Managing Up - Best Practices?

I have absolutely loved the CU-only threads that have been started recently and wanted to start one of my own in case it comes time for this feature to no longer be available.

So, my question is this: what are some of the strategies, stories, best practices, etc., that some of you guys have when it comes to "managing up"? By this I mean how do you guys establish and foster relationships with your superiors that have allowed you to either get promoted or receive positive recommendations when moving on to other opportunities? The VP-level guys and up, I'd also love to hear not only what has worked for you and what you're still currently doing in this regard, but also what you guys look for from your junior guys and how they treat you on this subject.

For me personally, I know it is something I can do a better job of. It is also consistently stated as one of, if not the, most effective way to move up within your firm. Looking forward to some insightful posts.

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Comments (26)

Mar 19, 2018

Two things that have worked for me:

  1. Always come with a view. In other words, when presented with a problem / impasse / decision node on a project for which you need senior input, don't present it to them as an unstructured issue. Structure the problem, and present your recommendation for the solution, even if you are in over your head. You want to solve the "blank-sheet" problem for the manager, and give them something to react to, rather than giving them the problem of having to start from scratch. Even if you're incredibly wrong on your answer, "this is the problem and this is what I think we should do" is more useful than "we have a problem and I don't know what to do."
  2. Know what comes next. At any given time, on any project, you should know what workstreams, timelines, and goals your manager is facing. If you don't know, ask. You should never be in a vacuum where you're tracking a project segment without the greater context of the project and its downstream dependents. Have a nervous switch where the next goal, next deliverable, or next deadline is always known and queued up for when your current task is complete, and if you don't know, find out.

There's a theme here, and it's that the more you understand the context and responsibilities of your team and manager, the more you can do to make yourself easy to manage.

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Mar 19, 2018

Huge proponent of both these tips.

Item 1 can't be stressed enough - many new analysts think that just recognizing the problem is good enough and that they'll get a "good job ________ for catching that". But what separates an ok analyst from a good analyst is that the good analyst will say "here's the problem, here's how it happened, here are some potential solutions - let me know what you think should be done".

Mar 24, 2018

Agree with you on the importance of item one. This was something that I had to learn the hard way right out of undergrad. You've only got so long of a runway until you go to your manager and say "hey boss, i've got this problem and really don't know what to do" and he says "and what f do you want me to do about it, buddy?". The ability to show the willingness and capability to help be a problem solver is so crucial.

Big thanks to @Layne Staley for the original contribution!

Mar 19, 2018

This may not apply everywhere, but Cover Their Generational Blind Spots.

Your superiors are almost always older than you and have years more experience than you do, but there is a fallacy that just because something has always worked doesn't mean it always will.

In real estate development, old people can be just that - old. Multifamily in particular is incredibly trendy and as a 20 or 30 something it's important to remember that for the most part you are the market. What you think is cool or beneficial in terms of fixtures and amenities is typically far more relevant than what your 60 year old boss does.

There's a balance between trendy and time-tested that is essential to projects, and if your boss is bringing the experience, it's often up to you to bring the up-to-date relevance.

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Best Response
Mar 19, 2018

Good question.

(I really think that these threads are going to require a lot of tagging to get any traction, or will at least until enough people get in the habit of filtering to see if any new gold threads got created. So: @CRE / @Frieds / @BobTheBaker / @DickFuld / @StaphyBone / @dcrowoar / @RobberBaron123 / @23mich / @Asymmetric / @hominem / @rickle / @TheBuellerBanker / @In The Flesh / @Dedline / @TheGrind / @LeChiffre / @Whiskey5 / @Simple As... / @AmoryBlaine / @BatemanBatemanBateman / @WidespreadPanic90 / @Disjoint / @TorontoMonkey1328 / @TippyTop11 ... to get the ball rolling.)

Easy answer. Make their life easier, not harder.

I boil this down into three components:
* Simplify their day
* Don't make the same mistake twice
* Make things understandable

a) Simplify: Be willing to do whatever it takes to help them live an easier life.

If you're getting a coffee for yourself at 11am, pay an extra $6 and get a second and drop it off. If you email someone a first draft of a deck, print it out and add sticky notes sticking out on each page that mention each comment or question you summarized or called out for their review in your email.

If your VP or MD has a bad secretary (more common than you'd think), stop by their office at 1:55 and ask if he wants you to dial into the 2:00 and get the other two team members in his room. (This can actually offer some good learnings; I tended to zone out on calls if I wasn't in a room with someone, but in a room with someone more senior doing the talking, I got to watch them live and key into exactly how he was reading whatever the person on the phone was saying even before he spoke.)

I could go on with more examples, but the point is to try to figure out whatever processes or pain points you can improve on for their behalf. It is not brown-nosing. Try to "productize" whatever you can.

Obviously some people are so sycophantic themselves that they'll read what you're doing as sucking up. Also, some bosses are so abusive that they'll trample all over your kindnesses and push the boundaries on what they can get out of you.

Try to find the good guys to work for, though, and if you have a decent boss, be low-key but consistent about finding ways to make their day easier, whether that means proactively doing the work you know they'll ask for on each type of transaction or a more mundane task.

b) Mistakes: Don't ever do the same thing wrong twice.

No one expects you to be perfect. People do expect you to learn quickly, however, and the easiest way to develop an unfavorable reputation is to fail to produce accurate work once someone showed you how.

We've all heard the classic "It's only a mistake if you make it twice." It rings true.

c) KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

I'll re-purpose some of what I wrote in response to @Frieds on my 'best advice' thread.

I used to spend an inordinate amount of energy obsessing over all the minutia and intricate details of what, how, and why a deal would or wouldn't work. Funny thing is, when you get in front of really senior, powerful people, they all want to go back to the basics. That brilliant scene with Jeremy Irons in Margin Call is very apt.

I learned to work smarter and put the effort into simplifying the problem so people could then apply their intelligence to giving the hardest answers.

The best analogy I have for it is that grade-school math principle we all learned: LCM (least common multiple). Yeah, the math still has to work out, but if you can simplify the equation by boiling things down to their fundamental components, all of a sudden the problem gets way easier to solve.

Take things down to their basic building blocks ("We should care about X because Y", or "ABC-Party is going to notice DEF-thing and ask us about GHI and JKL; which of those do we need to prepare for?"). Give someone the coloring book and crayons and let them fill the picture in for you.


If someone makes my day easier, I want him around me more. He is an efficiency booster and I don't care how much more he has to get paid or what shinier title he has to get. Selfishly, he helps me get more done, and what do I value more than my time?

Similarly, if I have unwavering confidence in his ability to execute on what I've given him in the past, I want that guy to be the one to do the things I need done. I don't mind teaching, I actually like it a lot (hell, that's why I contribute to the extent I do on this site). I do mind teaching the same lesson over and over.

And someone who shows up with an easy up/down decision for me to make based on all the framing work he's done is a guy I love.


Good thread, @ShelbyCompanyLimited (and great username, what a show).

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Mar 24, 2018

Try to find the good guys to work for, though, and if you have a decent boss, be low-key but consistent about finding ways to make their day easier, whether that means proactively doing the work you know they'll ask for on each type of transaction or a more mundane task.

Your entire post is damn near print-out-and-staple-to-your-cube-worthy, but this part really struck a cord with me. This can have such an impact not only with your performance and prospects of advancing, but your overall happiness at the job.

I've been in a situation where a peer and I were one the same team, essentially had the same job, etc., however I had the good fortune of being assigned most projects with the better manager than my peer. It was almost like my peer and I were living in two different worlds. For as much as the relationship with your boss is about making his life easier, the good ones are those who generally care about making yours easier too.


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Mar 19, 2018

So I posted my bullet proof comps recipe on a prior thread. Something that might not have been obvious to people: you do that once, maybe twice and then the senior people get that you are solid and you move on.

The next time you do comps, you will not have to put in as tremendous an effort, and you efficiently only focus on highlighting material details (a new acquisition etc.).

This is a simple example that is supposed to highlight a philosophy more than a technical skill (at the end of the day, deals aren't closed because of great comps). It's about instilling confidence up so that you have the political currency and reputation that just makes your job easier in general (from a managing up perspective). Your superiors will take you more seriously.

Love the comments above, btw. +1.

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Mar 19, 2018

I don't just bring them the problem, I basically try to solve it and offer 2-3 options and let them feel smart for choosing. I also as APAE mentioned, include how the decision will positively/ negatively effect their time or day. Eg: portfolio company is having issues with manufacturing data, we can either instruct them to hire a specific data analyst that will feed us data how we want it, or upgrade ERP system, or simplify the metrics. We each of these choices you layout the upside/downside (with relation to their time/ reputation) with cost and time involved. By basically having vetted the options, I know what my workflow will look like when they choose one of the options.

Also over communicate, and over hype issues at the beginning of the month or quarter that way they don't inflate to something bigger.

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Mar 19, 2018

I don't think I've managed up very well so far in my career, and it's something that I'm still trying to improve on. That said, here's what I've learned so far.

  • Set reasonable expectations and give myself leeway for unforeseen challenges before taking on a new project
  • When these challenges do appear, understand how it impacts whatever I'm working on, and let my direct manager know about ways I think we can approach the new problem
  • During the downtime, try to just chat with people at the office if they're not busy. Understanding what everyone's working on better allows me to see where my piece fits in.
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Mar 19, 2018

Agree with many of the other posts, but I'll add/modify a few:

Learn the specific pain points of each partner; this relates to APAE's suggestion of "Simplify their day", but realize pain points can vary greatly depending on the partner you are working with. For example, I work with one partner who still loves to jump in a LBO model, but doesn't care much for writing/presenting the memo for investment committee. For that partner, I try to handle all of the writing and will be much more vocal in committee because I know that's not something that partner particularly cares for. Another partner really loves marketing, attending management presentations and presenting to committee, but doesn't particularly care to dig through data rooms and running the models, so I handle that for them. Not all senior partners like doing the same things and it's important to realize each partner's pain point and help alleviate that stress proactively.

Learn the bottlenecks to advancement; similar to the above comment, realize that PE is often a "fixed seat game" and that your opportunities for advancement are often directly related to the advancement of your direct superiors. If the next person above me needs to get more active in sourcing/marketing to advance, I'll do whatever necessary to help them get out on the road. If their efforts get noticed and they get the nod for advancement, they'll remember you helped them get there. It's a virtuous cycle.

Don't underestimate extracurriculars; rooting for favorite sports teams, same educational backgrounds, similar taste in music; we try to connect the dots on these items during an interview process, but it continues to matter long after you get hired; I've seen a lot of PE professionals who golf/cycle/ski/row, etc. together and this helps build confidence and rapport much faster than just interacting in the office.

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Mar 19, 2018

Hey man. Good to see you again, I love your posts.

Are you still an associate, or are you VP or whatever your fund titles its pre-partner level yet?

Mar 19, 2018

Thanks, APAE - always really enjoy reading your comments as well. We don't have a VP title, but I was recently promoted to our highest deal execution role (pre-partner).

Mar 24, 2018

Thanks for your contributions @AmoryBlaine . To your last point - my wide array of interests from sports, to music, to investing, to you name it, allows me to connect with almost anyone on some sort of subject. One thing I'd like to add is always have an open mind, i.e. don't insult something without knowing how those listening feel about it (or better yet, don't insult stuff at all unless your insulting yourself with it). You never know who is listening and what they think.

I went digging through your old posts and found them super insightful. Hope to see more from you when your schedule permits!

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Mar 19, 2018

I think it's important to reframe your thinking from: "How can I move up in an organization" to "How can I help my boss/team move up in an organization"

I'm sorry to always talk about Jocko Willink, but his leadership principles are really good. I've adopted many of them and seen great results.

One example I have dealt with is micromanagers:

I once had a chronic micromanager supervisor, who also happened to not be very good at his job. So bad he would walk me step by step mind-numbingly through tasks sometimes with the wrong info. I confronted him by, as Jocko would say, "flanking" him.

After he misread something and almost walked me into a big mistake I stopped & said. "Hey boss, I noticed you have a lot of stuff on your plate. I know I am new but you have done a great job of showing me how to do the task a & b. Why don't I take the lead next time these tasks come around. Also, here's how I'm going to do it: I'll read the notes from the prior completion of the task, I'll print my work and check for accuracy, and I'll run it by you when the final version is ready... Sound OK"?

Doing this a, stopped him from interrupting a task & causing 3x the amount of time it should take to complete it. b, got him off my back but got me on his good side, he liked that I stepped up and took charge. c, this boosted my reputation with him because I gave him praise, gave, him the credit and massaged his ego.

Additionally, this podcast had many leadership examples:

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Mar 24, 2018

I am not familiar with Jocko but will definitely check him out. Both of those videos had my attention all the way throughout.

I also can totally relate to your story of working with a manager who was not good at his job. There is one that comes to mind where I honestly had to consistently remind myself to point out his errors without trying to make him feel bad. Granted, he just had his first kid and was taking on a lot of new responsibility at work, but it is never an ideal situation when your manager thinks he is correcting you on something and that leads to you having to full on explain the mechanics of a technical calculation because he doesn't understand how its done. This is probably where a lot of the 3rd year Analyst/1st year post-MBA Associate horror stories come from.

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Mar 24, 2018

I also want to point out one strong side-effect of the CU-only threads: it makes finding the older quality content significantly easier.

This may just be my experience, but as someone who never really got serious on WSO until a year or so ago, I found the best way to discover quality content was to find a quality post and then start researching all the posts/comments from that author. This usually led to me following them or bookmarking the good stuff. Probably does not come as a surprise that most of the great insights come from a small pool of users. The fact that many of these users are certified means that I can now simply go to the CU-threads and click through all the different people who have posted or have been tagged by others in hopes that they'll post. This is a much more efficient way to sift through all the noise.

I may be saying something that everyone already knows here, and maybe this was part of the original idea of CU-threads, but I thought it may be worth sharing.


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Mar 20, 2018

@ShelbyCompanyLimited @APAE This is also something I'd like to improve upon, but for sure a couple of things help:

  1. When the boss has been away for an extended (3 days or more) time period, I like to prepare a **high-level bullet point summary **covering everything that happened (issues, questions requiring his input, etc) during the time they were out. It helps them prioritize when they start digging through their inbox upon their return. It's always been appreciated.
  2. Making them look good to their higher-ups. Pass along good, honest feedback where appropriate. Take advantage of face time when they "go to bat" for you with other members of senior management. It all reflects on them as stuff tends to roll uphill.

Metal. Music. Life.

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Mar 20, 2018

Dominate in an in-demand niche -- Understand your strengths, build a skill set that is world class and apply that skill set to an industry in-demand niche. You do this, you're indispensable and you'll be able to leverage that position to move up.

Stack your deck -- Always be stacking certifications, stellar projects, presentations, publications, portfolios or whatever. Try to find as much overlap between what progresses your career internally and in the industry as those are double-whammies. Build a body of work that has to be promoted, or you'll just move vertically in industry. Your firm or headhunters will usually make that decision clear for you.

Be the personality your team needs -- It's night / day the person who I am at work and the person I am outside of work. At work, I know exactly the person that I need to be a respected leader. At my old job, I was gregarious, open and a bit off the wall in the dialog because that was the winning personality in an environment full of introverts. At my current job, I play the role of a serious, listening, emotionally-detached perfectionist in a team of extroverts. It's a stark contrast, but a necessary contrast to balance out the interpersonal dynamics of the team. I am often left out of the creative, artistic and brainstorming aspects of our work, but I am the scrutiny to see if the ideas generated hold water. Where the majority of my team loves the front-end, I'm the only guy who plays the evaluator. I love my odds.

Lose the ego -- You need to act like professional athletes in a massive blow-out win at all times. Sure your deck is stacked. Amazing that you threw for 25/27 400yds and 5 TDs. But at the end of it all, remove self from the equation. It's all about the team. Any large accomplishment I have, I redirect praise to those who helped me get to where I needed to get. Thank your boss, thank the people below you, thank your peers, thank the company, thank the man up-stairs. Your boss' #1 priority is the success of the unit. Make it your priority as well.

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Mar 21, 2018

First, to be mentioned in the same breath as @DickFuld is the highest honor of my WSO career. Some of what I'll mention below has been touched on earlier in this thread, and in those cases consider it me echoing and seconding their advice.

  • Present decisions, not indecision: When presenting a problem/issue, come with a proposed solution and reasoning behind it. Never say, "here's a problem, what should I do?" Generally better to propose a wrong decision than to propose indecision.
  • Know when to minimize consultation: When dealing with micromanagers and people who are extremely anal about certain things, it can be best to keep the number of times you consult with them to a minimum. This is somewhat along the lines of, "it's better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission." With some managers, I know that if I bring something up, it will open a big can of worms. Instead, I can often not mention it (if appropriate to exclude) and things will run smoothly.
  • Let them make themselves look good, don't openly flatter: If a manager has a particular area of expertise or area they enjoy, give them an opportunity to elaborate on the topic and/or share their experiences. But be subtle, not, "Dick, I hear you have some strong opinions on gov't bailouts, tell me more." If there's a covert way to make them look good to people above or below them on the org chart, I usually take it.
  • Don't be afraid to disagree: If you are firm on a position and have a case, stand your ground. Don't be irrational or unreasonably stubborn about it, but present your case. No one, and I mean no one, respects a push-over.
  • Keep it simple: As mentioned by another user, give 'em the KISS, keep it simple, stupid. Elaborate when necessary, but the simpler you keep communication and your work, the easier it is for it to remain consistent. I try to distill information to "need to know" items, 86'ing any extraneous detail I can while keeping context.

That's the good stuff I can think of for now. Lots of sage advice mentioned so far.

Mar 21, 2018

Several people have mentioned here to offer a solution after presenting a problem. Couldn't disagree more. Giving unsolicited opinions is not a great idea, especially when you're interacting with a much more senior person several pay grades higher. If they want your opinion they'll ask for it

What I've found to be useful is to frame the problem by describing 2 or 3 most relevant paths or solutions, and giving tangible pros and cons to each one, and remaining as objective and factual as possible. Then it's their job to choose the right course of action. I'd call this "teeing it up"

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Mar 21, 2018

That is a good point. In my role, we are often out in the field and are responsible for identifying problems and recommending action(s), which is different from being in a meeting with senior management and giving unsolicited opinions. If you're in a meeting with several people a few steps above your pay grade it can sometimes be useful to, "remain silent and thought a fool, rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt." Unless of course, they solicit you/the room for opinions.

Mar 24, 2018

I appreciate your somewhat contrarian take on a common idea. I think you highlight the importance of knowing how and when to speak up.


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Mar 21, 2018

It depends on the situation.
Obviously, if you are discussing a specific issue at a meeting, perhaps in front of clients/investors/whatever, unless you have a very strong view on the matter and are really confident about the solution (and pretty confident about how they'd react), it's fine to let the bosses decide.
If you have the time to put together your thoughts and present solidly how you'd handle the issue, I don't see cons.
A few pros:
- you're actually developing higher level capabilities, as you are basically trying to move out of (and up from) your comfort zone. Making mistakes is THE way to learn
- you're showing your bosses that you have a brain and aren't scared of using it
- you might bring in a new angle to view at/solution to something that they've already faced in the past. They might even learn something from you without showing they didn't know.

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Mar 29, 2018

One of my bosses is really disorganized and lazy. Often times when we have to present in front of the investment committee, he doesn't review my work or answer my questions until the very last minute. I try asking him questions beforehand, submitting the work much earlier and even reminding him a few times ... but little seems to work. It just gives me a lot of unnecessary anxiety and sometimes requires me to slap numbers together in a slide deck haphazardly. I like producing thorough, sound analysis so it bothers me.

He is also a micromanager at the same time, scheduling 3-4 hour meetings to review analysis (in which he often fails to address many of my specific questions and check my work) but rather often goes on some unhelpful tangent - dwelling too long on some minutia - only to then decide to scrap all those slides.

Any advice would be much appreciated. He comes from an investor relations background, so has less experience evaluating investments / managing deals.

    • 1
Mar 21, 2018