Most managers, especially new managers, struggle to find their footing with their own supervisors. It can be tough to ask for something your employee needs or feedback on your own performance. Does this sound familiar? You're thinking, "will I rock the boat by asking for this?" Or, maybe, "If I approach my manager, I might upset her. I know she's really busy."
I hear this all the time in my management development workshops.
And it makes sense. Even the most confident managers can choke a little when it comes to dealing with the people who they report to. But here's the reality: If you start "managing up" well, you'll find yourself better able to advocate for what you want, ask for help, and promote your team's successes. And, as I tell the participants in my management development workshops, managing up is a win-win for everyone in the organization.
So, what is managing up?
Managing up is a term that refers to the tactics you use to build a strong relationship with your boss, make their job easier, and even develop relationships with the people they may report to. "Managing up, or building smooth, productive relationships with higher-ups, requires understanding and adapting to your boss's communication and decision-making style," writes Sue Shellenbarger, in a Wall Street Journal article. "Many people are promoted because of the quality of their work. But as newly minted managers aim to rise in the ranks, assuming their work will speak for itself becomes increasingly hazardous to their careers."
Managing up means getting to know your direct manager as a person and understanding their goals and communication styles and preferences. Remember, the boss-employee relationship is a two-way street. Take the time to figure how you can proactively build a productive relationship with the person you report to.
You may already be doing some of this. And, if you aren't, let me give you six tips to get you started:
1. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your manager. But instead of merely providing status updates, include strategic issues. Suggest ideas on how to promote your team for more visibility within your company, or discuss problems you are having with individual employees and describe your proposed solutions. Be sure you prepare an agenda so you can make the best use of your time together. And, ask for one meeting to be devoted entirely to your career development. Either quarterly or bi-yearly depending on your situation.
2. Take responsibility for mistakes quickly; those that you make and those of your employees. Explain how they happened and what you have done, or what you propose to do to rectify them and keep them from happening again. And, if you come to your manager with a problem, make sure to also come with a possible solution for discussion.
3. Understand your manager's strengths and weaknesses. If you see an area, they're weak in, gently offer to assist, so they don't feel self-conscious and instead see the advantage of leaning on you to address the problem.
4. Help your manager advocate for your team. Provide your boss with updates on your employees' successes so they will able to take credit for the things your team is doing well. Give them enough information to be able to speak well on your team, or employees' behalf, but not so much, that they get mired in the details.
5. Embrace technology. Today's technological solutions exist to streamline communications, increase organizational levels, encourage collaboration, and more. Make a point of learning how to use the technology your firm makes available and use it creatively and proactively. Stay abreast of your own tasks, your team's project deadlines, and help your manager anticipate upcoming functions and events.
6. Request "skip-level" meetings with your boss's superiors. This may be difficult in organizations where the national culture is more hierarchical, but it can yield tremendous benefits for you, your employees, and your direct manager. Skip-level meetings can help take pressure off your manager and can normalize the idea that everyone in the organization is intent on progressing, which has the potential to provide value for the entire company.
Managing up, and in effect, managing your manager means keeping the channels of communication open and bi-directional. It entails thinking and acting strategically and proactively, taking responsibility for errors, and making it easy for your boss to take credit for your team's excellent work.
All of these things contribute to the improvement of bottom line results for your company. The stronger your relationship with your direct manager, the more they will be willing, even eager, to advocate on your behalf and for your team. This will build morale, increase productivity, and help attract and retain new hires. Managing up is indeed a win-win for everyone.