When You Want to Have An Important Discussion with Your Boss – A Role Play
by Executive Coach Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE
Mary Lee helps leaders be respected, advance at the executive level and prioritize well-being without being so overworked they don't connect with the people who matter. Get her free career training at www.MaryLeeGannon.com
Often, I see clients put off important discussions with their bosses because they aren’t really sure how to structure them and fear they may come off as expecting too much and eventually feel rejected. This is unwise. A little preparation can earn you respect and what you want.
How to prepare for the meeting:
1. Ask for a specific meeting date/time. This will underscore its importance. Don’t have the discussion after another meeting or as a sidebar conversation. Label the meeting something that is important to the organization – not yourself: ABC Company Priorities and (Your Department).
2. What’s the goal? This meeting is not a discussion. You are not mind mapping here. It is a negotiation. Know what you want to occur by the end of the meeting: i.e., I will now spend my time working on important projects, not things that are randomly assigned to me. I have an idea on how to minimize those things and who is more appropriate to do them.
3. Know your home base. Don’t let them pull you into left and right field. You are aiming for a home run. Home base is the point you will keep going back to when the conversation goes in different directions: i.e., “How am I bringing the most value possible in meeting our strategic priorities?”
4. Have your boss’ back with power and respect. Get your boss to say yes and share their thoughts: i.e., “What are your thoughts?” “Would you agree?” “What do you think about that?” “So what do you think is realistic?” “Help me prioritize…”
You: Thanks for meeting with me. I want to talk to you about our priorities.
You: I understand with the recent cutbacks we have competing priorities on our table. I’d like to talk to you about how to prioritize for the maximum impact. What are your thoughts about that?
Manager: That sounds very sensible.
You: Would you agree that the purpose of our work is to increase our revenues?
Manager: Definitely. That’s big part of our roles.
You: Yes, that’s the reason why I want to suggest I dedicate about 70% of my time to complete the (XXX) project, because that will ensure that our goal is met on time and our division leader is satisfied as are our customers. What do you think about that? (Notice this says nothing about how you feel about doing ‘busy work’ and not liking what you are doing. It also shoots high on the percentage because it will surely come down form there.)
Manager: I hear what you’re saying but I’m not sure that 70% is realistic, because there’s too much other work to do, and too many other priorities to consider.
You: So, what do you think is a realistic allocation of my time for this project?
Manager: At the moment, maximum 10% of your time per week can go towards that. There are too many other things on the table right now.
You: Help me prioritize. What of the things on the table right now is the most important in your eyes?
Manager: In my eyes, we have a particular project that is running at the moment that is very important that has been laid down from the top. It’s going to be the pillar project for our company. At the moment no one's been assigned to manage it, and we need you to manage it.
You: Okay, I just want to better understand the perspective of the folks at the top. What do you suppose was the reason they believe this should be the pivotal project?
Manager: That is a very good question. I don’t know. I’d have to ask my manager.
You: I have a suggestion. Would you be open to it?
You: In order for me to do a good job well, I really need to understand the reason why I’m doing something. That’s the reason why I’d like to ask if you’d let me sit in on the next meeting with the CTO to discuss this particular project.
Manager: That sounds very reasonable.
You: I’d appreciate that. That would really help me understand why this pillar project is higher priority than the integration project.
Manager: that makes a lot of sense. Let’s get it on the books.
Here's the takeaway:
1. Prioritization IS a negotiation. It brings clarity and concreteness to what should happen moving forward.
2. Your boss will appreciate your presence, candor, respect and prioritization of what is best for the team and organization.
3. It positively positions your leadership brand and impact focus.