Career Compass Columns are reprinted with the permission of Dr. Frank Benest
In this installment of Career Compass, Dr. Benest discusses the multigenerational workplace
and offers suggestions on how the ages can work with each other for better team cohesion
and better project outcomes.
At the outset, you need to realize that there are a lot of managers who micromanage and
emphasize experience over ability to produce results. One of the skills in becoming a
seasoned professional is to adapt to the style of your boss and/or develop the ability
to "manage your boss."
I'm a Gen X professional working in local government. Many of my colleagues are
Gen X and millennials who work for baby-boomer managers. My manager tends to micromanage,
horde decision-making, talks about the need for me and others to 'pay their dues,' and is
reluctant to consider occasional telecommuting or flex-scheduling. He doesn't get it! How
do I work with him so I can get more transparency and openness, and get him to respond to
some of the values of my generation?
To better manage your boss, you should follow Steven Covey's advice: "seek first to understand,
then to be understood." Or, as Eric Fromm suggests, you need to practice "positive regard"
and get into the head of your manager in order to understand his values, hopes, concerns,
and fears. Once you truly understand your manager's motivations and fears, you can then better
shape and frame your proposals for more flexibility and freedom.
So, how do you get into the head of your manager and then frame a proposal with some
likelihood of success?
First, schedule several informal conversations with your manager in
the office or over a casual lunch or coffee break. You are not only trying to better
understand your boss but you want to also seek his advice on how you can better meet
his expectations, advance over time in the organization, and generally develop your
career. Remember-managers love to coach! Through these conversations, you want the
manager to become invested in you and your career.
Second, focus on your top priority with respect to enhancing your
relationship with your manager and achieving more flexibility. (The priority might
be less micromanagement and greater trust in your ability to perform.)
Third, before you directly address the issue of micromanagement, you
of course need to demonstrate that you are a committed, dependable staff person who
produces results for the manager.
Fourth, after an important project is completed and put to bed, you
can approach your manager and suggest a way you can lead future projects with more
independence, such as:
Fifth, identify a small project or responsibility that no one else
wants to take on and make the same pitch to your manager. Given your willingness to
help the unit deal with the additional project or responsibility, your manager may
be more open to providing more freedom in respect to that effort. You can then
demonstrate your performance without the over-the-shoulder supervision.
"I was able to meet your expectations and successfully bring Project X across the
finish line. If I am going to move up and become more valuable, I need to demonstrate
that I can work without so much support and assistance. Therefore, for my upcoming Project Y,
let's test my ability to deliver without us checking on my progress every few days. Let's
schedule a meeting every two or three weeks or at key project milestones. I know your expectations,
have demonstrated my successful performance on these kinds of projects, and am committed to achieve
our project goals. And, if I get in trouble, I'll certainly come to you for help. What do you think?"
Sixth, assuming that your manager will give you some more breathing
room, you need to take the initiative to provide a thorough briefing at the agreed upon
intervals. And, if you encounter significant problems or obstacles, go to your manager
and ask for help. That's what managers are for.
Finally, as it becomes safer for the manager to give you more
operating freedom, you can increase the time between check-ins.
In terms of trying to get permission for flex-scheduling or occasional telecommuting, I suggest the following:
To create a state of readiness for these conversations, you can circulate an article on generational differences
or the Cal-ICMA "Hiring 2.0" Best Practices Guide and discuss the material at a staff meeting. You can also discuss
with the human resources director and your manager how flex-scheduling and limited telecommuting are no-cost benefits
in a very tight budget situation. They are also ways for your organization to become "greener." Again, you need to
frame the issues in ways to gain support depending on the mind-set of those who have the authority to approve the proposals.
Demonstrate that you are responsive to colleagues, especially the manager, even when
you are away from the office. For example, when you take a day off or miss a day due to illness, respond to
e-mails at the end of the day even if your message says that you look forward to discussing the issue on your
next day in the office.
Ask the human resources director of your local government what the organization as a
whole is doing in terms of flex-scheduling, telecommuting, and otherwise developing a better alignment between
organizational practices and next generation values.
Use that information and share any organizational policies in a preliminary conversation
with your manager about how flex-scheduling or telecommuting is being used elsewhere in the organization.
Shape your proposal given the values and concerns of the manager. Be sure to stress
that the proposed schedule or very limited telecommuting will help you better complete your work. For example,
telecommuting will help you focus on a project at your home office with fewer interruptions.
Propose a limited telecommuting or flex schedule and ask to test it out on a pilot basis (e.g., one telecommuting day every two or three weeks or a 9/80 schedule for the next 3 months).
Meet after one or two months with your manager and evaluate accomplishments.
Added support can come from your union or employee association, leaders who can raise the issue at labor-management meetings.
In summary, to effectively get your manager to better respond to your values, you need to make it safe for the manager. Therefore, I suggest that you:
Dr. Benest thanks these emerging leaders for their input regarding this column: Amy Cunningham,
John Keisler, Matt Bronson, and Kelsey Worthy.
Demonstrate your ability to produce results.
Practice "positive regard" in respect to your manager.
Shape proposals to respond to his or her values and concerns.
Show in tangible ways that you are a safe bet and that any flexibility or additional freedom will pay off for the boss.
Take incremental steps and evaluate success with your manager.
Dr. Frank Benest is ICMA's senior advisor for Next Generation Initiatives and resides in Palo Alto,
California. If you have a career question you would like addressed in a future Career Compass, e-mail
email@example.com or post it to the discussion forum.