Working for a big bank, top accounting or consulting firm, hedge fund, or investment firm means learning to deal with type A personalities and big egos. Junior and mid-level employees are constantly wondering how to respond to pushy managers, impatient partners, demanding portfolio managers, and aggressive senior traders. But according to Doug Arms, SVP at Accounting Principals, a finance and accounting staffing firm, professionals often handle dealings with their superiors incorrectly.
In an interview with eFinancialCareers, Arms says that junior and mid-level execs are more likely to advance their career by “managing up.” In other words, he explains that employees need to listen and respond to their manager’s working style, while actively engaging their boss to manage that relationship.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
“Start the process by understanding your boss’ management style,” says Arms. He notes that finance professionals should learn everything they can about their boss’s approach to work. Of course, most managers are interested in the bottom line. But figure out if they’re also an “idea” person or a “results-oriented” person. Determine if they’re focused on the big picture or the details, he notes. Arms adds that while it might be wishful thinking that you can change your manager’s behavior, the only person you can truly control is yourself. “That’s why it’s critical for you to take the initiative in understanding your boss.” Then, says Arms, incorporate what you’ve learned into your own work style.
Communication, Communication, Communication
Not surprisingly, every boss impacts an employee’s professional development. But when your superior’s communication and management style simply don’t jive with your own, then it might be time to adjust to what’s considered the company norm, says Arms. Whether you’re at a big bank or investment firm, senior managers are always “number focused”. So, when you meet, make sure to have the facts and figures in front of you. Arms suggests setting up regular informal meetings with your manager to highlight your knowledge and clarify upcoming work, making sure to touch base on projects completed, goals set for the week, and decisions your manager needs to make for you to move ahead on existing projects. It helps to get matter of fact goals and metrics, so you can be more engaged, he adds.
But also make sure to understand your boss’ project schedule, as well as his or her work motivations, thought processes and pressures. Touching base can avoid unexpected surprises or frustration on the part of you or your boss. The frequent and on-topic discussions can also help prevent one-sided interactions with your manager. And, you can also be in the right place at the right time to learn about new decisions or important projects critical to your career advancement.
Not surprisingly, says Arms, “Bosses like people who show true initiative.” It pays to go a step beyond in the workplace. Arms suggests, for instance, if you’re a number cruncher used to handing off data for analysis to someone else, then it might be time to know what those numbers actually mean. Interpret the data and make sure to communicate that knowledge to your superiors. “Positioning yourself as the go-to source on a particular project or a specific financial regulation helps to elevate your profile within the organization”, he says.
Networking Yes, Brown-nosing No
But Arms does note that initiative goes far beyond talent. “The job doesn’t always go to the most talented and knowledgeable person at the firm,” he says. “It sometimes goes to the person who is just better at networking.” But networking can sometimes turn into brown-nosing and, ultimately, resentment from team members or department coworkers, if it’s not handled well. No one, including your boss, likes a true brown-noser. “You can easily avoid alienating your coworkers,” he says. “When you’re positioning yourself in the organization, make sure to recognize those on your team.” Share credit when credit is due, he adds.
While Arms admits that given the large-scale layoffs in financial services, nothing, including “managing up”, can truly insulate you from being one of the many let go. “However, when your boss sits down and looks at an organizational chart, you want them to see your face and not just a name on a line,” he says. By making yourself relatively indispensable, that can certainly help your cause. “You may not be completely protected, but they might think twice before laying you off.” Arms adds, “It pays to reach out and work on projects across departments, making sure your name surfaces as much as it can.” He also suggests volunteering for assignments, especially the unpopular ones, working to make yourself a key part of the organization.