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I've been working as a data scientist/analyst at my current company for close to four years now. My former manager (call him Dinesh) left at the end of last year and since then, his manager (call him Omar) has become a lot more hands on with day to day operations. Dinesh started as an analyst and worked his way up through the ranks. He was quite talented and even as a manager, he spent a lot of his time in the trenches, helping to remove blockers and pick up work that the team didn't have a chance to get to. While he would occasionally weigh in with suggestions, he left it more or less up to us to decide on the best way to tackle a problem.

Prior to Dinesh's departure, I had only spoken to Omar on a few occasions but now he joins all of the team meetings and weighs in on everything. He also asks that I go over my plan for each project with him prior to starting work and review it with him after the work has been completed and before we go to business stakeholders for their feedback. The approval is never a simple process and usually requires several rounds of back and forth before an understanding is reached. Sometimes my current direct manager (who is more like Dinesh) will weigh in as well.

I don't believe this management approach is inherently bad but these are some of the issues I have:

  • All the extra meetings take up a lot of time
  • Stakeholders will sometimes have feedback that is at odds with Omar's requirements
  • Stakeholders are accustomed to working with me directly. If something goes wrong or the deliverable doesn't meet their requirements, I am still held accountable. This is cemented by the fact that Omar's official policy is that while management must approve the work, team members (aka me) still "own" the project.
  • Data is unpredictable and oftentimes decisions have to be made based on what is discovered during development. Having to halt work and wait for approval creates costly delays.
  • Omar lacks knowledge of a lot of the intricacies of day-to-day work. His feedback is often idealistic and impractical.
  • I often struggle to communicate (in a way he'll understand and remember) the way our infrastructure is set up and why his approach is untenable.
  • A general feeling that my career development is moving backwards instead of forwards.

Admittedly, a big part of the problem is my emotional response. I feel that I have a good grasp of my role and am more than capable of seeing a project through to completion. Omar does occasionally have good ideas and I recognize the value of getting an outsider's opinion. At the same time, a lot of his feedback is simply wrong and I have a hard time convincing him of this fact.

Ideally, my goal would be to get to a place where Omar trusts me, my teammates, and my direct manager to work more independently but I realize this is far-fetched. I would appreciate any guidance on how I can survive within this new framework and hopefully turn it to my advantage.

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    If I understand your message correctly, the company already hires a new manager to replace Dinesh (your former manager) ? If yes, why shouldn't that new manager step forward as a buffer between you and Omar ? The new manager should handle many planning tasks as Dinesh did. Jun 23 at 16:41
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    I suggest reworking the title: you didn't transition roles. The management of your existing role changed. Jun 24 at 16:01
  • @DanielRCollins, is there any practical difference? The shape of his own role - it's requirements, the skills required, the manner of working and the matters which receive his time and attention, and so on - has changed as a result of the change of manager, at least for the time being.
    – Steve
    Jun 27 at 1:48
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You need to talk to Dinesh.

You have no idea what the prior working relationship between Omar and Dinesh was like, so you have no idea if Omar is repeating what he used to do, or is trying to "improve" you guys by contributing.

If it is a repeat of the past, then the solution is simple: ask Dinesh what he used to do.

If Omar is doing something new, you then need to ask Omar what his goals are, and let him know what he is doing is lowering your performance output (wasting your time with meetings, for one, but not in those exact words).

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  • This isn’t a viable option if Dinesh is no longer working for the company.
    – nick012000
    Jun 27 at 3:30
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I have gone through a similar management change which removed trust and autonomy, and am still in that situation which is very relatable to yours. The resolution depends almost entirely on the attitude of the manager. This is one of those situations where you could attempt management of your manager, but that will only work if they are willing to listen, and you are willing to put forth the extraordinary effort it takes (which shouldn't even be required in an ideal world).

To your specific question:

How can you survive within this new framework and turn it to your advantage?

To be understood by others, one must first try to fully understand their perspective. Since the power dynamic is in the managers favor, you must first try to understand what he is trying to accomplish that is different than how things are currently done. He likely thinks he is helping, which you acknowledge in a sense.

After that, to help with communicating to Omar in a way that he will understand and remember, compose your thoughts in written form using the same language or concept style he is used to. Spend time constructing your message in an otherwise objective way, showing from your perspective but in his language the roadblocks that will be faced if tasks continue to be handled in the way your manager is doing.

Granted, it is possible none of this will matter, as some managers are simply untrainable, inept, and power-hungry. To survive in that type of environment, you must disconnect your own self-worth from the work you are performing, which can be difficult for some. You must accept that management is in control now, you are in a situation where you no longer have autonomy. This can be extremely difficult for those of us who led teams, designed processes, and are generally excellent at what we do. The option then is to polish your list of credentials and start looking for favorable employment opportunities.

My current manager, who was new to the company and who I considered a colleague before I was placed under him, literally told me "... we are not colleagues, you are my subordinate and nothing more, you will do what I tell you, how I tell you, and that is it." Keep in mind that Omar might have this type of attitude, though hopefully he has enough respect for you to never actually say it out loud. Ideally, Omar does not have this attitude, and is simply trying to understand the processes and perhaps he feels the need to do this because he lost Dinesh and now there is a knowledge gap.

It does sound like you have a new direct manager who is supposed to fill that gap, and is perhaps not doing so. In fact, is it possible that Omar is involving himself with you more now because he is filling that trust gap to eventually allow you to be autonomous again? I agree with the other answer that you need to talk to Dinesh and see what he did.

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  • "Spend time constructing your message in an otherwise objective way, showing from your perspective but in his language" - I'd caution the reader about taking this too literally. Usually when people are said to speak different "languages", it's not primarily the lexicon that differs but the more fundamental conceptualisations and understandings. Crap managers may be placated by you translating your same old opinion into management jargon, but serious managers who actually have a conflicting opinion (even if it is quite wrong) will find it unsatisfactory and may even find it patronising.
    – Steve
    Jun 27 at 2:22

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