What would you do if 2nd line management won’t listen? And 3rd line management won’t interfere? Wait until the project explodes? (Problem is ineffective staff that needs to be replaced.) Assume writer has position of influence but no authority.
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
It’s the ‘canary-in-the-coal-mine’ syndrome. I gather from your letter that you are front line in the production of this project/product, so you can see where all the cracks are, and where the ‘explosion’ will likely occur. But you have no authority to change the process, or fire the inept. And Management so far has turned a deaf ear. What can you do?
Think carefully. Is this a problem that has serious repercussions for the health of any of the workers? Is it related to the financial well-being of the company (and hence your future employment)? What’s the worse-case scenario if the project fails? Will the media hear of the problem and crucify your company? Will your department be shut down? Will your company go into bankruptcy? Or will it just be more red ink on the books? You need to analyze the seriousness of the fallout to determine how to respond. Is this something that will affect the public or is it an internal company problem?
Are you ready to be the whistle-blower? If you alert the CEO/Board of Directors to the problem, would you be seen as the savior of the company/project or a crackpot? Only you can answer these questions.
But before you take this to the CEO etc., I would build a solid case. That means ‘Document, document, document’. This could be seen as just CYA, but when the problem ‘explodes’, there will be a lot of finger pointing going on as to who was responsible, and who knew of the problems. You want to be on the side of the angels, showing that you did your very best to notify each level of Management of the problems you were witnessing. But your pleas for help were ignored.
In practical terms: People’s memories are notoriously fuzzy. Keep a paper trail of your concerns and your attempts to notify Management of the flaws. Keep your eyes open and record in a daily journal what the problems are. Gather supporters around you and record their concerns. When you have gathered enough evidence you could then consider writing to the CEO/Board of Directors.
You could be shaking your head right now, saying “Well, the problem isn’t that bad. It’s not worth risking my neck to tell the CEO about it. I’d be ostracized by my coworkers or worse — fired.”
Maybe so… or maybe this is your opportunity to demonstrate your integrity and stand up for what you believe in. Many CEO’s would be pleased to be alerted to a problem, especially if it’s draining the company finances.
The old story of the elephant in the boardroom comes to mind. Everyone could see it but no one wanted to acknowledge its presence. The question is: Do you want to be the one who points out the elephant in the boardroom?
Good luck. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Let us know how things work out.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.
Publication note: This letter was originally published in April, 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.
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