For over 20 years, Vanessa Vallely worked in the city in the financial services sector. She was born and raised in a tower block in Hackney and now lives in Essex with her husband and 2 daughters.
Back in 2008, Vanessa founded WeAreTheCity.com, a little black book for all women working in London, and she is currently, with her eldest daughter, organising a fund raising trip to India in April 2013.
Vanessa has supported Chief Executives in Chief Operating Officer roles and now holds senior positions. Through this extensive experience she has learnt a number of techniques to communicate with senior leaders and also knows what she expects of her own team. Vanessa is a coach and mentor, who has worked with leadership teams and young professionals to help them achieve success through effective working and by building successful working relationships.
Ten top tips to impress your boss
Managing up effectively…
1. Be prepared
Always come to a meeting prepared. Be on time, look the part, have everything you need to conduct an efficient and timely meeting. If you are meeting external companies always have your business cards handy (and carry a couple for your manager too). Ensure you have the relevant papers (and an extra copy). If there are documents that you may need to refer to in meetings ensure you have ample copies. About five minutes before the meeting, collect your boss on the way, so you both have time to discuss the plan of action before the meeting. If the meeting is very important I would always suggest a pre-meeting the day before to prepare. If you are having a one-to-one with your boss, send them an agenda a day or so before. This doesn’t have to be formal; it can be a few bullets on an email. This will help them structure their thoughts before the meeting and make your time together more productive. Always stick to time in your meetings with your boss, arrive on time and wrap the meeting up a few minutes before the end. Your manager’s time is precious so make sure they know you appreciate that by being timely and structured.
2. Act as a confidant
It’s a dog eat dog world out there and invariably there will be individuals in peer groups that either cannot be trusted or have their own agendas. Build trust with your boss and become their sounding board. Your boss should be able to tell you most things (without compromising confidentiality); safe in the thought that what is discussed will stay within your circle of trust. Trust is something that comes with time, but it’s useful to let your boss know you have their back. Being seen as shunning idle gossip will increase the trust between you and your boss. In addition, you will be viewed as a more senior player in the organisation. In addition, being the eye and ears on the ground on behalf of your boss will be greatly appreciated. Senior managers don’t often know what is happening on the shop floor; so providing an organisational temperature check is a great help. You can plant seeds that your boss will grow without compromising specific individuals. For example, if people are thinking of leaving because there is an issue that is not being addressed by senior management, suggest to your boss that morale may need a boost in certain areas.
3. Always give an extra 20%
Whatever you approach at work it is important to be known as the one who gets the job done and goes the extra mile. People who go beyond what is expected of them not only learn more as a consequence, but they impress those around them. Don’t just complete the task, but think around the task and look forward. What else needs doing and how could you make it easier for the next person? Looking forward, how can you create a process so that you are prepared if the same situation arises again? Think forward and see the end-to-end process and how you can add value outside of your own responsibilities. Just because someone has not asked you to do something, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need doing. Don’t just throw a task that you feel you have completed over the fence – stay with it until the end and take ownership, especially if it is urgent.
4. Think like the boss
If you are preparing a document for your boss and you have discussed what they need you to do, before you give it back to your boss, put yourself in his/her shoes and look at the data. Does it tell a story? Would it be good if you added something else to complete the picture? If you are looking at data and are still left asking a question, no doubt someone else will. You could always create a copy and add what you believe the document needs and show them both to your boss – this shows initiative. If you are planning to progress into your manager’s shoes one day, it is important that you learn to think more strategically and see the bigger picture. This can sometimes involves personal compromise, but your thinking should be, I need to do what is best for the firm.
5. Pressured times
We all experience work pressure; your boss is no different. They will be conducting their own work and supervising the work of others. If your boss is going places, then he will also be helping to manage his boss’s workload too. Think about what you can do to release some of that pressure from them, for example, can you cover a meeting for them? If he/she is in meetings all day, can you grab them some lunch when you go to get your own? Are there people he/she needs to see to ask a few questions? If so, offer to do that for them. Is there any research that needs doing? Can you create the basic documents he/she needs so that they can just add the value? Catch your boss for five minutes and say, I know we are heading into a busy time, I am happy to help, so perhaps have a think about anything extra I could do for you. Once again, they will appreciate the initiative. Chose your moment carefully if you need your manager’s advice. If they are flat out working towards a deadline, it probably isn’t the right time to ask a small question. First thing in the morning or at the end of the day seem to net the best results. Small talk should be saved for when the pressure is off.
6. Manage your to do list and theirs
Always have an eye of what your boss needs to do. One-to-one’s with your boss are a must and a good way to ensure that you are kept informed. You should not only turn up to meetings with your to do list, but ensure there is a process whereby you discuss your manager’s key tasks. What are their top three priorities, what is keeping them awake at night from a work perspective? Once you find these things out, offer help where you think you could add value. In addition, if you are in meetings with your boss and they are given an action, offer to help with the action if you can. Even if it’s telling his PA to set up a further meeting, or obtaining the papers or data he/she needs to complete the action. Verbally remind your boss of things he/she needs to do. Be careful here as you could come across as managing them – ensure you offer to help in a way that gives them a choice as to whether they want your help or not.
7. Bring them solutions not problems
Ideally you should have explored every opportunity to solve a problem before bringing it to your boss’s attention. Don’t delay if it’s urgent. The last thing any boss wants is to find out from someone else that something has gone wrong or when they are not prepared, as it makes your boss look like they are not communicating with their team. When you bring a problem to their attention, explain the avenues you have explored and moreover, what you believe needs to be done to solve the problem. Don’t just turn up and tell them something is broken.
8. Be commercially minded
Whatever role you are in, all employees should treat the company money as if it’s their own. Think about what you would spend if this were your business or how you would economise and negotiate to get the best deal possible. Always consider the financial value of everything you do. For example, if three of you take two days to prepare a report that no one is reading or that doesn’t add any value, it is a waste of company money and resource. Question the value of your activities. Money doesn’t just leave the company’s balance sheet because you are physically purchasing things – people’s time costs money!
9. Grow your network
Having a network in any organisation is key. Knowing your manager’s network and peer group is just as important. These individuals can only help you complete your manager’s tasks and could become your own peer group one day. Building relationships breeds results. Even if you don’t deal with Joe down in accounts, get to know what they do, how your department interacts with them, where potential issues are – it will all pay back at some point. Knowing people all over the firm will enable you to get things done quickly. If you have helped these individuals in the past, asking for help yourself will not be like making a cold call.
10. Volunteer for projects
You know that job that no one else wants to do? Well, take it, do it, do it well and don’t complain about it. On lots of occasions, the relationships you build in an area you wouldn’t normally find yourself in can open you up to other opportunities and help grow your network. Volunteering to take the job that no one else in the team wants shows bravery and willingness to see the bigger picture. So what if this isn’t part of your existing role, your boss needs it done and they will be impressed that you have offered to get involved. It also shows your boss that you are not a one trick pony and that you are willing to stretch yourself in to other boundaries.