Koan #21: One Task, Two Guvnors

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 21 Jun 2021 newsletter.


You are a trainee marketing manager at a small company that manufactures and sells environmentally friendly cleaning products. It is Monday afternoon and you have no urgent tasks left for the day. One of the tasks you completed today was carrying out market research for a new product; your conclusions have yet to be signed off by your manager, who is on leave until Thursday. There is another manager in your team who works on product development who is in the office all week. At 4pm you receive an email from the CEO asking for a summary of your initial findings in time for a board meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) where the campaign for the new product will be discussed. What would you do?

Option A - Send your work to the CEO as requested. You do not mention the fact it has not been signed off by your manager as they will not be back in time.

Option B - Reply and ask to delay sending the findings until Thursday when your manager returns and can sign off your work.

Option C - Send your work to the CEO, copying in your manager, explaining that these initial findings haven’t yet been approved by your manager, who will be back on Thursday.

Option D - Ask the product manager in your team to review your work before sending it to the CEO in time for the board meeting.


The key point this week was about the timely manner of the response, despite your manager’s absence, and one of our subscribers summed this up well in saying:

“He who pays the piper, calls the tune”. If the CEO has defined a need for the board meeting, then I would do my best to make that happen, making sure that I am clear about the provenance of the findings, so that expectations can be properly set.

Option D, which almost 10% of subscribers chose, assumes that any manager is capable of checking the work, which is unlikely to be the case. They probably do not have the expertise to sign the work off, even if they are more senior, so this would be more of a tick box exercise to show that someone has looked at your work in advance. It also delays sending the work to the CEO, even if only by hours rather than days.

Asking for a delay, as in Option B, is unlikely to work as the CEO would not have asked if they did not want to accelerate the campaign for the new product. It could also appear as if you have not completed the task yet, when in fact you have,

This leaves Options A and C and this week the vast majority of people were aligned in choosing Option C. This option ensures that the CEO gets what they want, while acknowledging that the work may still require some improvement. If you have not completed the task to the standard expected by your manager, they will not be reprimanded, but know about the demand for the work sooner than expected. It may also be the case that the CEO is satisfied with the work you have done and this makes you and your boss look good, as the task must have had a clear and well structured brief and was well executed.

Option A is second best, as you send the work across in time but it may backfire if the work is not up to the standard expected. You have not been self-deprecating, saying that it has yet to be reviewed, which could mean that your manager looks bad or as if you do not have a good relationship with them. It could also suggest they do not review your work to help you to improve, or that they do it ineffectively.