4 Words to Remember When Managing Upwards
Many years ago I was working with a large agency on a global pitch that involved a team of 20-plus. You know the kind—everyone working around the clock filled with energy, excitement, and of course, a bit of tension. It was a Sunday morning when we decided to pull in the entire team to work out a few kinks.
I walked into the room that day and saw a gentleman I did not recognize. As I assessed who was there and how we could kick things off, I walked up to him and said, “Hi, who are you?” He replied by simply telling me his name. I asked him to take a seat since we were about to get started, which he politely did, only to find out later that my new, pleasantly seated friend was the CEO of a large sister agency. Our CEO had asked him to join to provide additional perspective and feedback. He was a well-known, well-respected member of the overall advertising world and I suddenly wanted to kick myself for not being more prepared for him being in the room.
I remember this moment clearly for a number of reasons. First, it reminded me to always be on my toes while in the office, even if it was a Sunday at 10AM and I was basically still wearing my pajamas (however cute). Secondly, it made me stop and ask myself how I had missed that this person was joining us. I worked closely with our senior executives, but somehow I didn’t get wind that this person would be there.
I took pride in always feeling one step ahead. But ultimately, what I learned in this moment, is that I need to continually revisit my ability to manage upwards, form great relationships, build trust with senior executives, and prepare, because this could have been a total miss. Why is it important to learn how to manage upwards? According to the Harvard Business Review, “Despite our fascination with the extreme ends of the power distribution, the reality is that most employees possess a middling amount of power and must repeatedly alternate between interacting with higher and lower power colleagues.” Being able to manage upwards is just as important as being able to manage down.
In an effort to effectively manage upwards, there’s an approach I like to use called ‘UPPA.’ This managing upwards framework has helped me remember how to manage up point-by-point, and it can certainly help you too.
Sayge's 4 Word for Managing Upwards
- When managing upwards, remember that your boss, manager, or anyone you might work with across the organization has developed a specific style for how they work.
- You don’t have to do it their way necessarily, but you do need to understand their way so you can effectively communicate and manage to them.
- Take time to observe how they think, feel, and act. See what works or doesn’t work for them.
- Ask if how you work together is effective or not. And look for feedback cues that can help you better understand their style.
- Now that you understand them, take time to personalize your approach with the work that you do.
- Truly tailor how you draft emails, create outlines, and communicate.
- You can even say something like, “I noticed you like to get all the information in one email so I’ve consolidated all the documents here.” This lets them know you’re paying attention to what works for them, not against them.
- Always come ready with the materials you feel are necessary to jump into the work and walk out of meetings with clear actions.
- Make suggestions on what to have ready and confirm it ahead of time.
- Provide reminders to keep both your manager and the team on schedule.
- Think one or two steps ahead by asking yourself what your manager needs to accomplish today or this week, or what might be on his/her mind one month from now.
- Provide updates on progress before they’re requested.
- When you think about what’s around the corner, bring potential solutions (instead of problems) to the table.
Before you begin, you should know that there are a few rules about what managing up is not. More specifically, it should not be used to kiss up or manipulate a situation, make your manager look bad, or compete with them, and it should not be used to lie or stretch the truth.
“The secret is to “manage up” without your boss ever realizing you are doing it. So rather than thinking of your boss as your boss, think of them as a client—one you have to figure out how to work with if you want to get ahead, even if you’d rather not.” Margie Warrell, Forbes
And finally, remember that life at the top isn’t always as amazing as we think. Senior leaders have loads of responsibility and still manage a range of areas that give them stress. Elizabeth Ryan of Bloomberg said, “Because we’re so attuned to our own place on the internal stock index at work, you can easily forget that your manager is an employee just like you are. He or she gets performance reviews and bonus evaluations, too. Bosses must worry about their place in the company stock index, just as you do.”
Along with constantly being ambushed by surprises, everyone reports to someone—meaning, your boss has a boss, too. Support them. When they succeed, you succeed, and others succeed. The result? The organization succeeds. In other words, everyone wins.
Luckily, my Sunday meeting story ended well. Despite my brash introduction and feeling that I wasn't as prepared as I should be, the sister agency CEO went out of his way to tell me it was a great meeting and thanked me for our hard work. He was also thrilled to know footie pajamas were back in style, because I rocked them. (I kid, I kid.) But this meeting truly provided me with an opportunity to learn to manage up better and build stronger teams by engaging those below and supporting those above. “UPPA!”
We’re rooting for you!