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5 Keys to Managing Up Successfully in an Evolving Work Environment

Leslie Stevens-Huffman, Dice Insights

November 19, 2021

Effectively “managing up” isn’t just important for your career—it can also ensure your team gets all the resources and support it needs to make projects a success. 

However, managing up can prove difficult if you’re working remotely. If you spend all or part of your week only communicating with your manager via phone and video, you might be wondering how you can more effectively develop the relationship, ensure your successes are noted, and your opinions considered. 

Here are five ways to establish a good working relationship with your boss in today’s hybrid/remote work environment.

Understand the Purpose and Intent of Managing Up

To become proficient at managing up, you must first understand what it is—and what it is not. 

Managing up is not politicking, controlling your boss or usurping their authority. It’s about proactively laying the foundation for how you and your boss are going to work together to achieve mutual success, explained Angie Chang, CEO and founder of Girl Geek X. 

In short, it comes down to alignment. Success comes from aligning your priorities and efforts with your manager’s expectations and objectives, and understanding how your contributions impact the company’s top and bottom lines. 

For instance, as a director of engineering, Sukrutha Bhadouria has upped her communication frequency with her manager while working remotely. She also asks “what’s top of mind today” to make sure she is focusing on the right things. 

Engaging in regular, strategic conversations for the express purpose of sharing the organization’s objectives and meeting priorities is the best way to get on the same page with a manager.

Take the Initiative 

One reason people feel hesitant about managing up is because they expect their manager to initiate discussions around expectations. 

But the reality is that not every boss is good at communicating or managing remotely, noted Mary Abbajay, president of Careerstone Group, LLC and author of “Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss.”  

Watch out for ghost managers who don’t respond to emails and calls in a timely manner, or managers who have morphed into micromanagers to keep their finger on the pulse of remote employees, Abbajay warned. Even if it’s unintentional, a bad boss can jeopardize your career growth.

If your boss is struggling (or you end up with a new boss every six months), you may need to redouble your efforts to manage up effectively in a remote and ever-changing environment. But how? Try asking some of these questions to get the conversation started, and to identify the strategic goals that are critical to your success:

  • What are your top and lowest priorities?
  • How often do you like to be updated and what’s the best format?
  • What do you need from me to make a hybrid work model (or remote work model) successful?
  • How can I be of the most service to you?
  • What’s the best way to get your input or support on something?

Once you establish a two-way dialogue, check in regularly to see if your efforts are sufficient and to develop a cadence.

Tailor Your Approach

To communicate in a way that works for your boss and fits your current work model, you may need to study their actions and determine their preferred style. “For instance, is he really an office craver who’s struggling to manage remotely?” Abbajay asked. 

If they seem more comfortable communicating in person than via email or Slack, you may need to come into the office more often. In other words, be flexible.

Does your boss forget what you’re doing if you don’t check in every day? If that’s the case, make sure you communicate daily, even if it’s just sending an email. Try reviewing various daily, weekly and monthly project status report samples to find a format, level of detail and frequency that works for both of you.

The key to managing up is getting a sense for your boss’s work style, concerns and priorities, and adjusting your own communication approach, style and method to match your boss’s preferences and reduce friction. 

“The reality is that you both have to make adjustments to be in tune with each other,” Bhadouria noted.

Share Your Successes, Needs and Goals

Managing up isn’t a one-way street. However, achieving reciprocity requires an ongoing, open and honest dialogue about your goals, accomplishments, and what you need to succeed. And yes, sometimes it may mean lobbying for resources and ideas that benefit you and your team. How do you work those into the conversation?

Bhadouria tells her manager what she needs daily, and she also avoids “surprises” by describing the challenges her team might encounter during a project and how she intends to solve them. 

Keeping (and sharing) a brag document is another great way to help your manager keep track of all the great work you’ve done. Making a new or current manager aware of your contributions over virtual coffee encourages them to fight for the resources and rewards that you deserve and establishes a path for the future. 

Sharing Feedback and Opinions

How do you express your opinion or recommend changes to project schedules, methods and tools without hurting your relationship with your manager? It comes down to framing and good interpersonal skills.

“Ask your manager if he is open to feedback,” Chang advised. “If he is, always deliver your suggestions through the context of what’s best for the team.” Framing your conversations in terms of what’s ideal for the project can boost your chances of success. 

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