Ask anyone who has been in the workforce for a while and they will quickly agree that nothing compares to having a wonderful boss at work. Studies by the American Management Association reveal that a good relationship with one’s manager is a key element in employee retention. Staff members who feel ignored, unchallenged, unacknowledged and/or taken for granted typically do just enough to get by—feeding a cycle that further distances the employee from their employer.

While an employee can’t control the behavior of their boss, they can manage how they interact with their boss. There are many ways to improve the working relationship and they can be implemented from the employee’s side. We can choose how we will respond and how we will proceed. By deciding to manage your manager, you have begun a process that enhances your work environment, increases your opportunity to be successful in your position, and reduces some of the frustration associated with the boss/employee relationship. Here are some options for effectively managing your employer relationship:

Time it Right

When you need to interact with your boss, be discerning about the best time to accomplish this task so that they can give you the attention you need. Trying to speak with someone when it’s time to go home, when a staff meeting has just ended and everyone is asking for something, or during peak appointment times, can diminish their ability to stay focused. It may not be possible to know when there is an abundance of activities taking place but be mindful of choosing a time that works for both of you. Ask for ten minutes of time and then stay within those ten minutes to demonstrate your consideration of their busy schedule.

It’s All About Style

What does your boss prefer? If they like face to face meetings, then reconsider sharing your concerns in an email. Some managers prefer you to set up an appointment while others embrace an open-door policy. And remember to be considerate of their time even if they do have an open-door policy. Does your boss prefer some small talk to begin a discussion or are they a “get to the point” kind of person? Think about past interactions and consider the elements of interactions that went well – try to identify what made them work. To form a connection to your boss, it’s essential understand their values. The closer your ideas, suggestions and projects connect to their values, the greater your chance of being successful. Don’t be hesitant to discuss how your idea or project is in this alignment and illustrate how it will support those values.

Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

What is happening in the clinic right now? Are you understaffed, over budget or being swamped with hospital cases? The better you understand the pressures your boss is facing, the more in tune you can be in determining how and when you should ask for another issue to be added to the load. You can also use this strategy to understand if your idea will help in resolving any current challenges. The best employees understand that when presenting a problem, it is also crucial to suggest a resolution. Using this approach to problems demonstrates that you are interested in helping to solve issues, not just pointing them out.

Getting Your Ideas Heard

You have this great idea on how to improve staff scheduling, but what can you do to improve the chances that your idea will be implemented? Practice stating your idea in one sentence. Be clear and succinct. You can add details later, so remember to start with the bottom line. Make a list of benefits that are straightforward and in line with your boss’ values. Keep the list non-personal. It may be about Jim and Betty, but more importantly, it’s about improving efficiency and stability. Many bosses need to see the solution instead of hearing about how everyone is squabbling over the schedule.

Be sure to point out the challenges in implementing your plan and how to resolve those challenges. Position these points in a positive light. There are always some sticking points in an idea and acknowledging them is the first part of reducing their impact.

Follow Through for the Win

Identify the next step. How will you proceed to implement your plan? Your boss may want to suggest this next step, so be sure that their ideas are melded into the plan. Take advantage of their expertise and consider that their input improves the success rate of your plan. There are a lot of good ideas but it’s the follow-through to completion that really demonstrates your ability and value. Highlight the key points and repeat them back to your boss to focus on what has been decided and what the next steps will be from this starting point. It is essential to clarify points and assure that you are in agreement. Identify a specific date for follow-up and put your plan on a timeline for completion.

A few days after your meeting, consider sending a quick note or having a follow-up conversation to apprise them of how the plan is proceeding. Give positive feedback on the process itself. Bosses are people too, and they appreciate knowing you value their input and support.

Make it happen, you will get more opportunities to complete projects and implement ideas (and increase your financial value) when you follow through on your plan to make ideas a reality. Let your boss know when the project is completed, what you did to keep the project on task and the results of implementing this idea. It’s not about patting yourself on the back but about demonstrating the value of the process and your ability to be successful at managing projects. There is no harm in letting someone know what you did—the harm is in feeling unappreciated because you didn’t give someone the opportunity to appreciate your skill.

It’s Always about Communication

We may think we are good at communicating but, all too often, we find that the message we send is received very differently from our intention. That’s because all of us have our own filters for how we absorb communication. So, how do we manage this common communication gap?

When in doubt, over-communicate. It’s better to make sure your boss understands what is happening than to guess or just assume. If you find yourself chanting the mantra, “My boss doesn’t have a clue what I do around here,” it’s time to ask, “Why not?” If your boss is not taking the steps to build a two-way street of communication, maybe it’s time for you to take the initiative.

Ask for a short, fifteen-minute meeting every two weeks to “touch base” and share what is happening in the clinic. Make this a private, scheduled time during which you will not be disturbed (yes, this itself can be a challenge) and prepare an agenda of what you want to discuss. Share this list with your boss in advance so they can see your organizational skills and interest in maximizing their time. It also shows you are interested in performance and not about complaining.

What Do You Do Anyway?

As part of your career, it is essential to keep track of your accomplishments. Do this pro-actively, as you never know when it will come in handy. Those handy times can be when it’s time to discuss a raise or when you are considering writing a résumé and testing the job market. Once a week, make a list of your accomplishments. Put it in a journal, on your computer or on your calendar, whichever works best for you. By doing this on a weekly basis, you reduce the chance of forgetting all the great things you have completed. While you are at it, keep a “way to go” file with all your letters of appreciation from clients and make notes of positive feedback from co-workers and clients. Also include any continuing education programs you have completed. This is particularly helpful if your clinic does performance reviews and you have the opportunity to fill out an evaluation. What a great time to illustrate your value!

You are the person charting your path to a successful career, it is up to you to manage your manager and develop skills that augment your value. This skill is essential to flourishing in the veterinary clinic and to maintaining a satisfactory working relationship with your boss. No matter the present situation, you have the option to re-design your connection with your boss. It’s your choice, how will you proceed?


Sheila Grosdidier, SCP
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