Answering your questions on multiple bosses and not following standard operating procedure

Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSP

Multiple bosses

Q: I am a laboratory manager at a branch laboratory about 100 miles from the main laboratory. In addition to being in charge of the lab, I am responsible for sales and client services. I have three bosses: the lab director, the client services director, and the sales manager. None of them lives in the town where the lab is located. I have always heard that it isnt good to have more than one boss. Does the panel have any thoughts about my situation?

A: According to Alton Sturtevant, It is difficult to work with more than one boss, but that is now more the rule than the exception. You should ensure that each of your bosses understands that you have multiple reporting responsibilities. Ensure that you understand and communicate effectively with each boss on a routine basis. I would encourage you to maintain project lists with routine updates given to each boss. If you are given conflicting deadlines on projects, then point that out to the bosses with whom you have the conflict and ask them for resolution. In our laboratory, we have a number of personnel with multiple reporting lines and responsibilities. As the general manager, I recognize the quandary that these people are faced with and attempt to be sensitive and help them to balance their priorities with their bosses. Remember that most top managers have multiple reporting situations as well. For example, the general manager of the lab reports directly to the chief operating officer with responsibility to the compliance officer, marketing director, safety officer, etc. The hospital administrator reports to the board of directors and is also held accountable by the medical staff, etc. Some of these reporting roles are not completely subservient, but still require a reporting interaction.

Terry Jo Gile asks, Who do all of the bosses report to? My guess is its the lab director, and if so, that person would be your ultimate authority. Ask for an organizational chart to see who is the ultimate boss. Ask that person to clarify your role in the organization. I would hope all of the bosses would be on the same page, but in a large organization with branches that may not be the case.

Larry Crolla advises, Every situation is unique. This may work or it may be a headache. Who does your review for raises? That person is your real boss. As long as the three people dont give contradictory orders, everything will probably be okay. The only other problem is that of time demands. You will have to make it clear to all three when you are working on a project that the next project or task to come along will be done after the current one, unless the second individual changes your priority with the person who assigned the first task.

Marti Bailey suggests, First of all, dont assume that just because you heard its tough to have multiple bosses that your case will be the same. Your letter doesnt indicate that youre having a problem. If you are, you need to deal with it, but dont be misled by what very well may be an obsolete stereotype. Years ago, the typical working arrangement was an employee reporting to a single person in a very straight-line fashion. Today, particularly at management levels, reporting relationships may be much less structured. Youll see many organizational charts that include a lot of dotted lines indicating less well-defined, but no less important relationships. I think the meaning of this is clear. Our business world has become increasingly complex. Whereas in the past, we needed to interact with a smaller more close-knit group, managers now need to work collaboratively with a much larger, more diverse group and are accountable to more than one person. This has caused lines of authority, while still in place, to assume less importance. Consider that having direct reporting relationships to three people is a positive rather than a negative. You have the opportunity to pick up the best and learn from these three. Take advantage of it.

Ms. Bailey adds, The critical difference for you is going to be communicating with three individuals instead of one. This could take more time on your part, but good communication with each is key. A few suggestions to keep things running smoothly are:

  • Be clear on the expectations of each of your bosses.
  • Maintain paper or electronic records documenting job assignments, time spent, and status.
  • Keep your bosses informed about how youre spending your time by preparing weekly status reports. Share the same report with all three of them.
  • Never let your personal preferences show. Treat all three bosses equally. Particularly, never say anything negative about one boss to another.
  • If youre facing serious challenges, request a meeting with all three to decide as a team how to handle them.

Bottom line. Youre asking about something that is no longer an unusual situation. The business world has become increasingly complex, and often reporting relationships may be much less structured than in the past. Use the fact that you have direct reporting relationships to three people as a positive rather than a negative. You have the opportunity to pick up the best and learn from these three managers. Take advantage of it. Use effective communication and time management skills to keep each person informed.

Not following the SOP

Q: One of my co-workers continually leaves out a step defined in our standard operating procedure (SOP). We both know it wont affect the test results, but its in the SOP, and I say we have to do it. Whos right?

A: The panelists are in complete agreement on this question. Larry Crolla recommends, If it is SOP, you should do it. However, if you both feel it wont affect the procedure and see it as an extra time and money consuming step that adds no value, you should contact the lab director. Ask the director if the step can be officially eliminated from the SOP to save time and money since you feel it adds no value. The lab director will then most likely agree with you and officially remove it from the SOP, or give you a reason to leave the step in the SOP.

Terry Jo Gile advises, SOPs should be reviewed annually, and if this step is truly not necessary, discuss it with your supervisor prior to its next review. Be prepared to justify why this step should be eliminated.

According to Alton Sturtevant, I agree that as long it is in the approved SOP, it should be followed. As a follow-up, I suggest that if the modified SOP does not have any potential for causing erroneous results, a change should be suggested to the appropriate supervisory personnel. If they do not agree to change it, then the current SOP should be followed.

Marti Bailey suggests, Technically, youre correct. About the worst thing you can do in the lab is to fail to follow approved procedures. Ironically, its better to have no procedure at all than to have one documenting that you do something and then not do it. Unfortunately, not a great deal of emphasis is placed on verifying competency of medical technologists other than during training periods. To me, competency means not only being able to perform the procedure adeptly, but also following the procedure to the letter. Any time people are not following procedures, they are putting the laboratory at risk. It would be to the advantage of supervisors to work spot competency checks into their employee appraisal system.

Ms. Bailey adds, On the other side of the coin, if you have steps in any of your procedures that are not required by regulatory groups, and these steps provide no value to boot, then you should seriously consider eliminating them. If the manufacturer of the equipment or test kit you use specifies a particular step, then you definitely should include that step, or you are not using the product as intended. If, on the other hand, its a step that you developed in your lab and is not necessary to the correct outcome of the test procedure, then delete it. Besides being based on good laboratory practice, regulatory requirements, and recommendations of product manufacturers, good sense and efficiency should be considerations when developing a laboratory SOP.

Bottom line. When people are not following procedures, they are putting the laboratory and patients at risk. Ask the lab director if the step can be officially eliminated from the SOP to save time and money, since you feel it adds no value. The lab director will then either agree with you and officially remove it from the SOP, or give you a reason to leave the step in the SOP.

Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

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