Monday, July 13, 2009

Document Your Warnings About Issues With Assignments!

If you haven’t learned this lesson already, learn it fast. EVERY TIME you inform a White coworker or manager (or anyone else for that matter) that there is a fundamental problem with an assignment or project, document what your misgivings are, who you reported any potential problems to/what your specific concerns are, and what that person’s response was. Do this without exception! It does not matter whether or not you have raised concerns about your personal work or a group assignment. You need to get in the habit of documenting issues that may potentially be blamed on you or a group of staff, at a later time.

Point blank…many managers and coworkers WILL NOT take full responsibility for the work being done by their staff or within their unit—when things go wrong! When things go right, they will scream from the mountain tops that it was their bold leadership, oversight, judgments, and execution that lead to success. When things go wrong, someone’s head must roll and they will do everything in their power to ensure that it is not their head!

I used to have a screen saver on my computer that always caused managers to frown. It read (and you’ve probably heard this before):


I have argued this, many times, when I have been blamed for a problem that was caused by decisions made by task leaders or project directors. For instance, I worked with a White manager that inundated junior-level staff (all Black) with petty changes to procedures on an assignment that did not enrich the quality of the work. Instead, the non-client requested changes bogged us down. The client wanted a quick turnaround time. We could finish the work quickly, so long as we didn’t have to add the petty steps being requested by the manager. When staff tried to warn this manager that his changes would slow us down to the point where we would probably miss the deadline, he didn’t want to hear it. What really sucked was that he was requesting pretty cosmetic and petty changes that didn’t impact the work being provided to the client, but were time consuming, even though it didn’t appear that they would be. We tried to explain to him why what seemed like minor changes, wouldn’t happen as quickly as he thought. He insisted we do the work as he specified.

The deadline was missed. So, the manager argued to his supervisor (after a client complaint) that we were slow, did not respect and could not adhere to deadlines, and that we were unfocused. He essentially made us sound lazy, which we know is a stereotype. And, he said things like, “I thought I could trust all of you to be professional enough to get this done, without me breathing down your necks.” Trust? We couldn’t be “trusted”? That was a character attack and an attack on our professionalism.

But, the problem wasn’t that we were “untrustworthy.” The problem was that he insinuated himself into our procedures, simply so that he could put his “signature” on the way the assignment was completed. He imagined the client’s jubilation with his petty revisions. But, we warned him that the deadline would likely be missed. Yet, he insisted that the work be done in his special way. When it blew up in his face, his changes were somehow not the root cause for the problem. The group I was working with was accustomed to successfully working on quick turnaround schedules, but somehow we were suddenly incompetent, lazy, and need micromanaging.

Unfortunately, we didn’t document in writing that we were told to add procedures and make cosmetic changes. And, this manager didn’t provide us anything in writing. He just did his usual number of racing into our work space, hyperventilating, and barking orders. We were in such a rush to try to get everything done, we made the mistake of not covering our as*es.

The manager insisted that we “misunderstood” him. He didn’t want all of those petty changes. Those were things that he wanted to “roundtable” and discuss as changes for future assignments. The fact that we “misunderstood” him was the problem. Yes, four individuals “misunderstood” the same information in the very same manner. And, we were chastised by management for not being serious about our jobs, not stating that a deadline could be missed (which we did), and for not respecting our clients. All that from one as*hole lying about reality!!

From that point on, I made it a point to…

ALWAYS PUT REQUESTED CHANGES AND WARNINGS IN WRITING--even when they come from a supervisor or manager. Keep a paper trail. Write something as simple as, "Hi [name]! As you requested, we will be changing our procedures to [name revisions]. However, I am still concerned about [warning]. We will follow your advice to [response to warning]."

Had we simply sent him an email stating the date and time of his revisions to our procedures and included a list of the changes, AND our concerns about meeting the deadline…it would have been impossible for him to argue that he was not aware that he was jeopardizing a deadline and causing us unnecessary work. You live and learn.

Learn the lesson that others have learned the hard way. If you warn someone that “x” will lead to “y”, PUT IT IN WRITING!


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