Managing upward is an art form that's especially important when jobs are scarce or on the block.
When the job market falters, many employees try to stay below the boss's radar for fear they might be next on the chopping block. However, it's far wiser to take the opposite approach.
Now more than ever it's especially important to be noticed (though for the right reasons, of course), explains Tina Chen, a director of permanent and temporary staffing firm Carlisle Staffing in Illinois, US.
"When companies trim staff, they will save the people who stand out because they manage their managers well," says Chen. "There are also more temporary workers now who could manage upward to get hired."
So instead of being the good-enough team member who the boss has trouble remembering, use these tricks to become noticed and indispensable.
1. Understand your boss
"Managing upward requires empathy," says Aaron Nurick, professor of management and psychology at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Nurick believes that the key to success is being able to see the world from your manager's perspective.
Instead of becoming frustrated by the boss, observe her work style and communication preferences and then adapt. You may be flooding the boss with emails while she finds it easier to speak via phone. Subtle adjustments on your part will make her job easier - which makes you look better.
You should also read your manager's reactions to the way you present information, says Nurick. For example, you may work for someone who loves numbers and has little patience for more abstract thinking. In that case, try presenting your boss with a quantitative analysis first, and then succinctly explain its impact. Notice, too, if your boss prefers being asked questions or given answers. Decide if you should cut to the chase or soften your opinion by adding, "Would you agree?"
2. Stay three steps ahead
Staffing expert Chen says that dealing with a boss can be like a game of chess.
"Always stay three steps ahead of your opponent, and take the lead," she advises. Employees who anticipate their boss's needs before they arise will be seen as leaders and problem solvers.
Once you understand and start to think like your boss, you'll be in a better position to take initiative. Let's say, says Chen, you're asked to find a person's contact information because your boss is working on an insurance policy renewal. Respond by saying, "Yes I have his information, and would you like me to follow up with him regarding the renewal?"
"For every action there's a reaction and then another action to follow," Chen explains. In other words, anticipate additional questions or requests and handle them before you're asked.
3. Be the better half
Become indispensable by learning your manager's weaknesses and complimenting them with your strengths. Perhaps your boss is a brilliant visionary but impossibly disorganised. Rather than griping about how difficult she is to work with, make up for what she lacks by taking on the role of organiser. Suggest deadlines, remind her of appointments and follow up on items she's forgotten. Not only will you have gained your boss's trust, you'll become the most valued member of her team.
4. Don't be afraid to speak up
Career expert and co-author of Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson, says most employees are afraid to approach their managers about issues with their work style. In a survey he conducted, 50 per cent of employees said they'd left a company because of a disagreeable boss, but only one in five had spoken with the boss about their concerns.
Patterson says the most common frustrations that employees face are micromanaging bosses and absentee bosses. Yet they rarely speak up.
"People think it's risky to address these problems, but if it's handled professionally it increases your boss's opinion of you," he says.
When initiating a tough conversation, Patterson suggests that you offer an example of a specific behavior, explain how it made you feel and then ask for the manager's perspective.
Here's an example of what you might say: "Last week you checked in three times on a routine project. It made me feel as if you didn't trust my ability to handle it. Is that the case?"
This formula opens the door to an honest conversation without the manager feeling attacked. Patterson emphasises that it's important to point out specific behaviors and not characteristics of your manager, so that he doesn't take offence.
5. Ask for more responsibility
If you want to ensure a path to the top, Chen says you should make an impression with the even higher ups - your manager's managers. Allow yourself to shine but don't overstep your boundaries, she warns. Your immediate boss controls your projects and promotions, so you need to maintain his trust.
A great way to gain an audience with company leaders is to ask for more responsibility. Identify a big project that you're confident you can handle, and then pour yourself into it to show what you can do. Another handy trick: offer to head up an initiative. Maybe you become the resident expert on new software or organise a company event. Suddenly, people come to you with questions and view you as a leader.
Ultimately, make yourself valuable. Not only will you receive respect, but you may be in line for a raise.