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I joined a new company two months back. I committed to the CEO to meet certain goals within 3 months timeframe. CEO has a lot of expectations from me. Two months have passed and it seems I will not be able to meet the target goals. One of the reasons is that my manager keeps me busy in things that are not directly related to what I committed. I feel bad in saying no to my manager as he himself is a gentleman.

In such a situation what is advisable?

  1. Shall I explain to the CEO what went wrong and explain to him how I have been involved in other urgent projects by my manager because of which I did not get enough time? But then would it not damage my relationship with my manager? I cant afford that.

  2. Should I leave everything and now concentrate on my goals explaining the problem to my manager and requesting him to exclude me from those things which are not directly related to my goals?

  3. Shall I own the failure and ask the CEO to give me one more month and concentrate on my goals (requesting the manager not to bother me further)?

  4. What is the best that can be done here and how to avoid such a catch-22 situation in the future? Catch-22 because I can't blame my manager for the failure and at the same time must explain why I am failing.

Having said that I must confess that I am learning a lot in this environment, and to get substantial skill I must stay here for a longer time, so leaving the company is not an option.

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    Have you talked with your manager about this? I don't see that on the list of options. I could be wrong, but to me it reads a bit like two months have passed and now you suddenly realize how much you are behind schedule. I'm suggesting, maybe the manager is not entirely to blame for this, but it was a lack of communication on your side as well, because you were not fully aware of your goals. In that case, talk to your CEO as necessary, but address (deal with) also the cause, which is lack of dialogue on your side. Your manager is your superior, but communication goes both ways – ig-dev Nov 25 '19 at 7:28
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Talk to your CEO as soon as possible. Tell him that you didn't do the tasks he expected you to do because you were given other work by the manager. It's then up to the CEO to decide what has priority. A half decent CEO will then talk to your manager and agree with him what you should do.

The only person to blame is obviously yourself, because you waited two months with this talk. You promised things to the CEO and haven't done anything to fulfil your promises. At the same time, you allowed your manager to give you different tasks, without informing him apparently of the promises you made to the CEO.

But it should be clear that it's not up to you to tell your manager what you will or will not do. The CEO needs to be informed, then the CEO talks to your manager, then your manager tells you what to do - which after his talk to the CEO should be the things the CEO wants you to do.

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    Nobody should be blamed. Deadlines slip all the time and I’d be surprised if a new employee is able to deliver anything useful within 3 months. Just inform the CEO about the progress (or lack thereof) and make sure priorities are clear in the future (and make it clear who’s going to assign work, your manager or the CEO). – Michael Nov 25 '19 at 11:21
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    I think the manager would appreciate it if OP talked to him before going to the CEO. It's quite likely that the manager would sort the whole problem out if he was aware of it. – Robin Bennett Nov 25 '19 at 13:56
  • @Michael The new employee should and would likely be blamed for not communicating the situation earlier, but doing so now is far better than not doing so at all. Without communication, managers can't manage. – David Nov 25 '19 at 14:30
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    @David I would agree, but we don't know if the manager was already aware of these commitments or not. – dwizum Nov 25 '19 at 16:08
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Communication is the key.

Targets can change, but that should not come to anyone as a surprise. If your theoretical (on-paper) targets are not aligned properly with the actual work, then there's surely involve a gap which will make you look bad despite delivering the assigned work.

As gnasher729 already mentioned, you should have had this conversation earlier, but better late than never. You need to do it now.

There's no reason to assume that the CEO is unaware of the change in priorities, however, until you communicate that the additional tasks are going to delay the initially agreed upon targets, no one can know that. I'll advise it to break it down in two steps (in the following order):

  1. Have a discussion with your manager.

    Thank them for a nice work environment, then explain the situation, and mention that you need to clear things up about the expectations (which are not going to be met) and you need to have the targets re-calculated. Also mention, you need to have the CEO informed of this and request your manager to backup your statements.

  2. Have a meeting with the CEO.

    Unless you manager explicitly takes the onus on getting the targets re-aligned with the CEO, go ahead and have a meeting, present your case, and inform that you already had a discussion with your manager about this.

In general, always follow couple of best practices:

  • For every work assignment (which is not a "quick help" or a code-review sort of activity which can be done in couple of hours), make sure it is aligned with the overall target.

  • If there are priority items, or unplanned activities that you need to work on / take care of, make sure they goes on record, and have the target revised as needed.

  • Also, make sure your contribution and achievements for all the tasks / deliverable are noted down.


Having said all these, answering the exact questions:

Shall I explain to the CEO what went wrong and explain to him how I have been involved in other urgent projects by my manager because of which I did not get enough time? But then would it not damage my relationship with my manager? I cant afford that.

Yes, you need to let the CEO know. There's no reason to assume that the CEO is not aware of the additional tasks, but they are unlikely to be aware of the possible slip in your targets due to the additional work. As I proposed, if you have a meeting with your manager before directly reaching out to the CEO, it'll remove any chances of misunderstanding between you two.

Should I leave everything and now concentrate on my goals explaining the problem to my manager and requesting him to exclude me from those things which are not directly related to my goals?

Not really. If the manager was assigning you work without the knowledge and approval of the CEO (bad business for you), that needs to be corrected. If your manager kept the CEO updated, there's no problem. It'll clarify your doubts and confusions.

Shall I own the failure and ask the CEO to give me one more month and concentrate on my goals (requesting the manager not to bother me further)?

As of now, it's not your fault. Have the discussion as mentioned above.

What is the best that can be done here and how to avoid such a catch-22 situation in the future? Catch-22 because I can't blame my manager for the failure and at the same time must explain why I am failing.

Once again, it's not a failure, yet. There's change in plan, and you need to ensure all are aware and on-board with that change.

Best of luck!!

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I totally agree with the answer that you need to communicate this to the CEO, and that you probably should have done so sooner.

However there is an aspect that is not mentioned above that you should be aware of since it will occur again and again in your working life. Namely there are many different management styles, and a lot depends on how your company views "first line managers" vs. "individual contributors".

  • In many companies first line managers are also supposed to contribute in an individual fashion.
  • In other companies first line managers only delegate and don't have IC goals.
  • And unfortunately in a lot companies there is no explicit policy here, and everyone just wings it and often leads to exactly your situation.

So it could be that your CEO has assigned goals to your manager that he assumed your manager would do on his own, and assigned other goals to you that he may not even have made your manager aware of.

But as your manager sees it as you have been made subordinate to them and can be assigned to support achieving his own goals.

In this case you are over-allocated. You need to understand how your company, or at least your manager and CEO view task allocation, and you need to get that straight as soon as possible.

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    good point Mike, shiny answer ;) – BigDataScientist Nov 25 '19 at 14:02
  • I've been there :) – Mike Wise Nov 25 '19 at 15:24
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You committed to achieve certain goals within three months. Two months in, you suddenly realize that you are not going to make it. Immediate stress is the result - how are you going to explain this to the CEO?

The pressure is on, and you look for an escape hatch. In retrospect you see that you were spending a lot of time on secondary tasks given by your manager instead of focusing on your goals. You decide that "this", or better "he", is the "real" cause why you are not going to make it.

If you want to get anywhere with this, you first of all have to accept the facts (the truth). The fact is, you made a commitment and it has become clear you will fail to deliver. You cannot pass the blame for this on to anyone else.

If it is your managers responsibility to fulfill your commitment, then you have nothing to worry about. If, on the other hand, it is your own responsibility, then you can't blame the manager.

Shall I explain to the CEO what went wrong

Yes, as early as possible, but without trying to pass on the blame. Explain what went wrong in a factual way. If you take responsibility the chances of your CEO being understanding are better than if you try to pass on the blame. Chances are your CEO also has failed with a commitment in the past. The manager can also tell his side of the story, and if the truth is not in your favor, this is not going to work out for you.

requesting the manager not to bother me further

This is the crutch of the issue. You say your manager is a "gentleman." My guess is that the reason for this whole thing failing is lack of communication on your side. Getting rid of your manager is not the solution to that problem. If your manager was giving you all these tasks, why didn't you address the issue before it was too late? It doesn't sound like he is a black sheep that wants to disobey the CEO's instructions. If the manager is doing his job properly, then the problem was simply that he was not involved enough. Ideally this should have come from the CEO.

I can't blame my manager for the failure and at the same time must explain why I am failing

Correct. There is no contradiction in this statement.

Take responsibility, talk to people/your superiors with integrity (they will notice and appreciate this), update your manager and CEO on the status of your project, thoughtfully explain the causes for delay (no need to say too much), reflect and learn from this mistake.

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I'll just add this second-hand story as advice for the future. My brother, an industrial engineer with a good amount of experience, was called on the carpet for not meeting a big goal at his company. He responded to the CEO like this:

"You asked me what it would take to do this job. I said that with a 6 person team and such and such resources, we would be done in a year. You gave me only 4 people for the project and we had access to the lab only one day per week. Here's a copy of the written report I gave you a year ago."

The CEO was chagrined. Brother smelt like a rose.

So in the future, when you make promises, put them in writing and add the conditions under which the promise must operate. If you had told the CEO "Yes, I can do this in three months if I have 30 hours per week to work on it," you'd be in better shape now.

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tldr: Missing priorities are your problem, not the additional tasks - But be sure not go over head of your manager now.

[...] How to avoid such a catch-22 situation in the future?

If someone comes with additional tasks, ask him to prioritize them together with the CEO / other task giver. (If possible request a written/verbal confirmation of CEO / other task giver).

Should I leave everything and now concentrate on my goals [...]?

No. That is not your decision to make. You have to find out how the tasks are prioritized and do them in that order.

Shall I explain to the CEO what went wrong [...]?

I would go with no - as long as you get a confirmation that the CEO is fine with repriorization. I feel like you would go over the head of manager if you directly talk to the CEO. (That depends how close you are to the CEO and if your manager is fine with direct commmunication of you and CEO).

Maybe the manager wasnt aware(?) of the CEO tasks, maybe he didnt care. In any case he should get a chance to make it right.

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how to avoid such a catch-22 situation in the future?

Do not accept responsibilities from multiple people when only one of them has control of your priorities.

It's only OK to work for multiple people if you can tell them "I'm busy with something else this week, but I can start your job next week." or "sorry, I'm fully booked until next year".

If you have a boss who tells you what to do, as soon as anyone else asks you to do anything else you should ask your boss what priority it has. Balancing priorities is his job, and trying to do two jobs is a sure recipe for stress and failure.

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