Help my co-workers and I deal with our boss?
March 14, 2007 10:34 AM   Subscribe

How do my co-workers and I deal with the owner of the start up company we work for when he doesn't want to change his ways?

Around November I started working full time for a start up company that focuses primarily on web development.

The owner came to me and a couple other developers and designers spouting a chance to grow a company, help make decisions as it grows, and to be a part of something that could be great.

Now that it's been a few months my co-workers and I are getting really frustrated with our boss. He seems to be one of those guys that think his opinion is best, and whatever that opinion may be is obviously the only way to go about things.

He's like that when it comes to everything. Designs for projects we have, technologies to use, and how things are done around the office. Our entire group of twenty somethings feel that he's letting down the company by not letting us do what our generation has been doing for many years. I've been around computers all my life, and my other co-workers are definitely more in tune to whats going on around the web and computers then he is.

The last big concern we had was the way he talks to the customers. We make quite a few layouts, and when he shows them to him, he tells them what he likes, and disses everything he doesn't. While there are a few that will ignore him and go for what they think is best, a lot of people come to us because they don't know where to start. When he imposes his opinion on people they think that's the best route because of his title.

We've tried talking to him. He told us that we had a say, so we tried to tell him that he wasn't letting us do things how we know they're suppose to be done. Nothing really changed after that.

How can we show him that the things he wants done are things that people stopped doing a long time ago, and they stopped for a reason? Does anyone have any advice to get him to just trust our decisions? I've gone as far as going behind his back to talk to the customer to see what they wanted, and they've been very happy dealing with me because I asked them what they wanted, instead of telling them what I thought was best.

Any ideas?
posted by jrdnbaade to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, you work for a web startup in Michigan? Who knew??

Second, no matter what, you have to remember that he's the boss. It's his show. Going behind his back isn't going to help you when he finds out. I'd find a non-confrontational way to bring your activities to his attention and perhaps slip in the customer feedback on what they are wanting while you're at it.

Do you have presentation meetings with clients? If so, could you work on a mock up and present it to him as an option? Is he likely to let that into a meeting?

I wish I had more positive suggestions for you, but in my experience, people like this just don't change. Often times not even after a tremendous failure.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:45 AM on March 14, 2007

You quit en masse, and you start a new company just down the road that does the same thing as the old one, but better.

Trying to change people doesn't work.
posted by jellicle at 10:50 AM on March 14, 2007

FlamingBore is right- he's the boss. If he wants to run his company into the ground, that's his choice. It sounds like customers respond to him, though, so even if he's a moron, he's a moron making money.

If you've only been working there since November, you haven't been there very long. Give it some time. Working for someone who started there own company can be an interesting experience (I've worked for at least 3); they will have strong opinions about how their baby is run. Think on what is important to you. You may have to lose some battles to win the war. If he doesn't change over time, brush off your resume and find a new job.

And what's all this We crap? We think this, We have one brain, We sit around all day talking about it? Stop standing around bitching about your boss and do some work. Setting up an atmosphere of negativity and constant complaining will only hinder general office productivity and make life miserable for all parties except your boss, ironically enough.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:54 AM on March 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to work for the same sort of guy, only with carwashes. I had owners come to me for the scoop on what was really going on all the time, since they knew he was full of shit. You can't change people. Really.
posted by notsnot at 11:27 AM on March 14, 2007

@ThePinkSuperhero - Yes, we do talk about it every day. We go to lunch together everyday, we're here every day while he's off doing whatever he's doing. As for the work, we're a small company with not too many people on staff. Who do you think does the work around here? It's certainly not him, and we have no problem meeting deadlines, so that's not a problem.

Let me clarify a little. We were here since the beginning. This is as much our baby as it is his. We can't just pick up and start over by ourselves, we don't have the cash.

I understand it's his, and that's fine. We're all just looking to keep this going for the benefit of all of us, so we're afraid to see it fail.

@FlamingBore - Unfortunately he doesn't let any design get looked at by the customer unless he likes it himself. We're basically designing for him, not the customer.

As for going behind his back, I'm not worried about it. Doing that led to a happier customer who spent even more money using us for other things. The boss saw that, and didn't say a thing because I was making us money, and thats something he hasn't done yet.
posted by jrdnbaade at 11:34 AM on March 14, 2007

I'm "the boss" and owner in a small startup. Though my management style is very, VERY different (probably TOO hands-off), I can perhaps give a little perspective on what your boss might be thinking. . .

Every day I have developers come to me with ideas. The ideas are often great, from a limited technical perspective. However, as the boss of a BUSINESS, I have to think beyond a technical perspective and to the longer term business implications of each decision. So a developer comes to me and says "Why can't we add this new Feature X to the application? All the customers would love it, and it wouldn't take long to do." I might love the feature in theory, but there are tons of other considerations - would it take the developer from working on something higher priority? Does Feature X involve third-party tools that will add cost to our software? Is Feature X really desired by all of our customers, or just a few vocal ones? How much will it cost to train our customers on Feature X? Can we test Feature X thoroughly in time for our next release cycle?

Also remember that he has put a lot on the line to start a business, and has taken significantly more risk than you and your coworkers have. I invested thousands of dollars and countless hours of (unpaid) time in this venture. There are months when my developers get paid and I do not. We are "making it", but sometimes that requires significant sacrifice on the part of the owner. He has every motivation to try to make good business decisions. Give your input gently, but remember, at the end of the day if the business fails you haven't lost much, but he might lose everything.
posted by sherlockt at 11:47 AM on March 14, 2007

jrdnbaade - your recent success with the customer indicates that you have some consultative strengths. Maybe spin that around on your boss and go to him with:

"hey, so you know customer X and how that situation is going? I'd really like to be able to do more of that. Is that possible? Are there other things that I could be doing that might improve X Y or Z?"

If you work with him on a solution instead of approaching him as a problem, you might be able to make small steps toward the bigger picture. Maybe.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:53 AM on March 14, 2007

Not a solution, but certainly relevant: Dear Bosses...
posted by mendel at 12:06 PM on March 14, 2007

He is the boss. I guess that means that, at the end of the month, his job is to ensure the money is there to pay your wages. If you and your friends are sure you have a better way of making the money to pay your wages, then leave and set up on your own. I'm not saying he's right, who can tell? Maybe you're right and if you go your own way you'll make a shitload of money. But you won't make any money if you can't convince anyone to buy what you're selling. I've been a boss (am a boss) and people come to me from time to time with their pet projects and, sorry, they just aren't right for the development of the business as I understand it, and sometimes I just have to tell them: if you really think you're right, and you're pissed off now because I said no, then off you go and do your thing elsewhere. Some of them do. And that's the way the world goes round.
posted by londongeezer at 12:41 PM on March 14, 2007

ThePinkSuperhero is right. I worked at such a company for more than five years. The gazillionaire owner loved to hear himself talk and loved to design software down to the level of telling us what data structures to use. He would come up with some of the craziest software you've ever heard about, both visually and under the hood. He would design software that was just llike all kinds of software already out there and then go get a patent on it. And this owner could not even check his email without help, could not figure out how to use a mouse, and had no idea he was re-inventing wheels that had been around since the 1960s.

It bugged me for a while until I realized (1) he could waste all the money he wanted to, so why should I care, (2) my paycheck was the same size whether I did something meaningful or something that was crazy, (3) the success of the company was completely out of my hands and no longer my concern, and (4) he didn't hire me to give my opinion since he was always the smartest guy in the room. So I just started say yes to anything (as did all the other developers) and tried to learn something new while doing it. The company is still there and developers quit all the time and the company simply replaces them. He knows no one is indispensable - that is reality. He'll sell it one day and make a huge profit.
posted by loosemouth at 3:10 PM on March 14, 2007

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