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Values Conflict: The Self-Serving Boss

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The team was charged with rapid software development. After an embarrassing two-year debacle with a now-bankrupt software company incapable of delivering, My company engaged a loosely knit group of retired computer information science professors to undertake an intricate systems rewrite in seven months. Coupled with the talent and experience of the developers was my expertise of the business and significant support from senior management. Unfortunately, one of the team was a considerable hindrance to the timeline. This is the story of my professional dilemma with a new boss, Otto. The values conflict I wrestled with focused on our different work ethics, professional integrity, and Otto’s manipulation of the perception of management.

Otto was hired as project lead by the company for two reasons: positive association with the organization as a previous consultant, and his connection to the team’s chief developer. Otto negotiated his position with benefits for attending the University business school. Based on behavior, I perceived Otto’s agenda throughout the life of the project focused solely on his role as student and making impressions on management. His commitment to the project was personal visibility, not a dedication to the project or the organization. While the team put in long hours, Otto confounded the project by demanding detailed documentation of trifles. While distancing himself from the tasks and issues facing the team, Otto demanded daily progress reports from team members with an inappropriate perfectionist documentation standard while he did class work, founded a chapter of Toastmasters, engaged in lengthy calls with fellow students, and worked an average six hour day. The reports were summarized and credit was taken. . I had encountered the Otto’s of the world in lesser form before, those who “…slip into organizations with the sole intent of helping themselves to the organization’s resources, cheating customers, and feathering their own nests at the expense of others. They have little interest in “doing the right thing.” (Travino & Nelson, 2004).

The remaining team members had intense commitment to the project. I understood the complexities of the business rules that drove the systems were opaque and the time short. My role was first to broadly define the scope of the work, and then unravel detail gradually. Distinctive dependencies between individual but interdependent tasks also required I balance my time between the concurrent developments and encourage design collaboration where appropriate. I iteratively tested and communicated issues with the team.

In the beginning, I rationalized Otto’s disinterest. I told myself he was new to the organization and came from a different culture in a larger for-profit company. I figured Otto’s perception of project lead was to stay out of the way and let the professionals do their work. However, as time went on, my colleagues began complaining about Otto’s behavior. I realized I was not being unrealistic or petty, but Otto’s work ethic and personal values were egocentric. Instead of engaging in the project, Otto punished me for having knowledge he did not. Raging about perceived incomplete or unclear progress reports held greater priority than accomplishments or milestones in the project.

Our shared goal was to complete the project on time and within budget. However, Otto’s blatant disrespect for the team in his behavior was not apparent to senior management. My values conflict was one of loyalty versus utility. My values include loyalty to the organization and respect for my boss. Other values include a strong work ethic and respect for the team. My constant self-talk became, do I share Otto’s disinterest

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