Managing your manager | by Kim Scheepers

Kim ScheepersIn today’s fast paced world, with technology transforming every industry and multiple communication tools on hand, it is easy to become caught up in simple ‘reading’ rather than sufficient ‘doing’. This can land a person in hot water if they have failed to listen to what their manager wants and needs, or failed to execute on instructions and tasks because they feel overwhelmed by information and communication.

Geoffrey James, a columnist and author writes “It would be wonderful if success rested purely upon your ability to do your job, but that’s less than half the picture. Raises, promotions, and other perks often depend directly on whether you can manage your manager rather than whether your manager is good at managing you.”
In order to “manage up” (a catchphrase coined in industry to enable employees to assist managers), take note of the following five tips:

1. Simplify your communication:

A manager is also human. Decision-making is done quickly using information filtered from staff members. Dealing with multiple problems and people concurrently at a fast pace can be problematic if communication is not simple, accurate, and up to date.

Rob Nelson has it right in stating: “An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum of interaction with his or her manager”. In all aspects of one’s position, always provide current information, correctly and concisely – both verbally and electronically. In doing so, problems that could arise can be negated before they manifest themselves.

Keep communication lines open by asking questions when unsure about an instruction, or confirming instructions to ensure that the execution is correct the first time. Nothing frustrates a manager more than assuming that an instruction has been articulated and understood, only to discover that the employee has gone off at a tangent, wasting time, money and effort.

In today's work environment, it's easy to receive instructions via a number of mediums. Verbal instruction in a meeting or during a telephone call, or in email, test, group chats, voice note, or through a company’s internal communication system – and all of this can be overwhelming. Creating lists upon lists, and trying to work across these mediums can often be confusing and non-productive.

Sit with your manager and agree on no more than two mediums out of which you can predominantly work. Bear in mind that written communication is not only visual, but trackable, creating a timeline of instructions and questions and answers that can aid in the success of one's deliverables.
2. Solutions, not problems
I had the privilege of working under a maverick entrepreneur that grew a business from a three-person operation working out of a garage into a 250+, multi-faceted, multi-billion rand group within seven years, selling some of the verticals within a few years at great profit.

He not only relied on all his employees to keep things simple, but insisted that employees never approach their manager with a problem. Rather, he expected all staff who had a problem to think laterally and bring possible solutions to the table for the problem that had arisen.

In exercising this methodology, one not only constantly expands and broadens their knowledge and understanding of processes and solutions, but also garners a philosophy of ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’. With practice, this eventually gives staff the confidence and experience to brainstorm themselves, and ultimately fix problems without having to escalate them to management.

3. Information is key
Entering a new position can be daunting to an employee, if they are not clear on their deliverables, and how their manager manages.

Deconstructing any job description or job specification can be easy if one breaks down the where, what, and how of the role’s functions. In doing so, you can immediately focus on reporting on tasks during planning, implementation, and completion phases. Developing a system of always providing and sharing information frequently, and reporting upwards, allows a manager to have the correct information on hand needed to make decisions.

Conversely, a manager would not need to constantly ask for information if they know that the reporting line is open and clear. Simply stated, it is the onus of the staff member to organise themselves in order to perform at the required level of accuracy and expediency.

4. Go the extra mile
Working with colleagues always creates an environment of competition or complacency. We have the over-achievers, the under-achievers, and the ever-present “coasters”. Included in the mix are the back-stabbers, the suck-ups, the introverts, and extroverts. It’s like high school, except in a work environment where one’s actions have far greater consequences. Going the extra mile, quietly and consistently, will ultimately give you one up on your colleagues, without the internal politics and/or conflicts.

Managers will not only recognise this behaviour, but will ultimately appreciate working with someone that they see as being forward thinking and proactive. Dale Carnegie wrote that “People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.” I would add to that statement, that in being organised, methodical and ahead of the pack, one reduces stress on deadlines, diminishes chaos and creates a more peaceful working environment in which to exist. Go the extra mile, it’s never crowded!

5. Confidence
All managers need their staff to have confidence in not only their production, but also their dealings with peers, management and clients. Having the confidence to ask questions, execute actions, make decisions and most importantly to own mistakes creates a trusting, cohesive relationship.

Exercising the above steps in a "wash, rinse and repeat" cycle will increase positivity, productivity, and decrease errors and potentially costly bad business decisions. As is often attributed to Aristole, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit”.

With the above framework in mind, the phrase ‘managing your manager’ may not actually be accurate to describe the process; ‘being prepared for your manager’ is probably more apt. Take note of your manager's management style, how they prefer communication and tasks to be implemented, and actively learn to “read” your manager in order to be able to perform expeditiously by leading from behind.

Kim Scheepers is a director at Cagro Consulting Services which provides HR & administration assistance to companies of all sizes -

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Posted on October 08, 2018