What Does it Mean to “Manage Up”?

how to manage up

The idea of "managing up" sounds like you have to babysit your own manager. When really, it's employing a technique to make both of your jobs easier. The Harvard Business Review defines managing up as "Being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company." We're going to dive into exactly what it means to manage up and how you can implement this philosophy within your organization.

When is it necessary to manage up?

Managing up can be beneficial in any work environment, whether your supervisor has little time to manage you,  frustrates you, or is a micromanager. This technique improves communication and relationships with your higher-ups, making your day-to-day work flow from start to finish. 

You might consider managing up if you're feeling a disconnect between you and your supervisor. Especially with so many companies operating remotely, it can be difficult to maintain close relationships from afar. You may only speak to your boss when there's a problem, but strategically engaging can help position you as a positive asset to your team.

Many employees go heads-down around fussy managers and only raise their hand when absolutely necessary. If you can learn patience and understanding with your manager, you might find some common ground to accomplish tasks with ease and guidance. Managing up will give you starting points to remember when navigating difficult personalities.

Micromanagers can be a pain for those of us who like to work on our own. Managing up can tone down your boss's worry around  uncompleted projects. Effectively reporting milestones and checkpoints can keep worrying at bay and leave you with more time to work independently.

Managing up do's

Defaulting to the key elements that frame managing up will help you overcome any work situation.

  • Communicate - Understand your manager’s communication style. Are they outgoing or more reserved? Do they prefer meetings or email summaries? Adapting to their communication style will aid you in receiving the feedback or sign-offs you need from them.
  • Observe - Taking notice of your supervisor’s behaviors and habits can help you navigate the waters of communication and timing. Read the room. If a substantial corporate undertaking is underway, it may not be the time to request new staplers for the office. If things are exceptionally slow, maybe it's the time to get the go-ahead to launch a passion project you've been putting on the backburner.
  • Show strategic thinking - Try to figure out your own problems before dumping complaints on your boss. Bring solutions to the table if you notice organizational shortcomings. Figure out what systems work best for your whole team rather than just your position, then put your plan in motion.
  • Take initiative - Ideas are often only useful if they're executed. Show interest in your manager’s priorities, then take a stab at hitting those goals. Instead of waiting to be assigned a part in a project, offer examples of how you think you can help. Demonstrate you can handle autonomy and the ability to own your position.

Managing up don'ts

Avoiding these traps will strengthen your managing-up techniques and reduce unnecessary stress and triggers at work.

  • Perpetuate pet peeves - Take note of what annoys or frustrates your boss, then avoid those behaviors. Some bosses have a more flexible idea of what they consider late, and some are timekeepers. If yours is the latter, be sure to arrive early for meetings and your workday. You want to be your manager’s sidekick, not a thorn in their side.
  • Participate in office politics - Don't vent or gossip at work. The goal of managing up is to make everyone's jobs easier, not to complicate the environment with drama. Assume the positive intent of others and be the best you can be in your own role. Run any grievances through appropriate channels and stay focused on your goals.
  • Avoid responsibility - If you place blame to make yourself look good in front of your manager, you lose credibility. Take ownership of your mistakes to build trust and honesty with your management. When you take on the weight of a project, it takes a load off your supervisor and frees them up to better serve you in other areas. If mistakes happen, as they inevitably will, communicate and navigate accordingly.
  • Assume - It’s best not to do this with any of your colleagues. With remote work more common than not these days, your manager (and your team) doesn't know every request you have coming across your desk, and you're not aware of their workload. Keep open lines of communication to chip in where you're needed or ask for help when you're underwater.

Benefits of managing up

The upsides of managing up usually outweigh any downsides. The few extra minutes, and deep breaths, it takes to communicate and execute effectively will save you loads of frustration down the road. Considering the best way to approach and talk to your manager will create better relationships and deepen your engagement and satisfaction at work. This open line of communication will boost your productivity and ease any tensions.

If you work at a job you love, you want to become indispensable to your manager and organization. By offering big ideas and becoming a problem-solver instead of part of the problem, you not only improve your situation but the circumstances of those around you, too. Managing up can prime you for advancement and promotion consideration as you help others recognize your value within the organization.

Final thoughts

Managing working relationships can be tricky, but with a bit of effort they can be smoother sailing. Remove any "it's us against them" mentality of your co-workers and management. You all play on the same team. Get to know your manager and what makes them tick to serve as a valued asset that is helping your company reach its goals.

Team personality and behavioral assessments can help individuals identify the best ways to manage up. To dive deeper into your team's dynamics and what makes your manager tick, check out RallyBright.

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