Managing Up

November 15, 2019

As a manager your main responsibility is to ensure the success of your team. Of course, that description is purposefully vague there's a ton that goes into ensuring the success of your team. When I first started as a manager I thought I had laid out a solid plan for success that was tailored to the type of manager I wanted to be and the people I was managing. It took me a couple months to realize that I was missing a big piece of the puzzle — I hadn't spent nearly enough time managing up.

Put simply, managing up is the idea of helping to ensure your manager's success. The specifics of managing up will vary in every situation but there are some key concepts that will greatly increase your chance of having a successful and fruitful relationship with your manager.

Setting Expectations

It's important that you and your manager are aligned on what your success looks like. Success as a manager can be a little bit harder to measure when compared to measuring the success of an engineer and if the two of you are not on the same page it will make both of your jobs harder.

I would recommend setting (and resetting) expectations with your manager quarterly at the very least. This is different than seeking feedback (which we'll cover later). Setting and agreeing upon your expectations for the quarter is more proactive. It can be thought of as, "here is what I plan on doing, are we aligned?" versus seeking feedback which takes place after the fact and can be thought of as, "how am I doing?"

See Where You Can Help

Everyone could use some help from time to time and your manager is no different. Your reports will most likely need your help thinking through complex issues or clearing up road blocks. The needs of your manager will be different. Your manager could probably benefit from you filling in for them in a meeting or doing some phone screenings for other teams. Much like some reports, however, some managers might never ask for help so it's important to proactively ask your manager where they could use some assistance.

Seek Feedback Often

Personally, I always love when one of my reports actively seeks feedback because it shows they're actively concerned with improving their skills. If you feel the same way I do, then be sure to always seek feedback from your own manager. It might seem like this is a no-brainer but we've all been in that situation where you and your manager are strapped for time so your 1:1s turn into a quick status update and you go weeks without feedback. It's important to not lose sight of the importance of asking for feedback even when short on time.

Managing up isn't that obvious but it's so important and it all boils down to communication. Having and maintaining an open line of communication between you and your manager is essential to your success. The best thing you can do to ensure the success of your manager and yourself in stay in frequent, honest communication across multiple mediums.