How to convince your boss he’s wrong without being a jerk

I had a great question from a reader this week, one that highlights the age-old dilemma – how to convince your boss when you know he’s wrong but he has no idea.

The question was:

Here’s a career question for you. Why is it that no matter what, the boss sees work as “too much time in this project”? The clients eat up time with their questions and chatter and we put it on our timesheets. A return may take 30 minutes with all of the information necessary initially provided and no client contact is necessary. Seldom if ever is all the information provided and the time can increase to several hours just by putting the client contact into the mix. Since the boss doesn’t record his time on the same playing field as the rest of us, what steps can we take to make him “happy”?

Before I share my thoughts on how to approach this problem, I’m going to make a few assumptions:

1. The boss used to be in a similar position, but it’s been a while since he’s been on the frontline

2. Clients are provided an estimate based on information provided in an interview with some sort of “not to exceed” clause on price

3. All clients pay the same for the same service/deliverable

Ok, so let’s move on to what you do.

First, anytime your boss thinks something should take less time than it does, and you want to refute it, you have to do it with hard facts. Your boss might remember how it used to be when he did the job 10 years ago or may not remember that the process was exactly the same when he was in the trenches. Either way, if you come with anecdotal theory only, you won’t get too far.

What you want to say

In this situation, you might just want to say “we’re spending way more time than we should on returns because our clients aren’t organized. Go get on their back instead of mine.”

What you should say

What might have more impact is to say “we’re spending way more time on returns than we should. I had three straightforward returns today from clients x,y, and z that should have taken x minutes but took z hours because I had to go back multiple times to get the right information.”

Notice the difference between the two?

One is a general statement that could be perceived as complaining while the other gives tangible evidence that could be verified based on the work that was done compared to other similar returns and the time logged on the timesheet.

Always propose a solution

If you want your boss to take you seriously, giving solid evidence of a problem isn’t enough. You need to present the problem and at least one proposed solution. Based on the email below, you have quite a few options that might work to get a good conversation started if nothing else. A few possibilities include:

1. Add a clause to the engagement letter implementing a penalty for clients who do not provide complete information

2. Build in a buffer (read: higher rates) for clients you know will take extra time for whatever reasons. This may happen on a year lag but would be better than not doing anything.

3. Raise all your prices and charge based on the value of the experience you create with the small talk, etc. In this case, those who keep it short with you still pay and those who take a long take make it worth your while. This way, you avoid having to detail with various pricing structures.

What’s important here is not necessarily that your idea is the one that’s chosen. Your objective is to propose something credible enough to get the conversation moving in the right direction. If you can come out of the discussion with a shared understanding of the current circumstance and goal for the firm, then you’re in good shape.

Next time you know your boss is dead wrong, try to approach this conversation this way and report back on how you fare compared to what you were doing before!