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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Image from "Managing Your Boss" in Family Practice Management

Assumptions and unpredictability (and how to communicate with your CEO)

Yesterday nothing worked according to plan. My objectives for the day fell apart because of surprising developments outside of my control. And the challenges, both in time management and emotionally, were compounded by assumptions and 'conclusion's that shifted in a phone conversation near the business day end.

These frustrating and incongruent elements of course are totally normal for a self-employed person. On one level, we have much more control over our work routine and environment -- we can determine our own priorities, set our schedule, and make changes without requesting any one's permission or authority. But we are subject to all the variables and surprises among our employees, clients and suppliers. (To survive in this environment, it helps of course to have a healthy home life -- fortunately, Vivian understands the inherent unpredictability in my business life, and I respect her and Eric's need for time and attention that transcends the business.)

These observations set the stage for this Construction Marketing Ideas survey question. "How do you involve your President in marketing decisions," the engineering company employee asked me.

This is an important question. After all, not everyone is the 'boss', and it is easy for someone who is self-employed to take his or her worldview as normal. Equally, it is sometimes hard for the person working in the 'marketing department' to see things from the owner/ceo's perspective. Yet everyone knows that, if you want to move something quickly, if you need a decision that demands more than the routine, you are going to need the boss's consent. So most marketing and sales is directed to the decision-makers of current and potential clients; and these, of course, are the presidents of your target companies.

So, to answer the question, look at me at 3 p.m. this afternoon. My day's business plans turned on their head, I still found time for my exercise routine but the scheduling mix-ups meant I had a half hour with little to do but to find a seat near the gym. I carried my cellphone (which can receive but not send email), a notepad, and some papers to review. I checked my phone messages. Two were from salespeople, one a "lead generator" who admitted he got my name from a general business list; the second from a printer hunting for business. There was also a call saved from several days ago from a job seeker who 'remembered' me from years ago.

I returned the calls, but my mind was on something else -- a challenge to one of our important contracts; a sense that we had made mistakes and offended someone. (I need to be cryptic in details here; this is a current business issue and this blog, after all, is not a private document.)

In other words, I had lots of things on my mind, some valid, some absurd.

And now, what if I were an employee of the company, not the president, and needed to reach me to involve me in the project?

First, with everything going on, most CEOs aren't that busy, especially if they are somewhat effective at their work. They delegate effectively. And (like I did at 3 p.m. today), we sometimes have blocks of time where loose ends can be sorted out. So we can be reached.

Secondly, we often have things on our minds away from the matter of importance to you. Of course, if you have a solution to the problem you know is troubling your president, you want to let him know. But you can't read his mind. He might be really busy or distracted. And so when you actually reach him, boom, he can't really give you the attention you need.

But you can email on simple matters, and arrange a meeting on more complex issues. (And emails are a great way to initiate a meeting, which may be handled by phone.)

I think it also is helpful to put your thoughts down in writing. Not a lengthy document; something succinct and easy-to-grasp. Again, you are respecting your boss's time and his distractions -- he can return to your communication and reread it, if his mind wanders off onto his current crisis.

I'm not overly fond of your phoning or intruding into the space of your CEO without some special reason or permission. Inbound sales calls -- especially by pesky and ill-trained telemarketers calling long lists of names -- are irritating and usually a waste of time for us. Voice messages, for example, allow us to hear your voice, but assuming we don't have a gatekeeper screening the messages, it is a real hassle to try to transcribe phone numbers, etc., especially since we may be picking up our messages on the run.

I'm not saying 'never' pick up the phone or knock on the CEO's door unannounced. There are always special circumstances and pressing issues and obviously if you have a direct reporting relationship, rather than through a intermediate manager or supervisor, you can be more informal. (And it is rarely wise to put things in writing by email or otherwise when they deal with sensitive legal or or human resources issues, unless you are truly confident that what you are saying won't haunt you years from now.)

The point here is that CEOs have distractions, tensions, frustrations, and often our work plans are messed up by external events. But we are accessible, and generally welcome ideas, feedback, and your involvement. Don't be afraid to ask for a meeting when you have something important; and emails and brief written notes and memos are a great way to get attention, especially when the CEO is managing blocks of work time when calls can be returned and messes fixed. (And yes, sometimes we catch up on stuff and write blog entries at 4:28 a.m.)
Here is a useful article on composing effective emails to your boss.

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