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I was tossing around a few ideas with my colleague on how to further a project that's being delayed or lacking attention by a particular person. They mentioned perhaps I should CC the person's boss when sending a follow up email regarding a stalled project. Often times, the person I need to email is my superior, meaning I'd have to CC someone even higher up.

Would this be an appropriate thing to do in a professional environment? Would it bring more attention to the matter, or would it be closer to blackmail?

Note: This is regarding a follow up email, after the first attempt to contact them has been made.

  • If you are at the point where your boss needs to get involved then you should CC them ( and only them ). If they feel it needs to be raised to their boss they will do so. If you are being delayed because of somebody else your boss needs to know. – Donald May 31 '12 at 16:30
  • Related workplace.stackexchange.com/q/1538/869 – yoozer8 Jun 25 '12 at 17:24
  • I once had a boss who requested to be CCed on all emails with external teams - it allowed them to be the one who decides when following-up is necessary, which made it unnecessary to ever copy the recipient's boss. – user2813274 Aug 21 '14 at 17:09
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Would it bring more attention to the matter, or would it be closer to blackmail?

Both, obviously. If you are trying to force the person to pay closer attention by making sure his boss is aware that the question is asked, that is a form of blackmail.

Does that necessarily make it a bad move? Not always, but give a lot of thought to the personality of the people involved before you take this step. Is this the kind of person who regularly ignores emails? Are they likely to think poorly of you for taking an aggressive approach? Is their boss the kind of person who is offended by breaches in the chain of command?

It also depends a lot on the structure that you're both within. In particular, I am more inclined to CC my boss than someone else's. Because he needs to know if I'm being slowed down by someone else's lack of response. If my boss happens to be the boss of the person I'm chasing, I'm not going to let that stop me.

But, more often than not, there is a better way. Follow up with a phone call, or go to the person's desk, before you start playing the political game.

As with all office politics, the question for me is not "is this appropriate?" The real question should be "will this achieve the result I am looking for, without costing me a working relationship?" And that always depends on the personalities involved. There is no hard and fast rule.

  • Great answer. +1 for '...more inclined to CC my boss than someone else's' – Michael Capobianco May 31 '12 at 12:14
  • 4
    Before you suggest that this would be the same as blackmail, you ought to provide a formal definition of what "blackmail" is. – user3333 Sep 14 '13 at 2:28
  • 3
    +1 for "Follow up with a phone call, or go to the person's desk, before you start playing the political game." Most of the time, showing it's urgent face to face will be more than enough and will actually strengthen the work relationship with the person. – dyesdyes Aug 20 '14 at 10:02
  • 5
    I don't think this is blackmail, because there's no extortion by threat. Someone's boss knowing what they're (not) doing is not an undue influence. You aren't threatening to inform their boss unless they do what you want, you've already informed. And not all extortion by threat is blackmail anyway, for example "if you don't do your job, I'll tell your boss you didn't do it" is not blackmail even if you benefit by them doing their job. However, I think it is the thing that the questioner is concerned that it is, that the questioner calls "blackmail" in the question. It's strong-arming :-) – Steve Jessop Sep 17 '14 at 18:36
  • It's totally raising the consequences to another level. The pro move in these situations is to CC your boss if you want raise it OR BCC if you don't want to. – Malisbad Mar 22 at 5:19
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CCing someone's boss is a raising of the stakes. It's essentially saying that you are not getting satisfaction in whatever it is you are talking about and that you will bring in a higher authority to get your wishes satisfied.

That's fine if it's what is needed. But be aware that the other person will take it that way, and may well take offence, especially if they believe they are giving you good reasons why the 'stalled' project is not making progress.

10

CC'ing a supervisor is usually fine. I think the tone and intent of the email is what matters more than who's CC'd on it. Good or bad, people always get a reputation inside of companies for playing politics, or pulling rank, if they are in fact participating in such activities. So long as you're neither playing politics or pulling rank (as opposed to just going directly to the person you need to deal with) you're probably on safe ground.

If your tone is professional and courteous (of course it's fine for you to stress the urgency/lack of follow up from the last communication), then email is usually an okay method of communication. If it's an emergency (or it's getting there) it wouldn't hurt to pick up the phone as well, assuming there's a phone number to call.

As with anything, you generally get the best long-term results when your courteous, even if things are rough right now. If you're courteous the vast majority of the time, when it comes time for you to say, "Hey [person you're waiting on], we've been working together for a long time, and I really need you to be a little more responsive so I know what's happening. When can I expect to get an update?" Press for a commitment on the timeline for follow up, and hold them to it. Over time, they will either get used to that flow (and provide updates when you really need them), or you can escalate it if the lack of follow up becomes a repeat problem.

5

If the person is your own boss, you need to be more careful doing this. Before escalating this way, I would send him an email telling him you need a response by such and such date and time or the project deadline will be missed. Usually words like project deadline being missed will make someone aware that they are causing the delay and that there is a papaer trail and they can be blamed if it happens. If it was my boss I would also actually make an appoint ment to discuss the issue and not leave until a resultion has occurred. Again, you may need to forcefully make the point that his decision is delaying the project deadline. I hava alos successfully used the project management system to bring this up. Usually a discussion item saying the project is oh hold until a decision has been made on xyz issue, will also break the logjam. This is easpcially true if his boss might read the PM system items.

Another effective tactic can be to tell him the decision you want and tell him that you will assume he agrees with it unless he gets back to you by such and such date. This is really helpful when you have a boss that doesn't read his emails or respond to them. You made the decision but he owns it because you asked for feedback and told him that he agrees if you don't hear differently. Even better if you do this as a way of saving him time, he can't even complain about it.

0

Whenever possible make the first followup to an unanswered action item in person with the individual in question. If you're going outside the boundaries of your team, let their supervisor know you are expecting some work from their direct report.

Email chains are a poor surrogate for actual interaction and people will respect you more for creating authentic interactions.

If you're dealing with varying geographies, a phone call with an immediate email afterwards is as thorough as you should need to get in most environments. Whether or not to CC the supervisor is largely a judgement call; I'd want to know if people are asking my staff to do work outside of their normal scope.

If things feel like they are getting complicated, it's probably a case of needing a better system to track requests and issues than email. In these circumstance I highly recommend putting a tool in place. It can be as simple as a shared Google doc spreadsheet or as complicated as an issue tracker like Bugzilla or Jira or Redmine, but the goal should always be to promote visibility and minimize friction.

-1

This should be saved for very rare cases, where you absolutely can't get the communication between you and your colleague to work.

It is a bad signal - it says "me and him can't get along, or can't work efficiently, so I need help from a grownup". Be a grownup, solve things yourselves. If you can't, I would prefer to speak/email to either bosses directly, and not CC them - it just looks bad.

This answer was written after I've "done the CC" a few times in my carrier. One time, I actually got told bluntly by that employee that it's considered rude to CC at this stage, and she convinced me. Since then, I hardly ever CC for this reason. (There are other, legitimate reasons to CC a manager)

-1

The general rule of thumb: if you would feel bothered by the other person CCing your manager, don't do it to the other person. However, this general rule should be ignored when it's truly time to get someone in trouble for not doing their job, because you've already addressed it with that person without success, and you are putting the person on notice that you are escalating.

If you do want to escalate but don't want to send the extra message "and I want you to know I escalated because you're in trouble," consider sending the email without a CC, then afterward forward it to the escalation-handling authority.

Even if you are not escalating, it's good to be thoughtful about CCing managers. If you do have a concern about the recipient's reaction, the forwarding technique may be a good strategy in this case as well. Additionally, you can introduce the forwarded email with more information such as "oh hey, just wanted you to have an FYI because ... whatever ...".

This is less provocative than CCing directly, because if the person finds out you forwarded the email, you have a more plausible excuse–that you just neglected to CC the person at the time and you were merely trying to get work done. However, do be careful with this! Sometimes emails get forwarded, then again, then again, and the last person didn't read the whole thing carefully and sends it back to the person you didn't want to see it. So consider making your forwarding words bland, then have the controversial or sensitive part of the discussion with the boss or authority figure in person.

In my opinion, CCing someone's boss should normally only happen in these circumstances:

  • It's just a normal part of the business you have to do. The boss needs to know, or asked to be kept updated, or any other innocent and unsurprising reason that doesn't alarm or dismay anyone.

  • It's for escalation about a serious, unresolvable problem (as described above).

Aside from these, without a really good and clear reason why it's necessary, such a CC can be a threat with a pretty fine point on it. It can be passive aggressive, and manipulative, and petty, if done for the wrong reasons or before the right due diligence has been carried out. And this can rebound to your own harm.

If you want your boss or a person's boss to know something about a person, consider telling the superior separately. It's okay to include the person if that's what you have to do, but be aware that doing so is to pointedly communicate that one acceptable or even wanted outcome for you is that the person get into real trouble (not just for him to produce the work, but for him to be in trouble as an explicit, separate goal). That's not particularly good for building successful and supportive working relationships if done too lightly, or prematurely, now is it?

If you think a problem is worth sharing with someone's boss, see if you can first go to the person and talk about it. This is wise, and common courtesy besides, so do it unless there's a clear and objective rationale not to (perhaps you are afraid of retaliation or it's about bullying or harassment, perhaps). You never know if it was you who misunderstood something, and having that clear communication first can be the difference between you appearing to be the consummate professional on the one hand or looking like a jerk on the other.

The risks are even higher in the case of your own boss. More than with equal-rank coworkers, always seriously try to work things out with your boss before going over his/her head (again, unless a crime or other serious policy violation is occurring, and even then there is risk). Your boss is the last person whose goodwill you want to frivolously exhaust, because even if he/she doesn't become actually malicious, it's so easy for your boss to start failing to give you the benefit of the doubt, to start questioning your decisions, to stop trusting you, and so on—all things that will make your job harder and your success less likely.

Though, before you do anything at all about people not doing their jobs in a way that affects you, you might read the book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Then you can use its techniques, such as an "accusation audit." You might say "have you given up on doing that work before the deadline?" Or a whole host of things that will help you negotiate with the person directly. Only after this fails should you escalate.

P.S. Going to someone's boss is a near-surefire way to make an enemy. Don't do it lightly, but do it calmly & confidently when you must. Objectively state what you observed, what you did, and what you need. Stay away from characterizations and subjective statements about the person. You can state your own subjective feelings, but that's because you are the only person who has any objective knowledge of your feelings and so this is a legitimate use of subjectivity, stating how a situation is (actually, objectively) affecting you.

  • Comments, please? – CodeSeeker Mar 20 at 16:55
  • I didn't down vote, but I think it is because they disagree with you. I also disagree. No one wants their boss CC'd for the reasons in the question; it will bother them even if it justified. It is irrational to think that one could simply ignore people indefinitely without someone escalating it to a supervisor. – UnhandledExcepSean Mar 20 at 18:59
  • @UnhandledExcepSean Is that better? I never meant to say to indefinitely tolerate a problem at work. – CodeSeeker Mar 21 at 0:42
  • I think that helps clear up some points – UnhandledExcepSean Mar 21 at 0:52

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