While many career experts offer advice on how to “manage upward,” most will admit that the word “manage” is a stretch at best and a boldface lie at worst. Managers are managers for a reason. They are not easily led. For fear of being seen as weak or ineffective, most managers would rather make a wrong decision than accept direction from a subordinate. Rather than manage upward, consider how you can use the following seven subtle strategies to impress your boss and influence his or her plans:
Do Your Homework.
Any successful strategy is based on research. Understanding your boss’s needs and objectives is paramount in devising a plan to influence behavior and impress your boss. Begin by focusing on company or organizational objectives and work your way down to your department or business unit. Most business objectives fall into one of two categories: growth or cost savings. While company priorities frequently change, identifying how your idea can meet one of these two objectives will help frame your idea in a way that is meaningful to your boss.
Align Your Strategy.
To address their objectives, successful organizations typically focus their efforts on a handful of strategies that are in turn supported by company policies and investments. From automation and outsourcing to save on cost, to channel partnerships and innovation to promote growth, strategic plans are designed to get the resources of a company moving together in the same direction. When attempting to influence your boss’s behavior, a good idea is never enough. Your idea must propel your business forward in alignment with both company and departmental strategies or it will be shelved or rejected.
Co-opt the Ideas of Others.
Influencing an organization’s direction is not an easy task. Like filling a lake with pebbles, the impact of ideas is cumulative. The more you can tap into the prevailing mood or focus, the more successful you will be. Instead of pushing your idea out into the world to live or die on its own, consider how the ideas of others parallel or support your own. When possible, seek out others who share your vision of what your company should be and co-opt their ideas. Be sure you are effectively communicating your ideas!
Make it Real.
To be effective, you must be able to demonstrate and measure results. An idea without a goal is a daydream, not a strategy. Before you present your plan to the world, consider how you will be able to demonstrate its impact on meeting your company’s objectives. If your idea is designed to reduce expenses, be prepared to project savings into dollars and cents, and then provide milestones you will meet along the way. The preparation you do on the front end will ensure your strategy will be followed through to the end, rather than be abandoned along the way.
Build a Consensus.
Finding acceptance for an idea requires patience, planning, and persistence. Even the best ideas are not easily accepted. Ideas require people to change which means you will not only have to convince your boss, you will have to convince all those who are affected by your idea. Understanding the impact of your idea and working to ensure you have the support for it to be implemented is crucial in influencing your boss. Socializing an idea early and with the right people can smooth the way to acceptance, provided you have built the trust necessary for you to be heard.
Ideas and influence are cumulative. In place of focusing your attempts on large changes, try to consider how small wins can build momentum to help you reach your ultimate objective. A limited release, proof of concept, or trial program can limit the risk to an organization while setting clear expectations on results. Once met, these initiatives can provide you with the ammunition you need to go forward with a full implementation.
Choose the Right Time.
Choosing the right time to talk to your boss about your idea can make the difference between outright rejection and careful evaluation. While you may have completed your research and practiced your pitch, a distracted or stressed boss is unlikely to give you the consideration you will need to get your idea off the ground. Rather than spring your idea unannounced, schedule a time to meet with your boss that is long enough to whet their appetite without burying them in the details of implementation. Once you have had your initial meeting, follow-up with facts, plans, and collateral material to support your idea. Expect that you will go through many iterations as your boss begins to mold your idea into a plan you can implement.
While “managing upward” is largely a myth, influencing your boss’s behavior and direction is possible once you realize that your ideas will be combined with the ideas of others to meet the objectives of your organization. If you have a good boss, your contribution will be recognized and may lead to new opportunities for growth. If not, you will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that your contribution made a difference to your organization. In either case, you will have a better idea of what it takes to move an organization and will be better prepared to meet the changes of the next opportunity you find.
Still having trouble determining the best way to express your ideas? A session of our Career Coaching could be just want you need to map out your plans and have your suggestions heard!