Unsure if I should seek clarification on workplace procedures
April 17, 2014 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Sorry if I am vague. Other than seeming to lack leadership qualities my current boss has been nothing but pleasant (I mention this so it doesn't seem like I am questioning whether to do this because of my bosses behavior). I have been working at this place for a few months now. Basically I am unclear on several policies and procedures that are critical to my ability to do my job. I tend to overthink things but at the same time I feel like not understanding leads to a more stressful and possibly not correctly executed set of working conditions. My supervision in this job is nearly non existent and I am somewhat free to act as I see fit but my boss has said he wants things done a certain way. Going further this wasn't a failure to pay attention on my part . There was significant training done by the company but none of it focused on this area. Basically my issue is should I sit down with my boss and seek clarification on a number of points ( something which would probably take 15 minutes) when technically I can do my job without the clarification but it might mean my work may not be in line with my bosses, the companies, or common sense expectations?

Especially taking into consideration that most people in the place care about the policies to varying degrees and all follow the policies differently. Also to be clear my main issue is that although I know how my boss wants it done the procedures involved and the possibility of the result he wants seem to confuse me. Also there is no training manual or anything of that nature concerning this.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total)
You haven't actually given a reason why you shouldn't just ask your boss. Is it too awkward? Are you afraid you'll sound incompetent?

Try this script: "Hi bossperson. Could we schedule a few minutes and just go over the process for _____ ? I want to be sure that the way I am doing it is the way you would want it done."
posted by Think_Long at 6:57 AM on April 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Basically my issue is should I sit down with my boss and seek clarification on a number of points

Of course you should. Why wouldn't you?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:57 AM on April 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

I ran into this at my job. I would ask your boss for clarification but come to him with a specific approach and ask him to yes or no it instead of putting the question to him as something open-ended. The lack of specifics from my boss was a result of him not having the clearest idea of how things should be done and my taking the initiative by filling in those blanks without calling attention to the fact that they were there made him feel a lot more confident in my judgement in the long run.
posted by alphanerd at 7:08 AM on April 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Absolutely go to your boss. We get what we call Cyphers from our VP. In his head, he knows exactly what he wants, but what comes out in email is

Run a report for Q1 deals.

Now, there are, you should pardon the expression, 50 shades of gray in that request. So we have to say,

Great, Won deals? All Deals? Remaining Deals? What information do you want on the report? What system do you want it pulled out of, the CRM or Billing?

So never be afraid to ask for clarification.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:16 AM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is nothing wrong with asking for clarification. The way I would go about this is:

Hey Boss, while making widgets - I've been measuring the depth, the width and the gravity to ensure that they are within compliance - but there are these few edges cases that give me pause about in X situation. My thinking is that widgets don't really need Y - but might they in X case?
posted by Brent Parker at 7:44 AM on April 17, 2014

Everyone is right. Also, a few months in is the perfect time to ask this - you didn't know enough before to know that there were questions, and in a few months, asking will earn you a few raised eyebrows, because...you should have asked for clarification.

This will make you look proactive and on the ball. Go for it.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:10 AM on April 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am somewhat free to act as I see fit but my boss has said he wants things done a certain way ... I know how my boss wants it done the procedures involved and the possibility of the result he wants seem to confuse me

Generally you can't go too far wrong doing things the way your boss says he wants them done -- that trumps "policies and procedures" every time (unless you're in a line of work where there's a legal conflict between the written procedures and the verbal "but really you should ignore what the law says and do it this other sketchy way instead". And if that's the situation the best thing you can do is keep your head down and start applying for jobs elsewhere asap.)

If you have a specific question about how best to handle a specific situation, by all means you should ask your boss what to do, but that's probably best handled on a case-by-case basis rather than in open-ended generalizations.
posted by ook at 8:57 AM on April 17, 2014

Ask for sure. Then re-assess. If they haven't given you much instruction in the first place or been vague or have somehow discouraged you from asking too many questions, it's more likely they don't know what they are doing rather than you.

I work at a place where my boss doesn't understand what it is I actually do or how I achieve it. Yet, when ever the crap hits the fan, she comes down hard on my team questioning our processes. What I do is of a technical nature. She is not...technically inclined. It is an exercise in constant frustration but at least I know what it is. Handling my boss is just another aspect of my job. She has 'failed upwards' and I have to accommodate her.

For a while I actually tried to include her and to consult with her and to make her feel like she was the one calling the shots. Now I just tell her what I'm going to do and if she complains or gets upset, I make some bullshit analogy. Worse case scenario, I tell her I'll definitely try to do it in a way that is in accord with the ridiculous request (that usually doesn't make any sense) and then I just go ahead and do it my way anyway.

Sorry if I sound jaded but I've been through too many emails where I try to explain things in the simplest way I can possibly imagine, only to get a reply that says something like, "I'm sorry, I don't understand, why can't you deliver the allocation as originally requested?". To which, I would have to reply, I just told you why, but you don't understand, so...where does that leave us!?"
And then I get a bad mark on my mid-year review saying "needs focus on business relationships".

posted by cicadaverse at 9:36 AM on April 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

1) Write a list of specific questions. Break down open-ended questions into more specific parts.
2) Sit down with your boss and run down the list.
3) Take copious notes.
4) Send an email to your boss summarizing the meeting, taking care to include the biggest clarifications that came to light to give your boss one more chance to notice misconceptions
5) Kick ass at your job with confidence.
posted by itesser at 11:07 AM on April 17, 2014

This is so important. You should absolutely do this, in exactly the way that itesser outlined above.

If the environment at your current job is a good one, your questions will have clear answers, and if they don't your manager should be able to fix process issues. She/He may even appreciate you pointing out issues.

If the environment at your job is a bad one, documenting the instructions you receive up front can help you in the future.
posted by elvissa at 11:51 AM on April 17, 2014

What not to do: stew for a while and smile and say all is fine when your manager asks, then in a big meeting with all the higher ups, say that your manager doesn't offer you enough guidance. An employee did this to me and I was bloody mad.
posted by meepmeow at 7:15 PM on April 17, 2014

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