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Some background

During the past ten years in a small company, I have progressed through several roles:

  • testing
  • leadership
  • engineering
  • writing technical procedures
  • Excel automation (VBA)

During this time, I've consistently received stellar reviews, worked independently, and was allowed to improve processes where I fixed years of systemic neglect. However, I did so without any real visibility of my work.

While feedback was positive from users and some executives who supported my efforts, the main exec felt I was not doing enough.

The Conflict

Earlier this year, a new manager joined the company to lead a different department. I've been pulled out of engineering to work directly under him. This has not gone well, as I no longer have any autonomy, he communicates verbally almost exclusively, and micromanages. He even said to me: "we are not colleagues, we are not friends, you are my subordinate and nothing more."

I have decided to move on. However, in the unknown time remaining, I've been handed back the task that I was previously working: create Excel based template for procedure releases.

The file itself was created by my new manager including layout and features the users disagree with. I've been told to only do the backend automation. The rest is a mess and I would prefer fixing things before doing the backend, which I would normally do. Now, when I try to bring it up, I'm reminded to only do what I was told. I feel this is untenable will result in a low quality product, with portions being incompatible with our compliance architecture.

The question:

What are some suggestions for coping with untenable instructions I disagree with? I'm thinking of just doing exactly what I'm told even if that creates a broken low quality and non-compliant product.

  • I can't go above his head, his boss is the executive that didn't support my efforts.
  • He doesn't believe that I should be allowed to have more control over the structure/content in the front-end portion (telling me to leave in a portion which will be non-compliant with our CUI architecture as one example.)
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    Welcome to The Workplace. This is a good question, please ask more. In the future, try to wait at least 24 hours before selecting your best answer, as you will likely get more responses that way. Nov 6 '20 at 16:00
  • I edited this to streamline it a bit, please feel free to roll back if it is not satisfactory Nov 6 '20 at 16:45
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    Have you not considered asking for a transfer back to your old manager, or otherwise asking for some indulgence? With ten good years under your belt and the approval of many staff, I'd think there would be some flexibility to accommodate (as I would cast the problem...) "irreconcilable differences of personality".
    – Steve
    Nov 6 '20 at 18:47
  • @Steve The remaining executive power is held by person who drove the change. I did inquire why the transfer occurred: I'm expected to put back on the 'many hats', even though my role officially changed to be more focused 2 years ago. So I've been brought back to manufacturing, told to keep engineering and coding, but also do other things (like quality assurance tasks, testing.) Small company problems, lack of resources, sinking ship feeling. Many top level have left, colleague remarked "notice how it's all the people who were trying to improve the culture." At this point I just want out.
    – ionizing
    Nov 6 '20 at 19:51
  • @JoeStrazzere Your implication is correct, my wording could be improved to reflect that it is technically tenable, I just disagree with the implementation and impending results. But that is my and the users problem, not my managers.
    – ionizing
    Nov 6 '20 at 20:22
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If you've already made up your mind to find a new job, do that. In the interim, do what you're told. You gave your advice and you were overruled. That happens - make sure you've documented the disagreement so you can avoid blowback if it blows up in your managers' face.

There's no point worrying about something that will no longer be your concern some time in the next several weeks.

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    When worded that way, your answer becomes obviously correct. I think I worry about the legacy I'm leaving behind since my name would be on an inferior work product. I shouldn't worry about that I suppose, I could always put some comments in the code that reflect the literal instructions given. I strive to release quality products downstream and being forced not to makes me cringe. I need to accept that as a subordinate, and perhaps search for another leadership role or an environment where this type of thing would not occur. Thank you for your answer.
    – ionizing
    Nov 6 '20 at 15:50
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At this point, you are in full damage control mode. Do the best job you can under the circumstances, and don't step on any toes.

  • Follow orders to the letter, but not maliciously. If you have any concerns, document but do the assigned work
  • Modularize your code to the point where anyone who maintains it after you are gone, can quickly modify it as needed
  • Use this as an opportunity to gain experience for writing solid back-end programs that can handle bad front-ends (You WILL encounter this in the future as well)
  • Treat this as a learning experience on how to deal with obstructive management. (Again, won't be the last time)
  • Practice your "soft skills" with coworkers and management during your remaining time. Books like "How to win friends and influence people", "Brag, how to toot your own horn without blowing it", and "Rhinoceros success" are big on my list.

I want to stress most of all, to practice your soft skills, and pick up the "Brag" book. When I was young, I had similar problems in promoting myslf. More than once, I was let go because they didn't realize what I did until AFTER I was gone and they had to hire three people to do what I was doing. While that makes for a funny story, it is not a fun position to be in.

Where I am now, it is well known that I turned a process that took 10 hours to run into one that runs in under 10 minutes. It is known because I've been letting people know about it (that "Brag" book helped)

Also, learn a bit about sales to learn how to communicate better, and practice on the folks at your current workplace so you can be ready for the next one.

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    I've begun to document the concerns and changes needed for best practices. Luckily the backend framework is already modularized and commented. I had not fully considered that I will run into incompatible front ends as I've always been full-stack. Obstructive management.. why can't they learn! I borrowed the Brag book from the library system and have started reading it during lunch. Just this week I loaded up Dale Carnegie during my commute, probably in preparation for my next phase. Thank you for all your suggestions, in this question and others I have seen.
    – ionizing
    Nov 6 '20 at 18:06
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    @ionizing I am quite knowledgeable in making good choices, as I've already made all the bad ones. All you can do is the best you can do, without complaints and without overstepping your bounds. Obstructive management is why companies fail every day. Learn when to jump ship, and be excellent. Nov 6 '20 at 18:20

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