The most common mistake that people make at work is not obvious to most people. Some may not find out that they are doing this for many years. The most common mistake people make is failing to dedicate time to manage upwards. Upward management is never listed in any job description, but I can assure you that it makes all the difference to the speed of your career progression. No matter what your position is in the business world (business analyst, project manager, VP), upward management is essential to your success.
So, what is upward management? Let’s define it first, as its meaning isn’t always clear. Upward management is about proactively shaping senior people’s perception of you and your job performance. Senior people would be your boss, his boss, your boss’s peers — anyone with influence and power over your career and promotion decisions.
You may say, “I can’t control my manager’s perception of me. I can only control my work and hope that it’s recognized.” Well, that’s where you’re wrong, and that’s the exact mistake I am talking about. I’m not saying that you can completely control their perceptions of you, but there are certain things you can do to have a positive influence on how they perceive you and your work.
People are imperfect, so their perceptions are imperfect. Senior people, like your boss, can only form their perceptions based on what they know about you. If you did good work, but your boss and other senior people don’t know about it, then they won’t have the best perception of you.
You may want to point the finger and say, “My boss should have done a better job of getting to know me.” It’s temping to think that way, but let’s face reality: They cannot know everything good about you if you don’t take steps to show them what you’ve done. If they don’t have a good impression of your work, that’s your mistake. I am telling you this now so you can fix it earlier rather than later. As long as you have a boss or anyone senior to you deciding your career fate at a company, you should start proactively managing upwards.
Assuming that you agree with me, how do you proactively manage upwards? Here are some ideas:
- Proactively provide status updates before your boss, or others who need to know, asked for it. This will show that you are on top of thing, and you’ll make it easier for them.
- Proactively share key success milestones you’ve reached. You don’t have to do it in a braggy way — you can do it with the intention of keeping people up to speed on your progress, or thanking everyone who helped you with this achievement and sharing the credit with them. Now key people know your achievement where they might not have known otherwise.
- Proactively ask for feedback. This shows initiative, and will help you find out what senior people really think about you and your skills and abilities. With knowledge comes power — you can address gaps in their perception once you know what they think.
- Proactively ask for career advice from senior people. Again, this shows initiative and a desire to progress. It also flatters people when you ask for their advice, which is another great way to build relationships.
- Proactively communicate potential issues and recommend solutions. No one’s perfect, so if you can spot issues early on, communicate them and recommend solutions. Don’t try to hide them and hope no one finds out, because people will eventually find out.
I think you get the idea. Upward management is all about proactive action, especially proactive communication with senior people.
One final note — as we have discussed before, hard work alone does not guarantee success. Take two people with the same job level at some company — Jane and Scott. If Scott and Jane both do good work, but Jane also does upward management (e.g. spends time building relationships with senior people — social events, lunch meetings, sends emails that share the success of her work without bragging, proactively asks for feedback about her career in the company), who do you think has a better chance of getting promoted faster? I would say Jane. What do you think?
Your comments: Do you agree that upward management is an essential skill to your job and career success? Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.
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