6

Most of my job involves working with different managers across the company, including a senior officer who directly reports to the CEO and is virtually his "mini-me". In order to do my job, I rely on resources only my line manager can provide.

While I have good friendly relations with all superiors, one common thread of irritation is the fact that my line manager will go to lengths to discuss with me something like:"We have a huge issue in project X. We might need to work the whole week until we get it fixed." Sometimes I will even mention that that might delay some other projects we might be asked for, but he says no, we must first fix and then think about the projects.

Then, the mini-CEO (or any other boss) comes and asks me:"Hey, do you think we can deliver XX by tomorrow latest?" And I say:"Well, we have an issue as XX depends on completing project X - and project X has some internal problems that can be solved only by end of week." Mini-CEO then gets all worked up, starts scolding me in front of the whole office and then goes to my manager:"Hey, what's going on? We have an important business deadline, we can't let XX happen any later.". My manager immediately yields to him and says:"Sure, we can at least start setting up XX, that is absolutely doable. If anything goes wrong, we can solve the issues retrospectively." Then the mini-CEO looks at me and is like:"You see, we cannot treat these things like some random project. Don't talk to me about issues here, issues there anymore. We must get this done!"

In other words, even if I try to explain why a situation might have some delays, my direct line manager will find a way to partially contradict what I reported earlier, and ultimately make me appear like either ignorant or a bottleneck in whatever the company asks for.

I feel extremely irritated when the mini-CEO and other bosses then go on lecturing me about how important the deadlines are, the business rationale etc. They seem to think that I don't understand that already (I perfectly do), and that the issues I talk about are trivial or I just made them up maybe. I don't really know.

Note all work communication in my office is done in person, i.e. the bosses walk around the office to give instructions. No e-mails, no CC - except very high level overviews and periodic updates.

So what can I do in such situations, especially as and when it happens? And is there anything I can do to solve the situation in general?

I don't want to be perceived as a bottleneck just because I am telling the truth.

I don't feel comfortable speaking about this to my line manager as he seems a bit double-faced when it comes to this.

EDIT: Just to clarify, maybe my paraphrasing came across wrong, but I am extremely diplomatic and tactful when explaining these things. I never said a flat out "no", but more like a hesitant "look, yes, well, there might be some issues" - maybe I need to improve how I say that, but I think that regardless of that, I am the one being cornered as I am the messenger. I also need to balance with being honest... so that's a bit of a challenge. Any help appreciated.

Shouldn't I try addressing this with the mini-CEO? Maybe ask him why he is putting pressure on ME, when I have no influence on those things?

closed as off-topic by gnat, Jim G., Jan Doggen, jcmeloni, IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 12 '14 at 13:49

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – gnat, Jim G., Jan Doggen, jcmeloni, IDrinkandIKnowThings
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 6
    I get the impression that you're being used as a scapegoat here for problems that come from a higher level. – Loren Pechtel Aug 12 '14 at 18:07
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    "Hey, do you think we can deliver XX by tomorrow latest?" -- "Yes we can. The consequence of that would be to delay X, which we're currently intending to work on exclusively until it's fixed, which is estimated the end of this week. So if you want me to go ahead with XX then I can let my manager know about the change and get on with it". It's not ideal that you have two people with different ideas about your priorities, but it's not exactly uncommon for people to skip strict chain of command. "All" you have to do is make sure they understand when they're overruling each other. – Steve Jessop Aug 18 '14 at 16:27
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    ... also you should learn to anticipate that the mini-CEO probably has the power to change your manager's opinion. So if your manager said "X" yesterday, and the mini-CEO says "XX" today, then chances are good that your manager will change his mind as soon as he hears that the mini-CEO disagrees with him. It's possible the mini-CEO doesn't want to hear about X at all, he just expects to divert people arbitrarily onto his projects at any time. If so then you need to talk to your manager about how he upwardly-manages the disruption that the mini-CEO causes (in this case, ruining X). – Steve Jessop Aug 18 '14 at 16:31
  • One of these people signs your timesheet. You do what he says, every time, and refer all others to him. – wberry Feb 4 '15 at 22:41
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    +1 This is a great real-world question and should never have been closed. Please reopen. I edited the wording to ask a more constructive, specific question. This is one of the best questions I've seen in recent months. – smci Feb 5 '15 at 10:58
16

Then, the mini-CEO (or any other boss) comes and asks me:"Hey, do you think we can deliver XX by tomorrow latest?" And I say:"Well, we have an issue as XX depends on completing project X - and project X has some internal problems that can be solved only by end of week."

At this point you should make it clear that focusing on the issue in project X was the explicit request of your line manager, not your own idea. Like

"Well, my line manager requested we deal with an urgent issue in project X before completing project XX. X has some internal problems that can be solved only by end of week."

From this point on, they can (hopefully) fight it out between themselves. In case your line manager backs up saying he didn't explicitly request anything like that, it may have been a misunderstanding etc., you should request a private talk with him asap to address the issue, however unpleasant that feels to you. You should make it clear to him that your successful cooperation depends on mutual trust between the two of you, but double-talk ruins trust. One of the possible outcomes may be that in the future you only take such requests from him in explicit written form. Or that before complying to such requests, you always go and double check with the mini-CEO.

And this leads to the underlying problem, which seems to be an unclear allocation of responsibilities. Why is it that both the mini-CEO and your line manager can make decisions about the allocation of resources to projects, and prioritization of tasks? You should strive to make responsibilities clear in this respect. There should ultimately be one single person to make the call. Find out who that is, and listen to him/her from then on.

9

I'd say you absolutely need to talk about this with your line manager.

It sounds like the fundamental problem is that both you and your line manager are (or are perceived to be) responsible for allocating resources to different projects, but, despite your mutual discussions, you end up disagreeing with each other in front of higher management and failing to present a consistent position.

If so, you really need to sit down with your line manager to figure out why this happens and to come up with workable strategies for preventing it in the future. In particular, you really should ask your line manager for their viewpoint on the matter; they may well be equally annoyed with you for, say, failing to be properly accommodating towards upper management requests.

For the future, once you've both raised your concerns and agreed that there's a problem, you should try to come up with some way to present a consistent front. There are many possible ways you could do that, from planning in advance your mutual responses to any likely upper management requests, to agreeing on definitive, non-overlapping areas of authority, so that you can simply pass any requests not in your designated area of authority to your line manager (and vice versa).


The alternative, if you try that and still find yourself and your line manager contradicting each other in front of other bosses, is for you to unilaterally stop trying to speak for your line manager, and instead to always ask for them to make any objections they may have directly to the other bosses. Basically, in the scenario your describe, that would mean not saying "No, we can't do that" (since you knew your line manager had said you couldn't), but instead just passing the buck by saying e.g. "I believe <line manager> had raised some valid issues / might have some useful input / would be better placed to comment about that."

However, while that's definitely one way to ensure that you don't take the blame for arguing your line manager's position, it's far from ideal, since it may end up looking pretty awkward to the other bosses.

In particular, if you do this, do try to phrase your buck-passing reply in such a way as to leave your manager the freedom to choose any response without appearing to lose face. Specifically, don't say e.g. "I believe <line manager> had some objections," since that will inevitably leave either you or your line manager (or both) looking bad if they respond with "No, no, I had no objections at all!" Just suggest in a neutral manner that your line manager might want to take this question, and leave it at that.

  • I wanted to add that buck-passing isn't a bad thing If you are not allowed to make the decision about the buck then you should pass it to the person that does make the decision, passing the buck in a case of a mamager described in the author's post is better then fighting over the buck and looking like a fool in the process. – Donald Aug 12 '14 at 11:48
5

The problem is that you are being perceived as inflexible and uncooperative, unlike your manager. You created this problem for yourself because you're phrasing what you say as if the decision were yours when it actually was the manager's. Preface what you say with "My manager told me that ..." Let your manager sort it out and wiggle out of what they said and leave you out of this until they tell you what their adjusted decision is.

Note:

  1. I am not into stemwinder speeches about what my manager said. If it's more than two sentences, I'll send the other party packing with a terse "talk to my manager" If I come across as rude, that's awesome because it means that they are that less likely to seek me :)

  2. I am not going to bother with wanting to coordinate stories with my manager. This is not going to work because the minute somebody high up buttonholes him, he'll change his tune and do another pirouette and by the time he finishes his pirouette, he'll put me out of the loop again and he'll make me look like an uninformed, uncooperative jerk. Again. So I push it all onto him by saying "talk to him (and don't bother me)" Let him deal with the crowd. He can change his stories as many times as he wants. I don't care. And I am not going to give myself a headache either by caring or by pretending to care. He can make all the unilateral decisions he wants as long as he leaves me out of his loop.

  3. So far as I am concerned, the only time the manager needs to talk to me is when he wants to share his latest final decision with me. As for anything else he is doing, I don't have to know, I don't want to know and I'll regard his attempt to share that info with me as an unfriendly act. I am not interested in the latest gyrations from this human weather vane, if I can help it.

  • +1 for "let your manager sort it out". That's his job. You're probably better at writing code, and he is probably better at keeping his bosses happy. – gnasher729 Aug 13 '14 at 12:24
3

From your paraphrasing of the conversations, I get the impression that you are giving the boss a flat out "No, can't be done", while your line manager gives them a friendlier message without actually committing to anything.

Nobody likes to hear that something can't be done, especially not someone who has just sold that impossible timeline to a customer. When they know that their promises can't be met, they either have to lie to the customer (which isn't good for the relation if it comes out) or they have to tell the customer that they made impossible promises, which makes them look not that good.

The next time a boss come with such an impossible request, you could try to give him a message similar to what your line manager does: "I will see what we can do to fulfill the request, but I can't make any promises." Possibly augmented with arguments like "We are already pretty much fully loaded with other high-priority requests", or "I foresee a potential problem in area X because of Y".

This way, you won't have committed to the impossible, and the boss also doesn't have the unwelcome answer that it won't be done. When it comes out that the request isn't done at the requested date, then the boss can go back to the customer at that point and apologize for not making true to his promises because some 'unexpected' roadblocks were hit.

1

In a reasonably run company, there is exactly one person who tells you what to do. And there is exactly one person who asks you about how long things take, and that person would hopefully be an experienced manager who takes what you say, adds up with his own experience of the business and how to interpret things that you say, and figures out how long something really takes. (For example, if you have a good manager, he or she will know who is more pessimistic and who is more optimistic with time estimates and take that into account).

Now if your "Mini-Me CEO" gets all worked up in front of you, he has a serious problem. Well, it's your problem as well, but it is him who isn't doing his job in a competent way.

I would suggest that you leave the talking about deadlines and decisions to your line manager, and if anyone else wants to know something, direct them to your line manager. If they insist, in a perfect world you would tell your Mini-CEO that every time you talk to him it causes you unnecessary stress and you could do without that. In an imperfect world, you'll say the same thing in a way that avoids aggravating an unstable person in a position of power.

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