Sunday, May 27, 2007

Working with a Disorganized Boss

Working with a Disorganized Boss
by Margot Carmichael Lester

You're excited about your new job. The pay is good, the office setting is comfortable and the commute is easy. But as you start the actual work, you confront an unsettling truth: Your new boss is an organizational train wreck.

He hasn't mapped out a plan for your first few days or weeks. He doesn't give you any guidance on the projects you'll need to tackle. He can't find the papers he needs you to fax or sign. He hasn't introduced you to potential key allies in the company. It doesn't take long to wonder how you'll survive without (A) going nuts or (B) going completely nuts.

Have no fear. We found organization and communication experts to offer some tips to help you keep your cool, get up to speed and make the most of this trying situation.

Start Slow
"Most disorganized bosses know they are disorganized and scattered," says Santa Barbara business coach Clay Nelson. "Do not walk into this and start changing things or channeling everything through you. You need to find out how to keep the flow going, what the possibility is inside the thinking of your boss. Then, slowly start shifting how things are working in very small increments, and make sure you have your boss's approval."

Do Your Due Diligence
Philadelphia-based organization consultant Liz Bywater advocates doing some research before you begin the full-court press to reform your boss. "Get a lay of the land from those who already work there," she says. Speak to the person who formerly held your position if you can, as well as your existing co-workers, to gain their insight into your boss's MO.

Listen Up
"Listen to verbal cues when your boss is in a panic and looking for that report," says Laura Leist, co-author of the book Eliminate Chaos and president and founder of a Seattle company by the same name.

Leist also suggests offering to organize your boss's files for him and to ask plenty of questions along the way. This will ensure the filing system you help to create is actually useful and meaningful to your boss.

Work the Network
Jeanne Hurlbert, a sociology professor at Louisiana State University and president of Optinet Resources in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, suggests establishing a support network. "New employees need to build relationships with co-workers anyway," Hurlbert says. Working with a disorganized boss, "however, exacerbates the need for that."

What a new employee shouldn't do is "start off making negative comments about the boss or thinking that shared antipathy toward the boss provides good common ground on which to build relationships," she says. "That's dangerous."

Lead by Example
The best defense is a good offense, so Studio City, California-based Bill Bliesath, also known as the Organizing Guy, suggests making sure you are as organized as possible. "When you have questions about your responsibilities or projects, present them by topic in an order that flows smoothly and requires the minimal amount of input - i.e., yes or no answers," Bliesath says. "Disorganized people tend to lose focus easily if there are no clear parameters or expectations. So you want to stay on the subject, and if the conversation strays, keep steering it back on track - with a smile of course."

One final thought from Nelson: "The boss wouldn't be the boss - unorganized or not - if he/she weren't successful at what he/she does. So you don't want to mess with how that success gets done. You do want to be the person that makes that success come about easier."

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