Who Manages the Manager?
June 19, 2013 8:03 AM   Subscribe

My boss figuratively (and I suspect literally) has the memory of a goldfish. This can get more than a little frustrating. What can I do to make my life easier?

I generally get along well with my boss. She is an overall friendly individual. Unfortunately, my boss is also a panicker. So when she doesn't have the information she needs at her fingertips, all hell will break loose. Beyond that, it's a lot of extra work for me to correct misunderstandings when she reports incorrect facts to increasingly higher levels of management.

I've spoken with her about this on several occasions, and she openly admits that her memory and lack of organization are issues, but has not taken any tangible steps to address the issue. I do recognize that it can be difficult for her because of the sheer volume of work that she tackles on a daily basis exacerbates the memory problem. I worry that speaking to her supervisor or human resources is more likely to engender ill will than to correct the problem. I have tried several things on my end, such as drafting summary memos that she can have at her side to refresh her memory. Unfortunately, these memos were quickly consumed by the black hole of clutter on her desk.

What are other things I can try to make a pre-emptive strike against her bad memory? Or to be ready when she does forget?
posted by C'est la D.C. to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If your organization uses Outlook or a similar scheduling software, make use of that for EVERYTHING and make sure she accepts appointments. For something like a conference call, make an appointment that includes all relevant background info (call in, topics of discussion, names, figures, etc.) right there in the memo.

Don't use hard-copy memos if you know her desk is a black hole. When you draft summary memos, copy them to her by email and be prepared to re-send her the memo when she needs the information.

If you have a shared drive, have a specific folder where you organize this information in a way that she can find it. Add a shortcut to the specific folder to her desktop.
posted by pie ninja at 8:10 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

A gift of white boards, useful big calenders, cork board, organization apps, organization books or similar.

Offering to spend sometime helping her set up a system.

A short pencil is better than the longest memory. If she has a moleskin or other place that she writes everything down and consults it a lot of this ill be better.

If you could get her to set aside a block of time to take a breather and optimize whatever methods you can convince her to use, it will be a big help. Especially if her problem is that she is high energy frenetic and scattered.

Books about living with people with ADD/ADHD might have useful advice.
posted by logonym at 8:13 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

What are other things I can try to make a pre-emptive strike against her bad memory? Or to be ready when she does forget?

I had this boss as well. The best suggestion I can give you is to ensure all communication you have with her is via email, so your ass is covered if ever she starts blaming you for her forgetfulness.
posted by kinetic at 8:33 AM on June 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

You've discussed this with her before, which is great. That means she's aware of the problem and willing to acknowledge it to you. Perhaps it would help to strategize with her about how you can best support her. You can mention that you thought it would help to give her printed memos that summarize important information, but you notice that this approach seemed ineffective. Ask her what would work better. Would it be best if there was a designated basket in one corner of her desk for the memos? A corkboard? Or would a softcopy in a shared folder be more effective? She probably has some insight into tactics that have worked before, and she may be able to tell you specific things you can do to help her stay on track.
posted by pompelmo at 8:35 AM on June 19, 2013

Suggest a 15-minute wrap-up meeting with her at the end of each day to go over the day's work. If she objects, frame it as a meeting for your benefit. Start with cleaning off her desk: "Okay, we're done with this report, I'll just put that in the files. These things need to be signed, why don't you just do that now...." Then go over her schedule for the next day without going into any detail: "Here's a printout of your schedule tomorrow [or, if she has a BlackBerry or somesuch, use that for her scheduling]. At 10, you have a meeting with the CIO; at 11, you're addressing the sales team, then lunch with last quarter's top performer, that's Stu Abernathy; at 1:30...." Then go into the details: "For that CIO meeting, you'll be giving him the WENUS report -- here, I've put it in this folder -- and you need to ask him about the widget database -- here's the questions we came up with. For the sales team, you were going to write up some notes? Okay, you can work on that tonight...."

Of course, this all depends on whether it's appropriate for you to devote that time to essentially being her executive assistant. If not, there's good advice above, but (speaking as someone who long ago outsourced my memory to my Palm Pilot/iPhone/Outlook) remember that reminding her that her memory sucks -- as in, "No, I already told you that..." -- isn't the least bit helpful when she's panicking. Just get her another copy of the thing she lost and complain later.
posted by Etrigan at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2013

What does she have and use now? Smartphone? Laptop? Reporter's notebook? Nothing?
posted by rhizome at 8:50 AM on June 19, 2013

She has Microsoft Outlook, a blackberry, and a notepad. Unfortunately, she is so busy that she does not find emails until days later, quickly forgets that an email was even sent, and she can never seem find that important thing she wrote down.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2013

I've handled this by exerting a lot of authority over my boss (whether you can do this or not depends on your circumstance I suppose). I try to give the reports when possible. If not possible, I go to the meeting with him and I bring extra copies of the talking points (which are just quick bullet points he can follow). I try as much as I can not to let him go to meetings by himself. If he must go by himself, we try to make him practice with us and send him with extra copies of everything. We have a seperate redwell bucket for meeting materials that we give him right before the meeting. Everything is labeled and color coded for him. Admittedly this level of control is extreme (I made him get a haircut this weekend so he wouldn't look sloppy for clients)
posted by bananafish at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's your relationship to your boss? Does she have an assistant? Is that a possibility?
posted by barnone at 9:23 AM on June 19, 2013

My work is supervised by her. I am not her assistant. She does not have one and does not have the ability to get one.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 9:26 AM on June 19, 2013

First off, set up a folder and filter in Outlook to put the important stuff. Is there a budget? Get something for Outlook that will sync this stuff with the Blackberry. Do you use Exchange? Get permissions to edit her Outlook so that it's always up to date and without no-longer-needed stuff.
posted by rhizome at 11:09 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have this boss. She's much, much worse because she doesn't believe she has a poor memory and swears to me that she has a "mental list" of everything she needs to do and has never missed a deadline. Of course, this is bull. She misses deadlines left and right. I often wonder is there's something wrong with her brain. I can't give her any tangible object (notebooks, files) since she'll lose them immediately and all of our important records will never be seen again. If I send her a schedule at 9 a.m., she doesn't remember anything on it by 10 a.m.

The only thing that works has been to instant message her when she needs to do something. "We have a phone call in 15 minutes. I'm coming by to prepare you." "Have you followed up with Karen about the approval notice? Please shoot her an email now. I already drafted one for you." "I see that Aisha just asked you about Pradeep's salary. Please check the spreadsheet on the H drive where you will see my notes on all of the issues with this salary level." I need to be copied on all of her emails for this to work, but it keeps my team running smoothly and out of trouble. Although I'm not thrilled that I need to act in an executive assistant capacity to cover her, I'd rather our clients get their work, and it takes very little extra time now that it's part of my routine.
posted by pineappleheart at 1:10 PM on June 19, 2013

I'm surprised that I'm the first person writing in to say this: I AM this ADHD boss. (I'm not a boss now, but I've been one before.)

I lose everything, forget everything, work under pressure to deadlines that I sometimes miss. I'm cheerful and friendly, and won't blame you for my mistakes, but boy am I an absent-minded professor.

If your boss is anything like me, she knows that she's like this. It sucks, and she's probably doing the best she can. Some people have no musical talent and some people can't boil water. Others can't get organized no matter how many "systems" people give them.

Don't hate on her.

Just do your best to make sure that she has what she needs to help you do your job, and take over as much organizational stuff as you can. Be nice about it.

If your styles are completely incompatible, find another boss.
posted by 3491again at 5:40 PM on June 19, 2013

Honestly I'm not sure there is much you can do about this. Managing her disarray sounds crazy making and worse than tolerating it. My boss is a flake and basically lost all of the time but I just work around her - most people know her weaknesses and can separate her failings from her staff who are largely regarded as strong contributors across the board. How dire are the repercussions of letting her continue on this way? You said she is reporting incorrect information up and creating fires - does this ultimately reflect badly on you? Can you just get in the habit of calmly correcting everyone when issues come up? This could actually a great way to get visibility and look incredibly competent if you play the situation correctly.

Embrace the CYA work method - cover your ass. Send a daily status/wrap up email before you leave work each day with everyone cc'd, send requests over email and follow up consistently to have a paper trail when she isn't taking action and holds things up, etc. Just do you, be consistently awesome and don't sweat her failings. If she's this bad, taking ownership and keeping your department floating without letting her mismanagement ruffle your feathers might end with you eventually supervising her.
posted by amycup at 8:06 AM on June 20, 2013

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