Monday, July 17, 2006

Bosses: The devil can wear cheap shoes too

Satirical movie The Devil Wears Prada (starring the fabulous Meryl Streep) is getting a lot of column inches for exemplifying a nightmarish boss. But most bosses don't set out to be nightmarish - they're just plain incompetent or oblivious!

With three simple questions though, you can make your working life a whole lot easier by managing the upward relationship with your boss:

1. How does your boss like to receive and process information? Written report or face-to-face meeting? Most people tend to favour one mode over another. And don’t forget to think about how frequently your boss needs to hear from you. For some, once a week may be plenty while others may feel by contact once a day. When we get busy, our natural human tendency is to fall back on ways of communicating that suit us. But in managing your boss effectively, the key is to communicate in ways that suit them.

2. What is their decision-making style? Some bosses assign responsibility but need to feel heavily involved and consulted when it comes to actual decisions. Other bosses delegate to such an extent that they hate to be bothered by what they see as the detail, effectively dumping work.

3. What is your boss’s openness to feedback? Certain older-school bosses tend not to take kindly to questioning or criticism. However, younger managers may expect you to question their assumptions, quiz them over data, and explore alternatives with them as part and parcel of your membership of their team.

Of course, you could hide your head in the sand and hope your boss goes away. But that ain't going to work. It's a fact that politically savyy people agree on.

Written down, these questions could seem simplistic. But they are only simplistic if you have already discovered your boss’s preferences in these areas. Anyway, if you want to read more about it, I wrote an article on the topic for business magazine Accountancy.