Apr 072016

Managing Up

(The following post was written by one of Return Path’s long-time senior managers, Chris Borgia, who runs one of our data science teams and has run other support organizations in the past, both at Return Path and at AOL.  I don’t usually run guest posts, but I loved the topic with Chris suggested it, and it’s a topic that I’d only have a limited perspective on!)

Managing Up in a Growing, Global Workplace

For many years, I thought “managing up” was a cheap way of getting ahead. I thought someone who managed up was skilled at deceiving their boss into thinking they were more accomplished than they really were.

I have since learned that managing up, or managing your boss, is not devious, but is actually a valuable discipline. When you learn to manage up successfully, you empower your boss to better represent your interests to influencers in the organization.

If you are a manager, you should realize that in addition to managing your boss, you can help your employees effectively manage you. When our employees help us to be successful, we are further enabled to invest in their success. This symbiosis is seen in any relationship – the more you help the other person, the more they will be able to – and want to – help you. If you are a manager, it’s important to realize that your employees should be managing up, and you can encourage them to do so by being vulnerable, admitting ignorance, and asking for support.

There are many books and articles on managing up or managing one’s boss. The essentials are fairly consistent:

  • Understand your boss’s goals, priorities, and needs
  • Know your boss’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Set mutual expectations to build trust
  • Communicate and keep your boss informed

You’ll need to be intentional about the essentials no matter where you work, but there are additional challenges of managing up in a growing, global workplace like Return Path. In a growing company, you’re likely to work for a boss who is new to their role, the company or the industry. In a global company, you may report to a boss who works in another office, or even in another country. The fundamental aspects of managing up are the same, but these situations can require a tailored approach.

When your boss is new to their role, the company, or the industry

In a growing company, you’re likely to report to someone who is new to their role in the company, new to the company itself, or even new to the industry. You can be invaluable to your boss in closing the knowledge gap and enabling them to make the best decisions for you and your team.

  • Process Help your boss understand how the department operates. How are goals and priorities determined? How do people communicate? What does the team expect from the boss?
  • People If your boss doesn’t know the people, they may lack the appropriate empathy in a given situation. Help them understand your team’s needs and how their decisions impact the people.
  • Decision Making Your boss will likely need additional data to help them make decisions. Providing your boss with this data up front, saving them from admitting ignorance, will go a long way to developing a strong relationship.
  • Context Sometimes your boss won’t know what they don’t know, so providing your boss the context around issues, decisions, and goals will enable them to make the best decisions for your team.

When your boss works in another office or country

In a global workplace, it’s likely that at some point you will have a boss who works in another office or even in another country. Having a remote boss offers many opportunities for managing up.

  • Visibility Your boss doesn’t see you – or possibly others on the team – every day, so you might want to communicate more about the day-to-day operations of the team. At times, it will feel like you are sharing minutia, but it’s likely your boss will find this valuable in developing a complete understanding of what is going on.
  • Insight If you work in a core office, you have a tremendous opportunity to be your boss’s eyes and ears.  What are you seeing or hearing locally that might change your boss’s plans or perspective? What are people worried about? Are there any rumors your boss should be aware of?
  • Culture If your boss is in a different country, you will need to develop a relationship that considers any cultural differences. Cultural differences are seen in office attire, working hours, email habits, vacation schedules, and more. Bosses in some cultures may expect more deference, while in others they may expect more direct honesty. Understanding your boss’s culture, and helping her understand yours, will develop mutual respect and expectations to make each other successful.

Your relationship with your boss is a symbiotic one. Your boss can’t be successful unless you are, so they are your champion.  Learning to effectively manage up, especially in a growing, global workplace, is not nefarious business. Your boss will represent and support you to the best of their abilities. The more you enable your boss, the better they can support you, and everybody wins.