This transcript was created using an automated transcription service and may contain errors.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m Susan White, a national HR consultant. With me is my good friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and author of “JoyPowered®” and “The JoyPowered® Family.”
Today, our topic is managing up. How do you build and maintain effective relationships with your boss, executive team, and/or other leaders in your organization? JoDee, I know you’re your own boss right now, but you spent many years employed by others. Tell the listeners, did you spend energy and strategic thinking time on how to manage your relationships up the various places that you worked?
No. Well, I actually… I mean, I think I did, but I think I never thought about it in this context. So I love this… just calling it managing up, because I think it’s powerful to really think about it differently. I do think I spent time and energy and strategic thinking on how can I… you know, how can I work better with my boss? How can I work better with leaders in the organization? How did they receive information best? Those kinds of things. How should I approach them with requests. But I don’t think I ever really thought of that as managing up. So I like that.
I like that better than “brown nosing.” Right?
Right. Right. Right.
Now, I will tell you, I grew up in a large corporate environment, and I really did put energy in the fact that I wanted, obviously, to have a good relationship with my boss, because, well, that makes work a lot more pleasant, right? But I also wanted to get to know my boss’s boss. I did want to know as, you know, far up in the organizational ladder as I could get to know, because I realized early on executive sponsorship was important. There’s only so many rungs to the ladder and only so many people are going to make it up to the next one, and I knew that individual bosses only had so much to say. So I will say I did put time and thought, and, you know, maybe I should have put more time and more thought. I didn’t make it to the top. But I felt… I’m very grateful for as far as I got.
Right. Well, I think, especially, I love your concept of not just your boss, but your boss’s boss, too, right? Sometimes your boss gets replaced or moves on or, you know…
…takes retirement or whatever. And then if you haven’t spent that time developing a relationship with the person above them, that can be an issue.
Absolutely. Well, what I’d love to use for our discussion today is an article that I read in the Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2018, by Sue Shellenbarger, and it was entitled “The Right and Wrong Ways to Manage Up.” I think she raised a lot of points that I think would be interesting for you and I to discuss further.
Well, the very first one that she said was you need to figure out how often your boss wants to hear from you, and then do what they want. In person, if it’s via email, instant messaging, phone, maybe stopping by their desk, if you’re co-located. Or maybe your boss really just wants a monthly status. It’s figuring out what it is your boss needs to know, and how often and in what format,
Right. I could tell you I had a boss from 2003 to 2009 who wanted to have a two hour meeting every Monday and talk about all the issues I have. And he didn’t really… not, I mean, he was a great guy. I don’t mean it in a negative way, but he didn’t really want me to email him or to ask questions throughout the week. He only wanted to discuss things during that two hour period on Monday, and he kind of set his whole schedule up for the week around having these meetings with all of his direct reports. And it drove me crazy. And I just had never worked that way before. It was totally opposite of my style. And I have to admit, I fought it and fought it and fought it and I tried to do a different format with him. I tried to reschedule sometimes. I was very honest with him that I didn’t think it was a good approach, and he never changed it. And finally, I sort of hit myself in the head and said, work with this guy. Like, it’s not my style, but it’s his style and, you know, go with it. And so it took me a while, I finally made it work.
Well, I say kudos to you for trying to change him, but at…at the end of the day, he is the boss, and I can understand. You’ve got to survive. I’ve had bosses that every week, all of us, wherever we were in the country, because he wanted to make sure that he had a pulse on things, that we’d have to, Friday afternoon before he went home, you sent an email, just bulleting everything that happened this week, the status on any open projects that you are working, so on and so forth. Honestly, at first, I kind of grumbled about it, but I enjoyed it, because when it came time for performance review, I could go back to 52 emails where I had really captured accomplishments week by week by week, right? Then the opp…
It’d probably be good for all of us to do that, actually, whether we’re doing it up or down or across…
Or for ourselves.
…or just for ourselves, right.
Not a bad idea. I was gonna say the opposite end of that, I had a boss who I was very fond of, and she really only wanted to know if something was happening that was going to negatively impact the entire business or a… negatively impact an individual in a…in a harmful way, that they just really needed, you know, some type of support from the corporation or anything like that. Short of that, almost anything else I did was fine. You know?
Now that’s my kind of boss.
Exactly. You know, those are like the two things. So if the organization was going to open tomorrow, you know, okay, she doesn’t need to know about such and such going on. And if no individual was in harm’s way, she was absolutely comfortable with what I did. So there’s probably somewhere in the middle that that I would prefer.
Right, right. And it’s a good lesson, really, for thinking that we all have different styles of communication, right, no matter what level we are in the organization, no matter who we are, and learning to adapt and adjust. And again, I was a bit stubborn with mine, but… but we got to understand the other person’s style as well as ours and how that might work.
Excellent point. Well, the second point that Sue Shellenbarger raised in this article was if you bring a boss a problem, be sure to offer at least one potential solution. Don’t go in there and say, hey, this… this is going to heck in a handbasket, we’ve got to do something, things are really bad, and not have any single idea about what to do about it.
Right, right. I love that advice. Although I’ll tell you, I’ve seen that before, and sometimes when I’ve gone to someone else needing help, I’m out of solutions, or… so I’ve decided that… I don’t know, you can tell me if you think this is appropriate, that I, at least, will go to someone and say, here’s the issue. Here’s what I’ve already tried, and here’s why I think it didn’t work. Now I just need some new fresh blood on this, too. You know, so the concept, I think, is good, but sometimes we go to a boss because we don’t know what else to do.
Yeah, what a lovely approach in the words that you used. I know from years of having been a boss and also many years of going into bosses with situations that I needed a second opinion on or I needed approval on or I really needed to sell a solution to, I truly did try to come in with some, you know, here’s what I see as possible options for us. And there were times where the boss said, Susan, you’re crazy, we’re not gonna do any of those things, we really need to do XYZ. But I felt better that I had come in with some kind of options. Then again, there’s times I’ve come in and the boss says, well, okay, those are the three potential options, give me the pros and cons of each, so that I learned to do that, the pros and the cons. So you’re right. If I could solve it myself, why did I go in there in the first place?
Yeah. Well, and that’s a good approach, too, though, to have some different options and even if… even if they don’t all work, or even none of them, he agrees to maybe it’s a… adjusting the the idea of… adjusting the solution as opposed to dropping it all on them.
I had a colleague of mine that would often, when they would go into the boss to ask, you know, for some input and say, you know, we got this problem, here’s what I think we might want to do,but I really want your thought partnership on this, because this is so big, and it’s so impactful. And it seems like whenever he asked the boss to be a “thought partner,” all of a sudden it was a dialogue as opposed to an approval process.
So the third thing in the article that she raised was, don’t take a boss’s behavior personally. Okay, every boss or leader out there is going to be experiencing stress that we don’t know about. So when we drop in or give a pitch on idea that we feel really passionate about, the boss may sometimes snap at us or give us less than an enthusiastic response. What we should do is think about, maybe there’s something else going on. Maybe the boss isn’t actually being temperamental with us. Maybe they are just in a bad funk.
I think, too, I have a friend who talks about energy cycles a lot and thinking of, you know, figuring out when is the best time to approach a boss? Or is it scheduling a meeting versus dropping in on them? Or is it… are they…are they better with requests in the morning or in the afternoon or at the beginning of the week versus the end of the week or not right after a board meeting or something, you know, that we can sort of plan ahead for those or… I used to work with a lady that was pretty snappy on a regular basis, and as staff people, we would kind of spread the word on whether she was in a good mood or a bad mood that day, you know, like, don’t take anything to her if you could avoid it.
That’s kind of…
So figuring that out.
That’s a nice… nice network. I will tell you, I have had… in some of my executive coaching work I’ve had staff members say that they have had an encounter with their boss and the boss was a little bit out of control. Maybe angry or shouting or really just got very emotional about something. And then the next day or a couple days later, the boss calls the individual or brings them into the office and say, hey, I just wanna let you know, I know I reacted poorly to your suggestion or I… I know I yelled at you because of such and such, I want you to know that I had a lot of things going on. They kind of share the personal thing. And I… in one hand, I do respect that. On the other hand, I think it’s very important, should that happen to you as an individual, that when your boss comes back and apologize for… for bad behavior, that you need to accept it, and then say, I appreciate that, but we need to talk about a do different next time. So let’s talk about if you… and this is for bosses who sometimes can be really out of line, to say, I respect you and I think our working relationship is terrific and I think we’re doing great work here. But what you did really bothered me and I went home and honestly I could… I could barely eat dinner. I just… I went home, I was sick over it. And let’s talk about next time, if you start to escalate that way, do you want a code word? Hey, I’ve read “50 Shades of Grey.” Do you… or do you want something else that I can do? How do we make sure that we do de-escalate before we get there? If you’re an employee and you don’t do something about it, it can become kind of an abused spouse, I think, syndrome where someone’s going to feel… a boss will feel safe at letting things… letting out it on you, and then they know they can apologize later. And I think that’s a bad pattern. So I’m a believer, as an executive coach, that you have to be gracious, but you got to stand up for yourself.
The fourth item that Sue brought up was you need to understand your boss’s priorities. If you can help them achieve their goals, your stock is going to rise.
I agree. And I think many times we’re trying to guess what we think our boss’s priorities are, right? And I think we need to just ask them.
What are their priorities, and how can we help them achieve them? And we should be doing the same for our own staff or direct reports? Right? Let’s…we’re all in this together. Let’s share what our priorities are so we’re not trying to do the opposite.
Who doesn’t want to hear someone ask them, how can I help you be more successful?
And I love that. Ask your staff members, ask your colleagues, and then certainly, ask your boss.
Right, great question.
Finally, it pays to learn the unwritten rules of your workplace. Sue says, is it important to play the devil’s advocate when new ideas are presented? Is that what your boss wants? I had a boss say to me once, Susan, if you and I agree on everything, they don’t need both of us. And I learned that he was looking for me to figure out the flaw in the direction, flaw in the thinking. So with that boss, I would. I played the devil’s advocate.
Yeah, I like it. You know, and I have to admit, it’s interesting to me, I like to have a devil’s advocate in the room with me, or I like to give permission to people to be a devil’s advocate. But I can’t say that I really thought of that in terms of a way to manage up or to ask that question even. Do you want me to be the devil’s advocate or how… Yeah, so I love that concept. So.
So, Lea McLeod gave advice on how to manage up in an article that appeared on themuse.com. This article was entitled “10 Ways to Get Your Boss to Trust You Completely.” So let’s go through those. JoDee, why don’t you take the first one?
Embrace the mission.
So what’s that about, do you suppose?
Well, I think that goes back to your comment of understanding your boss’s priorities, maybe, or hope… assuming your boss’s priorities align with the mission, right? I know that is a key Gallup tool for engagement in… in a workspace culture, is that people need to be connected to the mission of the organization in some major piece or in some minor way that they can understand and feel the connection to it, even if you’re a support member of the boss’s team, to do that.
Good. Lea’s second piece of advice is that you need to develop a positive relationship with your boss. Now, you don’t have to be BFFs, but it really is helpful if you like each other. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, you know?
Right. Right. And I think comments like you said earlier, about if a boss snaps at you, of saying, this is difficult for me, and being honest about those, can help develop a more positive relationship. I think it’s… it’s… typically, our relationships go bad when we’re not honest with other people.
The third one said understand his or her goals.
And that really goes back to understand… hopefully, their goals align nicely with the mission, but do spend time…don’t assume anything. And it’s certainly they…that individual must have a performance scorecard or have other metrics that they’re trying to meet. And if you have a boss that isn’t articulating that and making sure the whole team knows, you ask. You know, spend time saying, what is it…the goals that you have to achieve this year? Let’s see how we can all help you.
So the next one is anticipate his or her needs. So that’s getting ahead of what you think they might need for you to do.
Right. Right. Very proactive. And if we understand what their goals are, maybe we’re able to do that. Maybe checking with them ahead of time, too, so we don’t go the wrong way.
Yes. Her fifth piece of advice is never let him or her get blindsided.
That’s a good one, too, sharing information with them that needs to be shared, not waiting too long to share. Typically, I think bad information or…you know, someone’s upset, a client’s upset, there was an issue with a client, there was an issue with an employee, and not trying to hide it from him. We may think that, oh, it’s not important. I don’t need to share it with them. I don’t need to add one more thing to their plate. But boy, if the issue gets bigger, they’re gonna be really disappointed we didn’t share it.
Or they hear it in another venue. It could be very embarrassing.
Right. The next one seems pretty obvious, but we…is a good reminder to all of us, to just do your job well.
That’s the employees that we love, people who do their job well. Yeah, that’s great. The next one is tell him or her how to best use your talents. They…you know, you hire into a role and you have a job description, and I’m sure that you come in every day and do your best to fulfill those, but you might have other skills and other talents that your boss is not seeing. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to the boss and you owe it to the company to share with them some of your other skills and help them see how you can add more value, perhaps, beyond what your current duties are.
You know, I’m a fan of that one as a StrengthsFinder follower, to share what your strengths are, and…and have others help you in achieving them. As an example, if you’re a learner, you need to be learning. So if your boss is not giving you opportunities to learn new things, you will wilt, right?
So number eight is honor your boss’s time, and I think that’s, when you say you want five minutes, that you really only take five minutes, right?
Number nine is align your needs with your boss’s goals. And I think that goes into embracing the mission, and really trying to anticipate and understand his or her goals for you.
And then finally, one of my favorite keys to living is under promise and over deliver.
Yeah, we can never go wrong with that one, right, being…setting expectations, I think, on the understanding what needs to be done, but giving yourself enough time to get it done, to meet the deadline, and to exceed the expectations that were set.
You know, and I can think of times where a boss has said to me, now Susan, we need to get this done, can you get it done in the next few days, and if I really believed I couldn’t get it done or get it done well, that’s the time to say we need to talk about x, I don’t think that two days is going to enable me to get the research done and so on and so forth. Because if you walk away from that meeting, in their mind, they think you’re going to have it in two days, and your stomach’s telling you there’s no way. You’re setting yourself up, I think, for disappointment.
Well, I think this has been a very interesting topic, thinking about managing up, and I hope that it’s been of some use to some of our listeners.
Yes. Great, great concepts.
So, JoDee, we do have a listener comment or question that was actually emailed to us, and this one was from Rosemary, who’s in Delaware. So Rosemary’s question was, she works in HR, and she does really the…she’s a lead person in all the hiring done at her particular company, and she has been pressured by a number of her hiring managers to look people up on social media or to Google them. So candidates that are in play for particular positions, bosses and hiring managers just saying, what do we know about them. You know, I want you to go out there and dig deep. Is there any skeletons in someone’s closet? So what Rosemary wants to know, JoDee, is, is it okay, is it legal for for her or for the hiring manager to go out and take a look to see what the person’s posting on social media?
So a couple thoughts on that one. The answer is yes, it is okay to do that. We recommend that employers be consistent about that and to look at for the same information for all candidates if they’re doing it. As you know, I always like to give advice to the employees also, and as my kids would tell us, that most adults do not have enough privacy settings on their social media. So they should think about what…we all should think about what we’re posting on social media and is available to others, but to make sure we have tight privacy settings under social media and being aware that others can can observe this information about us. But I believe there are some states who are implementing some guidelines around this.
Yeah, I do think that is right. And I know that the courts have come out very strongly that you cannot ask an applicant for their password. So what we’re talking about here is if you want to go out and see what’s in the public domain about someone who’s thinking about coming to work for you, or has applied for a job, that’s okay to check. Make sure there’s no local ordinances or laws that would prevent it. We don’t believe there’s anything federally in existence today. But then I think it’s smart, JoDee, to make sure that you don’t just say to your hiring managers, sure, have at it. I would have you, Rosemary, be the conduit, since you’re really running the process, to make sure that you are tightly controlling it, that you are consistently looking at the same places for every candidate if you choose to do this, and that you’re not just randomly picking. If you find out a person’s race or gender or perhaps you…the age is suggested out there, or anything else, sexual orientation, anything that would cause you to know what protected class someone is in, I would work very hard not to document, not to pay attention to it, not remember it, and certainly not share that with a hiring manager. Perhaps they have not actually seen the person yet. I don’t want to do anything that would set us up to be at risk from a employment standpoint/
Right. Absolutely. In our in the news section today, we have discussed in a prior episode of our podcast that there are places in the U.S., certain states, that have banned asking salary history. And a quick update in the news on this – in April of this year, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals have made a ruling that may entice other cities and states to follow this wave. The court rejected the validity of using prior salary or salary history in setting the starting pay for job applicants, and this is in contrast to a previous ruling from a different court. Employers who are listening may wish to join many companies who are retraining their recruiters to not ask an individual’s salary history and/or what were they earning in their most recent job. Instead, recruiters hiring managers can ask candidates, what are your salary expectations in the role you are interviewing for? As always, remember we aren’t attorneys or qualified to give legal advice, but when in doubt, confer with your labor law attorney.
Please tune in next time. Thank you for listening today. If you’ve missed any of our podcasts, you can catch all episodes for free at iTunes, Google Play, or Podbean by searching on the word “JoyPowered.” If you have questions on any HR topic, you can call us at 317-688-1613 or give feedback on our podcast via JoyPowered® Facebook account or on Twitter @JoyPowered. We welcome listener questions and comments.