Managers: Help Your Employees Manage Up

I finished a training series recently. On the evaluation forms, I suggested a variety of topics that we could do next. Among topics like Managing Stress and Managing Change, I added “Managing Up.” This topic provoked the most interest, far and away. I followed up with an anonymous survey to get specific about what this meant to my participants. I got responses like this:

“I want to…”

  • Understand my supervisor’s needs and how to address those needs.
  • Communicate with my boss better.
  • Influence my supervisor to eliminate obstacles to doing my job well.
  • Learn what actions I can take to be viewed as a more valued and trusted associate.
  • Understand the type and level of communication upper management wants.
  • Garner support for ideas.
  • Be more successful and make the company more successful.

Some responders expressed the wish to advance. I also observed a humble desire to simply do a good job. I was surprised and heartened by the comments.

As a manager, we might be surprised if we received this feedback. We might be thinking, “You mean my employees don’t already know this? And if they don’t, why aren’t they asking me?”

Who knows? But we’ve identified a gap here where you might be able to help them improve their performance and help you. They want to.

Clue them in about managing up.

It’s so easy to get caught up in day-to-day business and compartmentalize what is needed for this presentation or that project. Take a breath, step back and set the foundation of:

  • How “we,” in the supervisor-employee relationship, work best together.  Consider questions like, “What do I expect of you and what do you expect of me?”
  • The type of approach, responsiveness, and leadership needed to be considered valued and trusted.
  • How the employee’s approach, etc. needs to shift when communicating with upper management.

One of my training participants told me about the day his supervisor went through the process of how a promotion happens.

Beyond the required performance and development, the supervisor described how it’s brought up, who’s involved, the buy-in and sign-off that’s necessary, the kind of discussions that takes place with other managers, etc. My participant said that day he felt like he was going home from work with a golden nugget of a gift.

Your employees want to hear how things work. From you.

Author’s Note: A version of this post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site, March 12, 2013.


Mary Schaefer
Mary Schaefer
Mary is a fierce advocate for developing workplaces where the human beings who happen to be employees, thrive. Her speaking, coaching, training, and writing all focus on making the most of what human beings can contribute to an organization through their distinctive energy and creativity, while at the same time meeting their own specific needs for meaningful work. As the principal of her own business, Mary is a guide to increase empowerment and cultivate productive manager/employee interactions. Drawing from her experience as an HR manager, her work centers on talent development, performance management, and a positive employee experience. She is a co-author of the book, "The Character Based Leader." Mary has presented at the Inspiring Women in STEM Conference and is also a TEDx speaker. Her clients include small businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies. Mary has a master's degree in human resources management and is a certified HR professional. This Midwest farmer's daughter is a big fan of homegrown cantaloupes, gapingvoid art, and LinkedIn.

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