The problem of reporting to multiple bosses

Dual reporting can be a menace. Managing the expectations of both becomes a task unto itself.

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It is a tough job to keep one’s boss happy. Tougher still, when there is more than one!

Dual reporting is a reality and the concept is often praised for its many merits, which any number of scholars will readily point out. However, in day-to-day terms, it is a delicate balancing act, which many young professionals may find a tough pill to swallow, initially.

Let us take an example. A consumer goods company is preparing for the launch of a new product in the country and a mid-level executive is assigned to manage the launch. With an immediate boss over him and another aggressive global head following the progress of the launch, the employee in question would have to report to both and keep each one updated on new developments along the way.

In such a case, managing the expectations of both becomes a task unto itself.

Dual or multiple reporting can occur because of organisational design, that is, when an organisation adopts a matrix model of working wherein employees have multiple reporting lines often across functions. Similarly, it can also occur through other means, for instance, when a company merges with another in a different part of the globe.

Anant Garg

“For individuals, reporting to two supervisors can work out well if there is good understanding and constant communication with both. Similarly, organisations need to clarify the primary responsibilities of both supervisors and how decisions will be made in case of divergent views.”

Decision-making

At the outset, dual reporting is adopted as a practice because it helps professionals gather a balanced view. When an employee is responding more towards the local or country head than the global head, then she or he may end up making some short-term decisions without taking into consideration the organisation’s global goals. Similarly, more communication with the global head alone may then make the employee too slow to respond to the local needs.

Managing expectations

Kishore GR, SVP-HR, Mphasis, mentions that the challenges are more in dual reporting when a person is working on two different projects rather than reporting to two bosses under a matrix system. “In matrix management, a person’s domain-related work and project-related work complement each other. The only challenge may be in terms of expectation of delivery, because the employee may work at a different pace than the expectation of the managers.”

Employees who work under multiple managers face a number of challenges. In large organisations, oftentimes the employee may find himself working under bosses who are not communicating with each other. This leads to a lot of ambiguity and managing expectations becomes tough because each boss may assume that she or he is the employee’s primary priority. This can lead to conflicting workloads and end up making the employee feeling overwhelmed.

Coordinating and communicating

Another factor that may seem obvious, but is a frequent problem, is coordination. A simple example would be keeping track of emails sent out, and who all are informed of recent developments. A mundane task, such as sending out emails can also become a surprising issue when one has to update multiple people on different tasks.

Kishore GR

“In matrix management, a person’s domain-related work and project-related work complement each other. The only challenge may be in terms of expectation of delivery, because the employee may work at a different pace than the expectation of the managers.”

Dual reporting is practised to allow better usage of resources across functions and allow for a faster pace of work for the organisation as a whole. However, because people are working across functions, accountability and authority are shared, and can often become less clear. Competing goals can lead to ambiguity in decision-making and prioritising work for the employee.

These are common symptoms and the touted solution to all has been consistent communication. However, if one were to schedule multiple meetings to keep the bosses updated, work would inevitably slow down. Multiple meetings are anyway a common complaint among professionals working from home, and scheduling frequent meetings is only going to increase the workload.

GR adds, “In dual reporting, conflict will occur if the managers do not communicate with each other.”

Despite an employee’s advances, managers themselves may be unwilling to cooperate. If one manager has no particular respect for the other or their line of business, then she or he may try to put priority on their work first. In such cases, the employee can get caught between conflicting priorities.

When it comes to that, it may be best to escalate the situation to a supervisor who can then intervene and manage the relationship.

Anant Garg, director – HR, India and SA, Becton Dickinson, says, “For individuals, reporting to two supervisors can work out well if there is good understanding and constant communication with both. Similarly, organisations need to clarify the primary responsibilities of both supervisors and how decisions will be made in case of divergent views.”

Learning to manage the manager becomes an important learning point for employees when reporting to two bosses. The challenges, in toeing the line of priorities, are many. Ensuring that communication is consistent and clear between the bosses and the employee is the only road ahead in managing dual reporting.

1 COMMENT

  1. Reporting to more than one superior is best avoided. In my career, I have seen a couple of such organisations and found that it is a very frustrating experience for the junior. The reason for this is the lack of coordination between superiors further made worse by egos and the insecurity amongst even Top Management that they might miss out on some information. Backbiting by superiors is another factor placing a junior in a quandary. This is the quintessence of my practical experience.

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