How do I tell my manager to wake up?
August 11, 2010 7:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I (or we) speak to my manager about his increasing lack of involvement in what we feel are the core components of a product's (re)launch, especially when the stakes in the launch include: our careers, the fate of the company, and the jobs of fellow colleagues in the office?

I can't say what company I work for. But I can say it's publishing and we're about to relaunch our core product after more than a year of research, testing, prototyping.

I am #3 in the core group. #1 is the manager, and #2 is at the same level as me, but has been with the project since the beginning, I joined a little after the start.

I'm seeking specific methods to broach the topic of our manager's increasing lack of involvement in core decisions regarding the product.

It appears to us (#2 and #3) that our manager has taken a step back from the product's final development. And when the manager does become involved they tend to question decisions, or act impulsively to change parameters without fully taking the time understand the logic and methodology behind our work.

We (#2 and #3) both understand that our manager has a lot riding on the success of this project, and we appreciate it that he often attends meetings and plays umpire to a lot of the bureaucracy outside our project.

But, he does make 2-3 times what we make.

THE MEAT OF IT: And our primary concern is that if the project is a failure, by any measure, not only will there be cuts to auxiliary staff, but we'll be left to be hung out to dry, or made to take responsibility for actions, decisions, and work we did, not because we were empowered to do them, but rather because our manager was absent, and we assumed them by default.

Apart from this, the three of us work together without a hitch, drinks after work, buy one another lunch, jokes, good working environment. But this recent development has ability to derail everything.
posted by mistertoronto to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've been in a similar situation, except I played the role of the #1. Although my situation was a bit different than yours, I'd offer the following:

It seems you have a good relationship with your boss. I'd say the best thing is to sit down with him (without accusation/blame but at the same time with confidence and a refusal to allow the problem to continue), be frank with him and lay out your concerns and why its bad for you AND for him. Have some possible solutions ready (weekly check-ins, change in approach, limits on what he can change, etc), and be ready to listen to him. Also, if both you and #2 sit with him be VERY careful that its not a case of two sharks one penguin.

Let him hear it from you before anyone else
Be honest and frank but tolerant and sincere
Don't just have a problem, have some solutions
And Listen

Just be careful not to attack.

I hope it works out for the best.
posted by nondescript at 7:25 PM on August 11, 2010

Here is a passive approach (from a business newbie): Don't tell him that you are concerned about him, rather broach the topic as a general reinvigoration of the project's goals.

#1, #2, and #3 should sit down and talk about how to achieve this general reinvigoration. Apply any solutions to everyone equally (even if there is only one deficient party). Also, give the solutions a nominal difference from the status quo, something like a new reporting mechanism (weekly meeting may be to strong), this is a new effort. #2 and #3 can can affect the 'reinvigoration' by simply engaging the symbolic trappings of enthusiam. #1 must first begin pulling his/her weight in the new regime because the baseline has changed.

Saving face is important. You don't want embarrassment and frustration, rather you want any energy channeled into enthusiasm for the project. fwiw
posted by kuatto at 7:57 PM on August 11, 2010

Your manager may have decided to see if #2 and #3 can manage on their own, or he may have been asked by #0 or above to do so. If you pull it off #1 advances (for having developed his team properly); #2 and #3 advance. Empowerment by letting go creates a power vacuum and if you fill it properly then you get to own it. What spikes the gun of this argument is your observation about irrationality in spec changes. What happens when you question these spec changes? Does the edict get reversed by means of your arguments? If less than 60% I'm wrong and I'd go with nondescript's suggestion; if more than 60% you own the project, #1 knows it, and #2 and #3 get the benefits if it -does- work. The reason I suggest this is I am seeing it play out in my own organization, where rational decision-making plus persuasiveness is seen as an asset.
posted by jet_silver at 8:42 PM on August 11, 2010

or the irrationality indicates he's burning out and possible clinically depressed but just holding it together. Are there any other signs of burn-out?
posted by Wilder at 3:40 AM on August 12, 2010

"Hey Bob, here's your beer. By the way, we've noticed that you seem to be a little checked out on this project- is there something going on that we should know about? Some problem with the management types? Not to get all weird on ya, but just wanted to make sure that everything was going well with the bozos in the corporate suite that you have to keep dealing with".

If you A) ask directly and B) give him an out for explaining it, then you should be able to get some insight into what's going on. I wouldn't do this with just any boss, but if you're tight with the guy and at a neutral, off-site setting, it seems like the easiest way to get an answer.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:26 AM on August 12, 2010

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