Are You "Managing Up" Your Career?
The care and feeding of bosses is a corporate art form that the current generation seems to neglect. But if no one knows what you are accomplishing, you haven't accomplished much.
Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology
I know some very smart people who aren't very smart about the people they work with. And especially about the people they work for. They haven't figured out that it's never too early to start to "manage up." Because this is something you'll be doing for the rest of your working life. Making sure that your bosses are in the loop, have a good idea of where you're at and what you're working on, and getting regular progress reports is critical to your career. Likewise, you've got to let them know which pressing matters are still open and which are already done, so they can take those items off their own to-do lists.
Talent, creativity, and hard work are all important, but nothing is more crucial than constant and effective communication. Like a tree falling in the forest that no one hears, if nobody notices and knows what you're doing and why, it really can't make much of an impact on your future. As the flacks in PR used to say, if you're gonna be in the paper, be on Page One. Don't ever assume that anyone knows anything because, among other reasons, almost everyone else has something better to do than to mind your business. So, make it your business to let them know.
In part, I think this somewhat surprising omission may be another unintended consequence of the "age of entitlement," where a growing subset of new employees seem to think that the world works for them. They just don't feel any need to justify or explain themselves to us boomers, Gen-Xers for that matter, or to be accountable for their actions. Believe me, it's not like these kids don't know how to toot their own horns. That's just another thing for which we've got social media to thank.
Almost no one of a certain age and ilk deems it necessary to report what they're doing and, more importantly, what they're actually accomplishing. They believe that their results should be obvious to anyone who's paying attention. It's a little like jazz: If they have to explain the concept to you, you'll never really understand. And if you don't get them, then their attitude is pretty much "whatever." Of course, this attitude assumes that their bosses have nothing better to do with their own days than to worry about and keep track of what Bill or Betty is doing. As if.
Even apart from the fact that this isn't (and never was) the way the real world works, what I find difficult to understand is where and when the train ran off the tracks for these new workers. The art of managing up is something that our peers, parents and professors have all regularly beaten into our heads practically from birth.
When we were kids, letting grandparents know you love them by accepting a painful squeeze or a sloppy kiss (even from the grandpa with the stinky breath) was also a way to ensure that he'd slip you a silver dollar at the end of the family visit. Writing an effusive letter home from summer camp would assure that another care package of goodies would shortly be on its way even if your counselor absconded with a large part of the goodies.
Boomers can remember the scene from the mid-60s movie How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying where J. Pierrepont Finch pretends he's been working all night by surrounding himself with empty coffee cups and miles of adding machine tapes (ask your parents). When big boss J.B. Biggley arrives slightly after him in the morning, the seemingly exhausted Finch appears to be fast asleep at his desk. The boss is suitably impressed.
And so on and so forth. These are life lessons that most of us learned early on. It's not like anyone we know just discovered the concept of quid pro quo. So how was this basic message lost on the newbies, and what can we do to get the word out that they're digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole? If you've got some of these folks on your team, here are a few things you might mention to them if they're listening.
1. Information has no real value unless it's shared, and sharing is a two-way street.
2. Saying too much is a good way to make sure you're not heard at all. Short and sweet.
3. Communication doesn't have to be fancy or formal - just quick, frequent and timely. Texting is OK.
4. You can't over-communicate--which is not the same as saying too much.
And one final message. You never want to put your boss or supervisor in a position where they have to plead ignorance when someone else asks them what you're doing. Because when your boss says he or she doesn't "know" about you, the truth is that they actually do know. And what they know isn't good news for you.