How do you make yourself stand out at work? Manage up. Depending on where you are in your career, you may not have heard of the concept. Managing up is about how you work with people who have seniority over you in your organization’s hierarchy, explains author and engineer Tony Wong, ’86 MBA. The Job Maestro asked Wong for his best tips for those climbing the career ladder. With experience overseeing hundreds of employees at NCR, HP, Apple, Sun Microsystems, Motorola/Printrak, Gateway, Black and Decker, Firmgreen and 3M, Wong shares advice on what he says too many young professionals learn the hard way.
Know—Don’t Fear—Your Boss
Many young people get a job and never interact with their boss. They may be afraid of their boss, and even more afraid of their boss’s boss. To get promoted or to stand out, your boss needs to be comfortable with you as a person. How you interact with your boss distinguishes you, showing that you can help your boss achieve his or her goals, which should be your number one priority. Of all the hundreds of people I had reporting to me over the years, there are probably fewer than a handful of them who came to my office and interviewed me, asking “Tony, what’s your goal this year? How are you going about achieving that?” You need to understand what tactic or activity might help your boss. Take budgeting, for example. Managers would love help with their budgets. And budgeting helps you understand the inner workings of the department. If you help with the budget, you would no longer be just a spoke in the wheel—and you will have gained your boss’s trust.
It starts with something as innocent as wanting to share something with your boss, maybe because you’re trying not to let your boss get blindsided with good or bad news. Instead of summarizing and getting to the point of what your boss needs to do, you forward an email that could include seven, eight or nine emails. You pat yourself on the back, thinking you did a great job. This is a mistake. As leaders move up in an organization, they have less and less time. All they want to know is what you want them to do. Where do they need to be? What decision do they need to make? Be concise and give them the tools they need by telling them what actions they need to take.
Let Your Manager Play Devil’s Advocate
Managing up requires anticipating your manager’s questions. Sometimes those questions may sound like your manager is challenging you. Don’t get defensive. As a staff member, you never have as much information as your boss in terms of your team’s work and what’s happening in other areas of the company. Expect and encourage your manager to play devil’s advocate. Think about what information your manager would need to make a decision. A good staff member will look at all the angles, anticipate questions and ask the right questions back. When you start asking questions, it becomes a collaboration.