Managing upwards, having all staff know that when they voice a concern management will hear them, requires skill and courage. Here are some tips on how to do it successfully and give your organisation the right kind of transparency.
Transparency can be hard. As advisers, we often hear from HR professionals the following lamentation:
“I agree with you, but my bosses won’t understand… It’s unlikely that anything will change.”
Most people in the workforce have to answer to senior management and receive their approval before significant decisions are made.
Being able to receive such approval assumes that you’re able to communicate with senior management about what’s going on in the business. And by what’s going on, we don’t mean the latest office gossip or why people aren’t big fans of the biscuits in the kitchen. We’re talking about matters that require senior management ‘buy-in’, such as maintaining a safe and healthy workplace, a workplace free from bullying and harassment, and ensuring that everyone is receiving their legal entitlements according to the law.
Without senior management involvement, businesses may find themselves in a similar position to the 7-Eleven franchise with its ongoing issues, involving systemic wage underpayments and fraudulent payroll records within the franchise network. This has caused significant damage to the business’s reputation.
This ‘cautionary tale’ is – unfortunately – not as uncommon as you might think. There is often a degree of disconnect, and a lack of transparency, between senior management and the ‘common folk’ in a company, including HR.
There can be many reasons for this divide, including a general lack of interest from senior management in ground-level issues, or employees’ fear of raising issues that might be perceived as trivial. However, as HR professionals, it is vital that you take the initiative in cultivating transparent and effective relationships with stakeholders in your business if you want to ensure that it is not just a one-way road full of speed bumps.
How to build a transparent culture
- Know your stakeholder and/or manager: Get to know them, and learn how they operate. What’s their preferred communication style – email or face-to-face? Do they want details or summaries? Do they prefer you to drop by whenever there is an issue or to make an appointment? Do they like small talk or want to address things directly? Half the battle with effectively managing upwards is understanding the most efficient way to communicate.
- Take the initiative: Don’t wait to be asked whether there are problems in the workplace – be proactive, encourage transparency,and put issues before senior management before they blow up in your face. There are plenty of recent cases where HR professionals should have taken the initiative, only to find themselves in court being accused of breaching workplace laws.
- Be ready to say “no.”: As tempting as it might be to assume that pleasing your manager requires saying “yes” to their every whim, you must be ready to tell them “no” when they are asking you to do something unlawful or improper – or maybe just a bad idea for the business. Obviously, this is not a step to be taken lightly, and you should always have a considered and thorough basis for taking this position, but it can be a very effective way to show your managers that you are trying to help them make effective decisions.
- Put yourself in their shoes: Taking a moment to imagine things from senior management’s perspective may help you understand what’s driving their decisions, and consequently what you can be doing to positively influence their actions.
- Understand the business: To be an effective people manager and to effectively manage upwards, ask questions, be inquisitive. Transparency begins with awareness. Your objective is to become a trusted adviser and influence key decision-makers in a constructive way.
- “Fear of God factor”: If all else fails, it is worth reminding the stakeholder/manager that if they’re doing something unlawful, then they may be personally liable for such breaches.
Remember that if you actively help your senior management, you’re likely helping the business and, hopefully, your career.