Project Management and Dealing With Bullies at the Work Place
By Tony Neale
In one of my recent Project assignments that will rename nameless I was actually bullied by my boss. This article tells what bullying is, what the impact it had, and how I finally dealt with it.
In the organisation where I worked my position was Program manager of projects and I also managed the Project Management Office (PMO) with a staff of 2 and had a number of Project Managers reporting to the PMO. My boss was a General Manager.
What is bullying?
There are a number of ways you can be bullied and these include; being threatened, being humiliated, being micro managed, being isolated, being stripped of your job, being mentally tormented, being ignored, being treated with disrespect or degradingly. Have you ever been subjected to any of these?
What triggered the bullying?
I believe what triggered the bullying is when I stood up to my boss for ethical issues and he didn’t like this and couldn’t handle it. His response was to “get rid of me” because I was a troublemaker. He inadvertently let slip on a drinks night after work that he intended to get rid of me. My work colleagues told me the following week and I had to confess I was rather shocked to hear this.
What were the bullying tactics he used?
My boss used the following bullying tactics of; calling numerous Performance Reviews stating my work was “sub-standard”, stripped away my job, isolated me by directing me in another location, humiliated me by excluding me from meetings but included my staff members, micro managed my staff, appointed a “friend” to perform my duties, and set me up to fail by creating KPIs largely based on his judgment.
How did I respond?
Firstly, I attempted to reason with my boss in a respectful way. Unfortunately, he was determined to get rid of me.
Secondly, I engaged HR for their support. Whilst they were supportive and sympathetic the politics of the organization was that HR when push came to shove they would always support my boss. Even though we agreed the KPIs needed to follow the HR standard SMART and be agreed mutually and signed off. Unfortunately, my boss dictated this process and much of it based on his judgment.
Thirdly, I engaged senior management. Again, whilst agreeing my boss’s people behaviours were undesirable they were reluctant to act because of the organization politics. They stated we must follow the process however, they did say collect as much evidence as you can to justify your claims and rebut the boss’s claims.
Fourthly, I engaged with the organization’s ethical behaviour independent consultant and obtained advice. He was telling me for sake of my health and well being to exit as soon as possible to avoid a black mark on my HR record.
Fifthly, I engaged my fellow managers and peers to obtain their support. Whilst most of them to your face promised support only a few could be relied on. There was much fear that their jobs would be lost hif they supported me.
Sixthly, I engaged lawyers for their advice if my best option was to go legal.
Seventhly, I created visible plans that I was managing my work given the constraints and at the same time collected evidence of the bullying behaviours.
Finally, at each Performance Review with HR present I supplied my work plans done and questioned the metrics when my boss claimed under performance based on his opinion.
What was the end result?
The day came when I was summoned to a meeting with my boss and a HR representative and I was handed a letter that stated perform or be terminated by such and such date. I protested at the time stating the KPIs have yet to be agreed and they were flawed but that fell on deaf ears. The following day I crafted my response with an email documenting the flawed processes and my boss’s bullying attitude backed with sound evidence. This was directed to the HR representative and to senior management. During that week I confirmed the colleagues who would support me if it went legal as well as consulted with my lawyers.
After a week with no response to the email I took the initiative and arranged to see the HR director to negotiate next step. I calmly walked through the email with the HR director who privately agreed with me and I said “don’t force me to go legal because I have colleagues who will back me up. Can we negotiate a deal?”
Yes, we negotiated a good deal where I could leave the “toxic” environment as soon as possible, no black marks on my HR record, and a good compensation payout. It was a WIN / WIN because I walked out with my head up high without messy legal proceedings. The organization avoided legal actions and it was face saving for my boss.
What was the impact on me?
I suffered humiliation, some anxiety and stress. Fortunately I had the support of family and peers and the tools to deal with these.
What were the lessons learned?
The big lessons I learned were the confidence to stand up for my beliefs and to plan to overcome difficulties. I endeavoured to be calm and think through good solutions without getting bogged down in the inevitable emotional traps. I also thought of WIN / WIN solutions and negotiated fairly and firmly that were in my opinion the telling factors.
I hope his helps you the next time you are bullied.
Tony Neale is an experienced Project Manager with more than 15 years experience on large projects with clients such as HP, Cadbury, Bluescope Steel, Amcor and many others. He is also certified with ITIL and provide expertise in Project Management Office arena. He currently likes to expand my interpersonal sphere of Project management and is a fully certified NLP Master under the Christopher Howard companies. Tony is an active PMI Melbourne (Australia) chapter member and has recently been appointed to the management team to start up the Project Management Institute (PMI) Melbourne Project Manager mentor / mentee programme. He has successfully managed Mentor programmes for a Global IT company. His passion is to enable people to be the best they can be and at the same time deliver great Project outcomes.
He has established his own Project Management coaching and mentoring business and his website is http://projectmanagementsolutions.com.au. Please visit and suggest articles you would like him to write for you.