Conventional business communication has always been defined from the top down. There are limitless books, seminars and online resources on top-down management you can access at any time.
However, this is not the case for managing up. Middle management continues to struggle to effectively influence executive management, which is crucial to business survival. Not only should middle managers be able to listen to the problems and challenges of their direct reports, but they should be able to influence a positive change going upward in the organization.
Upward management may be the most important skill set to hone and own, particularity in the volatility of today’s economy. Who better to “have your back” than the boss who is front of you all the time?
The following four-step approach is chock full of nuggets that are simple, but potent. These are not about sucking up or being a “yes” man or woman, rather, these are practical behaviors that require diligence, courage and transparency. You just may find that you’d like to be managed by your direct reports in similar fashion.
Step One: Choose Good Timing
Part of knowing the right timing is setting expectations with your boss up front; but if you haven’t covered this ground, or the scope of responsibility has changed for either of you, it may be time to realign. Rather than assume what seems appropriate, consider these tips when timing your connections:
Step Two: Understand How Your Boss Prefers Information
Perhaps the most common error employees make is they deliver information in the opposite manner that their boss prefers receiving it. This does little to help their connection or personal market value.
A month ago, I gained insight on this topic from my brother who is a partner at a Chicago law firm. He responded, “Some bosses want you to issue-spot, meaning quickly identify the issue you need input on and get to the point. Others want context and background around the subjects being addressed. We’re often accused of not listening, but it poses a challenge when you’re coming to us with the wrong approach.”
So, how does one “know” what the preferred communication is with his or her boss? Eliminate uncertainty by asking so you can provide the highest value on a consistent basis.
Other tips to consider:
Step Three: Align Understanding
When wondering about the perception of his performance, a colleague from New York once told me, “I really dislike the one-time annual review. I need to know how I’m doing more often so I can constantly improve.”
When I asked him what he does about it, he replied, “Every six to eight weeks, I approach my boss and ask him two questions: ‘What am I doing well?’ and ‘Where can I improve?’”
This person’s approach may be slightly more frequent than you prefer, but it’s so much better than the guessing game that comes with anxiety or fear, particularly in today’s unstable market. A different colleague inquired about the approach he should take to get into a business development position with his company. I told him, “Approach your boss and tell him you’d like to get into business development and state the value you believe you can provide.” When in doubt, ask.
Step Four: Follow-up and Live Your Word
Few things in managing up are more demoralizing than a boss who doesn’t follow up or get back to you on issues that are important to you. This is why it’s critical to capture information in writing during the meeting so they know you’re retaining exchanged data and expect execution. Also:
The road to success upward is one that can be gratifying and rewarding. In a time of uncertainty, it can be a path that is safe and secure. Consider these steps and remember you are judged on your behavior, performance and results, not on your intentions.