What happens if your boss doesn’t understand what you do?

If you’re just starting or have been in the field of work for more years than you care to count, chances are you’re reporting to someone. If you’re lucky, someone in your shoes has driven, knows what you’re doing, and gets what it takes to do the job. So what if it doesn’t? What if you come across a supervisor who doesn’t understand what you are doing or, worse, doesn’t want to find out?

Remember this before you panic: If your boss hasn’t been in your unique role before, it’s not exactly the end of the world … And the more you potentially step up in your profession, the more likely you are to refer to someone who hasn’t done your exact job. I have also spoken to higher ups in my own marketing career who were financial wizards and experts of designing Excel pivot tables, but who didn’t even have a personal Facebook profile, let alone a clue about the complexities of designing social media ads.

The bigger problem arises if your boss isn’t even interested in understanding what you do, doesn’t value what you do, doesn’t trust you to evaluate what you need to do to succeed in your role, or doesn’t realize what you contribute to company goals.

You may be forced to do something in the short term, without the time or money you need. In the long run, disconnecting yourself could build a tense relationship with your boss and other colleagues and potentially even delay your career growth.

Sure it’s demoralizing. Yet note that there might not be evil thoughts on your supervisor. They may be struggling because this is their first managerial position and they need you to help them understand their job. You can turn it into a win-win situation — not by getting your manager to understand what you’re doing on a micro-level, but by getting them to depend on you and help you, your work, and career.

Here are five things you can do to turn things around when you suspect your boss doesn’t get it:
1. Understand How Your Work Contributes to Company Goals
From the higher ups the boss has his marching orders. They are doing whatever they can to achieve results. Good leaders prioritize, prepare and share ideas. What they do, and how they go about doing it, has a meaning. Your job is to know what matters to your boss, to the bosses of your boss, and to your organization’s overall mission and its stakeholders — and then make sure you ladder up to that. In other words, make sure you understand how it relates to broader objectives that you are doing.

Each organization has an overarching purpose. How are you and your team doing to help make it real? For example, if the goal is “to become the market leader in XYZ,” the company will strive to increase revenue year-over-year by 10 per cent. If you are an executive with an account, you increasing be liable for a portion of the increase. When you are an developer the team will contribute to the target by coding and testing new apps that can be used on the sales side to upsell existing customers and attract new ones.

Continue to work on breaking down issues to accomplish simple, actionable, and achievable goals you can concentrate on.

2. Be Sure
To start with, don’t assume. Just because your boss may not have hands-on experience in the latest digital widgets or doesn’t praise you for the mountain of work you do, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re clueless. Your boss isn’t supposed to be in the weeds; rather, it’s their job to see the bigger picture.

So take the time to figure out whether your boss really doesn’t get what you do or how you fit in. Here are some ways to go about it:

  • Do your research. Google your boss. What’s their background? They might have more hands-on experience than you realize in roles like yours. Or not. Either way, you can use this information to inform how you communicate.
  • Ask colleagues. Others who’ve worked with your boss may offer up some insight. Tap into those resources. You can frame it as a request for advice: “Hey, from your experience, what’s the best way to fill Marta in on what I’m working on and get her buy-in and support?”
  • Go to the source! As a manager, it’s so refreshing to have a direct report say to you: “Hey, I know you’re frying bigger fish, so I don’t want to waste your time with details you already know, so stop me if I’m getting in the weeds,” or “Hey, I know you hired me to handle XYZ, and I’m hoping I can tap into your experience.” And once you have their attention, start explaining what’s involved in what you’re working on.

3. Be Your Own Cheerleader

It’s not enough for you to realize how important to your staff, department and company’s overall success is what you are doing. You need to make sure that your employer knows that too. And you can’t be coy about your successes and you can seek to portray them in terms of how they relate to the goals of your manager and the company as a whole.

I know , I know: Self-promotion is definitely not your thing. And we all hope other people will actually appreciate our good work without having to “boast” about it. Yet the fact is if you’re doing a fantastic job, but nobody knows about it, it can’t help you go on with your career.

If you and your boss aren’t meeting on a regular basis, either weekly or bi-weekly, start doing so immediately. Get on their calendar—here’s how to ask for regular check-ins.

Don’t just say that, write it down in a straightforward, succinct document that you share with your boss at your meeting, or in a follow-up email that you send. List the overall organization goals, the contributions from your staff and what you have done as an person to help achieve those goals. And don’t mention all the everyday things you ‘re doing. You have to set them up as tangible achievements. What did the duties lead to the bottom line? How have you streamlined those processes? Why did you help invest shave off or foster teamwork? Direct the manager to see the interest of what you’re doing, and see how much you ‘re helping them shine.

4. Ask Your Colleagues to Pass on Their Praise

When your employer doesn’t want to hear directly from you then the next step is to let others speak for you. Tap your internal Network Strength. Leverage the experiences of those at work who see what you do firsthand.

If you work on a project and praise a colleague, ask them to share their thoughts with your boss directly. Do the same with the consumers and outside audiences that you can represent. It’s as plain as saying “Oh, thank you. I love to work with you, with your squad. Do you think you should give my boss a short note about how well we worked together and what we did? This is going to be moving a long way from you.

Either or not they send your employer a testimonial on your behalf, make sure you gather all of those accolades and keep them handy. So don’t wait to discuss this with the boss before the annual performance review. Consider it a monthly activity to speak about how your contributions are respected by peers around the business. If you are unable to bring these updates into your daily one-on-one meetings (or have been unsuccessful in setting up such meetings), a brief email update that also deliver your news.

5. Be Realistic
What if, despite your best efforts, you still can’t get your boss to understand, help, value, or even care about what you do?

You’re the only one you can alter. If you’ve done everything you can to help get your boss up to speed, and still can’t get them to remember, understand, or care about you and what you’re doing, then it might be time to think about moving on from that job. You don’t want to risk wasting your skills on those you don’t deserve.

Many people will never understand what you have to say, or accept it. That’s a hard reality to swallow but it’s OK because you’ll be remembered by other people. It’s hard to start over and find another opportunity, but hitting your head against the wall is even harder trying to get people to see what you ‘re worth.

Check out my related post:


Interesting reads:

https://hbr.org/1998/03/the-set-up-to-fail-syndrome

https://hbr.org/2011/06/dealing-with-your-incompetent

https://www.inc.com/john-brandon/how-to-cope-when-your-own-boss-doesnt-know-what-you-do.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2015/12/09/five-signs-your-boss-doesnt-know-what-you-do/#2158ad7dc8c5

https://www.rd.com/list/secrets-your-boss-wont-tell-you/

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/work/8-things-your-boss-doesnt-want-you-know.html

https://leadfearlessly.com/my-boss-doesnt-understand-me/

https://www.themuse.com/advice/dealing-with-boss-doesnt-understand-what-you-do

https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/your-boss-doesnt-know-what-you-do-now-what

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