Nov 03 2008

Managing Up, Down, and Across

Published by kim at 6:41 am under management, skills

Last week I had an opportunity to chat with a young colleague who is exceptionally bright, but inexperienced in workplace dynamics. He asked for advice about supervising people, which he had recently been asked to do, in a way that met the company’s expectations for their work.

Like so many of our young “best and brightest,” he has been put into a role that requires him to supervise others, work at a high level of success with colleagues, and meet executives’ expectations –- all with little or no training in how organizations work.

My advice to him? Coach down, collaborate across, manage up.

Coach down. Supervising others is about helping them deliver their best stuff to the organization, whether a library, a nonprofit, or a company. You need to hold people accountable for doing their work successfully, but that’s a lot easier to do consistently when you understand and support their motivations, goals, and concerns.

An example of this type of coaching is how you approach annual reviews. Instead of simply evaluating each of your direct reports and letting them know where and how they have or haven’t met expectations, consider also asking them to prepare their own assessment of their job, their career goals, and the ways they would like to grow in their jobs. Are there other projects they’d like to take on, teams they’d like to volunteer for, additional skills they’d like to develop?

Obviously you may not be able to accommodate all of their goals, but making the effort to create an environment where people can learn and grow will keep them much more engaged than if you maintain an environment where employees are simply told what to do. Although most of us, when first thrust into a supervisory or management role, feel most comfortable micromanaging, this approach is pretty much guaranteed to bring out the worst in the people reporting to us. Instead, consider working with your people to help them succeed in their jobs.

Collaborate across. An awful lot of organizational culture is about competition –- between departments, managers/executives, and budget priorities. You can see it in meetings where people vie for attention and credit rather than supporting anyone else’s ideas or solutions. But life -– and work -– is not a zero sum game, where your win is my loss.

How much better instead to build bridges to others, to find ways to support good ideas whether yours or your colleagues’. You can demonstrate support in many ways, but one of the most basic is simply publicly acknowledging someone’s contribution. This is as simple as saying something like “I think Bill’s idea is a good starting point for us.” Making the effort to value others’ participation is not only the smart thing to do personally, it’s also how teams become creative and innovative, instead of being mired in infighting and disarray.

It’s also how you begin building your impact within (and eventually, outside of) your organization. When you’ve been willing to acknowledge and support others’ good ideas, it’s much likelier that they’ll be willing to do the same for you. And when your colleagues move on to other jobs, they will take with them the knowledge that you’re a great team player, and someone with whom they can collaborate – rather than compete.

Manage up. “Managing up” means different things to different people (for one take, see “What it Means to ‘Manage Up,’” a recent post by columnist Elizabeth Garone to the Wall Street Journal’s Career Journal.) But from my perspective, it means doing those things that enable your boss to have confidence in your performance.

That means finding out what level of communication your boss needs from you, what issues/concerns are important to him or her, and, quite frankly, how you can help your boss succeed in his or her job.

Quoting from Ms. Garone’s post:

When someone tells you that you need to “manage up,” what he or she is really saying is that you need to stretch yourself. You need to go above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work…

She also quotes executive coach Mariette Edwards, who says:

… there are numerous strategies her clients often overlook when it comes to managing up. For example, getting to know one’s manager – and his or her style. “If you and your manager seem to be speaking two different languages, then the problem may be that you are not leaning into that person’s style,” says Ms. Edwards. “An analytical [type boss] will take exception to someone who presents an idea without data to support it. A people person will be offended in the absence of regular communication.” Knowing your manager’s style — and adjusting your own to meet it — will help you manage up, she says.

Other pointers? Pay attention; jump in when needed; maintain a good attitude no matter what; do quality work; keep your boss informed; build relationships, trust and an information network; stay out of politics; learn the art of selling and negotiation as well as the company’s rules; and be a good follower when the situation dictates it.

Coach down, collaborate across, manage up. It builds trust, support, and long-term career growth –- not to mention a much more effective organizational team effort.

Further reading:

Badowski, Rosanne and Roger Gittines. Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You. Doubleday Business, 2004. 240p. ISBN 0385507739.

Goleman, Daniel. Working with Emotional Intelligence. Bantam, 2000. 400p. ISBN 0553378589.

Gordon, Rachel Singer. The Accidental Library Manager. Information Today, inc., 2004. 362p. ISBN 1573872105.

One Response to “Managing Up, Down, and Across”

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