The Crazy Boss

Question: 

You and another associate are working together on a project. Things are going really well – the client is very happy with your consulting firm’s work. However, whenever your project supervisor shows up things seem to fall apart. Members of the client team have recently mentioned how much the project supervisor bugs them. He seems disorganized and often takes meetings off track with wild ideas. How would you handle this situation?

As with any case question, start by clarifying the situation and gathering more information: What is your personal relationship to the project manager? What is your reporting relationship to him? What is his personality, and is he known to take feedback well? How concerned were the clients really? Is their assessment of the project manager accurate? Are there any interpersonal or political issues that could be clouding people’s perceptions in this situation?

Ultimately, you are going to have to initiate a conversation with the project manager. Two well-established principles of effective feedback may come into play here:

  • Feedback should always be given at an appropriate time and within a safe space. Rather than approach your project manager in the heat of crunch week, wait for a natural break in the project work and suggest a mutual feedback session.
  • Feedback should always be based on observed facts, and never be framed in a personal manner. “The client expressed concern to me…” or “I’ve observed that…” is far superior to “You always…” or “It bothers me when…”

 

The complicating factor here is that the person who requires feedback from you is your direct supervisor on the project. You probably don’t want to overreact by immediately going over the project manager’s head to his supervisor. Generally, consulting firms look for independent problem-solvers to execute client work, and would expect that same trait to carry over into interpersonal working relationships as well. Thus, your first reaction should not be to tell the project manager’s supervisor, but instead to try speaking directly with the project manager to solve the problem. People have different perspectives on the same situation – what seems like a problem to you may not in fact be “wrong” behavior.

Nonetheless, you should take care to express serious concern for the client’s comments about this issue. Consulting is all about client service. If the initial conversation with the project manager doesn’t resolve things to your satisfaction, you would be obliged to also speak with the relevant partner. After all, the partner is always ultimately responsible for that client’s business with your firm.

 

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