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Successfully Managing Upwards
Episode 929th February 2024 • The SEO Mindset Podcast • Sarah & Tazmin
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Managing upwards is important to get right, as it helps us succeed at our jobs and gives us greater satisfaction. Tazmin and Sarah discuss this very topic, including sharing tips and strategies to implement to manage upwards better.

About 'The SEO Mindset' Podcast

Build your inner confidence and thrive.

The SEO Mindset is a weekly podcast that will give you actionable tips, guidance and advice to help you not only build your inner confidence but to also thrive in your career.

Each week we will cover topics specific to careers in the SEO industry but also broader topics too including professional and personal development.

Your hosts are Life Coach Tazmin Suleman and SEO Manager Sarah McDowell, who between them have over 20 years of experience working in the industry.

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Transcripts

Sarah:

Hello. This is the SEO Mindset podcast, where your hosts are myself, Sarah McDowell, and the ever so wonderful and fabulous Tazmin Sullerman. Thank you for joining us for another episode of the podcast. And this week's topic is all about successfully managing upwards. Now, before we get into this topic and I invite Tazmin to join me, just a reminder of how you can support the podcast. So if you're listening and thinking actually quite like what Tazmin and Sarah are doing here, there are loads of different ways that you can support us. I'll just run through two now. You can give us a one off donation. So we are set up on buy me a coffee, which basically is a platform that allows creators like me and Tazmin to receive tips and donations from listeners. So if you fancy doing that, you can follow the link in this episode. Show notes and what I would recommend doing is signing up to the newsletter as well. So again, head on over to the show notes and sign up to our newsletter there because we will never spam you. We just get my teeth in, keep you updated with what's going on with the podcast. News, updates, episodes, events, all of that wonderful stuff. Right, let's get Tazmin onto the podcast. Hello, Tazmin.

Tazmin:

Hello, Sarah.

Sarah:

How are you? I am good. I am wrapped in a blanket right now.

Tazmin:

It's warmer, but it's still quite chilly. Still quite chilly. Sarah, I'm so glad you mentioned the newsletter because anyone who is listening who hasn't signed up, please, please do, because we've got some great plans for improving it, making it more valuable to the readers, and giving lots and lots of really useful information. So sign up or miss out? Is that the term? Is that how you say it?

Sarah:

Sign up or miss out? I think you've created enough fomo there and you do a wonderful job with the newsletters. And I think it's very evident that it is coming from you by the writing style because, yeah, I think you're very calm, collected, methodical, great tips. Yeah, wonderful. The term that comes to my head is you offer calm in a storm kind of thing. Whereas if it was me writing the newsletter and the different emails, my brain just goes all over the place. Bit erratic, probably won't make sense.

Tazmin:

Well, as you have witnessed, there are times when I'm not calm, and that's usually when it's all techie stuff. So I'm editing the podcast. I would not be calm. So you take care of all of that, and I will carry on being calm in the newsletters. But they're great fun to write. And I think one of the joys of this sort of career, if you like, is you get to write lots, which is brilliant.

Sarah:

Yeah, definitely you can get your creative juices going. And I think as we're talking now about sort of partnering up on projects or campaigns or whatever you're partnering up on. But maybe a good topic is finding someone who can complement you. So do you know what I mean? That's a good topic for the bank to think about in the future. But anyway, before we get sidelined on that, managing upwards or successfully managing upwards, so what do we mean? So I just want to give a shout out to one of our loyal listeners, Annette, because they gave us the suggestion for this topic. So thank you very much. So, yes, what is this week's topic? So, managing upwards. So there's many times in the SEO industry where you have to manage upwards and a couple of examples, real life examples, let's say, for example, how many times have I said example again, I've got into an example loop, but your boss has to update higher management. So the C level about an SEO project or there's something that you need them to communicate about what's happening with a campaign project, your department, basically, you need your boss to liaise with the C management to get something across. So that's a good example if you're in house and also agency side. But another one for agency side is, let's say, for example, you have account managers and they have the relationship with the clients, so you don't necessarily talk to them, but you need your account manager to update the client that you're working on about SEO progress, or maybe there's something that you need to discuss. So yeah, again, you're still managing upwards because that account manager might not be too familiar with SEO. So you need to sort of manage that. So those are the two examples that come straight to mind when I think about managing upwards. Tazmin, you got any other suggestions?

Tazmin:

So one that comes into mind is one that was faced by one of my clients quite recently. They had joined an organization where their boss at that time was on maternity leave. And when the manager returned from maternity leave was raring to go. And their styles were very different, their personalities were very different and what one found very energizing, the other one found very energy draining. So there was this mismatch. Well, not mismatch, but this different personalities. And because the manager returned, wanted to hit the ground running forward went things like one to ones and getting to know their team went straight into the doing of the tasks. So my client was now a bit lost, didn't know how to deal with the situation of informing their manager that, look, buddy, this isn't working for me and it's a really difficult conversation to have because it's not as if the manager done anything bad to them, but it was conversation about, you know what, this is my style of working. I prefer it like this. You're going to get far more out of me if we can protect the boundaries of the meeting space instead of overrunning to the point where they were thinking, right, the manager scheduled in 20 minutes meeting. I better make sure I've got a liter of water and some snacks to keep me going because it may be two hour chat instead of 20 minutes.

Tazmin:

You need a certain amount of courage and I'm really intrigued to hear what sort of tips you've got to share, how somebody can handle it.

Sarah:

Yeah, so that will be part two. So after we come back from our usual break, I've got lots of ways and strategies and tips to discuss and get your input as well. Tazmin, on how we can successfully manage upwards, a lot of it with the relationship, but I suppose it is important to get right because it has an impact at the end of the day on your relationships with the person that you are managing upwards to, but also the people that are connected through that. But it also has an effect on your mental health, how you're feeling, job satisfaction. So it is really important to get right and have a think about it. And also, just as a caveat, something that you got to be careful of is there are uncontrollables here. There are things that you can't control and you can't sort of control the whole situation or you can't control how a conversation goes or anything like that, because that's just impossible at the end of the day. But these are just like tips and strategies to better foster that relationship and make sure that you're working together right and things are done in a successful way. Other things to think about is depending on who you're managing upwards to. We're all different. We all have different strengths. Some of us are task orientated, while others are more relationship and team building orientated. Some may be very present and attentive to the work that we're doing, while others want to encourage autonomy and a self driven team sort of thing. So there's that side to think about. They're human at the end of the day, just like us. Everyone in the team, everyone in the department, we're all human and very susceptible to complexities that make up us as human beings. They have strengths along with areas that need growth and development. They have their own biases, they have their own emotions, they have their own ethics, they have their own drives. And whether we like it or not, when we're managing upwards, that person that we're managing upwards to the relationship needs to be good because as I said earlier, it has a significant impact on the work that we do, the relationships, how we progress in our role and in that business quality of work life balance. So, yeah, it is really important, and a big one here for the SEO'ers the SEO industry is not everyone understands SEO. Right. Not everyone understands the impact. Is there anything else that you'd like to add to this.

Tazmin:

More from the person who's going through the situation where they're having to manage upwards, you know their own well being. Because it can be nerve wracking. You may want to have a conversation, maybe struggling to have it and then bringing yourself again and again about it. So there's also that element, but then that's what I would always think about anyway.

Sarah:

Yeah, no, and it's a really good thing to bring up and add in as well because it's all moving parts, isn't it? And it all sort of feeds in together and, yeah, at the end of the day, I don't want to hazard a guess at how many hours we spend in our lifetime working. I bet you someone's done that research. I don't even want to look at it. I don't want to even know. But at the end of the day, work is a big part of our life, isn't it?

Tazmin:

Absolutely.

Sarah:

We need to make sure that we're doing everything that we can or we feel, I suppose we feel we're doing everything that we can in our remit to make it a happy place to work. So what I'm going to do, because I think after the break that's going to possibly. Yeah, I was going to say meat and potatoes. Where does that saying come from?

Tazmin:

Vegan as well?

Sarah:

I know, obviously. Well, I'm thinking, know those vegan sausages. But let's take a short break, Tazmin. And yeah, when we come back with part two, we'll just discuss all the strategies and things that our listeners can implement when we are managing upris. Does that sound good?

Tazmin:

Sounds wonderful. Looking forward to it.

Sarah:

Ok, come back, folks. Welcome back for part two. Tazmin, are you ready to get into the vegan meat and potatoes?

Tazmin:

Definitely.

Sarah:

So, yeah, let's discuss strategies, so practical tips and strategies that our listeners can implement. And I've got a list. So Tazmin, I'll go through my list, I'll rattle some off. Please do interject, talk, anything that comes to mind at the. Yeah, I think that's a good, good way to deal with this one. So my first tip, get to know what is important to your boss. And just as a caveat, I am saying boss in my examples, but it's not always going to be a boss. But I think you can switch out boss for the person that you're managing upwards. Okay. Just as a caveat, so people can have it in their brains. Okay. So know what is important to your boss and their goals. Yeah, at the end of the day, whatever role we have, everyone has their own goals. Everyone has their own thing that they've been brought into a company to achieve. So how can SEO and your role support them and ultimately make them look good, but also your department and the whole team sort of thing? So that is really important because, yeah, knowing what's important to your boss and knowing what their goals are, that just allows you to align and make sure that the conversations that you have and the things that you're working on, your boss is bought into it and they're behind it. So then when they need to report or do any progress reports or whatever or share successes, they're going to know it. They're going to know because they're bought in. They're excited at the end of the day of how SEO can help. And everyone likes to look good at the end of the day, don't they? So this leads me into another nice one. So share successes with your boss and team and make it obvious how that success has helped reach or how that success is a step closer to reaching a goal or target. So yeah, get into the habit of sharing successes, even those little small wins. Just get into a habit. And it doesn't always have to be a swanky report or a swanky presentation slides, just however you communicate. If it's in slack or teams or an email, just get into the habit of always sharing your successes. Make it easy for your boss to communicate with hire management or a client. So if there's something that's going to aid them with visual people at the end of the day, what graphs or things can you put together? Think about the lingo that you're using. So in SEO, there's lots of words that we like, there's lots of words that I still don't say correctly. There's still a lot of SEO linguistics that I even have to Google myself to find what this means. So be thinking about that. When someone is reporting or something, how can you make it easy for them? How can you aid them? And you can have a conversation with them as well. Just be like, it's really important that we report this, and it's really important that we say x, Y and Z. Help them say x, Y and Z. See if they've got any questions or anything off the back of it. Don't be afraid to push back. Now, this is a tricky one. I am the biggest people pleaser, so I don't often like to rock the boat. I don't often like to push back. But if you have been asked to do something that isn't in your job description or you feel that something, because I understand that especially in smaller companies, you'll always end up doing things that aren't necessarily in your job description. So you don't just want to just say no, but always explain, okay, if I'm doing this task, this takes away the time from me doing this task. Yeah. And maybe suggest a solution. So if it's that you can't support because of time or resource, is there something else that they can do? Get. It's okay to say no. You don't have to say yes to everything that is asked of you. Tazmin, is there anything that you want to add before I carry on any nuggets?

Tazmin:

No, I really like that one because it's just natural, isn't it, to want to say yes? But if you physically can't do it, if the capacity isn't there, sometimes having another way of just illustrating it. So you might have like a resource planner or even pulling out your calendar. And if you say, no, I can't do it because I'm currently doing this, this and this. You could say to them, is there something that you want me to not do to enable me to do this thing? So it's not just saying, no, I can't do it because I'm doing all of these other things. But you could bring them into the conversation saying, okay, somebody I knew where I used to work, she would say, so she was the only BA in the organization. And the director would say, could you do this for me? And she would say, oh, wow, that's an amazing idea. I would love to do that for you. What would you like me not to do? She wasn't saying no. She was saying, yeah, sure, I can do that. I think it's fantastic. What would you like me not to do, and it then put the ball back into their court. Because if they couldn't come up with an answer, you weren't actually saying no.

Sarah:

And that actually really nicely leads me on to my next one, which I was going to say, ask questions. Yeah, and you gave a great example of how you can ask a question when being given a task, but there's other questions that you can ask. So understanding what your boss's work life is like, see what pressures or any worries or concerns that they have, what is overwhelming them and the team. For example, having an open and transparent conversation with your boss or the person that you are managing upwards is going to help out in the long run because you want to facilitate open communication and you want to be able to so that you can push back. Because if you can foster and build this relationship with that person, these harder conversations, these harder situations are easier to manage. Timing is important as well. For example, do you know that your boss is more sort of responsive first thing in the morning, like when they are first sat down and they're responding and stuff, or are they better just after lunch? Do you know what I mean? Maybe you can save it to one to ones that you have with your boss, but timing is important. Another one is being empathetic towards your boss, your team, your colleagues needs. Always try and put yourself in their shoes and say things as well. It depends on the relationship that you've got with that person. But they might come to you and say, I'm really stressed today. I've got all of this stuff that I'm doing and you can vocalize it and be like, I can imagine that today is stressful. Now what would be interesting is how you have. I don't know if you've already covered this. I think we've got getting to this point now where we've done a lot of topics, but how to be a good boss or how to be a good manager, because I imagine whilst you want to be open and transparent with your team, there's stuff that you don't want to necessarily feed down. But I think, I don't know if there's something that's going wrong or there's a pressure. I think that's all right. To communicate and be open and honest with communication is key. So I think I've really said that in everything that I've said. Give early warnings. So say, for example, there's an issue, there's a problem, say it as soon as you find out what that issue is or as soon as you know that there's a problem with a campaign or there's something going wrong, especially with a client. If you're agency side, don't be afraid to let them know as soon as, obviously, have some time to reflect, chill, breathe, think of some solutions to the problems. Because if you go to whoever you're talking to, full of emotion, like, crikey, this has gone wrong, obviously that's not going to be helpful. So, yeah, whilst you need to communicate this kind of stuff early on, do it in a sensible way and also communicate if there's something that's a blocker. So if there's like a deadline that's not going to be. That's going to be met anticipation as well. So can you anticipate how that person is going to react? So whatever bit of news or whatever piece of information that you're given to a person, can you anticipate how they will act? Because then that will allow you to sort of come up with solutions and know best how to deal with those situations. Tazmin, again, is there anything else that you want to input on the ones that I've just said?

Tazmin:

So a few examples just before you said that it was if you can't do the task that they're asking you to do and to let them know that these are the things I'm doing currently and we were talking about showing them what your priority list was, ask them what are they trying to achieve by getting you to do that task. So maybe they want to communicate something in another meeting and they think the best solution is that report or that, whatever, say it's a report that they've requested. Maybe you know something that they don't know. Maybe you know a way of getting most of that data without the long report running that they're asking you to do, or this big analysis. So there might be phases. So even with goal setting, often you ask yourself, okay, what's the best goal outcome, what's a good and what's good enough? And have like levels. So you might be able to say, I can't get all of that data for you. However, what you're looking for is visible in this report, which would take me far less time to do, but it would give you the answer you're looking for.

Sarah:

Yes, 100%. I love when you chime in with your wise golden nuggets. And yes, I'm nearly at the end of my list. So other things as well is work on your relationships with other departments. So another one, and keep your boss or that person that you're talking to in the loop update on progress that you made together. So, for example, in SEO, working on having a good relationship with the web developers, do you know what I mean? That's going to help you out, it's going to help your team out and it's going to help everyone out sort of thing. So, yeah, especially if there's a lot that you work or you need your web developers to sort of implement and do. So. Yeah, I'm just thinking, is there anything else that comes to mind? I think we've covered quite a lot of tips.

Tazmin:

So I think a lot of the tips we've been talking about is what do you do when that situation arises? But before that, it's about building that good relationship with the individual in question. Because when you've got a good relationship, when you've got good rapport, when you've built up that trust, and then you push back and say, I'm unable to do this right now, or whatever it is that you're saying, it's going to land better if you've already built up that relationship, but if you haven't and it's a shaky, awkward, tense relationship, then those pushbacks are going to feel even harder.

Sarah:

100%. And I think a big skill here is communication in the relationships that you're working on. I think the more that you can facilitate an open and honest relationship where, yeah, you can talk about stuff, you can push back and it feels healthy, then it's going to work out in the long run, isn't it?

Tazmin:

Yeah. I've just thought of an example. Have we got time?

Sarah:

We've got a few minutes, yeah.

Tazmin:

Okay. So I was working on a project, I was looking after the data, there was somebody else looking after the development and we were developing a system to load a new feed of data. And it was quite tense at the time because it was a replacement feed, it wasn't a brand new one and it was one that the business really required. And I was saying, need to do more testing. And they were saying, no, we need to just get this moving. And they were senior to me, so it was quite hard to put my foot down and say, no, we need to do the testing. But once the project was over, we were able to sit and have a conversation with each other, recognize that I was more cautious, they were more red, I was more blue. And we've had this episode, haven't we, the styles, what was it, the disc personalities that you did and actually then appreciate what each of us brought to the business. And I said to them that look in the future, if I'm over cautious, please let me know, because that was my style. I wanted everything ticked off. They then said, and if I am not being cautious enough, you need to point that out to me. So sometimes the moment can feel fraught, but when things have calmed down, take that opportunity to put that learning into developing the relationship even better.

Sarah:

Oh, 100%. And yeah, it's good that you put your foot down because yeah, there are. And maybe we link to that episode in the show notes because it's understanding personality types, isn't it, at the end of the day and how you work well together. But having an understanding of that is great. The only other thing that I would. Another one that's come to mind is keeping a bit of a paper trail or keeping notes of progress of what has been discussed or what has been discussed or what has been agreed sort of thing. Because obviously we can get lost in teams messages, slack messages, emails and stuff. Whereas if there's like a central document or something where things can be easily accessed or if there's like a decision or anything like that, that's going to help in the managing upwards process as well, isn't it?

Tazmin:

Yeah, I think it's a good shout linking that episode because I think it's really useful to understand different personalities when you're having these conversations. So good shout.

Sarah:

Yeah, I'll add it in now while I remember. And unfortunately, that is time. What's the key takeaway that you took away from that? Just one. Can you whittle it down to one?

Tazmin:

I think understanding others because you may have your own views on what you should do, what you shouldn't do, but being able to put yourself in their position can really facilitate and make that conversation so much better.

Sarah:

I love it. And yeah, I'd agree that that is the main takeaway. And communication, I would add in. I think communication skills are going to be vital to this whole process. But yes, I have just added that link now to the episode where we talk about disc dis personality types. So that means that that episode will be ready in the show notes for you. Wonderful, wonderful. Right, Tazmin, unfortunately, we're going to have to say goodbye. Reminder again. If you want to support us, you can donate or you can donate or buy me a coffee, link in the show notes or you can sign up to the newsletter and get those fabulous updates and wonderful writing pieces that Tazmin is doing for us. Right, Tazmin? Shall we say goodbye? And until next time?

Tazmin:

Goodbye, everyone. Thank you so much for listening.

Sarah:

Bye.