Does your boss know what you do?

August 28, 2007

As a professional, you should be able to talk about what you do. You should have an elevator speech ready to go, a 15 second sound byte that succinctly summarizes your work and its value. And you should be able to get into cohesive detail and give a full-blown 10 minutes if need be. Knowing how to speak about what you do is an important skill if you want to build your business, land more clients or increase sales.

But it’s also critical if you want to get beyond what you do and enhance your career. Why? Because you need to be able to communicate what you do not just to potential clients or customers. You need to be able to communicate the full scope of your work to your boss (and the people he answers to) as well.

I started thinking about this today when our department was audited. We’re an ISO certified organization, so each year, we have a review of our processes. In the middle of the audit, my boss gave me a call to ask me a question about a project I handle for the department. It was an easy enough answer. But it tuned me in to the open-door conversation going on mere feet away from me about all the projects and tasks and processes that make up the work we do every day.

He was getting barraged by questions that were pretty basic, but listening to my boss talk about my work and that of my co-workers made me realize that he knows a lot about much of what we do. And about other stuff, he’s clueless. I suspect that this is probably the case for a lot of workers. That’s because for many of us, we’re hired to fill a job description, are assigned certain tasks and projects. After time, we take on new tasks, come up with new ideas, evolve the way things are done. So unless your boss is standing over your shoulder to make sure you follow everything the way it was prescribed (hopefully, this isn’t the case), chances are, they don’t know exactly what your job looks like after you’ve been working for a while. Which, if you’re an evolving employee, isn’t really a good thing.

Here’s a few things you’ll have a shot at if you fall into the evolving employee camp and your boss really understands all you do:

  • Less work. If your boss sees that you’re drowning in too many projects or tasks but giving it your full effort, they might be able to take things off of your plate or help you prioritize. If you don’t tell them what all you do, chances are, you’ll keep drowning.

  • More work. If they see that your plate is too empty, they might be open to you developing new projects or ideas to keep you from floundering. If you never check in, chances are, you’ll be telling everyone that you don’t have enough to do – except the one person who can help you change that.

  • Star status. If you’re surrounded by co-workers who acclimate to their tasks and settle down there and choose not evolve their roles, there is a “standard” (be it a poor one) you can set yourself above. So, if your boss knows what you do and doesn’t know what your mediocre co-workers do, you’ll stand out in their mind even more.

  • A raise or promotion. If you’ve taken initiative and taken on new things, you’re more likely to receive recognition, perhaps in the form of a raise or promotion, if your boss fully understands the ins and outs of your job beyond what’s written on paper along with the value you add and how much your role has evolved.

For most all of us, this means there’s an unwritten duty in everyone’s job description, and that’s being able to sell yourself and your job to your boss. If you don’t communicate with your boss, chances are, they’re not going to know what your job really is. And before you tell me that paying attention to the work of their employees is a primary function of a manager and you shouldn’t have to bother, I’ll remind you that the best employees aren’t afraid of managing up. If you care about your career, you’ll take responsibility for it. In the end, being proactive and communicating your job to your boss – though it’s not something most of us learn in college – is one of the most valuable skills you can develop.

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12 Responses to “Does your boss know what you do?”

  1. Torbjorn Says:

    Nice. I like that and it was well worded. You catch on quite well to what I have to do at least once a month, which is kinda remind my boss that he is more than just the Branch Manager in that he runs the projects’ direction, he needs to keep my plate full when he can. Sadly I’m getting worse at it. I try to convince myself that I’m independent enough to keep momentum on my own, which I just can’t do all the time. This was a friendly reminder that it’s okay to remind your manager to manage. Ask a little.

  2. Tiffany Says:

    It’s frustrating a lot of times when managers aren’t proactive with you, but even the best, proactive bosses aren’t really going to understand everything that you do. That’s sort of the nature of the game. Unless they’re a micromanager, and then they probably understand everything so well, you never get to move beyond what you got hired for.

    The truth is, managers have their own projects, other people to manage, people to report to. Knowing the ins and outs of your job is no one’s responsibility but your own, especially if you want to grow your career. Realizing this and using it to your advantage can really set you apart, I believe.

    You’re right – sometimes you have to ask your managers to manage you. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Glad you stopped by and enjoyed the post. Look forward to continuing the conversation.

  3. Jonathan Says:

    It’s interesting how different fields have different management expectations and practices. In my field (manufacturing) it is expected that the employees will have as much as 80% standardized work and for management up to 50% of work is standard documented daily practice. Much of the non-standard work is improving on the standardized process…

    The managers know what your doing but might not know how you do it, but the majority of operating processes are documented so if someone took the week off, there would be step by step instructions for whoever took over those tasks in place of you.


  4. Absolutely! And part of what I do is make him and his boss look good by helping to execute ideas — selling, sharing vision with other departments and colleagues, understanding their POV and how they see the world, etc. Often times I talk about my job as one of facilitation and translation, which extends beyond the company’s walls to touch customers and partners.

    Keeping people is the loop varies — each of us has different styles and preferences as to what that looks like. So job #1 is to find that out.


  5. @Jonathan – You’re right. It does depend on field and even company how much this will affect someone. Some thrive on standardization, others on creative, evolving processes. How things are done is probably a more universal concern, but that can still be pretty important.

    @Valeria – It’s true that each employee will have different levels of feedback they need and desire, and at the same time, probably every manager has different levels of how much they want to know.

    I just hear a lot of people complain about lack of communication between them and their manager, and I think it’s important to learn how to take responsibility for your part in that.

  6. DC Says:

    I recently took your advice and made sure that my boss was aware of the fact that I do not have enough work to do (hence my blogging in the middle of the work day). She acknowledged that and said she would think about additional projects I could take on. It’s been almost a month now and nothing has changed. Do I go to the head of our department (one rung higher up on the ladder than my boss) or do I start looking for a position that will actually keep me busy?
    – Great post by the way!


  7. DC,
    Interesting situation there. I would say that is a difficult situation to be in – for your boss to know you don’t have enough work to do but not to remedy that. I think it wouldn’t necessarily be a wrong move to look for another job.

    But before you do that, have you tried an even more proactive approach of proposing new work for you to do to your boss? The initiative of investing your time into researching and writing a proposal for a new project is sometimes just what a boss wants to see out of you. It helps them see your dedication level, your interest in the job, and that you have critical thinking skills necessary for higher level tasks. Some call this “managing up” and essentially, that means helping your boss make your job better.

    I’m curious how much experience your boss has. If they are new to their own position of leadership, it may be they are having a hard time delegating work that they enjoy doing. They may be in over their head on all their work, while their employees are bored and unfulfilled. If this type of scenario is the case, then you might consider talking to your HR department about it before you go “above her head” so to speak. Sometimes they can help assess the situation and offer some training to the manager or supervisor to help them understand how to be a better leader. Going over someone’s head can jeopardize your position sometimes, because it hurts the trust in your employee/employer relationship.

    Let me know how it turns out!


  8. […] Monhollon’s question — Does your boss know what you do? — was provocative enough to take a read. Her experience with managers that have enough on […]


  9. […] truly enjoy what you are doing, you need to work for yourself because lets face it, nobody wants a boss standing over their shoulder all […]

  10. Sean Zeigler Says:

    I really like this post. I am struggling to convey what I do as a creative director (visual/emotional) to someone who has little depth in my field at all. I am taking the path of reducing my weekly report scope and really trying to communicate less about the ideas and concepts and more about the functions of my team. My boss has the idea that I either micro-manage my employees, or I let them run wild. I can see how this perception exists but I am really struggling to communicate the reality of the situation which is that my team is very on task and innovative where needed, and I am usually acting as a leader when there are questions. I would appreciate any thoughts.


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