Managing Up – Professional Growth Systems

Managing Up

The following is from consultant Jen Jarvis.

When I was managing a local healthcare non-profit in Anchorage, I had some real struggles with my supervisor who was located in Idaho. I was fortunate to have a mentor who coached me through my new role as I both managed others and was being managed. I asked him what I could do about the supervisor situation. “I can’t get anything done”, I complained.  “You need to manage up”, he said. I was too busy managing down to think about managing up.  What did he even mean?

He explained. Managing up is for your benefit, to get for you what you need to do your job. There are 4 components to managing up, and when you have all 4 in place, you enable your supervisor to not only cease being a stumbling block, but she may actually become your champion. The 4 components to manage up flow from one right into the next. To manage up well, explain to your supervisor: 1) what you need, 2) when you need it, 3) why you need it, and 4) how having it will change performance.

Component 1: What you need – Managing up is not simply saying “this is what I want”, it means doing the research to clearly identify what you need.  Collect the data that clearly demonstrates the problem and research the appropriate solution. Throwing out a generic “I need more time” or “I need more money” or “I need more staff” is not it. The first component of managing up, what you need, should be clearly defined based on your thorough analysis.

What, When, Why and How?Component 2: When you need it – My mentor asked,  “When you send a request, do you ask for a date you need the supervisor’s response or do you say ‘get me an answer as soon as you can’?”  I was the latter. He explained, “How do you know what her definition of ‘as soon as you can’ is?  Did you establish a time?”  He explained that the two definitions of ‘as soon as you can’ – the one in my head and the one in my supervisor’s – may not match in the slightest.  Managing up means that when I am asking for what I need from my supervisor, I need to be specific about when I need it.

Component 3: Why I need it – Next, when managing up I need to be specific about why I need what I am asking for. The data I gathered in researching and defining what I need becomes the data that clearly defines the why I need it. My mentor explained that data should be provided in a manner that allows the supervisor to support the request to those above, not presented as an argument. The “why” explains the situation, the problem, i.e., it is a clear demonstration of why what you are requesting and when you need it is a viable, logical need.

Component 4: How it will make a difference – This component dovetails on your “why”. In the “why” you clearly defined the problem. In Component 4 you define how your group, team, office will be different when the “what” is in place. Explaining how you will be different provides the needed fodder for your supervisor to champion your people, your office, your team.  How will the solution you are asking for change your current performance?  How will you be different and better? Define that for your supervisor and you will likely find a supervisor willing to be champion for you and your team. She becomes invested in what you are doing.

I learned quite a bit in my tenure at the non-profit, not the least of which was that managing up is as essential as managing those I supervise.  When I did it well, I was able to obtain the resources, tools and help I needed to move our branch to one of the top performers in the nation.