my coworker makes mistakes that affect my work

A reader writes:

I have a colleague who I depend on for data for a recurring project. Every time the update is due, I schedule check-in meetings weeks in advance and make it explicitly clear that I need X by [date] and Y by [date].

And every. single. time. my colleague slips the deadline, running us down to the wire, so I am scrambling to pull everything together last minute – and sometimes the data are wrong and we haven’t had the chance to QA it and only discover the mistakes months later.

My colleague is always apologetic. He’s a really nice guy, and I like him personally.

It seems like a no-brainer that I need to surface this to my boss or to my colleague’s boss, and it’s stupid that I haven’t done it yet. I’m just at war with myself over how to do this, even though I know that it’s the right thing to do.

Should I have a conversation with him first and let him know that this is unacceptable and that I have to alert my manager or his manager the next time he misses a deadline? Should I just send an email to his manager, CC mine, and not tell him first? Or I could bring it up in my next 1:1 with my manager — but my manager is very, very senior, and I worry that I’m coming to her with a problem and not a solution.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 102 comments… read them below }

  1. Gigi-gogo*

    Off topic, but am I the only who couldn’t get onto the site till now? It kept saying “too many redirections”?

    1. Engineer Woman*

      Yes! I have 2 phones: a personal one and A work phone and I checked both. Gotta get my daily AAM dose.

    1. introverted af*

      I was going to ask about this as well – have you considered giving him an earlier deadline than necessary? If he says something about knowing that the actual deadline is later and why do you need the data so early, I would say something like “Well, yes, the completed project is due XYZ, but we need your piece of the project by ABC to finish the project and do quality control. We can’t actually do any of that if we get the information the same day the project is due.” Or some such.

      That being said, if you’re to the point where you’re escalating to a manager, this likely won’t help much. Best of luck!

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Wait, what? Is OP giving him the project deadline instead of the date when his data is due and expecting him to know when the data is needed based on the project deadline? Because that’s a terrible strategy.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        We have this where I work all the time, and though people do get chastised/sternly talked to for not reaching the fake deadlines, in 10 years, I have never seen anyone get fired for actually not meeting said fake deadlines. I can count on one hand the number of people I have seen fired. 1 was for attendance issues, 1 was for I’m not sure because I wasn’t there, and the rest were for lying on their time cards. But there is no punishment really for missing fake deadlines.

      1. andy*

        Deadline earlier then is absolutely necessary so that you have time to fix errors, push late people and double check is reasonable organization to me.

        Putting deadlines and starting integration at latest possible is how you get panick, stress and errors at the end. 90% of time, so much I wish managers would put buffer in regularly.

        1. epi*

          I totally agree, working backward from deadlines and leaving a buffer is what’s normal best practice. For a complex project or report, you almost always need time for multiple people to review, possibly for suggestions made and integrated, and to actually have time to act on errors if you find them. On some level, this isn’t even about any one person’s deficiencies. Mistakes happen, people with different levels of authority and expertise may have different opinions about the penultimate draft, that’s life.

          I think sometimes people are not assertive enough about doing this all the time. As a result, getting told an early “deadline” instead of the real one feels like being passive aggressively managed because that is the only way some people will pull out this strategy. I have had research administration as part of my job for a long time– basically all the admin stuff that makes a physician or PhD’s research idea actually happen. They *expect* me to pad their deadlines, check their work, and leave time for problem-solving with everyone who contributes to their project. The alternative isn’t more transparent, it’s just poor planning. From experienced people, it looks like not taking the timeliness and quality of the final product seriously.

          1. Laney Boggs*

            It sounds like OP is doing that – *because* coworker sends the data late there isn’t time to do QA checks. Maybe OP could give a deadline for, say, a month ahead instead of two weeks ahead, in hopes that it would be in by a firm two weeks ahead.

        2. Phillip*

          Earlier deadline: yes, totally. Fake deadline (e.g. a deadline that’s assumed will be blown): not a fan. Again I do get it, just a shame this sort of thing has to be done, because some folks blanket apply it to everyone, which can be detrimental.

          1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

            If I’m thinking of the same kinds of fake-deadline-givers as you, they just do it to make you drop everything and prioritise their work. They may not really need it for another month, or know for sure what exactly they need, or indeed that they even actually need it at all, but they’ll scream blue murder about getting it from you that day. I can’t stand that, but once I see it’s a pattern their work goes straight to the bottom of my pile unless specifically instructed otherwise by a higher up.

            Early-deadline-givers on the other hand, are usually sensible and organised planners who are a pleasure to work with.

            1. Phillip*

              Yep, the ones that do it because they don’t trust you with the real info. I absolutely must have this by Friday, hard deadline. (The following Monday rolls around) Actually lets make a few changes. This is ok because the actual hard deadline is a week out. Totally counterproductive.

              Early deadline is just…thats the deadline. You’re talking milestones there, very sensible. My original comment in this thread was a reply to “set an earlier deadline than one for someone more reliable.” That’s a fake deadline, it’s I need it by Wednesday so I’ll tell this guy I need it Monday. Hate that folks have to use em because of situations like this. Because it eventually leads to my first example, applied unilaterally.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Plus, it doesn’t solve that he’s routinely making mistakes in the data, which the OP should look for, yes, but should not be as big a problem as they are. The coworker is straight-up falling down on the job here.

        Also, the problem is that he’s *missing* deadlines. They would probably have the time to QA this if he were getting it to them on time, but he’s not, and giving him a fake deadline may not help if he just can’t make deadlines.

    2. Mel_05*

      Yeah, that’s what I’ve done in the past with unreliable coworkers. It’s effective until they figure out what you’re doing.

      1. KHB*

        Yeah, giving fake deadlines to people like this just trains them to think that all deadlines are fake and can be safely ignored.

        And in OP’s case – where this is an ongoing problem that’s already caused OP to produce deliverables with mistakes in them – it’s long past time to loop in the bosses about what’s going on, because otherwise she’s the one getting penalized for problems that aren’t her fault. OP can try That One Weird Trick for dealing with deadline-missing colleagues, but at this point, she needs to do it in addition to following Alison’s advice, not instead of it.

        1. Mike*

          > Yeah, giving fake deadlines to people like this just trains them to think that all deadlines are fake and can be safely ignored.

          But it isn’t a fake deadline. It is a deadline that provides you with time to complete your work as well as a buffer for issues that may arise. Deadlines should never be set for the minimal time you need. And, if they miss the deadline then you start raising the issue immediately.

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            Exactly. When you think of it as a fake deadline, you’re missing the point. It’s the date by which you need the data in order to follow your own processes, accommodate for technical and process glitches, etc.

            1. Mel_05*

              I think it’s only a fake deadline when other people are so incompetent/tardy that you have to give an excessive amount of time.

              I worked a deadline centric job for a long time and we had our deadlines and our buffer deadlines… but for some people I would give an *extra* buffer deadline. Because the buffer deadline was not enough.

            2. KHB*

              I think they’re actually two different things. Setting a timeline with some slack in it, so that things can go moderately wrong and the project will still get done on time, is smart planning. But the spectrum of “things going moderately wrong” includes things like people getting sick and missing a critical day of work, some part of the project turning out to be more difficult than you’d anticipated, or somebody getting called away from the project to work on something more urgent – and everyone involved understands that these are one-off circumstances. It doesn’t include Cecil missing his deadline because he doesn’t think meeting his deadline is important, or because he thinks “I need it by Thursday” means you really don’t need it until Friday.

              Fake deadlines are when you’ve got a Cecil who thinks that Thursday means Friday, etc., but you (or your manager, or Cecil’s manager, or some combination of the above) don’t want to do the work of disabusing him of that misconception, so you tell him you need it by Wednesday, with the hope that he’ll at least get it to you by Thursday. Which works all right, until he starts thinking that Wednesday actually means Friday, and so on.

              When you’ve got a Cecil who doesn’t take you seriously when you say “I need it by Thursday,” that’s a problem, and it takes some uncomfortable conversations to solve it – somebody needs to face the music and tell Cecil point blank that he’s not satisfactorily meeting his expectations here. It’s nice to think that there’s One Weird Trick you can use to reclaim a functional workflow without having to actually manage the people who need to be managed, but in my experience, I don’t think there is.

              1. andy*

                That happens only when you treat sooner deadline as fake and don’t start pushing for results. But it us not fake deadline, it is point where you need data so that you can do QA.

                When manager treats sooner deadline as fake, it is fake. Which is why it should be treated as real deadline and be real deadline. Because QA is needed.

                Plus, at some point, you need to work with people you have and not with imaginary perfect people. Because when same issue happened fourth time, you really should change approach.

          2. Ms. Ann Thropy*

            OP would have enough time IF the colleague met his responsibilities and his deadlines. Don’t make his lagging the OP’s responsibility to fix.

        2. Artemesia*

          This, the first time it happened there should have been a CTJ with the co-worker laying out the problem and the importance of the deadline and the second time it happened, the OP should have gone to her boss about a strategy. Too late to talk to lazy co-worker — now it needs to go to his boss, her boss and maybe the grandboss. If you don’t deal with a problem like this it becomes your fault even though caused by someone else’s incompetence.

    3. Heidi*

      This might be helpful because it will give the OP time to find the mistakes, but I’d be concerned about a couple of things. 1) If the coworker couldn’t meet the later deadline, what makes us believe he’ll meet an even stricter deadline? 2) It seems like it’s sidestepping the point to build in extra time to correct the coworkers inevitable screw-ups. It accommodates extra work that OP shouldn’t have to be doing in the first place. Unpleasant as it’s going to be, the best hope for a solution involves telling this guy that he’s screwing up and it’s damaging the work and he’s got to get better or there will be consequences. Assuming that the bosses will implement consequences.

    4. Candi*

      The problem is that this is a repetitive project. By now the coworker knows the deadline pattern, so giving them an earlier one is going to look suspicious. And if coworker checks any intranet information or goes to their boss and finds out OP lied? There’s no way that’s going to work out well. If the coworker is malicious enough, they could even use it to hurt OP. (They don’t sound like it, but I tend to be pessimistic.)

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That’s something you do with a friend who’s always late, not a colleagues who can’t get their work done on time. He knows he’s always late, is apologetic and yet STILL can’t seem to get it completed on time. It’s time to escalate this issue. It doesn’t matter if OP likes him personally – he’s negatively affecting their ability to do their job.

    1. It’s Just Me*

      Me too!! I could have written this almost word for word…except my Cecil was a VP who the CEO loved.

    2. KHB*

      Me too. Really Nice Guy Who You Like Personally But Who Is Horrendously Bad At His Job is an extremely common variant of the species Colleagus problematicus.

      The good news is that if this one is anything like the one I work with, you can call him out on his behavior and he’ll still be a Really Nice Guy Who You Like Personally. He might be temporarily annoyed, but he’ll get over it in a few days.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I used to work with nice guy who was bad at his job (or just lazy). Nice guy, but after a years of having management tell me to work on projects that nice guy had not done or had done badly (usually barely done anything), I kinda disliked him personally. (Management knew he was a problem; I don’t know why he kept his job that long.)

        1. Candi*

          There’s letters on here about that. The usual issue is they don’t want to go through the work of hiring, possibly combined with losing budget for that department if they fire and don’t fill the spot.

          Occasionally there’s a dose of nepotism running around.

  2. RVA Cat*

    I have to wonder if there’s something structural that’s also beyond Cecil’s control? It’s entirely possible that something he needs to do his job isn’t readily available, or Bob is making him prioritize another project at the same time?

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I’ve definitely been guilty of harshly judging co-workers and later finding out that someone I thought was stupid, incompetent, lazy, etc was being bottlenecked by their boss, a poorly designed system, etc.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Then he needs to tell OP, *before it’s last minute or late*, Hey, I’m running behind on getting you that data because Myrtle hasn’t gotten it to me yet, or, The deadline for getting the data to you won’t work for me because I have to pull it from the TPS reports, and they don’t come out until the day before you need the data. Or some such.

      If there’s a reason, Cecil needs to (1) tell the OP (2) address it on his end (talk to Myrtle, talk to his boss, see if the TPS reports are actually completed a month before the due date and are just sitting around waiting for Lumbergh to hand them out).

    3. Observer*

      It’s not a matter of judging but of getting the work done.

      If you are correct, this is all the more reason for the OP to bring it to their boss, because then it definitely needs intervention from higher up.

      1. LizM*

        Yup. I’m definitely guilty as a manager of deprioritizing something that’s not important to our group but important to other groups. If no one tells me it’s a problem, I don’t know it’s a problem. I’d want to be looped in here. If there are performance issues, I’d want to address those, but if there are structural issues or questions of priorities, that’s something I’d want to either work out with OP’s manager or even raise with our leadership.

        But the first step is to let me know there is an issue.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          But why would you deprioritise work for another group without speaking to the other group first? If you are running some type of shared services department then the onus is on you to properly understand the priority, value, and impact of the work in your pipeline.

          1. Candi*

            On the one hand, you’re correct.

            On the other, Liz has no way to know it’s a priority for other departments unless they tell her that “this is a priority project for us”. It’s a huge chunk of time to be asking, “Hey, is this a priority project for you” every. single. time. you’re trying to redistribute and assess workloads, especially if illness/injury/buses/lotto enter the mix.

            Communication has to got both ways. Liz needs someone to send out to the other departments “we are assigning these levels of priorities to these projects” and they need to send to her or her appointed contact “we need these projects prioritized in this order.”

          2. LizM*

            Right, and in a perfect world, that’s happening. But misunderstandings happen. I may think I understand the priorities but not realize the work my employee is providing is substandard and creating more work. Or I may have communicated with my manager about priorities, but that that message may not have made it to OP and her manager, and we may have both missed something. Or this came to me on a day that I had to make 1000 different decisions and I meant to check in with OP’s manager and I just forgot.

            The point is, as a manager, I can’t fix something I don’t know about.

            I mean, I get OP’s frustration. In my previous position, I’d frequently have to stay late because someone either didn’t get me their piece on time, or what they gave me was a mess that took a ton of time to clean up, and I still wasn’t given a reprieve on my deadline.

            But I realize now as a manager that I was assuming a lot of what I was seeing was obvious to upper management. Now that I’m in management, I realize it wasn’t.

      2. snoopythedog*

        Came here to echo this sentiment.

        Sometimes your coworker won’t speak up about other priorities or own inter-office politics that are impacting their ability to get stuff done for you. Bringing it to your + their manager’s level for attention can help both of you get what you want. Especially if coworker is a nice guy, he may not want to throw his own boss/department under the bus to you.

        I didn’t realize this was going on once in a project until the person I was working with had to very obviously hint that maybe my boss should talk to their boss so that this project can be prioritized by their higher ups.

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      This is where looping the boss in might help – if Cecil’s boss is part of the issue, letting them know that it is causing issues for other teams might help the situation. I know several former colleagues who didn’t feel they could say no to their boss even though they were so overloaded it was causing a domino effect on other teams. Funnily enough it wasn’t due to a demanding boss, just one that figured he hired adults who could manage their priorities and would ask if they needed help, combined with a team that wasn’t great at saying no to him.

    5. Nom de Plume*

      Honestly, I’m tired of expending energy and doing mental gymnastics to come up with Reasons why someone else isn’t doing something they are supposed to be doing. If there is a structural reason why Cecil can’t deliver something by the deadline, it’s on them to tell the OP. It shouldn’t be the OP’s job to think, “Well maybe there are Reasonable Reasons why Cecil is always late and also inaccurate.”

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        And it doesn’t matter anyway. OP needs on-time, accurate data. OP is not getting on-time, accurate data. The problem may be “Cecil is bad at his job” or it may be “Cecil is being pulled around by circumstances beyond his control,” but either way, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

      2. RagingADHD*


        And if everyone would just **say something,** then LW would already know about issues like that.

        Coworker could pull their thumb out of their butt and say, “Hey LW, I know the deadline is tomorrow, but I’m stuck waiting on XYZ, is there anything I can partially deliver that would be helpful?”

        Or LW could say, “Hey coworker, this keeps happening, what’s the holdup?”

        There is absolutely no point and no virtue in avoiding the conversation and guessing why this might be happening. It’s a freaking *conversation*, not a punch in the face.

    6. epi*

      It’s possible, but even then, saying something to Cecil can still help fix it.

      If Cecil is a great guy who doesn’t want to cause problems for his coworkers, tactfully saying “hey you’re actually the bottleneck here” will make an impression. If someone else is the bottleneck relative to Cecil, he can bring them the same message. “Hey I’ve been letting the late data from this division slide, but I learned from Department X that actually, we are causing them problems.”

      Lots of people are overworked, picking their battles, and taking the slack from things that they know aren’t quite as high a priority as they might look. For people who are just doing their best, “hey this is affecting my work” should change the priority.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      In my experience, Bob’s priority list might not include OP’s project at all. In which case it’s even more a case for OP’s boss to talk to Bob about the problem.

    8. Erstwhile Lurker*

      I’d say there may be a good chance that this is happening. either that or there are issues internal to his team that aren’t known to people downstream. I would say raise it with his manager. Or if you are at the same level of seniority to him, get your manager to raise it with his.

  3. AndersonDarling*

    The OP needs to bring in their manager to talk to Cecil’s manager because there may be something else going on that is beyond Cecil’s power to fix. The first reaction is that Cecil is making mistakes, but it’s possible that he has been telling his boss that he doesn’t have enough time/resources to collect this data but the boss has been directing him to other projects anyway. Or the data collection process may be very chaotic and needs to be refined, and only a manager can put in a ticket to get an automated report budgeted.
    If it’s a good company, the response shouldn’t automatically be that Cecil is dropping the ball, but that if this data is so important, then there needs to be a better process to support it. And only managers and above can make the changes necessary to make an improved process.

  4. Mike*

    Regardless of who is supplying the data their deadline to you should include a buffer so that if they don’t deliver it by the deadline you have time for interventions. If they are delivering it on time then you immediately loop in management. And since this person is unreliable that buffer needs to be bigger than a reliable person. But there should always be a buffer.

  5. KayEss*

    Well, probably don’t do what I did when I had a similar job situation, which was “COMPLETELY lose your shit in a meeting with three levels of management present and publicly refuse to meet the deadline under the unreasonable conditions created by other people’s indifference.”

    In my defense, every level of management present was aware of the issue, but the ones who could actually do something to rectify it didn’t care enough to do so even though it was happening multiple times per month. We were also understaffed due to layoffs, so “you need to drop everything and turn this around in 2 days because we couldn’t be bothered to plan ahead AGAIN” landed particularly badly. But it was still… a very bad handling of things. I did keep my job, but I think there was a good bit of weighing whether or not they could do without me (not easily) vs. how much I had embarrassed my boss’s boss in front of HER boss (a lot).

    A couple months later, the department was dissolved and those of us who hadn’t fled the already-sinking ship were laid off. Sometimes I wonder if my outburst may have influenced the timing of that decision.

    1. SweetestCin*

      In my case, it took exactly this to get the issues remedied. It was so far out of my typical behavior, that both levels of supervision/ownership took it for what it was: “you buttheads are not listening when I say that I can’t do the work of five people with the deadlines given, you need to fix this!”

      Small business, was a touch dysfunctional.

  6. Brett*

    From a data handling side, there are a lot of missing pieces here. Filling in those missing pieces might be the solution you can bring to your boss. Also, it might be easier to think of this problem is involving Cecil’s _team_ rather than just Cecil (in which case escalation is perfectly reasonable).
    Is Cecil responsible for the data production, for the data transfer, for the data QA/QC, for the metadata? Does he have other team members who can responsible for other parts of this?

    If he is responsible for all four steps (and I did not even see mention of metadata), then the process itself is broken. This is the sort of situation where you would normally have a data steward involved to manage the process and handle metadata, and potentially qaqc or even transfer. Then you would have a data engineer (likely Cecil’s role?) who would handle data production and maybe data transfer, but not qa/qc.

    And that comes to looking at what Cecil’s role is and what his team is supposed to be providing. If Cecil is doing any of these data steps outside of his normal role or his team’s normal responsibilities, it might be as simple as a high priority task for the OP being a low priority task for Cecil’s team and boss. (And if it is a low priority for Bob as well, then it might have to be solved from your end.)

    If it is Cecil’s and Bob’s team that is failing to meet responsibilities and priorities (and not just Cecil) then it makes sense to have Jane help solve this and not solve this yourself.

    1. J.B.*

      Not all industries are going to have that much metadata. If Cecil were, say an accountant providing quarterly numbers, then he may have access to a system that the letter writer doesn’t. The process would be broken and best solved by some form of automation — but the word metadata would probably make people go blank.

      1. Brett*

        Even without the metadata side, this is still a situation that screams for time from a data steward who is responsible for the final data delivery.
        Similarly, if Cecil is an accountant providing quarterly numbers, then the system is broken on the other end with data engineering. Cecil should provide the process, but he should not be providing the execution or delivery of the numbers and that is where you would want a data engineer’s time. That might sound overly complicated, but good data processes are used precisely to avoid the problems that the OP is experiencing.

        All of these give Jane a reason to talk to Bob beyond just Cecil’s performance.

    2. I am Cecil*

      This is pretty much what I came in here to say. I am a consultant data manager with a client who routinely changes what they want me to report on each month and how they wanted it reported. With every re-design I have to re-design the automation, and that takes time. I can just dump raw data in and have it captured in the tables and reports where it’s needed but I have never gotten to use a report design twice. Everything I automate each month needs to be re-visited the following month, and if the numbers don’t “look right” I’m asked to re-check everything. I am sure I am Cecil to the person at the end of the client chain who needs my data to do her own reporting to her manager, but her colleagues are the reason I can’t estimate when I’ll have it ready.

  7. Fikly*

    This seems like a classic “they nice, so I don’t want to get them in trouble,” issue.

    But by not addressing it, you’re left holding the bag. If he’s apologizing, he in theory recognizes he’s causing a problem, so if he was really being nice about it, and was honestly incapable of doing better on his own, wouldn’t he be looping in his own manager to help him figure out how not cause you problems?

    1. tangerineRose*

      Since this has been late before, I wonder if this means that the LW has just taken the blame? I wouldn’t have.

  8. Heidi*

    Before bringing it up to the boss, I’d recommend putting together an itemized list. When was the deadline? How far outside the deadline was the work completed? What errors were made? What were the consequences of the errors? How much time have you spent correcting the errors? What types of work did you have to delay in order to fix errors? It’s harder to sweep issues under the rug if you can point out that a specific mistake cost money or that a missed deadline cost you a client. If you just say, “Coworker is always late!” that doesn’t really convey the impact of the problem as much.

      1. Heidi*

        Thanks! I’ve found this helpful over the years. There are only two things that I don’t love about this strategy: 1) It’s time consuming. 2) Some people will start to think of you as “that rigid b**ch who’s always keeping score.” When I do this, I scrutinize my complaints closely to make sure that they reflect real problems that the company cares about and not just how I’ve been personally inconvenienced or annoyed.

        1. Brett*

          I’ve found that you can avoid (2) by addressing it also as a risk analysis rather than just a retrospective of what went wrong, e.g. “Based on past outcomes that lead to x,y,x, the risk for this year is this amount of time, this error rate, and this level of delays.”
          Getting the numbers can be time consuming, but once you have a standard format it can take only 30 minutes to put something like this together.

  9. MCMonkeyBean*

    I’ve seen in the comments here that apparently at a lot of offices using “CC” is seen as super passive aggressive, but at both places where I’ve worked it’s pretty normal (and I’ve even had multiple managers ask me to CC them more often). If someone was chronically late with important data, I would probably send the initial request just to them and then once you’ve reached the first deadline, I would send a followup and CC their boss.

    I actually did have a situation many many years ago where someone I had to deal with regularly was generally not responsive but it was really important that he sent us certain information ASAP so I started CC-ing their manager on every request for that particular data, and unsurprisingly they started actually responding to the requests.

    1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      I take the CC route all the time, copying our manager on all emails where our Cecil has been late in turning something in or inquiring about he constant mistakes Cecil makes. Trouble is, CC only works if your manager actually reads their emails, which ours doesn’t. Or takes weeks or months to get around to them. Or reads only the subject line and not the body of the email. It’s so frustrating.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      I will start CC-ing my and their manager usually after 2 incidences. In this case, I would CC both managers in the initial request with a note along the lines of “Cecil, I also copied in Jane and Bob since we’ve had issues with this report the last 2 runs. Hopefully they will be able to help pinpoint any additional resources to ensure the data is available on-time and error-free.” Notifies management there is a problem without seeming to throw Cecil under the bus.
      Ideally, OP would also talk to their manager before their email as maybe she can provide some insight or another avenue to take.

    3. Zona the Great*

      Yep me too. I don’t get paid enough nor do I have the professional capital to manage my Dany. CC all day.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I worked with a developer at my last job who would ignore any emails I sent UNLESS I CC’d his manager. Might seem passive aggressive, but it was the only way he would respond.

  10. Moxie*

    This is only slightly off topic, but can I gripe a little about the “bring solutions, not problems” paradigm? I worked at a terrible startup once where management basically said this on repeat. And a lot of things were really, really messed up because the lower level staff, who were aware of the issues, were afraid to raise them. A lot of times the solutions (or even the ability to identify possible solutions) is above my pay grade/ability/vantage point/authority. And sometimes the solution is “I need you to get on this persons case,” but that seems like a thing I can’t/shouldn’t say to my manager.

    As an aside, my current manager was so irritated with staff griping to each other about various issues, he sent out a memo saying, “If you want to complain, please complain to me. I can’t fix things I don’t know about!”

    I have taken him up on that, with success. This is why I’ll never leave this company and I don’t know what I’ll do if he ever leaves!

    1. Lyudie*

      YES I had a manager who said this once and I suddenly felt less like she had my back. So I couldn’t come to her with an issue and ask how we can solve it if I don’t already have the solution? I felt like I couldn’t be as open with her after she made that comment.

    2. Orange You Glad*

      “If you want to complain, please complain to me. I can’t fix things I don’t know about!”

      Not work related, but I volunteer as an advisor to an organization at a local university. I have to repeat the above at least once a month because they always let issues fester until they explode and then expect me to come in and “lay down the law” to fix it. I’m there to advise, not manage. If I know about issues early on, they can be nipped in the bud before they escalate and I can help the students learn to work through the issues themselves in the future. It’s never good getting a last minute surprise that adversely affects the whole organization.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      About that last line…. if he ever leaves, would you apply for his position? You could then give your staff the same ongoing excellent support.

      1. Moxie*

        That’s a good point. I’ve seen a mix of good and bad management and am probably better for it (and better able to manage someday, possibly). I should start taking notes.

    4. Anon attorney*

      I agree that the bring me solutions thing can be irritating. I have had some success with “I have tried X and Y but this is one of those situations that requires positional power to resolve: please could you do Z?”

    5. Avasarala*

      I totally agree. It seems to me kind of a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” type phrase, where it has a literal meaning now, but was originally an ironic phrase to describe something impossible. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, physically. And if I knew the solution to every problem then I wouldn’t have a problem, would I? Sometimes I’ve identified a problem and don’t know what to do about it!

  11. Amethystmoon*

    Eh, it depends on the boss on this 0ne. Add me to the list of those who’ve had a coworker mess up stuff for well over a year, and brought it to the boss’s attention when OT was needed to fix coworker’s mistakes (because for whatever odd reason, coworker couldn’t be asked to fix his own mistakes). After two and a half years, he kept asking routine stuff like what did the name of our shared e-mail address mean (hello, you’ve been responding to it for 2 and a half years and were told that on the first day), and a help file was created just for him at his own request, but he never read it. It was not the only reason I wound up leaving that job, but it was definitely in the top 5.

  12. Samantha*

    OP are you my coworker who actually had to walk over to my team lead Fergus’ desk last week and remind him you need project teapot by EOD today, not tomorrow?? Did Fergus respond with some sob story how he has so many emails and he gets stressed when he can’t get to them all??? Did Fergus then follow you into the kitchen where he proceeded to tell jokes and laugh with you????

    Although I have to say I’m team Fergus at this point. If his boss (in another office location and in charge of our department) and my boss (other team lead) are afraid to address his recurring inability to prioritize and meet deadlines and instead make the rest of us do his tasks and have to remind him of said deadlines, then they deserve an inefficient department with a poor work output. I’ve never met someone who obfuscates so much, and it seems like everyone else is dazzled by his good looks, height and ability to suck up to upper management.

    I put in my 2-weeks last week. Good riddance.

  13. Mannheim Steamroller*

    My colleague is always apologetic.

    There have been times when I’ve wanted to shout, “Don’t be sorry. Be correct.” Of course, you can’t say it that way (or can you?), but definitely find a diplomatic way of conveying that message.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would get to a breaking point where my smart ass would say something like “An apology doesn’t help me get my work done on time.”

  14. LizM*

    Ideally, you’re right. But sometimes we have to make quick decisions about priorities, and I’m assuming that conversations at my level or with my manager are sufficient, but they’re not making it to the peopl

  15. LizM*

    I’m sorry, my browser went nuts and I accidentally hit post in the middle of a thought. Also, this is supposed to be a reply above. I’m not sure if there is any way to delete it here. Otherwise, please ignore.

  16. It's a New Day!*

    From a participatory management viewpoint I think sitting down with him to discuss the process involved in him accumulating the needed data would be a good first step. I did not see this mentioned (as in actively solicitating his participation, rather than just discussing problems in his performance with the threat of bringing in higher ups). Usually involving people in problem solving and decision making leads to better decisions and more buy in all around.

    There could be something that is holding him up, that he doesn’t even think could be fixed. Or maybe he doesn’t understand how it all goes together.

    I had a job were the same data needed to be entered in different ways in three different places for three different reporting periods. And yet what was visible to others was that there was uncertainty in my reporting in one figure derived from all of these different entries… no many times I went over it. It wasn’t a crucial number, but accountants like things to be precise.

    Sooo…. I’d start with a sit-down, or even a coffee meeting, with the staff member, and then go from there, bringing in other people as necessary to support his work so that yours can be accurate.

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