In The Workplace

I report to a department manager at a medium-sized enterprise. This is my third job and I know much about the working style of various bosses. My current boss appears to be overburdened with many unnecessary tasks that slow his decision-making, at times making things complicated for him. I have offered to help him but he doesn’t listen. Two weeks ago, I asked for the release of some petty cash so I can attend a management webinar. Up to now, he has not decided. What’s wrong with him? — Lemon Juice.

Two sidewalk vendors were talking at a street corner when a nun with her arm in a sling crossed in front of them. One of the vendors called out to her: “Good morning, sister! What happened to you?” The nun explained that she had slipped in the bathtub and broke her arm. The vendor turned to ask his fellow: “What’s a bathtub?”

The other replied: “How should I know? I’m not Catholic.”

For many managers, making a decision is easy if you have all the relevant information. That’s one part of the problem. Sometimes, managers find it difficult to make decisions due to their limited authority on certain issues.

Also, much depends much on the style of top management, some of which cling to a centralization strategy rather than empowering their managers to make independent decisions. Take the example that you’ve cited. What is preventing your boss from approving a petty-cash expense for your webinar? It may seem like a small amount to invest in your development. But, is it really the reason for the delay?

Maybe your boss is not convinced that you need that webinar, in the first place.

Be that as it may, you need to discover for yourself the cause or causes for the delayed decision. It could be that he’s not at fault. You will never know the answer unless you press gently.

Don’t judge your boss right away. To avoid complicating things, you must talk to him at the right time and place. Set the right atmosphere. Do it after submitting a project he has been waiting for. Or, give him any good news. The opportunity could help open doors. Nevertheless, there are some approaches that might help you understand his circumstances:

One, ensure that you follow the basic steps in communicating with the boss. It’s not enough that you would want to attend a management webinar. For what? How important is it? What type of problem are you trying to solve? Are there other solutions available? How do you weigh the pros and cons of the alternatives? How about the return on investment? For all we know, the minor expense is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Two, recommend a continuous improvement program. This is in response to your perception that your boss is overburdened. It doesn’t matter whether you call such an intervention either Kaizen or Lean. What’s important is for you to come up with a pilot project to help you identify and resolve those operational issues using the tools and techniques of Kaizen or Lean.

Three, understand the boss’s authority and responsibilities. It’s not the fault of every manager why they’re dragging their feet on every decision. It could be that they lack the authority and they’re too proud to admit it to you. The office system for approvals may be the source of the problem. Regardless of the size of an organization, it boils down to the desire of top management to centralize certain issues and devolve other things to the line managers.

Four, make it easy for the boss to make decisions. One way for a department head to make faster decision is to give them all the relevant details about a proposal. You can present the pros and cons of your idea, plus its attendant costs and other implications. By doing this, you’re able to foresee all potential difficulties that may arise down the road.

Last, document all ideas, suggestions, even issues. Protect your blind side. Talk to your boss about your proposal and confirm the highlights of your discussion through an e-mail. List down all possible negative repercussions, in case of a delayed decision. That’s because you don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb in case something goes wrong should your boss continue to drag his feet.

Whatever you do, avoid falling into the trap of saying something that could be misinterpreted as disrespectful. Don’t be too hard on your boss, who may see it as an affront to his authority. You may have to think things over. There are situations that can be resolved without the boss making a decision. On the other hand, anticipate all the circumstances that might make matters worse.

Without being too aggressive, you could offer your help to attain a degree of co-ownership. I’m sure your boss knows all the advantages of participative decision-making. This includes soliciting the opinion of other people whose ideas may not be instantly accepted. It’s worth trying.

If the boss fails to respond positively to this idea, then don’t take it against him. Don’t rock the boat as it could cost your job, no matter how good your intentions are.


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