Why Managing Up is Important
At the CIDM conference in September, Julie Bradbury gave us a refreshing but short overview of what she calls “managing up”; this case study expands and clarifies the points she made there.
Julie Bradbury is the Knowledge Transfer Director at Cadence Design Systems, Inc., and “in her spare time” she is a valued member of the CIDM Advisory Council. Her management style emphasizes collaboration and partnership with peers and upper management. While this style naturally suits her personality, she believes that all information-development managers should cultivate these attributes to enhance the standing, credibility, and long-term value of their departments in the eyes of the larger organization.
One of the most prevalent laments heard from information developers is “Well, I would do a better, shorter, cheaper, etc. document if `they’ would just let me talk with our users!” Generally, this statement is followed by a sigh, a look of frustrated resignation, and a sardonic comment about “them” (depending on the company, this could be engineering, marketing, upper management, or department management).
Bradbury agrees that information-development departments sometimes have limited travel budgets, tight schedules, and lack of clout in the hierarchy. However, she has developed a model to turn this “Oh, well.” attitude into a “Yes, well, what am I going to do about it?” attitude. The figure shows Julie’s four-point model. Working through the model is the process Bradbury calls “Managing Up.”
Managing up allows you to move out of your comfort zone, which is a sign of personal growth. She says that the degree to which you are able to communicate with and exert influence on people outside your group is a measure of your skill as a leader. If you learn to manage up appropriately, your job will evolve, you will begin to think differently, and you will find that your behavior changes to match your wider perspective.
When given appropriate visibility, these changes allow your department to benefit as well. First, other disciplines may not know how to value your department or understand the key drivers in our business. Second, you need data and visibility to make the value-added case for your department to prosper and evolve, which often means asking the business for resources. Third, as your business recognizes your increased capabilities, you will be given new responsibilities. These higher-level responsibilities often provide greater access to other innovators in the organization and greater insight into the business’ needs and values.
Although Bradbury developed this model as a theory, she has implemented it with good results. This case study outlines a very successful managing up project she began in 1998 and is still reaping benefits from today.
Develop a Business Perspective
Bradbury states: “Viewing things from a business perspective is the most important lesson when managing up.” A company is most focused on its revenue-producing activities and on serving the needs of its customers. If you manage a functional or service-oriented department in the company, it is easy to be distracted by internal interests and issues. Instead, you must learn to understand that what may be good for information development is bad for business. To clarify the difference between a business perspective and your department’s interests, ask yourself a series of questions:
- Do you know what the long term strategy of the business is?
- What do you need to do to position information development to support this strategy?
- Do you know what the key customer concerns are with the documentation?
- Do you know how you are going to address these concerns?
- Is there a way to partner with other groups to meet customer needs?
In 1998, Bradbury was looking for a way to get more input from users without inventing new systems. She initiated a series of meetings with the Director of Customer Support to see how the two organizations could collaborate on issues affecting their long-term strategies. The first question they tackled was to look at how much different types of customer support calls cost and how frequently the different types occurred. They were also interested in what kind of calls came at different times in the product lifecycle.
The Director of Customer Support agreed that she was interested in data that might lead to reducing repetitive calls. She saw the potential value of adding information to the documentation or to FAQ Web site her group managed. Therefore, these two directors formed the first link in a collaborative chain. They agreed to meet every six weeks to discuss progress.
Bradbury’s next step was to communicate her linkage with her management staff and to discuss her partnership goals with her team. Ultimately, Bradbury was looking for a way to develop metrics to track progress and improvements in documentation over time. Metrics are an excellent way to communicate accomplishments and requests for resources to upper management. Through her partnership with customer support, she hoped to develop metrics.
After meeting with her team, Bradbury invited members of the customer service team to her staff meeting to learn more about their department. She also dispatched members of her staff to offer similar presentations at customer service staff meetings. These “get acquainted” meetings helped spark interest in both departments, but without the next key step, only this small link might have been forged.
Bradbury’s next step was to create a management objective around partnering with customer support. This objective stated that each manager had to work with customer support in some capacity and to require all their writers to do the same. She also made a standing invitation to customer support to send a regular attendee to her staff meeting.
Partner with Upper Management and Peers
Depending on their projects, priorities, and interests, the publications managers developed several clever ways of partnering with customer support. Some of them read through the customer support call logs to look for remarks on documentation and for examples that could be added to make the documentation more useful. These managers found the logs to be extremely helpful; however, reading through them was time consuming. They put together a proposal to develop a automated way to “mine” the customer support database for information and examples related to publications.
The mining operation yielded two successes. First, it informed publications about the type of users who were having problems, what kind of problems they were having, and how the customer support engineers solved these problems. This insight led the managers to gather additional data from these customers if necessary and to point their limited labor resources at the hot spots. Second, the writers created examples and FAQs that would go on the intranet so that when customer support encountered the same problem, they would have a successful solution close to hand.
An additional benefit came when publications managers began sharing their data with engineering. The data clearly showed that some information required more technical assistance, which helped them argue for additional engineering review time for some projects.
By following this partnership path with one peer, Bradbury developed stronger relationships with her management, her staff, the customer support staff, and engineering. She advises managers to remember these key points about partnering:
- Make partners of those who are charged with representing the company’s interest in your work.
- Build a rapport with your manager and with peer managers, even if their personal styles are different from yours. Everyone responds positively to being consulted.
- Remember, when you ask for advice, you are also presenting your ideas.
- Understand, as clearly as possible, your manager’s agenda and objectives.
- Align yourself, especially publicly, with the values and vision dear to your manager and the organization.
These successes encouraged Bradbury to request permission to actively seek information from customers. She asked the Director of Customer Support if she could customize a couple of questions on the customer response card. After several weeks, Bradbury read through 324 responses and categorized them into four buckets:
- Use of examples
Eighty percent of the comments related to content and use of examples. Bradbury then created a pie chart displaying the data and presented it at her manager’s staff meeting. She used the data to successfully argue for a focus on increased technical content and more examples. In this case, Bradbury followed her own advice:
Come to upper management with recommendations and innovations. Initially focus on publications because you have credibility there. Once you have established your position as an idea person, you can begin to branch out.
This new focus on content/examples helps her explain why writers need to be technically competent. The data also help her encourage her writers to invest the time and effort to improve their technical skills.
Success breeds success. In Bradbury’s case, a single visit to a peer resulted in a far-reaching positive effect in her department, in the documentation users receive, in validating the need for highly skilled writers, and in new visibility for her department. In fact, the Customer Service Director backs the publications department and presents the relationship between these two departments in a positive way.
The key is to create a mutual agreement that supports an organizational goal. Make the goal important by calling attention to it on expectations documents and make time for employees to report and implement new ideas quickly. To start your own managing-up process, Bradbury suggests the following steps:
- Inventory your current managing up behaviors.
- Compare them to the four-point model.
- Is there an important business issue that no one else is addressing?
- Is there a step you can take on your own to begin working on the problem?
- What will tell you that you are succeeding?
Julie Bradbury also recommends taking classes, asking for feedback and mentoring, and reading the book, How to be a Star at Work, by Robert Kelley. If you have examples of managing-up successes, please share them on the Best Practices Listserv or in letters to the editor.