Already Lost the Battle, Still Trying To Win the War
The thing about competing (or fighting) at work is that it’s polite for co-workers to pretend it’s not happening. Until they realize they got passed over for a promotion. “But I did everything right! Why did they pick that guy?”
Too late now.
Because I look for the fight dynamics in any conversation where one person seems to be taking advantage of another, my answer looks slightly different from the answer suggested by AskaManager blog author,
My Co-Worker is Over-Delivering and Making Me Look Slow
Situation: “My coworker Fergus and I are at semi-equal levels (I’m a manager and he’s a project manager) on a small team at the headquarters of a company that has branches all over the country. We handle lots of regular reports distributed to the branches and we produce ad hoc reports that go up the chain to executives.”
Fergus is in Peacock Position: “The issue is that whenever we are asked to produce something special, Fergus always says yes and gives a very quick turnaround time. He does this by working overnight and abandoning all other projects. He will turn around something that takes eight hours to do — the next morning — and our director and VP’s think this is amazing. He has never outright lied, but our leaders think that the overnight turnaround means these projects are small and easily accomplished in a couple hours –they are completely unaware that he is working on them overnight.”
What Letter Writer (LW) hopes the Audience thinks
“I turn my projects in at a normal completion time and no one has ever said anything since they assume I take longer, since I have other management duties.”
To someone who doesn’t know the facts — other decision-makers waiting for reports — this might sound like someone is making excuses for the difference in production. And their opinion might be:
- Give Fergus an A
- Give LW a C
Both Guys Are In Deep Water Because Fergus Created a Trap…And Fell Into It Himself
Because Fergus worked like a hero for one assignment , their new, huge task matches his “working overnight pace” guaranteeing, they won’t get the work done by the impossible deadline. Creating unrealistic expectations is a trap. And, as a project manager, demonstrating effective time management reflects your experience and expertise.
Letter Writer: “I have never cared about him burning the candle at both ends, except that, today has really gotten us into a pickle. He did an eight-hour project and turned it in the next morning. The VP loved it so much, he wants us to do it for six additional regions and have it done by 1 p.m. tomorrow. He believes that this is easily accomplished by Fergus and me because, after all, one region takes only two hours or so between the two of us, we should be able to have it ready for review by tomorrow lunch, if we hustle and work a little bit tonight. No! This is over 48 hours of work and cannot be accomplished by tomorrow close of business, let alone by 1 p.m.!”
Unfortunately, the Letter Writer is cast into Ostrich position. He thinks he can manage the situation by making Fergus change his work habits to match his. Something has to change because Fergus has placed his boss in Ostrich position too — by keeping her in the dark about how long things actually take. And that is never a good idea.
Letter Writer Fights Back, Brave and Bold
Letter Writer: “I told my director this and she looked at me like I was crazy and that it really couldn’t be all that much work and that I needed to figure it out as I am a manager. She also told me, I can’t pull my employees off their normal work and I still need to get my normal tasks done. I have no idea what to do and I know that we will show up tomorrow to the meeting and not have even half of it done. I asked Fergus to tell her that it won’t be doable, but he refuses. I feel like I’m going to get reamed out for not getting the task accomplished and for not bringing this to her attention a long time ago. Help!”
Alison Green’s answer has Letter Writer (LW) fighting an uphill battle. And that’s because Fergus has already established a winning Peacock position with regard to completing tasks in a way that impresses the top brass. Once the Director accepted the turn-around time established by Fergus, LW lost the battle before he even knew he was in a fight.
To me, it sounds like Fergus wants the next job promotion and as big of a raise as he can get. And he will sell out LW to get it.
But Fergus is setting a trap for himself by creating unrealistic expectations
What’s going to happen when Fergus needs to catch up on his sleep and misses the deadline because there aren’t enough hours in the day? Plus, Fergus is setting his manager up to fail because the Director is promising a delivery date to other groups — that may or may not be reached. Letter Writer isn’t the only one with something at stake here.
LW can’t control Fergus. If the dude wants to stay up all hours to blaze through projects and look like a hero, nothing LW says is going to stop that. And if LW doesn’t want to compete that way, then LW loses the round to Fergus, every time.
Fergus has a pattern and LW recognizes it. Instead of changing Fergus, LW took good advice from Alison Green and attacked the challenge with facts (time to complete, etc.) instead of pushing Fergus to stop working until 3am to finish a task ahead of time.
Letter Writer: “My director was NOT happy on Friday with me or with Fergus. The VP ended up rescheduling the meeting for Monday. Fergus and I ended up working on the project over the weekend to get it done for Monday and it all turned out OK from that angle.
We had a meeting together and then separately with our director and I laid out why the projects take so long to do and she seemed understanding. She’s not happy I didn’t bring it up sooner, but she understood why it might not have seemed relevant before.
I have no idea what she said to Fergus, but he has seemed pretty depressed, so I’m thinking it was not a happy conversation.
To clarify a few things: Fergus is probably marginally better than I am at this task, but these tasks simply just take a long time and there is limited skill advantage as far as time goes. He might be able to complete it in 7.5 hours to my 8 (but he’s terrible at checking his work so he has to redo stuff enough that in the long run, I am likely faster). I believe he was doing it overnight to be helpful and I think he thought he was doing a good job by providing them the projects literally ASAP. By overnight, I do mean he is staying up until 3-4 in the morning and then coming in at 8 to work some more. We are all salaried so that part is irrelevant.”
Response From Alison Green, AskaManager Blog
Alison responds like a good cornerman with specific instructions to alert and inform the Director about the actual time requirements for producing a good report. But this requires courage and preparation to ensure that Letter Writer manages any angry emotions and continues to treat Fergus with respect. Not so easy! Alison encourages Letter Writer to shift out of Ostrich (confusion and misunderstanding) and into clarity. I call it, “getting to neutral”.
Remember the titles of each person: Fergus is the Project Manager and Letter Writer is a Manager.
If I were the Letter Writer, I would definitely point out that the person who is supposed to be able to manage a project timeline is the one who is causing havoc with expectations around delivery times. Maybe the boss thought the same thing and that’s why Fergus looked glum after meeting with her.
Alison Green: “To your manager, say this: ‘I think Fergus’ willingness to work overnight in order to turn things around quickly has created inaccurate expectations about how long some types of work take. For example, something like the X project takes about eight hours. Because he worked all night on Thursday to finish it by the morning, people who didn’t know he did that thought he was able to do it in just a couple of hours. With the Y project, same thing (fill in details). It’s up to him if he wants to do that, but I’m concerned that it’s causing a lot of misunderstanding about what kind of turnaround time is reasonable.’
If she’s skeptical, then say, “Would you be willing to ask him directly? Or, if that doesn’t confirm this, I’d think his computer log-out times might show what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to cast aspersions on him at all — but we need to have accurate timelines for how long these things take so that we can plan correctly. If people misunderstand the amount of work involved, it’s going to disrupt our ability to get the outcomes we need.”
And then talk to Fergus too. If you haven’t already, explain the impact of what he’s doing, and ask him to be clear with people how many person-hours are involved in the work.
It’s possible that Fergus has some kind of diabolical plan to make everyone else look bad, like they can’t keep up with him … in which case talking to him won’t get you anywhere. But it’s more likely that he’s just more interested in making himself look good or that he’s waaaayyy too invested in being helpful, and he can still do both those things by working overnight if he wants to — you’re just asking him to be clear with people that that’s what he’s doing.
Of course, ideally he would stop working those hours altogether because even if he’s totally transparent about it, he’s still setting up the rest of you to have to deal with unrealistic expectations … but that’s more a conversation for his boss to have with him. However, it’s possible that he truly doesn’t realize the impact of what he’s doing, so step one is to spell it out for him.
Practice Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) for your mouth. This post is a purple belt DramaGuru lesson.
Thank you to Letter Writer and Alison Green from AskaManager blog.
Two men sitting back-to-back by RawPixel on Unsplash rawpixel.com
All DramaGuru cards designed by Cheryl Ragsdale