Everyone gets managed. Even CEOs have to answer to their board or shareholders.
At stake in the manager-reporter relationship is the ability to advance your career, gain recognition and raises, and find meaning in your job.
“Managing Up” is the practice of making your relationship with your manager work for you. The difference between “managing up” well and doing it poorly is the difference between feeling motivated and engaged at work and feeling like a cog in the machinery. “Managing Up” helps maintain motivation, by ensuring your work is recognized and you stay on track towards your long-term career goals.
We’ve written extensively on this blog about the hallmarks of productive management: goal measurement, frequent communication, and tapping into purpose. All of these practices equally apply to “managing up”– the art of aligning your boss’s goals with your own to exceed expectations.
“Managing Up”, like managing a team, requires the ability to understand barriers to success and work proactively to avoid them. At its heart, “Managing Up” is about building the cooperation and mutual respect necessary for collective, rather than individual, achievement.
Let’s break down 5 keys to effective “managing up” that can help you earn recognition, get promoted, and feel more
1. Communicate early and often
Communication is the most important factor for gaining recognition. If you do not have consistent, regular check-ins with your manager to review progress, there is no way to know where you stand. Frequent, well-structured 1-on-1s give you an opportunity to share updates, address blockers, and ask questions. Especially when working on remote teams, communicating progress helps your manager support you and provide course correction early if needed.
2. Know your boss’s priorities and goals
With good communication comes greater knowledge. Knowing your manager’s goals and the goals of your organization is critical for understanding what success in your role means. You’re more likely to gain recognition for your efforts when your work helps your boss and your organization achieve more.
When your personal goals align to your manager’s and organization’s goals, you don’t have to worry about whether you’re focusing on the right things. Understanding your team’s strategy to focus your work, helps build a stronger relationship with your manager and colleagues. You’re more likely to be recognized for your work and earn promotion when your co-workers see that your work is powering everyone’s success and not just your own.
3. Transparently Track Progress
Managers value accountability in their reports. Being able to trust that their teams are making progress on what matters most frees up mental energy and time. Successfully “managing up” means building that trust with transparency into progress on your goals. As part of consistent 1-on-1s, discussing progress on your personal goals, priorities, or OKRs, helps establish your accountability. You’ll gain recognition when you’re ahead on goals and be able to solicit assistance if you fall behind. Avoiding discussing your progress puts your at risk of negative results when performance review time rolls around. For more tips on setting awesome goals, check out our quick start guide to goal planning.
4. Anticipate needs and avoid surprises
An essential component of “managing up” is anticipating the needs of your manager and organization. Prior to any communication with your manager, ask yourself “What information does my manager need to know for us both to be successful?” Understanding both of your goals as well as where you stand helps paint a clear picture of what’s worth highlighting. In addition to taking this burden off your manager, anticipating their needs allows you to drive the discussion and highlight your best work.
“Managing Up” doesn’t mean kissing up and avoiding bad news, rather it means working to proactively address underperformance before it develops into a surprise crisis. If you anticipate missing a target, communicating why and what you’re going to do about it before it happens helps avoid trying to reactively explain in a performance review.
5. Get Vulnerable
At the root of Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team is the absence of trust and fear of conflict. Healthy relationships, whether with colleagues, managers, or friends, derive from an authentic, non-judgmental connection. As social Researcher Brene Brown says, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Just as understanding your manager’s goals is important for “managing up”, so too is building a relationship where your manager understands your personal and career aspirations. Teamwork allows us to achieve more together by channeling individual excellence into collective success. When your manager understands what motivates you, they can better help you achieve your goals.
In an era of widespread distrust and uncertainty, establishing this connection with your manager is critical for your well-being. As we work to balance our work and our home lives, a trusting, cooperative relationship with our managers is key to our work goals stay in harmony with everything else in our lives.
If you’re interested in learning more about successfully managing up with transparent goal tracking, download our Guide to Goals Ebook.
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