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How to Build a Great Working Relationship with Your Boss

No one can manage anyone well, or for long, on an ad hoc basis. There needs to be a sound basis-a routine and a structure-if the relationship is going to be constructive.

This premise is easy to adopt, but then, unless your boss does all the work and creates exactly what you want, it demands two things:

  • That you think it through. You need to take the initiative and think about what factors constitute a sound working arrangement. You can do worse than list them
  • That you make it happen. Again, take the initiative where necessary for creating and agreeing the appropriate basis-and making it stick

Any shortfall here will dilute your efforts to manage others; if you cannot get precisely the arrangement you want the first time (and this may well be the case), then you need to keep on working at it.

Amongst the things that help this process are to:

  • Adopt a day-to-day routine, especially with regard to how you communicate and how and when you have meetings
  • Ensure regular communication (of all sorts, but especially meetings) and ensure you have sufficient time together to agree matters between you
  • Make sure that project timing is agreed, and particularly that check points or progress meetings are scheduled in advance (by stage, if not by date)
  • Agree also to the nature and style of all the above: for example, what exactly is a progress meeting? How long is it likely to take, should it be preceded by a written document of some sort, and, if so, what level of detail is involved?
  • Make sure that such practice relates appropriately to tasks (that it is what is needed to get the job done) and to the people (so that all parties feel comfortable with it)
  • Address both long- and short-term issues. Think about what is needed day-to-day, right through to annual matters (like planning or appraisal)

It is important to relate all this to the nature of work and tasks. A progress meeting on an essentially routine matter may not take long or involve anything complicated; though it may still be vital to keep things on track. At the other end of the scale, a meeting that is designed to be a creative-discussion that aims to identify new ideas or methods-will take longer and is also more likely to be squeezed out by pressure of time on matters that somehow have more immediate urgency. The routine should help make things right along this scale happen effectively.

Describing a good working methodology is one thing, achieving it may well be another. Certainly it will not just happen (unless you have an exceptional manager), or will not happen consistently. So you need to be prepared to think it through, and see it as something else on which you must be prepared to take an initiative. Thus:

  • Ask: ask, that is, for the opportunity to discuss things, and have some ideas ready (either this can be approached overall, or-better with a less approachable manager-over one issue, a project perhaps, initially as a way of creating good practice)
  • Suggest: put forward ideas, offer suggestions, and use what other people (chosen because they will be respected) do to exemplify your case. Discuss, negotiate, request a test (plead?)-but get something agreed, even if it is at first a starting point that you return to and refine to move nearer to the ideal
  • Action: take the initiative and act assumptively. In other words, just do it. For example, as a project starts, set out a timetable in writing, scheduling progress meetings, and send it without comment, put (or through a secretary get put) the date in the diary, send an agenda ahead of the time and appear ready for the meeting. Taking such action, assuming it is sensible and will be approved, makes sense; your boss may actually find it useful (maybe to the surprise of you both!) and not only react positively but also react well to similar things in future
  • Match their style: finally, as you approach all this, bear in mind the kind of person they are. What will suit them? Aim high by all means, but if ultimately some compromise is likely to be necessary, plan what you might do. For example, attitude to detail is important here. Your manager may be a “put it on one page” kind of person, or want every i dotted, and every t crossed.

You cannot just ignore such characteristics; a well-matched case has the best chance of being agreed to and of working. Start as you mean to, go on, suggest something practical, act to get it agreed, and make it work so that they will want it to continue.