Let’s face it, approaching your manager can be scary. Everyone has had a boss or manager they wish they could have given feedback to, but those who are higher up can feel untouchable. Bring in, “managing up”, a concept that embraces new corporate norms. The CU Denver Business School Alumni Association (BSAN) hosted Pattie Money, Owner & CEO of Pinnacle Leadership to present “The Art of Managing Up” to explain the concept and provide insight on how to successfully implement it.
An Introduction to Managing Up
What is managing up? According to Money, it isn’t kissing up, being manipulative, bossing your manager around, or being inauthentic. Money defines managing up as “creating a mutually beneficial, trusting relationship with your boss where you have each other’s backs and always assume positive intent.” When you have this relationship, you can talk honestly with your manager about what is and isn’t working, challenge each other, provide feedback, and ask for support when you need it.
When it comes to the steps for successfully managing up, Pattie asked Business School alumni panelists, Marc Bonora MBA ‘22, Danette Shaifer MBA ‘22, and Will Platz ‘13, MS ‘15 to help share their insights. The first step is to be a good performer. “You don’t have credibility if you’re not performing well,” said Money, stressing the importance of self-evaluation before providing feedback to your manager.
The next critical step is getting to know your manager. “The people that managed up well to me, got to know me,” remarked Money. Every manager is different, so getting to know your manager and their personality is key for successful communication. “It comes down to navigating personalities,” agreed Bonora, “Knowing whether to talk to someone first thing in the morning or after their fifth cup of coffee… you need to figure out what works for them.” Maybe your manager is like Platz, who doesn’t want to hear “yes” all the time and wants to see his constituents actively engage with their work. No matter what your manager’s personality is, it all comes back to building a trusting relationship with them, because that is fundamental for managing up.
“The people that managed up well to me, got to know me.”– Pattie Money
What To Avoid
The panelists also provided insight into what not to do while managing up. For one, don’t criticize your boss in public. You wouldn’t like being ambushed in a meeting, and your manager feels the same way. The panelists agreed that the adage “praise in public, criticize in private” rings true for managing up. Money also stressed the importance of being able to disagree and commit. After the debate is over, back up your boss, even if the decision made isn’t the one you agree with. “Don’t be a jerk,” recommended Shaifer. Money emphasized that kindness and thoughtfulness should be treated as skills that you practice every day in the workplace.
Money also recommended not to make assumptions when starting with a new manager. What worked with one manager may not work for another, and it is important to take time to understand your boss’ communication style and personality. That being said, initial attempts to manage up can start off a little rocky. Relationships take time, so it may be a while before employees build that essential trust with managers. “You may misstep or not get each other at first… but you shouldn’t assume that one false step is the end of the relationship,” advised Bonora, “It’s often recoverable.”
Regardless of the company or field, everyone can manage up. Managers are both supporters and evaluators. Managing up allows open communication; it shows investment and care, appealing to an evaluation mindset while applying attention to professional needs from a supportive standpoint. “Being able to have a strong rapport with my bosses… and being able to effectively communicate with them was how we were able to create synergies,” remarked Shaifer, who credits managing up as something that helped her move up within companies. Managing up is an important life skill, and learning it can help employees get more out of their work, creating healthy, lasting connections.