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Who’s the Boss? Getting to Know Your Manager

Friday, September 05, 2014



There’s good hiring news in Oregon. Job growth in March and April of this year was the most the state has seen since December 2005.

That means the focus for many in the workforce will shift from job searching to job onboarding.  

And that, in turn, means that workers all across Portland will start new jobs, figuring out how to work the copier, finding the closest coffee shop, and decoding the unwritten culture of the organization.  

In the midst of all the exciting activity, many employees overlook a crucial career component: Figuring out how to work with a new manager. Because managers have a tremendous influence on an employee’s quality of work life, neglecting this relationship at the outset can cause serious heartburn later on. 

Like any personal partnership, the relationship between manager and employee is about mutually meeting one another’s needs so that they can both be successful. And, like any other relationship, it will start out with a rosy glow and become tested as stress, pressure, and human nature intervene.

It might also be complicated by other factors. Working for someone of a different generation, who’s not located in the same office, or who’s from a different culture might be challenging. That’s even more reason to make relationship-building a high priority. 

Initiating the process

For many managers, hiring new people is a bit of an interruption into their running of the business. Once the hiring process is complete he or she may go back to business as usual, expecting a new employee to get up and running quickly.

A smart employee will make sure the manager is on the startup agenda, and will build a plan to learn as much as possible about how to work effectively with the new supervisor.

Here are seven tips to help that happen: 

1. Understand his assets

Employees should understand the skills and abilities the boss brings to the table. By getting to know his strengths and working styles, employees will learn how their own competencies can support and complement those of the manager. It’s a good idea to know where’s there’s overlap, and where new employees can contribute skills to help make the manager more successful. 

2. Know her goals

An employee’s job is to make his or her boss wildly successful. To do so, employees need to know the manager’s goals and how her performance is measured. Having a clear conversation about this will help new employees key in on the most important deliverables the boss needs and expects to achieve those goals.

3. Clarify how she wants to receive information

Since communication is fundamental to any job, employees need to understand how best to communicate with the manager. 

Does she want to know the bottom line up front, or does she want to all the details behind the solutions?

Does she want spreadsheets or slides, in a binder or as an email attachment? 

Does she want information two weeks before the deadline or the day prior?

Knowing how and when to provide information sets expectations up front that will keep employees from being (unpleasantly) surprised later by guessing wrong on what the manager wants. 

4. Set up regular meetings

Too many employees lack a continuous stream of communication directly with the manager. Newly hired employees should make it a priority to schedule a regular meeting with the boss. They should establish how often, and in what medium, these meetings will take place as soon as they get settled into the new workspace. 

Communication doesn’t need to be face to face but it’s most desirable. Phone or Skype will work fine as well. The goal is to build a personal connection, get feedback, and ensure performance and deliverables are on track. 

Employees should advocate for at least a weekly touch-base (in person if possible) for getting feedback and making course corrections. This is especially true in the critical first six months of a job. Meetings can occur less frequently, and virtually, as experience grows. 

6. Discuss how you’ll make decisions

New employees may be either very tentative, or overzealous, when it comes to making decisions in a new job.

To avoid confusion, frustration, and unnecessary risk taking, clarify who makes decisions, and what the process is. What decisions will the employee make, and in which does the manager need to be involved? What data needs to be provided in advance of those decisions? 

Is the manager quick to make decisions or does he analyze excessively before committing?

Understanding the decision making process, and what the manager requires to support it, will help new employees avoid making any wrong assumptions when they are starting out.

7. Talk about working styles

A typology assessment (such as Myers-Briggs or DISC) could be helpful in understanding how employees and managers can best work together. It makes sense to also discuss social styles, communication styles, and how they each manage conflict. 

They should also talk about stress, and how they each respond to stressful events, since it's such a prevalent part of any workplace. And if the manager sends an email at midnight Saturday, is he expecting to get a quick response? 

All of this helps new employees understand the boss’s idiosyncrasies (and vice versa) so no one is thrown off course wondering why the other acts the way he does. 

8. Get to know him as a person

It’s probably not a good idea for employees to expect to be best buds with the boss. But learning whom they are, where they came from, and what experiences shaped them can be helpful to new employees. 

By having casual conversation around the office (briefly and when it’s appropriate), and grabbing the occasional coffee, manager-employee relationships will find a common ground and build a foundation for mutually successful outcomes. 

When employees and managers seek to understand how best to work together from the very start, everyone benefits. 

Lea McLeod, M.A. coaches professionals to get more done, be more confident and deal with workplace issues such as challenging bosses and overwhelming workloads. Her career insights have been featured in publications including Forbes, Mashable, Yahoo, and Business Insider. Connect with her on LinkedIn. Follow her on Twitter. If you’re ready to take action, get started with her free 21 Days to Peace at Work e-series.

Home Page Photo Credit: reynermedia via Compfight cc


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