You’ve probably heard the term, ‘manage up.’ If you haven’t, here’s the definition. The Cambridge Dictionary explains that managing up is “to work in a way that makes your manger able to do their work effectively.”
Managing up: the definition
From an organizational behavior, I/O psychology perspective we weren’t satisfied with that definition and sought more answers. WSJ indicates that the process of managing up entails, “making your supervisor’s job easier.” Some of the ways suggested would be to:
- modify your behavior at work to match the management style of your boss,
- take proactive steps to meet with your supervisor regularly to ensure than they way in which you work and report upon your work progress is in agreement with their expectations.
Traditional steps for managing up in an in-office environment
Still not totally satisfied, we weren’t either. So we listened to a Women at Work podcast uploaded at Harvard Business Review. Two successful leaders were interviewed where they offered advice from their own experiences on the tangible ways one might manage up. Here’s a few highlights:
- strive each day to make your boss look good, ensure that you look good (project completion, process quality), make your team look good (complete assigned tasks timely), and make the company look good (speak positively of your employer no matter where you are physically and virtually),
- take the attitude that you are ‘co-partnering’ with your boss because neither of you will be successful (get promoted) without the other,
- fill comfortable enough to follow your boss’s lead and confident enough to set boundaries and offer helpful suggestions,
- temper your approach to challenges to incorporate within your communication what may be going on in your boss’s personal and professional life with your own needs,
- determine realistically how best to receive support, mentorship and guidance. It may not come from or be offered by your immediate supervisor. If this is the case, acknowledge it and informally search for others within or outside the organization
- be leery of voicing too many disagreements too often and giving negative feedback (until after you are sure you have established a strong working relationship) because some supervisors are insecure.
Managing up, sideways and do improves business profitability
McKinsey goes several steps further in offering advice to employees. If we all aspire to become business managers, team leaders, and such we’ve got to manage upwards, sideways and down! The premier management consultants argue that complex organizations (not just individual employees) benefit when employees (regardless of hierarchical level) “engage with their peers across functional and business-unit boundaries” and borders. Looking at the approximate 68,000 evaluative questionnaires returned to McKinsey from 71 countries, here’s what we found particularly interesting:
- managing vertically and horizontally (work colleagues) was 50% more impactful for business success than
- managing subordinates for business success (45% vs. 30%), and
- managing up and sideways (work peers) was doubly effective (twice as important, 47% vs 19%) for career success.
Why? The theory holds that interactive exchanges among employees foster innovation and drive positive change. Let’s talk about this for a moment. Did you know, according to Stanford University Graduate School of Business, innovation is one of the principal drivers of economic growth? Researchers state specifically, as profits increase, potential employees and top talent are more inclined to want to work for a growing company and financiers and investors are more likely to invest in companies who produce the highest profits.
But let’s not digress. Is it possible to manage up as a remote worker while you work from home employed in a remote job? Yes. There is research to suggest that supervisors and managers may experience difficulties managing a remote team.
Challenges of remote work and managing up
Before we attempt to design effective strategies for managing up in a remote working environment, we need to take a quick look at the challenges (from a leader’s perspective) when supervising a remote team.
Researchers at the University of Calgary, AB, Canada conducted semi-structured interviews Massey University, New Zealand of remote team managers and remote staff. Specifically concerning the opinions of managers of remote staff, here were the relevant findings:
- 80% identified the challenge of “building and maintaining” relationships with remote employees difficult, similarly,
- 60% were concerned about on-boarding new remote employees and succession planning,
- 57% cited technology and equipment as critical challenges,
- 49% reported connectivity issues as particularly challenging.
So, how is it possible from the viewpoint of a remote employee to manage up? What have we learned from the survey data above?
How to manage up in a remote work environment
Here are a few tips for managing up in a remote work environment while working on a remote job.
- communicate with your boss often regardless of medium and platform
- get a solid read on written (formal) and informal (style, reporting preferences) expectations
- identify your supervisor’s pain points
- keep up-to-date on the latest company quarterly and annual reports, and press releases
- become knowledgeable about how your product, department or division adds to corporate revenue or reduces corporate expenditures
- ensure that you refrain from serving as a choke point (bottleneck) in any of the pain point areas
- stand ready to present viable and actionable solutions to help the team alleviate pain points
- follow the boss’s lead, but be prepared to offer positive suggestions (for which you can implement); not the provision of suggestions or feedback that would be considered actionable on his/her/their part
- consider being the first to volunteer to assist the boss with a ‘pet’ project
- strive to adopt a cheerleader attitude and refrain from arm chair quarterbacking
- refrain from gossiping, yes it does get back to the boss
- be an active listener and observer regarding the happenings in your boss’s life
- take it upon yourself to obtain training, development and mentorship regardless of the person providing it