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If you’ve worked in brand management for any decent amount of time (or even just business in general), you’ve probably heard the advice that you need to “manage up” or “manage your boss”. While I believe this to be true, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone explain what it means—or how to do it.
The spirit of this advice is often “don’t let your boss screw things up”. The objectives are to set expectations, eliminate surprises, and avoid the dreaded micromanagement of our work. It’s easy enough to understand, but difficult for most to do in practice.
The good news is that one of the best and often mis-utilized tools for managing up is within your reach: your standing 1:1 with your manager. I’ve found that if you simply structure your 1:1 meetings in a particular way, managing up becomes almost automatic—and your manager will always know what to expect.
Here are three sections you should flow through during each of your 1:1s. You can even print out a single page of paper with these on it as a way to manage the meeting.
1) Recent Wins/Recently Completed
It’s a good idea to start your 1:1 with a few positives. Part of managing your career is making sure your manager knows about and acknowledges the good work you are doing. Focus on the recent wins/completions that have the biggest impact.
This section shouldn’t be a laundry list of tasks you’ve completed. A list like that is actually dangerous, as the more tasks you bring up, the more the manager may think you need them weighing in on everything or that you need approval. Instead, keeping this section focused gives your manager the sense that you have a command of the business and can operate on your own.
If there’s anything else your manager needs to be informed about in case it comes up later—possibly from someone else in the organization—put those here as well.
2) Upcoming/High Priorities
This section is where you put the few things of most importance in the coming week or two. These can be the biggest deliverables you are working on and/or the hottest priorities that need your urgent attention. Again, you should not review an all-encompassing task list for the week (unless you want your manager to think they have to micromanage you).
You are not asking for help on these. Instead this section serves to align on the top priorities. Your manager may have a point of view that some of the items on your list should be deprioritized, or that something is missing from your list. This kind of realignment is a good thing.
If you discover new priorities from your manager, you can also discuss items currently on your list that can come off or be de-prioritized in exchange. Be careful to anticipate your capacity and proactively manage your time in this way.
If you properly discuss the two sections I’ve outlined so far, your manager will now feel like you have a clear handle on the business. Things are getting done. You know what to do next and how to best spend your time. Now, there’s just one thing left you need to do…
3) Help/Resources/Action Needed
This is where you direct your manager’s attention. At the end of every 1:1, your manager should know exactly what help looks like and where to focus their efforts.
If you don’t do this, your manager will decide on their own where you might need oversight—you could end up being micromanaged or they may step in unexpectedly on something you already have a handle on.
This section should ideally be a very short list of items where you need their review/approval to move forward, you need resources you don’t currently have access to, or you need their help removing a political/cross-functional roadblock.
Telling them which actions you need them to take also has the effect of keeping them away from the areas where you want more autonomy. And if you’ve built trust through sections one and two above (and great work in general), you’re more likely get the autonomy you need.
Putting It All Together
If you follow the flow I’ve outlined, you’ll have a much easier time managing up. Not only will your projects run more smoothly, but you’ll portray a clear command over the operations of the business/brand that you work on. Your manager will trust you more, and sing your praises to others.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.