Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Inform and conquer

One of the toughest things about any workplace is navigating the relationships with your coworkers.  And one of the most crucial relationships among coworkers is that of employee-supervisor.  While this topic is vast, today I want to talk about just one aspect: keeping your supervisor informed.

Just for background--I work in a rather small department and I almost always pass things through my supervisor before calling them done.  They've never expressly required it, and often it gets through as is, but they do appreciate it (a lot).  So my tips are based on my experience. There are certainly other factors to consider--your personality, your boss's personality, company policies, industry norms--but I hope this guide is a good place to start. 

Let's face it--every supervisor wants to know what their employees are up to. But they often don't have the time to check in regularly (plus, who wants a micro-managing boss?). Taking small steps to keep your supervisor informed along the way can go a long way in reinforcing your boss's confidence in your work. A win-win.

You're obviously communicating with your boss when you need their approval on something, but when else might you want to consider keeping them in the loop? Here are just a few suggestions.

  • Conducting basic administrative business. Changes to your regular schedule (one-time or recurring), vacation requests, sick days, you name it. Anything HR may be interested in is usually required to be documented somewhere (usually email for me). [You would think this is a no-brainer, but I've seen a lot of folks remiss in this respect.]
  • Updating them on project progress. This could be through a regular email or one-on-one, but could also take the form of a simple cc on project emails.
  • Proposing new ideas or projects. If you have an idea for a new project or a major improvement to an existing process, telling your boss and getting their buy-in is the first step to making your idea a reality.
  • Sending final work to a client/coworker, regardless of whether your supervisor was required to approve it. It's a quick and easy way to indicate to your boss that a project has been completed, and hopefully any positive feedback will be reply-all-ed by the recipient. Let others toot your horn for you!
  • Expressing concerns and offering suggestions.  Do you think a project is headed in the wrong direction? Coming up with a workable solution before approaching your boss with the problem will show that you've thought it through and reflects well on your skills.
  • When you might need back-up. While I don't recommend using cc-ing as a threat (as some folks do), some recipients do act differently if they know you're operating with the express approval of your supervisor.  This also gives your supervisor a heads up and helps them look authoritative in the situation.
When not go to your boss: if it's TMI, if something still has typos, or if the answer is a Google search away.

Keeping your supervisor informed doesn't have to take up extra time. Here is my quick guide (which I found floating around in my mind) for the best mediums for different communications needs.
  • Email: Basic administrative business, meeting requests, attaching things you would like reviewed, project updates.  For important project, email is also a good way to update your supervisor on what's going on, either by direct email or cc on project communications (in case it needs to be documented anywhere)
  • Written: Anything that requires paper forms from your HR department or wet signatures. Otherwise email almost always suffices.
  • Verbal: Anything more casual than email that doesn't require documentation, such as reminders of schedule changes you've already gotten approved ahead of time, minor changes in lunch hour (if yours is flexible), quick once-over reviews, and project status updates.  Verbal communication is also rather efficient when you're really in a bind on a project and need to bounce ideas off of someone or just need some advice.
When do you and don't you keep your supervisor informed of something? If you are a supervisor, what advice do you have for us direct reports?


  1. great post! i've learned that stopping by my boss's office once a day towards the late afternoon with mini updates on my progress is ideal for keeping him in the loop. i agree that this prevent micro-management and makes your boss more confident in your abilities to manage time.

    great post!

    cute and little
    come join the Color Brigade!

  2. I manage an Ad Agency and due to recent staff overhaul have ended up with a completely new, very green set of employees (ie recent college grads). There are positives & negatives to this situation, and one of the more glaring issues is that they do not know how or when to communicate with me. The end result is that I started micro-managing (horror!) because I had no idea what they were doing or where they were in their assigned campaigns, and keeping up the expected level of quality control was almost impossible.
    Over the last few weeks I've backed off and am trying to wean them from being used to me holding their hands every step of the way. Not only was that counter productive, but I couldn't get my job done either. The point of all that?:

    1. Unless your boss is not a good manager or there are no procedures in place, follow the established procedures! They are there for a reason.

    2. Suggest updates or revisions to procedures if there aren't any or if you see a better way of doing things. Only a bad supervisor doesn't listen to the staff about these things.

    3. big point with me personally: if your boss sends you an email - respond! Even if it's just Will Do or Got It - acknowledge that you read what they are telling you. nothing makes me crazier than having to follow up verbally on an email that wasn't answered.

    4. Don't make your super ask you if a project is complete - drop it by their office, attach it to an email or if you have a shared server network, shoot them an email letting them know where they can access & review it.

    The points you made are spot on! I think the most important thing is paying attention to your work environment and to how detail oriented your boss is - if they are a big picture person or if they like to review everything before it is submitted. I know what my boss wants to see and what he trust me to handle without his approval, and that makes for a great working relationship.

  3. There have been a lot of changes in my workplace over the past year and my boss was pretty green when she took on the job so I and the other staff had to fill her in on how things work around here. She eventually settled into a groove and made some improvements to our best practices but it's a work-in-progress. I'm a self-starter and manage my own projects pretty well but I fill her in at critical junctures. And I am not above using CC to stress the importance of something to certain people who might not take tasks so seriously if the boss wasn't informed!

  4. Great post Angeline, full of good tips! The work place can be such a challenging place in so many regards, thank God we have each other for support and help.

    Still glad I am my own supervisor nowadays ;)

  5. @ kileen - great one! Thanks!

    @ rachel - Love your tips! So spot on. It is amazing how many people don't get the common sense parts of business communication

    @ kathleen - yes! CC does have it's benefits (although a lot of people use it wrong).

    @ virginie's cinema - Thanks! I agree--it's always good to have someone to chat about it with. So glad your venture is going well!


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