career, friendship, relationships, work

Mixed signals

Another update from my friend, John, the extremely talented graphic designer whom I spoke about in a post last month. He’s still plugging away on his huge amount of work to get his projects off the screen and off the ground. It’s slow going, but he’s making progress. Or at least he was until today. And his story from today is a good example of why alignment matters. (Regardless of what John McCain says, I’ve never seen two mavericks make a good team.)


John has been working away on his enormous projects for several clients. On occasion he needs sign-off from his boss (let’s call him Tom) and his boss’s boss (let’s call her Barb). Trouble is that those two aren’t aligned on the artistic direction of John’s projects. (I’m getting nervous just thinking about what’s coming next.) So today, he discovered that Barb hadn’t received some mission-critical information from Tom, who was conveniently out today – the day of the deadline. Ouch. So not only did Barb call John to find out the whereabouts of Tom, but she also gave him direction on his #1 project that was entirely contradictory to his Tom’s direction from earlier this week. 

After a flurry of emails back and forth with Tom copied on them, Tom starts to reply and put in his two cents, arguing with Barb. John was hoping to back away slowly and leave Tom and Barb to fight it out. No such luck. So while John was working away all day under Barb’s direction, Tom essentially ignored that work and did his own thing. In essence, John would have had a more productive day if he had stayed home and hid under his bed. (I’m not suggesting that that would have been a good idea – merely making the comparison to demonstrate what a complete waste of time all of John’s work was today.) 

To add insult to injury, Tom then called John to walk through his (Tom’s ideas) that he wants to present to Barb tomorrow morning with John’s help. And then, when Barb cancelled tomorrow morning’s meeting with Tom via email, Tom shouted a very loud and inappropriate expletive and proceeded to complain about Barb, wanting John’s support. Good grief – Tom needs to watch the movie Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks says to his soldiers, “always remember to complain up.”       

I had a bit of good counsel for John, after his long and weary day.  The line “self-preservation is a full-time occupation” kept running through my head as I listened to his story. The name of the game here is documentation, communication, and concentration. Keep track of everything that’s happening so there is a clear record of sign-offs, communicate to all parties equally so everyone has the same information, and concentrate on getting the job done that needs to get done and that John has the ability to control. It’s not easy to be Switzerland, but it John’s case it may be the only way forward.