Managing Up

I’m almost finished with Stanford Manager Academy, a professional development program for managers at the university. Interestingly, many of our conversations during the classroom sessions commonly found their way to the topic of strategies around managing up – it’s an area where people find themselves at a loss and where work gets roadblocked.

Many definitions exist for managing up, and I like the one from Alison Green, the prolific mind behind Ask a Manager. She states that “managing up is about…working with your boss in the way that will produce the best possible results for your team, while at the same time making both your and your manager’s lives easier.”

I wanted to share a few resources I’ve recently run across in this area; a couple of my supervisors have let me know they appreciate my ability to manage up and it’s taken me awhile to fully grasp what that means.

Stanford Webinar: Managing Your Boss

If you work at Stanford, Learning & Organizational Effectiveness offers a free webinar on Managing Your Boss. Don’t let the 1990s appearance of the course fool you – the program is self-paced and has some gems in it. Particularly if you’re new to the workplace or figuring out why your manager seems to ask you about particular things with frequency – this webinar is for you! What I liked most was the concept of thinking about your supervisor’s communication style and how that should feed into your relationship approach – especially if the two of you fall into different categories.

Six Key Principles of Managing Up

Alison Green wrote this piece in Intuit’s The Fast Track blog centered on the following ideas:

  • Focus on what’s within your control.
  • Get aligned.
  • Make your manager’s job easy.
  • Pay attention to what your manager really cares about.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Be emotionally intelligent.

Earlier in my career, I used to get incredibly frustrated when my supervisor continued to bring up something that seemed resolved to me. Now I’ve learned that means I haven’t closed the loop or made her feel comfortable enough that we can move forward. Overall, your relationship gets better when you try to see the world from your manager’s perspective and see how you can fit into their bigger picture.

How to Get Your Boss to Read Your Emails

Of course, sometimes you’re not focused on ongoing frustrations, and you simply want your boss to respond to an e-mail or deadline. Alison focused a short blog on how to get a good response – tips that can help you when you’re trying to get a reply from anyone, really.

In my job, I work with incredibly busy Stanford faculty and have 3 main principles for my e-mail correspondence with them:

  • Use obvious and action-oriented subject lines. For example: “Seattle: your availability for faculty meeting” and “Reunion CWOQ: your talk information” For co-workers, I always add “FYI:” in front of the subject line to let people know there isn’t an action item associated.
  • Make it easy to reply. If you are attaching a document, why not include it in the body of the e-mail? If you are going to a survey client with 1-2 questions, allow the respondent to reply with their answers in an e-mail. Sometimes it’s more work on your part, but you’re also more likely to get your answer. If you need a decision, have you clearly delineated each option? Also, always include a deadline!
  • Try to limit your e-mail to one request.  This is just good common sense in a world of short e-mails. I don’t always practice what I preach out of necessity, but when you really need particular information by a certain deadline, focusing on one thing will increase your chance of getting a reply.

Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life

I’m currently in the middle of a great book by Patty Azzarello. On the subject of managing up, she focused on thinking about how your manager represents you to senior leadership. A lot of her concrete ideas are in the LOOK Better portion of her book around building credibility. She reminds you that doing good work isn’t always what moves you forward in the organization (especially if no one truly grasps your contribution!)

One of my big takeaways was around presenting to senior leadership. If you’re introducing a lot of new terminology and ideas, as opposed to speaking in their language around existing priorities, you aren’t communicating what they understand as core organizational values and business.

In GoodReads, you can find this book on my Working Smart shelf.

I hope these ideas get the gears turning in this area. I can’t emphasize enough how important this skill is – and the best part is that managing up isn’t only about making your manager’s life easier. When you do it right, it produces great benefits for you in the relationship (happiness and career trajectory), as well as your whole team.

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