By Gina F. Rubel, Esq.
In the age of work and message overload, executives and leaders can find themselves overextended and over-scheduled, drowning in a sea of meetings, emails, social media messages, texts, voicemails and snail mail, all which require attention. Tasks often get pushed to the back burner, buried or forgotten. When your boss’ workload or lack of responsiveness starts to affect the delivery of your work product, it is time for you to manage up.
I first heard this phrase when I joined a marketing agency as their PR director in the late 1990s. The president of the company advised me to learn how to “manage up.” I’ve never forgotten his counsel.
Managing up refers to working with your manager and others on whom you rely and to whom you report, to enhance the relationship and improve workflow and productivity. As a valued member of your company’s team, you must proactively address needs, provide friendly reminders, and offer suggestions when necessary. If you find that you cannot move forward with a project because it needs your report’s feedback and items are piling up, empower yourself to manage up. Here’s how:
- Understand work habits and preferences. Everyone has a way they prefer to work. Find out the best time and way your colleagues like to be approached. What are their habits? Do they prefer to review documents electronically or printed and put in a pile on their desk? Do they want to receive documents as email attachments or posted in your collaborative Cloud? Once you know this, you can be more effective in eliciting feedback. A great book on this topic is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s worth reading.
- Consider the timing of your request. When deadlines loom for big projects or your direct report is traveling for business and in meetings day-after-day, it’s probably not a good idea to deliver a list of processes that you would like to improve. Understand and communicate priority – and if it’s not urgent and can wait, know which things are better presented when you have scheduled a time to meet. Know how to maintain boundaries, too. Check out Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud to learn more.
- Talk time. I’d be remiss if I took credit for the phrase “talk time.” In fact, it is Neen James, a productivity expert, who taught me the phrase nearly 15 years ago. At the time, I would say to people something like, “Please provide me with your feedback,” or “Please provide me with your feedback by end-of-day on Monday.” Neither of these requests are good enough. When managing up, it is important to be clear about what you need and when you need it. You could say, “Please review the attached contract and provide me with your feedback by noon on Tuesday, February 20. I will have it finalized and sent to the client by 10:00 am on Wednesday, February 21 when it is due.” For more tips on time management, check out Neen’s book, Folding Time.
- Lighten the load. Offer to take on some of your direct report’s tasks that you know you can accomplish accurately and on time. This will keep the work flowing and can provide you with more experience in achieving a skill you might not have had the opportunity to previously learn.
- Anticipate needs. If you’ve delivered a report to your boss for review and you know it is due to the client by a certain date, make a note to follow up with your boss well before the deadline. Again, talk time and then manage needs and expectations. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need from you in order to get the report back to the client by the deadline.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Remain tactful and friendly when communicating with a busy boss. Sometimes a gentle reminder to look over a proposal or offering to call a client on their behalf is all your boss needs to get to what you’ve been waiting for.
- Communicate regularly. Open dialogue is vital to understanding expectations in order to work more efficiently. Keep your boss apprised of project status before she asks. This will save her the time of wondering and reaching out to you. If possible, schedule a daily five-minute check-in call or meeting in the morning just to touch base and ask questions. If your company has a tool like Slack or Teams, post brief status updates to keep your boss and the rest of the team in the loop. It makes life easier and your day much more productive. Be sure to keep your boss in the loop on the positive and negative things happenings on work projects. No one enjoys the element of surprise on the job.
- Be proactive. Managing up also refers to proactively approaching your employer with ideas on ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness, overall. Your ideas may not all be utilized but they will be appreciated. For instance, a few years ago, a member of the Furia Rubel marketing and public relations team recommended that we move away from AOL IM and onto Slack for internal messages. Using Slack cut down on our internal email messages by 30 percent, created a space where we could collaborate in channels, and allows us more flexibility to collaborate in real time with our clients and strategic partners. It was a great idea and has been a time saver.
It is important to remember that you were hired because your boss saw you as an asset who could add value to the team. When you manage up effectively, you will benefit because your relationship with your boss affects your ability to do your job. Nine times out of ten, your boss will appreciate it. As someone who has been managing a team of professionals for 17 years, I know that I appreciate when members of our team manage up – and they’re quite good at it too.
Side note: While this article was written with inner-office relationships in mind, all of these tips apply to working with members of your team and with your clients. It’s important that you take the lead on your work, no matter who you report to. Speak up. Show up. Manage up.
Gina Rubel is the professional that corporate and law firm leaders call upon for high-stakes public relations, media training, crisis planning, and incident-response support, including high profile litigation media relations. An attorney and public relations expert, Gina leads Furia Rubel Communications, Inc., an agency supporting business with their growth through integrated marketing, PR, reputation management, and content marketing. Contact her at email@example.com or @GinaRubel.