Take grounded approach with 'space cadet' boss
Q. We recently got a new manager who is totally disorganized. "Rick" will tell us to do something, then after we finish, he says that it was not at all what he wanted. Rick also forgets a lot of things after we talk about them. Our team is getting confused and discouraged. How do you work for someone who is a complete space cadet?
A. If your previous supervisor was a systematic, orderly type, then Rick's leadership style is undoubtedly a huge adjustment. To get what you need from this scattered boss, you and your colleagues may now have to put much more effort into "managing up."
As you have seen, disorganized managers frequently fail to convey expectations clearly. Because they think about results in general terms, they simply don't consider many details. Then, when a project is complete, they are dismayed to discover that the finished product doesn't match their mental picture.
To minimize these unpleasant surprises, try to extract Rick's hidden assumptions at the beginning of a project. By asking reasonable questions, you may be able to explore his thinking and better define what he's looking for. You might also propose some possibilities and see how he reacts.
At the start of any new activity, build in some feedback points to get Rick's view of your progress. If he has an opportunity to approve plans, review drafts, evaluate prototypes or provide input on key decisions, he is much more likely to be happy with the final result.
To compensate for Rick's unreliable memory, put important meetings on his calendar, send friendly reminders about critical dates and follow up discussions with an email summarizing conclusions and agreements. While all this may sound like a lot of extra work, in the long run it will make your life much easier.
Q. During my years of teaching, I have frequently shared my classroom with other instructors. These collaborations have worked very well until now. Recently, I was asked to co-teach with a new employee who is still in her probationary period. Although "Ellen" is well-qualified, she seems to have trouble working collaboratively.
Because our activities need to be coordinated, I always send Ellen a summary of my upcoming lesson plans. However, she never shares her plans with me and seems to resent my asking about them. She gets angry very quickly, so I try to avoid saying anything that might start a conflict.
I have tried to hide these issues from the students, but I'm sure they sense the tension. Should I talk to someone about this?
A. Since your uncooperative colleague is still on probation, you need to share these observations with her supervisor. The probationary period allows management to evaluate new hires before making a final commitment to their employment. During this time, an unsuitable employee can usually be terminated without the normal disciplinary steps.
While I am not suggesting that you begin a campaign to get Ellen fired, I am suggesting that your feedback needs to be part of her ongoing probationary assessment. Simply provide the facts as you have observed them and leave any conclusions up to her boss. If others provide similar input, the final decision should be obvious.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics."