Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

How to Manage Up and Keep Your Bosses Happy (Well, Most of Them)

Don't wanna work? Just wanna to bang on a drum all day? Okay, but the noise may result in you being escorted out by security. Best to ask us about something that's been bugging you. Shoot us an email and we'll keep you out of trouble.

Hi, this isn't a tip but can you do a post on how to manage up?  I work with 8 to 10 managers and senior managers on a regular basis and am often in a situation where 2 people or more than 2 people are asking me to do tasks at the same time!  I feel like I am always pissing someone off.  Also, I'm at a Big 4 in a niche group if you care.
I beg your pardon? Eight? Let me guess, your only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing your job. But you know, that will only make you work just hard enough not to get fired, amirite
When it comes to managing up, there are a number of things you can do that will result in a more pleasant capital market servant experience. We'll run down a few here before turning it over to all of you out there in Internetland.
1. Determine urgency – Everyone that's coming to you with their requests, complaints, problems, etc. thinks that theirs are most important. Ultimately, what you're dealing with here is the management of egos. You must assess each problem individually and decide what can wait and what can't and massaging those all those egos accordingly. There are false alarms all around you and it's key that you identify those and put them at the bottom of your pile. For example, you know the person that peppers "ASAP" in everything they write or is notorious for marking their emails as "high importance"? Unless something in the body of those emails mentions impending death, they are NOT the emergencies they are made out to be.
2. Resist being the eager beaver – You know what is probably getting you killed? When your superior writes you an email at 3:15:05 pm and it says, "I need you to jump" and you respond to this email at 3:15:25 pm with "How high?" This sets you up for disaster. Simply put – take a reasonable amount of time getting back to people. If you are Johnny-on-the-spot, returning every email in less than two minutes, you're creating expectations. Later, when you're swamped and can't respond for ten minutes, people are going to start wondering if you're slipping. Casually get things done in the expected amount of time and no one will ever get impatient with you.
3. Assess rank, act, and communicate with caution – When you have two priorities that are equal in terms of urgency and importance, sometimes you feel as though you have to close your eyes and point at one to determine how to proceed. This is wrong. First, measure the two seniors/managers/partners that are matched up for BSDishness. If there is a clear winner, then it's in your career's best interest to accommodate the bigger package. That DOES NOT mean you can blow off the person who is short-changed. Communicate with him/her as soon as you can to minimize the potential damage to their ego. If there's anything that the people above you hate, it's when something TOTALLY unexpected comes up, especially at the expense of someone else, even if it is a bigger wig. But if you get in front of them quickly and explain professionally that you're finishing something for so-and-so (who has a proverbial bigger d than you) and also how and when this screwed over person can expect their very important item. If this sounds like a tricky dance, that's because it is. You'll screw this up a few times before you get a formula down.
4. Don't leave people hanging – One of the best (and easiest) things you can do is simply talk to people. Are you going to keep everyone happy? HELL NO. Someone will always be pissed at you. The sooner you except that, the better. But you can minimize the dirty diapers by keeping people aware of your progress. You know what sucks? When you're a partner/manager/senior and you haven't heard from one of your people in a while, so you check in. And what does that person say to you? "Um, yeah. Haven't gotten to that yet. Kinda busy." Don't do that. Like I said, don't drop surprises on people, especially when that surprise is a giant paper bag of crap.
5. Don't set yourself up for failure by making promises you can't keep – If your boss has unreasonable expectations, then it's 100%-without-a-fucking-doubt-okay to tell them so. There are fire-breathing monsters in public accounting that can sense a flimsy spine through cubicle walls. Don't be one of those flimsy spines. Your career will die a miserable death at the hands of a frumpy, humorless, poorly dressed taskmaster. That's just pathetic. The sooner people realize that you won't put up with their pie-in-the-sky expectations, the easier your life will be.
Go forth.