My boss is asking for unreasonable levels of productivity from me. Our product is a lower quality than the majority of other products in this area, and the owner isn't willing to go through the expense to upgrade our product.

I've compiled and delivered a collection of ways we could improve our results, but unfortunately my position and authority prohibit me from acting on them.

How can one meet or handle employer expectations when they're not given the tools and resources to do so?

  • @Dipan - Commercial real estate is typically rated in the US as class A, B, and C. Think of it like First(A), Business(B) and Coach(C) class on an airplane. They are priced accordingly.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 18:20
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    You're getting hung up on a non-issue. I removed all references to class, and replaced with an explanation in simple terms. @Chad I'm genuinely asking how you deal with expectations that you don't feel empowered to meet.
    – stslavik
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 18:32
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    @Chad I've attempted to generalize better, as I'm sure there are others met with expectations that they feel incapable of meeting. I used my case as an example to add detail, but have now removed the personal details.
    – stslavik
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 18:40
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    Why is this question not-constructive? Honestly, i am curious. Also, provide your input in this meta discussion Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 3:37
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    @Shog9 "Bring an umbrella." By that token, advice could have been given in a good subjective manner "Lay out a 10 point plan for dealing with your issues, meet with your employer, ask for advice or guidance in his experience with dealing with these issues. When I was met with unreasonable expectations..." Anyhow, when I realized this was becoming problematic, I flagged for deletion. Please do so if it's remaining a problem.
    – stslavik
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 23:02

6 Answers 6


Our product is a lower quality than the majority of other products in this area, and the owner isn't willing to go through the expense to upgrade our product.

At a previous job, our branch office's software had a huge profit margin (about 60%) and our main product had about 60% of the market (for that product). As a result, corporate decided that our cash cow was going to subsidize the entire division (no other branch had a profit margin over 10%, and several were losing money). This resulted in our branch having zero money nor time to make upgrades nor hire additional staff. Nor were we allowed to make any significant changes. The cash-cow milking was a directive which came down from the CEO and that sort of "penny wise and dollar foolish" was what got the CEO fired last year. I got tired and quit about 18 months ago and a recent chat with the boss, he had mentioned that the profit margin has dropped to about 30% and market share is down to about 40%. Many of the larger customers had been leaving for competitors products and the smallest customers had left to use a free website set up by the government.

I've compiled and delivered a collection of ways we could improve our results, but unfortunately my position and authority prohibit me from acting on them.

I did this at a previous job and was dinged badly on my performance review one year for doing so. I was able to make some small and minor changes in our development process but those drove my boss crazy. That boss is trying to get me to come back and save their bacon, and of the folks who quit in the past 2 years (the other guys who quit had been there 10 +/- 2 years), some will never come back, one is already back and the boss is balking at trying to match what I'm making now. The new CEO has made some changes in policies - and these new policies have the potential to make things turn around.

Simple things like a wiki (to keep track of developer knowledge) and setting up a build machine (to make builds repeatable) are well within the ability to do them as evenings and weekends projects and then present them as fait accompli. I had been there for 5 years and I was the short timer - everyone else had been there for 8-18 years. All of the business and domain knowledge was trapped in people's heads and there wasn't a way to store it to preserve it; when several key developers quit in the past 2 years , a huge amount of that knowledge was irretrievably lost.

There are some studies on the conflict between status-seeking bosses and employees who want to help improve things, one of which is Reversing the Extroverted Leadership Advantage: the Role of Employee Proactivity. From the study:

Researchers have frequently observed that employees’ proactive behaviors can be threatening to leaders, as they have the potential to introduce unwelcome changes


We thus propose that when employees are proactive, more extraverted leaders will respond less receptively to ideas and suggestions. In turn, perceiving a lack of leader receptiveness will discourage employees from working hard on behalf of their leaders.

One of the things the researchers were mentioning was that to extroverted leaders, employees who came up with lots of ideas were seen as threatening the leader's dominance. This leads to a conflict in both status and power.

We thus predict that the combination of extraverted leadership and employee proactivity has the potential to create a power struggle, as both leaders and employees seek to gain control and exercise influence. To do so, extraverted leaders may dismiss employees’ proactive behaviors or work harder to increase their own control and influence, focusing on claiming status and asserting their authority instead of facilitating effective group performance. Indeed, research suggests that seeking dominance and power is likely to discourage leaders from considering employees’ perspectives (Galinsky, Magee, Inesi, & Gruenfeld, 2006). Employees, in turn, are likely to feel rejected and slighted by leaders’ lack of consideration for their ideas (McFarlin & Sweeney, 1996), leading them to experience helplessness and powerlessness (Magee & Galinsky, 2008).

I'm going out on a limb and suggest that what is an effective management style for low-creativity professions (such as call centers or fast food franchises) is a counterproductive one in high-creativity professions (such as software development). The authors of the linked study seem to agree:

When does extraverted leadership contribute to higher group performance? In both a field and a laboratory study, we found that when employees were not proactive, extraverted leadership was associated with higher group performance. However, when employees were proactive, this pattern reversed, so that extraverted leadership was associated with lower group performance.


You have a tough job in your hand. And as far as i understand there isn't straight forward way to go!

But change you need. And it can only be through a tough perseverance you can get.

  1. Get them to reality. I think they do understand the reality, but just that they don't want to accept it. Simple ways are to stick to detailed data, charts and so on. Stick to that as much as possible from authentic sources rather than your own perception. Only when you continuously supply the relevant data they will come to know.

  2. Stop fighting to improve quality. Most often, when it is known that there is no feasibility for additional investments - people don't quite admit problem, instead they try to push other way. What they really want may be is how to maximize quality out of what we have (a legitimate and better management objective) than how to get to the next level where business is easier to do.

  3. Always bring up issues in open forum - objectively and agenda by agenda. When you want to be a change - you cann't really bring everything turn around in one day. Start winning small battle one at a time. Object on specific points and prove your point only in that scope. Slowly, people will begin to appreciate.

  4. Cut across the cynicism. When you know something is wrong - look for what should have been a better way to do it and how to improve it than just duck out by putting blame and move on! Most of the time other side refuses to accept simply because they are only avoiding the blame part of it.

  5. Do something innovative. So many management books will write about innovation - but when the real life gives us opportunity we all look down upon. May be now you will say "innovation in our industry? not possible!" But that's where you are wrong. Just take a break and make consciously think something unusual. Some of the first ideas will go very bad straight - but if you keep up the thinking you will finally hit somewhere.

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    +1 for I think they do understand reality. Your boss is not stupid and are many times privy to certain information that isn't made available to the guys on the ground. Not every dog in the pack can be Alpha, so the beta dogs aren't going to unnecessarily risk trying to being alpha until they see an opportunity with low risk present itself. Going full force on trying to improve product quality without a plan ahead of that is foolhardy. Commented Apr 21, 2012 at 13:35

Well unreasonable is in the eye of the beholder. As long as you persist in believing the task is impossible, it will be. AS I see it, you have two choices, move to one of the competitors who has a better product or take this up as a challenge to show how really good you are. Of course the competitors may not be interested if you are shoing a poor track record at a bad place to work, so really option 2 is your best bet.

So you know you can't spend money and you know that some things you want to change aren't going to change. So then you get creative. There must be nontraditonal ways to market the product. You might even be able to do an analysis to prove why you should change some things and suggest possibly changing in a small batch to see if it works.

The reason why most people fail to get their suggestions implemented has more to do with how they present them to management than the actual merits of the suggestion. Management wants things defined in business terms and they want suggestions where the numbers have been crunched to show how much money they will save or additonal money they will make if the suggestion is taken. They also want to reduce risk. You need to quantify these things.

Going to the boss and saying, this isn't working I want to do this instead just won't cut it. Going to the boss with the actual performance of the current vendor for the last two years and the actual performance of other vendors for similar work for other clients in a direct comparision is much more compelling. This question orginally talked about rental agents, so I'll give an example based on that. Suppose the current agent has gotten you a 30% occupancy rate. Go to other agents and ask what occupancy rates they have gotten for similar classes of property. Suppose you find one has a 45% occupancy rate and another has a 60% occupancy rate. And further the last guy takes a smaller commission. Now you have the numbers to convince the boss. To reduce risk, you might propose moving to the other agent in increments, make him prove he can get better occupancy rates by giving him the worst properties you have. Not only we he try harder to fill them to get the rest of the business, but the competition might wake up the first guy yo his potential loss of business and he may try harder.

You might also talk to the boss and see if there are some things he thinks you should do that you currently are not doing.


I think that your boss to some extent is relying on "good luck charms" like his name to promote his real estate. So it may be possible to take somewhat entrepreneurial approach to the problem and attempt the following:

Approach your boss with the proposition of investing $X into your attempt to bring business his way which basically means you are taking the risk of losing $X and likely your job with it but potentially increasing the business your boss will receive from your actions.

As you have mentioned, your boss expects improved levels of productivity from you but is not taking actions (in terms of going through the expense or/and others) to practically achieve it. It means he is, to a certain extent, ready to execute a new and innovated strategy that can serve the purpose but is insecure about whether or not things would pan out the way he wants. Since you have already compiled a collection of ways to improve results, it is the right time to gently convince your boss to overcome his fear and give practical touch to what you have to suggest. You people will be able to actually do it only when you come out of this working-on-the-same-thing-and-expecting-different-results attitude.



The time-honored way to deal with bosses who have unreasonable expectations is to band together and form a labor movement. If your country has trade unions, join one that defends workers in your branch and category. If it doesn't, consider joining an underground labor movement (but note that it can be dangerous). If you live in a place where the labor market is in your favor, change jobs.

  • I think to band together or/and bring about a labor movement is about being a bit extra aggressive in that case. Here, what is required is a fairly genuine, effective and comparatively humbler way to sort things out. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 10:10

You need to sit down with your boss and respectfully show him why it is not possible to bring productivity levels up to what he wants, and talk over proposals that can be implemented to bring productivity up to the desired level.

  • To begin, gather your information and figure out exactly what you want to say.

    You'll want a clear way to show him that his productivity standards cannot be met with your current resources. I don't know your specific situation, however do your best to be objective as possible, and don't get personal. Don't say things like "you won't let me do this" or "I'm not allowed to do this", but instead phrase it such that "I feel that because we are limited to this...". This makes you sound less aggressive so won't put him on the defensive, and puts the two of you on the same side (that of making money)

    You'll also want to figure out a good way to present your suggestions to improve productivity. If possible provide some actual numbers of the sort of productivity increase your suggestions will cause. Saying "I'd be able to do much better if we implement X" isn't nearly as powerful as saying "if we implement X we could increase our productivity by Y%, and that would pay for itself in Z years"

  • Once you figure out what you want to discuss with your boss and how you want to approach it, set up a time to talk with him/her.

    I usually suggest this anytime you want to discuss possible changes with someone higher in the hierarchy than yourself. Don't just "ambush" them with your proposals, but instead set up a time to sit down and talk them over. Be sure they know in advance what you want to talk about so they won't be caught by surprise and have time to prepare if they want to

Most reasonable employers are very interested in increasing their productivity and profits, and are happy to talk with their employees about how they can do that.

If your boss still isn't interested in changing anything, then perhaps it is time to start looking for another job.

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