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TL;DR

I work on many projects at the same time, but my boss feels that since I don't meet the deadlines on the main one, I'm not committed. I am probably more committed to the company than others, but since I have more projects in my bag to care about, the main one goes at a slower pace.

My boss will only look at specific results, not at global progress. Focusing just on the main project means causing problems to the clients and the rest of the employees.

How can I convince my boss that my commitment is real, or understand his idea of commitment?

Background

I had a meeting where my manager and the boss told me I am not committed to my project. The thing is that after 5 months working there I was switched to another role. Even then, I still had enough knowledge to work on both sides, so from time to time I had tasks from my previous role as well. This, along with other projects that have appeared over the time (colleagues going on holidays and I taking that one, "projects-that-look-pretty-much-like-what-you-did-in-your-last-job-so-it-should-be-easy-for-you", abandoned old projects from previous employees), has been my everyday for more than 3 years. My project, though, is just one, if we consider what my contact card says.

Anyway, my manager knows I'm in many different projects. He's actually pleased because I have a cross knowledge of many parts of the company. My boss also knows I do different stuff, but to him, it only represents 5% of my every day (despite the largest bulk of tasks come from him). I'd say it is not 5%, but rather 60%.

This causes my project milestones to be less on time than others, while I achieve many small tasks that anyway help solving errors or help others finish their projects.

My boss and my manager base their assumptions on the work logs we present monthly. Since my main project takes longer to finish in favor of other stuff, it looks like I'm less committed than the rest, and I should pay more attention to my projects. I have, for a week, played the "This is not my problem" card to any person that came with problems, but to me, this is actually less committed than anything else.

I've done migrations at home on my own from 2am to 6am (to avoid users being disturbed), coming the next day at 9:30am to work. I've come on Saturday when everything was messed up by an upper decision. I've postponed my holidays to finish a project my boss considered "it should be already out". Even this meeting forced me to deal with a train delay of 3 hours (where my manager was already warned and I had the permission to leave early). Yet this means no commitment to the boss. Enough to say, I'm the only one doing these kind of things.

How could I put in my boss' perspective of commitment, when I already feel committed?

  • First of all, you'll maybe need to review your reporting in order to be able to highlight the time spent on a task and why you priorized it. Accept to help others only if you are on time on the project you are responsible of. If there is ever a meeting in which they contest your commitment, stick to the facts and avoid going into emotional/philosophical expression. – Answers_Seeker Mar 16 '17 at 16:38
  • @JoeStrazzere Yeah well. Based on his principle, I'd be 100% dedicated on my project, no matter what comes from (even his own) new projects. Yet he wants his projects to be done with priority as well. We're all a little bit complicated. – Korcholis Mar 16 '17 at 16:44
  • @Answers_Seeker I hope the first tl;dr block is straight to the point enough – Korcholis Mar 16 '17 at 16:53
  • @Korcholis : Already read, I'll rephrase : "My boss will only look at specific results, not at global progress"=> What specific results is he looking at ? How can you improve those specific metrics that he monitors ? How could you integrate the time spent helping into those metrics or a metric that would be relevant to your boss ? – Answers_Seeker Mar 16 '17 at 17:04
  • @Answers_Seeker that's where the background comes in handy. His metrics are around "the main project is finished or not". He won't care about other projects (fixing an error a colleague found, helping out another team...). Improving those results for my boss involve decreasing the quality towards other people, primarily. The problem comes when these other people actually work with you and money that comes in also depends on the issues that are fixed and the colleagues that work swiftly. I'd move these tasks to another, but my manager already said it's nice I'm so able to do many things. – Korcholis Mar 16 '17 at 17:10
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I am in a similar position to you - I was hired as a specialist, and am the only one that can do the thing I do in the company, yet many projects need my help on small things pretty much all the time. It is tempting to help everybody, but you must resist.

You are responsible for the project that has been assigned to you, what you refer to as your main project. You are not responsible for the other projects, even if it's your boss that asks you to help out, even if your manager compliments you on helping out. You are not responsible for the company's cash flow.

If 60% of your day is spent on helping others, something is wrong.

Speak frankly to your boss

You and your boss need to be on the same page when it comes to key metrics. Outline what you have been doing - helping others, a lot. Tell him that you understand that he wants you to focus on the main project. Tell him that in the future, you will focus on that project and consider secondary requests to be less important.

This step is very important, because it shows your boss that you understand what he's been saying to you, and that you are interested in improving. It's also a good opportunity to clarify some things - for example, if you are frequently tapped by a particular team, your boss can coordinate with that team lead to see if there's a more formal alternative that can give you the credit you deserve.

Handle requests for help intelligently

Let's say that you are working on an important deadline for Project Unicorn, and a colleague asks for help on Project Walrus. Remember - Project Unicorn, as far as you are concerned, is the priority to you. Tell your colleague:

  • I am working on a deadline, and...
    • I will be able to help you on Monday.
    • Janice on the 4th floor is an expert on this sort of thing and will be glad to help you out.
    • please speak to my boss - if your task is urgent, he will help me prioritize.

Note that you should not stop helping people! Just dial back the amount of help to the 5% your boss expects from you, and offer to help only when it does not interfere with your own priorities.

If it's an unrelated request from your own boss, always ask what is more important - your current task or this other task. If this new small task is more important, then you have the perfect explanation for why your other project is behind.

Call in your favours

You spend 60% of your day helping other people catch up with their workload. This must have built substantial social capital with your colleagues! I would be shocked if you couldn't get one of them to help you when it's your work that's fallen behind. If you can't get anyone to help you after you've helped them this much, it might be an eye-opening moment for you.

  • 1
    Asking what task you should do first is an excellent reminder for a boss that you are actually busy. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Mar 16 '17 at 21:00
  • @Tsar and SPavel, funny that you say, heh. He has clearly stated we don't bother him with task priorities that would take an estimate of less than 2 hours and simply do them right away. As I mention to Andrew, this is a way to make us look less focused. – Korcholis Mar 17 '17 at 9:26
  • Also, something I don't mention (because the question ended up being too long), some of these other projects as side ones to my main one (say, newsletter campaigns promoting our service, server/backend management or assistance to our product-only customer service girl). So by taking less responsibility on these ones I'm actually decreasing the overall product value. – Korcholis Mar 17 '17 at 9:26
  • Forget the "product value." Focus on your own responsibility. – SPavel Mar 17 '17 at 11:37
  • Your overall response is good, so I'll mark it as solved, but I don't support the last comment. I still think that product value is something one needs to take care of, even confronting the boss' decision if you feel that action may be counterproductive – Korcholis Mar 20 '17 at 8:59
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As others have said, it may well be that your boss is politely asking you to keep your helping time down to the 5% he's happy with. Another possibility is that you haven't given him enough raw data to make a chart and justify to his boss why your project is behind schedule.

One solution is to loop him in to the requests you're helping with. If your company works mainly by e-mail, maybe CC your boss on requests, and have your final e-mail say something like "hey boss, for the record, that was X hours of work"? Or if people just walk up to your desk, how about asking them to get your boss to OK the request before you work on it?

A minor speedbump like this might be enough to make people build up their own skills and use less of your time. Or it might give your boss the data he needs. But be prepared for him to ask you more directly to limit your helping time. Maybe agree with him specific times you're available to help others, or start holding brown bag lectures, or write your knowledge up on the company wiki?

  • Hi Andrew, yep, I proposed already writing stuff to the wiki/bug tracking system and to make peer learning sessions, but that may still take months to be settled (both fell in the low priority side, for once! So funny it turns out to be these tasks). Also, the boss keeps telling us that any task that's under 2 hours, should be done right away, no priority assignation needed. This is an oblivious way to make people look less productive, IMHO – Korcholis Mar 17 '17 at 9:23
  • Assuming you work 40 hours a week, a single 2 hour request would count for 5% of your time. The cynic in me says your manager has parlayed their poor maths skills into a way of avoiding hard decisions. He might see the light if you make a graph of actual time spent on side jobs, otherwise you might have to ask to be moved under another boss. – Andrew Sayers Mar 18 '17 at 3:17
  • Ahhhhhh if it was that easy. My boss is the boss. The CEO (the company is really flat. There are only 2 management levels: my boss, my manager, then me). Being moved under another boss means looking for another job. And well, we've tried to make him understand that by placing small tasks in front of the rest, the overall becomes impossible to handle. – Korcholis Mar 20 '17 at 9:03

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