The Art (and Business) of Managing Up
By Quint Studer
are you looking for a highly effective way to gain support for meeting
established goals, create more autonomy within your organization, save
time, and better control your personal destiny? Learn the fine art of
“managing up.” That’s right. Accentuating the positive is more
than fodder for classic song lyrics and self-help books—it’s
brilliant business advice.
up is, in essence, positioning people well. It sounds quite simple and
in theory it is: just work
to align staff instead of dividing them. But managing up is actually a
skill of some delicacy. It’s not always our first impulse. But
it’s a skill that managers should focus on and hone until it becomes
don’t manage up, you inadvertently contribute to the “We/They
Culture.” As in: I fought hard to get you that raise, but Administration said we just
don’t have the budget for it. See? We
= manager and employees. They
= Administration. Perhaps you’ve said something similar, “managing
down,” not deliberately but subconsciously.
just one example of what happens when you manage down by default. But
it serves to illustrate why you must make a conscious
effort to manage up whenever possible. There are three major ways to
Manage up your boss: Managing up your boss positions the
organization well, aligns desired behaviors, helps senior leaders be
more visible, and creates an opportunity for praise. Don’t think
your boss is getting overwhelmed with praise. Bosses hear what’s
wrong all the time. Very rarely do they hear what’s right. Here are
a few suggestions:
Write your boss a
thank you note. Be
specific about what you appreciate, because it will align your
boss’s behavior to your own and help you control your own destiny.
For example, if you say, “Debbie, I really appreciate the fact that
you always make time for me because I find this to be so important,”
what do you think will happen the next time you see Debbie? She will
make time for you.
Give your boss
information that helps him connect with staff in a sincere way. In
my new book, Hardwiring
Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference, I give
an example of a staff member telling him about another employee whose
sister-in-law had died. This gave him the opportunity to offer the
bereaved employee his condolences. “Otherwise, I might never have
heard about it,” I write. “Then one day, someone might ask the
employee, ‘How do you feel about Quint?’ And that person might
say, ‘Oh, he’s a machine. He has no feelings!’”
Manage up your staff: Managing up employees is more than “a nice
thing to do.” It’s a practical tool for reinforcing specific
behaviors. Recognized behavior gets repeated. When all managers start
managing up their direct reports on a regular basis, pretty soon you
have a whole company full of people making it a point to replicate the
behavior that got them recognized. The impact of that can be enormous.
Single out high
performers for public praise. Corner your exemplary employee when
he’s with a group of his peers to say thank you. Be specific, not
general. Don’t just say, “Bob, you’re doing a great job.” Say,
“Bob, you did a great job on that marketing report. Thanks for
staying at the office so late last night to finish it up.” Yes, this
reinforces Bob’s thoroughness and work ethic, but it also lets other
employees in the vicinity know what kinds of behaviors get praised.
Ask your boss to
recognize the high performer. You might send an e-mail to the CEO
that says, “Bob Smith did an outstanding job on the marketing
report. He knew we were in a crunch, so he stayed until 11:00 p.m.
to finish it. If you don’t mind, please drop him a note to say
thanks . . . it would mean a lot coming from you.” (Note that
you’re managing up Bob and the CEO, simultaneously!)
Manage up your organization: People need to feel good about the
company they work for. No one can achieve excellence—which means
having a sense of purpose, doing worthwhile work, and making a
difference—if they’re in an environment where people denigrate the
company or its products. Look for every possible opportunity to manage
up your organization. Here’s how:
Never down talk
other departments. This is another manifestation of We/They
syndrome. If you’re in marketing, don’t make disparaging remarks,
even jokingly, about those short-sighted “bean counters” in
accounting. Remember, you must seek to create alignment, not division.
A company divided against itself cannot stand.
Promote your brand
to customers, family, and friends. In my health care work,
managing up hospitals to patients is a big issue. It makes sense.
Saying, “We have an excellent radiology department,” or “Dr.
Jones is the best cardiologist in the industry,” goes a long way
toward reassuring jittery patients. But the same principle applies to
any industry. And walk the walk; don’t just talk the talk. If you
make Fords for a living, you don’t drive a Chevrolet. It sends an
plenty of opportunities to manage up. Do it when things are going
well, when you have good news to share, or when you need direction on
how to achieve specific goals. When
you look for ways to focus on the positive, you will
find them. And they will ripple outward, creating more opportunities.
Ultimately, you’ll find that managing up makes you a better leader,
your employees better employees, and your organization a better
organization. It’s a win for everybody.
Read other articles and learn more
about Quint Studer.
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