When management is wrong

What should you do when management is wrong in asking you to do something?  You are closer to the situation and know why the requested course of action is doomed to fail.  Should you keep quiet and just do as you have been asked or should you speak up and explain why you think the idea is not a good one?  I suggest it depends on the situation.

In a previous post I presented a situation where a member of my support team refused an assignment in a staff meeting.  I unfairly left out many details that would have provided more clues as to what the best course of action should be.  Your comments proved that this issue is a volatile one seen from both viewpoints – IT Manager and staff member.

In this case I had asked a staff member, considered by upper management to be the least important member of the team, to document his work every day so that they could review, analyze and determine for themselves if his position could be eliminated. I was the middle manager trying to implement this unfair directive from the ivory tower.

Why was it unfair?  It was obvious that upper management knew nothing about the day to day workings of our team.  The company had recently been acquired in a hostile takeover bid.  The new upper management had been brought on for one purpose – to provide a more favorable return on investment to the shareholders.  That meant cutting positions.

Being the middle manager I was privy to this information.  The other team members guessed it for themselves without me telling them.  Tensions were high.  The team consisted of the support technician supporting about 200 desktops, the network administrator supporting about 25 servers, the MRP specialist and me, the IT Manager.

In addition to managing the department, I covered overlap of all three functions of my staff.  We were transitioning to Windows XP at the time and there were just not enough of us to get the job done.  The longtime employee providing the desk side support felt the pressure most keenly and now had to deal with the added stress of being micro-managed.

I knew that this request was going to set him off.  I also knew that in this situation, it was a grossly unfair request because he was carrying the most weight of the team.  He really was dedicated and was coming in at 5am just to try to keep a handle on the backlog.  He even resented the time I required of him to meet in our afternoon weekly staff meetings.

In this case, as several of you pointed out, I was wrong to make this request in the middle of the staff meeting.  I should have approached the staffer privately.  I said I would talk to him about the assignment later in a private discussion.  He was still fuming.  Noting his response, I acknowledged his comments and then quickly moved to the next agenda item.

I came in at 6:30 the next morning to meet with Harold and still had to wait a half hour for him to get off a tech support call to a vendor.  As I mentioned, he was a very dedicated employee.  When we finally got to talk, he let me have it.  He had read the situation correctly.  He knew that his job was on the line and felt much put out.

I listened patiently, assured him that his work was appreciated, generously praised him for the extra efforts in coming in so early to stay on top of his work load and apologized for asking him to take on the extra assignment.  Yes, I apologized.  I valued Harold as a part of my team and did not want to lose him.  He was appeased and life was good again.

What happened to me?  I got fired.  Not specifically for this incident at this time, but for several other failures to carry out directives from above.  Oh sure, the official word was that my services were no longer needed as we had just completed a large MRP migration project.  Nevertheless, I was fired and Harold continued on until his retirement this year.

I was out of work for six months while I searched for another IT management position.  I finally found one and have been happily employed for the last three years.  I turned down several offers because I swore I would never work for another publically held company again.  For you middle managers of public companies, I salute you for your thankless job.

Summary: I apologize for the long post but interest seemed to be high.  I refused to carry out an unfair directive from upper management and eventually got fired but kept my team intact and happy long enough to accomplish an important project.  What do you think?  Did I do the right thing?  What would you have done now that you know more?

Update: In case you haven't figured it out from the title, the management that was wrong in this case was me.  Read the conclusion of this post in part three: So tell me again why you were fired.  Thanks for all the comments.