You Don’t Work For a Company, You Work For a Person

MH3 —  October 24, 2017

I am often asked by job-seekers what I think about the culture at Company X or Company Y.

My consistent answer is that you don’t go to work for a company, you go to work for a person. Your boss. How she/he and you engage will ultimately determine your happiness at that organization. So what do you do if you are working for a bad boss but you actually want to stay with the company?

Thinking about how YOU work with your boss should be a mandatory requirement for everybody at every level in your organization. Even a CEO has a board, a banker, a list of key customers who are their de facto bosses. People like to blame their boss, or hate on their boss, but have they taken a step back and thought about how to work with their boss?

You may feel that, as a business owner, I don’t have the credibility to comment in this area. Well, I have had many bosses in my life – ranging from my first newspaper route, to my summer jobs, to my role in a failed dot-com startup. More importantly, I have had many people work for me, many of whom get me, and many more whom don’t. So my advice is informed by a combination of working with direct reports and my own experiences reporting to a jerk board member, an uneven business partner, and a dominating entrepreneur. As well as working with an incompetent resort manager, a life coach sailing school director, a true mentor university athletic director, and a hands-off account director.

I am going to keep this simple, because as a boss that’s what I like in my team. So here are a few critical tidbits to guide your working relationship.

1. Find out how they want to work with you. Do they like meetings or conversations? Do they want to have regular 1:1’s or meetings on an as-needed basis? Are they a morning, midday, or late day person?

2. How do they like to receive information? Are they a visual learner? Are they a muller? Do they want everything in a deck the day prior? Do they like email? Do they prefer conversation? Do they want presentations or charts or word documents? Do they work at a desk or remotely from a tablet? (Just sixty seconds ago I had to ask for a PDF to view on my tablet after someone sent me an internal server link.)

3. What sort of relationship do they want to have? Does small talk pain them? Do they want to know about your weekend or your sick cat? Perhaps they don’t care (and that doesn’t make them a bad boss). Or do they want to retell their life story to you before every business discussion…

4. What can you do to make their life better? Do you understand their mandate and who they answer to? Do you understand their ambitions within the organization? Popular business writing focuses on servant leadership, but you should focus on serving your leader. Make it a two-way street. In turn you should be able to communicate to your team the critical issues on the mind of your boss.

5. Communicate. Commit. Complete. I hate chasing people. I hate having to follow up on their work. I hate having to ask when something will be done, and I hate a job half done. Research may show that a significant percentage of people dislike their bosses, but since when is delivering on a commitment you made a reason for this anger?

You may not believe this approach will work. Which is fine, because that will lead me to believe that you have never tried it.