Every Friday, I"ll answer two or three management questions submitted through the "Ask Lisa"?? link found on my blog and on my website. This week I have picked two great questions submitted by Grace and Christopher. If you would like to submit a management question for future Friday posts, click here.
QUESTION: The employees in different parts of my company are like cats and dogs. How can I get them to bridge the gap between species and work together towards common goals?
ANSWER: This is a fun one, thanks. Here is my David Letterman style Top 10 list of how to get corporate dogs and cats to work together!
10. You can´t. The dogs will eventually eat the cats.
9. You can´t. The cats will outwit and evict the dogs.
8. What you don´t realize is that they do have a common goal called, "get the human."?? It´s just a matter of time.
7. Bring in the pet psychic to try hypnosis. Repeat after me, "Cats are wonderful and are my friends."??
6. Take a stick to them when they don´t behave. (Oh wait, that sounds familiar)
5. Creatures need their own space to live together in harmony – departmentalize! (That´s familiar, too.)
4. Hire a consultant to provide species sensitivity training.
3. The workplace is a zoo, let the animals be animals – it´s natures way.
2. Give them a common enemy – try a guinea pig.
And the number 1 way to get corporate dogs and cats to work together is:
QUESTION: My boss consistently provides me feedback on issues that I deem to be insignificant when compared to the entire scope of my position. When it comes to crucial projects/issues she seems unaware or disinterested in getting involved. How can I best manage this type of a boss?
ANSWER: Ah, the "help, my boss is a dufus!"?? problem – many of us have worked for a boss that just didn´t get it. Since this is your question, I am going to assume that you are focused on the right priorities and your boss is not. Of course, it is entirely possible that your boss is writing into some other blogger asking how she can get her managers to focus on the right work!
A funny thing happens as we move up the corporate ladder. Some of us get dumber. It´s true! As we remove ourselves from being in the thick of things (where we are at our sharpest) we forget what the workday is really like. If you are a middle manager reporting to either another middle manager or a senior manager, you will need to do a lot of managing up. It´s just the way it is, and those of us who can manage up well and not get hung up on our bosses being "oblivious to the obvious" will fare the best.
I have two different answers to your question depending on the impact this behavior is having on your ability to produce results:
1. If your boss´s behavior is largely a nuisance, meaning that it´s irritating but does not get in the way of your doing great work and contributing to the company, then try this:
A. Chill out – all bosses are neurotic. The next one might be worse. Let the goofiness be quirky, not irksome.
B. Take the initiative to share your priorities with your boss and ask for her input. Say things like, "I´m assuming that you want me to focus on improving the timeliness and reliability of our financial reports and that this is a top priority, is this right?"?? After going over your top priorities, be upfront about what is not on the top of your list. "I also want to be clear about what is NOT on the top of my to-do list and may not get done at all….in the scheme of things, this is not very important, do you agree?"?? I once had a boss that I routinely sent emails to that essentially said, "I´m not gonna do that because it´s dumb/not important,"?? in a nice way. He was always fine with my choice and just wanted to be kept informed. A couple times he responded in agreement.
C. You own your job, so do the best work possible. Just because your boss"s ideas of what´s important are a bit off target, this does not give you license to be similarly misaligned.
1. If your boss´s behavior is preventing you from doing great work, then try this:
A.-C. From the above list.
D. Are you sure that you cannot have a positive impact? I have observed more examples of managers not having the courage to take the initiative and have seen very few legitimate examples of where a boss (even a really bad one) is an absolute obstruction. Try an intervention. Lay your cards on the table in a direct and constructive manner.
E. If all else fails? I have always said, "Managers change, or managers change." In your case this means that you may want to find another position reporting to a different manager or change companies.