Okay, if your manager’s direct reports are not your most important internal customers, they’re definitely right at the top. Why? Because their work puts you in touch with your manager’s mission in a very direct and practical way. Their efforts are the pieces of your manager’s final goals, and his success depends on theirs.
Go get involved.
I can hear the objections now: “I have enough to do without asking for work from them, too!” I’m sure that’s very true. But we’re looking for a change in focus here – the Revolutionary Assistant seeks the whole picture and, in seeing it, will find new solutions to some of the tedious work that currently takes up her day. Take a deep breath and jump in.
When evaluating one of these “extra-curricular” projects, think about your manager and how your involvement would most benefit him. Are you aware that the COO is crawling down this throat for compiled quality test results? Then that’s a great place to start! Volunteer your administrative services and keep your eye on the following goals:
Learning the direct report’s work – When you spend time in the domain of your manager’s direct report, you will gain a sense of what’s expected of her. This is invaluable, especially in the day and age where managers have not necessarily worked their way up the ladder in the discipline they’re being expected to run. It’s tremendously helpful to your manager that you have an understanding of what it takes to deliver results on a project. Does your manager know he’s asking too much? Is the task easier than he expects? As your partnership grows, you can begin to act as a sounding board for him. Repeated forays into a direct report’s department will eventually yield a complete picture of her work.
Opening lines of communication between your manager and his direct reports – While it’s not your job to manage a project and report back on it, you’re bound to have separate communications with both your manager and the direct report during the course of the work. Suddenly, your presence will facilitate the project’s forward movement, especially where communication is concerned. For instance, you may have covered some of the project’s salient points in a status with your manager. Later, in a meeting with the direct report, she says, “I wonder if John would prefer to see it in this format, or in that one?” If that subject came up in your earlier status, you can clear up this point. If your manager is concerned about a particular aspect of the project, you can let the direct report know and initiate a quick check-in to get things back on track before things get too far along.
Developing a strategic view of the department’s operations – By involving yourself in the work of your manager’s staff, you’ll start to see the department as a whole and, more importantly, how you fit into it. Suddenly, these random tasks that land on your desk will make complete sense to you. Even more beneficial, you’ll see that some of these random tasks can be approached differently, combined with other work or eliminated entirely in favor of a slight enhancement of another task. That’s the beauty of the bird’s-eye view! When you’re working on a project with one of your manager’s direct reports, start watching for process improvement opportunities. We’ll talk more about the beauty that is process improvement in the coming months!
The most important part of getting involved with the staff’s work is maintaining complete neutrality. When you’re working with your manager’s team, you are not your manager’s spy. The purpose of this exercise is not to go back and tell the manager all the things you think his direct report is doing wrong. If the direct report makes a directional choice about the project that is not in your manager’s best interest, express concern, suggest well-supported alternatives but do not be a tattletale. Likewise, all the items you and your manager discuss about that direct report are strictly confidential and not an issue you should address – when the direct report exhibits a behavior you know your manager is hoping to correct, it’s not your job to jump in and do it for him. Navigate the middle ground as best you can. Offer your help, facilitate results, and keep the project moving. It’s what a Revolutionary Assistant does!
Next post: Tuesday, May 17