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Topics: Change Management, Leadership, Scheduling
Throwing People Under the Bus
Network:730



Hi PM's--
Apparently my way of holding people accountable is being perceived as throwing people under the bus. Any advice on how to change my style?

Scenario: Yesterday, my Marketing department arbitrarily decided to change a distribution date, which ruined one milestone and put another in jeopardy. After nailing down that this was done because someone in Marketing didn't do their job, I then asked if the person would go to our leadership, who provided the timeline, and explain to leadership why they decided to move the timeline and provide suggestions as to how they would fix it.

Well this was perceived as me throwing the person under the bus. As a PM I see someone who didn't do their job, I pointed it out and asked for accountability and follow up. Can you tell me where I went wrong or who I could've responded better?

Thanks as always for your valuable advice.
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Network:128437



Holding someone accountable is very different than exposing them and putting them under the microscope.

As a third party observer, if this happened in my presence, I would translate as if you are trying to justify that this was not your mistake but his or hers which is definitely throwing them under the bus.

Instead, you should take advantage of the situation to hold the personal responsible accountable and at the same time have your team have more trust in you. Mistakes happen, and it’s a learning curve for everyone and you as a PM, in front of leadership, are accountable for the delivery of the milestones so having your team member explain to leadership what happens would mean two things for leadership:

1- You are not having your team’s back and did throw him or her under the bus.

2- You have no control over your team if they moved the date without consulting with you.

The way I would deal with a similar situation is to hold the person responsible accountable but at the same time, take responsiblity in front of leadership as you are the PM and try to explain to them what happened without exposing the team member. This way, you will be looked at as a great leader and the person responsible will learn from their mistakes and the team will trust you more. Hope this makes sense.
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2 replies by Aseem Shandilya and Erikka Cullum
Oct 30, 2019 1:04 AM
Aseem Shandilya
...
Hi Rami,
Agreed completely

One good piece of advice that I received from my manager was - "All failure belongs to you and all success to your team". In a situation like this as well, at the end of the day accountability lies with the PM to prevent a repeat of the incident. It is all about putting together the pieces in a way that you and your team come out stronger from the whole experience.
Nov 06, 2019 3:14 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
This makes great sense. Thank you so much. Very valuable.
Network:500



I completely agree with Rami. In my organization, it is known that the PM is the main point of contact between leadership, vendors, the team. It is our responsibility to communicate all issues, changes, and risks about the project, not our team members, so I would have to agree, as it seems like you are throwing them under the bus, without meaning to.

My suggestion is similar to above. You need to gather your team and discuss this issue with them. Find the root cause of why this was delayed. Yes, the person did not do their job, but is there a reason behind it? Were they overworked and did not have the time to complete all things assigned, were there missed days of work, etc?

Once you determine the route cause, you may want to evaluate with them if pushing the date is the best answer to this delay, maybe there is another way. Then, you should take all that information to leadership and discuss this issue/risk at hand.

I would avoid saying that so and so did not do his job, and in turn we are now delayed, but maybe saying that a task is passed due, give the root cause, and lay out the plan your team has to accommodate this and complete the project.

Not trying to sound mean or demeaning, but this is your project and in situations like this it is best to take ownership of the team, and show your leadership skills to the organization. Not only will you gain the respect of your team, but also of the leadership group as to how you handled and resolved the situation.

Good luck! It is always a difficult thing when this happens, but know your skills will lead you to success in many situations.
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2 replies by Erikka Cullum and Rami Kaibni
Oct 29, 2019 12:42 PM
Rami Kaibni
...
100% agree with you Kimberly. Very well said: Always take ownership for your projects !
Nov 06, 2019 3:17 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
Thank you Kimberly. I like this: "saying that a task is passed due, give the root cause, and lay out the plan your team has to accommodate this and complete the project." This is really good.
Network:2165



Dear Erikka
Interesting question for reflection
Thanks for sharing

Do you know the reasons why the marketing department changed the distribution date?

For this to happen would they have to accept the explanation given by the person who did not do the work, or am I mistaken?

Could you have agreed with the marketing department about the new date and the steps that could be taken together to minimize the damage done?

What would be the consequences if you had acted together?

Together with the marketing department could you meet with your leadership presenting the solution found?

Was there collateral damage to your team from the initiative you took?

And in the company as a whole?

How did your leadership react?

How was your trustworthy asset?

What lessons can you learn from this situation?
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1 reply by Erikka Cullum
Nov 06, 2019 3:24 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
Do you know the reasons why the marketing department changed the distribution date? Yes, a younger staff member decided she wanted to go home early and not do what was needed. She didn't communicate she was leaving and the work was not finished. As it turns out, she ruined two of the milestones on this particular project and someone else's project.

For this to happen would they have to accept the explanation given by the person who did not do the work, or am I mistaken? I don't know what you mean?

Could you have agreed with the marketing department about the new date and the steps that could be taken together to minimize the damage done? No! and the importance was communicated to them. it was a blatant disregard for the timeline because someone wanted to go to happy hour instead of doing the work.

What would be the consequences if you had acted together? I would have asked her to stay and do the work in order to keep the project on time.

Together with the marketing department could you meet with your leadership presenting the solution found? Sure, if that were an option

Was there collateral damage to your team from the initiative you took? yes, communications were supposed to go out for an initiative at a certain candence so as not to confuse the employees. Instead as a fix all communications were sent and employees were overwhelmed.

How did your leadership react? He is was pissed, but we presented a solution so he was okay

How was your trustworthy asset?

What lessons can you learn from this situation? I learned I am not in control of this project and I'm lacking some leadership skills. I dont like to micro manage and believe we are all adults and we need to do our work. Unfortunately I found out that some people just don't work with that same ethic!
Network:128437



Oct 29, 2019 11:17 AM
Replying to Kimberly McCoy
...
I completely agree with Rami. In my organization, it is known that the PM is the main point of contact between leadership, vendors, the team. It is our responsibility to communicate all issues, changes, and risks about the project, not our team members, so I would have to agree, as it seems like you are throwing them under the bus, without meaning to.

My suggestion is similar to above. You need to gather your team and discuss this issue with them. Find the root cause of why this was delayed. Yes, the person did not do their job, but is there a reason behind it? Were they overworked and did not have the time to complete all things assigned, were there missed days of work, etc?

Once you determine the route cause, you may want to evaluate with them if pushing the date is the best answer to this delay, maybe there is another way. Then, you should take all that information to leadership and discuss this issue/risk at hand.

I would avoid saying that so and so did not do his job, and in turn we are now delayed, but maybe saying that a task is passed due, give the root cause, and lay out the plan your team has to accommodate this and complete the project.

Not trying to sound mean or demeaning, but this is your project and in situations like this it is best to take ownership of the team, and show your leadership skills to the organization. Not only will you gain the respect of your team, but also of the leadership group as to how you handled and resolved the situation.

Good luck! It is always a difficult thing when this happens, but know your skills will lead you to success in many situations.
100% agree with you Kimberly. Very well said: Always take ownership for your projects !
Network:1921



I will answer on the situation you stated which could not be the answer you are searching for. Changes are all welcome if and only if everybody understand two critical things: 1-changes will follow the defined project change management process. 2-as project manager my duty is not decide about the change. My duty is to have everything needed to take the decision on hands of people that must take the decision. So, I never say no. Just I put the rules clear at the very begining of the project. And I am not dictating the rules.
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1 reply by Erikka Cullum
Nov 06, 2019 3:25 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
Excellent! Thank you!
Network:2525



I agree with Rami and Kimberly and add:

What you are showing to your team, even if this person is from another team, that you will sacrifice people because not being able to take a blame. This will destroy the trust in you and create a CYA mentality. Protecting people will create a feeling of trust and community.

There is no merit in blaming at all.

There are situations when you have to disclose a root cause of failure immediately, and fully, e.g. if lives are endangered or reputation is at stake (see 737Max problem). But even this should avoid NOT blaming people and focus on the root cause analysis. This includes finding out why this person made the mistake and how YOU can make your project more resilient.
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1 reply by Erikka Cullum
Nov 06, 2019 3:26 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
Agreed. I had a member of our IT team mention this as well. He stated there is a lot of finger pointing and blaming, which alienates people.
Network:68



Rami and Kimberly advice is spot on.

In short, you always want to protect your team as they are the ones doing the heavy lifting. Remember: You are the firewall to all the commotion that may be going on behind the scenes.

Calling out people by name is good if recognition is to be given. But individual problems need to be worked out behind the scenes. Making it 'public' can imply 'me vs. them' and can communicate weakness in you being an effective leader.
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1 reply by Erikka Cullum
Nov 06, 2019 3:28 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
Thank you. This makes perfect sense.
Network:525



There are two faces to leadership-the private and the public.

In this situation, as others have pointed out, that the best public face is to say the timeline is delayed, here is the new timeline and how do we achieve it. People should be called out for positive reasons.

The private face is one where, as the leader, you pull that person aside and ask what's going on. How can you help? What resources do they need to be more successful going forward? You are going through a one on one root cause analysis with that person. That person will appreciate it more and will more than likely hit their target next time around.
...
1 reply by Erikka Cullum
Nov 06, 2019 3:28 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
This is good advice. Thank you.
Network:600



Oct 29, 2019 11:03 AM
Replying to Rami Kaibni
...
Holding someone accountable is very different than exposing them and putting them under the microscope.

As a third party observer, if this happened in my presence, I would translate as if you are trying to justify that this was not your mistake but his or hers which is definitely throwing them under the bus.

Instead, you should take advantage of the situation to hold the personal responsible accountable and at the same time have your team have more trust in you. Mistakes happen, and it’s a learning curve for everyone and you as a PM, in front of leadership, are accountable for the delivery of the milestones so having your team member explain to leadership what happens would mean two things for leadership:

1- You are not having your team’s back and did throw him or her under the bus.

2- You have no control over your team if they moved the date without consulting with you.

The way I would deal with a similar situation is to hold the person responsible accountable but at the same time, take responsiblity in front of leadership as you are the PM and try to explain to them what happened without exposing the team member. This way, you will be looked at as a great leader and the person responsible will learn from their mistakes and the team will trust you more. Hope this makes sense.
Hi Rami,
Agreed completely

One good piece of advice that I received from my manager was - "All failure belongs to you and all success to your team". In a situation like this as well, at the end of the day accountability lies with the PM to prevent a repeat of the incident. It is all about putting together the pieces in a way that you and your team come out stronger from the whole experience.
...
2 replies by Erikka Cullum and Rami Kaibni
Oct 30, 2019 1:39 AM
Rami Kaibni
...
Thanks Aseem - I very much agree with you. Lead by Example and leaders always walk in the front.
Nov 06, 2019 3:29 PM
Erikka Cullum
...
I like this! "All failure belongs to you and all success to your team".
Network:128437



Oct 30, 2019 1:04 AM
Replying to Aseem Shandilya
...
Hi Rami,
Agreed completely

One good piece of advice that I received from my manager was - "All failure belongs to you and all success to your team". In a situation like this as well, at the end of the day accountability lies with the PM to prevent a repeat of the incident. It is all about putting together the pieces in a way that you and your team come out stronger from the whole experience.
Thanks Aseem - I very much agree with you. Lead by Example and leaders always walk in the front.
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