38. Managing Up, A Crucial Employee Skill Set
Don [00:00:00] Managing up is not just being a passive observer in the workplace and being the recipient of what just falls upon you, but to actually take a stand and become more active and take some responsibility about the relationships you have above you.
Don [00:00:20] My name is Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don [00:00:29] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and valued. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.
Don [00:00:47] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges.
Don [00:00:56] And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Kelly [00:01:11] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.
Kelly [00:01:17] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO Don Rheem.
Kelly [00:01:23] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Don [00:01:27] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.
Kelly [00:01:28] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is on why managing up is a crucial employee skillset.
Kelly [00:01:36] Close to 60% of Americans say they would do a better job at work if they got along better with their boss. That’s a pretty sad statistic.
Kelly [00:01:45] What is managing up?
Don [00:01:46] Well, managing up, at least in my mind—in our minds at E3, is not just being a passive observer in the workplace and being the recipient of what just falls upon you, but to actually take a stand and become more active and take some responsibility about the relationships you have above you.
Kelly [00:02:08] I like the word responsibility there. To take ownership or responsibility for making your relationships better or your environment better. If close to 60% of Americans say they would do a better job if they got along better with their boss, how much are they actually putting in themselves to do a better job to have a better relationship with their boss?
Don [00:02:27] Yeah, I think some of us, you know, whether it’s a victim mentality or learned helplessness or we don’t typically get involved in that relationship in a proactive way.
Don [00:02:38] Don’t just wait for things to happen to you. Take some steps and I think there’s a series of things that you can do to kind of outline how this managing up process is going to work.
Don [00:02:49] And, the first to me is to just conceptualize that I’m going to invest in this relationship of this person above me. Now, this can be an employee investing in their relationship with their manager. It can be a manager investing in the relationship of the person that they report to.
Don [00:03:06] I mean everybody reports to someone and someone would say but not the CEO. Well, actually yes, even the CEO. If there’s a board of directors they need to manage up and be involved in those relationships. So invest in the relationship.
Kelly [00:03:19] We’ve talked a lot over the many episodes about the importance of validation is seeing the other person, as a person, asking about their weekend, talking about the kids’ soccer game, things like that.
Kelly [00:03:30] That is, very true, not just for the manager to the employee but also for the employee to the manager, to be attuned to the fact that their leader is a person who has outside activities that they can bond with and connect to. And, investing in that relationship is a two-way street, not a one-way street.
Don [00:03:50] Well and also, I think, employees need to understand that sometimes people in leadership positions where it’s a supervisor, a lead, or a manager or a senior leader, they need input as well.
Don [00:04:04] They sometimes are the hungriest people for validation and recognition inside the organization. And it’s okay for an employee to tell, for example, a manager, hey, I just thought you handled that really well. That’s was spot on, you just handled that really well.
Don [00:04:19] And, the smart manager who understands the role of emotion and connection is going to validate that contribution. The old school manager who thinks that leadership is top-down and hierarchical and punitive is going to say, look, I don’t need your input, if I needed your opinion I’d ask you for it. That’s the old style.
Don [00:04:37] Isn’t going to work, does not create emotional velcro between employees and organizations. So this investment is not only good for the relationship but it actually can benefit the person you’re investing in. Make them feel more confident in what they’re doing and more successful.
Kelly [00:04:54] That’s one of the opportunities that can come up in those two-way feedback meetings, those regular feedback meetings we often talk about. The employee is talking to the manager in clear and invaluable terms.
Don [00:05:07] Well, you say two ways but usually, it isn’t. It’s the manager talking one-way giving feedback down. But you’re absolutely right.
Don [00:05:14] What we advocate is that true feedback is bi-directional, and there needs to be a point in that feedback conversation, that we think should happen once a month, where the manager solicits some input.
Don [00:05:28] And it’s not necessarily, hey, how do you think I’m doing. But it’s, is there anything else I could be doing? Is there anything I could do to help the team?
Don [00:05:36] When a manager solicits that kind of two-way conversation, I want us to be willing to invest in that relationship and to have something to say. This relates to a second aspect of managing up that I think is so important.
Don [00:05:49] It’s just simply being proactive. Don’t just react. Don’t just be the recipient of what happens around you but to be proactive in that relationship.
Kelly [00:05:58] One of the pieces of advice that I often give to employees is that they will always succeed if they look for need or opportunity and fill that need or opportunity without being asked.
Kelly [00:06:12] That’s one of the quickest ways that you can build credibility, that you can support the people around you, that you can manage up to your supervisor, well, is to see a need that’s in your team, in your department, in your organization and fill it without being asked or without waiting for something to be mandated to you.
Kelly [00:06:29] That’s part of investing in relationships, showing that you care enough to step up to the plate and to act on things whether or not your manager sees that need.
Don [00:06:38] So, we typically think of being proactive as like filling these needs, but we think of those as being work-related needs, assignments, projects.
Don [00:06:47] This need is about the strength of the relationships, inside the group, the team and the individual’s relationship with the person they report.
Don [00:06:56] Be proactive about that relationship and don’t just wait for someone to ask you for help but to be helpful. And, to offer yourself up and say hey, you mentioned in the team meeting we need to get this done. Is there anything I can do that would help you execute on that? Just be simply proactive.
Kelly [00:07:13] Absolutely.
Don [00:07:14] The third thing I recommend about managing up is to share what feels good to you. That is, simply just to share your emotional experience.
Don [00:07:22] So, I might say, hey Kelly, when we finished that assignment for that customer just seeing all the smiles on their faces, it just felt really good. I felt really good about what we do as a team and as a company.
Don [00:07:34] So, share that emotional experience. That is something that is typically left out of our conversations at work. But this is really important, because as we’ve talked about before, we’re relational creatures and when a manager starts to get a better understanding of how individual employees, what makes them feel good, that gives them an opportunity to be responsive about it.
Don [00:07:55] It also signals to them that it went well and it was well-received so don’t be afraid to share what feels good and it can be both personally, it can be based on the team, it can be based on if the company took a stand or did something.
Don [00:08:09] Manage up by sharing your emotional experience.
Kelly [00:08:12] I like that you mention the word opportunity because I think that’s a key part of managing up. If you can manage up well you can also create really great opportunities for yourself to continue advancing within an organization to support your own career success and goals.
Kelly [00:08:27] For example, in previous organizations I’ve worked in, going back to the whole concept of see a need and fill it, coupling that with what you just talked about, where you’re sharing what feels good to you, what you enjoy doing, what helps you thrive in the workplace.
Kelly [00:08:42] If you are able to see a need and fill it and be very vocal with your supervisor about the ways in which that particular aspect of the way that you work brings you joy, helps you thrive, that can help them envision new ways in which you could contribute to an organization where you’re using those skill sets more.
Kelly [00:09:03] So in the past I have done this in ways where I’m stepping into a major need for an organization of my own accord without, while obviously still fulfilling my job responsibilities, and it has helped elevate me into new roles that never existed before. That wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t been more vocal about the things that I really enjoy doing, that I thrive on and that I have a skill set to do.
Kelly [00:09:28] I’ve been able to get put in new positions in organizations because I’ve done that in the past and it has created new opportunities where I don’t have to wait for my supervisor to say, oh, Kelly should do this or that.
Kelly [00:09:40] I have shown them what I want to do and contributed in significant ways to an organization in a way that makes them want to help elevate me so that managing up can really help an employee’s personal career growth in significant ways.
Don [00:09:55] Well, if if I’m a manager for example and I’m thinking about our retention strategy in the organization and I learn that an employee really loves doing X, I should naturally try to move them into opportunities where they get to do that because they’re much more likely to stay with us over the long term.
Don [00:10:12] We have found at E3 Solutions, for example, we deal a lot with data because we’re measuring engagement inside our client companies. And, when we find staff that love numbers and love working with numbers, of course, we want to move them closer to the survey tool and how we analyze it and use those numbers. And, we’ve had some just fantastic new developments from these staff that have identified new things we could do because they love it.
Kelly [00:10:39] It’s an employee’s responsibility to be more attuned to being vocal about what they care about and what they can thrive in rather than always waiting to be asked or being disgruntled that their boss doesn’t truly see them how they are.
Don [00:10:56] There’s a fourth aspect I’d like to bring up and this is a part of being, I guess proactive a little bit, but it’s to gently suggest things that would be helpful to the team.
Don [00:11:06] And, I would start, it’s not about me, it’s not about what would help me, but it might be, hey Kelly, the team is just exhausted. We’ve been working so hard on this project, what if we all just went out and had lunch together and did a little celebration?
Don [00:11:19] Just some gentle suggestions for a manager who might be just head down plowing through all of the metrics and all of the e-mails and the meetings that they have to go with. And it’s not that they don’t care about the team but boy just someone making a suggestion. They typically just jump on it. Okay, well that sounds like a good idea. Let me see what I can do.
Kelly [00:11:40] If you have the gift as an employee no matter where you are in the organization of seeing what other team members need or what your supervisor needs, stepping in to vocalizing that and then taking ownership over helping make changes around that is is so important.
Kelly [00:11:56] Don’t wait on your manager who may or may not have that skillset and don’t just be frustrated that they don’t. If that’s the case, step in and do something about it. It’s on all of us to create a healthy environment. And, this is one really critical way to manage up.
Don [00:12:11] Now, if you’ve done that a number of times so that the person you’re managing up with understands that you’re focused on the team, then I think you open the door to making general suggestions about what would help you.
Don [00:12:22] Don’t start with you, start with the team but then just, you might just say, hey Kelly, this would be so much easier to do and to accomplish on time if I had access to X, Y, and Z. Is there any way you can open up access to those things for me because it would just be so much more efficient and effective if I had that information as well?
Don [00:12:44] So I’m making these general suggestions that will help me. And it may be that it may not be about information. Maybe it could be about a timeline, maybe you might be asking for more specifics around a task, maybe you’re asking, it would be really helpful to me if I understood, why we’re doing it this way, we chose this path.
Don [00:13:01] But it’s okay to make these gentle suggestions because ultimately what you’re asking for is information that will help the productivity, the effectiveness, the efficiency of your work.
Kelly [00:13:11] And in an ideal world, we’ve got wonderful and responsive supervisors who are going to attend to those questions and answer them well and you’re going to continue to build strong relationships through them.
Kelly [00:13:22] But, so many of us, unfortunately, have to navigate and circumvent toxic bosses and having some of these conversations is not going to go over well.
Kelly [00:13:32] How does an employee manage up in a toxic boss environment with finesse and success?
Don [00:13:38] Yeah and we see this a lot in our data. We measure engagement by manager and it’s not unusual in organizations to have managers that have a team that’s 100 percent engaged. But, then we’ve also find their managers in that same organization where the team is 100 percent disengaged and of course that’s a clear sign that there’s some dysfunction, some toxicity with that person.
Don [00:14:00] Again, they may be a great individual, technically brilliant but they’re really struggling in major ways around how to lead other people in ways that are positive and engaging.
Don [00:14:11] And, so how to deal with that toxic managers some of these same things we suggested before, makings gentle, suggestions about things that would help the team.
Don [00:14:21] I also think that sharing your emotional experience also is a good idea. But in the old world, the old paradigm you’d say, hey, look this is work. Leave your emotions at home and emotions are irrelevant.
Don [00:14:32] That’s one of the biggest myths and canards of management, traditionally, is that emotions don’t count.
Don [00:14:38] Emotions are everything. The way people feel determines how they behave. So we want to be focused on that.
Don [00:14:45] And, if a toxic manager has done something that clearly is not to the benefit of the individual or the team, sharing how look, hey Bob, that really stung when you did that. When you said that to me in front of the other employees it was one of the most disengaging things I’ve heard in a long time. Help me understand this because I know one of our core values is respect. And I just I don’t understand how what you did there was respectful. And this is something you’re doing obviously one-on-one, maybe in a feedback conversation.
Don [00:15:17] Managing Up also means not just complimenting this person all the time but also sending them signals where you think they got it wrong or they could have done it better. And, if this is an employee to a manager, as opposed to a manager to a higher-up manager, but in either case actually referencing core values is really valuable because it gives you a defensive position that isn’t just granular about a word or a phrase or an instance but it’s connecting to these high-altitude values that transcend every job description in the organization.
Don [00:15:50] So go in with that and simply ask them how was this respectful and not in a confrontational way but it’s just you being open and wanting to talk about this with the manager.
Don [00:16:02] Managers do need to know that they’re often are better ways that they could do things, sharing with them the impact that something had on an employee may be one of the ways to reach them most effectively.
Kelly [00:16:15] I think you’re spot on with the employee going to the manager directly and having a conversation and that certainly should be step one when you are dealing with a toxic boss situation, that you go directly to your supervisor and have conversation with them about what isn’t sitting well with you at an emotional level.
Kelly [00:16:32] That’s a really tough thing to do no matter what level you are in an organization. It feels emotionally vulnerable, it’s a scary situation when you’re not sure about the reaction or if you’re sure that it’s not going to be a good reaction. That’s a tough thing for an employee to do.
Kelly [00:16:50] When you manage up, you’re doing it because you want and you thrive on support from the person above you. You want that person to be somebody you can count on, somebody that’s consistent, predictable, somebody that’s going to help you grow and help your team thrive. And when we deal with toxic bosses, which many of us have in the past or many people currently are, that’s a scary and emotionally taxing situation for an employee.
Don [00:17:17] It is. But here’s where it gets a little bit easier. If we’d been managing up across the board beforehand, that is, if we’d been investing in this relationship and saying, hey, I think that really felt good. I’m sharing my emotional experience of what felt good. It’s also then okay to say when it doesn’t feel good.
Don [00:17:35] If I’m making gentle suggestions on what would help the team, I’ve already established that and if the manager’s been responsive about, hey, that was really helpful, then it’s going to be easier to do when it’s more on the negative side to say, hey you know we’ve talked a lot of times about things that would help the team.
Don [00:17:53] Something you did the other day I think falls into that category. And, then, essentially you ask for permission. Can I talk about what that felt like? Can I talk about what I think that the impact was on the team? And, so, that asking for permission and when the person says, well sure, they’ve opened the door and you actually can change the trajectory of how the person takes in the information.
Don [00:18:16] Because they essentially said, come on in. Talk to me about it. You know, we talked about these five things: invest in the relationship; be proactive; share what feels good; gently suggest what would help the team, and then fifth gently suggest what would help me.
Don [00:18:30] That’s both going to be on the positive side but also on the corrective side. Every manager has strengths and opportunities and we’re going to manage up in both those channels.
Kelly [00:18:41] That’s it for today. I’m your host, Kelly Burns, and thank you for listening.
Kelly [00:18:45] Over the next several weeks, we’re thrilled to be launching a special guest series where we will talk with subject matter experts one-on-one about critical workplace challenges.
Kelly [00:18:56] Our special guest next week is, Andrew Sykes, CEO of habits at work and you will be talking about the importance of creating lasting high impact habits in the workplace.
Kelly [00:19:07] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high-performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out e3 solutions.com right now.
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Kelly [00:19:39] Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week!