Working with Management: Proactive Communications

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Mar 20

Earlier, I posted about how a Cubicle Warrior can work the management; or, how to get along with your manager. I had five good points on working with managers, but believed — in hindsight — that I could provide a fuller explanation. In this post, I’ll take a look at the third bullet point from that posting, Proactive Communications. The original bullet point was this one:

No news is NOT good news. No news is not letting your manager know what is going on. Cubicle Warriors take it upon themselves to proactively tell management the good news and also give the earliest possible heads-up of potential problems. Bad news early (and perhaps often) is a necessary skill for the excellent employee.

Communications with your manager is a tricky subject. There is a balance that needs to be maintained and the challenge for all of us working in cubes is this: the right balance between communications and being a pain in the ass. Different managers have different lines. Here are my suggestions:

First, bad news travels fast. The bad news better be to your manager faster. The most critical aspect of your relationship with your manager is that you need to tell your manager about bad news first. You may feel defensive, you may feel the bad news isn’t your fault, but all of that doesn’t matter. Hearing bad news from an employee first before others helps your manager prepare for questions from other areas or escalations from customers.

I’ve had e-mails that simply say that something is a “heads-up” and if this person or their manager calls it is about “x” and this is what happened from our side. To be fair, 95% of the time, there is no escalation. But, if there was…I’d be prepared.

Note that this does not mean that defending the realm is the order of the day. Instead, giving the early bad news to your manager allows the manager to be intelligent about what is said, what next steps our offered, and shows that your organization is professional in working the issues at hand.

Blindsiding your manager from something that happened but you didn’t inform your manager about puts your manager in the position of not knowing, having no context about the event and looking like he or she doesn’t understand what is going on in their organization. And that is because of you. So let your manager know about bad news fast.

The best example of this was one time a company was seriously complaining about the service received from the company that I worked for and was installing a competitor’s product right and left because of it. Because my Vice President was informed about the subject before the phone calls, the Vice president not only handled the valid service issue by being able to outline the steps that would fix the underlying service problem, but had enough gumption to also ask that if the service issue was resolved that the competitor’s products would be thrown out as well. And the company agreed.

But you have to tell the bad news and what the underlying issues are surrounding the bad news.

Second, proactive communications means that you regularly schedule 15-20 minutes of time updating your manager on what is happening with your work. This is outside of your status reporting and any other formal communications. Think of the advantage you have if you are the only person in your department that regularly tells your manager what you are working on and what issues need resolving. No one does this. If you set up a 3-4 point agenda for the meeting and do this every two weeks, you will be one of the very few people who are actually telling management what you are working on. A big difference at review time, wouldn’t you say?

These two items alone will significantly differentiate your work compared to others reporting to your manager.

Are there others?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.