After I was promoted to replace my boss, I had the tough job of finding a replacement for myself. I selected a well-respected manager who was in succession and set about to make our transition as seamless as possible. Two things motivated me: continued client satisfaction and making sure that my replacement had access to all of the resources necessary to hit the ground running – something that had not been provided to me when I assumed that position. I assembled all of the subject matter that this new manager would now be supporting, detailed reference material, outlined technical resources, business partners, client preferences – in short – everything she needed to know labeled, neatly filed and indexed for her ease of use. Over the first couple of weeks together we worked through the relevant information, and agreed upon a schedule to meet face to face and discuss progress. The new manager appeared to be taking everything in. She made a point to thank me for my support and stated that she was comfortable with the requirements of the job and would jump right in. For my part, I was pleased with the work that I had put into the transition effort and was confident that my new manager had every advantage to be successful.
Almost immediately, though, I began receiving complaints from clients about missed deadlines and incorrect information. When approached, she became defensive and maintained that she needed time to do the job the way she was comfortable doing it. She went on to state that I needed to give her space and let her do her job. Eventually, she said, things would work out. Well, she did learn the job in time in her own way but never brought to it the spirit of continuous improvement and customer focus that I was looking for in my direct reports and as a result, she and I were in a constant arm wrestle. Her appraisals reflected her lack-luster performance and, after the first year or so, we parted ways. The transition plan that I had painstakingly created to give this new manager an edge and keep our clients happy didn’t work. So.....What happened?
Clearly I could have done things differently in this particular case to affect a better outcome and with a big lesson learned; I adjusted my on boarding process going forward. With the awareness that learning styles are fairly personal, I work closely with new subordinates to note their preferences and adjust my management style accordingly. Additionally, I recognize that “information overload” has the potential to stop someone in their tracks. Now, my preference is to transfer information in manageable bits and encourage its use to obtain quick wins so that confidence can be gained. So as difficult as this situation was, it was a useful learning experience. However, another key issue here was my replacement's attempt to manage me with a form of passive aggressiveness with her own preferences and intentions in mind rather than openly communicating and "managing up".
To do our jobs, we need advice, resources, and even the go-ahead to proceed - the things that we get directly from our bosses. In fact, the very nature of the boss - subordinate relationship provides for the subordinate to do the heavy lifting when shaping the working relationship. That’s what makes the act of “managing up” so important if we are to be successful.
In the HBR Classic Article “Managing Your Boss” by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, the authors state that you need to understand your boss by furthering your understanding of the boss’:
· Goals and objectives
· Pressures and issues
· Strengths, weaknesses and blind spots, and her
· Preferred work style.
After that, repeat the exercise with yourself in mind. Intersections, commonalities and gaps will be revealed to help you establish the most productive relationship with your boss.
The key takeaways here are these:
- Don’t try to change your boss by brute force. First of all it’s not your place to do that and secondly, it won’t work well for either of you. The best approach is to understand, through observation, active listening and asking questions, what your boss needs from you and how you can best deliver it.
- Share with your boss how you like to operate and show her how your respective styles compliment each other. Then show, don’t tell, your boss how you will contribute to the success of the organization.
- Are there “chosen ones” on your team? The ones that always seem to get what the boss wants and deliver it to much praise? Look at what they deliver, how they deliver it and which deliverables turn the boss on. While it’s always important to be authentic, knowing what pleases the boss is good information that can be sprinkled throughout your next approach.
- Remember that your boss has other relationships representing a total system to manage so understand that you have to contend with others for access. Do your homework and make interactions count, and…
- Never bad mouth the boss behind her back. Trust me it always gets back to her.
I transferred a ton of information about how I work to my replacement as soon as she came on board. I even provided her with a forum through scheduled progress reports to let me get to know her. Unfortunately, our working relationship never came together and as a result, service to our valued clients was compromised. It really, really, didn’t need to happen.
As your Accountability Partner, I will use my coaching and mentoring offers to give you a leg up on your approach to establishing a good relationship with your boss. Through the business coaching process, we work together to define the actions you can take to work productively with your boss while staying true to yourself. As your mentor, I can provide real world experience and synthesize learning from many resources to help shape your approach and maintain your success orientation. Contact Beth if you’d like more information.
So...Are you sick of this cold weather yet? I am for sure. Keep warm, my friends and remember: Valentine's Day (and more importantly, Spring) is right around the corner! Talk to you next month.