Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Managing Up

In talking with my newest direct report, I mentioned that one essential skill for her to learn is how to manage up. She said that she had heard the phrase "managing up," but didn't know exactly what it meant. Here's what I explained to her.

My first week of working for my mentor, she sat me down to go over her expectations of me with respect to my work and also as someone who would be reporting to her. Her first "rule" is one that I've adopted and taken with me everywhere I've worked: Don't ever let your boss get blindsided. Ten years later, I still follow this rule. I practice it with the people I work for and I ask my direct reports to do the same for me. This is the first piece of managing up.

Too often, people go about their work and don't update their boss. Any project you're working on, make sure your boss knows what is happening. There are many ways to accomplish this: hallway conversation; phone call; regular meetings with your boss; departmental meetings; written departmental reports; email summary. Update her on what you're doing, what your concerns or challenges are, what other people's concerns are, etc. If there are any potential problems or issues, she will know something about them if she's asked, or at the very least will have heard something about them. By knowing about them, she can also help push things through.

Second, don't let the first time your boss (or upper management) hears something be in a planning meeting. When you're working on a project that is going to encompass many different areas, you'll likely have meetings with all of the stakeholders. With so many people involved, you'll run into some conflicting ideas. Work the building before a meeting, especially with the respective executives. They, or at the very least your boss, should know about any new idea before the meeting. That way, they can punch any holes in ideas and give you time to adjust. They can also help sell the idea once you're in the meeting. People are naturally resistant to change. You may get push back on a great idea just because they don't want to change. Talk about the idea with the other stakeholders beforehand and give them time to think about it. A meeting should not be the first place they're hearing about something new.

Third, learn what the hot buttons are for your leader and make sure you've covered them in your planning. Every leader has one or two things that they will focus on for an event. Here are some real-life examples that I've experienced. When I would give an overview of an event, after I had gone over all the details, one general manager would always ask what the rain plan was. Another general manager would always ask about the nearest restroom access and want to know if I had custodial staff scheduled to be on site at each location. A VP wanted to know what the "a-ha" moment was that we were going to provide for the client (whether in the contract or not - see blog on adaptability). One manager wanted to see in the plans the name and contact number of who to call for each area if something didn't happen when it was scheduled to happen. After a couple of times of presenting to each of these specific people, I learned what I needed to address when presenting.

Managing up is keeping your leader and partners aware of what's happening and ensuring that they have the information they need.

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