Managing up isn't the same as kissing up. Not by a long shot. Master it, and your career possibilities grow exponentially.
Managing up is about knowing how to create a work environment that produces the best result for three entities: you, your boss and the company you both work for. Like other workplace tasks, successfully managing up involves planning, communication and timing.
"It's important to manage up, across and down, but particularly up," says Abe Weiss, director of the Rutgers Center for Management Development in Piscataway, N.J. "You want to create perceptions in terms of the way you build relationships so you can be identified as a higher-potential professional within your organization, and be eligible for training, development and promotion."
What, exactly, does "managing up" mean? Weiss says it's "being able to offer solid information" and being "responsive to requests that come down." He says it requires mastery of the "concepts and vocabulary" of your workplace and "the ability to listen actively." These skills will enable you to ask higher-level questions and therefore be perceived as a strategist. In turn, you may be given access to information unavailable to others.
Communications and Relationships
All this requires honing both hard and soft skills. Weiss suggests taking "any courses you can in communication, building and managing relationships and on team management and presentation skills. It's essential to understand how to present material and what loses a crowd." And remember, he says, that when you're standing before a group, you're "a proxy for your sponsor."
Maureen Tierney, a management consultant in New York and former associate dean of the graduate school of business at Fordham University, teaches a core course there called Fundamentals of Management. In it, she tells students that managing up involves "little things and common-sense things that are often overlooked." They're the things, she says, that "save time, save effort and may in the long run save money. They help you get ahead, get along with the boss and show off what you can do."
For example, be sensitive to the best - and worst - times to approach your boss, Tierney says. Be prepared with various alternatives for approaching a particular project. "Come in with clear-cut options, so the impact of the resulting decisions will be clear," she advises. Or if you're scheduling a meeting, ask your boss about the best time for him or her to attend.
Tips for Effectiveness
Anthony Panos, the Manhattan-based director of the management development and human resource management programs at Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School, says managing up also involves becoming an advocate for yourself and your career. He offers these tips:
"Become a citizen of the organization. As your tenure increases, just doing tasks is not enough."
"Be aware of the assumptions you have about yourself and other people in the organization." These may limit your vision.
"Empathize with your manager. Know his or her hot buttons and what drives them."
Use language (both spoken and written) everyone understands.
Be aware of your own story and how you tell it. "Use straight talk, not emotion. Be neutral and fact-driven."
"Use 'no' as a problem-solving opportunity to help your boss accomplish what he needs."
Be a team-builder within your own group. "Be at the forefront while preserving the position of the manager."
How well do you manage up? Share your stories by posting a comment below.