One of the most important skills required if you want to climb the corporate career ladder over time at one specific company, is the ability to manage up. It’s a key part of maintaining an effective and productive working relationship with your boss for the long term. Of course, that is sometimes easier said than done. Bad bosses can make this incredibly challenging, but managing up, or if we want to be candid here, what I prefer to call “professional sucking up” is a necessary evil in the corporate world.
In essence, managing up is the art of making your bosses job easier, so that you are seen as being valuable to them. Its why so many firms have middle managers who have clearly been promoted above their ability, they may not have the skills to do the job, but they were very good at managing up! If you want to grow in your current firm, you need to develop those traits too.
What is your managers personal style?
If you are working for a micro-manager, then you are going to have to respond in a way that is aligned to their way of working. You are going to have to ignore the big picture, and focus on small tactical details, that really don’t matter that much, but are important to your boss. Likewise, if you work for a big picture, strategic boss, you are going to drive them crazy if you keep wanting to discuss point number 4 on page 72. They don’t care so much about the specifics as long as the goal is delivered.
It is important that you work out exactly what your boss expects and deliver accordingly. Are they big picture or small details? Are they the type to want to check in every hour, or once a month for a progress update? Do they make quick decisions, or do they want to spend 6 months gathering more data? Are they calm under pressure, or do they panic and start to blame people? Do they prefer to communicate via email or face to face?
What are your managers goals?
If you do not know what your managers goals are, very simply, you can’t help them to deliver them. A key element of managing up is to understand the objectives of your manager and tailoring your work to that end. You should set up a meeting with your boss, so that you can learn what their objectives are. This will then allow you to understand what is more and less important to them. By helping them to deliver their goals, they will see you as dependable and adding value to them and they will look after you in return.
Its also vital to be proactive when it comes to these goals. If you have some spare time, make sure you do some extra work to help make the goals a reality. Likewise, if there is a problem on the horizon that your boss is not aware of, make sure they are not the last to hear about.
You need to speak up
In this era of managing up, it’s also important to provide feedback to your boss. Nothing too drastic about their style, after all bad bosses don’t want to hear about their flaws. But they will want to know if someone in the team is not pulling their weight. Or if the team are stretched beyond capacity and that this is going to impact deliverables and likely lead to a risk of attrition.
Finally, it’s important to remember that just doing good work, is not enough in corporate culture anymore. The idea that those with the best ideas and results get the best promotions and pay rises, its simply not true in current corporate culture, outside of the handful of true high performing organisations. If you go into most firms, identify a load of mistakes in the current processes and push through changes to make the place more efficient. Research shows you are more likely to be seen as difficult and not a team player. Those who progress and stay in a company over the longer term are those who do not rock the boat and manage up well. The alternative of course, if to simply move on from a company every 2-3 years. Something a lot of millennials and Gen Z are choosing to do – but that’s a topic for another article!