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Dear boss: here’s what you need to change in 2017

Dear boss,

I don’t want to start 2017 off on the wrong foot. 

And I know that writing this letter might be career limiting for me. But I think it’s in your best interests (let alone mine and my colleagues’) that you take my advice below. 

It’s not just you who did some ‘reflection’ over the holiday period. Thinking about last year and considering your potential ‘work ons’, I’d like to suggest some ‘personal development’ goals to consider when it comes to leading the team this year.

Here they are:

1. Please, please, please – leave out the corporate bullsh*t speak in your emails and internal documents. No, I don’t know what a ‘dynamic capability map’ is, and nor do I want to. Instead of saying human resources, say people. Instead of writing “evaluative procedures for the objectives will be established based on acceptable criteria” write “at the end of the year, we will see how well we’ve done.”* Write to us in plain English. I’d rather read what you actually mean than try and decipher some dressed up, hard to understand jargon. The more plainly you speak, the more likely it is we’ll do whatever it is you’re trying to get us to do in the first place.

2. Talk less. Listen more. Ask more questions. Do this and we’ll respect you and think you’re cleverer than if you rabbit on ad infinitum in a lame attempt to sound authoritative, smart and in control.

If that’s too difficult, even if you could just tear your eyes away from your device and give me your full attention when we’re talking, that would be an improvement on last year. Bonus tip: you’d score much better in those painful Engagement Surveys the HR department dole out every year if you do these things. 

3. By all means, do read that trendy leadership book on transformational leadership, or start talking incessantly about the latest buzzword you’ve come across in your holiday reading, like ‘being authentic’ or ‘focusing on the critical few’. But please put into practice YOURSELF what you are shoving down OUR throats. You’d cringe if you knew just how much eye rolling that takes place in our weekly meeting when you tell us to “be accessible to our teams” – when I haven’t had a one-on-one meeting with you in months.

4. Don’t ask us to be ‘innovative’ or ‘think creatively’ and then come down on us like a tonne of bricks when we make some mistakes or fail in the pursuit of that company strategy. 

And while I’m at it, don’t throw us under the bus when your boss is giving you the 3rd degree on why our experiment (the one that you suggested) didn’t work out. You’re far more likely to get that “breakthrough disruption that will change the market” that you’ve told us you’re looking for if you treat the team’s failures with a non-judgemental curiosity. Help us understand what went wrong and how we can learn from it, rather than playing the blame game.

5. ‘Fess up when you foul up. If, while you’re working out on your cross trainer and you experience an inkling of guilt about losing your temper at Mary in accounts yesterday, do something positive with that discomfort. We’ll think you’re a better manager if you just say sorry when it’s warranted.   

6. Finally, see me. I know that sounds a bit touchy-feely, but if you really take the time to find out what floats my boat and work with me to develop my strengths, I’m more likely to put in that extra 10% that you’re always barking on about. 

It might not mean much to you, but if you understood what motivates me, I’d probably feel more worthwhile and reach more of my potential as a human being, let alone as a worker for this organisation.

Anyway, there it is. Is it too cheesy to finish by saying I’m looking forward to working with you in 2017? 

Kind regards,

Your employee

P.S. Feel free to forward this on to your boss.

*William Zinsser’s On Writing Well gave me this gem of an example. Reading his book may solve your jargon affliction.

Suzi McAlpine is a leadership development specialist and author of The Leader’s Digest blog.

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