What is managing up?
Managing up in the simplest terms is the idea of managing your manager. Often times people leaders are consumed with the day to day responsibilities of their role, leaving little time to focus on their people management and building relationships with their employees. This leaves a lot of the heavy lifting to employees and teams to effectively manage the relationship and in some ways, themselves.
How to manage up
Whether you have a fantastic boss or a terrible one, knowing how to manage up will help you become a better employee, team member and dare I say, human. Follow these steps to start managing up:
1. Learn your boss’s management style
How hands-on is your boss? Does your boss revel in the details or does he/she just want to sign the dotted line? Depending on how your manager likes to be appraised of the day to day, cater to that need proactively. If your boss likes to know what everyone’s working on each day, don’t wait for him/her to reach out and ask for an update. Proactively Slack, email, etc. daily to give your boss a run-down of your planned activities.
2. Know how to approach difficult situations
Successfully navigating rough waters with your boss is integral to maintaining a positive relationship. Before breaking bad news or tackling a difficult issue, think about the following:
How does this issue affect you, your team, your boss and the organization as a whole? Take a step back to mull over how this will impact those 4 aspects of your work dynamic. Have you overinflated the issue? Is it something you can handle yourself? Once you’ve assessed the overall influence of the problem, move forward.
Don’t wait for your next scheduled meeting to discuss pressing issues. If one of your employees has just given their notice, you need to address that with your boss immediately. If you’re thinking of taking a vacation during budget planning next quarter, maybe add it to your next one-on-one meeting agenda. You’re both busy people, so prioritizing the time you have together is important.
Don’t mistake context with excuses. Context should color why the problem has arisen, what was done to prevent it and where it sits now. Think about your role in the issue specifically and own up to mistakes instead of burying them in the details. Leave no room for surprises.
Never present a problem without a solution. If you’ve given the appropriate context to your boss before you’re set to discuss the situation, then chances are he or she will come prepared with their own ideas, but part of managing up is making sure you’re equipped as well. Show that you’ve done your own problem solving that way you’re both prepared to make more progress on the situation when you meet.
3. Figure out how your boss likes to communicate
Text, email, slack, hangouts, carrier pigeon, and beyond; know how your boss likes to get in touch, especially when it comes to your regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. If your boss always struggles with your video conferencing software and your meetings end up starting 5 minutes late, don’t wait for him/her to solve the problem. Manage up and present a different solution for connecting.
4. Celebrate your wins and your boss’s wins
Your success is often a testament to your leader/manager and to your entire team. Make sure real wins for you and your team are shared with your boss first, so he/she can decide how to disseminate to the rest of the organization. Beyond sharing your own wins, keep in mind that your manager has someone to impress as well. Take time in your meetings and conversations to tell your boss what he/she is doing well. Put it in writing for the record so it can be shared easily.
5. Know your boss’s targets and KPIs
Do you know what your boss needs to do in order to be successful in his/her role? Ask. Take an interest in their performance indicators that way you can tailor your conversations to show how what you and your team are doing to help his/her overall performance. If your boss suffers from “Shiny object syndrome” you can use this knowledge to reign in conversations and say, “does this really help us achieve X goal?”
6. Ask where you’ll be most helpful
Proactively ask (or present) where you are most useful to your boss and your team. Whether this be in projects that you work on, the role you play within your team or in your day-to-day, identify what your manager needs and will rely on most from you. If there’s a disconnect in where your skills are and where you provide the most value, use this as an opportunity to manage your role and responsibilities.
7. Tell your boss where they are most helpful
Especially if you have a manager that tends to want to dip their toes into a lot of different things, make it abundantly clear where you need them to be in order for you and your team to succeed. Make sure this is written and documented once agreed upon. You can use this as leverage if or when you see things are going off the rails.
8. Build thoughtful agendas
Last, but certainly not least, be on the one to lead and build a thoughtful meeting agenda. A huge part of managing up will take place during the conversations you’re having in one-on-one meetings, whether it’s a regular scheduled catch-up or an ad-hoc meeting. Build an agenda at least 48 hours before your meeting and be thoughtful about the questions you ask and the outcomes you want to see. Don’t leave this to your manager to do, manage up and take charge of the conversation.
Making managing up a habit
Managing up can be intimidating for employees and managers. No one wants to ask a stupid question, get or give harsh feedback or be seen as too demanding. That’s why it’s so important to build managing up practices into your daily routine. The easiest way to do this is to set aside time in your one-on-ones to talk about ideas, questions, issues and feedback. Here are some standard questions you should have on every one-on-one meeting agenda:
If you’re an employee, ask:
- How can I be more helpful to you this [week, month]?
- How can I best add value to the team this [week, month]?
- What are you looking for feedback on?
If you’re a manager, ask:
- How’s work going this [week, month]? How can I help you?
- Are there any roadblocks stopping you from getting your work done?
- Do you have any questions about [a recent company update/development]?