Who Do You Work For?


SB doesn’t know who he works for. As a development manager for a real-estate project I consult with, he must take direction from three people: a profit-center manager, a project manager, and me. Most of the time, our advice and recommendations are congruent. Sometimes, however, we disagree. And when we do, it throws SB into a frenzy.

His focus has always been on accomplishing the jobs that have been given him — no matter what. He does his best to sort out the differences and get a consensus, but the process is frustrating and the consequences sometimes questionable.

Occasionally, when he’s working hard to get some project completed or resolve a crisis, he’s even been known to neglect or even mistreat our customers. I was, of course, appalled to learn that he would do so, and we had several talks about it. But he never seemed to get it.

SB complains about getting mixed messages …being confused … being overworked. At the same time, he works hard on the work he understands and does a very good job of it. The people who work directly for him are very happy with his leadership, and the result of his work is almost always very good.

SB’s mistake is in not understanding who he really works for: his customers. Every dollar his business earns comes from them. Their money funds his paychecks, the paychecks of his bosses, and the paychecks of the people who work under him. It funds the rent, the electric bills, the health insurance, and everything else.

SB needs to recognize that his primary responsibility is to his customers. How can he improve the service they get? How can he make their buying experience easier, faster, and more rewarding?

By focusing on what is best for them, he can reduce the amount of confusion and conflict he experiences by having three supervisors.

Are you in a similar situation? Are you getting conflicting advice from the people you work for? You can usually determine the right thing to do by understanding what would be best for your customers.