Skip-level with new VP

Quick Synopsis - I have asked for a skip-level with my boss' new boss to understand expectations and priorities because this new VP has come in guns blazing and determined to change the world in a day. I would appreciate some feedback on how to approach this skip-level carefully to accomplish 2 things: 1) a mutual understanding of the organizational priorities and 2) an agreement around how we can manage the daily-growing list of requests that come every day from her straight to me.

More Detail - This lady is new to our function. Given her sense of urgency, she has not taken any time to get to know the team and the current areas of priority/pain. Instead, on a daily basis, I am getting multiple "urgent" requests for new deliverables with rapid turnaround time expectations. As I probe to understand objectives, I learn that she is making commitments and promises in meetings she's having with other executives. Talk about jump-starting internal customer relationships. She's taking this to the absolute nth level and trying to please everyone with every request.

I've tried various approaches to manage this - weekly summary list of key projects with status and due dates, as an example. She has received this well, but the list still grows daily. It's taking a toll on my team and myself - we're working ourselves sick (literally). Further, due to her lack of knowledge of current processes, systems, workload, some of these requests are really not even valid and I'm struggling to help her see that because there's a level in between us and she won't respond to email requests (we work in different locations) and leave it to my boss to deal with. My boss is recently expressing some concern/frustration too but is not much help with workload or prioritization (different issues here).

So, I finally have a live 30-min skip-level tomorrow that I've requested. I want to have an open discussion re. workload and priorities and what this is doing to my team of 14 people. And, I want to, somehow, get her to take a few moments to understand what it is we actually do. To not make commitments without at least getting some input from my boss and myself till she's fully up to speed. I know that there's really no pressure on her to deliver everything she's asking - I've been in telecons where she volunteers for a project (sometimes not even within our function's remit).

Appreciate any thoughts/suggestions. Apologies for the long post.

Where is your boss?

What about your boss?  Why isn't your boss in there, managing you, handling priorities, and meeting one on one with the VP?  You say it's a different issue, but I'd suggest it's the main one.  

Anyway, you've got a meeting with VP tomorrow, so let's see what can be done.  

First, an "open discussion re: workload" will likely fail.  You'll be seen as a whiner, not as someone who comes in with solutions.  

It may seem odd, but your best bet is to listen, and ask questions about her priorities (big picture stuff) and what's expected of her by her boss.  The 30 minutes will pass quickly.  DO NOT complain or suggest your team is overworked.  You goal in this meeting is to understand HER.  

This will do two things:  make you look like a team player, and give you very important information on how to prioritize the tasks that come your way.  If you truly cannot get everything done, you better do the most important stuff.  

What you need to do AFTER the meeting is put some new processes in place.  Project staffing and tracking.  Project prioritization.  and most of all, project reporting.  You will at some point have the hard conversation about something that didn't get done on time.  You need to have already discussed what you're working on and where you're at with your boss and the VP.  Make them part of the decision making and priorization process.

And you need to figure out what's up with your manager.  That's the real missing puzzle piece here, and maybe after your meeting tomorrow, you could share with us what's going on there.  

John Hack

PS:  It's probably too late, but do you have a "briefing book?" (the Mergers and Acquisitions podcasts)  It would be helpful to explain your team without sounding like you want to decrease your workload.  

Juggling

After your meeting, you should also listen to the "Juggling Koan" podcast.  It discusses how to handle being given extra work by your boss when you're already at full capacity.  It's a classic.  

http://www.manager-tools.com/2007/01/the-juggling-koan

Please let us know how the meeting went. 

Good luck!

John Hack

Tread lightly and listen. 

Tread lightly and listen.  I do not recommend expending time and energy explaining all that you do. She may be far more "up to speed" than you expect.

Instead, invest in learning her priorities. Discuss these priorities with your boss to ensure common understanding and muster resources for effect. Although you do not have time to review podcasts on delegation and the Juggling Koan...you and your boss are being given larger balls to juggle. If you and your boss have a common understanding then you have the political coverage when delegating projects/tasks to others or letting other projects slip because they are deemed lower priority.

It's Worrisome

Hello jen_wren,

I'm probably too late... and under informed... but here's my take.
 
If your boss doesn't know about this meeting, I'd worry.
 
If your boss knows about it and disapproves, I'd worry.
 
If your boss knows about it and approves, I'd worry.
 
If you follow through on your plan to change her approach based on your impression that she isn't really under any pressure, I'd worry.
 
It's worrisome.
 
Smart thing might be to cancel, politely and apologetically. If that's not possible, smart topic for the meeting might be: "I asked for this meeting because I'm struggling with how to better include my boss in the discussions I have directly with you, and I was hoping you could give me some guidance on what I could do to improve in that area."
 
In any event, please be careful.
 
Best,
 
Paul Schweer
 

Don't cancel

Don't cancel the meeting.  Use it to demonstrate your willingness to align with her priorities and understand her goals.  

Don't make the meeting about your boss. 

Listen, and seek to understand. 

John Hack

Bad Idea

 This is a CAREER LIMITING MOVE, based on my reading of your note.  If you do what you are thinking, you could be in real danger.

I don't joke about stuff like this.

John's question, "where is your boss?" is ringing in my ears...but too late for that...until AFTER, when he hammers you after she does.

Depending upon how much of your concerns were shared as a basis of the meeting, I would attempt to wriggle out of them if you can.  If you've already shared chapter and verse... well, do your best to downplay them.

If you have simply requested the meeting without an agenda (there are too many problems with this to list them, but it's still better than having given details in this situation), then go in with an idea to hear more about her vision, and share how your team might be able to help her achieve them.  It's too late to share metrics, or have a briefing book, but some sort of high level review WITHOUT THE CONCERNS might be appropriate.

Think along the lines of, " I just wanted to introduce myself and my team, and learn more about you and your priorities please..."

This is your first meeting with her privately.  It's time to build a relationship.  What you have planned won't do that.

REALLY bad idea.

Update

Thanks, all, for the comments. I was able to scan through a couple quickly this AM, but not all, unfortunately.

Some quick clarification to the excellent questions:

1) My immediate boss is sympathetic, but generally not as engaged because she does not have the background/expertise - one of the reasons that her boss is coming straight to me. I've heard quite a few people tell me that she's not happy in this role and wants to go back to Finance. I have only been here a year and have not probed this further. So, that's what's going on here.

2) I did have a more tactful agenda for the meeting when I asked for it - I asked for it to review status of all ongoing projects and ensure I'm aligned with the VP's priorities. So, it was done with respect AND my boss was aware that I wanted this 30 minutes. So, no bridges burned there. A couple of my peers (DRs of my boss) actually have bi-weekly 1:1s with this VP (found out today). So, somehow, odd as it may sound, I guess my boss is okay with all this.

3) I do have a "briefing" slide deck and walked the VP through when she came to meet the team and get an introduction. She even asked for the soft copy. But, I don't think she remembers the stuff I shared after she left that meeting.

 

An update on how the meeting went:

1) It started with some talk about existing/ongoing deliverables that she wanted to know about rightaway. I addressed them quickly and positively.

2) I then explained that I wanted this meeting to ensure that I was aligning with her priorities. That I am aware that there's a lot going on and, with all the executive changes, RIFs, etc., as a company, we're re-aligning a lot of business priorities. I want to ensure that I'm flexible to the changing environment and that I'm providing appropriate direction to my team so we can meet due dates. She agreed that there was a lot going on and that she's trying to be sensitive.

3) I suggested a weekly Project Tracker (thanks, John Hack) that I could send her - an upgrade to the weekly email list. She said - that's funny, I just asked my Admin to create a consolidated Tracker with all ongoing projects by DR. So, I'll ask her to send you her template and you can work with her to modify/update and then we can all use that.

4) I mentioned that there are quite a few ongoing projects that I had given her a very high-level about and that even my boss sometimes does not know the details of. Some of them are priorities because of dependencies and correlations to other business priorities and I'll make sure I add those dependencies/linkages in the Project Tracker for her so we can balance trade-offs. I gave her a couple quick examples and she agreed.

5) I asked her what might be the best way for me to stay up-to-speed with ongoing priorities/changes? She advised that she was going to start weekly extended staff meetings (this is something they do at my company because of the many, many layers of management - all staff meetings include the next layer - I don't get it, but, seriously, we have the following hierarchy - analyst -> sr analyst -> manager -> sr manager -> director -> sr director -> vp -> sr vp -> executive vp - > c-level. I'm smack-bang in the middle as director.)

6) I asked how she would like to get updates - the Project Tracker is one way, but, given we have so much going on, did she want more emails or want me to update during the extended staff or want a separate regular forum to dive deeper into some of the details? She suggested we do bi-weekly 1:1s like she's doing with some of my other peers. I demurred that I didn't want to add to her meetings and she was emphatic - no, I want to.

7) We ended with her comments re. - we have some great opportunities to drive change. The CEO is deeply interested in everything in this area - good news, bad news. But, think of this as getting a certain level of exposure, which is not a bad thing, especially if we do our jobs well.

So - that was that. Shortly after that, there was a string of emails asking for this, that and the other. Well, Rome wasn't built in a day. So, we'll give her time to get the Tracker, prioritization cadence, extended staffs, bi-weekly 1:1s and see how all this goes.

Any comments on how this went?

PS Mark - I did share metrics, briefing slides, etc., in a prior meeting in March. And, I did approach this differently than I'd planned originally after reading John Hack's first response (thanks again, John). So, I think I might have minimized the potential damage here. But, look forward to any further suggestions. Thanks.

Bullet dodged

Sounds like things went pretty well, all things considered.  So now what? 

First, make you sure you follow through on anything you discussed with her.  Don't rely on the admin to do it - you take care of your stuff and then synch up with admin when the admin puts her process in place.  

Second, brief your boss. Let your boss know what was discussed, and the follow up plans.  Copy your boss on those status trackers/updates/ etc.  

Third, have a comparable conversation with your boss.  Find out what her priorities are, and how you can help her.  (listen to the "Managing your boss" podcasts).   

And deliver results.  Nothing beats results.  Again, the Juggling Koan is good.  So is "creating a sense of urgency"  I assume you've got the basics.  

John Hack

Thanks, John

Good tip re. the follow-up and not waiting for the admin. Definitely need to do that.

I did follow up with my boss to let her know about the meeting and how it went. She was appreciative and thankful, I think. And, I absolutely always copy her on anything that the VP asks from me.

I will listen to The Juggling Koan this weekend.

Thanks again. 

What John said... ;-)

Sounds like it went well.. WELL DONE!  Nice pivots, good high level, nice detail.

I do suggest a subtle change on the admin piece: Your boss's boss's admin has real power, and likely is pretty sharp.  Get your stuff ready, but don't do anything that might be perceived as you attempting to drive the train.  So, create something.  Go to him/her and say, hey, boss said you were working up a template, and she suggested I work with you...how can I help?  THEN offer your solution if there's an issue.  And don't take credit for creating it with ANYONE unless she gives or shares credit with you.  That's a chip in the game that might prove valuable... and there's risk with moving forward with yours "just in case".

Glad that's behind us!