The Most Important Organizational Dynamic? It’s the Art of Managing Up

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“No, I just know how to kiss ass.”

My immediate reaction was simple: What?

The answer was in response to a question I asked someone about how she was getting along with her manager.

This person had a rough relationship with her manager initially. They seemed to always be butting heads on the smallest of issues. Most of time, she did not feel she could connect.

The most important organizational dynamic

We had discussed this dynamic from time to time over the years. It seemed that, finally, it was now taking hold.

Yes, the most important dynamic in organizational hierarchy is the process of managing up.

Her statement sounds a lot like the type person that we all have come in contact with — the one who is the proverbial “yes” man or woman.

Her explanation cleared it up.

I try and do what I can to make her job easier, and as a result of doing that well, I’m now seen as a valuable asset to the team. I now realize that I had to earn that; it wasn’t automatic just because I worked in the department. After watching the manager’s style and studying her way of working, I can now anticipate things and be proactive in department issues.”

By mastering the concept of “managing up,” she is now recognized as a valuable part of the organization. By righting that relationship, she has an advantage when greater job responsibilities come up.

The concept of managing up

When you learn this concept it will help in your career advancement and give you an edge over the competition when you are being considered for promotions or important projects.

So the phrases like kissing up, sucking up, or brown nosing that we have all heard about should not be construed with managing up.

Managing up is about getting to know one’s style and way of working. If there is conflict between the two of you in your working relationship, is it because you are both speaking different languages? Say your boss is a data person and makes decision based on numbers, and then your role is to present your idea and be prepared with analytics to back it up.

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If your manager is a people person, regular communication is important even if you are not. This is a relationship that needs to be masterered, because knowing your manager’s style — and adjusting your own to meet it — will help you manage up and be successful.

What you should do?

So your role is to pay attention to what is going on around you. Look at the relationships that work within the organization and try and figure out the secret sauce. Jump in when needed and always maintain a good attitude no matter what goes on around you. That means staying level headed.

Your work should always be top notch as you also work to keep your manager informed. In addition, you need to build strong relationships among your peers as well as your manager’s peers.

All this sounds good in theory, but managing your boss is a way to have a win-win-win situation where everyone — including the team, department and organization — wins. Failing to master this will result in misunderstandings about expectations and cause wasted time and effort on tasks not in line with organizational goals, and more importantly, your career goals..

Yes, it’s about your career

And to put it plainly, career progress rarely happens if you don’t manage your boss successfully.

Whatever your role within the organization, everyone has a manager, and in a lot of cases, may have multiple ones. So the quicker you learn this process and put it to use, the better off you will be.

Yes, it is that important.

As a matter of fact, your career depends on, it so manage up with that in mind.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “The Most Important Organizational Dynamic? It’s the Art of Managing Up

  1. I discovered this in a previous role where, no matter how clear I thought I had been, I just didn’t seem to be able to communicate with my manager. So I tried to put myself if his shoes and speak his language. It didn’t work there but I have since used this approach in other workplaces and found it makes a real difference. Good article.

  2. There is a down side to that. You eventually lose the respect of your peers around you and below you. You eventually earn the labels of “Brown Noser”, a “Kiss-A$$”. I would rather keep respect than be a ladder climber. I had a boss once that barked orders and did nothing for our department. He was always keeping the President happy by trying to do whatever he wanted done. A co-worker finally pointed out that “His job was to keep the President happy”, not to take care of those under him. While this was the case, it wasn’t a good philosophy. The best way to make sure those above you are happy is to first take care of the business below you.

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