Thursday, March 08, 2007

Relationship with the boss

This post reminds me of a story from by previous life as a corporate dweeb.

It was the only time I ever had to actually fire somebody.

In the post above, Linda goes into one of her typical whines about how the people she works for don't know how to do their job. It might be true, but all the whining about she does is not going to be productive if she wants things to change.

In my story I was a Systems Officer in a Chicago Loop bank and Project Manager for an operations research/internal consulting type group. My team was a mix of MBA types, industrial engineering types, computer systems analysts, programmers, etc. We were part of information systems and did work on finance kinds of things for the Bond Department, optimization problems for bank location client problems (lockbox if you're familiar with bank operations terms), workflow problems for trust and bank operations, etc.

Every two years I had to physically be out of the bank for a contiguous two week vacation period (it's a security thing). Nobody really ever replaced me while I was gone. Usually there would be a senior programmer analyst, senior business analyst and an operations research analyst and the project responsibilities would just divide up among those three according to the project and their individual expertise. My boss only had two groups reporting to him, my group and wire transfer systems, so it wasn't a big deal for me to be gone. I thought.

One year though, I got back and I started getting phone calls from users that I really hadn't expected. My bosses vacation started the day I got back, so he and I didn't see each other for him to fill me in about anything that might have happened during my vacation. The phone calls where all complaints from various banking department people about the operations research analyst that had been meeting with them about a large project we were doing for them involving an Integer Programming model we were implementing for them to use in client consulting.

We had a product in place that they used, but it was a Linear Programming model that involved using some round off procedures to estimate an optimal solution to the problem. The Integer Programming model provided an exact optimal solution which in reality didn't really matter much, but made for a good feature for them to market their consulting services to clients.

This is kind of nitty-gritty technical stuff about the situation but it's really what makes the situation so similar to Linda's whines in the link above. She's whining because the floor took things into account that Linda didn't think should override her own view of how the operational rules were supposed to be followed in filling up tables.

The conflict for the Floor was between just letting some of the players run their own games versus being "fair" and following the rules to the letter. She bitches about it because the floor uses judgement in ways she doesn't approve of.

That's what happened at the bank. The total project involved not just the improved model and the more complex computations to be implemented (BJ, the analyst was the major contributor to that part) but also improvements in the way we reported the results (that part was being run by a programmer analyst, not an math modelling guy like BJ was).

Weeks before I had made the decision to get some improved reports done on time even though it meant a delay on doing the changes to the math part of the system. BJ had argued with me at the time about my priorities but he lost that argument. When I'd left on vacation I'd left BJ as the contact person for communication with the Bank Department about that project, even though he wasn't directly involved with the reporting production.

What I found out from the phone calls when I got back from vacation was that BJ had spent a lot of time in those two weeks I was gone trying to convince the users in Banking that I was screwing up and that they were wrong to depend on me to help them balance the priorities in what we devoted resources for.

The part that BJ wasn't involved in was that the programmer that would have been working with BJ on implementing the model was busy working on some stuff with the Bond Department. That part was really the biggest part of my job, balancing the competing need for resources among groups in the bank that reported to entirely different SVP's and EVP's. I was kind of the guy who had to make decisons about those particular programming resources. And in this case I'd pushed the reports first to Banking because that way I could do something for both Bond and Banking at the same time and try to make everybody happy.

BJ thought that was wrong and pretty much pissed some people off in the process. After returning 3-4 phone calls I figured I better talk to BJ. The conversation kind of degenerated and ended with.

BJ: I'm right, you're wrong, I know what I'm talking about and you don't even know how to do your job, I could do it better.

Me: Well, that doesn't really matter, it is my job, whether it should be your job or not, it's not. So, what we need to do here is you do your job and me do mine.

BJ: No, you're incompetent, I won't talk to you (at this point he was pretty much going nuts).

Me: I don't know what to do about that.

BJ: I'll talk to Bob Clark (that was my boss).

Me: He's on vacation and won't be back for two weeks. If you want to you could talk to Bob Hedrick (my bosses boss) but he doesn't really know much about this and I think your talking to him would be a mistake. The alternative, that I recommend, is wait two weeks, just do your job, then talk to Bob Clark.

BJ: I want to talk to Bob Hedrick right now.

Me: Okay, I'll call him.

I called Bob and told him that BJ wanted to talk to him. Bob had attended some meetings that BJ was involved in but otherwise didn't know him. He asked what about. I said, "I should probably let him tell you, he seems to have some serious dissatisfaction about me and I'm not sure I'm the person to explain it to you".

"Okay, have him up here at 11", Bob responded.

I told BJ.

About 11:45 Bob stopped by my cubicle and said. "Fire the son of a bitch, call personnel and tell them he's terminated and then call security to escort him out of the building. I want him gone today".

I told Bob, "I don't think I really have hire and fire authority, Bob." He said, "I don't give a shit, fire him anyway". Then he walked off to lunch.

I told BJ he was fired and to start packing his personal belongings.

Like I said, it's the only person I ever fired. But, the point of the story is that you really need to be careful about loud complaints about your supervisors.


Blogger Meek said...

Interesting story, I enjoyed it. You kind of petered out at the end, like you thought it was getting long and wanted to finish it. How did you deliver the firing, did you enjoy it? How did he take it? Did you tell security to open the door with his head, like DeNiro?

One more question, did I get passed over for a signed book?

5:59 PM  
Blogger BadBlood said...

As someone in a leadership position, I actually hope my employees think they can do their job better than I can. It tells me that they're thinking about how to improve things.

Of course, the manner in which they make suggestions goes a long way to a mutually beneficial relationship.

I owe it to them to hear them out and offer valid explanations as to why we can't or won't do things their way. But the door is always open for that discussion.

With that said, I have worked with people like BJ and they've been unceremoniously removed from the situation.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Gary Carson said...


No, I'm behind in getting that done (I'm always behind in everything).

Email me your preference and address.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Gary Carson said...

There was an ethnic thing to it. BJ was Indian. And The Northern Trust was a very Waspish, very paternal, old money, Chicago Loop Bank.

He had a way of expressing himself that tended to make a lot of corporate types in that enviroment very uncomfortable.

3:57 PM  

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