Here is one of the plainest truths in business – unless you can effectively ‘manage up’ it’s unlikely you’ll ever reach your full potential or achieve everything that you otherwise might. Twenty years ago a mentor of mine gave me that advice and he was absolutely right. But how do you do it?
The starting point is to put yourself in the shoes of the people you report to (or work for) and understand what they want. Most times they are time poor and need to believe quickly that you are in charge and ‘have it covered’. They want clear signals that this is the case otherwise they will get nervous, meddle more and start making decisions for you, rather than letting you get on with things. It’s a lot about confidence and the more confident they are the more room they will give you to operate.
To do that YOU need to set clear behavioural and performance expectations up front – both from their side and from your side. This involves having a clear plan (that is supported by them) and by then providing regular updates on progress being made. As a starting point I favour a brief written weekly report (email is good), outlining key data and insights, that can be digested in 3-4 minutes followed up by a phone call/face to face to dig deeper as necessary. This minimises surprises and brings order and predictability to the relationship. It also ensures that everyone has the most up to date information possible.
This doesn’t replace more formal reporting requirements – it just provides a more timely flow of key information and encourages more regular communication. This in turn will allow more management and board time to be spent on value-accretive activities rather than being ‘brought up to date’.
It is important to understand too that shrinking violets don’t win the confidence of senior managers, directors or investors. At all times be gracious, open BUT firm. Have a view but make sure it is supported by insights, data or experience. Talk in plain English about what is REALLY going on and your plan to manage the risks and opportunities going forward. If things aren’t going well then quickly tell the truth (but have a plan to turn things around). If they are going well then show you haven’t taken your foot off the accelerator and have solid plans to further stretch your success.
Remember the people above you want to trust you. More than likely they appointed you (or anointed you) in the first place. They want it to work and for you to be successful. If you are, then they are. Most times (when good people are involved) that is all they want. They’re on your side until your lose their confidence. The trick is not to let that happen…