Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Bosses: Working with Multiple Bosses - Successfully

At first it seemed very exciting. My fellow manager, Sara, and I would be reporting to two vice presidents in the newly reorganized division. WooHoo! VP Marco was new to the company and came with a stellar reputation for innovation. VP James had been with the company many years and was a solid performer. Our first meetings went fine and Sara and I were asked to look over our existing plans and be ready to present our results.

That’s when the fun began.
Marco came to our joint team meeting, engaged in some get-to-know-you conversation, said he understood where we were going, and participated in some fun activities with us.

James met Sara and me in his office – (based on his schedule blocked out in 15-minute chunks.) He grilled us for about 10 minutes and asked us for documentation, detailed project plans, and a weekly update.
OK. Two different bosses, two different styles.

Marco might show up any time, kibitz for a while, ask what we needed from him, and look for ways to smooth the way. He wanted a one-page report; a few bullet points, and lots of white space. When we met with him, he wanted us to come to the point quickly. He often organized social events for our two teams.
James was only available at the appointed weekly meeting, although if you could find a blank 15 minutes you could have a quick “emergency” session. Reports needed to be very detailed, with references, graphs, charts, and hard data. He often said something like, “In the footnote on page 34 you said X. How does that jive with what you show on the graph on page A-7?

After every meeting, Sara and I would compare notes and share our frustrations. We realized we had to adapt to Marco and James quickly in different ways. We evolved 4 strategies to first cope with and then succeed with their different expectations.
Identify all bosses’ work and communication styles and flex your own. Each week we prepared two reports; one high level, one detailed. In the review meetings with Marco we hit the high points and got out. We patiently explained every point in detail and double checked any work for inaccuracies and inconsistencies for James.

Proactively develop plans, schedules, and expectations in advance and get their approval. Once we had concrete plans, James was comfortable going through the detailed results and confirming next steps. Marco saw the plans and schedules as a way for us to be fast and focused as we reported highlights.
Invite discussion not challenges with aligned assertive communication. Sara and I learned to think through ways of presenting information that did not set off confrontation inadvertently. We used inclusive language, aligned with their situations, and phrased questions that stimulated dialogue. The tension dissipated from the discussions.

Use problem solving to resolve conflict when it arises. When Marco or James had strong different opinions on our results or recommendations, we invited them (tactfully) to engage in some problem solving with us. At the very least, we got them to restate the problem clearly and concisely so we could work on solutions off line.
None of this was easy and it won’t be for you either. No matter where you sit in the hierarchy, when you have more than one boss, you must be both flexible and firm. Flex to match your bosses’ individual communication and work styles. Be firm in working out a plan to accommodate all their needs and get agreement. Be firm in showing places where overlapping demands make success unlikely and helping them recognize consequences. Be flexible in working out solutions.

Always scan the environment to assess what you are learning from working with multiple bosses. Both James and Marco taught me many positive lessons I’ve applied successfully in other assignments. Once I let the frustration recede and recognized each person’s strengths and focused on them, I was open to learning and results got better too.
Whether you’re an admin or manager, individual contributor or team leader, managing multiple bosses is a learnable skill your need in today’s workplace. Join me for a webinar August 12 Working with Multiple Bosses – Successfully and I’ll share my battle-tested techniques for managing not just your bosses, but your own time as well.

P.S. Special bonuses for participants including a white paper, Allied Assertive Communication – the Super Success Secret.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.