What should you do if you don’t think your boss is right?

Posted on September 10th, by Dr Rob Yeung .

In today’s Financial Times, a columnist asked several experts (including me) for opinions on handling a boss who asks you to do a piece of work you disagree with. You can read it on the FT’s website; however, as their site requires registration (which is free), I have also copied and pasted the article below.

The careerist: Dubious projects

By Rhymer Rigby

Sometimes we are told to execute an idea or strategy about which we have strong doubts. How do you proceed, while avoiding becoming a potential scapegoat?

How do I register my objections?

First, says Roy Lilley, author of Dealing With Difficult People, you must discuss it with your manager. “You might say, ‘Look, you’re the boss and I’ll do it and I’ll do the best job I can. But have you thought of this?’ Or better still, say ‘I’m sure you have thought of this and perhaps I’m being stupid …’” Mr Lilley adds that you should also try to understand the pressures your manager is under: “Your boss may hate the idea as much as you do.”

Virginia Merritt, a strategy and leadership consultant, advises seeking other opinions. “Suggest some sort of market research or focus group. If it’s a client’s baby, you can’t tell them their baby is ugly, but you can ask for opinions and if enough of those opinions are negative that might sway them.” It is important to be positive, however: “Go in with the mindset that you’re trying to get it right and you want opinions to ensure the implementation works.”

What’s the best way to approach it?

Take a pragmatic view, says Rob Yeung, an executive coach at leadership consultancy Talentspace. “It’s rare that there’s a completely right answer. Some companies have great strategies that go wrong; others have so-so strategies that get lucky. So accept that just because you don’t think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it won’t work out.”

Ms Merritt says: “Tell yourself that you’re going to learn from it. Move away from your fixation. Your opinion is one of many and there are many elements that make something successful.”

However, take steps to cover your back. “Ensure you note things copiously and establish an audit trail,” says Mr Yeung. “If things go very wrong and particularly if blame is being assigned, you might need to refer back to the specific objections you raised.” If you are really worried, have an exit strategy: “Think about how warm your links are with recruiters and what the job market is like.”

Finally, says Mr Lilley, approach the project wholeheartedly, because no one likes a naysayer. “Turn on your willing smile and do the best you can.”

What if it does go wrong?

“Focus on what can be learnt,” says Mr Yeung. “Nobody will thank you for saying, ‘I told you so.’ Try to move forward by asking what can be done to fix things. Here, you might suggest doing this by using the alternative you proposed in the first place.”

What if it goes right?

Even if you turn out to have been wrong, it can still reflect well on you, says Ms Merritt. “You disagreed with it, but you did a good job and it worked. But be open-minded and ask why that was. We all have a story where something we didn’t agree with worked out. It can be amusing and humanise you.”

Mr Lilley says: “If it goes right put your hands up. Tell your boss, ‘When we had this conversation I was really worried and you told me not to worry. You were right.’”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.

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