Based on It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss by Bruce Tulgan (Jossey Bass, September 2010)
Most management conversations occur ad hoc: Maybe during group meetings — even if many of the people present at the meeting don’t need to be part of that conversation — in sudden e-mails and voicemails, in passing or when there is a big problem that desperately needs attention.
I call this phenomenon “management on-the-fly” or “management by special occasion.” There is no systematic logic to the timing of most management conversations. In fact, they are usually random incomplete, and often too late to avoid any problem or solve one before it grows large.
The only alternative to being subjected to management on-the-fly and management by special occasion is for you to get in the habit of having regular one-on-one management conversations with all your bosses.
Think about it: How often do you have structured routine one-on-one management conversations with your boss or bosses?
How often you should meet with your boss or bosses depends on a whole range of factors. In an ideal world, maybe YOU would talk with every single boss — reviewing your work and getting set up for success that day — every single day. Some bosses need more attention than others. Talking to every boss every day is not always possible and may not be the ideal.
Yes, every situation is different. But almost always, the short answer is this: You should be meeting one-on-one with each boss more often than you are currently.
If you are working with a boss for the first time, you should meet more often. If you are working with a boss on a new project, you should meet more often. If you are working with a boss on a project with especially high stakes, you should meet more often. If you are working with a boss on a project where there is a lot of uncertainty, then you should meet more often.
The last thing in the world you want to do is make bad use of a boss’s time by meeting more often than necessary or wasting time during those meetings. Keep your management conversations brief, straightforward, and to the point. As long as you conduct these one-one-one conversations regularly, there is no reason they should be long and convoluted. The goal is to make these conversations focused, efficient, brief and simple. Prepare in advance so that you can move the conversation along swiftly.
Once you’ve gotten into a routine with each boss, fifteen minutes every week or every other week should be all you need. Like everything else, it’s a moving target. Over time, however, you’ll have to gauge how much time you need to spend with each boss.
The fundamental goal of one-on-one meetings is communicating with your boss about the work you are doing for him or her. With each boss, you will have to decide what to focus on and discuss at each one-on-one. Before your meetings, you should ask yourself the following: Are there problems that haven’t been spotted yet? Problems that need to be solved? Resources that need to be obtained? Are there any instructions or goals that are not clear? Has anything happened since we last talked that the boss should know about? Are there questions that need to be answered by your boss?
At the very least, in these one-one-ones, you need to receive updates on your progress. Get input from your boss while you have the chance, and think about what input you should be providing to the boss based on what you are learning on the front line. Strategize together. Try to get a little advice, support, motivation, and, yes, even inspiration once in a while.