When many think of ‘managing up,’ mostly negative connotations spring to mind. Many perceive it as a blatant attempt by ‘brown nosers’ to make themselves look important or a better performer in front of their boss, often at the expense of others.
This isn’t managing up. This is performance dishonesty.
Managing up, when done well, can have massive benefits for the individual employee, their immediate boss and the business overall.
So firstly, what is “managing up” when it’s done well?
Ultimately it comes down to communication. Everyone has a communication preference. In the workplace, this can boil down to a preference for face-to-face, email or phone communication.
But it also goes beyond just simply the communication medium, to also the types of information presented. Bullet points? PowerPoint? Long, winding emails? Facts and figures? Case studies?
Traditional notions of management have put the onus of working out the most appropriate communication method onto the manager (i.e. managing down). After all, they’re the ones responsible for the success of the project or business. However the typical manager has on average 14 direct reports. That’s 14 different communication preferences a manager has to juggle.
What managing up does is reverses this. If a direct report is able to understand the communication preference of their immediate manager, and actually tailor their communication to that preference, things get done with increased efficiency. This can also include an understanding of what issues matter most to them in a decision? Is it speed, cost, growth potential, innovation, etc?
For example, if an employee is able to determine that their immediate manager likes things in writing, with costs in bullet points, and typically prefers a few days to “mull things over,” then arranging a face-to-face meeting at short notice and expecting an immediate answer is not only going to fail, but likely going to be completely counter-productive.
An employee well versed in managing up is able to deliver the right types of information, using the right method, at the right time. Naturally, that sort of behaviour not only helps their manager make informed decisions more efficiently, but also bodes well for the employee come promotion time.
For employees, managing up has obvious advantages, but many seem reluctant to do it. Again, traditional notions are probably to blame here. Research performed by Future Workplace actually suggest Gen Y is better at this than most (you can listen to a summary of this research in a Harvard Business Podcast on managing up here).
This is where managers can actually sit down with their direct reports and discuss the way they’d like to receive information, and openly discuss the way they go about making decisions and how their staff can assist in that process. With everyone on the same page, stuff gets done and everybody wins.