Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Managing Up, Part 2 of 3

(The first part of this conversation is here.)

So after working with a boss for a few weeks, you've figured out their management style and their standard care for most tasks. You're now at the point where you're having to ask questions, follow up on issues, and generally do the work that will make them look good. In order to do this kind of work though, you'll often have to ask questions or get clarification or feedback from others, including the boss. We all know that our managers are busy people--if they weren't they'd do everything themselves--but that doesn't excuse them from providing you with the information you need to get your job done (which makes your boss look good too). Again, find out how your boss likes to be contacted when you first start working for them. Do they prefer phone call, email, or in-person visits? I recommend that you save questions up and ask a few to several at a time so that you minimize interruptions to your manager, but some tasks don't allow for that. And some bosses prefer to answer the question as soon as it arises because it keeps you from going to far down the wrong path on a task.

Regardless of how your boss wants you to ask questions, any boss worth their salt wants to you ask, so whenever you go up to them (or call or email them), don't apologize for bothering them. It's more bothersome for you to go along your merry way all day and screw up your task than to bother them a few times and then do the job right. Ultimately, you're just doing your job, so quit apologizing for doing your job. Get rid of the following phrases:
  • "Sorry to bother you, but..."
  • "This may be a dumb question, but..."
  • "I hate to bug you, but..."
  • Or anything along these lines.
Instead, replace them with something a little more useful, like:
  • "I have a few questions for you regarding x..."
  • "I know you're getting ready for a meeting; when's a good time to go through a few issues that have come up in this codes study?"
  • "I feel like I'm going to be peppering you with these questions all day--is there someone else I should ask these of or would you rather handle them?"
A question I did not include above is "Do you have a moment?" or "Are you busy?" Your boss is always busy, so the last question is moot. I had a boss that would always sigh passive-aggressively and say "no" when I asked her the first question, but her response was moot and rude. Moot because I needed a moment of her time to get answers so I could keep moving on my tasks, and rude because she was making me feel guilty for just doing my job. Don't buy it for a second. Answering questions and keeping people busy comes with being in charge, and it's their job to help you with that.

The next level of managing up involves anticipating needs. Anticipating a boss' needs and requests may look like something akin to being psychic, but there's nothing mystical about it. It's about observing and remembering what your boss' standard of care generally is, and it's about making note of the kinds of questions they ask you or the kinds of things they note when they mark something up or say aloud while reviewing something with you. It's about remembering what kind of drawings you've been asked to print in the past as well as thinking about what might be useful in a meeting depending on who's going to be there. Let's say it's Monday, and your boss has a meeting on Thursday. It's your job (as soon as you know about the meeting) to ask what kind it is and who's going to be there. So you hear your boss say "I have a Cascade Falls meeting on Thursday." You ask her:
  • What kind of meeting is it? (pricing? user group? permitting and code review board?)
  • Who's going to be there? (clients? contractors? consultants? finance people?)
  • What drawings would you like? (plans? elevations?)
  • When do you need them by?
By asking these questions, you find out that it's a user group meeting with the clients as well as the mechanical and electrical engineers, and she wants 1st through 5th floor plans and exterior elevations by Wednesday at noon because she's going to be out of the office from then until after the Thursday meeting. So you prepare to print these plans and exterior elevations, but you also think, hey, if the engineers are there, we might need the basement plan too, since a lot of their equipment is in the basement, and they might need a site plan as well, since that shows access to the building as well as where the transformer is going and where the sewer pipe comes in. So you get those drawings in good shape, and you have them ready by Tuesday afternoon, at which point your boss can review the drawings once more before and give you time to make any changes on Wednesday morning. That way, she's walking into the meeting with drawings she's familiar with and that pass muster, and she has a little extra info on hand if she needs it in the meeting.

On Friday: how to help your manager help you.

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