What does “Managing Up” mean and Should You?

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Most people are managing up wrong. You’ve probably heard the expression: people don’t quit jobs, but they quit managers and that’s a basic fact. For most people, the major component of job satisfaction is not the office layout or resource tools. When you think about it even further, it’s not even about bonuses, benefits or workload, but instead, it is more about the relationship they have with their manager. Interestingly, according to a study, conducted by psychologist Michelle McQuaid, the author of Five Reasons to Tell Your Manager To Go F**k Themselves, revealed that more than 65% of workers surveyed would choose a new manager over a pay raise.

In her research, she’s found that employees who dislike their managers take an average of 15 more sick days per year than other workers. More than that, they even slow down on the job, don’t usually volunteer for extra work/responsibilities and don’t participate in any brainstorming or innovation that would drive the department/business forward. “The current situation in the workplace is taking an incredible personal toll on employees—and for organizations, it is costing $360 billion a year in lost productivity.”

Employees who dislike their managers take an average of 15 more sick days per year than other workers. Click To Tweet
Sick employee. Calling in sick more.

Having a positive and healthy relationship with your manager makes your work life much easier — and is also a crucial element for your career progression and job satisfaction. However, some managers make it extremely difficult and it is also true that some managers are overstretched, or downright incompetent. Even if you sense that your manager has some serious inadequacies, it’s in your responsibility to make the relationship work for the sake of your career and personal fulfillment. Because, sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

What is Managing Up?

Put simply, managing up is about deliberately and proactively trying to recognize your manager’s thinking patterns — knowing what your manager’s strengths and weaknesses are, and then utilizing that knowledge to improve the quality of your work and working relationship as well as those of the entire team. Managing up has several benefits, but the most important one is that it helps you to be more proactive in your relationship with your manager and at the same time it prevents you from being bound by your manager’s whims (sorry managers, yes you do have them).

Managing up is not about being sneaky or manipulative, it’s about being proactive, assertive and strategic. In a sense, you’re looking out for yourself and simultaneously looking out for your manager. It’s an important skill for every professional if you want to take responsibility for your wants, needs, and career aspirations. Regardless of the type of manager you have, it’s critical to develop some skills that are universally important. For instance, it is vital to be able to anticipate your manager’s needs. You need to be able to recognize what makes your manager tick (and what ticks him/her off).

Problems are inevitable, but knowing the right way to talk about a problem can help you navigate tricky situations – not all conflicts are bad. You will be able to talk about it in a respectful and productive way. Managing up does not mean sucking up, it means doing your work excellently so that you can be a genuine source of help to your manager and the company as a whole thereby creating value for your manager and the organization (company). In essence the best path to fostering a healthy relationship with your manager is doing your job excellently well. By managing up, you can highlight your reputation as an individual who is a valuable asset to any company.

Managing up is not about being sneaky or manipulative, it’s about being proactive, assertive and strategic. Click To Tweet

How Can Managing Up Help My Career?

First, you will enjoy a good working relationship with your manager and as such you will be happier and more fulfilled in your role especially if you feel you’re working efficiently and you’re important to the company. Secondly, the ultimate goal for most employees is to have the option to advance in his or her career, whether it is a promotion, new job or gunning for more responsibility. The confidence and respect of your current manager is one of the strongest weapons in your arsenal. There’s no better way to stand out as a competent employee than to have a track record of consistent, thoughtful work.  So, how do you do that?

Basic Tips

Schedule regular meetings with your manager

However, you need to do more than simply providing status updates or talking about strategic issues. Instead suggest practical ways to improve your team’s visibility within the company. Talk about issues that may be undermining the company’s productivity and suggest proposed measures to tackle the situation. Plan ahead of time so that the minutes you spend with your manager can be fully optimized to the extent possible. More importantly, ask for one meeting to be devoted entirely to your career development. After all it’s about your career, your development, so you must have more of a vested interest, and therefore you need to take the lead. Don’t assume your manager knows where you want to go within the organization or beyond.

Be accountable

Mistakes are bound to occur, so be ready to take responsibility for mistakes quickly; including both yours and those of your employees (team). Clearly state what happened and steps you took to correct them and measures put in place to ensure such mistakes are not repeated. Often times an apology is not only for your personal accountability, it is also to help the other person move on. Anytime you approach your manager to discuss a problem, be ready to come up with a viable solution. And be patient if they are not ready to move forward (letting it go) right away.

Recognize your manager’s strengths and weaknesses

Once you see an area that they need help with, gently offer to assist so that they don’t feel uncomfortable and instead see the benefit of accepting your help to address the issue.

Be efficient

Utilize technology to streamline communications, encourage collaborations and increase organizational levels. Endeavor to learn how to use the technology available to your company creatively to make your job easier. Deliver projects before deadlines and help your manager to stay abreast of upcoming functions and events. This will help take pressure off your manager. Irrespective of what you do or where you do it, it is highly probable that learning the fine art of managing up will help you to be more efficient and productive.

DOs and DON’Ts of Managing Up

The do's and don'ts

Be Insightful.

You can only anticipate the needs of your manager and attend to them if you spend time figuring out their likes and dislikes. You need to work with your supervisor finding out more about their work schedule, needs, duties and habits.

Recognize your boundaries

Managing up is an art that needs to be mastered. Even though you have good intentions, you must not come off as desiring or vying for your manager’s position (regardless if you have no desire for their job, they might make assumptions based off your ambitions). There are boundaries and it’s critical that you recognize those boundaries.

Be intentional

It’s not about what your manager can do for you, instead it’s about what you can do for your manager. An integral part of managing up is creating value for your manager. For instance, if your manager has a presentation and you’ve realized he/she doesn’t like preparing slides, you can offer to do that. If you’re able to handle such responsibilities, thereby making your manager’s life (job) easier, then you will be showing your capability to handle “multiple pivotal roles.”

Don’t overextend yourself

In the quest to manage up, you will probably be saddled with responsibilities, as such it is vital to recognize your limitation and not to overextend yourself. Of course, taking up new roles can be challenging and create the room for growth, still don’t be afraid to ask for help from your manager. Managing up can only be effective, if it is done efficiently. The goal is never to display your ‘multitasking’ skills, in fact avoid that. Instead, make it more about focusing on the number one priority. Be known to get things done well – most managers prefer accuracy verses speed.

Do communicate

Communicating is important when you’re managing up. You don’t want to start working on a project without informing your manager. It’s your responsibility to give regular update on projects and meetings. Involve your manager when appropriate on projects in advance, then work hard to exceed his/her expectations. Managing up requires keeping the lines of communication open and bi-directional.

Managing up requires keeping the lines of communication open and bi-directional. Click To Tweet

The Bottom Line

Managing up involves thinking and acting proactively to make things easy for your manager, improve your company’s productivity and at the same time enhancing your own development and career. The stronger your relationship with your manager, the more they will be eager and willing to support you and your team members. This will boost morale, improve revenue and help attract and retain top talents. Managing up is indeed a win-win for everyone.

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