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Thread: Asking the boss for help

  1. #1
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Asking the boss for help

    as many of you know i'm an entry-level planner with a MURP but limited "real" planning experience. my boss, let's call him Bob, knew this when he hired me and told me straight out that he knows i have a lot to learn and that his job will be to help me acquire the tools and skills necessary. Bob has a very open door policy.

    when speaking with our planning technician (also new to the dept with less planning experience than me) the tech stated "the last person i'd ask for help would be Bob. i'll ask everyone else but i don't want to have to go to him for help."

    so far i've been fairly comfortable asking Bob for help when I have a question or need the history/context of a project. i don't ask Bob "stupid" questions like, "what color is the sky?" but questions necessary to increase my planning knowledge. i'm not opposed to doing the necessary research but if i get stuck somewhere and i know someone else has the answer i want to ask the person with the most knowledge.

    so i ask:

    1. is it "wrong" for me to be asking my boss for help?

    2. should i be exhausing all other avenues before asking a superior for help?

    3. planning tech is a man, i'm a woman. do you think implied gender roles have an influence on asking for help?
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    for me, I'd rather someone ask the question than do something that costs the town money or embarrasses the department/board - always frame the question such that it's to help the department

    I think when you ask the question, make sure it's a convenient time, as in don't go in with questions on a deadline day for the director, because we are rushed and maybe even crabby!

    in terms of exhausting other methods - that depends on the question - if you are asking about a method to solve a problem, like what kind of zoning should we write to do x, then yeah, you should seek out options before taking that to the boss - but if it's a question dealing with something like "how does the town handle x?", then that goes to the boss - for me, if I have asked them to seek out an answer for me and the person comes back with the question, then that's not good, but if it's to clarify the question or to give me options for an answer for this example, then that's cool

    it's hard to explain, I guess

    and on the gender thing - I am hoping this isn't another "guys don't ask directions" kind of thing because they don't want to appear weak - I'd rather someone eat a little humility and get it right than think they know it all and screw up royally - I do think (because I am this way) that many women (not all) are more sensitive to the concept of screwing up, costing the town money or embarrasing anyone (including themselves) - I know I sought advice from the Town Manager for at least the first full year I got up here (for just those reasons) - I just never asked the same question twice and always made him understand that I was trying to help him by asking him to help me and it worked

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    1. No. You should always be able to ask your boss for help and direction - that is his job! I get concerned when new employees don't ask a lot of questions. Usually when they do not ask questions, they are screwing something up, but sometimes the results of the screwups don't show up to much later. The ones who don't ask questions usually make assumptions and invariably many of their assumptions are wrong.

    Please ask questions; but just be sure that you have tried to figure out the answer. For example. Your question should start with a statement like this: I have reviewed the state law regarding the Board of Zoning Appeals, but I am not clear what this particular section means. Does it mean this or does it mean that? Basically, just show that you have been thoughtful about the subject prior to asking the question. Otherwise, it can appear that you are just to lazy to do your own work and your boss (and anyone else) will resent your intrusion. Worse still, your boss may not think your capable and want to fire you.

    At the same time, do not spin your wheels and waste a lot of time. At some point, you have to move on; so don't spend hours and hours trying to figure out one little issue.

    2. Yes. See above.

    3. Who knows.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I tell my help to ask a stupid question now to avoid a stupid mistake later. I also tell them if they screw up to say so right away. Its cheaper and easier to fix it now then later.

    Off-topic:
    Are you sure your boss's name isn't Stan?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian rosierivets's avatar
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    This is a great question. I am in nearly the exact same situation. But my boss, for whatever reason, seems to implicitly trust in my abilities so I feel as though I am not learning anything at all. Small department, I'm the only person educated as a "planner". To kind of bandwagon... everyone generally agrees to not waste a lot of time spinning wheels, but there are lots of times when I ask a question just because I know someone else can get the information to me quickly. I am not lazy, I know I can find the answer, but our time is of the essence so I just suck it up and ask the question so I can move on to the the next thing on my to-do list. Is this a cop out? You bosses be the judge!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    You are showing your boss that you are actively trying to learn, and indicating that you see him as an authority you trust and are willing to learn from. What could be wrong!
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian solarstar's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    You are showing your boss that you are actively trying to learn, and indicating that you see him as an authority you trust and are willing to learn from. What could be wrong!

    I absolutely agree. If your boss is bothered by your questions, you'd know it by now. I've made it to the level I'm at by asking questions, and have been fortunate enough to have bosses that don't mind explaining things cause they know that the more knowledge I have the less they have to deal with.

    That tech may change his tune after working there a bit, cause it's hard to learn without asking questions when you need to. I've had a few new employees with that attitude who come to me for the answers - a few "it needs a higher-up determination, ask so-and-so" (along with me actually accompanying them to ask the boss if they are really worried about him) seems to fix things.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Well.....

    1. Always ask the boss for policy direction or clarification before you open your mouth to the public.
    2. Don't ask the boss for help with a recommendation......you make that, then be able to defend it.....maybe the boss will "change" your mind....but that's ok.
    3. As for research.....you do as much of that on your own then approach with questions about the past if you know your boss was involved and frame it in a policy direction.....has the policy changed?
    4. Read the big book of written determinations/interpretations first.....if your office has one.....
    5. The Planning Tech is correct.....their is a "knowledge" chain that needs respecting..(chain of command thing)...they go to you first then you go to the boss if needed (in larger offices) small town offices tend to be more open....
    6. If you have a boss that is a poor communicator, that can really be a bummer.

    NOW GET BACK TO WORK!!
    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
    John Kenneth Galbraith

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