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Topics: Career Development, IT Project Management, Leadership
Client immediately takes a dislike to you?
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In January I met the CEO of a new company and he wanted me to head up his division with a new customer. I was to start as a Project Manager and then grow this via a $50m IDIQ into multiple programs, at which point I'd become a director. I cowrote the proposal, I learned the solution and I worked closely with our partner company. My other contract ended and I was out of work for a month waiting for this new contract to get signed, but it was worth it because it was going to be such a great project (and the pay was incredible).

I walked into the office the first day and my main client was an hour late- arriving at 9:20 to prep for a 9:30 meeting. The intro meeting set expectations and deliverables. Then I went to lunch with our contracts person and the government contracts person and other staff. At 1pm the client came to the cafeteria with an attitude like, "Why are you all still here?" Our team rushed back upstairs. I set everything up on my desk, sent out introductory emails and started to close action items I was given. This client called me back to her cubicle. It was filled with knick-knacks from her foreign travel, there were easily 75 items on her desk. I'm looking at some challenge coins she had when she blurts out, "Are you reading my email?!" I tell her no, that I was just looking at the items on her desk when she says, "No, you're trying to read my email!" And I freeze. Is this person crazy? Am I not used to being at work after being at home for a month? What's going on? I wait for her to crack a smile or to admonish me in a humorous way, but she just says, "Go sit back at your desk." I apologize again but explain I was looking at items on her desk but she seemed entirely dismissive of me.

Her anger barely subsided that first week. I called my corporate HQ, called our contracts person, I developed alliances with other government staff, I called my mentor to get advice. We might have 1-2 good days and then suddenly on Day 3 she'd call me in for a meeting where she would yell at me that she was the real project manager and I was just her assistant, or she told me not to worry about meeting notes but then turned around and yelled at me that I wasn't distributing meeting notes, so then I distributed all the meeting notes for every meeting we had since I started, but then she told me that was overkill. I tried do to that thing where we might both go out for lunch together or get coffee, but she wasn't interested and rarely ate lunch at work. I was so concerned I started documenting everything she was asking me to do, and making sure all my action items were done same-day, even when that meant working late or from home. 3 weeks into the contract she fired me, before I had a chance to bring on the staff we were recruiting or even get beyond the contract set-up phase. I am positive that all of her anger stemmed from the incident the first day about her email, though I'm not entirely convinced she isn't at least a little crazy for being so angry and not accepting my perfectly normal explanation.

My question is, if on your first day your customer makes an accusation- such as when she accused me of reading her email- is there anything you could do to improve the situation? I cannot believe that I wrote a proposal and worked prepping for a project for 5-6 months, sat idle for a month, and then started a new contract I was really really excited about only to get fired after 3 weeks. Now I have to find a new job in July. I've never been fired by a client for any reason ever before- even when I didn't get along with clients, I worked at it until 2 month later we came to agreements.
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Looking back on your first day, have you considered that your client might have felt she should have been included in the introductory lunch? She certainly seemed to have a burr under her even before you entered her office, and the e-mail may have been simply a 'strike out' at you for what she may have considered a slight on the lunch.

These types of situation\s do occur, especially when the project staff is located with the client. had this experience myself over the years. What seems apparent is usually not, and trying to recover is very difficult. Sometimes, the best is to simply move on, unless, there is someone in your organization that knows here well, can speak with her on the 'why' of the situation and find out the reason problem she has. It is almost certainly not email.
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Thanks. This was disturbing enough that I reached out to a number of people, but most of the people seemed to agree- that I was doomed from my very first day regardless of what I did or didn't do and getting fired after three weeks should have been expected from someone who was so angry their first day.

This client preferred to work through lunch, often times only staying in the office from 9:30-4pm because she'd have meetings running from 11am-1pm. I need to each lunch every day- I tried to get by skipping lunch and eating a handful of nuts Wed-Fri of that first week before I just said- that's not me. If lunch was an issue, it was that I, my contracts person and her government staff WANTED to eat lunch together rather than to simply work through lunch. Not understanding that she doesn't eat lunch couldn't be something I would expect on my first day, even if I picked up on it by that Wednesday.

However there were other comments she made about me eating lunch at my desk or needing to stop for lunch which may be evidence of an obsession she had with lunch.

"What seems apparent is usually not" and my experience, which is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. I spent 6 months preparing for this role, that's my sunk cost, so I could not just walk away after the first day where she got so angry. Yet, no one I know has been able to suggest anyway to fix it. They all warned me that someone who was so angry with me on Day One was going to fire me.

I also can assure you that there was no other discussions of note, I never put my foot in it, never made any slurs of any kind, and seemed to get along just fine with the few other staff I connected with.
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DS I'm not sure what the structure looks like and what type of relationship exist between your company and the client but there is clearly some underlying issues that have been festering before you joined. Yes we do not like all the people all the time but it is not normally manifested in such a hostile way right from the get go. This type of behavior is typically the result of issues that occurred leading up to the initiation of a project i.e. during the sales/pre-sales phase. The person offended is overrules and 'forced' to work with the project team against their will. The response is sometime a very hostile, unwilling stakeholder who will do anything to make sure the project fails, and that starts with you, the PM.

Managing this situation is best done via a project board, or steering committee, if this was defined during project initiation. If not then it becomes increasingly difficult and., as it seems in your case, unmanageable.
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1 reply by D S
Jul 16, 2017 8:55 PM
D S
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I think you may be onto something. The organization had to make this a small business contract. We were the small business. We had a COTS software vendor that we used. Very likely the customer wanted to work directly with the COTS vendor but felt forced to use us.
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Jul 16, 2017 5:38 AM
Replying to Anton Oosthuizen
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DS I'm not sure what the structure looks like and what type of relationship exist between your company and the client but there is clearly some underlying issues that have been festering before you joined. Yes we do not like all the people all the time but it is not normally manifested in such a hostile way right from the get go. This type of behavior is typically the result of issues that occurred leading up to the initiation of a project i.e. during the sales/pre-sales phase. The person offended is overrules and 'forced' to work with the project team against their will. The response is sometime a very hostile, unwilling stakeholder who will do anything to make sure the project fails, and that starts with you, the PM.

Managing this situation is best done via a project board, or steering committee, if this was defined during project initiation. If not then it becomes increasingly difficult and., as it seems in your case, unmanageable.
I think you may be onto something. The organization had to make this a small business contract. We were the small business. We had a COTS software vendor that we used. Very likely the customer wanted to work directly with the COTS vendor but felt forced to use us.
Network:196



D S, i am sorry this happened to you but I have been working as a contractor since 2005 and i understand that you have to thread carefully when starting in a new place. However there are lines that shouldn't be crossed professionally.

If I were in your shoes, I would have called her out after the first few times and made a note to my corporate office to put this person on notice. You are a professional and even if you did something wrong, there is a right way to reprimand you. No one has a right to yell at you and demean you.

For people that like to a hands-on approach, i don't literarily mean punch someone :) I mean it is fine to have had a one-on-one meeting with an agenda where you should have stated your case and ask if there was something to be done to fix the working relationship. Put the onus on the client on what is expected, and SET BOUNDARIES. Some client are very abusive and I have had one say to me "you contractors don't know your place".

You can bet that I didn't take that lying down. I called them out and in the end, the working relationship changed for the better. I am there to work and you can borrow this line, "if it is not billable, please don't ask me to engage in it". So no fighting, screaming at me or being unprofessional.

The company that hired you should have had your back and reassigned you to another project especially under those working conditions. They are not obligated to find you a new job but if you are valued that much, they should at least have tried to find you a job. I tell everyone that your career development is on your hands and please don't sit for 1 month without getting paid if there are other offers on the table. We live and learn, i made some of rookie mistakes in my career too.

You are valuable resource and if there is anything i can do to help, please DM me. Bon chance.
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1 reply by Michelle Paugh
Jul 21, 2017 12:27 PM
Michelle Paugh
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Very well said.
Network:97



Jul 18, 2017 1:14 PM
Replying to Edward Daniels
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D S, i am sorry this happened to you but I have been working as a contractor since 2005 and i understand that you have to thread carefully when starting in a new place. However there are lines that shouldn't be crossed professionally.

If I were in your shoes, I would have called her out after the first few times and made a note to my corporate office to put this person on notice. You are a professional and even if you did something wrong, there is a right way to reprimand you. No one has a right to yell at you and demean you.

For people that like to a hands-on approach, i don't literarily mean punch someone :) I mean it is fine to have had a one-on-one meeting with an agenda where you should have stated your case and ask if there was something to be done to fix the working relationship. Put the onus on the client on what is expected, and SET BOUNDARIES. Some client are very abusive and I have had one say to me "you contractors don't know your place".

You can bet that I didn't take that lying down. I called them out and in the end, the working relationship changed for the better. I am there to work and you can borrow this line, "if it is not billable, please don't ask me to engage in it". So no fighting, screaming at me or being unprofessional.

The company that hired you should have had your back and reassigned you to another project especially under those working conditions. They are not obligated to find you a new job but if you are valued that much, they should at least have tried to find you a job. I tell everyone that your career development is on your hands and please don't sit for 1 month without getting paid if there are other offers on the table. We live and learn, i made some of rookie mistakes in my career too.

You are valuable resource and if there is anything i can do to help, please DM me. Bon chance.
Very well said.

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