@My Last Job — Diary of Bad Management — Part 2
Why “Managing Up” is absolute folly…
If this were a soap opera, you’d be tuning in just in time for that dramatic music queuing, and the narrator recapping how:
“Last time, on ‘As the Stomach Turns!’ A misguided team of managers actually thought they could force graphic artists to become game developers. Is this management team just stupid? Do they not understand the difference between engineering and graphic design?”
“Or are they truly diabolical and looking to make engineer bucks whilst paying artist wages? Stay tuned to find out!”
At some point, I couldn’t take the craziness anymore and I phoned another manager. We’ll call this guy: “Mr. Big,” and he was acquainted with our leadership’s “quirks,” but was still distant enough to be a fair-minded, neutral observer.
Me [*On the phone, exasperated*]: “- I mean, isn’t there anything we can do at this point? The job they want really calls for a Computer Science Major. Not graphic design. Doesn’t this go against anything in company code of conduct? Or wouldn’t HR have something to say about this? It’s crazy!”
Mr. Big: “Well… Sadly no. I don’t think there’s anything stopping your leadership from doing this, actually. If you call up HR and complain, they’re simply going to ask if the assignment violates safety standards, or the law, or if it requires any licenses or certifications first. And since game design doesn’t, they’ll just side with your leadership on this. HR almost always sides with leadership, anyways.”
Me [*Long Sigh*]: That really sucks then, Mr. Big. Because we don’t have leadership down here. It’s more like ‘Leader-shit’ if you ask me!”
Once Mr. Big was done cackling at my terrible “Leadershit” pun, the best advice he could offer me was one of two things. Either
A ). Leave. Or,
B ). Learn how to “Manage Up.”
The economy wasn’t doing great at that time, and beside that; Mr. Big promised me that my career would be littered with bad management. So it behooved me to learn a “system” for handling these types.
Thus my new mission in life: Learn how to “Manage my managers.”
Bad idea, by the way.
Turns out, “Managing Up” has several meanings.
To some, Managing Up is when an employee exclusively caters their work around the manager’s expectations and needs, learns to anticipate their problems, and then goes so far as to complete tasks before being asked to do so. (To no surprise, many others call this “brown-nosing,” by the way).
To others, Managing Up is this wholesome form of indirectly leading a team via inspiration. Be optimistic; encourage ideas; even give away your own good ideas and let others have credit for them. Somehow this is supposed to help others (including your management) tosee you in a new light. You become that missing node of leadership (sort of?).
Yet to others still, Managing Up simply means that if your manager is too scatterbrained or busy to provide proper directions and guidance, you instead become the coach and guide to your manager. In effect, you manage them.
On one hand, my management kept themselves mostly behind locked doors (when not yelling at us). So I could not learn their expectations. Therfore the first strategy was out. So was the third, because during the moments they were not behind locked doors, they were usually yelling at us, and reminding us that we weren’t there for our opinions.
Second strategy it was. Yay?
My first attempt on this insane quest was to give it an ol’ “college try” —
Literally — Because I was in college at the time for a Creative Media degree, and turned out they were offering 3D modeling classes. Surely that would be useful in game development, right?
Turns out, I really loved to model things in 3D and I had a knack for it too! From this branched a sense of hope. If only for a moment. I started to wonder if I had leadership pegged all wrong, and got excited the day the manager announced we were going to need some custom 3D models at last.
I anxiously volunteered for the assignment.
“What. You?” My manager told me, with a strange look in their eye. “Mmmm. No. We have you assigned to programming for this module.”
I returned a few blinks in reply. “Are you sure? I know I’ve told you that I’ve taken some classes for 3D modeling, and it turns out I’m really good at it.”
At this point the manager’s second-in-command leaned in and whispered something into that manager’s ear. I have no idea what. Nor did I know what in my proposal warranted such tight lips and scrutiny. But the manager’s brow furrowed and they shook their head.
“No. We’ve already assigned you to programming. That’s what you need to learn instead.”
Book slammed shut. Case closed. The manager and their second in command went out the room. Leaving me wondering why they even brought up 3D modeling at all; and why on Earth do they still even have graphic artists if what they want is programming?
This may be the time for me to confess; up until that point, I had been matching the other staff in step while protesting leadership’s changes, and maybe challenging them a little too much. So perhaps it’s small wonder that they looked at me cross-eyed when I volunteered for an assignment, instead.
Didn’t matter though. They told me “program or else.” So off I went. Up a creek, again, trying to learn a gaming engine (which I didn’t understand).
As if by magic, I got an answer to my prayers of panic, because a (then) little known website called Udemy was starting up. Along with it, a pair of rambunctious game enthusiasts also began teaching how to operate the very game engine I was trying to learn. For just a small fee, I could kick-start their course.
By kick-starting this crew, I also kick-started my journey into becoming a front-end programmer. While also being a graphic artist (because management still needed these duties too, a problem later on). This made my manager’s delighted, of course, because I was somehow handling their insane task load of being an artist who was could also program in a C language.
Except for one problem. My managers didn’t stop at the programming.
You see, anybody who’s spent time at an actual game studio knows that 3D modeling is a full time job, usually requiring a full time team unto itself. It’s not one person on solo doing the work (unless maybe it’s an indie project, but I was at a Fortune 500 company).
Meanwhile, my manager’s second in command (you remember them?) had convinced the manager they could buy all their 3D models from websites like TurboSquid, or similar. Which is why they didn’t think they needed another modeler.
Until of course they did… Because there was no way all of the customer’s needs were going to be met via TurboSquid. It was going to require custom assets. Which is when they called me back in to the office one day, and added 3D Modeling onto my To-Do list… Alongside programming and graphic design, which were still also expected to be done on time and on budget.
Yep. I bought myself a one-way ticket to anticipating the manager’s need’s alright — As well as buying myself extra work with no extra pay. “Managing Up” was going swell.
Before finally leaving that particular job, I ended up with a total of seven roles (“extension-tasking” as they called it). All because I was trying to be a good team player, one who could “manage up.” In my attempt to inspire the other coworkers, and show that a good job could be done, I only managed to up-tick my to-do list, until I was doing the following activities without a raise:
- Original job — Graphic Design: Still expected. On time. No exceptions.
- Programming : In a C language. No official training.
- 3D Modeling: Still also due while programming, so I had a more condensed timelines than the others.
- Customer Service: The print shop still still needed someone to take orders, and track some things, and for some reason management felt I was the only person fit for this role.
- Budget!: I began writing out proposals and budgets for the department. All while “managing up.”
- Secretary and Minute Taker: They also got used to making me drop everything to be a meeting minute taker, on demand. Or else.
- Catering: Finally… The catering. Which is when I drew the line :)
If it’s not obvious by now, the take-away from this article is:
There is no “Managing Up.” It just doesn’t exist. Nor can you inspire your team to do better by your example, because that whole “Trust” thing is still necessary, first and foremost. Teams have to be led by example, and thus, need a LEAD who is their example.
- Employees are not led by the example of another peer; they are LED BY AN OFFICIAL TEAM LEAD.
- Managers need to BE THAT OFFICIAL TEAM LEAD who provides directions and inspiration to their staff. Expecting their own employees to be each other’s guides is not passing the buck…
Basically, there is no such thing as “Managed Up” if the managers themselves are simply derelict from their duties.
As mine were.
If this article has been helpful to you, or otherwise interesting in any way, please drop me a line in the comments below :) I look forward to hearing your thoughts.