How to Effectively Manage Up?

Managing up can be critical to getting the promotions you seek


Malhar Lakshman , Tue 26 April 2022
As a manager, it is imperative to maintain a constant stream of communication with direct reports. However, the phrase “information is a two-way street” comes to mind very quickly upon hearing that. A manager not only needs to communicate with employees but also needs to be equally open to communication. However, they can’t be everywhere or know everything. That’s where the term “managing up” comes into play.

Managing up is the act of communicating your work goals to your manager and clarifying your expectations from them of you so you can deliver (and potentially exceed) their expectations. However, it can be much more than that as well. Managing up, similar to a performance review, is a system of actions, or a process. It begins with anticipation, followed by clear communication, into execution. 

1.       Building rapport with your manager
The first step in managing up is to build a successful rapport with not only your coworkers but also your supervisor. Having a good rapport doesn’t necessarily mean emotional closeness or friendship. It can definitely mean that, but at large, should refer to the faith that you and your colleagues and supervisors have in each other. Understanding what everyone’s capabilities are is vital to a proper working relationship.
2.       Setting expectations for your manager
The second step in managing up is planning task completion. This can refer to a project deadline or task coordination. Once this is dealt with properly, anticipating potential problems is key. For example, let’s look at John, who has been assigned a project to create a customer database by his manager. John was able to structure and design the database properly with no hiccups whatsoever. However, when it came time to populate the database or fill the database with data, he realized that he had not been given the customer data by his manager. While yes, part of this responsibility does fall on the manager for not giving John any of the data, John could’ve also checked to see if he had the data prior to the implementation date. This is where managing up can come into play. If John had anticipated that he would need to upload all of this data into his database and that his manager had not given him this, he could’ve scheduled a 1-on-1 with his manager to discuss the problem, and gain access to the data, bypassing the problem entirely.

The key concept to understand is that managers aren’t perfect. They do not know everything, and often have several people and tasks to manage. Similar to how a probationary period is utilized by employers to evaluate potential employees and vice versa, managers oversee employees and employees evaluate managers. It is just as important for employees to give feedback as it is for them to receive feedback. Through this critical feedback, a manager can learn what problems to avoid in the future, how to better connect with an employee, as well as improve employee performance. Understanding what a manager’s priorities and goals are not only helps them in completing these tasks but also helps you gain recognition and meet with more success.  

Properly managing up can lead to increased accountability 

A manager who is extremely mentally taxed on high amounts of work tend to not be able to be as attentive as responsive to their direct reports compared to when they have the time to focus. However, if you as an employee are extremely attentive, which is indicated through your work as well as the results of your one-on-ones, it can free up some time and mental energy for your manager, which leads to a healthier and more fluid atmosphere in the workplace. 

We’ve gone on to mention one-on-ones several times but have not really gone into explicit detail on what all this entails. This meeting can go both ways, with you as an employee constructively criticizing what your manager does, and vice versa.  Important questions to ask in these meetings include some of the following: 

·         What does success mean to you? 
·         Or, what does success mean in terms of the team? 
·         Talk about how you best work, as well as what methods work well for your team or boss.  

Observe how your manager listens to what you have to say, and adapt a little. For example, I have had a boss in the past who upon hearing a problem, raced to try to think up a solution without listening to what I had to say regarding the problem. Therefore, I switched the order by stating the solution before defining the problem. Similar tactics can prove to be very helpful in these meetings. 

Managing up can also have several employee prospect benefits. Upper management will recognize and appreciate when an employee is able to give constructive feedback and fix problems before they even happen. These traits are shared by not only the best employees but also effective managers. This can lead to promotions, as well as raises, and other benefits, such as increased trust in the workplace, as well as a better reputation. 

In a poll conducted at Stride, which is an engineering firm- “When leaders up on the chain of command are given the gift of choice via communication, they tend to be more trusting.” 

This basic communication of talking to your manager can have truly powerful repercussions and benefits.                 

Managing up can be extremely difficult at first, so start by simply building a rapport and properly communicating with your peers and superiors. As long as you start with that, you are well on a path to success!


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