The term 'upwards management' has taken on a range of meanings, but its fundamental principle, that relationships between managers and staff work best when in harmony, is sound.
The issue lies in the term’s misuse, meaning that some view it negatively – as trying to progress through constantly complimenting your boss or always agreeing. Others posit an alternative understanding, where staff are intentionally challenging to superiors in an effort to assert authority.
In fact, upwards management is neither of these. Understood at its simplest, it is a method of career development that is based on consciously working for the benefit of both yourself and your boss. It is understanding their needs, perspectives and objectives and consistently positioning yourself to support these.
Seven top tips for upwards management
- Understand your boss. Get to know their ultimate goals and take note of their communication preferences. Making sure you’re communicating in a way that they like and with their goals in mind will help your ideas get the respect they deserve.
- Stick to facts. When presenting ideas, make sure that all your reasoning is based on objective facts. An emotional argument is much easier to pick apart than a fact-based one.
- Be specific. When you need things from your manager – time, resources, staff – make it clear what you need and why.
- Follow through. When you promise your boss something, make sure you deliver. There is no shame in telling your boss that a task is going to take longer than you thought, but failing to inform them, and not honouring your commitments, breeds distrust and resentment.
- Respect their time. Your boss’ time is valuable – be aware of this whenever you have a meeting or discussion. Always turn up on time for meetings, ensure you are prepared, and make sure that any information your boss needs has been made available.
- Present options. Although committing to an argument is commendable, presenting multiple options, and the strengths and weaknesses of each, evidences your ability to consider alternatives as well as reassuring your manager.
- Don’t suck up. Easier said than done, but achieving all of the above without sucking up is crucial. One of the benefits of being a manager is having an entire team to challenge you. Make sure you don’t become a ‘yes man’ and your input will be valued and sought after.
"I don’t want my team to just agree with what I say, I want them to feel they can challenge my viewpoints"
From the horse’s mouth
Sara Merry, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications at the CISI, says that the best way for her staff to manage her is “when they provide me with a good argument. I don’t want my team to just agree with what I say, I want them to feel they can challenge my viewpoints. But if they do have different ideas, I do expect them to be confident in the direction they have chosen and to be able to back them up – with stats, evidence or logic.”