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A reader offers the following for consideration: "Since long before my time, my position has reported equally to 2 managers. I don't like the arrangement-I seem to be in trouble with one manager or the other most of the time. Is a split-reporting relationship like this really sensible? And what can I do to make it work better?"


A relationship in which 1 manager-or 1 employee, for that matter-reports to 2 superiors is not especially sensible. The disadvantages of this kind of arrangement usually outweigh the advantages. However, there are circumstances under which split reporting seems almost unavoidable. Some activities may not require a full-time manager, and without organizational rearrangement, the 2-boss situation might be avoided only by replacing 1 full-time person with 2 part-time managers.


It might make sense to consolidate the 2 activities involved under a common head, but the activities may not relate to each other in a way that permits logical grouping. For example, if a manager reports to a nursing superior one-half of the time and to a health information manager one-half of the time-an arrangement entirely possible for someone involved in utilization review and quality assurance in a small hospital-the problem cannot be solved by combining functions. This would not be practical for a variety of reasons.


The 2-boss situation often does not work well because of conflicting leadership styles, senses of priority, and reporting requirements of the 2 superiors. If either boss behaves as though he or she automatically has first call on your services at any time, there will be problems. It is far too easy to become trapped in a pull-and-tug between conflicting priorities and opposing expectations.


You may also encounter performance evaluation problems in a split-reporting relationship. Your evaluation should reflect your total performance, but it will not do so unless both superiors give the evaluation process equal attention and actually collaborate in accomplishing the appraisal.


Your behavior in this relationship and your reaction to the bosses' demands can also contribute to the overall problem. If one boss is more demanding than the other, you may tend to favor the source of greater pressure in your responses. Following the path of least resistance, you may give more attention to one side of you role at the expense of the other. Also, if both bosses seem lax or indifferent, you may feel inclined to take advantage of the situation and inadequately serve both roles.


A split-reporting relationship can be made to work, but only if all 3 parties conscientiously make it work. Lacking 100% attention and cooperation from both, you may nevertheless be able to improve the situation by taking the following positive steps:


* Analyze the total situation. Think out the problem and identify all apparent points of conflict. Write out your analysis, including specific instances in which it seemed that problems were caused by conflicting priorities or opposing pressures.


* Request a 3-way meeting with the bosses for the purpose of helping to determine how to do the best possible job of responding to both managers. Approach this by showing that you are looking for help and advice, not criticizing their management. Suggest that the 3 of you have some interests in common and offer some possibilities that might make things simpler for all concerned.


* Spell out your problems and needs to both superiors, pointing out specific instances in which you felt that you did not do your best because you were trying to go 2 ways at once. Let the bosses know that you understand that each cannot always be aware of the other's requirements and that you believe that it is your responsibility to call attention to priority conflicts. If both managers truly understand the bind you may be in, they may alter the way they approach you with additional demands.


* Ask both superiors to allow you to set priorities in balancing the 2 roles. Promise to remain equitable in meeting their needs and flexible in dealing with genuinely urgent matters.


* Promise to keep both bosses fully informed of the status of the work you are doing for both of them and to keep them advised of your total workload and especially how you stand regarding assigned deadlines. Strive to ensure that neither boss gets any surprises in the form of missed deadlines or incomplete assignments.


* Avoid favoring one superior or one role over the other. If you are supposed to divide your time and attention equally between the 2 assignments, make sure you do so.


* Resist all temptations to play one boss off against the other. Doing so might seem to provide some special advantage or make life easier for the moment but, in the long run, will only damage yourself.



Rarely will a split-reporting relationship represent the ideal work assignment. However, it can be made tolerable if you take the initiative to keep both superiors continually informed and if you take the lead in working on the relationship.


In the way of additional information and advice, this issue of The Health Care Manager offers the following articles for consideration:


* "Administrative Decision Making: A Stepwise Method" addresses the managerial decision making process and offers a model of a decision making template that will enable health care managers and other decision makers to avoid the hazards of faulty decision making.


* "Harassment: It's Not (All) About Sex!, Part I: The Evolving Legal Environment" provides a comprehensive review and update of the legal environment in which managers must operate, specifically relative to harassment in all forms.


* "Change Management in Health Care" introduces health care managers to the theories and philosophies of John Kotter and William Bridges, leaders in the ever-evolving field of change management, and provides 2 significant, workable approaches to change management.


* "Training Health Care Providers to Be Educators" reports on a study that examined the professional development needs of clinical supervisors, addressing clinical instructors' and preceptors' confidence in their teaching skills and their interest in attending further training in teaching strategies.


* "Awareness of the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services at an Academic Health Center" reports on a study undertaken to identify faculty's and students' interest in learning medical Spanish, determine participants' aptitude for working with medical interpreters, and identify participants' level of familiarity with the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services.


* Case in Health Care Management: "The Thin-Skinned Employee" asks the reader to consider how to deal with the employee who can be counted on to deal with all criticism first with defensiveness and then with weeping and wailing.


* "Web 2.0: What a Health Care Manager Needs to Know" addresses both the benefits and drawbacks of the numerous emerging and expanding Web-based technologies that have together become known by the informal label of Web 2.0.


* "Hospital Financial Performance: Does IT Governance Make a Difference?" reports on a study that addressed the question of whether information technology governance, a term for the structure managed by the chief information officer, is directly related to the financial performance of an organization.


* "Organizational Characteristics Associated With Cultural and Linguistic Service Provision Within Alabama Hospitals" reports on a survey undertaken to examine the organizational characteristics associated with the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate services by Alabama hospitals.


* "Straight Talk for Healthcare Managers: Back to the Basics of Leadership" suggests that health care managers should continually reflect on their leadership practices and on the performance of their staffs under that leadership with an awareness of the need for continuing improvement.