Managing Up

May 21, 2020, Department, by Michael Biedenstein, CPRP

2020 June We Are Parks and Rec Managing Up 410

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Learning to shift your perspective to bring upper management on board

Initially, the concept of managing up can seem to be a risky manipulation of supervisors by employees for personal gain. In fact, managing up is simply team members learning how best to communicate with their leaders. Managing up takes work, trial and error, and can be frustrating. But, in the end, both the supervisor and employee are more productive and, therefore, happier as a result of a better working relationship.

If the employee can think from the supervisor’s perspective and tailor the presentation of their proposal or idea accordingly, then the employee’s chances of success multiply exponentially. To understand the supervisor’s perspective, the employee must strive to determine the following:

What Is Important?
Some supervisors are driven by cost recovery or return on investment. If you can prove that your idea will turn a profit or cover the required overhead expenses, these supervisors are more likely to approve the idea. Others are especially driven by the number of people served or by the impact on some other organizational key performance indicator. In parks and recreation, in particular, sheer creativity and fun may be a top priority. Take time to listen to which ideas the supervisor approves and highlights and craft your next pitch accordingly.

How Do They Listen?
Do your emails always go unanswered? What if you stopped asking for approval in the email and instead presented the idea via email before asking for approval in conversation? On the other hand, does your supervisor always seem too busy to talk? Try setting aside a time in their calendar. If you don’t know where to start, try presenting the information in a PowerPoint, spreadsheet and written proposal format to see which format the supervisor seems to gravitate toward.

How Do They Say Yes?
Trial and error is a must here. Some supervisors want choices that they can ultimately decide on. For others, that approach will delay the proposal significantly due to the supervisor’s paralysis by analysis. In this case, if the proposal email had been simply reformatted to say what course of action you plan to take for the supervisor to approve, then it could be quickly given the green light. Furthermore, some supervisors love talking out options while others view this as a waste of their time. The employee may have two minutes to make their pitch before the supervisor assertively makes the decision and the discussion is over. Frustration here is inevitable and understandable, because it is hard to tell whether the idea was flawed or if the delivery was wrong. That said, finding the optimal approach can have a big impact.

What Do They Need?
Often the most valuable thing to a supervisor is whatever will be valuable to the supervisor’s supervisor. If your proposal will fit in with an organizational project or priority that your supervisor is working on, then your proposal is in a much stronger position. Take the time to read published reports and news articles so that you can better understand the pressures that your supervisor is experiencing. These pressures could be nearly anything: budget reductions, social equity or improving employee satisfaction. Find ways to have your proposal be a part of the solution for your supervisor.

Research reveals that more than half the population has voluntarily left an organization to get away from a bad manager. These studies make it easy to throw your hands in the air and complain that you have one of those terrible managers who are unresponsive and never listen to their employees. While the hope is that the supervisor miraculously improves overnight, the employee actually has a choice: either remain frustrated with the problem until quitting or take the initiative, adapt and be part of the solution. As the employee, you can step up to the plate yourself and communicate more effectively. You can manage up!

Michael Biedenstein, CPRP, is Park Program Services Division Manager for St. Louis County (Missouri) Parks and current Chair of the NRPA Young Professional Network.