5 ways you can still get things done with a disorganized boss
- Starting a new job can be challenging, but it can be especially tough if your boss is disorganized.
- Take some time to understand the work flows and team dynamics before changing everything to match your work style.
- Reach out to coworkers or previous people in your position, but be wary of building connections or bonding over your boss' shortcomings.
- Set clear parameters, questions, or expectations when asking your boss for help to keep them on track and focused on the problem at hand.
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You're excited about your new job. The pay is good, the office setting is comfortable, and the commute is easy. But as you start the actual work, you confront an unsettling truth: A disorganized boss is at the helm.
He hasn't mapped out a plan for your first few days or weeks. He doesn't give you any guidance on the projects you'll need to tackle. He can't find the papers he needs you to fax or sign. He hasn't introduced you to potential key allies in the company. It doesn't take long to wonder how you'll survive without (A) going nuts or (B) going completely nuts.
Have no fear. We found organization and communication experts to offer some tips to help you keep your cool, get up to speed, and make the most of this train wreck of a situation.
"Most disorganized bosses know they are disorganized and scattered," said Santa Barbara business coach Clay Nelson. "Do not walk into this and start changing things or channeling everything through you. You need to find out how to keep the flow going, what the possibility is inside the thinking of your boss. Then, slowly start shifting how things are working in very small increments, and make sure you have your boss's approval."
Read more: I was the first employee of a huge startup. Here's my advice to anyone thinking about joining an early-stage company.
Do your due diligence
Philadelphia-based organization consultant Liz Bywater advocates doing some research before you begin the full-court press to reform your boss. "Get a lay of the land from those who already work there," she said. Speak to the person who formerly held your position if you can, as well as your existing coworkers, to gain their insight into your boss's MO.
"Listen to verbal cues when your boss is in a panic and looking for that report," said Laura Leist, coauthor of the book "Eliminate Chaos" and president and founder of a Seattle company by the same name.
Leist also suggests offering to organize your boss's files for him and to ask plenty of questions along the way. This will ensure the filing system you help to create is actually useful and meaningful to your boss.
Work the network
Jeanne Hurlbert, a sociology professor at Louisiana State University and president of Optinet Resources in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, suggests establishing a support network. "New employees need to build relationships with coworkers anyway," Hurlbert said. Working with a disorganized boss, "however, exacerbates the need for that."
What a new employee shouldn't do is "start off making negative comments about the boss or thinking that shared antipathy toward the boss provides good common ground on which to build relationships," she said. "That's dangerous."
Read more: The smartest candidates always use these 5 resources when prepping for interviews, according to an executive recruiter who's interviewed thousands of applicants.
Lead by example
The best defense is a good offense, so Studio City, California-based Bill Bliesath, also known as the Organizing Guy, suggests making sure you are as organized as possible. "When you have questions about your responsibilities or projects, present them by topic in an order that flows smoothly and requires the minimal amount of input — i.e., yes or no answers," Bliesath said. "Disorganized people tend to lose focus easily if there are no clear parameters or expectations. So you want to stay on the subject, and if the conversation strays, keep steering it back on track — with a smile of course."
One final thought from Nelson: "The boss wouldn't be the boss — unorganized or not — if he/she weren't successful at what he/she does. So you don't want to mess with how that success gets done. You do want to be the person that makes that success come about easier."
That said if a disorganized boss is impeding your own personal career development, it's time to look for a job elsewhere.
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