Education Career Services

July 20, 2010

Managing Upward

Submitted by Rob Swanson, CPRW

An executive is, by definition, a knowledge-worker possessing the power to deliver results.  In this regard, communication, motivation, and various “soft” skills are required.  In other words, knowledge, in and of itself, makes NOT an executive. 

Communication is critical; we know that, many of us read books on becoming more effective communicators, and yet we focus those hard won skills downward and perhaps sideways – to those who enact our plans – but do we focus them upward?  Not just for buy-in, but for management of our upstream directors?

Managing upward…” It sounds almost subversive, doesn’t it?  We manage our direct reports not our boss.  But if you think about it, you will realize your best direct reports are those who manage you!  There is very little guesswork involved with your top employees.  They will let you know of their success (or of their failure, rest assured). 

Since most executives are responsible for “functional” duties as well as planning, attention is visited there with validation or correction.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to become consumed by the functional and forsake the intellectual side of the job; fine if you want to be a functionary, but to be a strategic partner in growing the company you must generate ideas, document them and communicate them upward.

Keep your director informed of what you’re working on.

Unlike functional work, which has standardized procedures, knowledge work is freeform.  You may – and should – have an effective way of generating ideas (charting, mapping, brainstorming, etc.) but it will be your way.

Managing upward has several components:

Being clear about what your directors expect of you.  This is your responsibility not theirs.

Being clear about what you expect from your director.  What do you expect?  If you want weekly evaluations, prefer a certain form of communication, want a director’s presence (or lack thereof) make sure it is agreed upon and understood by the boss.

Coordinate priorities.  Have a discussion about what’s important and what’s not.  Be clear, specific, and get buy in.

Establish clear forms of evaluation. Don’t wait for quarterly reviews; seek feedback in a manner that is acceptable and consistent.

Negotiate methods for directors to be effective in helping you.  Your job is to make your company great; directors don’t want to hinder that effort and, indeed, want to strengthen it.  Ideally, every action is supposed to increase productivity; management likely has a purpose for their action and if it isn’t working, help them fix it.

*   Be a solutions provider, not a problem reporter.  You were hired to make things work better.  Always bring a solution when presenting a problem.  If you don’t have a perfect solution, at least provide a) a logical analysis of the problem, b) a goal to be achieved, and c) at least a partial solution.  Take ownership of problems and work to alleviate them; don’t drop them into management’s lap like a poison snake.

Managing upward is simple communication to facilitate effectiveness.  The best employee is one who helps upper management manage him or her optimally.

Thanks Robert, your timely submissions have been missed.

DHuffman

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