What truly happens when you have more than one boss to serve
Making your boss happy is tough as it is. What if you do not have to please just one boss? How does 2, 3, or 5 sound? It may seem satirical but it often happens depending on the nature of your job or your organization. There are employees that get deployed in different departments that require them not only to work with their members but also report to the particular head or coordinator of the department. So it’s not only just your true boss after all but you are now answerable to more than just him or her.
You then struggle when somebody asks who your boss is. The boss you are currently working on a project with may not be that same boss who will rate your performance during your appraisal. But just the same, you have to please both or all of them. For small companies owned by a family, automatically, all its members are your bosses. Scary huh. Then there are the issues of heavy workload, loyalty and proper communication. It gets even stickier if these bosses of yours don’t get along. Who becomes your priority when all these bosses demand your immediate attention? Overwhelming may very well be an understatement.
And then what if everyone is your boss? As such, it is important to know what your reporting structure will be. My work as an IT service desk analyst is to provide support to all users in terms of computer hardware and software. All users are virtually my bosses. I deal with a variety of egos, each wanting immediate solution to their problem. My calm attitude keeps my sanity which is oftentimes on the verge of breaking. I do what I can to accommodate everyone given proper scheduling of their requests. But some employees, the higher-ups in particular, use the boss card to get priority for their concern. I admit, I cave in occasionally but depending on the severity and urgency of their problem.
When there are conflicting workloads from different bosses, it is best for those bosses to talk it out rather than you acting as a messenger by representing one boss’ agenda to another. It is more transparent and fair for all parties involved. As far as keeping you sane in the midst of simultaneous tasks, setting boundaries is one way. It will get crazy when you are working on something and you get these interruptions from multiple channels. They have to wait for their turn and it’s up to you to determine which assignments you need to prioritize. It will be a difficult balancing act though.
Modern organizations are beginning to adopt a matrix model where a project-based employee can have multiple lines of reporting across offices other than where he or she is based. Sometimes employers are not upfront about this to a potential hiree probably because they don’t want to overwhelm him or her with the information. He or she will then be surprised to find out having multiple bosses on his or her first reporting day. And it’s a bit too late to back out.
Another nuance is when you give the same output to two bosses, one is pleased with it but the other wants more from you. Being two different personalities mean they can also have varying expectations and standards which can be difficult to address. If there are disagreements, it’s also important how your company handles them. A good suggestion is to email a copy of your to-do list schedule to all concerned which includes your bosses so they don’t insist on their demands whenever they feel like it. That way, they know what is on your plate.
You think with all the intricacies of having multiple bosses that it’s better to have a simpler organizational chart where you only need to report to literally one person which is your supervisor. But what happens when your supervisor is your problem?
It cannot be so rigid though, and in this case, it is only appropriate to raise your concern with Human Resources as this should be within their jurisdiction.
On the other hand, multiple bosses can be beneficial in more ways than one. According to the book “Making the Matrix Work: How Matrix Managers Engage People and Cut Through Complexity” by Kevan Hall, these may result in:
- talent exposure to the rest of the organization
- improved supply chain management
- quick response to evolving priorities
- broader perspective and enhanced skills
Hall adds, “Employee engagement comes when individuals feel a sense of ownership for meaningful goals — not from rigid job descriptions and goals set by others.”.
Bringing it to another level, working with different bosses across departments will afford you a bigger picture of things to come as they become part of your influential network in the organization. And ironically, you can have a sense of autonomy as you personalize your approach to each of your bosses. You can use it as leverage on the company- if you play your cards right, you have more than one boss that can vouch for your reputation. You also get to learn a lot more wisdom from them which you can apply to your own enterprise when the time comes.
See, answering to more than one boss isn’t so bad after all. Just like anything, look at it using a positive perspective such that the learning experiences you will gain despite challenges should only make you a better person.