How to Manage Your Manager

Last time we talked about how to get a raise by aligning yourself to the organization’s goals with the help of your manager.  Specifically, I mentioned 1-on-1s and quarterly reviews – but maybe you don’t have those.

This is a mixed sign – if your manager knows all about 1-on-1s and has simply chosen not to have them then it may signal lack of focus on the team members.  On the other hand, if your manager simply hasn’t been exposed to the concept then this is a great opportunity to provide coaching from below.

Regardless of the reason (and it will probably become clear as soon as you request time on the schedule) you need your 1-on-1 time.  This is the first step in managing your manager – but before you take the first step, you need to remember the first rule:

Managing your manager is all about making his/her job easier – while ultimately it’s about you, it’s not about you first.

Violate this rule and things are likely to go poorly.  Every manager actually wants pretty much the same thing: The most productive, most satisfied team with the least amount of effort.  This isn’t due to laziness as much as management time is consumed from all directions: up, down, and sideways.  When managers get efficient, they have buffer and slack to deal with the unexpected (both positive and negative) and get into the productive zone.  When demands from below start to consume an inordinate amount of time or energy, it leaves the manager in a compromised state to deal with the demands from above and the side.  What this means to you is that if you make it easy to manage you, your cost/benefit ratio takes an immediate uptick.

Back to the first step: You need 15 minutes.  While a good 1-on-1 should really be 30 minutes (sometimes more) that time should be split between each side.  In the beginning, if you’re asking for time then only ask for what you need and that should be 15 minutes.  This way your manager doesn’t need to prep (which would represent additional time/energy) and only needs to listen.  You need to prep, your message and questions need to be clear, and anything which requires thought or planning is a posed one week to be discussed the following week.  This time should be spent making course corrections on your progress to your quarterly and annual goals.  It is not “how am I doing?”, but rather “This is what I did and here’s what I’m planning next” to ensure you’re on the right path.

15 minutes – make them count.

Quarterly reviews can replace one of the 1-on-1s each quarter.

NOTE: This is not an ideal situation by any means – the ideal is that your manager wants 1-on-1s, schedules them proactively, and comes prepared with 15 minutes of material to discuss.  Hopefully you’ll get there by showing the value of the time, but be patient since it could take weeks or months.  In the meantime, you’ll be making progress and really helping to make managing you easier.

What if you can’t get 15 minutes a week on the schedule?  Honestly, that’s a bad sign but you can still do your part by sending whatever you would have discussed in person via email (or Slack or whatever is common in your environment).  Truly, this is a last ditch effort but is worthwhile nonetheless.  Even if it doesn’t get read, simply preparing the information will focus you more and help you perform better.

In summary, you can make yourself easier to manage by putting some of your manager’s work onto your own plate – just be proactive, focused, and clear.  This will also help you prepare to run your team later in your career.

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