Manager So Busy Can’t Get To All Of Us

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a manager: Our manager is very busy and sometimes isn’t able to get to all of her employees in a timely manner when we need her.

I am currently a seasonal employee at Victoria’s Secret. I usually work with a small group of girls and a manager in the “PINK” store as a sales associate. Although I love my job, one thing we struggle with is communication with our manager. Our manager is very busy and sometimes isn’t able to get to all of her employees in a timely manner when we need her. Victoria’s Secret’s PINK is a very large business with constant changes being implemented. I believe if our manager were more clear on what is expected of us when these changes arise (especially with the holiday season coming up), then everything would run more smoothly.

Advice on how to approach this matter would be greatly appreciated in order to allow our PINK team to work to our best abilities with better communication skills. As a seasonal sales associate, I have a difficult time confronting my higher authority figure about our communication issues. Your help would be greatly appreciated. The challenging thing about being a line or team employee (especially a seasonal employee) is that most of the time you can’t require changes.

Usually you have to “finesse” the situation (use subtlety, tact and diplomacy) if you want to have a higher level person make the decision to change anything at all about the way she is handling her job. In your business your manager might think, “Why should I?”

She has been made a manager and probably feels that she is doing a good job or she wouldn’t have that position. She also probably has tenure that has allowed her to have worked with many new and seasonal employees. She has gotten accustomed to hearing ideas and suggestions from them and may have seen the flaws in all of the ideas. So, even though she may be frustrated on occasion she sees no reason to make a change. A long-time friend of mine often says (I’ll paraphrase him somewhat), “I never knew as much about running a business as I did when I had three years on the job. When I became a supervisor I knew a bit less. As a manager I knew even less. Now as the CEO I often hear the whispers that I know nothing. Fortunately I have employees with three years on the job who know exactly what I should be doing.”

Signed, This Holiday in the PINK

Dear This Holiday in the PINK:

In your case, you clearly realize the positive accomplishments of your manager, so you’re not implying she isn’t knowledgeable or skillful with her work. But you do think there could be better communication to the sales staff about things the team needs to know to be more effective. That sounds reasonable to me and like something a good manager would want to hear. Sadly, you may have to accept that your input will be limited, no matter how correct you are. However, don’t assume that is the case.

This might be a good time for you to have an informal leadership role and your manager may be much more amenable than you (or I) think will be the case. Be aware as well, that full-time employees may not be supportive of a less tenured employee suggesting something to the manager, even if it would benefit them; and other seasonal employees may have conflicting ideas and will second-guess your motives. Which is to say that you may not be appreciated for your efforts and may even be openly resented.

If you approach it in a non-aggressive way, you won’t have nearly as many of those issues. All of that sets the stage for you to consider the following things:

1. Make a list of the things that you know for a fact have happened or did not happen and how each situation had a negative result for the way employees did their work. What were the negative results? What do you think could have been done differently? If they had been done that way, how could employees have done their jobs better? Keep the focus on improved work performance rather than employee attitudes or feelings. Especially during a busy time, that isn’t usually a strong reason for managers to take the time to evaluate suggestions and make changes. Big question: Could employees have done their jobs better anyway, if only they had looked for work-around methods and used some creativity? Employees often have ideas for things to be done in a way they would prefer, but not necessarily the way that would benefit the business the most. Or they will suggest something for management to do, when they have made no effort to find a solution themselves. That list of your experiences, when you can talk about the situations quickly and clearly, can help your manager answer the question, “Why should I make changes or communicate differently?”

2. Ask questions rather than making suggestions. Your best role is to identify a problem and ask if there is any way to avoid it in the future. You can make tentative suggestions, but do so with the tone of asking if it might work. When you make a strong suggestion, it implies you have thought of something the manager hasn’t; which may be true but isn’t likely to be welcomed. I recall one time, with a year on the job, giving unasked-for advice to a long-time supervisor. He looked at me, took a puff on his cigar, blew a big cloud of smoke in the air, and said, “Well now, how could I have overlooked such an obvious solution to this problem we’ve had for ten years? What did we ever do before you were hired?” I said, (not wisely) “Just what you said; making this mistake for the last ten years. But, fortunately, I was hired and now I’m here to help!” After he “talked” to me about that response, I went back to work having learned a few new words! He still reminds me of that day when we talk, especially since eventually I became his boss! (The problem somehow was solved, so maybe he took my advice—I’ll have to ask him!) I know you wouldn’t be that brash, but do try to keep the viewpoint and feelings of your manager in mind as you consider what you want to say. Making suggestions won’t be accepted as well as questions, “Is there anything that can be done to get that information out and about?” “Is there an easy way to keep us current with the merchandise priorities?” “Is there a way we can know if there are sales goals for the store, so we can feel like we’re working toward that?”

3. Don’t expect immediate answers or agreement. Most often managers have to give some thought to a problem and look at it from every angle. We all should do it, but managers especially have learned that nothing is quite as it appears and immediate decisions often have to be changed; not good. So, you may make a comment or ask a question and get only a response like, “I’ll give it some thought. Thanks.” That may just be a way to get some breathing room to think about it.

4. Consider what can you do, in your own work, to improve in the areas you’re wanting to have improved overall. I mention that because often we don’t do what we CAN do. Instead, we wait, with frustration, for it all to be fixed; as I mentioned above. If communicating company changes to employees is the issue, be the best at communicating clearly about the things you are responsible for communicating with coworkers and up to management. Encourage it in other employees and make it a positive thing for them to do. It won’t fix the higher level problem, but you will be improving things anyway. If the problem is that the manager doesn’t communicate enough to employees about goals and accomplishments, take the lead in recognizing good work at your own level. Whatever the problem is, see if there is some aspect of it present among your own team. Then see if there is a way you and others can improve it there.

5. Before you express any of your thoughts to your manager, focus first on ensuring your influence with her and others. You probably know some employees who have very little influence over your thoughts, because you don’t respect them, value them or even know them. They probably don’t influence managers either. There are others who have tremendous influence with the manager. Who seems to have the most influence with your manager? It could be that your good work and commitment to being a good employee will be noticed by that person and that could be more useful than anything else. Without criticizing, maybe you could discuss some of your thoughts with her and see if she has some thoughts about it.

I often remind people of what it takes to have influence:

* You must be credible (Skillful about your work, dependable as an employee and a person and free of habits or mannerisms that detract from your professional presentation.)

** You must be valuable (A strong contributor to the team, to the manager and to the business. Friendliness and helpfulness give you value as well. People need to have a reason to be influenced by you.)

***You must communicate effectively (Appropriately, honestly and directly, concisely and clearly.)

A person can have influence for negative reasons, of course. But, generally the three things above is what we want to aim for. When you are viewed as a credible and valuable employee you will have a better chance of having your thoughts strongly considered rather than merely heard, thanked for them, then having them be ignored. I’ll leave to you to decide how credible and valuable you are to your manager and coworkers and how to best add to those things. You know your work better than I would and also know what you can do to strengthen your role.

6. Keep personal notes about your situation and experiences. You won’t always be working at that store and this will provide you with some good ideas and good memories. I wish I had notes about my first jobs, in various businesses. The problems existing there were honestly no different than the ones I work on now. The current ones are just updated versions. For example, at my first job we had a young employee (my age) who spent too much time going down the street to the phone booth to call her boyfriend! (She would have loved a cell phone!) As a special reminder, save anything that is OK for you to keep, that could be fun, useful or valuable memorabilia one of these days. Your pay check record, price lists, a price sign, brochures, emails, advertisements and anything else that will, one of these days, be fascinating to look at or read. Take photos! Take your photo in front of a stocked area with signs or in front of the store. Get a photo of you and your manager together. Ask for permission to take a photo of the sales team before the store opens. Never do anything that could jeopardize your job and always ask for permission first, about anything unique; but don’t pass up an opportunity to create a visual and actual record of this experience. You’ll thank me for this idea one day (and so will your children and their children as they look at your old photos and laugh at your hair.)

7. Keep it all in perspective. You are responsible for doing your work to the best of ability. Your manager is responsible for how the store produces; and she must work with and through you and others to accomplish good things. She has a manger who is responsible for training her to be more effective in working with employees who aren’t being effective, if it seems the store isn’t being productive. So, everyone has their role in keeping the business going and making it wildly successful. There will be mistakes and there will nearly always be some sort of conflict going on. But, in the whole big Cosmic Scheme of things, it’s a job and you have a life apart from it. Do what you can and learn from the errors being made as well as the good decisions you observe. Enjoy this time of your life, when you can use everything for a strong foundation for your future as a leader in your career, whatever that may be. Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe