Learning How To Manage Up Makes Michigan Ross Students The Best Interns


By Evan Fisher, BBA ‘17

This is the fifth in a series of posts authored by Michigan Ross Career Services Peer Coaches. Peer Coaches are undergraduate students working with Career Services to help their fellow students prepare for interviews and on-the-job success. To see the full series, click here.

Having a happy boss results in getting better projects, more opportunity, and ultimately, a return offer. But, how exactly do you accomplish this? Managing upwards is a strategy of understanding your boss, creating value, and setting expectations. During my recent summer internship, I learned a few key things about effectively managing upwards, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Key Takeaways:
  1. Make sure you are doing your work and doing it well before going above and beyond
  2. Ask yourself, “What could I do to make my boss’ life easier?”
  3. If you need to push back a deadline, tell your manager as soon as possible
  4. Underpromise and overdeliver – it’s better to complete a task early than to miss a deadline
  5. Managing up is more of an art than a science, so be sure to adapt these strategies to your office

Do Your Work Well

Before jumping into strategies for managing upwards, I want to emphasize that the most important aspect of having a happy boss is doing your work and doing it well. Everything outlined in this article does not matter if you are not doing the work you need to do. That being said, if you’ve completed your required assignments and find yourself with extra capacity, the following tips could be extremely helpful.

Understand Your Boss’ Needs

One of the most important aspects of managing upwards is understanding what your boss needs. What does your boss have to do to succeed at his/her job? What does your boss like and what does your boss dislike? Is there something you could do that would allow your boss to leave earlier that night? Is there a big meeting your boss is going to but hasn’t had the time to prepare for? Ultimately, these questions boil down to one thing – how can you make your boss’ life easier?

Doing this could involve crafting extra slides for a PowerPoint deck, building in an extra function in a financial model, or sending your boss an important news article they may not have seen.

Be Transparent With Workload

That being said, during your internship there will be times when you won’t have the capacity to go above and beyond. In fact, there may be times when, regardless of your time management skills, you are given too much work and meeting every deadline is just impossible.

If this happens you will need to manage expectations.

Reach out to your manager and let him/her know that due to some circumstance you cannot meet the deadline. It’s important to do this sooner rather than later. Your manager will be much more receptive if the deadline is a week out than if the deadline is this afternoon.

Whenever you push back a deadline, be sure to provide sound reasoning and a plan of action. You’ll also want to estimate how long it will take you to complete the project so you are able to inform your manager of how much additional time you think you will need. When doing this, be sure to overestimate the amount of time it will take.

It’s far better to underpromise and overdeliver than to miss the deadline a second time.

One last thing to keep in mind – everything outlined here is an overview. Carrying out any of these recommendations is much more of an art than a science. Depending on the company, the industry, and the culture, some of these tips may be more or less applicable. Using your intuition, EQ, and workplace mentors, you can adapt this strategy to your workplace to ensure a strong relationship with your boss.

Evan Fisher is a graduating senior in the Michigan Ross BBA Program and serves as a Career Peer Coach with Ross Career Services.

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