BLUF: My professional relationship with my boss is very weak, but amicable, and he has an unusually low influence on my professional development. I am conflicted about whether or not to make an effort to develop our relationship (without managing up, of course). If so, how?

Background: My boss is very new to our industry and is the first to admit that his operational understanding is very low. Our department is very male-dominated and comes with the stereotypical macho approach to managing - "If you don't hear from the boss, you must be doing everything right". He is responsible for 6 directs at three locations, in two very different fields. More simply, one department A manager and one department B manager at each site.

My site is the highest profile, most profitable and largest of the three, meaning that I have the most contact with my director of all of the managers, which works out to being approximately one very informal meeting, two phone calls, and ten e-mails per month. Whenever we are discussing my department, he cuts the conversation short, politely saying that it's my show, I can do what I think is best.

My peers and I are expected to provide no progress reports or updates and we have no metrics to be measured by. I make a point of informing my boss whenever something that I believe is a major development happens, but my perception is that those updates are received at best as mildly informative, at worst as an annoyance. I base that juudgement on the infrequent responses I receive, or quick phone calls filled with dead air on the other end.

I have listened to the Managing your Boss cast, and One on Ones for the Direct, and often think that I should be working harder at building my relationship with my director, but am held back by a few points:

Officially I have annual reviews, but in  practice I call my boss, tell him that my review period is up and he tells me that he has no issues and ends the conversation.

In terms of professional development, my boss has very little influence on my career. The only position directly above mine in the company is director, which I am not interested in. Moving up would involve a somewhat lateral (diagonal?) movement, and I am actively developing the necessary contacts in that direction.

I had always assumed that the person at the top of the food chain in my area would be responsible for my compansation. However, I recently spoke with him about reviewing my package, which was received favorably. I prepared a proposal that he agreed with, both my justifications and my proposed salary increase. I then received word back from him that he had taken my proposal to his boss (the COO) who had "been impressed, but said no for now".

My impression is that my director is very happy with the work that my team and I are doing, but is not interested in developing our professional relationship further. Given that, and the minimal influence he has on my future progression, what would other managers on this site do?

My proposed plan of action is to to continue to give updates to the director with praise for my team and major developments as warranted, but spend most of my efforts building relationships with the other managers who are in my indirect (and hopefully future) upline.

jhack's picture

Your situation isn't all that unusual.   Good that you're familiar with the M-T ideas for handling the relationship with your boss...

The good news:   Your boss trusts you, and is giving you both the responsibility and the authority to execute.   There are many who would envy your situation.  

Your COO's pay freeze may simply be a result of the economic climate;  many companies are currently doing this.  Moreover, as your boss is new, the COO may be keeping a close eye on things. 

Create a briefing book (see the M&A podcasts) and keep your status up to date.  If your boss doesn't want to see it, that's OK.  It's a good discipline.  You may get a call next week saying, "The COO and I are going to visit the site..." and it's nice to know that you're ready to give a briefing. 

You could also organize a regular meeting of your peers to share best practices and process improvements.  (let your boss know, of course).  This would be a gathering of peers, with the goal to make everyone more effective.  This would provide you with a broader perspective on the business and greater visibility. 

Ultimately, results are what matter.  If your results are good and continue to get better, that's golden. 

And it can't hurt to listen to the podcasts on Networking and on Recruiter relationships.  Your next career move may need to be into a new organization. 

John Hack

Mark's picture

Keep doing what you're doing.  Results.

John's got it right.  I wouldn't spend too much time or energy worrying about this relationship.  It IS the more important relationship you have, but you have little influence over it.  It sounds like things are great for you relative to what he will tolerate.

That said, he does have enormous power over you by the nature of the role and how he has crafted the relationship.  It's likely he feels little personal affection for you, and that means he has a low barrier to go over to let you go if anything were to change.  So, for bosses like this, you need a fresh resume every 90 days, and a network and a good recruiter or two.  John nailed that - thanks John.

The only uncertainty for me is the annual review, because I don't know how big, formal, or public your firm is.  If you're supposed to be getting one (you have more than 150 in the firm, or there's an HR department which runs them, for instance) you better insure you ARE, you know where your copies are, and how they stack up against the cultural standards.  I doubt this is a problem, but I can't be certain based on the inferences I've drawn.



galway's picture

My takeaways:

  1. "Create a briefing book"
  2. "Organize a regular meeting of your peers to share best practices and process improvements"
  3. "You need a fresh resume every 90 days, and a network and a good recruiter or two"
  4. "RESULTS"

Absolutely golden, I love this place. Thanks guys, you rock.