Career Advice

Management screws up – what do you do?

Something is wrong and management has messed up again, how do you react?

One of the ways people react and hurt themselves in the process is by being immediately negative. Cynically: “well this is just the norm for this effed-up company” or “yet again we are going to screw our customers”. Maybe with resignation: “I’ll have to work more hours now to correct their mistakes”.  Maybe as a victim: “I have no power and I can’t take the risk of saying anything”. Maybe on the attack: “We need to get rid of our VP”. You’ve heard them all I am sure, standing around the water cooler discussing how, yet again, management is no good.

How is that helpful to anyone? It’s only helpful to you for 30 seconds as you feel better venting (but it’s better to save that for your dog). It’s not helpful to your team mates because while they might pile on for a moment they will be left feeling worse.

But most of all it is not helpful to your management. When there is a problem usually everyone knows it, including management who, though they may not show it, are probably worrying too.  Quality issues, high turnover, bad process – it’s probably a known issue that is languishing or not being solved for whatever reason. Or maybe you’ve identified a problem. Either way piling on to complain or roll your eyes does not contribute to the solution.

What most leaders long for is for the people on their team to describe the problem constructively and offer solutions. Pragmatic or harebrained, cheap or expensive, start the conversation and you become part of the solution.

If you are not sure how to do this maybe role-play with a friend. Practice describing what you see without being negative, cynical or frustrated. Don’t be a Pollyanna either. Focus on facts, process, unconscious culture – whatever is contributing but in a pragmatic tone. Make sure you are clear up front that your objective is to bring a new idea or solution so you don’t get derailed in the description of the problem before your audience knows your intent (so he can keep listening and not stop listening and start composing his response in his head before you get to your idea). For example, first sentence “I have been thinking about the quality issue on the latest release and I have an idea” or “I’m concerned about the turnover in our department and I have an idea as to how we could reduce it”.

There is a mind game you can play with yourself. Imagine you are the CEO listening to you. You are busy and burdened with the challenges of the job. You (the CEO you) may know the problem you (the employee you) is about to bring up, you may not. Either way, what is the best way to quickly describe the problem/your observation and your idea? Practice that – without being negative or sycophantic.

If you get skilled at this you will become part of the solution and you will be recognized and appreciated by your management. It will create opportunity for you. Early in my career I was not as skilled at this as I wish I could have been, but I was good at pointing out the problems and offering to fix them. Taking on broken programs, developing new programs from scratch to solve a problem or develop an untapped opportunity and this definitely accelerated my career.

Now you may say this would not work in your company. That’s not the culture. Management doesn’t want to hear, HR doesn’t listen etc. etc. To that I say get out. Find a better company that is worthy of your talent. And when you do, chalk it up to experience, or if you think it’s really egregious maybe write a blog like Susan Fowler did and bring down leadership. You are never powerless.

My photo taken at the wall in Bethlehem Jan 2018