How to boost your career by successfully managing your boss
Most people know the importance of managing their relationships with the people who report to them, but you would be surprised at the number of people who forget to manage their most important working relationship – the one with their boss. Everyone has a boss, but all too often people don’t think of acting systematically to reap the benefits from working at this relationship.
Just think for a moment about the bosses you have had and what you actually did or didn’t do to strengthen your working relationship with them. We all fall into a pattern of behavior and tend to repeat it over time – mistakes and all!
You have a great opportunity to ensure your relationship with your boss is positive and productive. It’s in both your interests to maintain a good professional understanding with plenty of communication.
If you actively manage your relationship, your boss will be more supportive when the time comes for performance reviews and salary reviews. You could be fast-tracking your career!
Treat your boss as your key stakeholder
Your best approach is to manage the relationship through a stakeholder relations management strategy. You can take specific actions to strengthen the relationship with your direct boss. Your boss may be the CEO, a vice-president, a general manager or other senior manager. Perhaps your boss is the head of the PR function. Effective practitioners commit the time and effort to develop a relationship with their boss that meets the needs of you both.
Information is valuable
As a PR pro you can offer unique added value to your boss because you may become privy to some corporate information even before the boss does. This is because you may pick up important information while interviewing senior managers from other areas of the organization in the course of your work, being briefed on important statutory information such as annual reports and reports to the stock exchange, and also when you are called in very early to be briefed about important corporate issues that require an urgent communication response. Where appropriate, you can alert your boss to this type of breaking news, acting as an early warning system for them. This approach worked extremely well for me with a boss who was general manager of a division in which I was based – he always wanted to be one of the first to be ‘in the know’ about significant events.
Stakeholder relations plan for your relationship with the boss
One productive activity is to draw up your own personal written stakeholder relations plan to help you informally shape your relationship with your boss. This could involve making an effort to take an interest in their professional and personal interests and hobbies as well as their business role. Even simple clues such as the objects, photographs and certificates in their office can be very revealing and provide good insights.
A written plan may seem a bit calculating and mercenary, but what doesn’t get planned generally doesn’t get done! Depending on the seniority of your boss, the sort of actions you could plan and implement:
- always alert them to significant corporate issues as you become aware of them;
- arrange personal communication, media and presentation skills coaching for them;
- organize attendance at public relations professional development briefings, eg on stakeholder relations management or issues management, especially if your boss is in senior management and isn’t broadly aware of the full scope and potential of the communication role;
- set up networking opportunities for them;
- arrange for them to host relevant stakeholders at the corporate box at sporting and cultural events;
- obtain publicity for them in professional publications;
- contribute or ‘ghost-write’ articles in their name in your organization’s publication and in professional association publications.
Develop the relationship over time
The important thing with a stakeholder relations plan relating to your boss is not to be too ambitious with its implementation – make it happen systematically over a manageable period of time. Don’t be intimidated by the time it might take and don’t let it fade away as you deal with the inevitable other pressing issues that confront you in your job. Most of the value in such a plan comes from the way it enables you to develop a strong relationship with your boss by consistent actions over time. This builds trust and shows your integrity.
Work back from the outcomes you want
Simply work back from the outcomes you want from the boss, which may mean small but significant responses on their part. Break down the actions involved in each component of the plan into small manageable steps that you can implement over 12 months. At the end of that time you will be able to look back with surprise and satisfaction at how much you have actually been able to do to cement a strong working relationship with your boss.
Make your KPIs worthwhile
Also, if you are working to an agreed set of personal Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in your job, make sure they are worthwhile and not just there because they are measurable. Try to make the KPIs relate to outcomes rather than merely activity. For instance, if one of your tasks during the year is to conduct a stakeholder relations survey of your own personal or departmental stakeholders, don’t just tick the box that you have completed the survey within the agreed time; drill more deeply for a set of actions (changed behavior) that the survey findings point to – and put together an action plan for those changes. You can then show your boss the tangible changes (improvements) you have made in response to the survey. This helps you justify your position if hard questions are asked down the track.
Refer to your boss’s own performance agreement
Many employers use written performance agreements for their staff. Such a document would be the key to your work for the year. The agreement should be prepared by your boss and yourself in conjunction and should include realistic but challenging targets. You should regularly review with your boss the details and deadlines in the document.
In turn, your boss’s own formal performance agreement, or similar, is a vital guide to you. By knowing what your boss’s targets are, you can ensure you play your part in helping your boss to meet those targets. By all means ask your boss for a copy of the document, or the parts that may be relevant to you, so that you can do your job better – which will enable them to their job better. For instance, the communication component of one operational general manager’s real-life performance agreement includes the following measures:
- Develop an internal communication strategy by 31 March
- Prepare a stakeholder relations strategy by 31 May
- Undertake a survey of medium and high priority external stakeholder groups by 30 September
- Conduct a communication audit of managers and staff by 30 November
Developing a workable set of mutual expectations requires you to communicate your own expectations to your boss to find out if they are realistic, and to influence the boss to accept the ones that are important to you. Being able to influence the boss to value your expectations can be especially important if the boss is an overachiever. Such a person will often set unrealistically high standards that need to be brought into line with reality.