something done.

If it's anything like my experience, James was just working there, doing nothing except writing reports and collecting salary. Now your idea comes on the scene. Ken sees that you already do a lot while James does nothing at all and is supposed to be in a managerial role. So he assigns this organisatorial task to James.

James is an experienced bureaucrate (how do you even spell this?). They call what you did "producing work". There was no problem, no task and you suddenly invented something to do. He is probably annoyed but assigned nevertheless. So he will inquire, collect information, research and otherwise produce emails and reports as slowly as possible until the project dies of old age.

Ken probably knows this and will now either get James moving or get some fail of his documented. If James fails to keep this moving, you will get the project back if you insist often enough. Rember - Ken said "let's wait a bit to see if James moves at all".

If you don't want the project to die:

  1. Answer James inquiries asap, cc Ken
  2. If James is silent for a while, ask him "Hey, can I help with that? Really want to start using the tool." cc Ken. James will either worm or respond he was caught in another work.
  3. If James is not moving for a while, keep asking Ken - James haven't the time, can I set this up for my team pls it will only take half a day pls boss

Even if James starts working and actually accomplishes this task, you will have a lot of credit. You will also have Teams. And you (together with Ken) will have gotten some productivity out of James.

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    Very good analysis. That's the things are. – lambdapool Jun 18 at 15:04
2

If I understand correctly, you had a good idea, you pitched it and it seems to be a good solution for a similar issue in the business (but not the same broader one you thought?) which someone else is dealing with but you had an expectation to be the one who did the work. You're concerned that the larger project of rolling this out to the whole organisation will now not be yours.

From your comments, you are not sure exactly what James' leadership project entails so you don't know all the facts and maybe James is better placed on this occasion to implement the solution.

All you can do is to have a word with Ken, let him know that you put in the research and you had thought you'd naturally be the person to put the system in place - If that's a no-go then suggest working with James on it.

Pick your battles, there will be more opportunities and other chances to shine and if this kind of thing keeps happening, remember, it's their ball, move on with dignity - List the things you've influenced on your CV and in future interviews tell them you want more project work.

You also say you're being paid below market rate but are ok with it, there's no reason why you can't get a job with fair pay elsewhere where you can help lots of people make their lives better.

Edit: In the OP's question he states:

I've only worked there for about 2 months

And

I've picked a lot of battles already and haven't lost any but I'm still "fighting" (I don't like that word) because there's A LOT to fix.

I hope that this provides clarification on why I suggested he pick his battles and try to collaberate with James instead of making demands to lead the project.

  • If, as you say, "James is in a better place to implement this solution" he should carry it off himself... – Solar Mike Jun 17 at 8:34
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    “Pick your battles” - OP decided to pick this one. – gnasher729 Jun 17 at 8:57
  • @SolarMike I did not make that assertion, I said "Maybe James is in a better place" - It was unclear at the time I answered this. – Old Nick Jun 17 at 9:03
  • @gnasher729 As I said in my answer, OP should have a chat to Ken to make his feelings known, if that's a no go, try to work alongside James so at least he gets to share the credit. – Old Nick Jun 17 at 9:08
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    @gnasher729 agreed, however, based on OP comments, it sounds like he's picked all the battles. – FreeMan Jun 17 at 13:53
1

Without knowing the power dynamics, team structure, or goals, it's hard for me to say anything, but what I can do, is give some insight into why I might do what Ken is doing were I in his situation.

As a manager and leader, he's responsible for growing people. You say you're the most technical person. Great. And if all the technical work comes to you, then you will always be the only technical person.

The main advantage to seeking and valuing individual credit for a project or idea is to build credibility, which can be useful when you're new to a team. You already have that. Now it's time for someone else to learn so they can become awesome too.

You should help them learn. Not just because it's your job but because it's the right thing to do. It will make James or his team better. It will make the company better. And in turn, you may rely on James one day to help you, which means this opportunity could benefit you too.

That said, I have no idea what "team" means in your job and how the politics work there, so maybe none of this applies.

1

First of all, I have worked in local government and Federal. You're right they generally do not move fast on things, and there is good reason for this. Moving fast can create serious problems because not every change this new idea, software, or workflow will bring has been thought of, not properly vetted. There needs to be a plan on how to move forward in government, it has to be documented, and staffed with the right people, and frankly you sound like you want to blaze into this headfirst. The idea belongs to your employers now, they will give you credit where credit is due, don't take it personally, be proud that your idea got them to work.

In my local government experience worked in IT, but I was the GIS Analyst who needed IT credentials to work on my databases and web pages, essentially I headed the department. I have come to understand that every job has its idiosyncrasies, and they are likely there for a reason. My boss in IT would not install a new program or until the the first service pack was released, and carefully read about changes as he and our city still used IBM's AS400 databases for assessing. I came to really respect him for his thoroughness and try to use it myself. It may be that you have been evaluated as someone to present this and head this up, and it was decided you are too inexperienced or not ready somehow. If you are an Engineer, then you are the guy that does the real work, the trigonometry and mathematics, you deal with a great range of people from upper management to small clients. You often unknowingly speak in jargon as I often do, as though its common knowledge to everyone when in fact they simply glaze over and forget. I have worked with so many great Engineers, sometimes you start talking in Engineering parlance, over everyone's head (except mine) :) and people lose energy and may feel insulted by Mr. Smart Guy over there who talks in jive. Watch how this guy handles your project, pretend for a while he is good at his job. If he does or says something wrong, ask him why he said it, ask him questions after in a helpful manner, if he likes and trusts you, you may be able to make a valuable suggestion, just don't tear him down, you are on the same team with the same goal, and you will get credit, because it will be in your portfolio, right? Start with smaller presentation, prove yourself further. If you are critical because you know better than others, you probably don't and co-workers likely don't have the energy to tell you why.

You sound like a guy I worked with, he made assumptions from day 1, he was overqualified in some ways as he was a registered engineer working as a GIS Tech I, he bragged about only taking 1 geography course, which doesn't matter, but he did show in his questions and proposals to me just how little he knew and that he was unwilling to learn anything that didn't attempt to make me look bad or take credit for work I had already done, it became his obsession to prove I was not who I appeared, someone with lots of experience in different environments, over 10 years. His questions and proposals were nonsense, some could be changed into working, but without practical purpose, or took a huge amount of backend work or computer processing. He needed to listen and learn, not just from me and other GIS staff, but from field staff, other engineers, and mostly our GIS Manager. After our manager was fired without replacement everyday there were several ideas, I began to ignore him. He hated me and our awesome co-worker, with 30 years of CAD and GIS under his belt, and a perfectionist. He insulted our work, because he didn't understand it. He had it out for us both who also couldn't stand his arrogance and slights, he got an earful after showing up with manuals and books in a session setup by HR with a professional moderator. He got such an earful from me, my co-worker and head of HR he quit the next day. He was a loser with short-man syndrome, don't fall into the trap that you think you are smarter than anyone, with 2 months under your belt you have very little idea who your dealing with and it doesn't sound like you care. You need to change your attitude, don't be a backstabbing person who crawls up the ladder on the back of others, we have enough of them. You are smart, you can do it the right way, with smart work and networking. This time, be a man and take one on the chin for the team. Be happy for him. I wish you the best of luck in your career, be open to change always and before getting mad or hurt take at least a day to try to walk in their shoes.

  • Well said! Personally in some situation I was "smart guy". Stop and listen carefully, even between lines is crucial to understand people and processes real work (outside engineering/IT world). @Chirs Carlson, do you have any material, references books to improve on that ? – Vokail Jun 19 at 14:33
0

Leadership is all about delegation. A good leader isn't a person who "get $H1T done", a good leader is one who enables others to "get $H1T done".

Handing a personal pet project to someone else who is far less qualified to execute it than you are might seem frustrating, but it has two upsides:

  • You keep your own time and energy free for other projects
  • You allow that other person to grow and take responsibility

There is of course the risk that the project fails due to the person it's delegated to being too incompetent, not motivated enough or having a wrong idea of the project goal. You can mitigate that risk by closely monitoring the progress on the project and intervening when James gets stuck or goes into a wrong direction.

protected by Mister Positive Jun 19 at 15:28

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