Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I work in a very small office, doing technical projects and reporting to a very young, recent-graduate manager who doesn't have any experience in my area. I am regularly asked to complete projects in ridiculous time frames. For instance, a project that I (and my peers) would normally budget around 30 days for, I am asked to complete in four to 12 days. My manager is clearly receiving directives from his superiors, who also have no experience in my area, but clearly they believe that they need to push their employees. I am constantly going to my manager to explain that more time is needed for these projects, but it makes no difference. Usually, I get a barrage of micromanaging questions: Why does it take this much time? Why can't you do it in the time frame? Shouldn't it take you x time to do y? Can't you do y instead of z? For our most recent project, I told him that I was doubtful I would meet the deadline, and that to meet it, I would need extensive help and resources from him. His reply was to simply reiterate my deadline.
It's a small company. Our department is my manager and me. I'm looking for another job (surprise, surprise), but in the meantime, I'd love some tips on how to handle my manager so I don't have to dread going to work.
This is tough, because without hearing your manager's perspective, it's hard to know whether this is a company with ludicrous deadlines and expectations or whether it's a company that strives to be exceptional and thus gets things done faster than industry averages. I've had people work for me who were used to much more slowly paced environments, and when they first joined my team, they thought we operated at a crazy warp speed. But we hired fast workers, and people on that team met the pace.
That's in no way to discount the possibility that your company is totally off base on what's realistic and reasonable. It very well may be. But be sure to consider both options.
Along similar lines, it's possible that when your manager is asking questions that feel like micromanagement to you, he might be trying to learn what is and isn't reasonable and why. After all, he needs to be armed with information if he's going to go to his boss and say that his team needs more time.
Additionally, if I inadvertently give a department a deadline that just isn't realistic, I rely on them to tell me when they think that's the case. When that happens, I do sometimes ask questions to understand why, because once I hear the reasoning I may be able to make changes that will save them time. For instance, if I find out that 85 percent of the project can be accomplished quickly but the other 15 percent will take much longer, maybe it would be fine to put that other 15 percent off for a while, or even not do it at all. And when I understand why something will take a while, I can also sometimes come up with means of relief (providing additional resources for the project, moving other deadlines back, contracting part of it out, etc.).
Obviously, I don't know your manager and I don't know if that's what he's doing. But it's worth considering.
Meanwhile, though, I'd do two things:
1. Tell your manager what you can do. Try saying something like, "With only 10 days, I can do x and y, and I'll need to modify z in the following ways. And we won't have finished fully testing it, but that could be wrapped up two days later. Would that work?"
2. It sounds like you've raised the issue on a project-specific basis, but have you talked with your manager from more of a big-picture perspective? For instance, you could say something like, "I've noticed that we sometimes have different ideas about what are realistic time frames for projects. I want to do the job well and deliver a high-quality product, but sometimes we're given deadlines that aren't possible to meet, not if the product is going to be any good. I believe in pushing myself, and I think you know I work hard, but I'm concerned that we're on a different page from department x about how long these projects take. Can we talk about how we might be able to address this?" (Note that this language puts you and your manager on the same side, rather than attributing the problem to your manager himself.)
If the manager predates you at the company, you might also ask if your predecessors were able to meet similar deadlines and, if so, what they might have done differently than you. Maybe there are shortcuts he wouldn't mind your taking. You might be aiming for more perfection than he is; maybe he's willing to trade perfection for speed.
Ultimately, having that big-picture conversation with your manager will help you get the issue on the table and hear his perspective on it. You'll get a better sense of where he's coming from and whether you're going to be able to resolve the issue in a way you can be happy with. And that at least will arm you to figure out your next moves.
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