“I love spontaneity, as long as it’s well-planned.” –Says nearly everyone in business
Surprises can be great.
We love surprises when they bring unexpected wealth, unexpected fun, or unexpected comfort.
Sadly, surprises aren’t always good news:
- Surprise! The IRS just sent you an audit letter.
- Surprise! That small mole on your cheek is melanoma.
- Surprise! That neighbor you thought was a nice guy is wanted in another state for armed robbery.
- Surprise! Microsoft just added a feature to their operating system that makes your profitable utility app obsolete.
- Surprise! Your private financial and credit information was just hacked at Equifax (well, that type of thing shouldn’t really be a surprise nowadays).
- Surprise! Your most promising employee is leaving your company…to join your competition!
- Surprise! The executive that “owns” your company’s contract and projects just got fired.
Surprises in business are rarely the good kind.
In fact, a “good” surprise in business can become a nightmare if you’re not prepared.
Think about that sudden and unexpected increase in demand for your service or product. Great news! But, now your staff is feeling overworked and things are starting to break under the pressure of all this new business.
How does all of this connect with managing up?
The number one thing your boss, and your boss’s boss (and so on) need from you is to minimize the surprises that come their way.
Does this mean you should keep information away from them? Of course not!
It means creating an open and thorough communication path between you and your boss.
It means anticipating surprises before they happen. Preparing for the unexpected, since you can always expect it. I’ve seen lots of surprises that shouldn’t have been surprises at all.
Your boss needs to know when something is wrong, or about to go wrong.
Your boss needs you to be honest. Always. Even if you’re the one causing the surprise.
If you, or someone in your organization, make an expensive mistake, your boss needs to know about it. Now. More importantly, your boss needs to know how you plan to learn from that mistake, and avoid a similar mistake like this one in the future.
If you see or hear something in the marketplace that can help (or hurt) your organization, your boss needs to hear from you. Now.
The last thing you want is for your boss to learn about a problem (or a surprise, which may be the same thing) within your organization from someone else. This does two things:
- Lets your boss know that you may not understand that something is going wrong, and
- Makes your boss wonder if you’re hiding bad news and if you can be trusted.
When I was a kid, we lived in a small 3-bedroom house. We had a hallway that got pitch black when all the doors were shut. Even when your eyes adjusted, there was almost no light to see where you were going. I always had this (unfounded) fear that I might run into something, hit my head, or crack my shins on some unseen edge.
Your boss might as well be walking in that same dark hallway, whether he or she realizes it. It’s tough to see what’s coming, and in the real world, that fear of being hit by something in the darkness is often justified.
Many of the lessons we learn from the “school of hard knocks” begin as surprises.
Lesson One: expect the unexpected.
Lesson Two: make sure your boss knows what’s coming.
Lesson Three: don’t ever forget about Lesson Two, and you’ll be doing a great job of “managing up” in the process.