Normally I am not taken to observing any of the national “days” designed to promote one cause or another. We don’t have secretaries in the newspaper business anymore so we have no need to celebrate that day. I take my kids to work any day that I think they might be productive. We beat the Germans nearly 65 years ago so I think we can ignore German Unity Day on Saturday, October 3. And when Boss’s Day rolls around on Friday, October 16, I will sign up for that free cystoscopy screening that the urologist is offering and be out of the office the entire day.
But news of another one of those days came through recently that caught my attention: “National Boss/Employee Exchange Day,” occurring on either the day after Labor Day or the second Monday in September, depending on which source you believe.
The idea is that on this day supervisors will trade places with their staff, and each will better appreciate the challenges of the other. The E-mail alert was from a motivational speaker, Joe Takash, who sees the day as a chance to extol what he preaches in his speeches: that the key to a great employer-employee relationship is an employee who knows how to manage up. Takash claims there are five steps that employees can use “to manage (not damage!)” their boss.
These days any workplace improvement that can be described in five steps is automatically of interest to me. And “bad communications” is one of those common workplace problems that all of us are facing, especially in an industry such as ours where the competitive terrain is changing every week. What employee hasn’t walked around complaining to their colleagues about a boss who does not explain A, B, or C to them? And what boss doesn’t end up hearing the complaint and then wonder, “Why hasn’t that guy asked me about A, B, or C?”
The other day I stumbled across an Inc. magazine interview with Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, author of a book titled “A Sense of Urgency.” Kotter carefully distinguished urgency from panic. In our business, buffeted by the economic recession and challenged by the sweeping changes in the media landscape, we need to act pretty much as a start-up company in many aspects of our operation. As I told the editors in one of our weekly meetings, in the early days of U.S. 1 people were working 50- or 60-hour weeks and coming in nights and weekends. For nearly 25 years I have worked overtime in order to get that workload back to a family-friendly level. But now the pendulum may have swung too hard, and my job in part is to make the days more challenging, not less.
Making a 25-year-old company such as U.S. 1 function with the urgency commonplace to a start-up company is one of the great challenges. So I photocopied the article for each employee and passed it around personally. What did they think of it? I don’t know — I am not even sure if anyone read it. Did anyone try to start a conversation with me based on that article? One or two. Did I ask anyone what they thought about it? Nope.
So, in observance of National Boss/Employee Exchange Day, I decided to take a look at Takash’s five-point plan. It needs a grain of salt, of course. A check of his website reveals that the guy has never done anything for the past 20 years other than give motivational speeches (for fees that begin at around $12,000, if you believe the website). In other words, he talks about managing, but there’s no evidence that he ever has managed. And when you look at the alphabetical list of the companies at which he has consulted, the first name is AIG. Ouch. But still he has some points, culled in part from his new book, “Results Through Relationships: Building Trust, Performance and Profit Through People:”
1.) Choose a Good Time. Discover the best times in which to approach your boss by simply asking, “when are the best times to meet with you if I have questions?” This simple inquiry can build credibility because of the awareness and consideration of his or her busy schedule. An added benefit is that when you meet with him or her, you’re likely to have a more focused, less distracted listener.
2.) Practice your approach. Succinctly explain up front why you’re there and what you need from him or her. Warning: Be solution-focused! Bosses want to know what you have thought of or would suggest about the inquiries you have. This is a crucial component for demonstrating leadership and initiative.
3.) Align Understanding. If your boss does not state his or her expectations or ask about yours, don’t waste energy griping to others about it. Instead, rise above and ask him or her to be clear about what is needed from you. Requesting the primary duties you should be focusing on or discovering the qualities of the ideal professional in your position not only impresses management, but provides you with a roadmap for success.
4.) Follow-up and Follow-through. One of the biggest barriers for positive change is lack of accountability. In managing upward, you can hold yourself and your boss accountable by agreeing on times/dates to follow-up at the conclusion of each meeting or communication exchange.
5.) Own Your Results. One big success stopper is that cynical voice within each of us. Owning your results doesn’t mean you won’t experience fear as you navigate your career, it’s the commitment to courageously ask for what you want and being prepared to state why and how all will benefit.
So how did National Boss/Employee Exchange Day play out in the offices of U.S. 1? I don’t know. Sadly on Monday, September 14, I underwent some elective surgery on my gimpy right knee and was out for the day. Maybe next year.