Sometimes, you’re like the dog chasing his tail. It’s exhausting and hard work. You fall down panting and never quite caught your goal. In a while, you get back up and have at it again and achieve the same result.
Sometimes the “tail” is your boss. Sometimes the “tail” is a tricky client. Either way, instead of getting ahead, it is a viscous circle. Let’s just say it’s the opposite of productive.
It’s time to wise up. It’s time to manage up.
What does it mean to manage up?
Managing up might be different than you imagine. You might be picturing things like fetching coffee for someone or being the “yes” man or woman. It is not at all about “buttering up” your boss or client. You are not going to smoother them with compliments or gifts. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do when you are managing up.
You know in order to maximize your time and get the best results, you must prioritize. But have you considered whose priorities? Focusing on your priorities is a sure fire way to the dog chasing its tail. You work at a frantic pace and then your boss looks at you and says “But have you done THIS yet?”
Your priorities should be those of your boss- or your client. Make it a point to find out what is important to them. What needs to be accomplished? When does it need to be done? What order things get finished in is a big deal and doing them in the order you want isn’t necessarily the order that will make someone else satisfied.
Even better, take this to the next step. When you sit down to find out what is important to them in general and in specific on certain projects or day-to-day operations, find out why. A good manager has aligned their priorities with goals of the company. Understanding what goals they are working toward will help you push toward the same ones. That is a formula for success for you.
Likewise, if you are managing a client, knowing why they want something done helps you understand the client’s goals and how to meet them.
If you are like me, you have at some point had someone look at you and say “Well you certainly never told ME that!” You know good and well you told them and now you are left scrambling to come up with a solution caused by the lack of communication on their part.
That may have happened because you did indeed tell them. The problem is they do better when they see it in writing. If you had emailed it to them, it would have stuck. On the other hand, there are some folks who skim emails and don’t absorb them. They do better with eye contact and verbal explanations.
The point is you manage up by finding your boss’ communication style. How do you do that? You ask them. You ask them more than once.
- When you begin working with someone, ask them how they like to receive questions and updates on a daily basis. You can do that the first time you have news to share. You say “I have news you need. Do you prefer I sit down and discuss it or would you like it in writing?”
- Reinforce the question with new projects. Repeat the question. “How would you like this report?”
I remember a friend sharing about his boss. He learned his boss could easily get flustered when something wasn’t right and fly off the handle with a fast and snippy email. Any response to the email brought a continued electronic battering. But, if my friend got up and walked to the boss’ office and asked nicely “Can we talk about this?” he’d find himself seated and in a worthwhile discussion. They’d leave on good terms.
So use the info you learn. If you find a communication technique doesn’t work well, don’t use it. If you find a method that does work well, stick to it.
Sometimes, your boss or client will just expect you to take care of something. The problem with this is you again turn into the dog chasing his tail. You can run as fast you might but you can’t win if you don’t know where the finish line is.
Whenever you take on a project, make sure to manage up by finding out the rules. If they aren’t’ spelled out for you in your assignment, then it is your job to ask. Don’t ever think it is a waste of time to ask questions or that you will look unwise to them to be asking. Make it clear you are asking because their priorities are now your priorities. Say “I want to make sure we are on the same page” or “I want to make sure I am representing you in the best way.”
- Ask what is the deadline?
- Ask what is the goal of the task or project?
- Find out how important this job is. Do you do it when you have time? Do you put it at the top of your list?
Your boss is going to measure you in some way. They are going to look at your sales, your efficiency, and morale in the workplace or something else. There will be some kind of grade. The problem is you can’t make the grade if you don’t know the grading scale.
Manage up by finding out how they will measure your job performance. Ask specifically. Don’t wait until a lot of time has passed. It will be hard to make corrections to past performance at that point. If you’ve never asked this and have worked with this boss for a while, bring it up at the next opportunity for a new assignment. Say “I’m glad to get this new responsibility. I was wondering how you will track this?”
Once you know how you will be graded, set up a way to keep statistics. Feed good data to your boss. Make sure they are aware of things that will help your grade. That is managing up.
Likewise if you are managing up with a client, find out what kind of success they are looking for in your working relationship. Make sure to track success and bring it to their attention. Tell them point blank “I see we are meeting your goals because we have ….”
Use what you learn. The more you learn about how and why your boss does expects what they expect or does the things they do, the more you can use it.
When you present an idea, be sure to share how it aligns with their priorities and how it matches the company’s goals. Be proactive in offering data that shows success. Keep track of expectations. Use the best way to communicate to reinforce that you value those expectations and have met them.
Being armed with the most information about your boss or client means you will soon be able to anticipate when they will be unhappy with a situation. You’ll be forearmed to deal with it and be prepared rather than have it ambush you.