Why do some of us succeed at work, while others fail? Maybe the best employees in an organization aren’t always the ones that get the most tasks or amount of work done. Maybe the best employees are the ones who are most trustworthy because they always do exactly what the job calls for at that moment. Maybe that’s how employees get better, and ensure their managers trust them to make work easier for everyone.
For any employee wondering how to make life easier for themselves at work and give their managers what they want, a University of Delaware professor has new research with insight into how employees can form positive working relationships with managers.
Sal Mistry, assistant professor of management in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, has written a research article that was published in November in Personnel Psychology: Managing Your Boss (MYB) as a Proactive Followership Behavior: Construct Validation and Theory Development. As more companies from various industries announce mandatory return to the office policies, employees might find this research helpful looking forward.
Mistry coauthored the paper with Ravi S. Gajendran of Florida International University’s College of Business, Department of Global Leadership and Management, as well as Subrahmaniam Tangirala of University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
“People have often heard the phrase, ‘Manage Your Boss’ and think it means telling your boss what to do, giving your boss a set of goals/guidelines, sharing your priorities and tasks on which you’re working, selling/persuading your boss on your idea, voicing your opinion, etc.,” Mistry said.
He and his coauthors wanted to delve further into the subject. To do so, they first sought to better understand employee initiative and proactivity as well as potential knowledge gaps in our understanding of it.
Then, they got to work on testing their theory. “In this article we define what MYB means, develop a measure for it, and find that it is positively related to strong relationships with one’s boss and to employee performance, especially in a particular situation,” Mistry said.
Mistry and his coauthors surveyed more than 1,300 working adults across four studies and seven samples for their research.
Research showed that by being proactive and accomplishing this, employees become more effective. Managing your boss (MYB) means understanding their managers’ goals, needs and working styles. Additionally, MYB means employees adapting to their boss’s job priorities. Their research also showed that MYB helped employees perform better and develop higher quality relationships with their boss.
Having a higher quality relationship with your boss means having a boss to recognize employee potential, help solve problems, bail employee(s) out at his or her expense and defend and justify employee decisions even if the employee was not present, researchers said. However, little research exists to explain how employees can proactively ensure a strong relationship.
Mistry and his coauthors’ focus differs from well-documented research on leadership, proactivity, and followership. Leadership, which studies relationships between managers and employees, leaned toward giving managers advice at being more effective to improve the performance of direct reports. Proactivity focuses on the inverse relationship of how employees can take the lead to contribute to organizational goals by looking internally and speaking up for themselves but falls short on detailing how employees can connect with leaders, which doesn’t address followership. Followership is a reciprocal leadership that refers to a willingness to follow with a team or organization. Mistry and his fellow researchers merged the two and developed MYB as a proactive followership behavior while still following leaders and taking initiative at work.
“Everyone that works has a boss (even CEOs). We want to have a great relationship with that person. And we want to achieve greater levels of effectiveness in our jobs,” Mistry offered.
They also looked into why and when MYB matters in organizations. They found that MYB was needed when employees were faced with low structure in their jobs, due to the tasks they complete (low job routinization) or if they work for managers who let things take shape as they will and practice laissez-faire leadership. MYB is not easy, Mistry cautioned. It takes work and dexterity to build and maintain those relationships, he added.
Lastly, researchers provided an evidence-based example of how MYB can be beneficial for employees, which they said differed from previous research. They did this by clearly defining MYB behaviors that constitute employee proactivity and analyzed their connection. They learned exact ways to measure and examine the effects on manager-employee relationships and employee performance. Researchers also looked forward to how company culture can change since more focus needs to be placed on how employees can get more from work.
“HR departments and organizational executives, for instance, should conduct employee surveys to identify and highlight people who are already practicing high levels of managing your boss behaviors and are more likely to succeed as evidenced in great boss-employee relationships, performance, and promotions,” Mistry said. “They might serve as mentors and role models for others in the company.”
Mistry also said that MYB behavior can be emphasized in job descriptions. Managers benefit. Employees benefit. As the quote from an MBA student at the beginning of the article mentions, employees seem willing to do this proactive behavior when they know it’s expected. It’s not enough to place it as a line on a job description, expectations of MYB behavior should be reinforced during socialization and onboarding procedures, within the company culture, and on performance reviews.
Mistry hopes to continue to work with organizations to better understand MYB behavior, what gives rise to it, and the consequences of it. If your company is interested in learning more about how to incorporate MYB behaviors into the fabric of your organization’s culture, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.