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Summary: Our factory is suffering major issues, our CEO and my manager are in disagreement about the reasons for it and how to fix it. The CEO wants me to take his side in this and help the manager to see things his way, while the manager wants me to support him instead.

I'm not certain if the title is as descriptive as it could be, I'll do my best to explain the situation in this post.

I work in a small production facility, located in a smaller village. Most (~80%) of the employees are young, this as their first job, they have been good friends since childhood and are tight as a team. The factory struggled for a long time to create profit.

I started at an entry level about 2 years ago, after a recent move. I have a lot of prior experience with both working the floor and with management, and was quickly (probably too quickly) promoted to a semi-management role. Our production manager, the highest ranking on-site employee, was fired shortly thereafter. The CEO stepped in to fill the role while looking for a replacement. Our CEO lives in a different country.

The CEO and I developed a very good professional relationship, where we both could openly discuss the daily problems our production was facing and he would listen to my advice. This led to friction between me and rest of the factory employees, as they saw me as some outsider trying to come in and snatch the management role.

The CEO asked me for my view on the situation. I suggested that he ask one of the long time employees who has a complete understanding of factory and the people working there instead. One of these employees became the production manager.

Present day, we still experience daily problems with our production. We fail to meet our production goals. Quality is bad - there are many claims and remakes. Morale is very low. This can quite easily be traced back to our current routines and processes, which there are absolutely none. Employees can come in late, leave early, regularly take longer breaks during the day (40-60mins extra break time is not rare) and there is no follow up at all on the quality issues.

The production manager seems to have a very different view on the situation. He claims that all these issues are a product of employees being overworked and the best solution is to dial down production rates for a while and let people catch their breath.

The CEO thinks that the production manager as a lot of potential. I absolutely agree. He wants me to "put pressure carefully" on the production manager and to assist him with ideas to improve our situation.

I cannot do any of these things without the manager taking it very personally and just walking away mid conversation. Any attempts I make at communicating with him always fail.

Now to my question. I feel like I'm stuck between the manager and our CEO. We have to fix the problems we are having with our production very soon, as the factory is in risk of being shut down. How should I handle this situation? I don't want the manager to get fired or demoted as that would most likely lead to our employees following him out the door. I don't want to force him to communicate either, as it seems like he sees me as someone wanting to take over his position. At the same time the CEO is starting to put more pressure on me to make this work, to get this guy to communicate and to start implementing basic procedures and routines.

Based on the assumption that I dont want to quit, that I want to keep the current manager, that I dont want to create even more friction between me and the employees and that I want this factory to be successfull, what are my options?

Clarifications.

The prodction manager is aware of the situation and how close we are to having to shut down.

My official position is production and material planning. My "unofficial" position is to try and support the manager with implementing the basic procedures a production facility should have in place.

The manager reports directly to the CEO and i report to the manager.

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    Is the Product Manager aware of the axe that is hovering above the factory, ready to drop? Sep 29 at 14:22
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    "The CEO thinks that the production manager as a lot of potential, to which I absolutely agree, and that he needs to learn how to be a good leader and manager. He wants me to 'put pressure carefully'" Maybe the CEO should send the production-manager to a couple of mgmt-courses instead..
    – iLuvLogix
    Sep 29 at 15:04
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    What exactly is your position in the factory and who do you report to? Because honestly, to me it looks like the CEO is just using you as a messenger, hoping that the production manager shoots you instead of him Sep 29 at 15:32
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    Does the production manager report to you?
    – sf02
    Sep 29 at 16:11
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    this question requires a two-sentence "summary" Sep 29 at 22:24
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Make a decision on whether to take action and risk your job, or do nothing and wait for the factory to be closed. In your position, I would weight that against other job prospects that you may have. In any case, I would start cultivating some if that's possible.

It sounds to me like your production manager doesn't fully understand what his responsibilities are or how to execute them. He needs to lay down some rules for work time and break time, and then enforce them. Your production manager is not your friend, and if he tries to be the friend of all the workers all the time, that's a mistake. Your CEO only cares about quality and production goals, as he should. He's trying to run a business, and all of you are his expenses. Some of the workers know a lot about what they are doing but clearly some don't. And, a good manager would know the difference. If he doesn't know, he needs to find out.

Having no written process or procedures is a huge road block for improving quality. Also, one has to measure quality, or it won't change. This can't be done in a vacuum either. It has to involve some of the people doing the work in reviewing it in a "sit down meeting" before it becomes final.

Taking action to introduce process, procedure, and quality measurements is a decision for the production manager. If you decide to be part of the solution, instead of simply complaining about it to him (which is often not helpful), offer to help with any most pressing problem.

And one last thing, try and get a 10 minute meeting arranged with your production manager in his office or a private place. I would tell him the story about what when on between you and the CEO before he was promoted. This could completely eliminate any thoughts he has about you being after his job. It was at least partly because of your recommendation that he has his job. Tell him what you know about the prospects for closing the factory as accurately as possible. Use the CEO's words.

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    How much can the OP trust the CEO? Will CEO throw OP under the bus and claim it was is own idea to promote from within to fill the Production Manager position?
    – Theodore
    Sep 29 at 20:31
  • I've already made the decision to take action. What would be a good way to start such a conversation about how he got his promotion, without soudning like I'm trying to take credit for it? I fear that it's something that could easily be misinterpreted. You also mention that it's better to offer help rather than complaining, which i fully agree with. It's very possible that the help I'm offering comes off as complaining to him, which is why he walks away. Arranging a meeting should be no problem, but I will have to think carefully on what approach I use during said meeting.
    – Smurker
    Sep 30 at 5:46
  • @Theodore I can trust the CEO not to throw me under the buss. I can trust him enough to give me good recomendations even if the factory has to shut down.
    – Smurker
    Sep 30 at 5:50
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Bring in a third party person who the manager respects

I agree with Charles K. about explaining how you helped said manager get his current position, and if that nets you enough credibility and respect that the manager will hear you out then problem solved.

However, you are dealing with a problem that is about trust not reason. In these situations it is best to find someone with seniority that the manager respects and will listen to that either agrees with you or can be easily convinced of the problems that need addressing.

Have that person sit down with the manager and explain the problem and the solution in their own words while you stay as far away as possible. If someone that the manager respects and is willing to listen to cannot get through to the manager, then just imagine how hard it would be for you.

If there is no one with seniority that agrees with your point of view and is willing to speak up, then even if you could convince the manager it would be very hard to get buy in from the workers which would undermine your solutions. When faced with a challenge where the factory you are working at can be shutdown, it is best not to shoulder it alone.

And if no one is willing to shoulder this with you, then that should be a clue that you should make sure your resume is polished up, since you will likely be needing it sooner rather than later.

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