Monday, November 9, 2009

Managing Up, Part 3 of 3

Part 1 is of this discussion is here; Part 2 is here.

So now you have some grasp on your manager's work style, and you are figuring out how to anticipate needs, which is a form of providing value. To some extent, however, these discussions are taking place with the assumption that your boss will be nice, polite, clear, predictable, and reasonable with your workload and with critiquing your work. What happens if your boss is cranky, forgetful, impatient, demanding, or annoying? In order words, what happens if your boss is human?

First, whenever your boss--or your coworker or the barista at Starbucks or anybody--acts rude or juvenile towards you, don't take the bait. Don't trade nasty barbs, don't look wounded, just don't react at all. The first rule of dealing with other people from here to eternity is to remember that you have no idea what they've dealt with today, this week, this year, or this lifetime. They may be unfairly taking out bad news or a bad day on you. Also, they may just be jerks. Regardless of the reason that someone, especially someone in charge, may act like a jerk, that does not give you license to be a jerk right back at them. Remember: if a monkey flings poo at you and you fling poo back at the monkey, it's generally not the monkey that looks foolish. Take a deep breath and keep in mind that jerks are usually equal opportunity, so their behavior towards you is nothing personal.

But even if your boss isn't a jerk, you still have to take the high road and help them help you, as Jerry Macguire might say. It's part of the Boss' Paradox: they may not remember what you're doing but they know how well you do (or don't) do what you've been given to do. Hence, it becomes imperative that you highlight for your boss the consequences of compliance with his or her requests. If they have asked you to do something that you know will take three days but they want it done in one, you have to bring that gap in reality to their attention, and you may have to repeat yourself.

Boss (Eva): Okay, so, get me these elevations by noon tomorrow.
You: Um, actually, Eva, the elevations haven't even been started yet and there are a lot of them. It's going to take me three days to get them done.
Eva: Ohhhh, not with this software! It'll bust those elevations out in no time!
You: The software's fast, but not that fast. If you're wanting these for user group meetings, that takes adjusting the viewports of the elevations, getting in casework where none has been drawn, and putting in some basic notes, and that's going to take about three days.
Eva: I don't need notes on them, just casework and sinks.
You: Do you want equipment too?
Eva: No, the owner will tell us what goes where in the meetings.
You: Well, that might save a little time--
Eva: Good! Get to it.
You: --but if you're going to want to see these elevation sheets before you take them to the meeting, and you may have some changes, then I'm really going to need three days to make these look good.
Eva: [sighs heavily and glares at you]
You: Are there some that you need more than others? I can do those first and you can review them while I do the rest.
Eva: No! I need them all at the same time...but I should review them first. [sighs heavily]
You: I can only do about the first floor by noon tomorrow. If you'd like, I can print them out and you can review them then. Otherwise, we could pull on someone else to help me get these done, perhaps Ray might have some time?

While protesting to Eva about what she's asking you to do, your tone of voice is calm, medium, and well-modulated. You're not raising your voice, you're not getting super-quiet, and you're not using profanity or insults or a snide tone. You're simply stating the facts and calling her attention to those facts, and you're doing it more than once--you're not letting her push you back just because she's the boss. If you only protest once and let your boss back you down, or if you just say yes immediately, you run the risk of not fully helping your boss understand that what they're asking for is a waste of time, impossible, whatever. Being the boss doesn't make you right, it just means you're in charge. Also, you're adding more value by presenting solutions: are there some elevations that should be done first, can Ray help us with the elevations, and so on. Pushing back on your boss is easier when you can frame it in the service of the job: I want to make these elevations look good and be useful for your meeting, and in order to do that I need three days, or we can get some help to get it done faster.

By calling your boss on his or her requests when they are unreasonable, you ensure that your future work for that boss is timely and of high quality. You make it clear to your boss what you need in order to satisfy the request in such a way that they can use the outcome. You help them help you.

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