Thursday, October 21, 2010

3 Ways to Have a Better Relationship With the Boss

When I write for Gannett/, my column is picked up by newspapers and different websites all over the world. I find it interesting to see the comments people write about my stories that appear online -- and these from the Arizona Republic site may reflect the initial feeling of many workers when told they need to "manage the boss."

For example, "years30on" responded at the end of my story: "There's a term for this 'Learn to manage your boss' - FIRED." Another, "savebrice" responded: "Another way to manage an impossible jackwad of a boss: quit, It works."

A third responder, "SarBear," points out that he/she uses the strategy outlined by Bruce Tulgan in my story, and it works like a dream. Of course, she was immediately called a "suck-up," by others, (you gotta love the Internet), but I'll let you decide for yourself if such a strategy is viable for you.

Here's the column:

While a micromanaging boss is definitely a pain in the cubicle, having a manager who pays little or no attention to you may be worse.

That's because the boss who barely acknowledges your presence is less likely to give you promotions, new projects — or even a pay raise. And the inattentive boss can hurt your career in the long run as you're unable to gain the skills and new opportunities you need to remain valuable in the job marketplace.

So, what's the solution?

Bruce Tulgan says every worker must l earn to manage his or her own boss because the truth is "most managers aren't very good at managing."

"You need basic things in your work life to succeed, such as clear expectations and parameters. If not, you're more likely to go in the wrong direction," says Tulgan, founder ofRainmaker Thinking and author of It's Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey-Bass, $23.95). "A boss should take responsibility for making sure you have what you need, but if not, then you need to take care of it yourself."

The thought of managing a boss may seem intimidating, frightening — or even ludicrous — to some workers. But Tulgan says it's not that difficult, especially if the alternatives are considered.

"If you don't have a regular dialogue with a boss, then almost always by default (the boss) will manage you when things are going wrong, meaning it's a bad-news dialogue," he says. "Problems have gotten out of control, you're going in the wrong direction — and it's weeks before you know it."

He notes that "what separates the high performers from the low performers is that high performers make sure they're engaging the boss."

If you have a boss that has a leave-me-alone-and-figure-it-out-on-your-own attitude, then it's time to put some steps in place to better manage the relationship. Tulgan suggests workers should:

Corner the boss. Sometimes you have to be a bit sneaky to track down a boss for some one-on-one time, so it may take a bit of homework such as observing patterns of behavior or schedules to find the best time to talk to the boss.

These conversations shouldn't be long and rambling. In fact, the boss will probably appreciate a written agenda of items from you, clearly outlining the areas where you need input, such as work, performance feedback and available resources to get your job done.

Value human interaction. If you work remotely, don't just depend on e-mail to interact with your boss. It's important to meet face to face when possible and use scheduled phone conversations to better communicate.

Group meetings don't count — you need time alone with the boss.

Be thorough. One of the most important parts of managing a boss is making sure you're on the same page. That means you should write down everything you and the boss agree on and further keep notes on your progress, future plans and how you're completing the work.

This written track record is key when a boss doesn't keep his or her own records of your progress, Tulgan says.

Sometimes — despite all your efforts — a boss refuses to engage. In that case, Tulgan says, it may be time to go "boss shopping."

"If you've got a boss in name only, you may want to find someone else to be your boss. You can deputize the boss' boss, or the boss' lieutenant. You start bringing this person into the loop regarding what you're doing in your job," Tulgan says.

Another advantage of finding a boss that is willing to be more involved in your career is the message it sends about your commitment, he says.

"Other people will notice that you're a self-starting high performer who has a reputation of getting things done — and they'll want you working for them," Tulgan says.

Do you think such a strategy is viable -- that any worker could use it? What other suggestions do you have?



Scot Herrick said...

Perhaps people don't think they can truly "manage" a boss in the same way a boss manages you. After all, you can't give your boss a raise or deny a promotion, but a boss can do that with you.

On the other hand, your manager is your most important customer. If you can't figure out how to work with your most important customer, you won't succeed on the job.

You can't do this with every boss, of course, just as you can't get along with everyone on the planet. But to not think it is worth it to try and then decide is really putting your job at risk.

But then, there are clueless bosses like CEO's of Frontier Airlines... ;)

Anita said...

Thanks, Scot. I think if you take the word "boss" out of it, and think of it as trying to find ways to get along with a customer, a co-worker, a mate...

We all find ways to get along with important people in our lives. And, I'd say the person who signs your paycheck is important enough to try and make it work.

Karl - Work Happy Now said...

Building relationships with our bosses is so important. If we can't have a real conversation then it's so much harder to get work done.

Not all bosses fit our needs. If they aren't matching your effort then, yep, go find a new boss.

Anita said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I think you're right in that you have to work at building a relationship with a isn't always going to happen overnight, or always be easy. But a good rapport with the boss is key to building a solid career.

Anonymous said...

What happens though, when one works remotely because the company is virtual and face-time is impossible without an out-of-pocket flight across country (and even though, doubtful I would get face time). What if I work for a company where it's not seen as important that colleagues ever meet in person. What if I routinely do not have the information I need to get the job done, and over-emailing is seen as pestering or being needy? Is there any way to have success in this role? At the end of my rope...

Anita said...

I think it's key to schedule some telephone time with your boss. You can even do this via Skype, so you can have some "virtual" face-to-face time. You could send the boss a list of about three items you'd like to discuss beforehand, and that you estimate it would take about 20-30 minutes to discuss. And, perhaps you can say in that phone call, "I know that you're busy, so could you suggest someone else I could ask if I have a question?" I would also reach out to other employees, and just have a friendly chat every once in a while via the phone (you could initiate contact via Twitter or Facebook). You don't have to make it lengthy and involved, but more a way of making a connection so that it's easier to call them or e-mail them when you do have issues where you need help.

Natalie said...

I agree with you. Having a boss who pays little or not attention is worse. It's not that difficult to be a 'little' close to your boss. Give him a small token during his/her birthday or during Christmas. That could give a hint that you care. A good working relationship with the manager or the boss is really important. If your boss notices how hard you work, then maybe s/he can give you a raise or promotion.

Natalie Loopbaanadvies

Maria Payroll said...

Interesting post. It's important to have a good working relationship with your boss/manager. You can order lunch for your whole team and ask him to join you. Being close to your boss is not that bad. You just have to keep things professional.