It’s hard to make progress if your boss doesn’t really care about what you’re working on. I get questions about this all the time.
My boss cares about everyone else’s work but mine. How do I change that?
How do I get my manager to focus on my projects even for half an hour a week?
I work my butt off on these initiatives and nobody seems to care. Can you help?
My boss refuses to pay attention to my project until the last minute. And then he blames me!
If you feel like this, from time to time, take solace in the truth that you’re not alone. We all face it at some point over the course of a career. But let’s start with some tough love. There are some realities we have to accept. If the projects you work on aren’t directly associated with generating revenue, if they aren’t part of a hot new product release, or in support of a big deal or partnership, it’s going to be tough to command sustained attention. That’s just part of the deal. But it doesn’t mean you CAN’T get your boss to care about your work. You just have to be more purposeful in how you go about things. I hope these three tips will help you.
Tip #1 - Start with your boss’s priorities and work backwards
This one is about tactical empathy. If you haven’t read my article on the subject, I suggest checking it out here. Too many people in the workplace focus only on themselves and not enough on others (I’m sure that’s universally true in life and in work). We tend to speak about our projects and initiatives using a context the reflects our personal priorities – why we think it’s important. We get fixated on our own self-interest – what WE want to accomplish. And then we wonder why we can’t get anyone else to care about it.
If you want your boss (or anyone else for that matter) to care about a project you’re working on, start with what THEY feel is important, and work backwards to show how your project can help them. This is the complete inverse to what we see most of the time. Endless PowerPoint slides and conference calls that seem completely disconnected from what any audience member actually cares about.
My advice is to start by identifying the key outcomes and initiatives your boss cares about. Then map those to the potential benefits of whatever project you’re working on. Use language and metrics that can connect your priorities to your manager’s priorities. Show how paying attention to your initiative will help your boss achieve her goals. It will make all the difference in the world.
Tip #2 - Speak in outcomes, not activities
Too many of us speak about business activities instead of business outcomes. We talk about events and documents and processes instead of how those things deliver value to the company. And then we wonder why nobody cares about our work.
I can’t tell you how many presentations I see that skip over desired business outcomes entirely. People just jump straight to whatever activity they want attention on and never get to the point of it all. The impact is that activities become so derivative, so disconnected from what matters most. It can be hard to take seriously if you’re a busy manager or executive.
A good rule of thumb is to start every discussion about a project with the desired business outcome. What corporate initiative or goal or metric is this project in service of? Why are we here discussing this activity in the first place? What meaningful outcome is it connected to? How are they connected? How does focusing on this activity get us closer to achieving our highest-level objectives? If you build this context into your presentations – into how you talk about your projects – you will get more attention from your boss.
Tip #3 - Bring options and intentions, not problems
Your boss is likely a very busy person. More than busy, your boss likely has a wide variety of competing priorities that span functions, groups, even departments. That’s a different kind of busy from just having a high volume of work on one thing. It’s harder to focus. It’s hard sometimes even to remember all the issues and projects from one day to the next.
If your manager is anything like me, they have an endless line of people outside their office presenting various problems and issues for resolution. A large percentage of those people bring problems without solutions, without options, without anything. They bring problems. And then they are frustrated when they can’t get enough attention on whatever issue they are facing. They get frustrated that their projects can’t make progress. They talk about their manager as a bottleneck. This is a very common mistake. I see it more than once a day.
My advice, when you face an issue, is to communicate the problem to your boss and present options for resolving it. Options, you’ve thought through ahead of time. And if options don’t make sense in your situation, clearly express your intention for resolving the issue and give your boss the opportunity to align or adjust. One of my favorite books on leadership deals with this topic – Turn that Ship Around – a great book I highly recommend. My point is, you can’t just drop problems on your boss and expect he or she will have the time or mental capacity to do your thinking for you.
To make progress on your projects and initiatives, you must be able to make people care about them - your boss in particular. Too many of us get stuck in a mode of thinking and working that lead us to cast blame on others for the lack of attention we get on our projects. Don’t point fingers. There are things you can do, in the way you speak and present and design your projects, that will help get them the attention and priority they deserve. I hope these tips were helpful to you and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.