Managing Up: How to Do it Successfully

One thing we have learned from years of administering 360-degree feedback assessments is that people can be perceived in vastly different ways depending upon who is giving them feedback. People receiving a 360 assessment benefit from understanding the different perspectives provided to them from various groups. As a 360 company, we have seen the benefit of understanding gaps in perception and how to close those gaps. One troubling gap that 360 participants occasionally see is a gap between how they see themselves and how their manager sees them. When coaching an individual with lower scores from their supervisor compared to everybody else, we have conversations about the importance of managing up.

Many people may feel—in a perfect world—that the concept of managing up would not exist. Most people want to assume that any difficulty, hardship, or success they encounter would be noticed and recognized by their managers without having to say anything. People may also wish to have complete trust from their managers to make impactful decisions without having to check in. In reality, even the most dutiful and trusting managers will have difficulty fully recognizing and buying into the efforts of their employees without help.

5-15 Reports: Your Success is Your Manager’s Success
The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, created a system of managers gathering reports from their employees each week. He called them 5-15 Reports. Each week employees take 15 minutes to write about their current work, progress, challenges, and general feelings about how things are going. Managers then take 5 minutes to review each report. Managers then create their own 15-minute report to send to their managers, incorporating the information in the reports from direct reports. By doing this, information flows upward in an organization, and employees keep leaders informed about and bought into what is going on. You can use Patagonia’s system for upward feedback as a template for managing up.

Assume your manager cares about your ability to successfully navigate and manage your work. Your success is your manager’s success. This means, like Yvon Chouinard, most effective managers will care about critical aspects of your job. Using the Patagonia system, you might think about what sorts of things you ought to consistently communicate to your manager. You might also think about how and when you should communicate those things. Here are some ideas:

Major or impactful decisions you have made or will make
Challenges or roadblocks you are facing
Progress you have made on major projects or initiatives
Your personal accomplishments
Let’s look at each of these categories and examine why and how to communicate them to your manager.

Major or Impactful Decisions
Your manager is ultimately responsible for your performance. A major part of your performance will be based upon the decisions you make. That does not mean that communicating every decision you make to your manager is part of effectively managing up. In fact, for the most part, you should work to build enough trust from your manager that most of your work decisions will be made without their knowledge or consent.

Choosing which decisions to communicate and which decisions to keep to yourself is more art than science. Here are some questions you might ask yourself before determining whether to communicate a decision to your manager.

Would your manager disagree with the decision you made?
Does the decision have significant impact on profit or loss in your area?
Does the decision directly impact other departments or leaders of other departments?
Are you having difficulty making the decision?
Simply communicating decisions to your supervisor does not qualify as managing up. You should communicate these things with the purpose of building buy-in from your manager, and to solicit support for the decision you have made or will make. You might also communicate prior to making the decision to make sure your manager’s opinion is considered when you ultimately make the decision.

Challenges or Roadblocks
Part of managing up is informing your supervisor of the challenges you face. You do this for two reasons. First, when you inform your manager of a challenge or roadblock, you also invite them to help solve the issue. Your supervisor likely has authority or relationships you do not have. Communicating challenges allows your manager to help solve the problem before it drags on for a long period of time.

The second reason to inform your boss of challenges is to make sure they understand what could prevent you from delivering optimal results. Ensuring that your boss knows the degree of difficulty you experience is a critical part of managing up. Without that context, your manager may unfairly judge your performance to be unsatisfactory. The key to presenting any challenge or roadblock to your manager is to do so with a solutions-oriented approach. You may solicit recommendations from them, but you might also think about providing your own recommendations for how to clear the roadblock.

Progress on Major Projects or Initiatives
As you manage up, remember that your boss also needs to manage up. Equipping your manager with the information they need to effectively communicate with their managers or peers should be a part of your managing-up strategy. Your boss needs to understand the progress you are making on major work projects or initiatives, so they can communicate that progress to other stakeholders in the organization. By regularly communicating progress on major projects, you proactively hold yourself accountable to the timelines and milestones you set for yourself. You also provide your boss the opportunity to provide input and to support what you are doing.

As you can imagine, managing up effectively requires that you find ways to appropriately inform your manager of your accomplishments. Many people struggle to walk the balance between keeping their managers informed of successes in the workplace and coming across as overly pompous or arrogant. While nobody wants to be seen as overly arrogant, you might think about how being a little loud and proud about your accomplishments might positively impact your career and your relationship with your manager. So much of the narrative that is built about you in your organization comes down to anecdotes. Other people form opinions about you based upon a few meaningful stories. You can gain experience by overcoming obstacles and accomplishing great things, but you can’t build your reputation unless other people know about those accomplishments.

Sharing anecdotes about the things you accomplish will help build your brand with your supervisor and with others in the organization. Informing your manager of your accomplishments provides them with positive anecdotes about you that can be shared with other people in the organization. You cannot manage up effectively without regularly informing your manager about your accomplishments.

The perceptions of critical stakeholders around you have significant impact on your ability to succeed. One of your most important stakeholders is your manager. You can significantly improve your manager’s perception of you by effectively managing up. You can manage up most effectively when you consistently communicate the right things to your supervisor at the right time. Create a regular process for yourself to keep your supervisor informed and appropriately involved. Managing up will improve your managers perceptions about you, and it will help you move your career forward.


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