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PM struggling with company culture asking for advice :)
Hello everyone,

I just joined the community and decided to post anonimously, as I need advice about my current employer and do not want to risk them finding out about this post ;) I'll introduce myself in another discussion.

I am a young woman (30) and have been a Project Manager for roughly 3 years, since mid-2019. I have a previous background in Export Sales (5 years) and live in Europe. I'm currently studying for the PMP.

I have worked for 2 years in a big manufacturing company - my first true experience as a PM. It was very challenging and formative - the environment was very structured and fast-paced, my boss and customers were VERY demanding, deadlines were usually tight and I always knew what I was supposed to delivery, how, and when. It was a very stressful job but in retrospect I am very grateful for the expertise I gained; it taught me a proper working method and sound principles I will never forget.

Last year, I decided to move to a different town. I joined a much smaller company (50 people in total) in the same sector as a PM and frankly, after 7 months of observing and trying to understand how things work in here, I can say I'm having a lot of trouble fitting in, especially when it comes to company culture.
The owner and CEO, a woman, is also the founder of the company. She has a strong personality and identifies very much with the company and its brands. She has trouble delegating and is also very undecisive, meaning she changes her mind a lot even when time would not allow it, putting projects at risk. Her communication skills are also very poor - she rarely shares ideas about projects until the very last moment, when she needs other people's work and intervention, and that means everyone has to rush after her demands and work in a poor, unorganized way. To sum it up, I'd say she sees the company as her own creature and does not understand or admit that other people's input and competencies may be needed and that employees are not just mere executors of orders, but people with skills and ideas and talents.

Then, there's company organization and structure. There are no clear job descriptions when it comes to different departments, no clearly defined processes and work flows, it feels like everyone is just improvising based on the day's requests which, as you can imagine, is a very frustrating situation for a PM to be in. I have tried underlining these difficulties to other colleagues to see if they share the same impression, and the answer I got is: yes, it's true, we are unorganized and mainly act on the spur of the moment, but there's no way that can change since the boss decides basically everything and things have always been done this way.

Now, I mostly deal with new product launches and as far as that goes, I've tried to make myself a space in the company by demanding direct contact with customers, in order to be able to meet their demands and communicate with them without obstacles. I have also set up a work flow for this kind of projects and organized meetings with the entire company to validate the flow, with the boss' blessing - so something is changing after all since I joined the team. Problem is, while the CEO and other executives recognize the need for more structure and better organization, they are not willing to implement these changes upon themselves. It's as if they think that only employees have to embrace change and adapt.They are not setting a good example and this results in a lack of motivation for everyone, myself included.

Do you have any suggestions about how I should go about these issues? What I have noticed is also that my colleagues lack the courage to address issues and problems directly, leaving me the only one to do so. They come to me to complain about stuff, but then do not take any responsibility. I'm starting to feel like a nuisance and definitely do not want to be the only person in the room to always raise their hand and say "we should discuss this".

Thank you very much in advance for you help and forgive the long post :)
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For what it's worth, this happens to many, many, many, PMs.
1st: Change takes more time than you expect. What goals have you set for implementing a process? double it. 2nd: start working how they work now, and with as many whiteboards as possible. it's helps communicate quickly what you're trying to take in. People may see where they can help.
I find this to be a common problem in small private companies but in your case, per your description, it is excessive.

The only thing you can do, besides your job, is to put a plan with all the suggested improvements and submit to the CEO for review. It’s a hit and miss given that you say she is very opinionated.

I was in a similar position 9 years ago, and I ended up leaving. I can’t operate in chaos and I tried my best to fix things and I was in an executive position but that didn’t work because the CEO sees things differently.
Thank you both, Christina and Rami, for your feedback.

I think there has been a profound misunderstanding and mismatch between my expectations when I accepted this position and the company's expectations. I knew I was moving to a much smaller, less structured company but, since they had already had a PM in the past, I could not imagine such a lack of processes and organization which, by the way, does not only concern my area of expertise, but the company's way of working as a whole.

I am not a Business Process Manager of a Change Manager, but months ago, once I realized the company was far from structured, I told myself "well, this is an opportunity to learn something new and develop new skills, let's give this a try!". So I came up with an internal project to set up a proper workflow for new product development, even though there are many other areas needing organizational structure.

At first, the responses I got were not positive, with people telling me this kind of thing had been tried in the past, but with no success. I decided not to let myself be discouraged and managed to implement some of the changes - such as the adoption of a collaborative tool to communicate and exchange info. Things have improved a bit since then. I guess I'm just not patient enough?

I fear they now see me more as a "fix-it-all" figure trying to discipline colleagues and management on how to do things, while what I was expecting to do was managing new product development projects (the company is a contract FMCG manufacturer, meaning projects should consist in the planning, executing and controlling/monitoring new product launches based on customer briefs).

Another issue I feel I should mention is that, at my previous company, work rhythms were very different. The environment was fast-paced, even hectic at times, so much that I had trouble managing all the projects I had. But my boss was a very transparent person, so if I ever had trouble, I could speak to her freely and expect a sincere feedback in return. Here, the work pace is incredibly slow. I am always anticipating needs and demands of other colleagues, or at least I try to; build project plans for ongoing projects, constantly update them (even though my colleagues do not take them into account), and so on. Some of my colleagues from Sales & Marketing were overburned, and I gladly took up some of their tasks. But I still have a lot of free time, time I try to spend constructively and on work-related issues (such as studying for the PMP), and get bored as a result. I did tell my boss I could easily take on more work, but she says I should not stress out so much and that she and the other two executives are very happy with my job and do not want me to become overburdened. Which is kind of absurd, but I don't know how to make them understand how I feel without hurtin their feelings.

I think I'll give it another 6 months or so to see if there's any chance things may improve, but this is not what I was "sold" when I interviewed for this position. And at my age, I feel I should be mentored, instead of tutoring older people.
Over the years, every company you will work for, you will discover that they operate differently. With experience, you will be able to pivot and adapt.

Change takes time especially where there is resistance which is the case in your company and you certainly need to have lots of patience, sometimes much more than you'd like to have.

On a final note, while it is good to have a mentor, yet, it is those tough situations that teaches you most. A mentor will advise you from their on experience like I do with my clients but nothing beats first hand experience like the one you are going through so if I were you, I'd take advantage of it and learn as much as I can.
I'd echo the feedback from the others that this is very typical for startup organizations. Scaling up beyond 50-100 staff requires the introduction of some structure and some consistent standards as well as the delegation of responsibility which is a jump too far for many CEOs.

You can see if there's someone the president trusts who you can ally with to start to bring changes in incrementally, but realize that there is no guarantee that you will be successful.

A good friend of mine recently left a similar sized company after five years of trying multiple avenues to get the leader of the company to try things a different way so make sure that you look after yourself first and if you see that the situation is not improving in spite of your efforts, cut your losses before it burns you out.

Struggling with company culture means a excellent challenge for you.

It enables you to work on your competencies of taking various perspectives, being aware and controlling your emotions, handling conflict, being humble, being patient, empathy and influencing others etc.

Don't throw away this opportunity, but get rid of your expectations, become aware of your biases. It may be painful at times. A mentor for sure could help you overcome some of your struggles.

The company is going through growing pains. They probably recognized their limitations and hired you to help with the next step - possibly subconsciously or driven by some that see the limitations of the current set-up. There is a reasonable chance of success in this transition and you can become a key factor in this. However there is also a risk of failure. First you have to decide if you can tolerate failure both emotional and professional - do a quick risk/benefit analysis and commit one way or the other.

If you chose to stay with it the next step is to identify and plan your participation in this transition. Treat the transition as a project. Start by defining the objective (deliverable), undertake a risk assessment, identify mitigating measures, get buy-in and push the 'GO' button. There will be people within the company that will support you. The owner is driven by success (or she wouldn't have started the venture) and you have to show her the road to that success.

Yes, there is a risk for you but the benefits may far outweigh that risk. Just make sure you mitigate your personal exposure.
Try to look at it from the others', including the CEO's, point of view. Changing direction often is mostly due to information dribbling in. Communicating late in a project is often caused by juggling many priorities.

Your job is to make your bosses look good.
This is just one perspective, and may not apply exactly to your situation, but it's what I've experienced.

You rarely get other people to change by telling them that they need to change, especially when you're not in a position of authority over them. You'll burn out and leave, and those that stay will see you as another example of why they shouldn't try to change and why the things you wanted to do won't work. They won't see it as a culture/leadership/people problem that they can affect.

Be successful in your own role. Build trust in your ability to improve things. Instead of suggesting ways to fix other people's problems, demonstrate your ability to solve your own problems. When others start coming to you to discuss their problem, ask them how you can help - find out what they want from you before you tell them how to fix their problems. Sometimes, you have to let other people feel like it was their idea to come to you for help.

Or leave the company. I've worked for a boss that felt like any idea that wasn't their's was an attack on what they're doing. You feel trusted one day and attacked the next. It's not a healthy place to stay.
I agree that this is an opportunity to exercise patience, and employ strategic and incremental ways of incorporating better processes.

Like most everyone here, I have worked with Administrators who have a lack of trust in others' skills. In those situations I have challenged myself to help them feel less fear, and totally supported by me (i.e. I'm on your side, so to speak) so that we build a degree of trust.
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