Managing Up

Managing Up

How to convince your manager that you're right

June 10, 2024

Say what you will about the 2004 drama film Crash, but there's at least one lesson in the film that you can apply to your career as an individual contributor (IC).

> Farhad (business owner): Just fix the lock.
> Daniel (a locksmith): Sir, sir, sir, listen to me. What you need is a new door.

In this scene, the character Daniel (you, the IC), a locksmith, has been hired to fix a problem. Farhad (your manager) hired you to correct the problem. You fix one problem (the lock) and explain to your manager that they have another issue (the door). 

There's a surprising amount of nuance in this heavy-handed scene. Let's break down where things go wrong.

The first misunderstanding

Your manager (Farhad) assigns you (Daniel) to the wrong job.

It's not their fault.

Your manager is a manager, not an expert. You are the expert.

Once you identify the broken door problem, don't keep going. Stop and communicate the problem. Fixing the lock will not fix the problem. It doesn't matter that you were assigned the wrong problem. This particular job has exceeded your capacity. If you don't fix doors, then step away from the problem.

Immediately inform your manager of the issue. It's OK to stop working when you are no longer needed. Experts only do what is necessary when more valuable problems exist elsewhere (like other locks that need to be changed). If you want to look for those problems and suggest one for reassignment, your manager would greatly appreciate that effort.

Better yet, if your organization's culture follows Netflix's freedom and responsibility model (Slide 40) , identify who can help and collaborate with them directly, then inform your manager that "it's been taken care of."


Miscommunication

If you discover the door is broken after fixing the lock, don't panic; this is normal.

Most ICs will likely find themselves in this situation. You're an expert locksmith, not a general contractor. You don't know anything about doors, and that's OK.

Tell your manager, "Hey, I fixed that lock, but we have a problem with our door." Do you hear that? "We have a problem with our door." This phrasing spreads the problem across the room, opening opportunities for everyone.

If your manager is opportunistic, they can take advantage of the situation by taking credit for discovering the problem. You've empowered them!

If your manager is collaborative, they can reassign you to the door problem, and now you can learn about doors with another IC. An exciting career opportunity!

Conflict resolution

If conversations like these with your manager are not helping you through this situation, your manager sucks, and you need a new manager (jk).

For real, though, take a nap, eat lunch, and then consider your life choices.

Your manager is there for you, but they're also your boss. Respect that relationship. You're an adult—learn to deal with people.

Ask them for help. Listen to what their expectations are. Do those expectations make sense to you?

Maybe your manager just wants you to fix fucking the lock so they can report on it. Remember that they also have a manager and that manager might also suck (jk). That's OK. Fix the lock and move on. 

Repeat

I've encountered this door scenario hundreds of times in my career. Each manager and each door problem is different, but the situation remains the same.

The team surrounding you and the manager you report to matter more than the types of locks you are fixing. There will be more locks, and you'll become an expert at fixing them, but you need to understand that the lock is only a part of your job. The door is your problem, too.

How would you resolve this door situation? How would you handle this situation if you were the manager? What if you were the manager's manager?

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