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Project Politics 1

This is partly inspired by a commencement speech I gave to an MBA class a few years ago. I didn’t relate this particular story then but here it is now. A long time ago I managed retail and early on had the misfortune to take over an operation from somebody that had been embezzling. I went through the books and gathered all the evidence, this is this was prior to Internet, so that meant going through a lot of folders, a lot of drawers, checking things and and double checking to make sure that I was understanding it correctly. We had a security department, they were regionally based so for the region there were one or two security officers and that’s who you’re supposed to go to. We had a lot of employee theft and this was a fairly normal thing so the company had a way of handling it. Managers had been caught doing this stuff before. I was trained by a very good manager who had a zero tolerance and really taught me a lot of good things about keeping good books and how to audit a place I was going to manage. I went to the regional security head and took a manila envelope with all the receipts, all the invoices, and paperwork of all kinds. I spread it out and said I really didn’t know for sure but this is how it looked to me and I figured if I came down here showed it to him he could give me guidance. I was sure but wanted to allow I might not have been understanding the numbers. He looked through it and he said, “no this is this is a problem, this is this is what it looks like it is, and I’ll take it from here.” The next day I followed up to just see if there was anything else I needed to do and was informed that the security director no longer worked for the company. Then I got a call from my director who was relaying something from higher management that said, “we just want to let you know that we don’t really think you’re a very good team player” and that I was lucky I was going to get to keep my job but don’t ever do anything like that again. It took a while before I found out what happened and I share this mostly to let you know that you can do the right thing and lose. There can be something that you didn’t count on and you know when that happens you can’t get too upset about it. I mean I could have lost my job I would have had to go figure something else out. The point is the person that had been stealing had vice-presidential protection. He had a vice president in the company that for whatever reason wanted to protect him so he fired the security chief and I don’t know if that was because the security chief insisted that he was going to escalate or if it was retaliation or just that he felt the security chief should have known this protection was in place and not even pursued it. The theft that the guy did actually went on my books as a loss because I was taking over from him so it came out of my bonus. They moved the thief to a different area and moved him off to an area in a completely different area of the country, kind of had him lay low there for a while and then they started promoting him. He ended up being a regional manager or something but he’d had a nice promotion after a few years and was making a lot more money and doing very very well. So the moral of the story is you just don’t know. You can do the right thing and still lose due to politics. If you’re lucky you get to keep your job. You might make the right decisions but you have to understand that sometimes there’s something else that doesn’t make any sense, it may not even be good for the company, and that that thing can get you in trouble.

One of the things I cover in project management classes I’ve taught is someone may not want your project to succeed: it’s part of stakeholder analysis. In most of the projects I’ve done, nobody wanted it to fail: everybody wanted it to work or they didn’t care. Rarely, there were some people that were dragging their feet or or otherwise trying to make it harder and I didn’t always know why. You have to deal with it and and I’ve never had anybody kill my project outright. Watch out for the politics because those things happen.

I’d love to hear your story if you’ve had something similar please leave it in comments because we can all benefit from these stories and maybe your story will be the one that saves somebody else some grief or at least prepares them for it when it happens.

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