The dynamics of the workplace today are rapidly changing. Companies today are adopting more collaborative approaches to handling their day to day operations and these new approaches are breaking down barriers both between generations and between the traditional hierarchal approaches dictated previously by the tall organisational structures. Today, more than ever before, the rate of startups is growing and businessmen are forming partnerships especially at the start up level. More organisations are adopting flatter organisational structures, more organisations are taking on a project-based approach to handling assignments and more organisations are building dynamic teams from time to time to handle different assignments. These dynamics are all too common in startups and family owned businesses and the bigger and more complex organisations are equally adopting these new work approaches.
In such a matrix environment, it is more likely that individuals will have more than one reporting line which presents its own challenges. In such an environment, how can employees cope with reporting to more than one boss? Today, I will share the challenges and a few key strategies that you can use to manage your (multiple) bosses;
1.Disagreements: A direct report can easily get caught in the middle of supervisor disagreements. Your bosses may send you conflicting messages or fail to agree on the approach to take on a particular project or assignment. This may leave you more confused and unsure of how to handle a project.
As us.hudson.com articulated in their article How to handle multiple bosses; “your bosses should be aware of each other’s projects and what they are passing off to you. Creating a project list is a great way to ensure that everyone involved is aware of each task that has been assigned, which will allow them to more equally distribute work to you. If you’re being given conflicting information or instruction, don’t get in the middle. Avoid speaking on behalf of one boss to the other. You don’t need to play mediator. Rather, try to get them to talk to each other. Define the problem or conflict and enlist them in the problem-solving. Let the managers sort it out themselves. Their job as managers is to align around a decision and communicate it to you.”
With two or more bosses it is not easy to estimate your work load or anticipate when and from who an assignment will come through. This puts you under pressure and may even cause you to perform poorly on assignments. For some employees, it may mean you have to leave the office later and later, which may not be convenient or sustainable in the long run.
Understand that you have time constraints; you only have 24 hours in a day and about 8 to 10 hours are all you have for work. Understand the urgency of each assignment and prioritize your tasks accordingly. It is important for each of your bosses to understand that you have multiple reporting responsibilities. Ask your bosses to be clear about project requirements and deadlines. Communicate your workload to your bosses because unless they know, you will have more work piling up on your desk. Finally, to be able to complete your tasks successfully, limit interruptions from colleagues who may have a lot of free time on them.
As with any relationship, expectations exist on either side. Your bosses have expectations of you and you equally have expectations of them. Your expectations of them is a topic for another day. My focus in this case is how to manage expectations from multiple bosses.
It is impossible to manage your bosses’ expectations if you do not know what they expect. What deliverables do they expect? What quality of work is required of you? What project deadlines are you working within? Do they want you to speak up more at meetings? Ask more questions? Do they expect you to take on more leadership roles? Are you expected to communicate more frequently, or perhaps take on more initiative?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing these expectations. So, once you know them, strive to meet and even exceed these expectations appropriately.
4.Politicking and power plays
In organisations, culture, power, structure and others determine the behaviour of individuals in their organisation. The multiple relationships involved together with performance expectations must be well managed and it brings to birth politics. By the virtue of their positions, your boss possesses some form of power. However, power plays and politics are not uncommon in the work place today. As a direct report, you can easily get caught in the middle of power plays and political tactics your bosses may be playing.
Recognize the power plays for what they actually are. However, it is equally key to understand the motives behind these power plays. It is also important to know exactly who, of the bosses, has more power over you. As Harvard Business Review authors of Managing Your Boss, John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter put it, understanding your boss is very critical in the workplace. “Managing your boss requires that you gain an understanding of the boss and his or her context as well as your own situation. At a minimum, you need to appreciate your boss’s goals, pressures, his or her strengths and weaknesses. What are your boss’s organisational and personal objectives?”
Once you gain an understanding the motives behind the power plays, it is easier to handle the situation in such a way that both/all bosses remain content.
5.Managing the relationship
Your relationship with your boss is probably the most crucial one in the workplace. Your relationship may determine your promotion, pay rise or even longevity in the company/organisation.
Ultimately, your bosses are only human. So, treat them with grace, kindness and respect. Display a positive attitude. Be resourceful, be flexible, support them in execution of their roles and remain emotionally intelligent in dealing with them.
Learning to handle multiple bosses is key in today’s complex work place. The strategies shared above are key in to today’s dynamic work environment.
By Sarah Achiro
Sarah is our Business Analyst . She is a growing consultant with BLEGSCOPE and has 3 years’ experience in consulting for SMEs and in the service sector. She is keen on strategy, finance and procurement. She has previously worked for Riham Foods and MTN. You can follow her on twitter >> @achirosarah