If being a successful manager is about guiding a team to achieve results, you can only succeed if you know what those results should be, how to set them, and who can help you get them. Crucial to all these is likely to be your boss (and other senior stakeholders).
This term is used in a few different ways - for our purposes we will define it as:
‘Developing relationships and collaborating with more senior figures to help each other achieve your goals’
Whilst this may include a range of people at your company, in practice the majority of managing up is done with your boss so this will be our focus.
Unless you are both a first-time manager and the CEO (unlikely but not impossible), your success will depend on the actions and knowledge of more senior staff within your company with more power and influence than you.
You will find it much harder to be a great manager to your team without establishing good working relationships with these individuals.
These relationships are crucial for five purposes:
That’s not to say building these relationships is easy.
We all have colleagues we really click with, others we can work with, and some we struggle with. It takes time and you’ll have to adapt your approach to different folks.
We’ll go through each of these purposes in turn and examine some practical tips for doing this well.
Understanding your boss’s priorities and how they relate to your company’s goals and your team’s work is essential.
Not only does it make it clear what work your team should be focussing on, but it’s the foundation for a better relationship with your boss. If you understand their goals and challenges, you’ll better anticipate their needs, and create a more effective partnership where you’re both pulling in the same direction.
In contrast, you’ll know when this isn’t happening. You’ll feel unsure about the direction you should be heading in, and how you should task your team.
“Being “managed up” as an exec feels like my team has my back and they’re clearing obstacles for us, or zooming in on challenges that will impact us, and solving them. When my directs have my back, they directly have the back of the entire org, and we work better together.” Juan Pablo Buritica, Former Head of Engineering, Stripe
Consider whether you know the answers to the following questions.
If you don’t, we're going to think about ways you can check in with your boss (or relevant stakeholder) to get more clarity.
‘Much of my day is spent acquiring information. And as you can also see, I use many ways to get it’ Andy Grove, High Output Management
Some companies have very open communication cultures where a lot of information is shared publicly and documented. In others, information is more siloed, and you’ll need to be proactive in finding out what you need to know to do your job.
If your workplace is more of the latter, more senior figures are likely to have access to information and context which you don’t, but which would be helpful to you.
If this hasn’t been shared already, it could be because they’re keeping it from you. But more likely they’re just very busy and/or didn’t realise how helpful it would be for you. You’ll need to let them know what you need.
Before your next 1:1 with your boss, consider whether there’s any information or perspective they have which would be useful to you. Or you could ask:
Just as your boss has information which could help you do your job, it’s likely that you have information which would help them if you shared it - both to do their job, and also to step in and help you at the right time.
If you’ve understood their priorities correctly, you might be able to figure some of these out. But if not, just ask. Some of these things might include:
Be aware that most people prefer to receive updates in a certain way. For example, some prefer it in person, others in writing. Some like lots of detail, others only want to hear when something is on fire. For your communication to be most effective, you’ll need to work out what’s most helpful for your audience (this is discussed in greater detail in Communication).
‘The most effective people I know are skilled at the art of reframing or translating something into topics that the other person cares about.’ Lara Hogan
There will be times when you’ll want to use the power and influence of more senior figures to help you with something. This isn’t you abdicating responsibility. This is you recognising that you are unable to be effective at a key task without others’ influence.
Sometimes, it may be as simple as asking them and them saying yes. But other times you’ll have to persuade and make the case for them to do something on your behalf.
Chances are that if you do good work, your boss will mention it to other people.
What your boss thinks about you will likely scale far beyond the relationship between the two of you.
It’s not the primary reason for getting managing-up right, but if you do it well, your boss should come to see you as a valuable, effective partner in growing your company. This can only serve you well in building your reputation.