Thursday, February 26, 2009
Getting the Attention of the Five-Minute Boss
While many people think that never seeing the boss might be a good thing, those who have a manager that rivals the Stealth Bomber know differently.
Those who don't get regular face time with the boss are often the most vulnerable, especially in these tough times. The last thing you want to happen is for you -- and your past accomplishments and daily contributions -- to be forgotten by your boss. If you're not on a manager's radar screen, you risk being closed out of top projects, being passed over for promotions or great opportunities -- or even being laid off.
But how to get the attention of managers who may have the attention span of a 5-year-old as they race off to another meeting or seem like a phone is permanently attached to their ear?
The key is you've got to be aware of what your boss wants -- and when and how she wants it.
I once had a boss tell me that it drove her crazy when employees felt like they had to constantly update her on every development, and keep her apprised of details about an upcoming wedding, baby shower, 5K training effort, etc. She was frustrated she was interrupted so many times during her day, so had become one of those Stealth managers I mentioned -- she went out of her way to try and avoid some workers, because she knew any encounter would often be lengthy and delay her from more critical tasks.
So, how to make sure you get face time with a busy and stressed boss? There are some key things to consider:
1. Busiest times. Most people are swamped on Monday mornings, and are trying to clear their desks Friday afternoons. If you know that your boss always has a report to his boss due on Wednesday morning, then avoid the time right before that. Ask for a specific time: "I need 20 minutes of your time to update you on the XYZ project. We've had some promising developments and I want to also give you the timeline for the coming weeks." This tells the boss that you've got a specific agenda, and won't be rambling about your son's soccer game and bitching about a co-worker. Once you get to meet with the boss, stick with the time allotted. If the meeting starts to run long, say something like: "I see we've gone over the time. Would you like to schedule another meeting, or have me put the rest in an e-mail?" If you go over the determined time, you're going to be held responsible, even if the boss starts gabbing about his new golf club. Try to keep him on the subject so that you make the most of your time and he sees any interaction with you as positive and focused.
2. Learn to use a stopwatch. You'd be surprised how long it takes to just give the background on a subject. Rehearse your presentation to the boss ahead of time, and learn to whittle down your subject to talking points. You want to make sure you're not wasting time on unimportant stuff -- make the most use of the boss's time. The last thing you want to do is just begin reaching the critical points and the boss says, "Sorry. I can't give you any more time."
3. Envision the burning house. I use this example a lot, but it always works. When you see a burning house, you don't call the fire department and start talking about how beautiful the neighborhood is, what you're wearing and what you're having for lunch. You immediately tell them the location of the fire. Same thing when you're talking to the boss: Get to the most important details first. It helps if you can send her an agenda before your meeting so she has time to look it over, but if not, start your session with: "I've got five issues I need to talk to you about, but I'd like to start with two that I believe to be the most important."
4. Make the meeting interactive. Most bosses have a million and one things on their minds, so it's always a good idea to make sure you've got their full attention. One way you can do this is through questions: "What is your biggest concern?" "Can you think of anything I've left out?" "Is there anyone else you feel I should speak with about this project?" This helps the boss feel informed, and a part of the process, without making you seem like a pest.
What are some other ways to make the most use of the limited time with a boss?