small-business smb-productivity

Managing Up From Your Desktop

Your relationship with your manager is key to your success. You want them to appreciate you. You want their advice and support. You want them to see your potential and help you reach it. You want to demonstrate that you are a fabulous contributor to your team and company.  

In order to be successful, you need their help. You need their insights, perspective, connections and skills to thrive. In some ways, managing up was easier when you had more face time. Managing up was always a challenge, but the challenge can be more daunting in the age of remote work. 

Dina Rabhan, Strategy and Creative Consultant, asserts:

“The basic principles of managing up stay the same- but with more intention on communication and some additional check ins- to ensure your manager is fully up to date on your activities with no surprises. Being proactive without being annoying is key.” 

Dina Rabhan

Up to date: Keep your manager updated. Pre-pandemic you might have bumped into your manager during a coffee run several times a day. Now, not only are your communications solely or primarily behind screens, but you are also faced with other life distractions.  

It’s up to you to find new ways to make sure that your boss knows how stellar you are. 

Ask your manager how they would like to be updated and what information would be helpful for them to know. Set up at least a weekly check-in and come prepared with an agenda that includes: 

  • What is on your plate 
  • Progress made since last week 
  • Items for discussion 
  • Areas where your manager can be helpful. Managers love to be asked for help. 

Talk the talk: Of course, you want to cater to the communication style and tools of your manager. Check in semi-regularly to ensure that how you are sharing updates and questions for processes or projects works for them.  

At the same time, share what works best for you! How would you like to receive feedback? Do you need a response within a certain timeframe in order to close a deal or burn the churn? Communicate that. Spill it out! 

What if you aren’t quite sure how your boss feels about something you shared in a chat? Your manager can’t read your mind, so let them know if you were unsure of their response that said “fine” for example. Given that you aren’t privy to body language or town, you need to ask. Be explicit. You might want to respond: “Are you sure this works for you? Do you have any concerns?”  

Too much IS too much! 

Leon Adato, Principal DevRel Advocate at NewRelic, can appreciate this challenge in particular.  

“I’m a natural over-communicator, and I attribute my success as a long-time teleworker to that aspect of my personality. But just as not everyone speaks the same language as I do, not everyone prefers to consume information the way I am comfortable outputting it. 

 For that reason, I share status and progress in a few ways, and continually check in with my boss as to which form is most effective.”

Leon Adato, Principal DevRel Advocate at NewRelic

Come with solutions to resolve problems: Managers appreciate it when you identify challenges or broken elements that need to be addressed. Managers are thrilled when you demonstrate that you have already given a problem thought and have developed possible solutions.  

When you come up with a solution or a few options to consider in advance, you’ve shown your boss that: 

  • You got this! 
  • You value their time. 
  • You are up for this challenge and future challenges as well. 

In a similar vein…Take initiative: You may not see a glaring issue, but there is always opportunity. Notice that you are entering a slow period in your workflow? Maybe you can use this time to sift through your CRM to generate ideas or brainstorm ideas that might be helpful to engage your customers. Cultivate your relationships with teammates or clients and come away with new ideas.  

When you come to the table, or desktop, with new ideas you make it clear that you are in it to win it. You care and you are invested in your team and company’s success.  

Keep yourself on task and target: Want to manage up? Make sure that you are managing your own time well. Set your own goals, stay organized, and bang it out. You should not be using your manager to hold you accountable. Hold yourself accountable and ask your manager about how to make it to the next rung on the ladder.  

Write that Down! Finally, you want to make sure that not only are you doing great work, but you’re also able to summarize your accomplishments when it is time for your review. In general, managing up requires regular attention daily. However, there are critical moments when you’ll need to lay out your accomplishments in order to get that project, role, raise or promotion. 

Don’t get stressed right before your formal 6-month or annual review trying to remember what you’ve done.  As you receive positive feedback, testimonials from colleagues or clients and as you produce outcomes, document them.  

Don’t scour last-minute for evidence of your value a week before the board meeting or formal review. Instead, have that evidence filed away and dive into it the week before. Pick out examples of your performance that you are proud of and quantify your rate of success.  

Rabhan suggests supplementing your weekly “sacred” check in with email updates. “Consider sending a beginning of the week (here’s what I’m focusing on), and end of the week wrap up email (here’s what I did).” 

Adato adds, “By communicating in multiple ways, but especially by ensuring that at least one of those methods is trackable (the weekly email), my boss has a running list of what I’ve done and what I’m planning to do. They have the opportunity to know (and ask) why I’m working on x (i.e.: “Why is this on your list?”), and why I’m not working on z (i.e.: “Why isn’t z listed here?”) 
This circumvents uncomfortable conversations about “not working on the right things” and “had I known, I would have told you to stop.” 

In short, managing up requires consistency, visibility and transparency. While you may have been able to rely on body language or watercooler conversations in the past, you’ve got to step up your game now. Invest in yourself and your relationship in order to be heard and effective.  

Lastly, take note of your experiences. One day soon, you’ll be on the other side of the screen.