Advice in the workplace 'AdWise': '2 bosses give contradictory orders in different time zones. Please help ... '

Question: I work in a global middle level management organization and I have two bosses, one locally and the other in a different time zone. Both give me contradictory directions. In addition, they do not give their orders in writing and hold me responsible if something goes wrong. Both blame each other if I try to mention my difficult situation. This has resulted in trust issues and has also hindered my relationships with other key stakeholders in the organization. I can't function effectively. Different time zones and locations have aggravated my problems. How should I handle the situation?

Prabir Jha responds:

Matrix structures are often a mixed blessing. While multiple stakeholders and managers help build inclusion and collective ownership, it also creates its pitfalls. You are clearly struggling with the trap. Some of their problems could be structural, but most seem to be caught in the crossfire of two conflicting personalities. You are in an unfortunate situation, but not unique. Many matrix structures run this risk if different managers do not speak and clarify each other. Many times they do not. And the situation can be very stressful and unproductive for someone in your situation.

Let me suggest some steps to get out of this dead end.

Self reflection: Could you be overreacting to a situation? Couldn't you be retreating or clarifying enough? Do you have a hard time saying no and promising too much? Are you struggling with bandwidth issues? Have you requested feedback from interested parties? Is there something you should be working on? Are you managing your time, priorities and stress as well as you should? Is there anything beyond work that is causing you stress and distraction, which is apparently attributed to difficult bosses? If you have been criticized fairly and directly and do not believe there is a problem within you, you should do the obvious.

Do the obvious: Request that both people participate in a common call or video conference. Increase your discomfort. Highlight specific examples. Share why you are impacting your work, your decision making and your relationships and reputation with other stakeholders. Both parties need to hear you together, not listen to you separately. Let them clarify you and others. Possibly, you are missing some perspective that is creating a disturbance. It allows both the time to train and clarify. You may also need to request weekly or biweekly common virtual meetings until problems are resolved and there is a common rhythm. Sometimes, these common conversations help managers realize that they need to discuss problems in real time to avoid the noise they are creating for team members like you.

But it is also possible that both adhere to their position and that their situation does not change. Maybe his animosity makes it worse for you. And that?

Elevate the dead end with the jump level: Contact your supervisor's boss in your territory, copying the skip level boss in the other geography. Possibly, they will have a broader perspective and will be able to speak with maturity. They may be able to help agree on information patterns and decision flow. A clearer clarity about SOPs can help improve communication for everyone, including you. Please remember that cultural differences are real. And senior managers will help train their respective reports to improve their own mutual understanding. In the worst case, they can even agree to move the respective managers to help improve effectiveness on the larger team. But if this does not work either?

Reach HR: A good human resources ecosystem should ideally address these problems if it is affecting people. Otherwise, raise your challenge with HR. The human resources team normally goes through functions and time zones. They may be able to solve this problem with any line manager or CEO, if necessary. The job of Human Resources is to ensure that multiple perspectives are heard and that a decision is made, soft or hard, safe and delivered. This is your responsibility for organizational effectiveness.

But what if this doesn't work either?

Leave the team or workplace: Despite trying at several levels, if no one can or can change things, the organization has an important cultural change. In fact, many companies deny the problem or remain an ostrich. Your health and happiness are yours to guarantee. You cannot allow yourself to sacrifice yourself for the indifference of managers or a company. Reduce your losses and stay away from toxicity, even if there is a temporary setback. Change to another role within the organization or leave the company altogether. Start again. Nothing is the end of the world. Remember: continuing to suffer in silence will only make you more intimidated. And he will lose his sense of self-esteem and self-esteem. Nothing is worth this.

The problem he has is his own creation, that of his managers or an indifferent organization. Reiterate your possibilities. And you will come to a logical conclusion. But don't necessarily assume that the reason is beyond you. These are not only work experiences, but also life lessons that can eventually build us as stronger people for difficult situations.

(Prabir Jha is the founder and CEO of Prabir Jha People Advisory. He has led human resources teams at Cipla, Reliance Industries, Tata Motors and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories)

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