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Why Managing Up Matters (and How to Do It Right)

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why managing up matters (and how to do it right)

At Highspot, enabling high-quality conversations is at our core.

As our Vice President of Engineering Operations & Reliability, I had the opportunity to address the incredible audience at AdieCon, the annual conference for alums and allies of Ada Developers Academy, and one of our favourite events to sponsor and attend.

My talk surveyed ways that early- and mid-career software engineers can level-up their conversations with three important leadership roles: Mentors, Managers, and Senior Leaders.

Whether you’re an engineer, a marketer, a salesperson, or any other role, these three personas can greatly impact your career. Let’s take a look at how each can contribute to your success, and what you can do to help them help you.

Mentors can help tell your story and advocate for your advancement

You and your mentor are doing the hard work to level-up your skills and build your professional experience. But are you leveraging the relationship with your mentor effectively to fuel your ascension up the career ladder?

I recommend doing a self-assessment against the criteria for the next level up in your chosen career path to identify focus areas. Consider this engineering example: If you’re an SDE II, self-assess against SDE III / Senior SDE. Your company may have tools to help you with that, and you can ask your mentor to independently assess you and then compare notes. As you meet your goals, your mentor can help you celebrate by being your advocate with management.

You should also recognise that as you progress in your career, your learning style will evolve. The process of skill acquisition changes as you progress from novice to expert, and understanding how you learn at each stage will help you be a better mentee. Check out this freely-available chapter of the insightful book, Pragmatic Thinking & Learning to learn more about the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition and how it applies in the context of mentoring.

Managers need to know what career success means to you, how to advocate for you, and how to include you

Turning to the manager persona, let’s talk about how to empower your most essential advocate. If you forget everything else you read here, remember one thing: Highspot is hiring! If you can remember two things, make this the other one: own your 1:1s with your manager. This is your time to maximise the true value that this relationship can bring. A few suggestions:

  1. Create a rolling agenda that you share with your manager and that you update between 1:1s with questions and learnings. This will help you both to prepare before you meet, keep track of previous conversations, and align on action items. Sometimes your manager will drive the 1:1 conversation, but often it’s up to you. Make the most of this time with an agenda.
  2. Tell your manager what feedback you’d like and ask if they could help provide it in the next 1:1. Managers want to give quality feedback, but it can be hard to do that on the spot. It might take some research — like reading code reviews or getting 360 feedback from your peers — to guide them to the areas where you need input and give them time to collect it for you.
  3. Don’t leave a 1:1 without asking questions. Your manager runs around all day attending meetings and talking to people in 1:1s. A lot of their job is being a hub, connecting people who need to know things with the people who know. But managers aren’t mind-readers; you have to let them know what you need so they can make the right connection for you.


Senior leaders need stories and data so they can be champions — internally and externally

Your senior leader is an executive sponsor of things, like Ada Developers Academy, for example, and other things you probably care about. We’re proud of the programs we sponsor; we talk about them all the time. And we sell them — usually with a combination of data and stories.

For example, when I talk about engineering internships at Highspot, I boast about how eight out of 10 interns convert to full-time employees and have a 0% turnover rate. What a fantastic investment! I also tell some individual stories — like how an engineer distinguished herself with her work on a particular feature. Data plus stories are a powerful combination.

Ask yourself: What do you want to champion? Maybe it’s a technical investment. Or sponsoring an Employee Resource Group. At some point, you’ll need to enlist the support of your senior leader, and you’ll want to be prepared to empower them with the tools to champion your story. When you’re ready to do that, a skip-level 1:1 is a common, and totally normal, way to get face-time with your senior leader. In some organisations, it’s expected that you ask your manager first, so make sure you know what the norm is for your company culture.

Managing Up Matters

The mentors, managers, and senior leaders at your company play an important role in your career success — but it’s up to you to activate them. Recapping, you can manage up through your mentor by setting, meeting, and celebrating goals; through your manager by owning your 1:1s and tapping into the communications hub; and, when you’re ready, through senior leaders by empowering them to tell and sell your ideas.

If you could see yourself growing in your career at Highspot with the support of our people, explore our open roles today.

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