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The Insider: Pushing back or shutting up

Complaining when work’s dumped on you isn’t a good idea, says Hugh Karseras, author and banker. That doesn’t mean you can’t get away with it.

A few months ago there was an email exchange posted on eFinancialCareers between an analyst and an associate that stimulated substantial debate. The nub of the issue was that an analyst, tired of having work dumped on him, complained to an associate who responded aggressively and negatively. Who was the jerk? It’s irrelevant. In this kind of situation all that matters is who has the most political capital, because politics define how much freedom each individual has to get their own way.

If you’re an analyst in the first three months out of the training programme you’d be naïve to complain about workloads to an associate. Even if justified – and even if things appear to end amicably – complaining only offers downside. Come review time, it’s highly likely the associate will be asked to comment on you and if you’ve complained to them, their comments will be tainted with negative undertones. Admittedly, you could comment negatively on the associate too, but anyone who thinks upward feedback counts as much as downward feedback is kidding themselves.

Perceptions and reviews are hardly built on a scientifically robust set of data and a couple of negative comments are all it takes to earn a label you do not want – that of being an under-performer. Once earned, this label is very hard to change.

However, if you’re a late second-year analyst and you’ve earned your stripes (i.e. you’ve earned the respect of the directors and MDs) and if the associate doing the dumping is fresh out of an MBA course or has had known performance issues, you’ll be in a position of strength. The associate makes unreasonable demands? Tell them to stick it – you’re not there to compensate for his or her shortcomings.

I remember a specific situation where it was actually a second-year analyst who dumped a pitchbook on a first year associate, fresh out of none other than Harvard Business School. Both understood their political capital. The second year analyst was a star and knew the associate was a newbie so he got to go home early at no personal cost. The associate ended up staying all night, but knew that delivering was the best way to improve his own political capital. Both understood the territory and both ended up doing well.

Judging by the language in the email exchange I referred to above, neither was entirely new in their role – and so I tend to side with those of you who thought the analyst should suck it up – my guess is that the associate has the greater political capital by virtue of simple seniority. Better for the analyst to bite the bullet than irritate the associate – particularly as this was a five minute bullet to bite, not an all-nighter such as a last minute pitchbook or emergency revamp of a valuation model.

Push back – yes; but watch when you do it.

· Get 10% off Hugh Karseras’ book From New Recruit to High-Flyer from www.kogan-page.co.uk. Add the book to your basket and enter code MF290 before proceeding to checkout.

Comments (11)

  1. This is what I don’t like in M&A, when people lose respect of each other. May be I am being naive but it happened just once to me when I was an AN1 with an Associate not to have a v. good “fit”, and once I received also a pretty nasty email to which I shut up and didn’t reply. Well then you grow up, and you get used to the idiocy of some people, it still happens, although rarely.

    I think the first thing you need at work is respect and being open to each other if something doesn’t work is the best way to solve any issues. You can push back, and sometimes you have to, but you always need to be reasonable in judging the requests received, in any side you are.

    And as an Associate now, who has worked as an Analyst, I think an individual should be more understandable of when a request is fair and real, and not think “ok i was treated this way, so now it’s my turn”, otherwise M&A will always be a horrible environment. Change starts from little things. Again, I might be naive, but it’s the way i see it.

  2. one of the more interesting articles I have read, certainly more interesting than all the hype and non-sense about dubai becoming the next financial centre (yawn yawn)

  3. No matter how bad it gets, for 99% of the time, no employee should ever make unfriendly comments about people above them. Superiors rarely side with, believe or listen to inferiors. The only exceptions are if your boss is family or close relative. Otherwise, best to keep one’s trap shut and look around for alternative employers.

    MBA & CFA Grad Reply
  4. One would hope that everybody would show the necessary maturity and professionalism, and that people desist from abusing positions of power. “Just because I could”, anyone?

  5. Agreed with Anon, Hedge fund. One of the better articles on this site as it offers practical advice instead of the theoretical “how to gain work life balance whilst working 100 hours a week” or “how to write the perfect cv” articles.

    Would be grateful for more articles offering practical advice!

  6. I’d just like to say that the political capital approach is more valid in large banks. Not so long ago I was working in a boutique investment bank and found the hard way that being a star, having more years experience within the firm and being more senior does not guarantee that the political capital approach will prevail.

    In fact when an analyst with a record of underperformance dumped work on me (I had 3 years more experience than her) and I pushed back I found out that she had an immense amount of covert political capital due to being a hire sponsored by a senior partner which took it on personally to defend her. When I expressed my concerns during a performance review despite he never questioned my argument for her underperformance and lack of commitment he refused to take my comments seriously.

    Soon I discovered that in a small organization a senior partner can act as both judge and jury effectively assigning whatever political values he sees fit. In my case I saw his hostility persisting over time and my chances of advancement drifting away despite my hard work. In the meantime she not only enjoyed protection from dumping stuff at everybody but also became an associate.

  7. I agree with Jonathan, I suspect the analyst in that email exchange is probably the son of an senior officer in ECB or his father is CEO/CFO of a very important institutional client of the investment bank …

  8. I would just play the race card. works every time.

  9. There are things called:
    – function (look in your job description)
    – rights (authority)
    – responsibility areas
    – organisation chart (1 boss per ca 7 employees)

    If the above is not present, then you MBA folks and PHDs haven’t really studied much at university.

    You don’t just get a pitch-book on your desk…
    You don’t just get upset on people around you…
    You work in a well defined area of your company. Your boss plans your time. At pitch time everyone knows his/her function and you know yourself what you have to accomplish.

    It is so stupid. You don’t just go around and tread people with feelings…
    Read some organisation theory… (not socialist or communist ones… but capitalist ones)

  10. Moan moan moan.There is nothing wrong with nepotism,if you don’t like the environment -leave.There are hundreds of people who would willingly take your job and put up with worse conditions.Get real guys.

  11. Your boss just wants that the job is done. Whereas it is you or your coworker that does it, it deosn’t matter for him/her. It is up to you to go where you wanna be. You have to be firm and strong with what you can, connot, want or doesn’t want to do. You must do very well what you like and do the minimum required for things you don’t like. Avoid confrontations with any bosses. And do not forget, the more you give the more likely you will get…

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