Spend More Management Time with Your Bosses
If you are like most employees, you probably juggle several projects, tasks, and responsibilities for several bosses—usually one you report to and several informal ones such as team leaders, heads of departments that work closely with yours, or even your boss’ boss.
Are you spending too much time dealing with your bosses? It might seem like that. But the reality is exactly the opposite: The problem is not that you are spending too much time with bosses, but rather, you are not spending enough time dealing with them in the right way. Most managers and non-managers alike are so busy juggling their various responsibilities that they don’t usually make time for regular management conversations. Instead, most management conversations occur ad hoc: Maybe during group meetings—even if many of the people present at the meeting don’t need to be part of that conversation—in sudden e-mails and voicemails; in passing; or when there is a big problem that desperately needs attention.
I call this phenomenon “management on the fly” or “management by special occasion.” There is no systematic logic to the timing of management conversations; in fact, they are random, incomplete, and often too late to avoid a problem or solve one before it grows large.
The only alternative to being subjected to management on the fly and management by special occasion is for you to get in the habit of having regular one-on-one management conversations with every boss you answer to. The hard part is actually getting in the habit of making time every day to manage your bosses. New behaviors, no matter how good they are, often don’t feel comfortable until they become habits. It will take time to get used to the new behaviors, not just for you, but also for the bosses you are going to manage more closely.
After you’ve built more effective boss-managing habits, you’ll still have to deal with unexpected problems, but they won’t be the kinds of problems that could have been avoided. And you’ll still have to face plenty of difficult challenges when dealing with your bosses. But your working relationships with your boss(es) will be in such good shape that you’ll be able to handle those challenges effectively with confidence and skill.
So take the initiative. Schedule regular one-on-one management meetings with your bosses.
When, How Often, and for How Long?
How often you should meet with your boss or bosses depends partly on the nature of the work you are engaged in with each of them. How often you should meet with a particular manager also will be determined by his or her particular style and preferences and also by what works for you. In an ideal world, maybe you would talk with every single boss—reviewing your work and getting set up for success that day—every single day. Some bosses need more attention than others. Talking to every boss every day is not always possible and may not be the ideal. In fact, every situation is different, but most of the time the short answer is that you should be meeting one-on-one with each boss more often than you are currently.
If you are working with a boss for the first time, you should meet more often. If you are working with a boss on a new project, you should meet more often. If you are working with a boss on a project with especially high stakes, you should meet more often. If you are working with a boss on a project where there is a lot of uncertainty, then you should meet more often.
The last thing in the world you want to do is make bad use of a boss’ time by meeting more often than necessary or wasting time during those meetings. Keep your management conversations brief, straightforward, and to the point. As long as you conduct these one-on-one conversations regularly, there is no reason they should be long and convoluted. The goal is to make these conversations focused, efficient, brief, and simple. Prepare in advance so you can move the conversation along swiftly. Once you’ve gotten into a routine with each boss, 15 minutes every week or every other week should be all you need. Like everything else, it’s a moving target. Over time, you’ll have to gauge how much time you need to spend with each boss.
If things are not going well on a particular assignment, consider meeting with your boss every day for a while. Don’t make the mistake of spending hours on tearful inquisitions, indictments, or confessions. Keep these meetings short and consistent. There’s a strong chance things are not working out because you are not getting enough guidance, direction, and support. Once you spend more time with your boss talking through the work you are doing, you are likely to work through solutions to 99 percent of problems.
If things are going very well with your work, do you need to spend 15 minutes every day or even every week with that boss? Maybe you need to meet with that boss only every other week. But if you don’t spend at least that much time with that boss, then you don’t actually know whether things are going as well as you think as they are. All you really know is that no problems have come up on your radar screen or that boss’ radar screen. Spend those 15 minutes verifying things are indeed going as well as you think they are. And if, in fact, they are, then you still need to work with your boss to find out if you can make things go even better.
You’ll be shocked how much you can get done in 15 minutes. Take any boss you have not spoken with in detail for a while. Spend 15 minutes with that boss asking probing questions about the details of your work and you will find some surprises. You’ll be darned glad you had that conversation. And you should be in a hurry to have another one.
Don’t forget to consider what day and time is best to meet with each boss. With some bosses, you may be able to schedule regular meetings at fixed days and times. But if your boss has an irregular schedule, then the best practice is to finish each one-on-one conversation with that boss by scheduling the next one.
Exactly how often, for how long, and when you meet with your bosses is likely to be a moving target. You will have to evaluate your situation on an ongoing basis and adjust as necessary. One way or another, you can’t wait around to be managed on the fly or by special occasion anymore.
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website, www.rainmakerthinking.com.