Whenever I onboard a new employee, there is a document that I walk them through. It is called “Meeting the expectations of Johannes”. This is a process that I learnt when I was a management consultant and it has served me exceptionally well since.
Why does it work so well? Because it externalizes something that in the workplace many bosses expect from their teams without ever telling them. They don’t tell them because they are either not structured enough to do so, or because they are not fully aware of their own expectations. As a consequence, their teams are left in the dark about what they are supposed to deliver or how they are supposed to behave. How can you meet someone’s expectations if you don’t know them?
So what I’m proposing here are four key modes of working that I, as a boss, find most helpful in my teams, and how I want everyone to look at their work. So if you know these principles and use them, your own boss will probably not know what hit him.
1. Take full ownership of your work
People who have worked with me are already rolling their eyes when they hear the word ‘ownership’. Because I use it so often. Because it is one of the most powerful concepts in the workplace to excel and shine. So what’s the deal?
Owning your work fully is all about the right attitude. Most of the people who are employed don’t do it. When they have a task they often take the most basic steps towards its completion and start stalling whenever they hit a roadblock. They send an email and complain if the person doesn’t respond. They delegate a task and whine if it is not delivered on time. They ask for information and stall when they don’t get it. They need help and are afraid to ask for it.
Do you see a common thread here? Self-employed people have to take ownership over their work – otherwise they won’t earn money. Employees earn money whatever they do (at least that’s what they often think) and thus tend to run to their boss when there is a problem. Even worse: when the moment has come to deliver their work they deliver excuses instead, such as ’But person XYZ didn’t send me what I asked them to send me so I couldn’t do it.”. As a boss, this drives me crazy.
The attitude behind owning your work is “I, and only I, am responsible for making sure that this task will be done on time and in the highest possible quality. Whenever other people are involved or needed, it is my, and only my, responsibility to make sure that their pieces of work are delivered on time and in the appropriate quality.”
What that means: when someone doesn’t answer your emails, you call them. When they don’t answer your calls you walk to their desk. You keep standing next to their computer until they deliver what was promised. You remind them of deadlines when they approach. You make sure that you know about potential problems early enough in order to act on them. You own your work.
2. Come with a solution, not a problem
Whenever you get stuck or face a problem, do not go to see your boss immediately, just to tell him ‘I have a problem’. I hate it when people do that. You know what that implies about you? It’s like saying “I really cannot think for myself. When the smallest problem arises I get stuck and my mind shuts down. I need someone else to think for me.” Is this the impression that you would like to give?
Here’s how to do much better: When you are faced with a problem you pause and start thinking. You start thinking really hard about this problem, until you come up with several possible solutions or ways to move forward from here. You then go on to evaluate these solutions. You will think about the consequences of each of these ways forward, and which advantages and disadvantages would come with them. You then pick the solution that you think is the best one after considering all the consequences. Then, and only then do you go to see your boss. You tell her: ‘Hi boss, while working on this topic I ran into this problem. There are several possible alternatives to proceed from here: A, B and C. I suggest to proceed with solution B because of these advantages, even though it also has the following disadvantages. If you concur, I would go ahead and implement solution B. Do you agree?’
Now that is one conversation that I love to have with a member of my team. In the best case scenario I agree and my team member can continue working. If I don’t agree I am getting the chance to intervene at a critical junction in the road and my staff does not risk wasting a lot of time running down the wrong road. That is how you impress your boss!
3. Assure the quality of your work at all times
When you deliver a piece of work, always assure that the quality is top notch. Ask yourself: ‘Is this the best piece of work I can deliver under the circumstances?’ If not, go back and improve it. Let your work speak for itself!
One very critical aspect of doing so is to make your work look great. A small calculation error somewhere in a document can invalidate the credibility of a whole document even if the rest of the work is amazing. So if you deliver something to your boss assume that she may present your work in front of her client or the board of directors without checking it herself.
Here is a small checklist to go through:
- Make sure that there are no typos and correct grammar
- Use precise language that gets to the point
- Double check all calculations and numbers
- Make sure that the document is aesthetically okay and consistent throughout, e.g., in terms of graphs, tables, titles, font type and font size
- Always include data sources on all your referenced materials, such as data points, graphs and tables
- Critically judge all your data: “Do they make sense? Are they plausible?” Many mistakes can be found easily be just looking at the numbers and judging if the order of magnitude is correct.
- Print out documents and review them on hard copy
- If you have time, review them one day later
- Let someone else check your work – four eyes see more than two
If you do this, you will become known as the person who always delivers superior work. The goal is make your boss start sending people your way to check their work before it is seen by her.
4. Respect the time of your boss
Chances are, your boss is super busy and needs concentration and uninterrupted time to get his own projects done. So you do not want to be the person standing at her desk every 15 minutes with a small question, breaking her work flow. So you need some strategies to be the person that values her time and makes every encounter highly productive.
Have you ever heard of batch processing? It is a computer term for data that is collected into batches of records and each batch is processed as a unit.
What I propose to you is to batch the interactions that you have with your boss and respect her time and schedule. In short, do not go to your boss for every small issue that you have. Instead, cut down interaction by collecting several issues or questions that you need to discuss and clarify them all at once.
One exception would be if you get stuck and cannot continue working without speaking to your boss. Waiting for a long time would just waste your precious time that you can otherwise invest in moving the project forward. In those cases, ask to speak to your boss as soon as it possibly fits her schedule. Make sure, however, that you have gone through the process described in points 1, 2 and 3.
For all non-urgent issues, you can resort to email, as your boss can work on them on his own schedule. But make sure to make all emails to the point and highly relevant. Use a concise subject line such as “Short feedback needed on project X” or “Clarification question regarding project X”. State your issues and questions precisely and make it clear what exactly it is that you need.
If you follow these four strategies you are guaranteed to earn yourself a very high opinion by your boss. Whenever she thinks of quality work and effective working behavior you will come to mind. So go ahead and implement these four strategies and become the go-to person of your boss.
What are other strategies that you think can impress your boss? Please add them in the comments!
All the best, and get done what matters,
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