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March 10, 2009

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It is not enough to do good work. Your relationship with your manager can make or break your career. The ideal manager:
  • Champions and supports you. Your manager should help you rise in the company, teach you a lot, tell others your worth and protect you from bad projects or others' wrath (especially when you make a mistake). You will need your manager's help to get good projects, training, promotions and perks.
  • Has power in the office hierarchy. A manager who backs you but has no power or respect from his superiors will not be an effective champion. Get a sense of your manager's power. For example, see how many of your manager's protegis were promoted in the last few years.

Here's how to ensure a good relationship with your manager:

  • Find out exactly what your job is. Make sure you know exactly what the boss expects from you, at what rate and what hours you should be working, and the standard review process.
  • Be explicit about what you need from your manager in order to perform your job well and with the best attitude. You cannot expect your manager to read your mind. You will probably be more successful getting what you want from your boss if you are clear and upbeat. "Thanks for letting me sit in on that meeting -- I learned X, Y, and Z from it. Please let me know if there are more opportunities like that in the future."
  • Review new assignments with your manager to make sure you understand the project, its desired result, the timeline and the project's priority. Don't make assumptions about the significance of a request until you get the facts straight. If you don't want to barrage your boss with questions, tell her what you think the assignment is. "I'll get you a 2-page draft memo on California trade secret law by Wednesday; let me know if you want a final draft sooner." If you're wrong, your boss will correct you.
  • Meet your deadlines. Monitor your progress by finding out in advance how much time your manager and your more experienced peers expect you to spend on each step of the work plan. If you are falling behind schedule, let your manager know right away so that you can get the guidance or extra resources you need to get back on track. If you are certain you are going to blow a deadline even with extra guidance, inform your manager immediately without whining about it. Don't make excuses, even if they are valid. Instead, let them know the revised timeline and how you are resolving the problem(s).
  • Give your manager something to react to if you want guidance. Outline your work steps to your manager to get feedback (e.g., "What do you think of these work steps?"), rather than asking for open-ended advice (e.g., "What should I do?"). If your manager is strapped for time, it's easier for him or her to assess your plan instead of creating ideas from scratch for you. Also, unless you are completely new, your manager will expect some proactive effort and thinking on your part. You can ask peers to look over your plans before you meet with your manager to make sure you are not completely off base.
  • Check in with progress updates without being asked. You don't get extra credit for working without your manager's guidance; on the contrary, things could go awry if you try to play the hero and do everything by yourself. You could head down the wrong path for days or weeks, wasting your time and the time of others depending on your work.
  • Anticipate your manager's questions and requests and try to preemptively provide responses. One part of being good at your job is learning what your boss wants. Typically, people have consistent work styles and thought processes. You will earn your boss's confidence if she doesn't have to ask you the same questions every time.
  • When you get feedback that you disagree with, discuss the facts, not your opinions, with your boss. If it's a matter of style, accept your boss's opinion.
  • Collect questions for your manager during the day and ask them all at once at a regular interval. Don't ask your manager each new question that pops into your mind at that moment. Your manager will appreciate your respect for her time.
  • Know who needs to review and approve your work. You could have multiple managers on one project. Keep them updated on each other's instructions to you and have them review your work before it's finalized to make sure they are in agreement on all points. You don't want to be the scapegoat because of their lack of communication.
  • Create regular status reports for your manager. Find out what works best for your manager. Does she want daily status reports, or will a weekly or twice-monthly report do? Does she prefer e-mail, a five-page memo, or would she rather meet with you a few days a week?

When your manager is on vacation

To avoid disaster, you should talk to your managers before they leave the office about how to handle work in their absence. Be clear on what you're supposed to do in their absence. Do you have added responsibilities? Whom are you supporting? What is due when? What are the parameters of your decision-making? Whom should you consult if you have questions? What contact if any should you have with clients? What are the emergency contact numbers?

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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