How do I get help from my manager?
This was the #1 theme in the questions I received on Twitter. Whether you need help with getting more headcount, understanding the company strategy, pushing back on deadlines, mentorship, feedback, you name it: you sometimes need to ask for your manager's help.
Of course, it's not ALWAYS as simple as just... asking. But frankly, lots of people skip this step, because it can be scary! So, here's some advice:
1. Be specific with your request.
Figure out if what you want from your manager is mentoring, sponsoring, feedback, headcount, a new strategy, etc. Get really specific with what it is you're hoping they do. Reflect on how your manager defines their own role—does their self-defined list of responsibilities match what you're asking for now? If so, awesome: go ahead and ask.
Being specific will help you make sure you get what you actually need, and avoid the slow dance of your manager trying to infer it. Maybe you want advice, or more responsibility, or more autonomy, or a space to vent.
If they didn't name this thing you're asking for in their description of their role, you can ask for their help anyway. Part of iterating on and improving your relationship with your manager is articulating what it is that you need, and seeing if they can provide it.
But remember: managers can't be all things to all people. Maybe they should give you this kind of help, but can't, or won't. It happens. This is why building a Voltron crew of support is so important!
2. If they say no, try reframing your request.
Let's look again at Jill Wetzler's story of a direct report who made the case for more headcount. His vision doc included:
- a description of what his team would look like a year out
- how they'd get there
- why they were setting themselves up for failure if they didn't invest soon
That direct report had figured out what things the decision-makers cared about, and proactively framed the request in those terms
The most effective people I know are skilled at the art of reframing or translating something into topics that the other person cares about. This is true when it comes to giving feedback, and it's also true when it comes to influencing people with power.
As Jason Wong shared in another example of effective managing-up:
"[One thing that's worked on me is] framing concerns in the language and issues I care about/have prioritized. If I'm pushing for an overhaul and you propose tinkering, that's not going to go well. If you tell me how your idea gets me my desired outcome, now we're talking."
Sometimes I get pushback when I talk about this reframing skill. Isn't it manipulative?
I mean, yes, it can be used in a manipulative way! But, frankly, humans are fairly straightforward. We are focused on the thing that's currently top of mind for us. We have core needs at work that we're trying to address. It's WAY easier to frame your request in terms of the thing that's already top-of-mind for your manager, than it is to try to make a case for them to care about something new.
So: how do we do this, if our manager has already said no, or given a noncommittal answer?
Reflect back what you're hearing or sensing them care about, and pair it with your reframed request. For example, "I get the sense that our ability to tackle this Q4 roadmap is on your mind. I know we've talked about headcount before, but I think it'd be helpful to revisit it for this. If we hired 2 more folks in the next six weeks—which, looking at our mean time to hire, is doable—we can tackle this extra priority from the CEO in Q4. I can do it; I just need your help getting the headcount approved."
This, of course, won't always work. Sometimes, you might need to articulate additional risks, too. Sometimes, you might need to find someone else who has the power to help you (remember, your manager can't be your everything! Again, you need to build a Voltron).
But when this works, it's the most speedy way to get your manager to help. This approach helps it feel less like you're just bringing up the same request over and over again (you are! But you're also indicating that, after some critical thought, you believe it's the best solution to multiple problems—including the one your manager cares about right now). And at the end of the day, we all just want our problems solved.
(One more thing! if you want more practice honing really effective feedback to give to your manager, come to one of my workshops.)
How do I get my manager to follow through?
"If they’ve agreed to do something, how can I make sure they do that thing? There will be very little consequence for them, they hold all the power, but I want them to do the thing."—@varjmes
You're absolutely right. They hold all the power. This is why knowing what they care about, and knowing what their priorities are, is the biggest tool you have in your pocket to motivating them to actually do the thing.
If they don't follow through, how does that affect the topic that they care about?
If you don't have a clear answer to this question—or your manager hasn't already connected these dots out loud—you can ask them. Use a genuinely curious, open-ended question. "Okay, so if this doesn't happen next week... what's going to be the impact on That Deadline, you think?"
Hopefully, this genuinely curious and authentically open question will prompt a little lightbulb moment for your manager, and they'll feel way more motivated to follow through. For what it's worth, asking an open question like this has a significantly higher chance of success than you informing your manager of the potential costs. We are generally much more motivated to take action when we have connected the dots ourselves.