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I am a newbie tech worker in my first job at a small startup. I love it. Everyone has been very nice to me up until now, and I feel like I am very appreciated for bringing new ideas/solutions to the table.

Recently, I developed a proposal to improve a task that was previously carried out by other means; it was one of the loose-ends of the project. The proposal turned out to be a great success, more effective and faster as well. I got very excited and, after verifying the results, I emailed both my manager and the CEO about my new proposal. I am also working alongside the CEO in another parallel project, so it is not unusual for us to talk. I got happy replies from that email.

However, in today's meeting with my coworkers, the manager got quite upset at me and started the meeting by publicly blaming me of "skipping the hierarchy of the company" for involving the CEO in the email. I said I did not want to skip it, I included both because I felt it would be interesting for them to know. He added the CEO should not be bothered with every small detail because he has to take care of bureaucratic stuff as well, and we must only show the final product to him; furthermore, every decision must be communicated to him (my manager) before it is even heard by the CEO. I agreed with him, but also made it clear I did not know I was doing the wrong thing and blamed it in my lack of experience. He said "do not do it again" and proceeded to let someone else talk; I was the last one to talk in this meeting in this 3h meeting. To make things worse, in the little time I was left with, I pointed out a critical miscalculation in the current project which needs to be addressed immediately; I think this made him even more nervous but it is really a do-or-die thing...

I messed up for including the CEO in the list of recipients; I feel like I might have just been seeking positive feedback to be honest... However, I feel like the public rant was too much. I am just looking for advice, how should I address the current situation?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jul 23, 2022 at 8:28

9 Answers 9

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I am just looking for advice, how should I address the current situation?

I think you are making this a greater deal that in is.

You did what you did, you were given feedback on not to do it again (that is, send it to manager first). Your best course of action is to follow such feedback and move on with your life.

To be honest, I sense that your manager could have been a bit rude/strong by addressing that in a meeting and in the way you describe. He should have done that in private if his intentions were to teach you about something you did "wrong", and not among other coworkers.

Perhaps your manager was simply having a bad day, or (assuming) they felt intimidated that you going directly to the CEO will make you look better than them or whatever...

Anyways, I'm speculating here, but do be aware of any similar behavior from your manager in the future, so you learn how better to deal with them (or if they are the kind of manager/person you want to work with).

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    Yeah, that sounds like a sensible thing to do, thank you very much :) Jul 19, 2022 at 21:41
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    Glad I could help. Although do be aware if manager tends to behave this way in the future. Not everybody is your friend at the workplace, and sometimes people may be envious of your success and try to take it or make you feel less
    – DarkCygnus
    Jul 19, 2022 at 21:43
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    This is the right answer. "An intern didn't follow protocol" is hardly a new thing. Jul 19, 2022 at 22:09
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    That's the mark of a bad manager though. Praise in public, criticise in private. Everyone that cares about managing knows this.
    – Alvaro
    Jul 20, 2022 at 19:05
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    @CTeegarden I'm not sure the manager understands "praise in public, criticize in private", just a couple of comments up, the OP stated that the mgr has done this before to other employees. For the OP, I would, unfortunately, expect this behavior to be fairly common from the manager and brace yourself for it. It's not the right way to do things, but it seems it's his way. Sadly...
    – FreeMan
    Jul 21, 2022 at 13:34
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I would assume that your proposal was a good one, and your manager would have liked to give it to the CEO as his great idea. That is the only reasonable explanation for blaming you for a “mistake” in public.

In a small startup there is very little distance between you and the CEO and no reason not to tell him.

Not everyone in a company is your friend. This manager is not your friend. Always remember that. He will do whatever is to his advantage. Remember that before he reminds you.

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    definitively it is a possibility, i am gonna be careful indeed... since i cannot be sure of it, i will just assume he had a bad day for the time being... but i will keep an eye open for sure. thanks for your advice! Jul 20, 2022 at 8:37
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    Since the OP stated they already communicate with the CEO regularly they could talk to them directly without including the manager to say something like "Sorry I bothered you with my idea the other day <manager> told me explicitly never to do that again". That will give the OP an idea of whether the CEO really is bothered and may start them thinking the manager is trying to act as a gate keeper inappropriately. Of course this might get back to the manager and they will fire the OP (if they can) or make their life a nightmare until they quit.
    – Eric Nolan
    Jul 20, 2022 at 9:17
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    This answer is a complete conspiracy theory lacking even a shred of evidence to assume it is the case
    – eps
    Jul 21, 2022 at 0:49
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    There are a lot of other reasons a manager would be extremely unhappy with an idea being taken to the CEO. One is if it's not really a good idea but was phrased in a misleading way that might get the CEO behind it inappropriately. Another is if it requires coordination with other teams who would be blindsided by it being taken to the CEO without their input. There's at least two hints in the post hints that the OP is focused more on credit than on cooperation. Jul 21, 2022 at 21:27
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    Skipping "hierarchy" is probably poor choice of expressing what the manager probably meant. As David Schwartz mentioned there could be many reasons why pulling in the CEO can be bad for your group, but most of them come down to this: you are taking away autonomy/agency from your group's ability to make decisions. CEO obviously trumps almost anyone's decision (unless they are radically modest) but they also tend to have very little time to contribute/understand any meaningful to any one techinical project. You are probably overstepping by trying to rope in the CEO, a wise CEO would ignore you.
    – ldog
    Jul 22, 2022 at 4:47
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Your manager probably went too far, but there is an important lesson to be learned here.

Managers don not like surprises in front of their management chain. They generally have access to more information than you do and can protect against bad situations if you give them advance notice.

For example, as efficient as your process was, it could have used some technology that the CEO has said they don not want used at the company. Your manager would know that and could tell you not to send the message.

It is your manager's responsibility to know what their team is working on and if you do not keep them informed they look bad. Even for a small company, you do not want to create a situation where the CEO is saying to your manager "Why didn't you tell me about this?"

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    Another possible reason is expectation management. It's possible that OP, while clearly having great ideas, isn't yet familiar with all the steps needed to put something live (e.g code reviews, unit tests, manual testing, documentation, informing clients, scheduling, migration, &c) and the time that they can take. So maybe the manager wanted to prevent the CEO from getting an unrealistic expectation of how quickly this task might go live.
    – gidds
    Jul 20, 2022 at 20:59
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    A related reason might be if the manager knows that there are complications OP doesn't yet know about — e.g. corner cases it has to cope with, or other systems it has to integrate with, or performance issues that don't occur in development environments — and so the task will take longer to reach production quality than OP might think.
    – gidds
    Jul 20, 2022 at 21:01
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    Non-techies vary hugely in their understanding of these things. Some understand the issues well and know what to expect; others trust and leave everything to their techies — either type is fine to talk to. But some don't realise what they don't know, and it generally pays to be much more careful what you tell them. They could easily take OP's enthusiasm and optimism at face value — and then get angry when their unrealistic expectations aren't met. Even worse, they could start taking and enforcing technical decisions based on that partial understanding, affecting far more than this one project…
    – gidds
    Jul 20, 2022 at 21:13
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    I think this is a great answer. The only thing I'd add is that relaying info up and down the organizational hierarchy is a big part of a manager's job. OP probably wouldn't like it if his manager rewrote all his code. How is this different? Everyone has their specific job and ought to be afforded the opportunity to do it. Jul 21, 2022 at 0:08
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    @gidds i completely agree with you. i might have been creating unrealistic expectations with the CEO... the project still needs a lot of work to be done, i might have put an extra pressure on my manager which understandably made him uncofortable Jul 21, 2022 at 7:25
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I messed up for including the CEO in the list of recipients

No you didn't. Your boss is just insecure and worried about being seen to have someone more competent on their team than themselves.

My advice, ignore them, and if he makes comments such as these again, raise them with the CEO. I'm sure he'd be very interested to hear that one of his management team are attempting to limit communications channels by disciplining team members unjustifiably and in an unprofessional manner.

If you don't feel like you can do that, it's time to leave and take your talents somewhere with less toxic management.

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  • i do think he sometimes feels insecure... but i dont think he should, i am happy where i am and it is just my first job. he has way more experience and some skills i lack :) i will follow your advice though! Jul 21, 2022 at 12:42
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    Whether he should or not is pretty beyond the scope of my answer and pretty well beyond your control (nor should it really be your concern). My point is, he's wrong, and the way he treats you is detrimental to both the company and yourself so don't stand for it. Jul 21, 2022 at 12:43
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    Yeah you are right, even if i were a competitor for his position, downplaying someone in public is playing dirty games for sure and hurting someone unnecessarily... Jul 21, 2022 at 12:47
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    This is really terrible advice. 1. this beginner is not more competent at managing data and information than the manager. 2. ignoring your boss' instructions is a great way to get fired for insubordination. 3. Maybe ask the boss privately why it annoyed him so much. Who knows, the OP might just learn something.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 22, 2022 at 16:07
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    I've learned to be suspicious when someone tells me all about how someone thinks and feels, when they have never met them, don't know their name, where they live or work (even which country), what they look like, what they do, their hobbies, ... Jul 22, 2022 at 21:38
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First of all, congratulations for your success! It is clear that you were very proud and wanted everybody to know.

But: One of the things I have learned the hard way in my job is that people usually do not think about your career, but only about their own. It is great that you are successful - as long as you do not get in the way of others who are more influential than you are (or at least thinks they are).

Of course your manager wants you to do a good job. But what he really thinks of is his own success and his reputation. Nothing else. Do not expect him to be proud of you or to support you just because he likes you. He wants you to be successful as long as this contributes to own success. If he thinks you are going to overtake him, he will fight back.

By informing your manager and the CEO about your success at the same time, you have made two mistakes:

  1. Good managers know what is going on in their team, and they know it before the CEO. When you inform your manager and the CEO at the same time about your success, it is clear that the manager didn't know before. This means that he has not done his job - and now the CEO knows. Of course this was trivial, and some managers would not care, but there are others who do.

  2. If you stuck to the hierarchy, it would have been your manager who informed the CEO. He would have had the opportunity to boast about his great team - and, most likely, also underline his own contributions to this, even if they didn't exist. You have spoiled his opportunity to act big, and now he is angry.

Don't worry about this situation too much. These things always happen. But you have learned a lot about your manager. You know now that he is touchy and agressive and has no qualms about humiliating people in front of others. Be careful when you deal with him and make sure that he is always involved and feels appreciated enough.

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  • Great answer! Definitively a miscalculation on my end... Gotta remember not getting overhyped from now on, after all, my team has been very supportive with me as well Jul 21, 2022 at 8:39
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Certainly an incident like this stings, you did something in good faith which stepped on toes you didn't intend to step on and found out about it in an embarrassing fashion.

On the one hand, from an interpersonal perspective this would have been better served as a private word off to the side -- but this assumes you were the sole intended audience.

It seems possible that this was also intended as reinforcement for all the other team members in the meeting, both in terms of restating chain-of-command but also appearing to "make an example" of you by calling you out in front of the group.

Was your follow-up done during the meeting in front of everyone as well? It's possible he took a harder line than he otherwise might have if he felt his judgement was being questioned in front of the group.

In my opinion that was rude but I recommend being gracious about it as it will give you a chance to feel out the situation. Circle back with the manager privately and just restate "Hey, I just wanted to say sorry again about the cc: to the CEO, I didn't mean to step out of line." Don't go into further explanation or justification, just float it out there open-ended and see how he responds.

Maybe this was clumsy and he was just "puffing up" for the meeting to make sure this didn't turn into a wider short-circuit of structure, or maybe he really feels threatened by what you did. This will give him an opportunity to show his hand and you can judge accordingly.

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Understand that you made a mistake, learn from it and move on.

Look at this from your manager's point of view, in terms of responsibility, control, and how hierarchical organizations work - or metaphorically as your manager was driving, and you grabbed the steering wheel:

  1. Responsibility and control need to match. How would you like to be held responsible for something (e.g. the weather, or my driving habits) that you have zero control over?
  2. Your manager is responsible for his group and its activities. He manages resources and has plans including resource allocations, people's workloads, equipment usage, etc. Assume that he has optimized his plans: project A builds on project B builds on C and D, etc. When you bypassed him by taking it to the CEO:
  3. You took him by surprise, unpleasantly. People with big plans tend not to like unpleasant surprises.
  4. You disrespected his authority. It's his job to manage his group, to present to the CEO progress, needs, what can or cannot be accomplished, plans for the future, etc. -- and you jumped past him.
  5. This invited the CEO to disregard - or change - your manager's plans, based on your presentation and excluding any consideration of his other projects. This is extremely disruptive, and may have required considerable damage control on your manager's part, to avoid causing re-planning, delays, increased costs for (or even outright failure of) other projects.
  6. If you and the CEO make plans that become orders for your manager, you are now 'grabbing the steering wheel' and acting like you are your manager's boss. Don't expect him to be pleased by this.

Work with and through your manager; don't bypass him. Request things, don't grab the steering wheel unless and until he asks you to.

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Skipping hierarchy should be a problem only when either you really should not have done that, or your supervisors at whatever level feel you're trying to cut them out. Which seems more likely here?

Look first at what "… skipping hierarchy…" means and whether it really applies here… Doesn't "… skipping hierarchy…" actually mean "stepping over my head…"

"Stepping over my head…" would clearly be a huge problem if what you said was not justified.

"Stepping over my head…" would clearly be a problem if your supervisor/manager/whomever should have said the same to your seniors, but had failed to do that.

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It was really petty from your manager to react like that, and - as others pointed out already - he most probably wanted to present your idea as his own. Needless to say, start shopping around for a new job asap, this is a big red flag.

Next time send him the email describing the idea, and add BCC the CEO instead of CC, or simply send the CEO a totally separate message. Then sit back and watch the show.

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  • Bad advice all around.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 22, 2022 at 16:08
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    Best to avoid attributing evil intent based on what was (unintentionally) rude behavior on the OP's part. Jul 22, 2022 at 21:26

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