Beware of “Bring Me Another Rock” Managers!| Clarify Direction. Provoke Decisions.

They make us think we’re the problem. We produce work our managers assign and they throw it back.

“Revise this,” they say.

“What am I missing?” we ask.

“It doesn’t quite address the issues,” they answer. “When it’s right, I’ll know it.”

We go back to our desks deflated, believing that somehow we’re just not grasping things. We still don’t have a clear idea of how to “fix” anything.  We start to worry that our career will suffer because of this.  We’re bummed.

Take heart! It’s not about you! 

Let’s look at the logic: You get an assignment from your boss. You’ve asked clarifying questions about what is expected and taken notes.

You do the work, checking it against the direction you received. You even ask questions along the way to make sure you’re on the right path.

But when you submit your work, you’re told to rework it. After you make those changes, you’re told to make new ones—again and again!

In all likelihood, your boss is figuring out his/her direction on the fly, using the work you’re doing to put the pieces together.

These managers keep us busy turning over and retrieving one rock after another until they see the one they think they’ve been looking for.

I’ve had bosses like this and it’s maddening. Why? Because the boss has you jumping though hoops as a result of his/her inability to:

  • Provide clear direction
  • Make timely decisions 

“Bring me another rock” managers (BMARM) are costly. 

They spin everyone’s wheels. A spinning wheel makes no progress. In business that means spending time and money getting nowhere.

In addition to frustrating you, these managers frustrate the business like this:

Hiring Fiascos 

The BMARM needs to fill a vacancy. S/he writes a job posting and human resources posts it. Qualified candidate interviews are scheduled but no one is selected. The BMARM tells HR the candidates “aren’t quite right.”

Question: “What are you looking for in a candidate?”

Answer: “I’ll know the right person when I see him/her.”

So HR keeps providing additional candidates (rocks) until the manager finally figures out what s/he really wants the job to be. The issue is the manager’s inability to decide on the scope of the job and his/her failure to make good management decisions in a timely way.

Requests for Proposal 

A manager needs to contract with an outside service. Prospective bidders receive a request for proposal (RFP).  Significant time and cost go into developing these bid submissions.

Managers who don’t really know what they want float RFPs with general specifications, believing they’ll know “when they see it” which is the best choice. In some cases, when they “suspect they see it,” they will request additional information (rocks).

Often these RFP’s get deferred or cancelled. If accepted, they can be fraught with difficulties because the BMARM wants to keep modifying the terms.

A manager’s inability to make decisions is a serious problem.

Dodge the rock pile! 

Inquiry is your best defense again the request for rocks. When given an assignment, be relentless about clarity. Here are a few things that you need to get straight from the beginning. Ask:

  • What’s driving the assignment? Who’s invested?
  • What’s the purpose? The time frame?
  • What’s the scope? The boundaries?
  • What actions are expected? 

Turn these answers into a written project overview and get your boss to give the okay before you start. Each time there’s a change, write it down and validate it again with your boss.

Protect yourself.

The object is to minimize your rock collecting. If it happens anyway, you will, at least, have a clear record that what you did was based on approved direction.

I’ve been in this boat and have had projects that went nowhere. But I was always sure that the non-result was no reflection on me. Feeling business fit always made my load feel lighter.

Do you have a BMAR manager that you had to deal with? How did it go? Any tips to share?