Professionalism 101?
August 5, 2013 6:58 AM   Subscribe

One of my colleagues often disparages my work to our customers. I'm not sure how to react and could use some advice.

Two years ago, someone on my team (let's call him Bob) was fired and I was brought in to finish a project that he had started. He had done things in a kind of bizarre way that I could see would make maintenance difficult, so I reworked as much of it as I could in the time frame allotted and we delivered it to our client. They have been happy with it, in all, and it has required very little maintenance after delivery and I moved on to other projects.

Now, the client has brought us back in to make a major update to the product. I am working on other projects right now, so another person on the team (Tim) was selected to do this upgrade for our client. Tim has told our client that the original work was very badly done and that the best thing to do would be to trash the original product and begin from the start, from scratch.

I worked pretty closely with getting this delivered to the client, after Bob's departure. They will associate this project with me and not Bob. The way Bob did a lot of it was definitely not the way I would have chosen to do it, but I did the best with what I had, and our client was happy. But Tim continues to openly complain to our client about how things were done. I asked our mutual boss to speak with him, but he has continued to do this and our boss does not really seem to mind.

It really bothers me. I find it very unprofessional, but short of asking my boss to have another word with him, I'm not sure how to go from here. The office is really casual and the boss does not seem to care. A lot of it is, I think that Tim has trouble maintaining things he didn't create; his default solution to any problem is to trash what exists and start fresh. I can sympathize; being called in to maintain someone else's work is often frustrating, but I would never vent those kind of feelings to a client, especially about work that was done by my own team. Tim is very touchy and I think if I confronted him about this directly it would make our working relationship even more strained than it already is. He is a very negative person and is hard to work with in general.

tl;dr: I finished a project that a fired coworker started and delivered it to the client, despite it being a bit oddly done, it worked perfectly and they were satisfied. Now another coworker has been brought in to update the product and is telling our client that the work was badly done and needs to be redone from scratch, which I think will make them think I am incompetent. What do?

Should I just grit my teeth and try to ignore this? Is there a professional way to ask Tim to stop doing this? I worry that if I confront him about it I will just seem petty.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe the way to get your boss to take an interest is to present this as Tim trashing your company's work product, not yours in particular. After all, the client is probably starting to wonder how your company could palm them off with an (allegedly) substandard product for all this time.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:08 AM on August 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

Just let it go, there's really nothing to be gained from complaining.
posted by missmagenta at 7:08 AM on August 5, 2013

Let it go. I suppose that you could approach Tim and discuss the situation with him and explain that his constant disparaging of the company's work product to this customer troubles you, but what does it get you?

If the customer isn't complaining about you, and they're not even working with you, let Tim handle it. It's not YOUR headache.

I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill here.

I get that it bothers you, I understand why it bothers you, but at the end of the day, how does it affect you?

If your manager isn't concerned, do yourself a favor and drop it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:20 AM on August 5, 2013

You have two scenarios set up here, and only one of them can be the case:

1- ...despite it being a bit oddly done, it worked perfectly and they were satisfied...

2- ...telling our client that the work was badly done and needs to be redone from scratch, which I think will make them think I am incompetent...

So if the situation is as you tell it, your client has a working product they need to enhance, and they have a new pain-in-the-ass developer. No one likes a complainer. Rather than this making you look bad, I think this may actually make you look good, or at least better your colleague.

The clients' first experience with the company was with you, and you got everything done, and delivered them what they wanted and they were happy. Now, after being impressed with you, that they want more and the new guy is complaining and passing the buck and all of that stuff is really obvious, especially when there was nothing wrong, from their perspective, with the product as they were using it.

tl;dr: don't sweat it, he's digging his own grave, not yours.
posted by griphus at 7:22 AM on August 5, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm not sure if you should speak with your boss or Tim (leaning toward no), but from what you've written about the client's apparent happiness with the product over the past two years, Tim being difficult to work with, and now this unprofessional behavior, he's probably making himself look bad directly to the client. I would suspect he's presenting as much challenge to work with for them as he does for you and his constant negativity is hurting his professional reputation rather than yours, especially if they had no qualms about the original product in the first place.
posted by rawralphadawg at 7:22 AM on August 5, 2013

I think you need to go back to your mutual boss and ask specifically for "a one-hour closed-door meeting to discuss a serious issue." Assuming this gets is attention and he carves out an hour for you, lay out the issues by focussing on the damage Tim and the other person you mention in your next to last paragraph are doing to the company by badmouthing the company's prior work even though it has been working for the clients and they have been happy with it. Minimize your personal issue that this reflects badly on you. Emphasize damage being done to the company. Think about how you are going to present this, in advance of the meeting. If you can gather other examples, that would help. If these are pretty isolated instances, not part of a larger pattern, I agree with the suggestions to forget about it.

If, in fact, people in your company are doing klutzy work that legitimately should be redone when clients as for upgrades, obviously your company should just be fixing the original work without badmouthing their own work to the client. However, if klutzy work is getting out there, the other thing you might suggest is some kind of review process that prevents klutzy work from getting out there with your company's brand on it.
posted by beagle at 7:22 AM on August 5, 2013

Your boss doesn't care because a full revamp - as opposed to some maintenance - of the thing you helped put together probably means more revenue for your firm.

Don't take it personally. It's entirely possible - and probable, actually - that your work was indeed bad, not because you are bad but because of what you were given to work with.
posted by downing street memo at 7:23 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is the client hiring you, or are they hiring your company? If they are hiring the company, than your reputation shouldn't matter too much here, since your name is not going to be what they use to associate with the website, it will be the name of the company. The concern here should be whether or not they will continue to use your company in the future, and as long as your coworker provides them with exactly what they want, it should be fine.
posted by markblasco at 7:32 AM on August 5, 2013

Unless you know for a fact that the client is associating this prior shoddy work with you, and you know for a fact that they are complaining to management about it, further complaining on your part will just reflect poorly on you and may open up a can of worms. Let it go.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:33 AM on August 5, 2013

He is trying to make himself look good by trashing you. This rarely works in the long run. Surely the client remembers Bob, and that you took over for him, and that you delivered a product they were happy with for two years. Now they're working with this Tim guy, who is just bitching a lot and being unprofessional. They likely will not want to work with Tim in the future (hopefully this will just hurt him and not your company).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:06 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, how do you know what Tim is saying?

I think the overall problem is the "casual" nature of your office culture, and since your boss is not willing to intercede, and your directly speaking with Tim could compromise your working relationship, I'd be inclined to let it go. The client was happy with your work, which is the most important part. Now Tim has to prove himself. He's already doing a crappy job of it. I'd let him.
posted by sm1tten at 11:25 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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