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I recently joined a biggish company in a not well-defined role of coordinator/coach, but not actual manager, of a small business unit.

My boss, i.e. my business unit's actual manager, is time-starved and difficult to reach, because busy with other business units and often away. He wants me to work autonomously and I like that, although I feel his guidelines so far are too vague.

The team and another key manager are annoyed with my boss because they think he is too hands-off. I also have this impression and I fear getting caught in the middle of a conflictual situation, but at the same time I see the chance for me to grow beyond my role and become my boss's loyal right hand-person for this business unit, thus learning how to manage one.

How would you go about accomplishing this goal?

PS: if you think this is a bad question, please comment on why, so I can improve.

  • right-hand person: Ahem, do we have a mafia tag around here? :D – Masked Man Feb 15 '15 at 13:07
  • @Happy - Google: warren buffett's right hand woman – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 13:47
  • @JeffO Uhm, yeah, but the question mentioned something about being caught in a fight, so taken in that context, I thought this was a mafia "workplace" question. :) – Masked Man Feb 15 '15 at 14:35
  • @Happy: I don't work for mafia :) , English is just not my mother-tongue. How should I rephrase my question? – lifExplorer Feb 15 '15 at 14:53
  • @lifExplorer English isn't my mother-tongue either. Now worries, your question is fine. I apologize for my lame humour. – Masked Man Feb 15 '15 at 15:05
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I'll expand on JeffO's final paragraph. Let's analyze the important key issues of the situation you're in.

  • Your boss is hands-off with everyone in the business unit.
  • The business unit is frustrated with not having the ability to propose questions and obtain decisions from your boss.

So you have a boss that doesn't micro-manage, and a team that needs, at least some level, of micro-management. So what should you do? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Hold A Meeting - Yes, meetings can actually be productive. Get with the business unit and find out what current issues are outstanding and waiting for your boss' approval/decision making. Find out what other needs the business unit has. Write these down, document these issues/needs clearly for yourself.

  2. Categorize Needs/Issues - The list you've obtained from the meeting is bound to have some similarities. Considering that this is a small company, there's a good likelihood that Standard Operating Procedures/Process Control is non-existent. Your boss doesn't want to hear the same question from X number of different employees every week, this is where SOP's become your friend. Once you've categorized/linked similar issues you can now make a new list - but with these categories.

  3. Back to the Business Unit - Take your list of similar groupings back to the Business Unit. Let them discuss together, how they would like going about solving these questions and understanding what their answer to these questions would be. Make note of each members solutions. Do not finalize or make any decisions at this point in front of the members on the issues/groupings. This is just a brain-storming session to get a feel of how your business unit reacts to issues and what best suits their current style.

  4. Build Some Mock SOPs - Now that you have your list of similar issues, and feedback from the business unit members - take their expert knowledge in their positions and your innate ability for coordination and coaching and begin to devise generalized SOPs for as many of the issues as possible. Rough draft these out.

So what have we done? We've understood what needs/issues your business unit members have and what they would like to do about it. We've categorized these needs/issues into logical groups, and developed a plan(SOP) to answer these needs/issues as they come in, in a long-term setting, in a generalized way.

There's a good chance that some of these needs/issues aren't able to be categorized - these are the needs/issues that your boss SHOULD be making individual decisions about and "wasting his time" to answer. These are specialized, unable to be categorized, and require a more personal touch.

  1. Schedule a Meeting With Your Boss - Based on your description, your boss is more likely to respond to a meeting invite than he is to a ad-hoc email/walk-up question. So schedule a meeting. Explain to him what you've done so far and what you've collected, go through a high-level overview of the SOPs you've made up (bring a copy for him) and go through the list of specialized issues that are needing his attention. Explain this in a way that he understands - that you are working to try and save him time by putting processes in place that will limit the amount of questions he has while still continuing to allow the business unit to be productive. He will get this - because time is precious to him apparently.

Ultimately, your boss is the decision maker - so any changes to these SOPs or specialized decisions that he makes is law. Responsibility is taken off you. You look like a winner with both your boss and business unit for taking initiative and hopefully will make the business unit run smoother. These steps also plays towards your Coordinator/Coach approach. This isn't a bad situation for you to be in, it's a win-win situation for you if you play your cards correctly.

  • Thanks @cloyd800 for proposing this interesting method. I think it fits quite well because the company has in fact 1000 employees and understands the importance of SOPs, but these are lacking in my small business unit. – lifExplorer Feb 15 '15 at 16:47
  • +1 - Detailed and well thought out approach. I think you may find those in your group that are willing to fix this problem and those that would rather keep complaining. – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 16:52
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You can try to think about "What would the boss do?" and just go with it. Others may cooperate or they may not. Some may think you're taking the responsibility, so they won't get in trouble. It's up to you to decide if it is worth the risk.

Unfortunately, this boss has abdicated his responsibilities and not effectively delegated them. Too many people don't know what to do. In many places, people just like to be explicitly told who is in charge when the boss is away. You could consider mentioning this to the boss and have him lay out some ground rules. Offer to be the one to take on the responsibility.

Even if he picks someone, it can be difficult to put into place. For example, the boss may say you're in charge, but the company will not allow you to approve a purchase order or grant someone time-off.

Another problem is if you do not have access to the information needed to make an effective decision. What do you do when a situation requires someone else's expertise? Will you defer to them and if so, do they feel like now they are responsible?

Most of this boils down to the consequences of acting on your own. I've often been a new employee at many places and found that when the boss is not around no one will think, do anything or make a decision because they've been criticized for it in the past. Maybe I'm a little more thick-skinned and more likely to try and do the right thing instead of doing nothing.

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