CHAPTER 39 – Power Play

Dan and Sean

Sean’s office offered few comforts or decoration other than the standard corporate issue chairs, desk and credenza.  What made this plain office remarkable, arresting in fact, was its expanse of uncluttered surfaces.  An expensive pen and pencil set and a telephone sat alone on his desk.  His computer was placed ninety degrees to the side, just a swivel chair rotation away.  There were no papers or reports stacked and waiting to be read or filed.

On Dan’s first day as Sean’s direct report, Sean told him that as a kid in his father’s spotless house, he learned that a messy desk meant a messy mind.  Although he tested the veracity of other aphorisms that sprang constantly from his father, this one took hold in him uncontested.  In fact, it was easy, because every piece of paper belonged somewhere, and multitasking was a myth.

“I hear the offsite went well,” said Sean.

“News travels fast.  It’s only Monday.  Who did you hear that from?”

“I heard it from Marcia, who heard it from her new HR hire.  Allison, is it?”

“Yes, Allison.  She did a great job, by the way,” said Dan.

“Yes, Marcia is pleased with that hire.”


“Sean, I’d like to run an idea by you. Through Michele, I met Rob Evans. He’s an experienced consultant who’s an expert in enterprise-wide projects.  After talking to him at some length, I think hiring him would increase the likelihood of our success, including the speed of adoption of the new system and stakeholder buy-in.”

“I’d be happy to talk about that, Dan, but I have another matter that we need to address first.  It also pertains to the project.”

“What’s that?”

“Last Friday, George called me into his office. He’s concerned about the amount of time and energy that’s gone into the project so far, and he’s nervous about whether we’ll realize the return on investment we hoped for.   He heard the schedule is slipping and while he understands that some of that is inevitable, he wants it kept to a minimum.”

“Me too.”

“He also knows that your team is stretched thin.  Some of them have other projects competing for their time, and he wants to ensure that the project is professionally managed as well as technically executed.”

“What does he have in mind?”

“I want you to know that he greatly appreciates the work that you’re doing and what I’m about to propose in no way belies his absolute faith in your technical skill.”

“Jesus, Sean.  Enough with the preamble.  What is it?”

“He wants to hire a consultant to act in an oversight capacity for the project.  He wants professional project management to have a strong role in this.”

“How would that work?”

“We’re still working out the details, but right now we’re thinking that Frank, as the CFO, would take responsibility for the project.  The head of the project management team would report directly to him.  You would still report to me and also to the project manager.”

“Wait.  Let me get this straight.  I’m no longer in charge of the project?  My role is solely technical execution, is that right?”

“Your role hasn’t really changed that dramatically.  You were always in charge of technical execution.  We’re just adding some additional support and reorganizing to accommodate it.”

Dan felt his body temperature rise. An internal voice ranted, Sean, how can you say this with a straight face.  You’re demoting me.  Just say it!

Yet a countervailing voice was equally strong and present in him.  This could actually be a good idea.  I could use the help, and it doesn’t sound like the organizational structure is set in stone yet.  Also, it doesn’t seem like a permanent change.  When the project is done, I’d still have my IT role.  He noticed that he was breathing evenly and to his surprise, he had a choice of whether to be upset.  He no longer felt flushed.

“So, whose idea was this – providing additional resources?” asked Dan.

“It’s been talked about off and on for about a month.  George mentioned it to me a couple of times.  Bob and I have talked about it as well.  He’s recommended a consultant who would lead the project management team, a woman he’s known for a long time.”

“Since this will directly impact me, I’d like to be involved in these preliminary conversations.  I could make some useful contributions regarding the feasibility of the plan and how the reporting relationships will work.”

“Of course, you’ll be involved.”

“Yes, I’m sure.  I mean sooner, rather than later.  Is that possible?”

“I have a meeting with Bob, George, and Frank this afternoon.  I’ll tell them what you want.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea that I’m involved at this formative stage?”

Sean thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I do.”

“I don’t mean to push you Sean, but there’s a difference between telling them that I want to be involved and that you think it’s a good idea.  When you speak with them, will you recommend that I be involved at the planning stage?”

“Yes.  I’ll recommend it.”

“Good.  Thank you.  Do you have time for one more related agenda item?” said Dan. “It’s what I mentioned at the beginning of this meeting.”

“Can we knock it off in ten minutes?  I have an 11:00 conference call.”

“We can get it started.”

Dan told Sean about Rob Evans, the daisy vs. the sunflower, and how that model had made immediate sense to his team at the offsite.

“The more I understand these large projects,” said Dan, “the clearer I am that stakeholder involvement all along the way makes the difference in how fully we realize the return on our investment.  We can have highly efficient project management, but if stakeholders are not onboard at the outset and it isn’t scoped properly, it doesn’t matter how efficiently we complete it.  The system will reject it like a bad organ transplant.”

“What do you think we ought to do?” said Sean.

“I think we bring in Rob as soon as possible – have him facilitate a Design Shop to re-scope the project, with all stakeholders participating.  This would be a good way to integrate the new project manager into the system.”

“OK, I’ll introduce that idea as well at the meeting.  I’ll let you know how it goes,” said Sean.

“Good.  Sean, this is a critical juncture.  If we slow down and do it right, we’ll end up with far superior results,” said Dan.

“I hear you.”

“Do you agree?”

Sean paused for a moment.  He stared at the space over Dan’s left shoulder, as if he were visually arranging the milestones of the project.

“I do agree, Dan,” he said.  “I’ll let you know what happens.”

By mid afternoon, an e-mail came in from Sean:

Re: meeting with Bob, George, Frank


We struck out on both counts: Bob, George, and Frank don’t feel you need to be in on the discussions at this point. And they don’t think your consultant is necessary.  They figure the project manager will clarify the goals, and they don’t want to spend money on an additional consultant.

I’ll let you know about next steps, and my door is open if you want to strategize about how to best operate in this new org structure.


Click here to read Chapter 40. 

Have you ever been out maneuvered? How did you respond? Leave comment.

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Stephen Comments on Relieving Workplace Stress

Marcia Crawford’s character is modeled on a number of excellent HR professionals I’ve worked with over the years. Some people enter Human Resources to bring order to compensation, benefits, legal compliance, and the administrative facets of HR. Others are drawn to the profession because they want to contribute to and improve the experience of employees in the work environment. They see the world of work as a place for people to bring out the best in each other and evolve personally and professionally.

Some HR executives have training in psychology, but the scope of their interest includes not just individuals but the organizational systems in which they work and the rigors of running a profitable business. Marcia’s passion and expertise are on the human development side of the continuum. She feels for Dan and his organization, and she understands the business impact of a failed project.

In this chapter Marcia, VP of HR, confronts a common situation. Brilliant, hard-working, driven executives can be blind to the costs of their abrasive management style. Lost productivity and revenue, attrition, and even share price devaluation are very real consequences of the way Dan operates.

Because Dan’s knowledge and expertise are critical to the project’s success, replacing him is not an easy option. It would be ideal to keep Dan and develop his leadership style. Marcia knows that coaching is often the intervention of choice for executives like Dan who cannot take time off to attend training. Coaching can give Dan the one-on-one training that only uses content that is pertinent to this mission critical project.

Previously, Dan had rejected coaching, but now with his limitations staring him in the face and his new health concerns, he is suddenly amenable.

Though coaching is highly cost-effective, it still requires financial investment. Like most HR executives, Marcia knows some of her colleagues view executive development as a cost, and not always a justifiable one. She believes good executive development produces a competitive advantage for her company. But mindful that others disagree with her, she needs Dan’s coaching to produce demonstrable results.

Marcia selects from her network of coaches three possible matches for Dan’s needs. Dan has agreed to interview them.

Let’s see how that turns out in Chapter 5.