Trainer and Conference Speaker Frank Newberry continues his series on 'Managing Upwards' or 'managing the boss'. In Parts 1 and 2 Frank gave his ten tips for people who have just one boss to worry about. He now offers five more tips on how to manage multiple bosses, boards and committees with his focus being on 'managing' them at meetings.
Not a good recipe for feeling secure in a job
In parts one and two of this series we established the need to do some upward management and not just rely on the goodwill of a busy and perhaps stressed-out manager or supervisor.
Now we turn our attention to the situation faced by many greenkeepers and groundsmen i.e. being managed by multiple bosses, boards and committees. Many of whom it needs to be said may be here today and gone tomorrow, or next year or in three years time. These arrangements, common in a lot of private members clubs are not a good recipe for feeling secure in a job or in a career. At least the Chairman or board member or committee members know the duration of their tenure.
These arrangements have another major downside in that they, in many cases, promote some of the worst types of 'short term-ism' e.g. the felt need to have a clear out, to leave a legacy or to make a name for themselves in their allotted time in charge.
Tip Number 1. Help your bosses to get the best out of you
Your focus should be to help your bosses to get the best out of you and you have a great opportunity on a regular basis to do just that at the meetings you and they attend. If you do not attend meetings then get yourself invited! In part 3 of my series on the topic of negotiation for this journal the very first item I suggested you negotiate was your personal attendance and participation at all higher level management meetings. You can say it is for your development; so that you can better understand all the issues; so that you can do a better job for them.
Whatever reason you give the bosses should see clearly that this is a way of getting the best out of you. To overcome the objectors and the reluctant ones in the management team you may have to offer to do it 'just for a while' or 'for a trial period'.
Tip Number 2. You will do your best work at meetings outside the meeting
If you have attended meetings before you probably already know that meetings can go on for what seems a very long time, people can talk a lot and sometimes it is hard to get the decisions that you want. This is because a meeting of people is a living organism that has a life of its own. People can and will behave differently at meetings than they do at other times. They will come to the meeting with their own personal agendas, their own axes to grind and a captive audience to try and influence.
You will do your best work at meetings outside the meeting. Network your bosses. Patiently, but persistently, get to know each person. Meet them as individuals at short and informal one-to-one sessions. Buy them a drink or have a meal with them. Find out what each Board or Committee member wants from each of the meetings, what each wants from you and what you can do to help them get what they want at meetings.
Tip Number 3. Let them deal with any disappointment or anger with you privately
Whenever practical, call or contact each of them before a scheduled meeting and run every important issue by them to get their thoughts and reactions. Update them on any ongoing matters especially any bad news you have for them. Let them deal with any disappointment or anger with you privately, during which time you can be very understanding and take your share of the blame. Having done things that way, by the time the next meeting comes along there will be no flames to fan and the meeting can get on with considering your solution options in a constructive way.
Tip Number 4. Offer at least four solution options, some of which are going to be wrong.
For a few years I had a job that required me to make proposals, suggestions and recommendations to boards and bosses and I used to get really uptight if I couldn't win over everyone in the room. I probably outstayed my welcome at one or two board meetings trying to convert the one in ten who looked doubtful about my ideas. Nowadays I understand how the rest of the board can do all that for me. According to some research it is apparently natural for one person in a group to immediately love your idea and equally natural for one or two others to be doubtful. We need to get the commitment of the main decision makers or the majority of the people, whichever is less, and let them do the persuasion for us.
I made the mistake in the past of working very hard
If we can network our bosses and learn to like them we will have a lot less to do. I made the mistake in the past of working very hard on the best possible solution without realising that it has got to be perfect or people will lock horns with you. Why? Because some people think that if you have the right idea, but it is not quite perfect, then you are putting them 'in the wrong' when you defend your idea against their objections. I now know that, whilst people do not always need to be 'in the right' about everything, no one seems to like being 'in the wrong' about anything. These days I get round this dilemma by offering at least four solution options, some of which are going to be wrong.
Here is how you get round the 'perfect option' problem. If you offer just one solution to a tricky problem then that solution has to be seen as the perfect or best solution - by everyone. What, you may ask, are the chances of that happening? Not good at all.
If, however, you look at the problem again and come up with two options for consideration you may be inadvertently placing your bosses on the horns of a dilemma. Which to choose? Which would be best?
It is vital that you argue the case for and against your own options.
People do not like to be wrong so they might ask you which one you like best. This is an invitation I suggest you resist because it is a trap door leading to you giving one perfect solution again. Let's try three options instead. One could be the 'quality first' option, one could be the 'cost control' option and one could be the fastest or the one that is the least disruptive option.
If you then cost compare these in your submission against familiar criteria like cost, time, quality, customer satisfaction, staff morale etc. you can let the board pick and mix your options until they have what they want.
It is vital that you argue the case for and against your own options with equal conviction even if you have a favourite option of your own.
To ensure that the people at the meeting take the situation seriously you could offer the 'stay as we are' alternative which could be option four - again strongly argued, for and against, using the same criteria. Once all four have been outlined stick around and help the members to understand the options and then withdraw. Research suggests that most people need time to make big decisions and you can go back to them when they feel they will have a decision for you.
Tip Number 5: If you are confident your bosses will have confidence in you
Finally, it has always amused me how many people find it hard to recall a lot of what has been said at meetings but they can easily remember what they said at a meeting. There is research that suggests that we remember how people come across to us, e.g. as confident and assertive or perhaps as unclear or uncertain. The issue is very plain - if you are confident your bosses will have confidence in you; they will want to get the best out of you and they could help you to be the best.
If you have an urgent question about negotiating you can contact Frank via his personal website www.franknewberry.com