I'm a bit late sending this week's newsletter because we just got back from a family trip to Japan. It was a fun adventure! I think it averaged 95F, but on the positive side, it chased away other tourists. Japan was clean. It didn't have public garbage cans. Lots of vending machines. Great restaurants. Amazing public transportation. Everything food related is wrapped in plastic. Aggressive recycling programs. Very, very polite people. There, now you know everything about Japan.

Rhonda knocked unexpectedly on my office door. She was an engineer, working for one of the managers who reported to me.

"Hey Dave, have a moment?"

I was extremely busy setting up automatic color coding based on project status in Excel, but I can always make time for people on my team. Even though my work was critical. Because I could save literal seconds if my at-risk projects were a bright red color.

"Absolutely. What's up?"

"I'd like to go to a ML conference. Here's the cost and summary of the conference." She hands me a piece of paper. "The cost requires Senior Manager level approval, so my manager can't do it. But he's given his conditional approval, if you're ok with it."

She then proceeds to explain why this conference is relevant to the work she's doing.

"Ok Rhonda, when do I need to decide by? I'd like to read more about it and let you know." I didn't really need to read more, but I wanted to think about it.

The conference was (very) expensive, and Rhonda was a relatively junior engineer. Part of my job at Amazon is to be frugal, and Amazon doesn't tend to send many people to conferences. Sometimes, I think it's a bit frupid (an annoying combination of frugal, and stupid), but it's my job to disagree & commit.

"Next Friday is the deadline for registration." Rhonda said, "But obviously, I would rather not leave it to the last minute. Could we talk about it again this Thursday once you've had a chance to think about it? I saw you have an opening on your calendar."

The last thing I want is another meeting on my calendar. That opening is the last opening this week. And I was just delaying deciding. "You know what, ok. Go for it. What do you need from me?"

"Thanks! Nothing, just approve the expense when it comes through the system."

Simple enough.

What did Rhonda do right?

  • She gave me a simple decision to make, since she researched all the information ahead of time.
  • She got pre-approval from her manager, and ensured that the only roadblock was my approval.
  • She gave me a deadline, and carefully prevented me from procrastinating too much.
  • Finally, she demonstrated that she cared deeply enough to be organized and prepared. That suggested she has growth potential, and is worth the investment.

What could have gone wrong if she hadn't done those things right?

  • If she'd simply asked, and then went away, I think it's entirely possible that the next Friday deadline would have passed without me doing anything. I would have completely forgotten about it. I was always juggling 30 things.
  • If she'd asked, but didn't know the cost / sign-up schedule / didn't have manager approval, I would have sent her away to do those things. Except I'd be more likely to turn her down in the end because she'd reinforced the fact she was a junior employee by not being prepared.

Getting your manager to do stuff you need is a key component of managing up. It will impact your ability to get your work done, and your long term career growth.

You'll see that a big theme is about making it easier for your manager to go along with your plans. Make it like swimming downstream to go along with you. They'd need to turn and swim upstream to stop you. Because that's what we like the most. Getting what we want.

Let's talk a bit about it!

What do you need your manager to do?

I'm sure you can come up with your own list, but here are a few examples.

Promotions usually require the help and approval of your manager, and often a good amount of red tape needs to be managed.

Raises, or other career or financial advancements.

Being assigned new projects. Managers are frequently involved in delegation, and will be instrumental in choosing who gets the shiny new hotness project.

Job changes, position changes, or team transfers.

What I'm referring to is just about anything where you require your manager to do something.

Why can't you just wait until your manager does the right thing?

I've repeatedly talked to people who had an illusion that the right thing to do is be patient. Heck, the official Amazon policy had for years been, "Don't ever ask for promotions. Just wait, and you'll be rewarded for great work." A load of horse poop.

Let's start by assuming the best intentions from your manager. If you have a manager who doesn't like you and/or doesn't want to help you, that's a different problem.

Everyone is busy. We have loads on our minds. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I regularly triaged my email inbox by ignoring people until they pinged me once or twice. That'd tell me that they really needed my help.

We all procrastinate as well. If you're asking for something big or hard or expensive, our default reaction will be to avoid the issue. It's human nature to dodge expensive decisions.

When you push and prepare, it shows your interest and intent. If you don't care enough to push, why should your manager go out of their way for you? Similarly, if you push and prepare, it'll encourage your manager to reciprocate.

Finally, it matters the most to you. This is all about you wanting something. If you're the person who wants something, you get that something by taking steps to get it.

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