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Dear all,

As a young individual contributor making a transition to managing a direct report of my own, I am finding myself in somewhat of a conundrum.

We are a relatively flat organization which does not have much in the way of processes and control. In my division, both my manager and her manager are what one would call visionaries: leaders rather than managers; people who are better at imagining than implementing; people who inspire rather than break things down into milestones and concrete deliverables.

Unfortunately, this has now led to several instances where I feel my work is often reviewed on the level of "what looks good" rather than "how much sense it makes". For example, a recent risk analysis I submitted to my own boss was sent back to me on the grounds that it's way too detailed and she wants bullet points instead.

Setting aside the obvious fact that she's the boss and I do what she says, I feel that this is impeding my own substantive development. Any set of sufficiently generic bullet points will "look right" - what counts in a risk analysis (or, indeed, in any substantive document) is not only whether it "looks right" (it's important, yes) but also whether the underlying logic behind it makes sense. For example, "damage to the organization's image" is a point that can look right in any risk analysis - but if I got there by reasoning that the image of the organization will be damaged by triggering an invasion of little green men from Mars if we proceed with this project, then the reasoning that had led to that bullet point is flawed and, therefore, so is the conclusion. And yet my boss insists on looking at conclusions alone, rather than at the reasoning that had led to them.

As a result, I end up in a situation where I produce an imperfect level quality of work (owing to my own inexperience) which is never reviewed neither by my boss nor by her boss - because both of them are far too visionary and focused on the big picture to worry about things such as fine detail, logic, and reasoning. In the end, we consistently end up with situations where my work - which is full of errors despite the best of my intentions - end up being accepted, endorsed, and implemented across the organization. And it is only much later that everyone realizes - after me actively pointing it out for six months! - that there are glaring issues in it that need to be addressed: issues that were there from the start, had my visionary bosses bothered to look.

What am I supposed to do? I feel that having a vision is all fine and good; but if you don't know how to break that vision down into concrete milestones, deliverables, objectives, and tasks, you're no better than a raving lunatic on the street corner preaching his message to anyone who'd listen. Without receiving constructive feedback, I cannot improve; but you just cannot give meaningful constructive feedback on a big picture summary - you have to involve yourself in the detail.

On a side note, my own direct report has thanked me repeatedly for providing detailed feedback on his work - he said it made him feel that his contribution is read carefully and assessed on its merits. To me, that's just something that I, as his manager, am obliged to do if I am seriously about recognizing the effort that has gone into his work.

cim44's picture

What type of company is this - public or private?  And is the company owned by one person or a family?  If this is the case, the company is very likely to take on the tone from the top shown by the owners.  How have your bosses gotten by / been successful?

You may need to look for another job if you don't fit into the company's culture, even if its "wrong".

nkvd's picture

It's a public organization, and a fairly big one at that. If I had to guess as to how my bosses got to where they are, I'd say, as in most public organizations, networking and political savvy may have something to do with it.

Also, remember that my boss, being more senior in the organization, naturally expects to be supervised less by her boss, and so on and so forth. The problem with this reasoning is that it presupposes that when my boss submits my work to her boss for approval, her boss assumes that she reviewed it in detail and corrected any flagrant stupidities (caused, for instance, by inexperience). Therefore, her boss feels comfortable asking for a high-level summary, on the assumption that the fine detail has already been taken care of.

However, when I am also the one providing the high-level summary in question to my boss, it seems that, in principle, I could sneak it all sorts of rubbish through and get it endorsed as long as it is read like it's common sense and looks pretty.

My issue is - in a big private sector organization (where I'd like to work eventually), is this the sort of attitude I can expect form my own managers? I understand and accept that as i increase in seniority, the level of supervision and monitoring of my work will become less and less; however, that assumes that I am now experienced enough to produce complex and substantive work without guidance.

I sometimes feel like a junior legal guy just joining a major law firm and being asked to write a legal opinion on a major court case, all while knowing that his draft will be accepted as valid without any substantive review as long as it "looks good".

cim44's picture

First, you can't expect anything from any specific org - each has its own personality.

Second, you can't control your boss, you can only control what you do.  I'd suggest its possible that something negative would have to happen to your boss in order for them to change their behaviour.  If you are afraid if that happens they are going to turn around and blame you - first they will look stupid to their boss, second, that's more of an indication that you might want to find another area in the org or in another company.

nkvd's picture

Actually, that was one point I should have clarified: my bosses are exceptionally good at taking responsibility and accountability for results arising from the non-reviewing of my work. It's not my own safety that I am worried about: it's about the fact that we seem to have a blind-leading-the-blind situation.

As a result, everything seems fantastic until the moment when we are confronted with objective reality - at which point, the flaws and deficiencies of the work that everyone had been happily endorsing suddenly come into glaring focus and urgently need to be explained away through statement such as "it was a political compromise", "we had limited resources" and, my favourite one, "you have to look at the big picture and take it one step at a time".

I guess I'm wondering if this is how management works in general (remember, I am also asking myself what I, as a manager, should do to ensure efficient operation and help my direct reports grow), or if the problem lies with me in expecting too much in the way of handholding and review of my work.

cim44's picture

This is how these two managers work, and it could be symptomatic of how upper management at the org works.  I wouldn't cast the generalization farther than that.

I guess if these guys (or gals) are "getting away with it" then there's really not much you can do.  Just keep doing what you think is right.

Also, what you think is a big deal may not be for the org as a whole or even your managers.

SamBeroz's picture

It sounds like your communication style (High C) is different than those of your immediate managers (High I?).  It may also be complicated by the fact that managers can be very busy in general and tend to go for shorter and more succinct communication.  Are you familiar with the concept of BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front)? A great illustration of the technique is the story here.

Is there a better way to quickly and clearly communicate your analysis and how you got there?  One of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes is: "The length of this document defends it well against the risk of its being read."  Making a report more focused by reworking it takes time, but I've found the benefits of a concise message far outweigh the cost. It also gets easier with practice.  

 Hope that helps - Sam

 

 

 

calpron's picture

This is my reply to an older forum post.  The question being asked in it isn't quite the same as yours, but you may find it helpful...

 

http://www.manager-tools.com/forums-4596#comment-60812

Chris

 

enlightened_managing's picture

I agree with Sam, bottom line up front. Try it with your post. Ask the question first & cut the post to ~25% of its current length.

For example, a recent risk analysis I submitted to my own boss was sent back to me on the grounds that it's way too detailed and she wants bullet points instead. Setting aside the obvious fact that she's the boss and I do what she says, I feel that this is impeding my own substantive development. Any set of sufficiently generic bullet points will "look right" - what counts in a risk analysis (or, indeed, in any substantive document) is not only whether it "looks right" (it's important, yes) but also whether the underlying logic behind it makes sense.

It sounds like you're saying that giving your boss bullet points and doing a good risk analysis are two mutually exclusive things. That doesn't sound logical to me.

Look, your bosses trust you & that's a good thing. If they had to review everything you did in detail then they might as well do your job themselves.

Here's two things you can do:

1) Trust yourself more. You're not perfect & you're never going to be perfect. In fact your strive for perfection is hurting you and paradoxically making you less balanced & less good. I know it's harsh but as a recovering perfectionist I say this to myself all the time.

2) Good judgement comes from experience & experience comes from bad judgement.

3) If you genuinely have a question, abstract it up a level or two before you ask your bosses for help. Don't directly ask a question about the details.

View this as a challenge and an amazing opportunity for you to grow. The fact that you're here puts you ahead of 99% of all managers out there.

Good luck!

---

gabriel

Please like my Facebook Page if you like this.

nkvd's picture

Hi Sam - you nailed it; she's a high I, I'm a high C. As far as clarity of communication goes, I made to great efforts to document each conclusion of the risk analysis along the following standardized logic:

  • Sentence 1: statement of assumption(s)
  • Sentence 2: line of reasoning derived from assumptions
  • Sentence 3: description of benefits of ideal scenario (one that the risk analysis is written to support)
  • Sentence 4: description of costs of the non-ideal scenario (one that the risk analysis is written to discourage)

To me, reducing the above to bullet points and producing a risk analysis is mutually exclusive because a blind monkey on steroids can come up with bullet points. What counts in a risk analysis document is not just the risk, but also the analysis (e.g., not just if the bullet point is there, but is it logical enough to be there) - and one determines the accuracy of the analysis by reviewing the deductive reasoning that had led to the set of conclusions that is now being summarized as risks.

As far as trust goes - I don't want my managers to trust me just yet, because I am the first one to say that I do not have the experience to be trusted without verifying. In fact, the only way I am ever going to acquire the knowledge (and experience) of how to do things better is by being told what I did wrong during intermediate review phases of my work.

Otherwise, we seem to be reduced to an environment where every piece of work I produce is assumed to be correct by defintion - which is a reasonable expectation for an authoritative expert in their respective field (whose work you couldn't review anyway), but how can this statement possibly be reasonable for someone with no relevant experience? Is it really logical and efficient to expect someone who has never produced a risk analysis before to produce a risk analysis that does not need any review and is correct by default?

 

SamBeroz's picture

Is there a peer you can ask to review your analysis?  Who else has within your organization has experience developing these documents.  Your manager may know even if you don't. No matter who it is, I would approach them early in the process.  We are very process focused where I work and every non-trivial task has a plan that describes: the scope of the work, basic approach, stakeholders, inputs and outputs, quality checks, etc. Typically this ends up being a less then one page mini project plan.  The idea is that first time quality is much less costly than to have to do rework because your analysis was incorrect or incomplete.  Even a High I should be able to handle a one page plan.  In fact, it should play to their strengths because your asking them for ideas about what you might have left out.  This also can break one large deliverable into multiple smaller parts which are more in line with a High I's natural communication style.

As for your final report, I still think your bullets are in the wrong order.  I would prefer something like:

  • Best Case / Expected Case / Worst Case
  • Most important factor in determining where on the above spectrum the final result will be and leading indicators to monitor it
  • Rational supporting the above (with list of assumptions last)

Depending on your manager's risk tolerance she may not even read past the best case / worst case line (although she has the option to).  Give her a measure of the scope of the risk up front.  It will allow her to prioritize the things competing for her time and work the most important ones first.

Hope that helps - Sam

quietlife4me's picture

 As a high D, high I manager in the risk analysis field I would do the same if I was presented with "too much" detail. 

If I didn't believe you knew what you were doing, I wouldn't have hired you or asked you to analyze without peer review.  You don't need to prove it with details.

 

Me understanding how you got to every conclusion isn't something I care to review. Present your conclusion and recommendation.

 

 

I know that's not going to sit well with you, so my recommendation:

1. Do as your boss asks regarding your conclusions in bullet form

2. Put your full analysis at the end so if she _wants_ to get into the details she can

It will be her choice how much detail she cares to know.

 

nkvd's picture

There is no opportunity for peer review (in fact, my boss would probably discourage such an idea due to competing political agendas), nor is there any form of process guidance. I should also point out that doing risk analyses was not something I was hired to do or expected to have any knowledge of, nor is it a regular part of my responsibilities.

I completely agree that there is no expectation in reviewing the work of someone who has been doing that particular activity successfully for some time, but absent peer review, process guidance, and experience, how can my boss - without going into detail - make sure that my conclusions don't just LOOK right, but ARE right? In the high D/I case above, are you not just shooting yourself in the foot by asking someone not qualified to do a task, and then assuming it to have been done successfully?

falkb's picture

Probably the work you are delivering, in the eyes of your bosses, is already good enough, enough of the time. 

For a change in perspective, try thinking about it this way: Your value proposition in their eyes could actually be, "This is the guy who provides me with good-enough work while protecting me from having to go down to the ultimate level of detail myself".

BTW, have you taken the DiSC test yet? I would not be surprised to learn that you, like myself, turn out to be a High C. 

 

--
Falk Bruegmann
3-6-4-7

quietlife4me's picture

 One possible perspective is that your manager thinks you do a  great job.  it could be a complement :)

SmartCookie's picture

 I recommend that you take a step back for a moment. Your manager has a different style than you do, absolutely - but to compare your leaders to raving lunatics on street corners undermines their abilities and is not constructive. As you have pointed out - you are new and relatively inexperienced, so consider that your managers have move experience - and different strengths -  that they are using when reviewing your risk analysis.

I say this as someone who has encountered similar issues when I have done risk analysis, so I do understand where you are coming from. I have found that it is very helpful, especially when dealing with high I/D personalities to summarize content up front, along with key discussion points and assumptions. All other content can go into an appendix and be reviewed as time permits. 

I understand that this approach would be uncomfortable for you, but would urge you to look at it as an opportunity to develop presentation skills and enhance your ability to communicate effectively with different personality types - these will serve you well in any job as you move forward

Two things that helped me when I first started:

-Risk analysis is about understanding risk and making appropriate plans to mitigate - not eliminating risk

-If doctors can explain complex risks to patients in a way that is understandable in a crisis, then certainly you can too. :)

Singers's picture

You sound like a high C myself - having been in a similar scenario myself, my recommendation is write the entire peace as you would - make a very boiled down version (maybe powerpoint) with key bullet point of risks and opportunities! 

Your boss is not effective in reading tons of information, she rely on you down a outstanding detailed job and providing the analysis in a compressed format to her with your recommendation and risk with those. She will then take the decision based on that.

While you and I want as much information as possible before making the decision, not all people work like that and in the longer term that often makes them more effective.

This is a outstanding opportunity to make your boss look good, by doing great work!

Kind Regards
Mads Sorensen
Disc 4536