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How long should you upward manage...

By te-konsult ·
...before realising that something is wrong and needs fixing?

My situation is this...

I work for a small consultancy, only 5 employees to date, but we are a daughter company of a larger IT business.
After some politics and a shift in top level personnel we had a new director start about three months ago.
It's his first directorship, so I was accepting of a little settling in period as he took the reins and expected him to be trying to prove himself both to us as longer standing employees, and to the CEO of the parent company.
So far he's getting results, however his personality and behaviour indicates that he is pushy, agressive, disorganised, hasty and bad a communicating his needs, or the business situations to the staff reporting to him.

A typical quote would be..."I'd rather make a fast decision and live with the consequences, than take a little more time and make a better informed decision."

Frequently his poor communication is putting his team in stressful situations, both with him and with clients, by asking asking us to perform tasks without giving enough details or explaining his reasoning.
I accept that in some situations explaininng the reasoning may not be required or appropriate, but giving detailed instructions is essential!

It's like him handing one of us a shovel and telling us to dig a hole. Neglecting to tell us the dimensions of the hole, the location and reason why he needs it.
Then of course he gets angry and frustrated when the hole doesn't match his criteria and takes it out on his staff.

On top of this he is not responsive to us as employees when we question his requests to determine further details, making the whole situation a vicious circle and breeding stress and disatisfaction amongst the team.

So, the question is this...

When and how should you raise this type of issue your direct superior, the one you are having to second guess and tidy up after?
Should you even raise it as an issue? will that do more harm than good?
Should you sideline him/her and go to their direct superior?

thanks for listening...

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Identify the problem correctly first

by amcol In reply to How long should you upwar ...

You're having a bit of an issue with your director's decision making style, first and foremost. That's your problem, not his. He's doing what he's supposed to be doing...making decisions, and frankly he's doing it the right way. Too many decision makers suffer from analysis paralysis...they need to know every little single insignificant detail before they can make up their minds. Your director has the intestinal fortitude, the courage of his convictions, and the self-confidence to make decisions in the absence of a complete set of facts. You should celebrate that, not identify it as a problem, because the alternative is far worse.

The issue you have correctly identified is communication, but once again you may have misidentified the source...or, more correctly, the potential solution. Your director is giving orders without details. A positive spin on this is that your director trusts your ability to execute. If the results you're providing are not meeting your director's expectations that's because you don't understand those expectations. Think of your director as your customer...because that's what he is, and your most important one at that. Whether or not he's effectively communicating his expectations isn't the issue, it's your job to make sure you understand. If you don't, ask. Don't assume, which it sounds like exactly what you're doing. Get it straight up front and the outcome will be a lot more pleasant.

You may in fact wish to have a professional, non-confrontational chat with your director along the lines of improving your relationship by reaching a mutually agreeable consensus on how to communicate with each other. Couldn't hurt. But try that first before you go over his head. That's always the court of last resort.

Hope this helps. What you're facing is a very common situation. Just don't make the mistake of putting yourself in the position of being a victim, thinking the problem and fault is all your director's and by so doing giving in to the PLOM syndrome (Poor Little Old Me). You are the architect of the solution, not your director.

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by te-konsult In reply to Identify the problem corr ...

many thanks for your positive and valuable feedback.

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Putting a positive spin on things . . .

by harcom In reply to Identify the problem corr ...

I agree with amcol - this is an opportunity, not a problem. Prior to going full-time permanent after being a consultant for 10+ years, I had the mercenary mindset - go in, do the job to the best of your ability, then move out. In each case, it was always assess, progress, egress. I still hold on to that mindset with each task (project) assigned to me. There is always a customer that we serve and the customer is king. They don't always know what they want, all they know is that they are in a place where the probability of finding out is high.

I think this is a situation of perspective and mindset. My suggestion is to adopt a healthy perspective, view your boss as a customer and shake off the notion that somebody owes you something.



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just ask

by jck In reply to How long should you upwar ...

I don't know the particulars, but my best advice would be to just to put questions to him.

If you have any questions in design or implementation of a software or hardware system, make him the go-to guy unless you have a team lead.

If you have a team lead, then put them to the team lead and if he doesn't know or can't answer, have either him or the whole team ask to sit down and get particulars that you need to do the job right.

But, always make sure those questions go from someone in the form of an e-mail, or they are posed in a group meeting of his staff doing the work for him so that it is known he was asked and didn't provide the pertinent information.

That way when you've asked him and he doesn't get the results he wants, you can show him that you requested such and that information was not given to you.

Basically, do your job to the best of your ability. When it comes down to it if he doesn't give you the information that you ask for to do your projects well, then he alone is responsible for either not answering the question or letting you go/him going to your "customer" to get those answers for you.

You can only do so much and make so many decisions before you step on toes.

But don't be afraid to ask questions before or during the project, because you can never ask them after its done and get results.

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by Observant In reply to just ask

There are many good points here. In one respect, AMCOL is right in that this guy is doing what is supposed to be doing (i.e., making decisions). However, I take issue with a blind sheep type of response. The quote about him making a fast decision and living with the results versus making an informed decision is a reckless path - for the company, employees, and customers. One thing I do not see is who will take the fall for such hasty decisions? Will this guy (who will take all the credit for a good decision) pass the consequences of a bad decision down the line? It's a positive thing to be bold in such a position, but I suspect a tyrant in the making.

As JCK has mentioned (and was iterated by AMCOL) you should ASK questions to clarify things. The best approach is via e-mail so there is a permanent record of the communication thread. This may save your bacon should things end up in court. Granted we are only getting one side of the situation but it's rare that a small company will last with a management style as you described.

Another key benefit to written/electronic correspondence is that should there be a need to escalate an issue, you can provide continuity up the chain. Now since you have a small company, this may end up involving the stakeholders of the project. As a project manager, it would be my duty to ensure that the sponsor and all stakeholders are informed of issues. They are in fact the ones that pay the bills.

To wrap up, be tactful but ensure that you get every decision clarified, preferably in writing. I've worked with such people before and can assure you that they will hang you out to dry to save their own hide. Some here may disagree with this but deep down, they know it's true. This is typical human nature.

Good Luck.

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Missing the point

by thudson56 In reply to How long should you upwar ...

Yes, I agree that you should not be afraid to ask questions, but the point here is that they have done that and it doesn't make any difference. As te-konsult wrote:

"he is not responsive to us as employees when we question his requests to determine further details, making the whole situation a vicious circle and breeding stress and disatisfaction amongst the team."

I don't care how much of an opportunity you view this as, if your team is being held responsible for the failure when they are working without being able to get the details and information they need to do the job, the manager is the problem! He has set his team up for failure.

My advice? Document the conversations you have with him (e-mail is good for this, since it makes sure that it is all in writing. But if you have a verbal conversation, make a note of what your questions and his responses were).

Then use your experience and training to do the best you can with what you have been given. When the doo doo hits the fan, you will have a history of what you tried to do to get the manager to clarify his requests.

At some point you may need to send this up the chain of command so that someone above him is aware of the situation. The point for that, I think, is when you start losing good people because of his inadequate management style.

Hope this helps!

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wait or

by richard In reply to How long should you upwar ...

Wait him out, he will probably not last.
find another job.
If you really don't want to leave the company, perhaps you can make a move to work under someone else.
I have had server of these bosses and my as it turns out, the real problem usually comes from above. If not the bad boss will not last.

my 2 Cents

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Raising the issue

by bpennstsi In reply to How long should you upwar ...

You should definitely raise the issue with your direct superior. After all, if he doesn't realize his behavior is being a problem, he can't do anything about it. When you raise it, you need to do it professionally and in a way that lets him save face. This means a private or semi-private conversation, and it should be focused on the issues and behaviors rather than on him.

You may want to start by asking for his help in dealing with the problem and explain it in terms of needing to be sure your team understands what is needed so you can meet his needs as efficiently as possible and minimize the amount of rework and missed expectations that can occur when people don't understand the full extent of the task. This puts the issue on business terms because it lets him see that it costs the company money when his directions and explanations are incomplete.

Do NOT go over his head until you have attempted to address it with him and given him time to try to resolve it. If you do, it looks like insubordination and will negatively affect your relationship with him.

Finally, you may need to become more structured in asking your questions. If you go to him with a list of questions based on analyzing the issues, he may respond better. Also, if there are alternative solutions to his requests, lay them out and ask which one he wants. (Do you want the hole here, over there, or down the way? Do you want a hole big enough to bury a dog bone, a bucket, or a body? etc.) Make it clear that your questions are part of your approach to solving the problem and not because you don't know how to do your job. Be sure you are respectful of both him and his time when you do this.

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raising the issue

by richard In reply to Raising the issue

that's a pretty good reply.

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...but it doesn't stop there...

by te-konsult In reply to How long should you upwar ...

Since my original post such a conversation as <bpennstsi> mentioned has been had to raise these issues of communication. Our director responded well to the points in question at the time, however several weeks later I can see that this skimmed the surface and he's back to his old ways.

I'm frequently in the position where I'm the project lead, so often I can act as a buffer between him and my less experienced colleagues. But the team has already experienced more negative behaviour in the form of physical intimidation, shouting and other office bullying.
In this situation I was approached by the recipient of the bullying who was extremely agitated and I'm sure would quit if it persists. Unfortunately I didn't witness the event so I have been unable to raise this, or step in without risking further implications for my colleague.

What it seems to come down to is a continual disorganised, hasty and impatient approach, frequently displaying that he has no time or respect for his employees. He is often not prepared to listen to or participate in structured discussions, and taking a very defensive stance when questions are asked.

One thing I hate is having to be reactionary to a bad manager, I prefer to take the more methodical approach so I can see whats coming, but this guy just doesn't give us the time for that.
Today for example, he mentioned that he has a meeting tomorrow with a client regarding a project for which I'm lead. This was the first time I'd been made aware of this meeting and I'm certain I'd not have know about it until after the event. It was only because I phoned regarding another issue that I found out!

As Richard says, I think he might be on course for burn out, I just hope we don't all go down with him.

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