You’ve been asked to influence global leaders across Asia, Europe and North America to replace localized staffing processes with a uniform, centralized one. You’re not given a travel budget.
You’ve been asked to deliver custom services to a key client, which were sold by a Sales Team in another region who have never used the product.
You’ve been asked to enforce a new mandatory regulation, but haven’t been given status in the organization, nor public support by the head of the company.
What do all these have in common? You are set up to fail.
It happens more than you think. Leaders may have great ideas, but lack the strategic thinking to set up their employees for success. Unfortunately, when outcomes aren’t achieved, the easy answer is pointing to the employee as the scapegoat. This allows leaders to shirk responsibility and avoid the tough questions. What can you do?
- Avoid getting into this position. It’s tempting to jump at a promotion or high-visibility project. Before accepting, ask the deeper questions: What tangible support will there be from leadership? Are the appropriate resources allocated? Are key partnerships in place? How will roadblocks be handled?
- Ask for what you need. If you’re already knee-deep in a “set-to-fail” situation, schedule a meeting with your boss ASAP. Be clear and direct about what you need to succeed, reminding her that a win benefits everyone.
- Get creative. Necessity is the mother of invention. Getting boxed into a corner can be a fortuitous way to discover novel solutions. Find influencers in the organization to partner with, dip into untapped resources, try the unimaginable. When you have nothing to lose, it’s easier to take risks.
- CYA. When you notice things going South, document your actions, progress, setbacks and attempts to solve the problems. This may not save you, but it might allow a transition to another role in the company, or at least an amicable departure.
- Plan a graceful exit. If all else fails, leaving may be your best option. Sometimes things just spiral out of control and become irreparable. Give adequate notice, tie up the loose ends, and transition the project.
It’s not unusual for companies to abandon an initiative once the core employee leaves since they recognize in hindsight it was set up to fail. Although that knowledge may not be comforting after the fact, it may help bolster your confidence for your job hunt.