What is Managing Up? – Part 1

What is Managing Up?

 

Managing up is working with your manager to increase the likelihood that he or she will work productively with you to meet the needs of your unit and employees.

 

When a new supervisor complains to me that he is not getting support from his manager, I ask what he thinks is going on. Often the supervisor sees himself as a victim of some strange decision tree. He says he’s waiting for his manager to approve this or that, and he begins to criticize the manager. You know “My manager did this, my manager is so unfair, my director just implements programs without understanding the impact on my team.” The complaints about managers are endless and take many productive work hours out of the day. Who doesn’t complain, really?

You might say, “Well, my supervisor never listens to me anyway. She just does what she wants.” I have heard that line many times. While there are some managers who resist suggestions or discussion, that isn’t always (or even mostly) true. You won’t get everything you want when you manage up, but in most cases you will get some change.

Be realistic in your expectation for change because if you approach this process with a positive attitude and careful planning, you will see change for the better. Most of us change in small ways and take small steps. This is probably true for you as you grow in your supervisory skills. It will be true for your manager as she learns to ask questions, listen, and discuss the situation to determine what you need to succeed.

Some supervisors that I coach are quite skeptical of this concept and accuse me of wanting them to “brown-nose.” I worked with a senior scientist, Mel, several years ago. He was excellent at the technical part of his job and supervised four bench level associates. They were a good team and had recently completed a major project that helped seal a pharmaceutical deal worth quite a bit of money. The problem for Mel was that his group was low on the totem pole for budget allocations. The group never seemed to get the public kudos he thought they deserved. They worked hard and Mel thought they deserved some kind of acknowledgement at the very least. I agreed with him and invited him to lunch.

I asked him how often he met with his director, Sue. “Maybe once a month.” “How do you update Sue?” I asked. “Emails,” was Mel’s reply. “How about budget allocations? Did you work with Sue on that?” He said, “No, I get the budget numbers once a year and that’s it. I never get asked for my opinion. I doubt she really cares.” It became clear that Mel was not an active participant in the management process. Other project leaders, who were more proactive in managing up, were getting the goodies. Mel had a reputation of being easygoing but I saw a passive manager.

When I began making suggestions to Mel, he became defensive immediately. As a reply to my suggestion that maybe he go to lunch with the manager and open a dialogue for future meetings, he said he wasn’t a “brown-noser.” I encouraged him to network with his company peers. “Have coffee, find out how things are working for them, what challenges they have, etc.” Mel said, “I don’t want to push myself on them.” The final result of this perspective was that Mel’s group did not get the resources or credit they deserved. How was Mel’s manager to figure all this out without input?

If your manager is implementing inefficient programs, faulty processes, leaving you out of the loop, or “making a mess of things,” have you looked at how you can change that? Have you thought that maybe you can help your supervisor improve? Have you tried to manage up?

Look for Managing Up, Part II, for tips on how to manage up.

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