Managing Up

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Photo by Angelina Bishep / Unsplash

I had a good conversation where I think I finally started to better understand what my manager and org were looking for in a specific document we maintain. I had never had a problem with having to keep this doc up to date, but at the same time, I always felt I was flying blind as to who the audience was. I had no idea how the content I was writing was landing. Thankfully, I finally got some better visibility and feel more comfortable using this document to manage up.

For those that may not have heard the term "manage up" the idea is really simple. Managing up involves how you communicate and manage the relationships with folks higher up in the organization hierarchy. The general idea is to ensure you're communicating what is happening in a way that is consumable by those folks that likely need a more concise viewport into your work.

My tactic for this process is to understand the audience you're speaking to and try to shape your message for that audience. This seems really simple, but it is challenging as you often are playing telephone the larger organization. The other challenge is how to take the information that you think about in depth every day and distill it down to something your leadership and the rest of the company can get value out of. Outside of the challenge of communicating clearly, it is really hard to understand your audience because you may actually talk to them. This could be a function of working remotely, but more than likely, it is really a function of people focusing on their own tasks.

When someone doesn't end up reading the communication, asking for feedback is pointless. You can try to game the system a bit by making your communications something people want to read, but there limits. You don't want clickbait titles like "Production just went down and here's how we fixed it!" The fact is, people have limited bandwidth and may not be interested in what you're trying to say, and that is OK!

While you can't directly use your audience, especially if they aren't listening, you can use your network of peers and your own manager. This has been my tactic and I can say it has certainly been helpful. I've tried to be very direct about why certain details seem unimportant or why I'd like to include some information. I ask a lot of questions as well to help better understand what I'm missing. This process of asking questions is clearly a skill to work on, but as I mentioned, eventually it pays off. In my case, I've finally internalized some aspect of my audience that was really hard to nail down. It wasn't easy to uncover from my own manager, but once I did uncover it, I was glad to have asked the questions. My hope is that I can use that understanding to continue to improve how I manage up!

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