Carbon Copy His Manager

"If you want Bob to e-mail you back, CarbonCopyHisManager."

AntiPattern Name: CarbonCopyHisManager

Type: Organizational

Problem: Bob ignores your legitimate requests. For example, you email a request to add a user to the system, but Joe typically seems to ignore such requests. Or he at least delays them "an unreasonably long time."

Context: Bob is part of some service organization. He's responsible for providing the service you request (and probably others).

Forces: Bob (and probably all his peers) are probably very busy, and constantly barraged with requests -- more than they can reasonably handle.

Supposed Solution: When you email a request to Bob, CarbonCopyHisManager. (In other words, go directly to invoking authority to force Bob to do his job--performing this request for you.)

Resulting Context:


Design Rationale: [rationale]

Related AntiPatterns:

Applicable Positive Patterns:

AntiPatternCategory: [classify it]

Also Known As: [other names]

Examples in the Literature:

Examples in Practice:

It probably is a form of organizational dysfunction. If a member of the organization doesn't respond to communiques, it either means that that person is overwhelmed with work or e-mail and can't make a suitable response to all of it, or possibly that the question is misdirected or improper.

Further, the idea that the questioner must CarbonCopyHisManager indicates that the recipient either places more value on looking good in front of his boss than in being helpful to co-workers. The CarbonCopyHisManager can be viewed as an implied threat; that the recipient of the e-mail will be defamed in front of his boss, or that the manager will have something to answer for to her superiors. It's an ugly environment where this sort of thing is necessary.

I'm having trouble following the precise logic here. Are you saying, that if you have to CC a manager in order to get a response from anyone at all, that's an indication of a problem with the organization? That would perhaps be true, but I've never heard of such an organization.

Or do you mean, if there's ever even one individual who won't respond unless you CC their manager, then it's a problem with the organization? In which case I strongly disagree. If there's only one such person, then it's more likely to have something to do with that very person, in the absence of further information.

Some people are just really disorganized. Or may have a covert (or not so covert) dislike for the email sender. Yet one may really need an answer. One then CC's the manager very much as a threat. It means "Look, this is important, I don't care what your reason is for not responding, fix it, get over it, respond, or else I will continue escalating this through management until I get the information I need to do my job. Ignore me at your peril; I need this and I'm not going away."

Is that ugly? Sure. But they brought it on themselves by ignoring you when you really needed a response.

Should this tactic be used as something of a last resort? Yes, but it's not clear to me that that makes it a smell or an antipattern. My experience is that it's almost always used as a last resort.

Also, it depends on context whether this is a really heavy slam or a very light slam. Sometimes if you know the manager well, and you both know that the person is sometimes bad at responding, CCing can just be a way of saying "hey, Sam, Joe is being slow again, you're his manager, it's your job to prod him now -- thanks." Whereas if you don't know either individual personally and they work at a different company for which you are a customer, it might be a really heavy slam. Depends.

There are, of course, some few individuals who are in a bad mood or permanently socially dysfunctional or something, who use threats of this or other sorts right from the beginning, when they are in fact unnecessary, but (A) this is comparatively rare, and (B) the smell or anti-pattern in such cases is the person being socially dysfunctional, not the random negative actions they select as a result of being dysfunctional. If it weren't CC'ing a manager, it would be something else, like flaming or going postal or something.

I accept all commentary that resulted because I was too vague. The quote was from a fairly high-level manager concerning someone (presumably) outside of her group / feifdom. I fully agree that it is a problem with the person if that's what it takes to get them to respond, but its a dysfunction of the organization that this is known and (presumably) tolerated behavior. -- AndrewMccormick

Ok. Now say that there is such a person in the organization, and that they generally do a good job, but the reason they don't tend to reply is that they are very busy with other things, and they're a touch disorganized. Assume further that this has been discussed with them and they say they have tried but find it difficult to consistently do better. Now what should happen?

CarbonCopyHisManager and/or CarbonCopyYourManager seem like a reasonable way to escalate the situation when someone doesn't respond to your request. Other approaches, such as TalkToHimDirectly or TalkToYourManager, are more disruptive since they interrupt someone else's concentration.

The corporate culture may determine whether CarbonCopyHisManager is acceptable. From my perspective, it's the easiest way to send the message that a request is high priority and time critical. One of my coworkers, who does admin/finance/HR stuff, told me that CarbonCopyHisManager was rude. She, on the other hand, followed the BlindCarbonCopyYourManager strategy, which strikes me as underhanded.

The necessity for written communication

This is something that is often passed over in organizations, treating bad communication habits as a matter of "style" when it really is vital to the correct functioning of a group of any size.

You gotta answer your mail. You gotta make sure the right people are informed. Verbal communication as a way of conducting business is a form of insanity. It ensures there's no memory of what was agreed, what was asked, what was ordered. No memory = craziness. Written communication is essential. This isn't something you do as an afterthought. One of the most effective places I worked had this as fundamental staff policy, not just something for engineers.

Now, whether you copy somebody's boss is a matter of agreed structure and internal policy, but if that becomes the trigger for getting answers, that's pretty broken.

Habitual communications failures on the part of an individual are disruptive to the point where, in a good-sized organization, its a discipline thing. It might be okay in "Mavericks Inc" with 6 staff and a GunSlinger work ethic, but amnesia is really intolerable for a business of any size.

-- GarryHamilton

Another use is when a hostile person points out a bug or defect in your work and unnecessarily CC's your boss or someone higher up than you, just to make you look bad. You can use revenge to do the same thing to them the next time they do a mistake). But the best solution is to immediately confront them in person (or on phone) and ask them if they have a problem to speak to you directly. That usually resolves it because many people are inherently more hostile when anonymous or protected by email distance.


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