Last week at a grocery store, I watched as an employee went up to her supervisor and enthusiastically announced the tasks she had completed. She explained her shift ended in 10 minutes and asked what else needed to be done. Her supervisor appeared impressed and told her she was free to leave when her shift ended.
The scenario made me think about the importance of managing up.
Our boss has huge influence over our moods, our income, our career paths — and to some extent, our home life. Yet relatively few workers actually spend time proactively managing the relationship. Knowing how to “manage up” can be a critical workplace skill that can make you more valuable or appreciated by even the most demanding boss.
For those who master the skill, the payoff is huge: Staying ahead of a boss’ reaction can avert career damage, make a boss more agreeable and even lead to advancement. According to a 2013 survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of Glassdoor, two out of three (66 percent) employees said their direct manager had an impact on their careers. Of those, one in five said the boss negatively impacted their careers.
Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO, a Fort Lauderdale HR services provider, urges caution: Don’t get managing up confused with sucking up.
Managing up, he says, is good communication. “It’s making sure that your manager is getting from you what they need in order to do their job and look good to their boss.” By managing up, you deliver information in the style and manner your manager prefers, “not the way you would want it if you were in their position.”
For example, the grocery store employee is managing up only if the boss wants the information delivered to her verbally at the end of a shift and if she views the completed tasks as valuable, Starkman explains. If the boss sees those tasks as time-wasters and prefers updates by email, then that employee’s effort to manage up could backfire.
Starkman encourages his staffers to manage up by sending him regular emails. If there are problems, he wants his employees to communicate them but also include solutions. He believes people who manage up are more effective, and happier in their jobs, because they are working as a team with their boss.
To manage up well, an employee needs to know his boss’ job requirements and how his role supports the needs of the organization. The next step is making his boss’ job easier by delivering reports in the style he prefers, anticipating his needs and helping him solve problems. “You want to be described as indispensable,” experts say.
While it’s easier to manage up when a boss is a good communicator, it’s possible — and necessary — even when a manager has some serious shortcomings. “You have to look at how much influence that person has over anything that can impact your role in that company. If he has any say in your future, in your success, you need to manage that relationship,” says Marla Grant, a Miami certified coach, strategic advisor and professional speaker.
With a difficult manager, learning his pet peeves or preferences could take bold interaction: “You need to ask: What are expectations? What do you think I can do to set myself up for more success?” Grant says. Employees who make the effort can change the dynamics of a troubled relationship: “It doesn’t happen overnight,” Grant says. “But you can create room for a shift if your boss sees you as valuable to them or someone who makes them look good,” Grant says.
Managing up can be particularly effective with a business owner. Gigi Stetler, owner of RV Sales of Broward, said her best employees show their value by resolving a problem with a customer without her asking them to do it. “It’s not about the amount of hours they work. It’s about giving amazing customer service and making me aware they are doing it. Owners are always worried about whether our employees are representing the brand well.”
Along with advancement, managing up can lead to better work/life balance for both manager and employee. Sandra Fine, vice president at RBB Public Relations in Miami, has reports and a boss. As a manager, she appreciates when her staff communicates when they will be out for a while and how they have covered their accounts. “I’m an email person, a much better reader than listener. I like knowing the details are taken care of and my employee is not leaving things on my plate to figure out.”
Stetler said employees’ efforts to show they care about their employer’s success can help build solid relationships with a boss — and improve their own work life. If you’ve built that relationship and good communication, a manager will give you leeway when you need to work from home, or turn down a promotion, or trust you when you take a new approach with a client,” Grant says. “If don’t have that, a boss will be more judgmental. That’s what managing up is about.”
Business Journalist/Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman writes regularly on workplace and work life issues. Connect with her at BalanceGal@gmail.com or visit www.worklifebalancingact.com.