This was something I didn’t think I struggled with, until a recent staff meeting when day my boss asked me for an update of how things were going in my department. I’m pretty sure I started out on the right path, but, as I continued to think of all of the things we were working on, the update dragged on and on and on. In reality, it probably only lasted about two minutes, but after the dust settled, I provided much more information than was needed or that was even digestible.
It’s easy to forget that your boss might also have a boss to keep in the loop and that he or she has to report, not only on your department, but possibly other departments as well. So, the issue isn’t "whether" to update your boss, it’s "how" and "how often."
I usually find it helpful to try to frame updates by putting information in a few (no more than five) big buckets. I’ll then provide a few concise details for each area. But in this case, I found myself talking through all of the things that my department was working on, transforming into a human tornado of information.
Following the meeting, I stopped by her office to ask if she thought it would be helpful for me to pull together a high level status update. She said it would. She also encouraged me to stop by her office to give her periodic updates on what was going on in my department. With everything going on, it would have been easy to shrug off her request and leave it for the next staff meeting, but that would be a missed opportunity. In my experience, if your boss makes a subtle suggestion like that, it’s in your best interest to follow through.
A lot of our success hinges on preemptive periodic pings—our ability to concisely package and articulate what were working on at any given moment. As I work to keep my boss in the loop, I make a point of doing so in a way that doesn’t cause indigestion.
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).