What one change can you make in 2019 to ensure you have a more productive and successful year at work? There are lots of choices: avoiding procrastination, setting clear goals, practicing mindfulness, and so on. All of those approaches are excellent investments, but there is one strategy that I have found through years of coaching top teams and leaders that beats them all: Managing up. 

Quite simply, managing up is the art of identifying your boss’ management and communicating preferences and adapting your style to move closer to theirs. In doing so, you not only deliver the information your boss needs in a format that he or she prefers, but you also greatly enhance the probability that you will get what you need and want from your manager. 

This set of skills is not to be confused with the less effective and very annoying approach of “sucking up.” Managing up is not a request for false flattery. It is all about delivering the information your boss needs in the way he or she needs it with the final goal of getting what both you and they need. Performed well, it is a win-win for both the boss and the employee. 

The great minds at Harvard Business Review (link: https://hbr.org/2005/01/managing-your-boss) have an in-depth piece that dives deep into Managing Up. It is well worth 45 minutes of your time. 

However, if you are not ready to dive into the deep end with the HBR article, here is the gist of the piece: Managing Up pays off at all levels within an organization and it starts by simply paying attention to yourself and your boss.

Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may be able to ask him or her the questions below directly. If you have a less than ideal relationship with your superior, then start by simply observing your boss and making educated guesses to the following questions. (You can also ask your peers what they perceive about your shared boss.)

The key Managing Up questions for your boss include:

  1. How would you describe your leadership and management styles?
  2. What do you value in someone that reports to you? How would you describe an “all-star” player on your team? 
  3. How would you prefer that I communicate with you (in person, email, phone)? In what cases do you prefer one over the other? 
  4. What level of detail do you typically like in a standard project update? 
  5. Is there someone that you really enjoy working with from a communication standpoint? What do you like about how they work with you? 
  6. How do you want me to communicate with you when I need your help to remove a barrier or solve a problem?
  7. How do you prefer that I communicate with you when there has been an error or there is a significant problem that needs your attention? 

If you have a new boss or if you do not have a strong relationship with your boss, managing up can help you strengthen your relationship because you are adapting to their style – something that typically makes a manager’s life easier. 

Your goal is to adapt your communication style to a style that more closely mirrors the style your boss prefers. This may mean that you have to provide more or less detail than you typically prefer, or you may have to use a communication method like a memo, the phone or web-meetings over text or email. 

How does this work in the real world? I was recently coaching a COO that was struggling with several of her direct reports. She strongly preferred face-to-face communication over emails and texts. Her direct reports had a strong bias toward email and text, and often took days to listen to her voicemails. After a team-wide managing up seminar, the team was able to realize that adapting their style not only helped their manager get what she needed in the way she needed, it actually made their life easier. Over time, the COO reported that she was trusting her team more and asking fewer clarifying questions or making repeated requests for information. 

As you prepare your list of resolutions, be sure to resolve to make Managing Up your super power for 2019!