Making a point of getting positively noticed by senior management, especially your immediate boss, is a career-enhancing move. Being recognized as being good at the job is the best way to be noticed. Effective communicators find ways for their strengths, abilities and willingness to make the extra effort to be seen by those who count. In this way, managing up will help your career.
7 tips on how to manage up
- You should seek your boss’s opinion. Present proposals so your boss can contribute to the end result and can take some ownership of the work – as long as they don’t try to take all the credit! Adopt the boss’s practicable suggestions. If these aren’t practicable, walk your boss through the implications by asking them a series of questions until they realize for themselves that their approach isn’t practicable.
- Become a problem-solver by sorting out problems before they reach the boss. However, if a problem becomes more serious, ensure your boss hears about it first from you.
- Tackle conflict with your boss constructively. Some differences of opinion will inevitably occur over time. Disagree with your boss if it is important, but avoid challenging them in front of others. Your boss will be unforgiving if they lose face in front of others.
- Observe the chain of command. Even if your boss is wrong and won’t change their decision, it is disastrous to appeal over their head because the boss will never forgive such treachery.
- One small but practical tip is to always acknowledge the boss’s email messages. Don’t just read messages; respond to them, even with “OK” or “Thanks”, so the boss doesn’t get the impression they are sending information into a black, bottomless hole run by a gormless subordinate.
- Also, organize information for which you are responsible so it can be readily found when your boss asks for it. It is wise to keep everything received from the boss – and know where to retrieve it – and BACK IT UP! One day this housekeeping act will save your boss from losing valuable information and will make you look positively brilliant.
- Ensure you confirm your boss’s verbal decisions, especially important decisions, by promptly emailing receipt of the instructions. This ensures that you take full responsibility for the communication with no misunderstandings arising and becoming a source of difficulty with your boss. The Managing Director where I worked at one stage was rather stressed and literally tended to forget from one day to the next what his decisions had been. It caused a lot of problems for executives, including me, until we began to confirm by email the decisions made in meetings with the chief.
Further ways to become more influential at work
You can read more ways to manage up and become more influential at work in my article, “Become more influential in your corporate PR role.”
Skip level meetings
A skip level meeting is when a CEO or the senior executive responsible for your business unit meets with employees who are more than one step down the chain of command. [Grammatically, I think it would make more sense to call them “skip-level meetings” with a hyphen, and so I will do that.]
Benefits of skip-level meetings
- The senior manager can give employees a stronger understanding of the organizational vision and priorities
- Employee innovation ideas can put to the more-influential senior boss, with better chances of follow-up if the immediate boss is slow to act on such suggestions.
- When employees feel their individual voice is heard at a higher level, they are likely to feel more engagement in their work.
Things to discuss in the meetings
These meetings can be as simple as asking employees how they like working for the organization. Discussion may cover things like:
- Changes, or improvements they believe might help them in their everyday work environment.
- Ideas for possible new products / initiatives
- General sentiment towards the employer, goals for themselves and their fellow team members
- The organizational vision and priorities, which lower level employees sometimes miss out on.
Skip-level meetings allow higher-level employees to talk with lower-level employees in a safe and productive environment. These meetings build a bridge across a higher dimension from the Big Boss to the Immediate Boss to the Worker, and are intended to create a comfortable working environment where everyone feels heard. Essentially, these meetings give senior managers insight into things they would miss if they only tend to interact at the management or C-level. And vice versa for frontline workers, who have few opportunities for direct, meaningful discussions with their seniors – and so these meetings give employees the opportunity to gain insights into the higher levels of the organization.
Senior managers should always keep the employee’s manager or supervisor (boss) in the loop about the outcomes of skip-level meetings. If not, the boss is likely get paranoid about these discussions. Also, it is likely that employees will be reluctant to open up for the same reasons.
Useful questions for senior managers to ask in skip-level meetings
Here is a list of suggested questions for senior managers to ask in these meetings:
- How do you feel about work lately?
- What have you accomplished lately that you’re most proud of? What about since you’ve been with the company?
- How do you measure success in your role?
- What’s blocking you from being more successful than you already are?
- What tool would be most helpful for you in your current role?
- What would you do differently if you were in the role of your team lead? Why?
- What are your professional goals during the next year here? The next 3 years?
- What do you think the current goals of the company are?
- How do you feel your role contributes to those goals?
- What ideas do you have for innovation in your team? In the company?