Managing Up

I was pleased when Geri asked me to write a guest post about managing up. I think it is an important skill that everyone should cultivate, regardless of job level or industry. The following post skims the surface–I look forward to any questions or comments you may have so we can expand the conversation.  -Jen

One of the most important skills any professional can have is that of “managing up,” or Managing Your Manager. While the idea of managing the person who is supposed to manage you may sound contrary, you can also think of it as a beneficial outcome to communication, demonstrated professional integrity, and good consulting skills.

Managing up also is a form of visibility, or presence. As workplaces and teams span locations and more of us work remotely, it is important to remain visible in a positive way. Being top of mind (and showing how responsible, consistent, and good your communication skills are) is a great way to get considered for successively more interesting or challenging projects. Plus, you’re helping to ensure that your manager isn’t caught off-guard when it comes to you or your projects, and that often translates to more latitude (or less micro-managing).

What is it, really?

Managing up will sound like your boss is going to get more out of it than you will. In the short term, that’s probably true. A big part of managing up is to help your manager look good by keeping him apprised of what’s going on with you, your projects, and the team. The benefit to you is that people appreciate it when their staff–or teammates–help them look good. You get the benefit of people wanting you on their teams and the good professional reputation you’ll build in the process.

  • It is a tangible demonstration of your professional integrity. In his book “Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing”, author Harry Beckwith states, “Invest in and religiously preach integrity. It is the heart of your brand. The heart of a service brand – the element without which the brand cannot live – is the integrity of the company and its employees. The value of any brand rises or falls with each demonstration of the company’s integrity.” (p. 155). In this case, rather than thinking of the “company” brand, think of it as your personal brand–the value of your brand rises or falls with each demonstration of your integrity. Giving your boss a heads-up when something didn’t go well, reporting what you have been and will be working on (without it being required), and telling the truth are all demonstrations of personal integrity.
  • Your manager should always be able to answer the question, “What is Judy/the team/the department working on?”. By proactively providing this information, you are helping your manager to look good to his/her peers or boss – and that’s always a good thing.
  • Your manager should never be caught off guard by hearing project news from someone else. Especially if it’s bad news! If something transpires that may result in a call to your boss, make sure he or she hears about it first from you, and not when they are cornered in the company cafeteria or restroom. It may be very uncomfortable to deliver bad news to your boss, but it’s guaranteed to be even less comfortable if they hear about it from someone else–and look uninformed or not in control of their staff/team in the process. By hearing about it before having to have a conversation, they can be better informed and prepared for any conversations that may arise–or have the opportunity to be proactive and nip a potential issue in the bud.
  • Managing up isn’t just for the little guys. This is one skill you’ll always need – everybody has a boss, even if it’s the Board of Directors.

How do I do it?

You might be wondering how this managing-up thing works and how it’s accomplished. Here are a few suggestions based on my own time-tested practices:

  • Provide a weekly status report, even if one isn’t required. Especially, in fact, if one isn’t required. It can be a simple email or one-page document that lists:

– What you accomplished that week

– Any issues or roadblocks

– What you’re working on in the coming week

  • Provide an as-needed update, especially if something significant happens relative to a project. If good or bad news comes up for a project, let them know right away–no need to wait for your weekly status report.
  • Keep it short. The point isn’t to over-burden your managers with minutia. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it.
  • Keep your tone professional. Managing up isn’t about competing with others, it’s about being professional and helping your boss to look good.

Here are a few examples from my own experience and that of friends:

  • “Hey, Jane–I just had a meeting with the stakeholders from Underwriting. They were not happy with the process we’re suggesting for (whatever).” (As business analysts, this will happen, probably more than we’d like it to.)
  • “Hey, Jane–I just met with Customer Service – they were really pleased with ….” (Stop in and deliver some good news, too – especially if something goes better than expected.)
  • “Hi, Stan, here’s some info you’re going to need. You don’t need to go over it now, but you’ll want to have it on hand.” (This was from a friend who works in a contentious engineering environment. After a meeting, he dropped off crucial numbers at his supervisor’s desk. His supervisor was then prepared to deal with the irate visitor he had thirty minutes later.)
  • “Do you have a minute? I was just in a meeting with Art from Accounting and I really lost my patience with him. I want to let you know before you get a phone call.” (Awkward? You bet. But not as awkward as getting called into your boss’s office after s/he gets a phone call from Art or Art’s manager. For best results, be sure you take responsibility for your actions, and let your manager know what you plan to do to remedy the situation. Or, ask for suggestions on the best way to deal with the individual. No matter what sort of jerk the other person may be, you will always look good by taking responsibility for yourself and behaving professionally, which is to say, not whining or blaming.)

Managing up takes some discipline and some courage. You will find that it improves your personal brand and over time is well worth the effort. This is a long-term career investment; get started today!