Q: I am extremely organized, and I know exactly which tasks I must complete every day in order to meet my deadlines. The problem is that my boss constantly comes up with ad hoc requests and expects me to drop whatever I'm doing to focus on his latest whim.
Instead of rewarding this impulsive behavior, I usually put his requests aside until I can work them into my schedule. He doesn't like this, so he has given me a bad performance review. I really can't figure out how to work with him.
A: As long as you're in this job, I'm afraid you will need to loosen up a bit. Telling your boss that you'll get around to his requests when your schedule allows is not too politically bright.
This personality difference is quite common. Highly structured people like to create detailed plans in advance, while more spontaneous folks come up with new ideas at the 11th hour. These two types routinely drive each other crazy.
The key point here, however, is that he's the one doing your performance review, not the other way around. If he views you as obstructive, you are not likely to get a good rating. Given your talent for planning, the obvious solution is to start including time in your schedule for his last-minute requests.
Advocate for pay
Q: I feel fairly certain that I'm not being paid what I am worth. When I was hired by this startup company, the salary offer seemed quite low for someone with a master's degree. I only accepted because asking for money makes me very uncomfortable.
Now I feel even more underpaid because I have been given so many responsibilities. I know that start-up employees are expected to perform a wide range of duties, and I'm certainly gaining valuable experience. Nevertheless, I can't help resenting my minimal paycheck. How can I correct this?
A: Fair or not, when it comes to pay, "squeaky wheels" usually get the bigger bucks. Although your anxiety about asking for money is not unusual, you will need to become more assertive.
Before requesting a salary review, get information verifying that your pay is below the market level. Consult your professional association or visit salary comparison websites.
You should also explain how your work is adding value for the company. If you get turned down, politely ask when you might be considered for an increase, then renew your request at the suggested time.
Learn to 'manage up'
Q: My manager encourages employees to be innovative and stretch their capabilities. He's always receptive to new ideas, so I have never hesitated to make suggestions. However, I was surprised by his reaction to my latest proposal.
After describing certain inefficiencies that I have observed in our department, I presented some possible ways to correct them. These changes would have given me more responsibility and a higher-level position.
My boss took offense and said that many of these responsibilities belong to him. I quickly backed off, saying that I was simply trying to help. Now I'm reluctant to propose ideas.
A: Something about this proposal hit a nerve. Perhaps he sensed an implied criticism of his managerial ability or viewed your bid as self-serving. He may even feel that you are gunning for his job.
His defensive response provides a valuable lesson in "managing up." Before making any suggestion, you must consider the perspective of those with the power to adopt it or kill it. The ability to understand management's view is an invaluable political skill.