Article (October-2017)


Maintain neutrality based on competency & capability

Suvro Raychaudhuri

Designation : -   Assistant Vice President, Human Resources

Organization : -  India Operations Division, Parkway Pantai, Hyderabad (Telangana)


Admiral Ernest J. King was mandated on a counter - offensive in response to the pearl harbour attack. Having received this mandate from President Roosevelt on December 21, 1941 he knew that the nearest land base was 2500 miles from Tokyo, out of range for any 1942 bomber.

The solution for the admiral (and upwards to the President) came from a subordinate - a captain name Francis Low, who proposed the near - impossible to have bombers fly out of a ship into Tokyo. Never applied in combat before, the twin - engine B-25B Mitchell medium bombers were capable of a flying-range of 2300 nautical miles with a bomb-weight of 2000 lbs. This was extremely high risk with tight tolerance figures. The flights, stripped of all additional weights and fitted with exceptional pilots (approximately 140 trained from the 17th bombardment group under Lt Col James Doolittle), set off from the USS Hornet to create what was historically one of the most successful executions of a near - impossible strategy.

Admiral King's ability to take in feedback from a subordinate and drive a strategic direction from the top, and through peers, was a classic example of successfully managing up and down. This, in the modern world and away from battlefield, is an increasingly required competence for any medium to critical - intensity mission/project.

Chester Barnard (ref: Functions of the Executive) maintained that authority really should come from bottom up. As organizations move to open - systems and information - processing modes (ref: Jay Galbraith), the 'Task - uncertainty' aspect of decision - making and even daily jobs, have become overwhelming. The ability to manage up and down therefore is linear to any organizational movement towards being a learning organization (ref: Chrys Argyris). This movement, according to Peter Senge, creates 'creative tension' that not only serves as a catalyst or motivation to learn and manage multiple source-points, but is a necessity for survival. A CEO has to manage the board, the Investor and the promoter(s). The production manager has to manage the supervisors and workmen on the line, and the factory - Head. It is a natural mandate for the trunk of a tree to manage flow of nutrients between roots and leaves. This is required in context of determining overall direction, formulate and implement ideas, allowing voice of dissent, resolve conflicts, leadership and motivation, influence and power - and maintain sustainability.

Contemporary organizations that work as networked systems (ref: Miles and Snow) in complex environments have managed to delayer themselves, be flexible, and be controlled by market mechanisms rather than administrative procedures - and have been successful in having middle - manager abilities to act as important nodes in the network, by managing up and down.

Whereas from the above examples it is clear that the competence to manage up and down is critical, the question is how do we do that?

1) Understanding culture : In organizations that have high power - distance (ref: Hoefstede), there is a strong tendency for mid - managers to mirror behaviours that come from the top, reflecting it to subordinates. An effective way is to stand as good buffer to counter the flow in most cases.
2) Creating the SKIP level links : Establish interfaces between the manager's manager and subordinates. This also creates a collateral advantage of creating visibility and succession plans in case of attrition at the middle level.
3) Understanding Influence and power : Create awareness and demonstration of referent, Informational and expert powers, rather than legitimate or reward and/or coercive powers. This can only be achieved through continuous on-the-ground demonstration of applied knowledge, walking-the-talk at the Gemba.
4) Effective communication : Communication is of key essence. Sharing information is critical. However, effective communication is about understanding sources, medium, recipients, shades and tones. Managing up and down requires substantial skill in all five - and the ability to understand what has to be communicated, how and when.
5) Creating the personal brand : Regardless of alignment required in an organization (with the team, with peers or with the managers up), it is important to maintain a neutral and personal brand based on core techno - functional competence and credibility. Solid networks grow out of this, rather than through politicking. Most organizations have multiple equations and personally - driven agendas, and personal brands built that way, help when winds change - and one is seen to be credible and consistent, and therefore 'licensed' to operate with and at all levels.
6) Inter and intrapersonal intelligence : Consistency of behavior and self - regulation that builds equity, is a strong factor in managing up and down. Nobody likes a manager who is a perennial 'yes-person' to bosses, and is a dominant alpha - personality on subordinates. It appears as a dissonance.
The most effective rule in managing up and down however, is being authentic. Authenticity in intent, that builds trust - because once this core factor is there, there is nothing that is required to be 'managed' in the natural order of things.