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Only sane person in the room
27 points by throwaway481923 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments
So I've joined a company (+100 emp) as their CTO. CEO doesn't know what I do or what I'm supposed to be doing. We stare at each other weekly. I speak, he nods, agrees with everything and then does nothing expected of him because he didn't understand.

It's Kafka every day.

The business is sustained by a legacy product but people not knowing what they are doing and failing at their jobs repeatedly seems to be endemic.

I feel like the only same person in any given room.

Have you been in a similar situation? Prognosis?

Before you make that judgment call, make sure the problem doesn't have to do with the way you're communicating.

For execs who are coming from a technical background - especially first-time CTOs or those who have previously worked on teams where other execs were technical or at least savvy - it can be challenging to learn to communicate about technical topics in a way that non-technical people understand. I'm not saying that this necessarily is you, just that it's a common problem, and an important one to rule out.

Even if you're explaining the situation in a way that the CEO can understand the concepts, you may not be explaining the urgency or the repercussions in a way that makes sense to him, or in terms of stakes he cares about. Alternatively, he may be the sort of person who thinks everything other than negotiating with VCs is below his pay grade and it's really [the COO|the office manager|the CEO's personal assistant] who runs the company and get things done.

Tactic 1) try wrapping up your conversations with something like "in short, we need to do X within Y timeframe or risk losing $Z. What I need from you is to get the Acme contract signed by Friday. Can I count on that?" Then follow up about it Thursday, Friday, and Monday.

Tactic 2) talk to people who have been there a while and try to (not too overtly) work out who it is that really gets things done around here, and how they make that happen.

Tactic 3) find someone who's hungry and has lots of potential and initiative, plus involvement in a broad subset of departments (in a startup, the office manager or a senior person in operations is often a good candidate) and empower them to be the person who facilitates interactions between people and departments, makes sure people have what they need to succeed, and Gets Things Done. So that you don't have to be that person, and can concentrate on your own job. Only do this if you're willing to invest a lot of energy in what's still likely to be a crash-and-burn situation. If it succeeds, this is a huge win for your career, but the chances of success are low.

If that doesn't work and there just plain aren't good people in the company, or everyone at the top is clueless or doesn't care, there's no win to be had here. Get out. Go work with sane people.

We stare at each other weekly. I speak, he nods, agrees with everything and then does nothing expected of him because he didn't understand.

Have you been in a similar situation?

I did something akin to this for four years in my marriage (only substitute weekly screaming fights for staring). Then, we agreed to get divorced, at which point I was finally able to implement the plans we agreed to every week which he promptly sabotaged for four years.


I'm dying to know what the plans were now!

We were homeschooling our 2xE sons. Every weekend, we would agree to let me teach our oldest son math a certain way. Come Monday or Tuesday, the ex would reneg on the deal. Rinse and repeat.

It was in the midst of our roughly 200th argument about teaching math to our son that I asked for a divorce. After that, the ex stayed out of my hair and let me teach as I saw fit.

So, my 30 year old son, who likely has dyscalculia, understands math because his parents got divorced.

Don't look at me that way. Math matters. Geez.

> I did something akin to this for four years in my marriage (only substitute weekly screaming fights for staring).

Ah, the honeymoon phase. So wonderful.

Nah. I was married more than two decades. Actually, the first few years were quite good, which is why we gritted our teeth and put up with each other for so long: We kept holding out hope we could get that back.

Seems to me that you're basically trying to ask us to judge whether you're the problem or the company is.

Here's some questions to help you decide:

1. Does the CEO communicate down clear objectives for your role or are you having to make up your own? - if no this is a bad sign and they might have pulled a bait and switch on you. Ie you've been hired because someone has to run IT and your role is not thought of as a strategic necessity.

2. Do you have the same comms problem with all non technical staff? - if you do maybe it's you... or maybe th departments are very siloed and speak different languages. You know how corporate PR always comes off patronisingly simplistic. Ever wonder why?

3. Is the office full of "shruggers" (those for whom direction doesn't matter). - companies always have survival functions. if those that stay all have the same characteristics this gives you a strong clue about what the place is like.

4. What is it that you can't communicate? Is it structure and process? - if yes this is also a bad sign. There is a generic meta structure to every department and if you can't talk about pipelines, dependencies and projects then chance are he'll never understand you.

Given that you're not just a coder in a suit that doesn't know how to talk to the softer Cs and you find yourself surrounded by placid types and talking about the basics of processes is met with blank stares then I'd expect more of that for the foreseeable future.

I've been in the exact same situation, to a point where it could be me writing the same thing.

Before you judge anyone, get a proper diagnosis. Arrange for one-on-ones with every member of the team, even the ones who have recently quit if you can.

Get them to honestly talk about their opinions. Especially on why they keep failing at their tasks. Make them comfortable, i.e. nobody is getting fired and you're just trying to fix things. Be open and honest with them. There are problems and you'd like their advice on how to handle them.

If everyone says everything is fine, get the hell out.

Otherwise, you should find a few patterns, and this should at least give you a few angles to move on.

It sounds like you two need to have a frank discussion about communication with one another. You are just talking past each other. You can bring it up a few different ways if the CEO is a bit of a snowflake. Otherwise be very direct.

Making sure you communicate in a way other people can understand you is also part of your job. If CEO doesn't know what you do or what you're supposed to be doing, then he fails and you fail.

You are part of the C suite. Go talk to the CEO and communicate your issues and concerns. See how you can help fix them. thats why they brought you onboard (no its not just to write code)

>> The business is sustained by a legacy product but people not knowing what they are doing and failing at their jobs repeatedly

If you are not satisfied with this situation you may have joined a company not matching your expectations. Did you screen the company regarding this issues before signing your contract? Was it clear for you what you are getting involved with?

I am asking because I work for a company "with a legacy product and employees not knowing what they are doing and failing at their jobs" and I knew this when I applied for the job. Now I have my own projects and develop intern tools helping my colleges failing less but I still have to remind myself every single day that joining the company was my own decision. The most of my colleges can't live up to my expectations but it is not their fault.

Prediction: everybody else there feels the same way.

> The business is sustained by a legacy product

That must be providing them with a financial cushion, must be the source of their indifference and the reason they are lackadaisical about what you want to change or get done.

> Have you been in a similar situation?

Not in a work setup, but otherwise each time I have to deal with a customer service.

Sounds like a communication problem.

Are you sure you are not the insane person? Walk away in either case...

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