Managing up: How to get it right

managing up




Love them or hate them, everyone has to have a working relationship with their boss. It’s easy to tacitly assume that your boss is the finished article. After all, they must have been promoted for a reason. But nobody’s perfect. Your boss is constantly trying to improve like you.


This strive for improvement can become a two way street. Your boss’s job is to help you produce the best work possible. However, you can also help your boss to become better at managing you. This process of helping your boss optimise their working relationship with you is commonly termed “managing up”.  


Managing up can be defined as teaching your boss how to manage you. It is an attempt to optimise productivity and find ways of working that suits you both. It creates a virtuous circle of growth in which everyone benefits. You become better at your work and your boss becomes better at managing you.


For those new to the idea, managing up can seem like a daunting task. But the reality is it can be a vital step for your career and it can have a lot of advantages for your career progression. This article will give you an overview of the importance of managing up and some tips on how to do it successfully.


Why is managing up important?


Managing up makes your life easier. You won’t have to waste time dealing with the stress of having a boss that doesn’t know how to work with you. This in turn will increase your productivity. One study found that employees that were happy at work are up to 20% more productive.


Another reason managing up is important is that your boss can be one of your greatest assets. If you want to progress in your career, this is inevitably going to involve asking your boss what they think of you. If you have a proven track record, communicate effectively, and made your manager’s job easier, this can only work in your favour.


Finally, managing up is also great practice for the future. If you can identify the mistakes your boss makes and imagine ways to improve these mistakes, this means you will be less likely to do the same when you make the transition yourself.


But how do actually do it? Here are 5 tips on how to manage up effectively:


Don’t be afraid to give your boss bad news


Sitting on bad news when it arrives is always a bad idea. Normally waiting to tell your boss or trying to fix the problem yourself only makes things worse. Usually the only way to fix problems is to share them with your boss so they can decide what the best course of action is.


Being afraid to tell your boss bad news is normally a sign that you are afraid of your boss. Managing up is all about building a mutually beneficial working relationship which starts with communicating effectively. There is no room to be afraid of them. Remember, it’s ok to slip up now and again. But when you do, always tell your boss.


Let your boss know how you like to be managed


Different people have different working styles. Therefore different styles of management work better for different people. For instance, some people prefer to work alone and think things through by themselves. These people normally benefit from a hands-off management approach. However, other people work best when they have continual feedback. These workers often benefit from a closer relationship with their manager.


Sometimes your manager will ask you how you prefer to be managed directly. This often occurs during the interview process or just after you have been hired. However, if they don’t ask you directly, it’s ok to tell them yourself. An appropriate time to bring this up would be at a quarterly review. You could let your boss know that next quarter you would work better if you altered your working relationship slightly. This is a great first step in managing up.  


Perfect the easy stuff


Managing up always involves improving your relationship with your boss. However, some aspects of your work performance can really irritate your boss and harm their perception of you. This makes the whole process of managing up much more difficult.


To avoid jeopardising your relationship with your boss it’s easy to perfect the simple stuff like showing up on time, replying to emails quickly and participating in group discussions. There is also no harm in displaying qualities that all managers love. For example, having a good working attitude, offering to help other workers if they need it and trying to enjoy your own work.


Listen to feedback


It’s easy to be offended when your boss gives you negative feedback. However, they are not trying to hurt your feelings. They just want to help you produce the best work that you can. So, when your boss gives you feedback you should listen to them and act on what they have to say.


Sometimes bosses don’t deliver feedback in a manner that is conducive to your work style. However, it’s ok to let your boss know this so you can improve your working relationship. Perhaps, you would like to receive a lot of feedback on a weekly basis or maybe you prefer to get small pieces of feedback on a daily basis. Let your boss know what works best for you and they will begin managing you more effectively.


Put yourself in their shoes


Identifying what makes your boss tick and what their motivations are is an essential skill in managing up. Each manager will have a unique take on how to manage effectively. This can manifest itself in many ways such as how they communicate, how they manage group tasks and how they review your work.


You may not agree with everything they do. But managing up is all about compromise. Try and see where your boss is coming from and adapt your working style to something more similar to theirs. This will inevitably lead to a more productive working relationship.