Corporate Diary: Management begins on Day1

Do you believe that managing people only involves overseeing a large number of employees who report to you? As some of you may already know, this is a common misconception. In today’s knowledge-based industries, effective people management involves leading and collaborating with colleagues at all levels of the organization. However, some employees may not be aware of this leadership approach, as it has become the norm without being explicitly documented or identified. For those who are unfamiliar, managing “up” refers to managing your supervisor, their peers, and their superiors. Managing “sideways” involves managing your colleagues at the same level as you. Managing “down” refers to managing individuals who report to you, your peers, or junior staff regardless of their reporting line. Let that sink in.

I am frequently approached by recent graduates and mid-level managers seeking advice on how to achieve rapid advancement in the corporate world. While luck certainly plays a part, there are many competencies that you can cultivate that others may lack. Although I possessed some of these competencies prior to starting my career, I learned many others through trial and error. That is why I began the “Corporate Diary” series – to share stories that may be beneficial to others.

The traditional approach to managing up and sideways doesn’t involve tasks such as performance reviews or task assignments. It’s not about stepping on someone’s toes either. Often, managers need help with understanding the realities on the ground, including priorities. Sometimes they are overwhelmed and unable to address all the issues necessary for the team’s success. I’ve personally experienced this and have offered my help to my manager, which has given me the opportunity to work on various projects, such as budget decks, quarterly reports, and c-suite presentations. At the time, I didn’t have anyone reporting to me, and while my initial work wasn’t perfect, I received feedback from my manager, which helped me improve and prepare for the next level. This approach saved my manager’s time, as they were able to fine-tune my work, resulting in a win-win situation.

During program pitch preparations, managers also require honest pushback and feedback to sharpen their strategies. Contrary to what some may believe, it’s not necessary to agree with everything your boss says or to suck up to them. In the end, your manager may choose not to take your suggestions, and you must respect that. However, offering honest feedback helps establish yourself as someone who can be counted on to provide valuable input and contribute to the greater good of the organization. Depending on the team’s situation, this may also position you as a potential successor.

To succeed in your job, it’s crucial to understand your manager’s priorities, focus areas, and goals. Rather than waiting for your supervisor to check in with you, take the initiative to communicate proactively and keep them informed about the team’s progress, risks, issues, dependencies, and morale. Instead of simply reporting problems, adopt a solution-focused mindset. If you’re unsure about your responsibilities or expectations, seek clarification from your manager. It’s important to ensure that you and your manager are aligned on timelines, deliverables, and goals to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstandings. Building trust is essential for a successful working relationship, so make sure to follow through on your commitments, be transparent, and demonstrate your competence.

In today’s complex business environment, managers value employees who can solve problems rather than just identifying them. To impress your manager, take the initiative to propose solutions and prioritize them, and present data and examples to support your proposals. Identify potential risks and suggest ways to mitigate them. By presenting a clear plan, you demonstrate your initiative and a problem-solving mindset that will help you stand out.

Old way: “There is a problem ABC. What do you want me to do?”

New way: “There is a problem ABC. I recommend X with P priority. Here’s rationale, data, and examples of why this will work. The risk is Y but we can address it by Z. If you agree, I can start by doing THIS”

Some problems may need help from teammates, other departments, etc. If you are able to list them, obviously it helps your manager. You could go a step further if you have established enough relations in the organization to influence them with the work.

Remember, managing up is not about manipulating or controlling your managers. It’s about building a strong working relationship based on mutual respect, effective communication, and shared goals. By focusing on these key principles, you can effectively manage your supervisors and contribute to the success of the organization.

While you may not have formal authority to manage your peers in the traditional sense, you can still exert influence and foster collaboration to achieve shared goals and objectives. Strong relationships with your peers are crucial. Set an example for your peers by demonstrating a strong work ethic, positive attitude, and effective communication skills. This will earn you respect and credibility and inspire your peers to follow your lead. Ensure that everyone is on the same page by communicating clearly and frequently with your peers. Be open to their feedback and ideas and be willing to compromise when necessary. Encourage teamwork and sharing credit for successes to promote collaboration. Work together towards a common goal and celebrate wins as a team. Remember, managing your peers is not about exerting control or authority over them, but rather working collaboratively to achieve shared goals. Managing sideways is essential for bringing about cultural changes in the organization. I have written an example of that in another article –

There is much literature available on managing employees who report to you. I am just going to summarize for first time managers. Most talk about following – Set clear expectations about roles and responsibilities including from the time they are hired. Regularly provide feedback to your employees to help them improve their performance. Recognize their achievements and provide constructive criticism to help them develop new skills and overcome challenges. Give your employees the autonomy and resources they need to succeed. Delegate tasks and responsibilities to them and encourage them to take ownership of their work. Foster a culture of open communication in which employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, and feedback. Be receptive to their input and ideas, and be open and transparent in your own communication. Set a positive example for your employees by demonstrating strong work ethic, positive attitude, and effective communication skills. This will earn you credibility and respect among your team and will inspire them to follow your lead. Provide opportunities for employee training and development to help your team develop new skills and grow in their career. This will not only benefit your employees but also benefit your organization as a whole.

Leading your team with empathy is often an underrated element. While it’s essential to promote meritocracy and set high standards, it’s also critical to understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and assign work accordingly. During my early years at IBM, I was made team lead with only one year of experience, overseeing a team of 20 contractors with 10+ years of experience. I expected them to perform at a higher level without recognizing their limitations, which ultimately led to most of them quitting. I later learned that they were paid significantly less and lacked adequate training. This experience taught me the importance of recognizing and appreciating individuals’ circumstances and motivators.

As a manager, it’s also essential to groom junior team members, even if they don’t report to you. While the direct manager has delivery-related responsibilities, there are opportunities for you to provide training, mentorship, and critical feedback for improvement. You can involve them in organizational activities and ask them to present to your team or senior management to share their learnings. High-performing teams that see you as a leader who cares about their progress will approach you for guidance and mentorship. Remember, the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers.

In conclusion, influencing your peers, managers, and their managers from day one can establish credibility and create opportunities to lead with empathy. Don’t wait until you have direct reports to start making a positive impact on the team.