How Smart Managers Throw Employees Under the Bus
March 24, 2015

How Smart Managers Throw Employees Under the Bus

by Brian de Haaff

Your co-worker just made another terrible mistake. And you are going to suffer because of it. You both look bad now, and you are tired of being frowned upon for his incompetence. And let’s get real, no one ever got promoted for failing fast. Failing is for losers. So, it’s time he is exposed as the loser he is. You are ready for vengeance.

Let me share a quick story. And I am sure you have your own. You have probably flung a few folks around over the years and found yourself under the bus as well.

We were planning a major launch of a new iOS application and had a few dozen influential media partners and analysts lined up to speak with. We also were going to be demo-ing the mobile app at a major industry event. But approval for the application seemed to be stalled and there were only a few days left before the launch. And the reason it never came is because it was not submitted to Apple for review. The person responsible for submitting it….”forgot.”


I was ultimately responsible for getting the app approved and successfully launching it. And I really wanted to take a screenshot that proved that the app was never submitted on time and blast it out to the team. In it, I was going to ask (let’s call him Stan) why he never submitted the request. And yes, the GM was going to be cc’d.

But here is what I did. I laid down under the bus with him. It was not because I was a martyr, but because it was the fastest way to avoid a collective team meltdown and fix the situation.

At the end of the day everyone figured out who messed up, so there was no good reason to focus on that. Here is how I handled the situation. I…

Pointed at myself Many of our team members were in different cities and so we were communicating via email and IM trying to hit an aggressive launch date. There was a detailed project plan and weekly meetings with notes, but none of that helped once we missed the planned submission date. But, because I was responsible for the overall project, I explained that I should have checked that it was submitted.

Documented the truth I quickly crafted an email that placed no blame and explained what had happened and how the team missed the submission date for review. I called Stan first to explain why I was going to send it out and then sent it to a wide distribution that needed to know what happened and what we were going to do about it.

Proposed solutions As part of the communication, I provided three different options to address the problem — including asking for an accelerated review of the app by Apple. I estimated the chances of success for each option and explained the general advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

We ended up getting an accelerated review of the mobile app. It was rejected for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with our late submission date. The app was not ready to be demoed live at the event, but we used a few PPT slides to explain what was coming via screenshots and started registering interested customers via a website.

We conducted our press and analyst briefings as scheduled. The launch was well received and when the app was ready a few weeks later, it quickly became #1 in its category.

Screwing up is not abnormal in the office, nor is it unusual. It can even be ultimately productive when problems are quickly identified, solved, and learned from.

The key is to explain what’s gone wrong, document why it happened, and identify productive next steps. That’s how to throw your colleague under the bus and lay down in front of him to absorb the impact.

The bus will take care of the rest.

What kind of bus has run over you?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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