FlourishAnyway is an industrial/organizational psychologist with applied experience in corporate human resources and consulting.
Help Your Boss Get His (Or Her) Stuff Together
He's the boss for a good reason, but that reason is certainly not his organizational skills.
Sometimes he neglects key details. His office is a mountain of misplaced files. When your boss can't find that important document, impending deadlines can make the office feel like a pressure cooker. Sound familiar? If so, help your boss manage his time and prioritize things effectively—all the while letting him think that it was his idea.
As your boss becomes more organized, he will enhance his professional image. He will also be more aware of what is on his schedule and will develop greater command of his time. In turn, you can reap the residual benefits of less stress and more efficiency.
Think of the extra time and effort required to get him organized as an investment. By managing up, you will be managing your own career progress and professional image at the same time.
Ready to get started?
First Build Trust
Before you try to fix anything, you have to earn the right to do so. That means building a foundation of trust.
Lead by Example
Make sure you demonstrate solid organization skills yourself by fine-tuning your system for staying on track. Keep your own workspace tidy. Show up to meetings prepared. Meet all deadlines. In addition, demonstrate your resourcefulness by having the most frequently relied upon information at your fingertips (e.g., key contacts, frequently accessed reports).
Seek to Understand
As you gain your boss' trust, also listen, paying particular attention to any feelings that are expressed. Listen for signs that your boss' poor organizational skills are causing him frustration, conflict, or even consequences in the organization. Examples include missed deadlines or meetings, lost paperwork, and comments from others.
Assess the situation first before jumping in to help, and especially avoid providing him feedback which could backfire on you. (Remember that you are in an information gathering mode.) There may be a method to his madness, however ineffective, which you need to understand.
Also, no matter how irritated his sloppiness makes you, never chime in with anyone who bad-mouths him. Your venting could get back to him, and such critical comments are inconsistent with your intent to help.
Provide Strategic Support
Make sure that both your role and your behavior support your boss' best performance by minimizing distractions and enhancing his efficiency.
Learn what your boss' goals are and how he is measured in the company. Be sure that your performance goals are linked with his. If you perceive a disconnect, tell him you'd like to seek clarity on how your goals can more fully support his and the organization's goals.
Ask him how he prefers to receive information, both in terms of his channel (e.g., electronic, in-person, phone) and timing preferences. Some people are "morning people" and enjoy diving right into their day, whereas others are slow to warm up.
Also, understand how he wants interruptions to be handled, and help him to avoid those that are unnecessary. Research indicates that office employees are interrupted an average of once every three minutes.1 Given that it can take up to 23 minutes to return to the original task, it's no wonder anyone can finish what they start.
Rather than popping in to ask that quick question—which often isn't all that quick, is it?—try this technique. Group together several less important items, then book 15 minutes on your boss' calendar to take care of all of them in one sitting. After using this technique a few times, explain to him that your rationale is efficiency and minimizing disruptions. Discuss how it works for both of you. You might find that this is a great conversation starter regarding efficiency.
Because time is so precious, keep both verbal and written communication succinct. If the text of your email is longer than two paragraphs, consider shortening it or using another mode of communication.
Use "Reply All" Sparingly
Email chains can become overwhelming when long lists of employees volley back and forth using "Reply All." Help your boss manage his inbox by asking him to specify under what circumstances he wants to be included in emails. If you see a lot of back-and-forth replies, then a meeting, conference call, or the use of email voting buttons are more appropriate venues for discussion of the issue.
You might also volunteer to be a key contact person for a project so that your boss can delegate inquiries to you. This increases your visibility within the organization and, at the same time, it helps your boss manage his priorities.
Employ Consistent Labeling
Agree on consistent labeling in the email status line for confidential, action-needed, and similar items. For example, draw attention in the status line to items that need special handling (ACTION REQUIRED by date) or those that are CONFIDENTIAL. Consider using built-in email system reminders to help with deadlines. For best results, ask to include the entire team in the conversation so that everyone is on board with the labeling structure. Then, apply it across the department.
Help Your Boss Share Information
In staff meetings or other appropriate venues, prompt your boss to share what is going on elsewhere in the company by simply asking him. He may otherwise forget. You will appear eager and interested in the company while helping him to do his job. That's a win/win!
Present Solutions, Not Problems
When you present a problem to your manager, avoid simply "dumping" it on him with the expectation that he fix it. Instead, present the problem along with three solutions. (Presenting more than three solutions is overwhelming, however.)
One solution should usually be to do nothing because, let's face it: staying the course is an easy option. A second solution can be one that is ideal or expensive. The third is a compromise or more reasonable solution. This should be the one you are advocating. Be ready to discuss the advantages, disadvantages, and financials associated with each solution you present.
Help your boss with time management using the following tips:
Create and Share a Calendar
Help your boss create a calendar that he can share with the team. Update it and refer to it often as projects and other due dates approach. Ask questions that reference the calendar (e.g., "I see that the Chairman's report is due next week. Would you like me to pull the numbers for you so we can start working on it?") He should also have access to calendars of his subordinates, and calendars should be linked. This can be done with ease electronically.
When you have important discussions with your manager, integrate due dates, dates for status checks, and progress milestones to keep you both on track. Stay organized by keeping all notes of meetings that you have with your boss in one notebook.
Follow up on any key discussions with email verification of agreements you make with him. Honor any time-bound commitments, and hold your boss accountable for his end as well.
If your boss frequently runs late to meetings, offer to prepare an agenda. Email her the bullet-points several hours prior to the meeting and remind him how he will be needed in the meeting. Use automatic meeting notice reminders in the email system to assist attendees in being timely.
Divide and Conquer
Divide and conquer your boss' mess using the following pointers.
Label, File, and Store
Well-organized people have a mantra: "A place for everything and everything in its place." Develop a system of folders, bins, or file drawers that works for your business. For example, use color coding based on project type or topic. Where relevant, prominently include the date to help you purge out-of-date files later.
First, organize your own files, then request permission to tackle some of the common files (perhaps with the help of teammates). After you receive compliments for your efforts, offer to help your boss with some of his files.
Adopt the "One Touch" Rule
As new items come across your desk or email inbox, resolve to touch them once rather than allowing them to accumulate. Either read, respond, dispose of the item, or direct it to an appropriate file. As you gain success with the technique, resolve to share your learnings with your boss.
Small Changes and Buy-In
Making changes in small increments and getting her buy-in as you go along will work wonders. You may find that he asks your coworkers to adopt your new efficiency techniques.
Don't Be a Know-It-All
Rather than telling him how to organize, try asking if you can help him or suggesting that "we" try something new. No one wants to be schooled by a sassy-pants, even if that person is right. Try these lead-ins when suggesting something new:
- "How about if I help you ..."
- "I bet we can figure out how to ..."
- "I've learned ..."
- "One thing I have found is ..."
- "What do you think if ...?"
- "Would you find it helpful ...?"
Since your boss is not naturally organized, he will need your encouragement. Don't expect change overnight. Encourage him, celebrate small successes, and keep working at it.
1The Wall Street Journal. "Workplace Distractions: Here's Why You Won't Finish This Article." Last modified December 11, 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324339204578173252223022388.html#project%253DDISTRACT1212%2526articleTabs%253Dinteractive.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 FlourishAnyway
FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 09, 2013:
Crafty - I hear you. You can often use such a meeting presentation to showcase your competence. After awhile it becomes obvious that you deserve a higher position, more recognition, more pay, etc. The trick is getting the right audience!
CraftytotheCore on October 09, 2013:
This is a very useful article. The one thing I used to hate about corporate meetings is that some people didn't have to do anything for the meeting but show up. Others had to present cases like myself. So it got exhausting dealing with clients all week and having these meetings which I thought were just to fill the void in some of the other work schedules. Mine was full enough and I certainly didn't need any more pressure!
FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 08, 2013:
grandmapearl - That's a good one! Maybe when you find what works you can write a hub, "How to Organize Your Husband." That's one a bunch of people would read. Thanks for reading, voting, commenting. Good luck with helping your "better half."
Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on July 08, 2013:
I'm going to try some of these suggestions with my husband. For all the years we have been married his catch phrase has been "one of these days, when I get organized".
I have tried some of the things you have outlined, to no avail. But there are others that might work! ;) Pearl
FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on April 27, 2013:
I like that, LongTimeMother -- stickers that warn the boss to stay out of the department's files. I bet that assistant had great job security! Thanks for reading and commenting.
LongTimeMother from Australia on April 27, 2013:
ROFL. I'm guilty as charged. When I was the boss, I always relied on a brilliant assistant to get this air-head to meetings on time. There's just one hint missing from your very impressive list.
At one time all the filing cabinets in my office had stickers on them telling me to "keep out!" All except one. It had a sticker that said, "Don't even think about it!"
If I wanted paperwork that had already been filed, I had to ask my assistant to get it. It was the only way she'd know where it was. Fortunately I've always made my money out of being creative. In any normal job I would never have survived.
I love this hub. :)
FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on April 21, 2013:
Thank you for the read and feedback, Vacation Trip!
Susan from India on April 21, 2013:
Great hub with good ideas. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.