I am a new manager and performance appraisals are coming up. Although in general I am regarded as above standards (I was promoted for being the top employee of the year) I am aware that some of my objectives in recent weeks were not met by deadline. So I expect at least some part of my appraisal to be negative.

However, I strongly feel that this was not my fault, and don't want to come across as simply trying to be defensive or placing the blame elsewhere. As a matter of fact, it may be one of the few times in my life where I really feel I have to stand up or I will be misunderstood.

I report to two bosses. Under Jack, I have to confirm that all different newsletters are published to our clients every Friday. Under Jill, I ensure all writers know what to write, content is proofread, all data is correct, good images are sourced etc. and that everything can be correctly fed into Jill's newsletter publishing software. At the same time, I also help Jill in projects to improve the software. (the "newsletters" are just a simplification of an actually much more complex work function, too long to explain)

Jack is based in another city. Jill sits right next to me and creates/improves other software across the company. Jill and I have an agreement that I send him everything by Wednesday evening. I often complete my part Tuesdays, working at very high intensity. Then it's all in Jill's hands who usually has the newsletters ready by Thursday, but sometimes Jill's software is broken, has a bug or there is some testing going on. When this happens, even if I do my part by Tuesday, Jill might wait until Thursday and then realize the problem. In those situations, the newsletters don't go out until Saturday.

The problem is, for some reason, Jack tells me this should never happen again and is bad etc. But I don't even say sorry because I somehow feel it's unfair. I try to give hints at the fact that the delay didn't depend on me, but Jack doesn't seem to fully understand until I diplomatically ask Jill to tell Jack. And even then, Jack often seems to have a negative impression of me.

I don't like to point fingers, especially since Jill is right next to me. Jack and Jill are at the same level though in different departments.

I am now afraid this may come up during my appraisal, and would like to ask if you have any advice on how I could explain, in the most professional and polite manner possible: I had absolutely nothing to do with this! It is unfair that I am even told this.

(I think my main fear is to make Jill look bad)

  • Have you ever sat down with Jack go discuss ideas about how to fix it? Have you ever talked with Jill about alternate delivery methods for when her software is broken? – atk Dec 8 '13 at 21:14
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    You've never asked Jack how you're suppose to make sure it never fails again since you have no control over Jill? – user8365 Dec 8 '13 at 21:35
  • @BigHead - Are the "newsletters" driven by database content and in turn, ETL (Extraction, Transformation, and Load)? The significance of this is that, if so, you and "Jill" are having to make code modifications "on the fly" to deal with evolving contingencies. In short, this is never a "finished" project, you're having to fix import issues week by week. If this is true, does "Jack" know this? – Meredith Poor Dec 8 '13 at 21:38

If I get blamed for a delay I didn't contribute to, how can I defend myself?

If it gets to that point, it's too late.

Step 1 of course is to stop blaming others. You're responsible for stuff, take responsibility. Yes, someone else might have caused it, but it was your job to prepare for those risks and when stuff inevitably happens to handle it gracefully (and ideally prevent it in the future).

Step 2 is to work on setting expectations. "This newsletter is going to be late because of XYZ." Not person XYZ, but event XYZ. If Jack really cares about the output, then he'll help you work on that process. Sure, he's also likely to push you to do something about the delay, but bad news you knew was coming is always better than a bad surprise.

And if you find yourself always setting (negative) expectations, then negotiate with people and work towards making the process more reliable and predictable - that is after all your job.

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You may need to do a better job of communicating with Jack. He may not realize that the delay is due to something that is Jill's problem not yours. And possibly Jill is blaming you to escape the blame herself. Your deadline is Tuesday. I would suggest that when you deliver the product to Jill, you send Jack an email confirming that your part is done. Now when you go to the review, you can point to these emails as evidence that you are meeting your deadlines. Further, you can point out that you initiated the emails in response to Jack's concerns about the deadlines, so you can show you took some action to alleviate his concerns.

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    I really like the send an email to Jack step once his part is complete. I would cc Jill just so everyone is aware. – JeffC Apr 24 '17 at 16:05

My advice to you is to own the mistake but you should approach Jack after the fact to come up with a game plan so that this doesn't happen again. Let Jack know that you have different ideas how to fix the problem and propose new powers for yourself over Jill so that you can bring the hammer down on her.

If Jack shoots down an idea you have to solve the problem in your eyes then start a conversation about a compromise that Jack thinks will work. Don't just let your superior's shoot down your ideas without explaining their thought process and reasoning. Jack can render you even more powerless by using the "N" word (NO) so don't allow him to get away with this. It is always easier for a superior to say NO, don't make this easy for them!

In the end even if all of your ideas are shot down and you did a good job of communicating then Jack should have a much more educated perspective about the real challenges you are facing and this is still a minor victory. If you are indeed in an un-winnable situation then Jack should understand this and have a little more compassion and respect for you.

And in a final note when you have employed all strategies and come to the conclusion that your situation is un-winnable then it is best to retreat.

If you haven't read it I suggest picking up Sun Tzu's Art of War. It is a must read for all leaders.

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  • You told the OP to ask for powers over their boss so that they can bring the hammer down on their boss. Don't forget OP said Jill was their boss. As interesting as that sounds (not judging), that probably will not go over well. I foresee an explosion, possibly nuclear, with the boss red in the face shouting about how their underling is trying to usurp. Peons usually do not have powers over their boss, especially for bringing down any hammers on their boss. – Aaron Jun 8 '17 at 17:24

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