The Waste Of “Managing Up”

Time spent trying to please your boss is processing waste and provides no value to your customers.  Leaders and staff need to recognize this as a major cultural problem because it will negatively affect the long-term success for your organization.

Mark Lovas, one of the best leaders I have ever worked with, blogged in “Being on purpose and off self“:

Leadership: how much time do your people spend trying to please you versus getting the desired results? Are they experts at managing their leaders and mediocre at doing the actual thing? Are they getting good at the job or managing up? I’ve found a tremendous amount of time can be wasted by approval seeking within a company. Powerpoint, meetings, and calls devoted to finding a sense of confidence in the organization, not doing the actual thing.

In my experience, most leaders are not people who consciously demand this sort of activity, but it often persists because those that manage up often receive public praise and promotions.  You would be surprised how much time is spent when staff feel the need to game the system to look good for the boss.  Think about how that time could be better spent doing Kaizen!

Spend time assessing for “managing up” behavior.  It will be a challenging improvement because the causes will be deeply embedded in the system.  The benefit will be a clearer focus on the customer, freed up time to use in creating value, and capacity for future improvements.

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6 Comments

Filed under Business, Change Management, Communication, customers, Gemba, Improve With Lean, Kaizen, Learn Leadership, Personal Development, Productivity, Waste

6 responses to “The Waste Of “Managing Up”

  1. I thought the phrase “managing up” referred to an employee trying to influence their manager (trying to change their view or trying to get the manager to do things that benefit you and your work). I don’t think “managing up” means brown nosing or other negative things like that.

    When I worked at Dell Computer in 1999-2000, my manager (a director) said clearly one day (referring to himself), “My job is to make my boss look good.” That was one of the key days that made me realize I needed to leave that company. That was definitely part of the culture there. I thought it was about customers!!! Silly me.

  2. Crazy Dell story! I am glad you left and ended up in the Lean Hospitals world!

    I was on the fence of calling it “managing up” since it does include the more positive influencing aspect. I still would wonder why leaders and staff are not aligned to need influencing. If someone is not focused on the customer or the needs of the business to be able to serve customers, processing waste is generated by requiring influence. Maybe this waste is needed to better ensure the system has a clear aim.

    I also think a lot of the “trying to look good” actions are not always brown-nosing but just attempts to ensure non-gemba-visiting leaders have visibility of the good work people are doing. They aren’t gaming the system but trying to show their value.

  3. At Dell, it was about looking good rather than being good. At least in that local culture and environment.

  4. Hi Brian

    It is the natural side effect of choosing poor leaders in the first place. A good leader would automatically recognize the that people are spending time looking good to them instead of working on real problems.

    The unfortunate truth is that in todays quick buck financial marketplace most coporate leaders are not choosen for their skill, but rather their persona. When that happens it cascades down the organization that the only way up is to be able to get along with those above you.

    I once worked for a boss that preferred people that would challenge his ideas and push for what they thought would work. It takes a humble. but confident leader to want and be willing to be challenged to get the best answers. Unfortunately we employee to many leaders that are insecure, egomaniacs, which means that many places the more important action emplyees can take is kissing someones backside.

  5. MJ

    This is excellent information, but just like at Dell the military is notorious for this type of behavior. Most of it is perpetuated by bosses who have inferiority complexes and need constant reassurance that everyone knows he is the boss. The waste doesn’t end with employee’s time either. It can bleed over to both manpower and resources required to keep a boss “happy,” which doesn’t do anything to improve production.

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