There’s an oft-repeated phrase: “People don’t quit a job, they quit a boss.” Certainly if you want to go the manager route, it’s critical to become a trusted captain in order to retain a top crew. But foisting all the blame onto bad bosses when these pairings go awry is also an oversimplification — one that takes agency away from the employee.
Like any relationship, that of the manager and their report is a two-way street, and the task of navigating the often bumpy road along a startup’s course falls on both parties. There are those managers who you instantly click with, falling into an easy rhythm as though you’ve worked together for years. Others duos may seem like you’re trying to force two repelling magnets together. But more likely, your relationship with your boss falls somewhere in between these two extremes.
Whether you’re taking on your first direct report or you’re a seasoned leader looking to sharpen your skills, there’s plenty of advice to go around when it comes to managers. But when the focus shifts to those who are being managed, many of those concrete tactics and strategies get decidedly less detailed. While it’s universally understood that building a good relationship with your manager takes work — even if you take to each other like a duck to water — the prescription for how to do so often fails to pack a punch.
That’s in part because managing up is a rather amorphous category, encompassing everything from developing rapport and trust, decision-making, communication style, conflict management and goal-setting with higher-ups. To further sketch out the do’s and don’ts for managing up, we’ve spent the past few weeks reaching out to some of the sharpest folks we know for their take on this important question:
What is your best tip for managing up?
We were especially focused on borrowing tactics that can be applied right away. The responses we got back from these experienced startup leaders opened up a vault of knowledge that’s rarely unlocked. Some tips focus on templates for communicating most effectively and consistently, while others are from experienced managers with plenty of examples for what they wish more direct reports would do. You might not agree with each tip, but we promise you’ll find at least a few that you’re excited to try out.
Whether you’re joining a brand-new team and want to start your partnership with a new manager off on the right foot, or you’re looking to make an already great working relationship with your boss even better, there are plenty of low-lift tactics ahead for how to manage up effectively. We’ve broken this mega-list down into seven categories — click below to navigate to each section.
Leave your assumptions at the door
Hone your delivery for communication that comes through loud-and-clear.
Boost your chances of hearing ‘yes’ to your ask
Get comfortable with feedback (on both sides of the table)
Share your impact the right way
Build lasting rapport and trust
We hope this provides a detailed map to follow as you put together your own managing up playbook. Let’s dive in.
LEAVE YOUR ASSUMPTIONS AT THE DOOR.
“The biggest reason people suck at managing up is because they don’t actually understand their boss’s job — but almost always think they do,” says Varun Srinivasan, former Senior Director of Platform at Coinbase. “Building context is hard to do, because you only see a small sliver of what your manager does, and each step of the management hierarchy brings different problems,” he says.
Acknowledging this inevitable divide is the first step before you actively work to paper over the gaps that exist between manager and report. Here are some tactics for doing just that:
1. Always align on these two questions.
Two-time Review subject Julie Zhuo is a product design powerhouse (formerly of Facebook) who we’ve previously turned to for tactical advice on hiring designers and essential questions for new managers. It’s no surprise that the co-founder of Inspirit’s got a succinct way of simplifying the hazy concept of managing up.
“Make sure you and your manager have the same answers to these two key questions: 1) What is success for me personally? 2) What is success for my manager’s team? If you aren’t sure your manager knows what you care about, or you don’t know what your manager cares about, ask in your next 1:1,” she says.
The intersection of your success and your manager’s success is where magic happens, and where your opportunities for fulfilling impact lie.
But this isn’t a one-and-done conversation in your earliest meetings with a new manager. How your manager defines success will shift as a company’s goals pivot — which is a guarantee when working at a startup. To stay aligned, raise these questions on an ongoing basis.
2. Show your work with what matters most.
“To effectively manage up, you’ve got to understand what your boss wants and needs. This is an exercise in radical empathy and motivation,” says Jan Chong, VP of Engineering at Tally. “What signal does your manager use to determine whether they can trust your work — is it peer validation? Metrics? Identify the mechanisms and tap into them. Getting that right will ease nearly every other aspect of your job,” she says.
Randhir Vieira, VP of Product for Omada Health, echoes this — it’s not just about discerning what your boss wants, but how they best respond to your evidence. “Make an effort to understand what is important to your manager and why. When you make this investment, you can provide them with a steady drumbeat of the things they care about — whether it’s metrics, milestones, progress reports, testimonials from your cross-functional partners, and so on,” he says.
Managing up is not an event — it’s an ongoing process that, when done right, can be very rewarding. Treat it as an investment, not an overhead.
3. Break out of your tunnel vision.
Leave it to the Review’s favorite behavioral scientist, Matt Wallaert, to carefully examine the shifting dynamic between manager and direct report. “When you’re working for someone, you often have a spotlight effect on your relationship: You naturally think of your relationship with this person as their most important (and by extension, your project is their most important project). In reality, being a manager is about competing priorities across team members,” he says.
“One of the essential parts of managing up is understanding what actually are your manager’s most urgent priorities, and then adjusting accordingly. If you’re at the top of the stack, over-communicate. If you’re not the most pressing thing right now, you have to learn to drop back and do really great work. That way, when you do become the top of the stack, it’s for the right reasons — and not because everything is on fire.”
Evita Grant, CEO and Founder of TecHustle, agrees that empathy for what’s piling up on your manager’s to-do list — even if it means your own projects aren’t on the forefront — goes a long way to building lasting rapport. “Managers are just like everyone else, juggling a million things at a time. Many managers are incredibly stressed and do not know how to manage their stress. Look out for moments when you can empathize, connect, and help alleviate that stress,” she says.
4. Focus on what’s keeping your manager up at night.
“Often people are so focused on solving their own problems, they don’t think about how their proposed solutions create more problems one level up. What are your boss’s problems and how can you solve them?” says Jan Chong of Tally.
Proposals that solve your problems and your boss’s problem are gold.
To really get your manager’s attention, keep an eye out for the walls they seem to run into over and over again. “Anticipate their needs and identify things you can take off their plate. That way, they can do more of what they value,” says Jules Walter, Product Leader at YouTube.
HONE YOUR DELIVERY FOR COMMUNICATION THAT COMES THROUGH LOUD-AND-CLEAR.
It’s no surprise that the majority of the tactics we sourced focused on communication. After all, you can’t predict how your manager reacts in situations or what they prioritize, but you can control your delivery. Putting in the work to correctly calibrate your message to your manager’s style is a win-win.
5. Open up about your “work love language.”
Starting off a new role by outlining the who, what and how is critical to hit the ground running. But often left behind — yet equally important — is the why. “Early on, share with your manager what motivates you and drives you to do great work — including what’s important to you outside of work and what your long-term goals are,” says Erica Galos Alioto, Chief People Officer at Opendoor.
“This will help keep your morale and productivity high and ensure your long-term happiness and retention. Great people can easily falter or burn out if their manager doesn’t know their ‘work love language,’” she says.
Not sure where to start? “There are tools out there that will help you understand how a person thinks and acts — use them. Better yet, schedule a meeting with your manager where you walk each other through your Myers-Briggs assessment. It’s free and almost guaranteed to leave you with a much better understanding of your manager (and vice versa)” says Nels Gilbreth, former Head of Commercial Strategy at Eventbrite.
Another tactic we’ve leaned on here at First Round to iron out different working styles is for managers and reports to both create a user guide, including preferred communication channels, working schedule — anything that’s valuable to know right off the bat. Even if you’ve worked with a manager for some time, going through the user guide exercise can be a valuable refresher or illuminate some assumptions you’ve made along the way.
6. Observe how your manager listens.
You can spend hours crafting the perfect message, but if your manager doesn’t hear it in the way you intended, all that work goes out the window. It’s a lesson Julia Banks, Director of Global HR Operations at Zendrive, learned the hard way. “With observation over time, you can learn how your leader processes inputs. For example, one of my bosses had a tendency to stop listening after my first sentence, because his mind would race to find solutions to what I was talking about,” she says.
“Once I observed this, I flipped the order of my words, which made a huge difference in our relationship. Instead of saying, ‘Here is the problem, and here’s what I propose we do,’ I would say, ‘Here is what I propose we do to solve this problem.’ My position sky-rocketed with this simple tactic,” she says.
7. Calibrate to match your manager’s involvement.
Ting-Ting Zhou, Product Manager at Facebook, has had managers all over the spectrum from micro-management to completely hands-off. For the former, she leans on concise-but-full updates detailing everything she’s working on (and then some) to make sure they’re always in the loop. “I think through what they’re probably going to ask me and always stay a few steps ahead so they’ll start to develop more trust and I can create more autonomy for myself,” she says.
But for managers where she’s having a hard time getting their attention, Zhou employs a specific formula. “When I have a manager who’s more hands off, I share with them my team’s wins and challenges, with a focus specifically on the latter when I need their support. I’ve found these types of managers mostly want to make sure they’re available to support me when I need them, so I focus most of our time on sharing a recent challenge and asking for their feedback. I rely on the ratio of spending 15% of time on wins, 85% of time on the challenges,” she says.
8. Communicate early and often to avoid surprises.
“This is something I see a lot of junior folks struggle with at the beginning of their careers. They think they’re bugging others with constant, timely communication, but this isn’t true at all. When you communicate proactively, you’re giving your leaders up the chain of command the gift of choice: To act on that information, to store that information as notes, or just not do anything with it,” says Pedro Álvarez-Tabío Togores, Engineering Manager at Stride.
“It’s a far better position to be in than the alternative: Leadership asking you directly when something isn’t right, which almost always happens when they’re removed from the inner workings of your work. Nobody’s perfect — deadlines slip and the unexpected occurs. But the more data points they have, the better,” he says.
There’s nothing managers hate more than surprises. At the first sign of something not going according to plan, just be upfront and communicate clearly. I’ve learned that the hard way.
9. Don’t get stuck in your ways and ignore your audience.
While most directly connected to building trust with your boss, when you strengthen your managing up muscles, it will pay dividends across all your cross-functional partnerships — just ask Evita Grant. The fintech leader’s got plenty of partners to manage, and they each come with a different set of do’s and don’ts.
“Everyone has a preferred communication style. Once you learn this, you can develop a working relationship and rapport around it. For one partner I worked with, brevity was key. I avoided any unnecessary emails, meetings or calls about things I knew the partner expected me to handle. Instead, once a week I scheduled 30 minute or one hour meetings to discuss issues that needed the partner’s attention,” she says. “Another partner was social and liked to be involved. I cc’d that partner on every email with the clients, and frequently made a point of dropping by the office to discuss client issues in person.”
10. Lean on OKRs to make sure the message sticks.
“I’ll be the first to admit I still have a lot of work to do with managing up, but one of the most successful tactics I’ve learned to use — and really appreciate when my own direct reports use it with me — is to make sure I’m speaking the same language as my manager. By language I mean understanding what’s important to the manager and business as a whole, and then framing anything I’m doing or want to do in that context,” says Matt Nicosia, Director of Growth at Crossbeam.
“Looking to the company and team OKRs really helps here, because they’re already agreed-upon goals that you can tie your work to. But sometimes there’s something even more specific that you know keeps your manager up at night. Highlighting how something you want to work on will move the manager’s goals or that specific metric can give you a lot more freedom to define your own strategy and take some pressure off the person above you,” he says.
11. Distinguish between communicating and vocalizing (there’s a difference).
“Communication is the foundation for everything. This encompasses communicating your goals for career development to try to align your work to those goals, or voicing your opinion on a task, strategy or process that you believe could use an adjustment for the better,” says Michael Urrutia, Senior Data Analyst at Thirty Madison. “But being more vocal doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better at communicating. You need to be thoughtful with the message you communicate, otherwise the result will not align with your intention. Pointing out areas for improvement without ideas for solutions is not worth much,” he says.
BOOST YOUR CHANCES OF HEARING ‘YES’ TO YOUR ASK.
The waters of managing up can feel choppiest when you’ve got an idea or a project that you want to run with. Navigating the thicket of approvals — from getting buy-in on the small kernel of an idea, to committing resources, and pulling in other stakeholders — can often put even the strongest manager-report relationships on thin ice. Here’s how to lay the groundwork for a smoother negotiation.
12. Start leaving a breadcrumb trail.
When it comes to making a big ask, it can be tempting to hoard all the information until you’ve crafted the perfect plan to present. That’s a mistake, says Ralph Loura, SVP CIO of Lumentum and former CTO of Rodan + Fields. “Don’t save up a big topic until you feel you have all the answers — anything worthwhile takes time to build. An old manager of mine had a ‘rule of seven dippings,’ which essentially means that anything sufficiently complex or abstract takes multiple exposures (in his case, seven) in order for someone to internalize the concept,” he says.
Margie Mathewson, VP of Business Operations at Ossium Health, has also seen that even the best ideas need time for processing. “When I present an idea to leadership that I really care about, I try to do it in pieces by dropping the idea casually at first, and then following up with a more thorough conversation or a presentation.”
Especially for big changes, you can’t expect someone to see things your way right off the bat. Give them time to absorb the idea.
13. Create a shared understanding of the problem.
“Managing up is about building a relationship with your manager where the two of you are partners in problem solving,” says Betty Liao, Senior Director of Product Management at InVision. First, she recommends you ask yourself:
What information do you have that your manager doesn’t yet know?
What are the constraints you’re operating under?
What are your current unknowns? How are you planning to get more clarity?
Next, consider the possible strategies together:
What constraints do you believe should be challenged?
What alternative paths have you considered? What are the tradeoffs?
How can your manager best support you?
“This approach contributes to a productive dynamic where managing up becomes an ongoing partnership. It may not always lead to a clear ‘yes’ to the solution you’ve proposed, but it nurtures trust and collaboration, so difficult conversations are easier to navigate in the future, says Liao.
14. Don’t bury your requests.
Andrew Bonventre, Staff Product Engineer at Stripe, is a big fan of leaning on email — as long as you use it wisely.
“Writing regular email updates has by far been one of the most effective ways of managing up. These could be project updates, team wins, or personal progress. The emails don’t need to be overly formal — in fact, many recipients typically appreciate a more familiar tone as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the content,” he says.
But where he sees a lot of folks go wrong is treating these general updates as a dumping ground — and as a result, the recipient could be missing some vital points. “Don’t mix requests in — those should be sent separately and in a much different format, i.e. shorter and extremely clear on what exactly you need from the person,” he says.
15. Always do your homework (and the extra credit).
“When asking my manager or a senior stakeholder for their feedback on an idea, I come up with two-to-three options and create a table that outlines the lift and resources needed, pros and cons, and other stakeholders that need to be brought in,” says Jimena Sanchez Gallego, Associate, Strategic Operations at Flatiron Health. “This makes for an efficient ask because you’ve already done the pre-work for this person and they can focus on next steps, or asking the questions you might not have thought of,” she says.
Her final tip? Tailor the information you share based on the person’s priorities and preferred style. If they care most about revenue, highlight that impact at the top. If they prefer a couple slides over a long document, create a few visuals. “This extra customization step goes a long way,” she says.
16. Keep the lines of communication open.
If you’ve got the yes and it’s full-steam-ahead on your project, it’s only the beginning. “Sometimes we get stuck in our own worlds and heads, and forget that our managers and leaders are there to support us and help us achieve shared company goals. Ask for what you need,” says Brittney Gwynn, Product Management Leader at Artsy. “If you need more time for strategic thinking, help getting unblocked, or just a thought partner on a thorny problem — ask for it. Your manager is busy and not a mindreader, so they likely don’t know what you need unless you are explicit about it,” she says.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH FEEDBACK (ON BOTH SIDES OF THE TABLE).
We’re big believers that feedback is an ongoing process — not something left to just a formal discussion once or twice a year during performance reviews. Establishing a firm cadence, with space for both manager and direct report to deliver feedback, is a critical piece to the managing up puzzle.
17. Let positive feedback come through louder than your own doubts.
“Listen to your manager when they give you feedback. When the feedback is good, believe them and allow their voices to be louder than whatever imposter syndrome is creeping up in the background,” says Shannon McNair, Business Operations Manager at Persona.
Your manager gains nothing by giving you false praise, so hear their words, feel them, digest them and continue doing whatever it is you’re doing well.
But when it comes to constructive criticism, try to stomach it — especially if at first it rings false. “Sometimes it can feel like a personal attack, because our identities can be so closely intertwined with the work we deliver. Do your best to decouple yourself from the work, and try to understand what your manager is struggling with. Hear what they want to be different, and make intentional steps towards correcting that behavior. Listening well the first time can help ensure that the constructive feedback turns into praise the next time around,” says McNair.
Adam Grant popularized this concept of responding to feedback by thinking about the Second Score. The feedback someone gives you is out of your control. But you can control how you respond to what they’re telling you — and it’s another opportunity to be judged well.
18. Don’t just try to please your boss.
Ralph Loura sees plenty of well-meaning folks go astray when they believe that a good direct report never disagrees with their manager. “You’ve already got the job — stop interviewing. If you’re trying to impress your boss or the rest of the exec leadership team you are wasting all of your time,” he says.
Rosa Hamalainen, Co-Founder and Head of Product of Rupa Health, strongly agrees, and borrows this mandate from Reed Hastings’s book, “No Rules Rules.” “Netflix has a really simple rule: Don’t seek to please your boss. This is so vital to managing up — you have to be able to push back against your manager if you believe something is in the best interest of the company,” she says. “If you ever find yourself wanting to ‘talk shit’ to someone else about your manager, it’s something you should bring up to your manager in a productive way,” she says.
We’re all working together to move the company forward, not to make our bosses happy.
But rather than just shutting a request down with a firm ‘no,’ Hamalainen leans on a simple phrase. “If a manager gives me a task, I like to say, ‘Here’s all the other priorities on my plate — where does this new task fall?”
Nels Gilbreth uses this very same tactic. “There have been many times when I've had a lot on my plate but my manager didn't seem to know it. Helping you with your prioritization is almost definitely in their job description,” he says.
Another potentially sticky situation? When your manager dumps a new project in your lap, or advocates for approaching a problem in a particular way — one that you’re not exactly on board with. “Sometimes managers ‘just know’ that one direction is the right direction. I find that disagreeing with them point by point is often a terrible idea,” says Gilbreth. “It’s much better to help them explore their own idea by asking questions, such as, ‘What information would tell us that this is actually the wrong idea to pursue?’ In other words, work with them to make the idea falsifiable.”
19. Train your manager on how to treat you.
One more from TecHustle’s Evita Grant: “You cannot add value to your manager if you don’t believe your manager is treating you well. So it’s important to ‘train your manager’ from the very beginning. For example, I did not answer partner emails after 7pm on weeknights and weekends (except for emergencies) because I didn’t want them to believe I was available 24/7. I never told them this explicitly — I simply used my actions to shape their expectations,” she says.
“To give another example, a senior associate leading a deal scheduled a meeting with a client without checking my availability. I respectfully asked him to always check in with me first before scheduling meetings to avoid conflicts,” says Grant.
SET THE TONE IN YOUR 1:1S.
You’ve likely got a weekly or bi-weekly 1:1 meeting with your manager on the calendar already. But while these sync meetings are an expected part of any manager-report relationships, they’re still tricky to get right. From finding the time amid calendars bursting at the seams, to honing in on what to cover, these meetings can start to feel more obligatory than critical. But when done right, they’re a powerful tool for building trust and upleveling your impact.
20. Create a doc to hit the most important points.
“In my 1:1s with my manager, I make sure our shared agenda and notes are populated ahead of time with the topics I want to discuss, as well as providing any context necessary — like linking to relevant documents. Some of the most productive and effective 1:1s are when our agenda and notes are well-organized ahead of the meeting,” says Edwin Chau, Engineering Director at Brex.
Here are the specific sections he recommends outlining in a shared doc:
FYIs that don’t need a discussion
Updates from the report
Updates from the manager
Follow-ups on action items from the previous weeks
Samet Gray, Product and UX Research Manager at FairShake also finds that meetings run much smoother when anchored by a shared doc. “I've found that when I need to manage up (or be managed up), it is easiest to go off of an idea or document that has already been created rather than asking a manager (or being asked) to produce something from scratch. Editing or commenting is so much easier for a manager,” she says.
21. Set the tone with a new manager using these five questions.
When plotting your course with a new manager, Dare Olonoh, VP of Sales at Salesforce, suggests you lean on these questions in the inaugural 1:1 — even if you think you already know the answer:
What are the things you care most about and are trying to accomplish in your role?
What are your biggest challenges?
How would you describe my role and responsibilities?
What are your pet peeves that I should avoid?
Who is someone you had a great working relationship with that reported to you and why did it work so well?
Not only does this alignment set the tone early for your relationship with your manager to blossom, but also paves the way for recognition up the chain. “Your direct manager will be your biggest proponent or detractor when it comes to how senior leadership views you. Make sure that relationship is as healthy as possible,” he says.
22. Give a bird’s eye view before zooming in.
“Ahead of each 1:1 meeting with my manager I list out projects, deadlines or topics that are top of mind. At the beginning of the meeting, we scan all of it together before going deep on any one topic. This enables my manager to know everything that’s happening — especially the ‘important, but not urgent’ items. We also look for items where we need to coordinate and set up a separate review,” says Justin Montibello, Global Sales Strategy & Operations at Pinterest.
Outside of the 1:1s, he also relies on a tactic that’s well-known but often underutilized. “I’m a big believer in the ‘FYI, no action’ email. I clue in my manager on the tl;dr or why it’s important information for them to know and schedule the email send for when it will be most convenient for them to read. This helps to establish trust that the team is on top of things and reduces any surprises,” he says.
23. Grade yourself on alignment.
Nikhyl Singhal, VP of Product at Facebook, is a favorite over here on the Review for his ultra-tactical approach to shaping the product org (check out his take on crafting product teams for each stage of the company cycle). So it’s no surprise that he’s got an equally well-thought-out approach to 1:1 meetings. After each meeting with his manager, Singhal does a quick gut check on what’s coming across loud and clear. “Take a minute to understand what’s top of mind for your manager, and compare it to your notes before the meeting. If you’re consistently surprised and these two don’t align, you need to be getting more signal throughout the week — from your manager and your surroundings,” he says.
Rafael Balbi, Lead Product Manager at Vimeo, also implores you not to leave this to chance.
It's important to explicitly ask your manager if you are aligned. Asking this question helps to draw formal lines in the sand that give you and your team the confidence to execute.
24. Peer into your crystal ball.
“When you’re tasked with a project or deliverable, table stakes are completing the project and doing your best. To truly impress, think through the questions you’re likely to receive on said work, and construct answers in advance of sharing with your manager,” says Marc Lombardo, VP of Business Development at Nomad Health.
On this point, Tomika Anderson, Head of Operations at The Lobby, strongly agrees: “Be super prepared for any time you spend with your manager. Have an agenda, list of questions or solutions at the ready so you get the most of their time. Depending on the meeting, even consider sending them over in advance. If your manager is waiting on you to pull your thoughts together, that can sour the meeting from the beginning,” she says.
25. Bring your whole self to the table.
“I have an hour-long 1:1 with my manager approximately bi-weekly, which leaves us enough time to not just go over the work queue and status updates, but also talk about what I’m learning and what challenges I’m facing. Not just within the office, but in my life more broadly,” says Nicholas Moryl, Head of Operations at Rupa Health.
“We discuss important internal relationships and skills or competencies that I can build up, as well as how work fits in with the rest of my life. It’s really important that we make space for discussions on how my work and non-work lives interact and mutually support (or don’t support) each other,” he says.
The more my manager sees me as a whole human, the better the relationship is and my success in the role.
SHARE YOUR IMPACT THE RIGHT WAY.
Outside of 1:1 meetings, there’s still plenty to communicate over the course of the week — but grabbing attention amid a flurry of emails, meetings and Slack messages can seem like you’re trudging up an unending mountain. And with the shift to virtual work, there’s no more quick elevator catch-ups or face-to-face syncs over a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Here’s some ideas to lean on instead.
26. Think self-service.
“Written asynchronous communication is especially important in the remote world that most of us are in today,” says Edwin Chau. “At Brex we transitioned to a remote-first company and we’ve gone all-in on a memo-driven culture. Managers can read at their leisure and comment async, rather than requiring a live discussion all the time. This makes our Zoom 1:1s much more effective,” he says. Whatever the project is, like an upcoming product launch, Chau ensures there are centralized status updates that can be accessed in a self-serve way, with a single source of truth.
Justin Berka, Director of Analytics at Great Jones, agrees — with a caveat. “I recommend providing managers with a light way to see what’s top-of-mind for you and your team, which is a ‘pull’ approach, versus needing to write lots of emails and Slack messages to keep them informed (a ‘push’ approach),” he says. “But during more challenging times, it’s important to be more proactive and skew more towards ‘push,’ with frequent status updates and specifics on next steps, owners and timelines.
Nicholas Moryl of Rupa Health is another big fan of the asynchronous approach — although he uses it for everything on his plate, not just a project-specific doc. “I keep a clear and concise list of my priorities, the status of each, and any potential current or upcoming blockers — it’s in a shared tool, like Notion, so it can be referenced at any time. It also includes any backlogged projects that aren’t a current priority, but I’d like to tackle down the line,” he says.
27. Create a State of the Union report.
“It’s nearly impossible to over-communicate,” says Lenny Rachitsky, a former product lead and head of consumer supply growth at Airbnb with a rabid newsletter and Twitter following. He’s dropped knowledge on the Review plenty of times before — from his secrets to a smooth planning process and the power of performance reviews, to customer acquisition playbooks for startups.
To simplify managing up and to hold yourself accountable, he suggests sending a weekly “State of Me” email to your boss. “Regularly share what you’re doing, what you plan to do, and what you’ve done with your manager. This weekly email should include your current priorities, things on your mind, and blockers you need help with. You can also highlight material changes to your priorities from the week prior,” he says. Rachitsky includes a simple template you can borrow:
“Try it for just two weeks — it will work wonders,” he promises.
Tushar Makhija, VP of Revenue at Airbase, also finds that not only does the templated approach make it easier to build the habit, it also makes it simple for your audience to digest each week.“I’ve found it very helpful to create a template for sharing results and data to founders. It makes it consistent and easy to track progress by reporting on the same metrics month over month. No matter the results (good or bad), they don’t come as a surprise, and we can dig into individual metrics to understand what is and is not working.”
Avoid surprises and the blame game. Data wins — always.
BUILD LASTING RAPPORT AND TRUST.
Ultimately, trust between you and your manager makes the inevitable bumps of startup life much smoother. From missed deadlines and shelved projects, to tense cross-functional partnerships, a strong rapport and working foundation will often go farther than any dashboard chock-full of metrics ever could.
28. Start with the basics.
“You don’t have to be best buddies to build rapport with your manager. The key is to show interest — pick a few topics that you feel are common ground. Maybe it’s generic talk about kids and family and weekend plans, or maybe you uncover a shared hobby. Whatever the case may be, showing your interest in the person you’re talking to is the single greatest trick you can add to your ‘rapport-building’ arsenal,” says Sai V. Cherla, Product Manager at Kindred.
Ralph Loura cosigns here:
If you want to be interesting, then first be interested.
29. Get tactical with building empathy.
“Empathizing up is really hard to do,” says Liz Kosinski, VP of People Operations at Sift. To make it more tactical, she leans on this rough playbook.
Assume positive intent: If you don't agree with a decision or plan, try not to jump to a place of malicious intent or lack of caring on the leader's part.
Get curious: Check assumptions and ask questions to get more clarity on how they are thinking about the world. (Bonus points: Asking great questions can build rapport and drive collaboration.)
Playback what you heard: Summarize what you're learning to make sure you truly understand their point of view. (Bonus points: When you can summarize well, people are oftentimes impressed not only with your active listening skills, but your ability to communicate back the essence of what someone is saying. This also helps them clarify their thinking if something’s amiss.)
Yes, and: Find the common ground, the thing you agree on and augment that with context you can offer to make the plan or idea even better.
30. Know the difference between mentors and sponsors.
“Your direct manager is more likely to be a mentor rather than a sponsor. This means they are close enough to the work that they see the good, bad and ugly, and provide guidance and direction,” says Orion Brown, Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox.
“That said, when you don’t have a positive relationship (yet) with your manager, having a sponsor in the company who sees your potential and keeps track of your wins can be a great way to indirectly manage up. Sponsors who are in the room where decisions are made that affect your career can sway a manager that is less engaged with you,” she says.
WRAPPING UP: HOW COMPANIES CAN SET THE TONE
While by definition, the process of managing up primarily falls on the reports to take the initiative here, there’s plenty that leadership can do within the company culture to encourage building up this muscle. Christina Zhou, Sales and Marketing Operations Manager at Instrumental, shares a few examples you can try. “Start employees off on the right foot by creating a training module for new hires on how to manage up effectively and how to give feedback in all directions. Continue to reinforce this behavior by publicly praising people for managing up — particularly in difficult situations,” she says.
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