CAREER DEVELOPMENT / OCT. 27, 2014
version 3, draft 3

How to Report to Multiple Bosses

As organizations become flatter and more project-oriented, a number of workers are finding themselves reporting to more than one boss. Having multiple bosses can make you feel like you’re back in school and your teachers are conspiring to give exams on the same day. While having multiple bosses will probably always be challenging, there are things you can do to make it better.

 

The challenges

OK…so there are a lot of challenges in reporting to multiple bosses. But these are the biggies:

 

  • Selective blindness: Your boss probably isn’t any more used to sharing an employee than you are to reporting to multiple bosses, and a lot of them responding by simply pretending the others don’t exist. They keep assigning work the way they always have, which means you can quickly become overloaded.
  • Turf wars: The opposite of the boss who pretends the other ones don’t exist is the boss who gets possessive. This boss insists that you belong to him and that you’ll only do work for the others when you’re finished with what he needs.
  • Agenda conflicts: This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of having multiple bosses. One insists you use the Oxford comma, and the other hates it. One wants you to round numbers, and the other wants as many numbers after the decimal point as you can fit. But it can be even more complicated than that. Sometimes it’s not only the way you do things that your bosses disagree on; it’s what. Maybe one boss wants you to looking into setting up a social media policy for employees, and another doesn’t want employees posting about the company under any circumstances.

 

The solutions

  • The solution to selective blindness is to put the proverbial writing on the wall in big, neon letters. Have a shared list in Google docs where everybody can see what you’re working on. If you want to go old school, keep a white board at your desk and list all of your projects. You can even use a different color for each boss to make it even more obvious that your time is divided.
  • The solution to turf wars is more political. The first step is to figure out who your “real” boss is. That’s the person who does your performance reviews, who determines your compensation, etc., and they should get top priority. Your next priority should be the person with the most unofficial pull – which boss can help or hurt your career the most? That person should be your second priority. Office politics can change overnight, so you’ll have to think this through more than once, but the tactic gets extra points for effectiveness and relevance.
  • The solution to agenda conflicts is to get all of your bosses in the same room, present the problem, and get out of the way. Let them hash it out while you’re on the sidelines. Maybe they’ll come to a resolution and give you a clear answer. However, it could be that you’ll wind up writing one report arguing for Option A and another report arguing for Option B, but at least your bosses will have advance notice and won’t be able to accuse you of being disloyal. They might even find themselves coming to agreement during the process.

 

Working for multiple bosses is hard enough when they’re working as a team. If they either refuse to acknowledge each other’s existence or are in direct conflict, it becomes even more challenging. But, if you follow the tips above, not only can you escape unscathed, but you’ll have gained invaluable experience in managing up.

 

Image source: EuroTreasurer

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