Communicating with your Busy Boss

June 28th 2020

by Mark Mulcahy, Organic Options & Columinate

I was recently working with a new produce manager who is eager to learn, communicates well, listens, has really good ideas, is willing to take chances, and has very high social and environmental integrity. We worked together for three days reviewing systems, resetting the department, and creating an action plan to grown sales in the new market dynamic during COVID. At the end of the day, I could tell that she still had something on her mind. 

I’m not sure I should take this job she said.

I reminded her that we often teach what we need to learn and that she was ready.

Your boss has agreed to give you the financial training you’ve requested and send you to the next round of Columinate and Rising Stars Leadership webinars in 2020.

I know, but that’s not the problem.

May I ask what is?

My GM is very busy and doesn’t always follow through on the things she promised, or we’ve agreed too.

Does this happen often?


Does she take notes when you are creating agreements?


Does it feel like she wants to create solutions with you? Does she listen?

Yes, she listens, and she means well and has done some great things to move our store forward, but has a hard time delegating and just has too much on her plate.

So, you want to work with her but would like a different outcome from your agreements?


Ok, let’s create a solution.

At your next weekly check-in, bring up how you feel with a few examples where agreements weren’t met on time. Let her know you’d like to be part of a solution for stronger communication.

You can request a system that you both agree to follow.

We’ll call it “What by When”

Be very specific about what action will be completed by what date. Be realistic about when the completion of the action will be promised.

For instance, “I agree to have the final draft of the handbook on your desk for review by July 30th “

Then the GM would give you her “what by when” agreement.

For instance, “I will have the financial reports ready for you by the produce team meeting on August 20th.”

Ask how she best likes to communicate? Face to face, text, email? Let her know how you best communicate and find common ground to move forward on. Do most of your communication with her this way.

Since she doesn’t take notes, make sure you do and then tell her you’d like to follow up every conversation with a summary email in which she will confirm your what by when agreements.

Lastly, ask for “what by when” status at your weekly meetings.

Are we on track, do we need to make adjustments?

Having this structure will make a big difference in your communication and allow you to support your willing, but too busy boss.

What do you think?

I like it! I’ll start next week and keep you posted on our progress.

Awesome, I’ll see you in October!

MARK MULCAHY – Mark is an award-winning retail consultant, passionate teacher, and leadership mentor. He is the owner of Organic Options and a Regenerative Retail Specialist at Columinate, providing inspirational and applicable consulting services for natural product retailers worldwide. Mark is well known for his engaging training techniques, creative merchandising, and successful financial strategies.

(Note: Mark and colleague Carolee Colter are teaching a 3-part workshop series in January 2021 for Provender on “Rewards of a Burnout-Free Workplace.” Find out more and register here.)