Managing upwards — Dos and Don’ts

Is your boss performing like you would like?

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Susan was frustrated. She had a boss that she, and various other staff members, thought was neglecting a key job function. This had the result of the business not performing as well as it could. Worse still her role in the company directly involved the area that her boss was neglecting. Susan felt that the entire load for this important function was resting on her shoulders. She needed to communicate to her boss the importance of this role so that, at the very least, they could work as a team. Susan felt that if boss could start actively working in this area that it would benefit the company greatly.

What advice would you give Susan on how to resolve this?

Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts that I have put together.

DO: Set up a meeting to discuss this with your boss.

Susan would be advised not to let the situation drag on longer than it needs to. It will just cause her, and others within the company, growing frustration to the point where Susan might feel she needs to resign. There is a possibility that her boss might be blissfully unaware that he/she has a bigger role to play in the area that Susan is concerned about. It could also be that Susan has more experience than her boss and has seen how this function has been performed by leaders in her previous companies. The best thing for Susan to do would be to setup a meeting with her boss and talk through the issue.

DON’T: Go above the boss’s head or gossip about it.

Trust is a vital component within teams — and particularly important between manager and employee. There is a very high chance that if Susan went further up the management chain to discuss the situation that her manager would be upset. This would lead to a breakdown of trust that the relationship might never recover from. Discussing the situation behind the manager’s back with fellow staff members would also not produce positive results. It will be difficult for Susan but the best thing for her to do is to have self-control and to wait to discuss it directly with her manager.

“The goal of managing upward up is not to curry favour… it’s about being more effective.”

- Liz Simpson: Harvard Business School

DO: Have all the facts ready to present at the meeting.

It would be a very good idea for Susan to write her thinking down in preparation for the meeting. What is the specific area that she believes her manager is neglecting? How is this effecting the business? What benefits would there be if this was rectified? How are other companies benefiting from more focus on this area? What actions does Susan believe her manager should be performing in this area? Hopefully using this approach Susan’s manager will see the reason for the necessary change.

DON’T: Tell the manager what to do.

My advice to Susan would be to resist the urge to tell her manager what needs to be done. Nobody likes to be told what to do — especially by a sub-ordinate. As soon as the manager feels that this is happening the defence mechanisms will probably kick-in and the manager will switch off. The best thing is for the manager to believe that he/she is making the decision to change — not because he/she has being told to change. It would also be an idea for Susan to communicate honestly how she is feeling from her perspective and the burden she is being placed under. Hopefully the manager will feel that a change of focus will improve the company and will also help Susan.

“An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager”

- Dr Bob Nelson — Management Consultant

DO: Be open minded and flexible

There is a chance that Susan’s manager might see things differently. Susan might also be so frustrated with the situation, and so sure that her way is correct, that she could become blinded to any different reality. It might be that her manager just doesn’t see things the way Susan does and that the manager will not be won over by her arguments. What does Susan do then? Well I am hoping that Susan and her manager will be able to work through alternatives and come up with a win-win situation that will both improve Susan’s position and improve the performance of the company.

DON’T: Loose your temper or become obviously frustrated

Today Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the most important skill to learn in the workplace. One of the worst outcomes for Susan from the scheduled meeting with her manager is if either one of them, or both, lost their temper or got cross with each other. If Susan is to continue to work for the company the best thing for her will be to have as healthy a relationship with her manager as possible. If she can’t get her manager to see things her way, and she is right in her views, then she will just need to accept that it might take awhile to win her boss over.

“The relationship with your boss is a partnership.
It takes effort to build the relationship and nurture it. You have to communicate well, avoid confrontation and resolve differences in a positive way”

- Jane Boucher: Authority on workplace issues

The fact is that we all live in a world where we must interact with managers. Almost anyone who earns a living will have someone that he or she has to report to. The goal is to make these relationships as positive and beneficial as possible.

Susan can either resolve this issue with her manager, find a way to accommodate the stress and frustration it is causing her or leave the company. Finding a way forward with her boss would be the much-preferred option.

What advice would you have for Susan? How have you approached differences of opinion and job function with your manager?

The views of this blog are my own and don’t represent the views of the company I work for.

Written by

Host of the Business Bookshelf Podcast.

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