For Online E-newspaper
The East African : March 24th 2014
The EastAfrican 46 BUSINESS MARCH 22-28,2014 MANAG E R When you≥ boss is too nice, think twice Y es, it can be pleasant to work for someone who is kind and thoughtful, but there’s a difference be- tween bosses who are pleasant to work for and those who avoid conflict at all costs. Managers in the latter category don’t give tough feedback, shy away from going to bat for their teams and give in too easily to demands. If this sounds like your boss, your career may be at risk. “I’m 100 per cent in favour of kindness and compassion in leadership. What I don’t believe in is a boss who, in the name of niceness, doesn’t do what he’s supposed to,” says Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Working for a manager who is conflict-averse can have deleterious effects on your performance and your career. Linda Hill, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and a co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, says that many of these bosses aren’t aware of the effect they’re having on their direct reports. “My experience with leaders like this is that they don’t know they’re behaving that way,” she says. Here’s how to mitigate the potential damage of a boss who is too nice. Be empathetic Having a boss who doesn’t stand up for you is frustrating — but don’t blame him. “New bosses are particularly prone to this. Have a little sympathy that he’s trying to gain credibility with his peers and boss,” says Hill. If you see the situation from his perspective, rather than painting him as the enemy, you’ll be better able to help him. Directly address the issue Start by talking to your boss. Make clear what you need — and be as concrete as possible. If you’re not getting the necessary resources for a project, you might say: “This is what we’re supposed to get done and unless we have more people dedicated to the project, we won’t be able to do it. Is there a way we can work on getting more resources?” Or if she’s being too hands-off and not giving you enough input, you might say, “I need more insight from you along the way and I’m not sure how to get it.” You can also try to make it easier for her to give feedback. “You may want to describe actual events and how you handled them and then ask for advice on how you could have handled it differently,” says Hill. Make the costs clear “People change, but not unless they’re dissatisfied with their own behaviour,” says Hill. For this reason, it’s important that you help your boss understand the costs of his behaviour. Step into his shoes and try to understand what he really cares about. “That way you can show that what he wants to accomplish is at risk,” says Hill. If you can make the down- sides of his conflict-avoidant behaviour evident, he may be incented to change. For example, you might explain that by not directly addressing underperformance on your team, he’s alienating the high performers. Point to direct evidence, such as a team member’s disengagement. Take matters into your own hands McKeown suggests that in- If your manager avoids conflict, it could negatively affect your career. Picture: File COMMENTARY AMY GALLO “Working for a manager who is conflict-averse can have deleterious effects on your performance and your career.” stead of waiting for your boss to give you guidance and input, do it yourself. “Write a contract with your boss,” McKeown says. “Put down in writing what results you’re trying to achieve, the parameters you’re working within and how you will be held accountable.” Then ask your boss to react to it and sign it. “At least you’ll have something concrete you can run towards,” he says. For some people, this seems pushy, but McKeown’s research shows it’s effective. “All the managers I’ve talked to say they’d welcome that level of initiative,” he says. Tap your network In some cases, you may need to go above your boss and use your network to get feedback or resources. But don’t sneak around your boss if possible. Try to include him in those discussions. For example, you might discover that there is some slack in another department and tell your boss about it so he can ask that team leader for additional resources. With a conflict-avoidant manager, it’s doubly important that you have strong relationships elsewhere in the organisation. Hill says: “Build your net- work so it includes people a few levels up and so you have a legitimate reason to talk to them.” McKeown agrees on the im- portance of these connections: “Find someone who is not your boss’s boss but sits just outside your team who can be your spokesperson.” Consider leaving if you can It’s easy to assume that hav- ing a conflict-averse manager isn’t really a problem. But there are serious long-term effects. These kinds of bosses may not help you advance your career because they’re afraid to ruffle feathers and get you promoted. Or they may damage your cred- ibility if they are seen as ineffective and others assume those on their teams are too. “People let it go on for a long time,” McKeown says. He suggests that you transfer to another department or leave the company if your boss is unable to change. “I would always prefer to work with someone who has some edge and is willing to challenge me to be better,” he says. Principles to remember Talk directly with your boss about what you need and be as concrete as possible. Build your network so that you can rely on other people for help and resources. Make the costs of her behav- iour very clear. Don’t hesitate to take matters into your own hands. Don’t think of your boss as the enemy; he may not be aware of his behaviour. Don’t let it go on for too long; if possible consider transferring to another department or finding a new job. Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review. A≥e you≥ budgeting decisions still stuck on last yea≥’s numbe≥s? A JOINT REPORT NYT Syndicate REMEMBER YOUR last budget meeting? If you’re like many CFOs, it was a long, exhausting process that was not particularly effective. As the presenters showed you their plans, you probably challenged every number and explored every assumption. In the end, you may have raised their targets a little, but if you’re honest, you have to admit that each unit’s final budget for next year looked a lot like the one its managers proposed at the beginning of the budget process — which in turn wasn’t much different from the latest forecast for this year or actual performance for the previous year. We hear variations of this story at companies across industries and geographies, and executives wonder why the process unfolds like this and what they could change about it. The short answer, in many cases, is that you’ve been anchored. Anchoring is a well-known psychological bias whereby one piece of information sticks in your mind and influences your interpretation of subsequent information, even if you’re unaware of it. In the case of budgeting, getting stuck in the same numbers from year to year is almost unavoidable. Many management techniques attempt to overcome this challenge. Zero-based budgeting is one, but the process is time-consuming and unrealistic on an annual basis. Another is the “what would it take” exercise, where the CFO quizzes managers on, for example, what it would take for them to double their assumed rate of growth or to achieve the same results with half the resources. When used sparingly, these are useful challenges that can get teams to rethink their assumptions. But they can also lead to ineffective budget conversations if they become too familiar, as presenters learn to expect the challenge and sharpen their arguments for a given budget number or performance target. Identify what will determine performance. Set fact-based criteria that define what’s possible with respect to sales, such as market size, current market share, and sales-force head count relative to competitors. Don’t try to include every factor that affects sales; the criteria need to be plausible, not “In the case of budgeting, getting stuck in the same numbers from year to year is almost unavoidable.” exhaustive. It’s important to make sure that objective data can be found for those you do choose. This year’s targets (or results) should not be a factor — they already have enough weight as an anchor. Alternatively, data from competitor benchmarking can be quite useful in this context. We have found that three to seven objective criteria usually suffice to obtain a plausible, “good enough” model. Estimate sales potential. This should not require a massive effort. The aim here is to set next year’s sales targets as if you didn’t know this year’s, relying only on the criteria you defined.
March 17th 2014
March 31st 2014