What To Do if Your Manager Isn’t Paying Attention | by Vinita | Aug, 2022

Simply doing great work is not enough. You also need to make yourself visible

ladder wiht a few rungs: is your manager’s attention broken? ladder with many rungs: show them the way
Credit: Author

Are you fed up with your manager because they aren’t paying attention? Are they too busy to notice or simply do not care? Do you often struggle with a clear sense of direction or clarity needed to make progress in your goals? Where is your manager’s energy directed — outcomes or the process to get there?

It may be frustrating when you do something well, but all the hard work you put into achieving it is not acknowledged by your manager. Not being visible can also make you feel small, lead to negative feelings of rejection, and demotivate you to put in your best effort when a new opportunity presents itself. Simply doing great work is not enough. You also need to make yourself visible.

We all join work with the dream to do something big, impactful, and meaningful that’s worthy of recognition. But when you waste more time in solving communication, collaboration, and alignment issues, less time is left to do any real work. As your ability to contribute significantly goes down, the mental stress and anxiety from not doing anything significant goes up. Clarity and context shouldn’t be taken lightly. They’re essential components of doing great work.

Reaching your goals and achieving your objectives are important parts of work. But what if they become the primary criteria to judge and evaluate your worth? Placing too much importance on the destination can distract you from making the right choices to get there. Mistakes and failures which are part of the journey may seem like distractions that take you away from your goals. Doing anything worthwhile is less about a specific outcome and more about your ability to learn, adjust and adapt as you go.

“The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.” — Chip Heath and Dan Heath, “Made to Stick”

Now to the pertinent question: what role does your manager play in all these areas, and how can you get their attention to succeed at work?

Use this three-step framework to break your manager’s default pattern so that they start paying attention to the things you need:

  1. Self-promote
  2. Self-direct
  3. Self-correct

Your manager should know about the areas you’re doing well, where you excel, your strengths and highlights. Keeping your manager in the loop is essential for your success and growth. But what if your manager isn’t paying attention?

Should you keep your head down and keep doing the good work with the hope that they will take notice someday, or can you do the work to get into the spotlight and make yourself visible?

Self-promotion isn’t boasting or putting others down to pull yourself up. It’s shining a light on your skills, making sure your boss and colleagues understand what you’re truly capable of, and demonstrating your true strength.

“Self-promotion is a leadership and political skill that is critical to master in order to navigate the realities of the workplace and position you for success.”― Bonnie Marcus, “The Politics of Promotion”

When your manager knows what you bring to the table, you’re more likely to get opportunities aligned with your strengths. Others will also feel comfortable reaching out to you in those areas where they think you can contribute. You not only get to do work that expands your knowledge and skills, but helping others in this way also makes you learn and grow.

Acknowledging that self-promotion is important is not sufficient. You actually need to do the work to make yourself visible. So, let’s learn how to do it.

Start with answering these questions (you can either do this weekly or monthly):

  1. What strengths did you demonstrate last week/month?
  2. What was your biggest accomplishment? What makes this achievement important (think about the impact on business/product)?
  3. What challenges did you face? How did you overcome those challenges?
  4. What was your most important learning? How did you apply those learnings or plan to apply them in the future?
  5. What initiatives did you take? What value did these initiatives generate (value to the product, business, other employees)?

Once you have created a mind map to this data, either email your manager or speak to them about it in your next 1–1 meeting. Make sure to include it in the agenda for the 1–1 meeting. Without it, you’re more likely to spend time elsewhere and leave feeling disappointed. Remember, taking the initiative is the key.

Keep the information clear and concise with key points — your manager is more likely to pay attention when you keep it short and sweet. Here’s what you need to send or share:

  • Your biggest accomplishment
  • Challenges faced and how did you overcome those challenges
  • Your learnings
  • Initiatives and value created

In the end, talk about your strengths and ask for their advice on these areas — how can you utilize these strengths for a bigger impact, how your work benefits others and the organization, what gaps they see in how you see yourself, and how they view your work?

Asking for advice gets your manager’s attention — they’re forced to think about your work and evaluate your worth to the team.

A good sense of direction combined with context and clarity is important to work well. Without it, you’re more likely to waste time doing inconsequential work, half-baked requirements that lead to rework, or the mental stress and anxiety that comes with misalignment and confusion will prevent you from doing any worthwhile work.

We all wish our manager’s to do their jobs so that we can do ours, but what if your manager isn’t paying attention?

Your manager’s attitude to accept the status quo without challenging it, wasting time working on superficial problems instead of digging deeper, and spending more time putting out fires and less building and planning for the future hurts your productivity and performance.

Without gaining clarity, sharing context, and seeking alignment across teams, work is less fun and more torture. The mental agony that comes with not being able to do your job well is demotivating and harmful to your mental health and personal well-being.

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.” — G. K. Chesterton

Instead of complaining that your manager is ignoring problems, direct their attention towards it. To do this, answer these questions:

  1. What assumptions are you making?
  2. Which areas lack clarity?
  3. Do you have alignment on how success will be measured? What gaps do you see?
  4. What have you done to unblock yourself and move forward?
  5. What kind of help do you need?

Spending even a few minutes of your time identifying this for yourself and then sharing them with your manager is bound to get their attention. Don’t just state problems; identify solutions, put them in front of your manager, and then seek their advice.

They can’t ignore it when you have done your homework. They can’t refuse to help out. And if they do, the problem is not of attention but their attitude. Better change your team or look elsewhere.

Mistakes and failures disappoint us when they happen, but they also play a crucial role in bridging the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

Learning from them gives us an opportunity to course correct, identify new ways of doing things, and bounce back instead of feeling knocked down and staying paralyzed with fear of failure.

Ignoring them or being ignorant, on the other hand, turns minor setbacks into permanent causes of failure. Not being able to recognize that it’s only a rough patch creates a toxic spiral of negativity and hopelessness.

Correcting your mistakes by learning from them is, therefore, a critical part of working well. But what if your manager is only concerned with the outcomes and does not pay attention to the process to get there? Should you avoid making mistakes at all costs? Should you give up on projects that seem risky? Should you start playing safe and do work that seems easy?

You can. But doing work you have always done, working extra hard to avoid mistakes, and giving up on opportunities that you’re very well suited to perform just because they seem risky limits what you can do and how much you can achieve.

Instead of starting with limitations, think of the possibilities. To do this, get yourself in front of the right opportunities and then do this:

  1. What obstacles might come in the way of your success?
  2. How can you deal with them when they arise?
  3. What learnings can you gather from others who have worked on similar projects in the past and apply them to your work?
  4. Who can you count on to advise and help when you need it the most?
  5. What can you do to avoid turning a disadvantage or a minor setback into a major failure?

By creating a plan that allows you to self-correct and sharing it with your manager, you gain their trust and get their attention. Demonstrate how flexibility in approach and thinking can get you where you need to be instead of being rigid about a certain way of doing things. Show them why the destination matters less when you’re focused on the process. Discuss alternative options or multiple ways of doing the same thing. With the power to adjust, adapt and learn, anything is possible.

“When leaders become focused on the fruit instead of the root and worry about the outcome instead of the process of developing team members, they may survive in the short run, but they will not thrive in the long run.” — Jon Gordon, “You Win in the Locker Room First”

Your manager’s attention may not be where it needs to be, but through self-promote, self-direct and self-correct, you can take on bigger and better opportunities, gain clarity to do your job well, make corrections as you move ahead and finally create some buzz about it when you end up doing well. All the best!

  1. Getting your manager’s attention is crucial to succeeding at work. Without it, you’re more likely to shoot in the dark and hope to get results.
  2. The most important step to getting your manager’s attention is to make your work visible. Identify the key areas where you shine and get them in front of your manager.
  3. Direct your manager’s attention towards the gaps in requirements, validate your assumptions, and align on a common measure of success.
  4. Proactively identify obstacles and a plan to handle them. Get your manager to focus on the process (by staying flexible, learning, and adapting along the way) instead of obsessing about the outcomes.

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