Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How to Get the Boss To Listen to You

Do you sometimes think you've become the invisible employee? Do you think the only way your boss might pay attention to you is if you were holding a phone and saying: "I've got Oprah on the line for you!"

You're not alone. Many people have felt ignored by their managers, but they are really beginning to fret more about it these days because they fear that "out of mind" may mean "out of a job" if layoffs hit their workplace.

Unfortunately, some employees go about getting attention in the wrong way. They begin to slack, believing that if the boss doesn't pay any attention to them, what does it matter what they do? Or, they may believe the boss's inattention gives them license to sort of "creatively" handle their job, which can mean anything from illegal acts to taking advantage of other workers.

I once interviewed James E. Lukaszewski, one of those super management gurus, and he had some great advice for finding a way to get yourself heard by the boss. In what called the "three-minute drill" he said that you had to really hone your message, to practice and to do your homework so that when you spoke to the boss, she listened just like you really did have Oprah on the line.

He suggested that you write out your three-minute pitch (or about 450 words) to the boss. It should go something like this:

* In 60 words, describe the nature of the issue, problem or situation that requires decision, action or study by the boss. What you're saying is: "Hey, boss, this situation requires your attention and we've got to talk about it right now."

* Lay out for the boss what it all means. Is it a threat from a competitor? Is it an opportunity to grow the business? Let the boss know WHY is all matters. Again, keep it to about 60 words.

* Say what needs to be done in 60 words.

* Give three options: do nothing, do something or do something more. Giving multiple options is what helps you keep the boss's attention, instead of her just tossing you out when she doesn't like your recommendation. This should be about 150 words.

* Once you give the options, then you need to be prepared to give your recommendation on which one to choose. Being prepared to give an immediate answer keeps her focused on you and your solutions. Hint: Give the one that has the least negative consequences. Total: 60 words.

* Forecast what you think will happen, both the positive and the negative, if any. The boss needs to understand -- in 60 words -- the consequences.

What are other strategies you can use to become more "visible" to the boss?


Paul Copcutt said...

I love this 3 minute drill - makes a lot of sense if there is a specific issue to address.

However sometimes its more about being consistently visible - otherwise you might run the risk of only going to the boss when there is an issue.

Some other 'visibility' tips;

- Identify what topics are of particular importance to your boss and set up Google alerts for them. Then when something relevant comes along send over a quick email with a link and 12 word summary of why the link is relevant

- Who in your network would be a good connection for your boss. Forget aobut inviting them to Facebook, but consider who you know that could add vlaue to your boss' relationships. If you are on LinkedIn and so are they make the introduction by sending a link to your connections profile.

- Your company may not be hiring, but if your boss is worth their salt they should always be interested in knowing about other talented people. Who do you know that might fit that bill, invite them in and ask your boss to meet them. Good talent knows other good talent and in frugal times when companies have to hire they are looking to reduce hiring costs - employee referals are the cheapest and usually the best form of hiring - after all you are not going to introduce someone who makes you look bad - are you?

Just my toonies worth

Anita said...

Love those suggestions -- it really shows that we can be even more valuable if we keep our eye on how to achieve success for our boss and our company. That makes us an asset the boss will really "see"!
Thanks for posting.

Bonnie said...

Similar to Paul's first tip, I like to keep an eye out for articles on topics of interest to my boss's boss (the General Manager). I could submit the articles to the GM directly if I wanted to. But instead of doing that, I send them to my boss... knowing he'll forward them along to the GM.

It doesn't bother me that my boss doesn't mention to the GM that the articles come from me. My goal is to help my boss look good to HIS boss.

As you say, Anita, helping our boss achieve success makes US a great asset. :-)

Anita said...

Sounds like a good strategy, and in this economy, making the boss look good right now to HIS boss can be a win-win for everyone.
Thanks for the tips.

Shawn said...

Great advice. I've often found it very helpful to prepare a list of "pros" and "cons" of ideas I'm going to pitch to the boss. That not only helps save his or her time, but I think it makes the proposal appear more thoughtful.

Shawn said...

Similar to your advice, I find it helpful to prepare a list of "pros" and "cons" that I can share with my boss when making any pitches. That not only helps to save his or her time (which is always greatly appreciated), but it also makes the proposal seem more thoughtful.

Anita said...

That's a great suggestion, because you can easily get rattled when talking to the boss (especially if you're not comfortable with him/her), so the list should help keep you focused.

Robin Ogden said...

Hi Anita -

Good post, especially in these tough times. You mentioned something in the beginning about out of sight, out of mind - and I can't recommend strongly enough that for those who are able to have a 'live' presence with their boss, now is the time to be sure that is happening. With all of the layoffs that are occurring out there this is not a time to be in hiding. The last thing you want you boss to think is hmmmm, Bill? I never see him anymore, what is he working on anyway? That's a sure sign you're losing your corporate edge, and perhaps more than that if a layoff occurs.

Show up for your staff meetings, keep your boss informed and toot your horn around accomplishments and milestones.

Also, like the google alert idea in one of the other comments - nice way to stay informed around your bosses interests and show s/he you're up to date.

Robin Ogden

Anita said...

While we'd all like to think our good work will speak for us, the truth is that unless you speak up for yourself and promote your contributions, you can easily become lost in the stress of the times right now.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

If one has to talk about something important in 3 minutes, then do you really want to work for someone like that anyway? If a boss is ignoring you that much then you need to take that as a hint to look elsewhere. Seriously people.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to get him to listen if his assistant has said nothing but bad things about you. What then? I'm dependable, honest, etc. but he doesn't see that; just listens to her bad mouth most of us.

Anita said...

I would suggest finding ways to show the boss your skills...take him a report outlining new ways to help the bottom line, speak up with a new idea in a meeting, etc. If you still find the boss won't listen, the economy is improving enough that it might be time to look around for another job.