Monday, November 2, 2009

Managing Up, Part 1 of 3

One of about eight million things no one tells or teaches you in college is how much you're going to have to manage your boss. To be fair, there's not a lot of advice or information regarding managing your boss in any field. Go to the human resources or business/management/career section of your local library or bookstore and skim the titles on the shelves: voluminous tomes on managing, confronting, motivating, or rewarding employees, but precious little if any on how to deal with and manage those above you in the food chain. Sadly, this is information that people really need. How can I confront a crappy boss without calling him/her crappy? How can I get this person to realize how their behavior affects me? Is it even my job to keep this person straight and on track?

Oddly, yes. It is in fact your job, in part, to keep your boss in good shape, because your job depends on his/her job. If s/he looks like a fool time and again in meetings based on information you gave him, guess who's not going to last long at the company? I've actually seen this happen; one of the earliest rounds of layoffs--before the major layoffs, even--at my office involved eliminating people with follow-through and attitude problems. If you continually make mistakes and are unapologetic and don't fix or avoid the problem next time, say hello to the street.

So how do you manage your manager? There's no short answer, but the first thing to do is remember the Boss' Paradox: they may not always know what you do or what you're doing right now, but they know how well you do it. As cheesy as it sounds, remember that your work is your autograph; how you do your job (and the results that follow) is how people think of you. I have done a good-to-excellent job on tasks and projects and still made mistakes, but I haven't been penalized for those mistakes because of how well I did the overall job. You're not going to do everything perfectly, but there is a standard of care. This is the first step to managing a boss: learn what their standard of care is for most tasks. When your boss asks you to do something, let's say a code study, ask him if there's a good example around that you can use as a basis of comparison. If they say, "Yeah, base your code study on the one that So-and-So did for Ventura Pointe," then you have a starting point for your standard of care for code studies. If you usually work on big projects but the office interior designer needs your help doing interior elevations for one of her tenant projects, ask her the same thing; now you have her standard of care for tenant remodel interior elevations. After you have several examples of how your boss wants things done, you should have a good idea of what your boss (or bosses) wants on a regular basis.

Next you have to figure out your boss' work style. This is harder and more varied than standard of care with tasks, no doubt. Your usual boss may be a real micromanager and stickler for details, but then you get loaned for a couple of weeks to a manager whose style is so laid back that you expect him to roll into the office in a Hawaiian shirt with a pina colada. Often when you begin working with a new manager, it's best to start this conversation up front after asking about scope, deadline, and resources for the task at hand: when would you like to review what I've accomplished? If I have questions, how available are you? Who should I ask if you're not around? Are you better via phone, cell phone, or email? For example, one of the bosses in my office is rather introverted but very helpful, and he does better when I email him questions. On the other hand, an intern in our office has learned that the manager she's working for now only reads his email once a day at 4:30pm--not good if she has urgent questions to ask and decisions to be made.

On Wednesday, we'll talk about what's useful to say and why you should never apologize for doing your job. In the meantime, if you have a question or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, feel free to ask in the comments or email me at my address in the sidebar. Thanks!

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