Reader’s Question of the week – How to work with multiple bosses?

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A Reader writes:

I am an HR professional currently report to two managers, one is located where I work in India and the other one is located overseas. On a daily basis I am interacting with both of them and both are assigning various tasks to me that I sometimes find difficult to meet. I often find it difficult to cope with the processes that the manager in India follows and that effects the operations at India. I know the flaws and the processes that need to be changed. At this time our Company Head is also visiting us for a review next month and the manager at oversees wants me present all the findings and talk about the flaws of India manager to him.  I require your suggestions on how to act in this situation.

In reading about your situation I understand that you report to multiple managers and they are at different locations. I am not very sure about your relationship with your managers but from what I understood you are not comfortable with the way the manager at India works since you have realized the flaws in the process that he follows.  While working with multiple managers it is quite expected that people feel uncomfortable when their managers are not on same page.  What worked for one may not work for the other and sometimes you feel that their messages are conflicting to one another. So be careful when your work with multiple managers and make sure not to let them down and jeopardize your career as a result.

I once had the similar situation in the beginning of my career where I had to work with two senior members and they both worked to contradict each other and I can relate to you.

I would suggest that you initially approach them individually and get clear clarification on the processes, if you find any flaws get them to their notice, inform them about the problems that can eventually arise due to the flaws, present your suggestions and get directions to resolve it.

Be specific, quote examples where he can see these flaws and pin point areas in which you feel improvement that would result benefit to employees and to the organization as well.

As an example, let’s say that the performance management process that you follow is such where employees are told to enter their key result areas only when the yearend appraisal is due. This may not appeal to the employees and is not good for organizational growth. As a better alternative, having employees enter that information in the system in the beginning would help them have a mutual agreement with their supervisors on what is expected out of them. And that would ultimately avoid unclear expectations and can motivate your employees in achieving their goal. This will result a smooth appraisal, improved performance, increase in revenue and organizational growth.

After you have a good understanding on how both work, have your managers communicate with other often so that they are on the same page about the process that need to be followed and get that documented. Another advantage of having the three of you meet together is that they can see what you have deal with and see that the problem is not you but themselves. It is always wise to let them step ahead and sort out their differences.

Make sure you do this before you approach your Company head that is the boss of both of them. This way you can tackle it diplomatically and don’t burn any bridges. But if still things don’t go smoother and if you really feel this is hurting your career I would suggest you to inform their reporting manger and get your reporting structure changed to a single manager.

Additional Tips when your work with multiple bosses:

Make your responsibilities are transparent to them: People who report to multiple managers are often stifled due to their work load and they don’t even know what to finish when, all they know of is a never-ending to do list. While you fulfill the task that had delegated by one, the other will think you have no other responsibilities than the ones delegated by him. Having transparent roles and responsibilities can help you manage them better as they know what you are up to.

Know who your primary boss is: Ultimately what matters is who is going to be the one that reviews your performance appraisal and makes decision about your career advancement within the organization. It is always better to be on same page with him and act accordingly.

Bring them together to the table: What impress one might not work for the other and this is so common when you report to multiple managers. They may have inconsistent and contradictory demands. In this situation it is better to bring them together for a meeting and have them communicate each other and get it sorted out.

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