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MIT Management Executive Education

Quality Insider

Proactive Relationship Management

The ins and outs of managing up and down

Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - 12:48

Our first and second articles in this series have focused primarily on Bob Pozen’s tips for improving your productivity as an individual. Below, we suggest approaches to improving productivity within an organization through the proactive management of relationships at work.

Managing your team

“To be an effective boss,” says Pozen, “you need to set up a system that enables both you and your employees to get meaningful work done. At the core of this system is the successful implementation of ownership.”

Pozen encourages the principle of “Owning Your Own Space,” whereby all employees of a large company view themselves as owners of a small business. This approach builds entrepreneurial spirit among your team and sets everyone up to succeed—including you.

Here are five steps to effectively implementing ownership:
1. Set project goals. At the start of a new project, clearly communicate your goals and constraints—but let your employees establish the time frames for milestones. They will be more committed to meeting deadlines if they have a role in setting them.
2. Establish accurate metrics. Reach an explicit agreement on quantitative and qualitative criteria that will guide your team’s work. Choosing the right metrics will also help you have a deeper discussion with your team about what you really consider important about the project.
3. Supply needed resources. Make sure your team has the funds, headcount, and equipment needed to get the project done. Also, be ready to help your “lieutenants” win battles with other parts of the organization. Leverage your authority to help them.
4. Monitor without suffocating. You may be micromanaging, even if you think you’re not. Monitor the project in a supportive way by offering suggestions and revising goals and metrics as necessary, but be clear that they are free to achieve the revised goals in the way they think is best.
5. Tolerate mistakes. Be quick to forgive employees if they make a well-intentioned error. Create an environment where employees can talk openly about mistakes and learn from them. Whatever you do, don’t humiliate them. According to research, half of all humiliated employees intentionally decreased their productivity in reaction to their boss’s actions.

Managing your boss

“Managing up,” instructs Pozen, “does not mean manipulating your boss. It means establishing a mutually beneficial partnership. You want to become resources for each other.”

Here are a few tips for making the partnership work:
• Make sure you and your boss agree on what assignments you need to do and the relative priority of each.
• Match your communication style with that of your boss on the phone, in emails, and in person. For example, different bosses use email in different ways. Some use niceties, others prefer short, bulleted emails that cut straight to the point. Respond in kind.
• Take the initiative to submit a list of your accomplishments to your boss—especially at bonus time.
• Never jump the chain of command without giving advance notice to your boss, and keep your boss in the loop if you receive a request from his or her superiors. This loyalty is critical to building the relationship.
• Think hard about whether a disagreement with your boss is worth fighting about. If you decide to stand your ground, provide well-researched alternatives in a calm manner. Better yet, try to head off disagreements by talking to your boss in advance about how you plan to implement a project—even if you have total discretion to execute this project as you wish. This gives your boss a chance to express serious concerns before it can become a heated conflict.

First published on the innovation@work blog.

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MIT Management Executive Education

MIT Management Executive Education’s nondegree executive programs are led by senior MIT Sloan faculty and provide business professionals from around the world with a targeted and flexible means to advance their career development goals and position their organizations for future growth. MIT’s cutting-edge leadership training includes more than 40 short courses, executive certificates, online courses, custom programs for organizations, and its flagship program, the five-week Advanced Management Program.