Ten Tips for Managing Up in Customer Success

Ten Tips for Managing Up in Customer Success

Managing up can sound manipulative - it’s not. It really boils down to one thing:

Being considerate.

When someone is in a position of authority it’s easy to forget they are often overwhelmed, tired, or focused on anything other than your performance.

At its core, management is about:

  • Helping others achieve their goals.
  • Clearing away obstacles.
  • Finding out how they work best.

There’s no reason this should only go top-down.

So here are 10 ways to manage up - that your boss will thank you for.

1. Get Clear On Your KPIs

Being successful at your job is often the best way to work well with your manager. You can only do that if you are both crystal clear about what that means.

Here are a few questions to ask your manager to build a shared understanding of success:

  • What does success look like in my position?
  • What are the key indicators that show I’m being successful?
  • How and when do you measure those?

Don’t be afraid to ask these questions even if you have been in your position for a while. You can say that you realized you hadn't discussed the KPIs for your position formally.

You may think you know what they are, but it's important to confirm you're on the same page.

2. Remember They Are Human

We’re all just people. There's no getting around it. No matter what the numbers say on a day-to-day basis, people have a whole other world going on in their head.

They have struggles, funny things that happen, and insecurities just like you do. It’s exhausting to pretend this isn’t the case every day.

The chance to honestly answer the question “How’s today going for you so far?” is a breath of fresh air.

Work is not family. But you probably see your coworkers just as often, if not more. So you might as well be a human first and a churn-busting robot second.

I’ve ended up with amazing friendships with former bosses of mine just by taking the time to focus on them during 1:1s for a few minutes and honestly care how they were doing.

3. Discover Their Goals and KPIs

Along with caring comes genuine curiosity. Ask what projects they are working on, and what they are measured by as a manager. If they are confused by your asking, you can explain that:

  • You’re curious about what it’s like to be a manager and what those responsibilities look like.
  • You’re on the same team. If you know what makes them look good to their boss, you can keep an eye out for anything that might help.

A word of warning on this - if you want to help them, you can’t create more work for them. If you see an article that might be relevant to a project they are working on, don’t just forward it along - summarize the key points.

It will win you major brownie points.

4. Tell Them How You Like to Be Managed

You didn’t come with instructions. But your manager wants to know how to best work with you so that you can be successful. As long as you are polite about it, let them know. Don’t be afraid to tell them what makes you most effective.

For example:

“I find that frequent interruptions mess up my focus and productivity. I want to make sure I can get (X project/ client work) done, so would it be alright if I checked my Slack once every hour or two, rather than responding immediately?

We could put a special notification in place for things that are urgent.

Would that be okay?”

5. Exchange Communication Preferences

There are many ways to communicate. How can you best get your messages across?

Would they prefer that you ping them with any questions or save it all for your 1:1s?

Is there a time of day when they are heads down and need to focus?

Hint - by asking these questions, your manager might ask you what your communication preferences are too. This is a good thing. Be honest about when you are most focused and able to take in information.

6. Discover Their Pet Peeves

We’ve all got them. Random little things that drive us absolutely up the wall. And most of the time we grit our teeth and bear it. You don’t want your manager doing that with you.

So ask them if they have any pet peeves. If they mention something you’ve been doing, don’t freak out! It hasn’t caused an issue so far, and now you know you can correct it.

Most likely though, it won’t be anything major. Just a good piece of info to have.

7. Take Control of Your Career Development

Your manager cannot read your mind. If you want to learn something - tell them. If you want to get promoted - tell them. If you’re struggling - yes, that’s right - tell them.

We honestly do want to help. But your manager is not only focusing on you. They have other direct reports and competing priorities. Don’t wait for them to notice. You have to speak up.

8. Come With Solutions

Whenever possible, take the initiative on creating a plan, rather than asking for directions. For example - getting promoted.

Which approach do you think your manager would appreciate more:

  • I’d like to talk to you about what I’d need to do to become a manager. I’m interested in it and wanted your take on what I should do.
  • I’m interested in becoming a manager. I did a little research and compiled a checklist of skills and experiences that I think I need. I’ve checked some off the list already, but would you be willing to take a look and tell me if I’m missing anything? Would it be possible for me to learn some of these on my list by assisting you in these ways?

You’ve taken away the grunt work. Your manager wants to help you, they are just usually overstretched. Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.

9. Be Honest About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

If you are great at something, for heaven’s sake bring it up!

This is not bragging. It’s efficient. If you like working on particular kinds of projects, let them know. That’s an easy win for both of you.

It’s also okay to be honest about where your weaknesses lie. Be willing to learn, but it’s okay to admit something isn’t your strong suit. If you’re great at data but bad at presenting in front of people, that’s totally reasonable.

There will always be someone whose strengths and weaknesses are the opposite of yours. Help your manager put the right people in the right jobs.

10. Say Thank You

If something works, call it out. Everyone likes to get praise, and it doesn’t have to feel awkward. A simple thank you is enough, along with the reason that you’re grateful.

“Thanks for talking me through that. I understand much better now” or “Thanks for the acknowledgment in this morning’s meeting. That meant a lot to me.”

You Got This

To be clear, managing up is not about making someone else do what you want. It’s about clearing barriers and making it as easy as possible to achieve shared goals together.

Good management works in every direction. We’re all adults here.  The point is to agree on shared goals and work together to make them come to fruition.

Take five minutes to think of things from your manager’s perspective, and both your worlds will flow much more smoothly.

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