6 Ways to Manage Sideways

Last Updated May 31, 2011 6:43 AM EDT

Everyone wants tips and trick on how to get your boss fired, how to tell your boss she's wrong, and how to get your boss to promote you and give you a big raise. And people who manage others want to know how to address problems, deliver bad news and reward people properly.

But, the reality is, when you need a favor, how often is it the Sr. VP that comes to your rescue? Unless you're the CEO, the answer is likely somewhere close to never. It's the person in the next cube. It's the person down the hall in accounts payable who does a special check run when you forgot to submit an invoice from a critical supplier. It's the market researcher who does a special re-run of the data for you and double checks your conclusions. It's the admin who goes behind the scenes to get a personal printer approved for you.

These relationships are incredibly valuable. Here are 6 things you should be doing to manage "sideways."

  1. Be nice. Oh, I know. You want to be all cut-throat and demonstrate how you're so much better than everyone else. Fine. Now, try being nice to your coworkers. Help them with their problems and you'll find that they are willing to help you our when you need it.
  2. Share your secret knowledge. Everyone, but especially long term employees, has at least one company secret. I'm not talking about information about sales projections or that the CEO is having an affair. I'm talking about how to get things done. For instance, even though you may have no responsibility for health insurance, you may know the right person to contact (without having to go through that infernal call center). This is seriously valuable information.
  3. Develop relationships. Take the time to get to know the people you work with. This is not done by sharing too much information, this is done by inquiring after them. Remember things they tell you and bring them back up again. If the woman who is responsible for providing you with a monthly report mentions that her first grandchild is due any day, make sure you note that and follow up. If you show an interest in things that are important to her, she will like you more and be more willing to help you out.
  4. Share credit. Even if you did 90% of the work, when the big boss says, "Thank you for your work on this project. Spectacular job." The correct response is, "Thank you! It was a lot of work and I couldn't have pulled it together if Sharon and John hadn't helped me out with the data collection." This does not detract from your success. It does not make you look like you're incapable. It makes you look generous. John and Sharon and more likely to help you out in the future, and the big boss still thinks you're fabulous.
  5. Don't share the blame. If you made a mistake, confess it and get over it. Don't try to look for someone else to take the fall. Just say, "I'm really sorry about [x] and here is what I'm doing to fix it." What if you're not 100% at fault? How much good will it do you to blame the three people who each caused 10% of the problem? I'm not talking about volunteering to be the scapegoat, but I'm talking about taking responsibility for your mistakes. If you do this, when it really is someone else's fault everyone will believe you.
  6. Realize that everyone's job is hard. Okay, on a theoretical level this statement may be false. However, just because you think a job is easy doesn't mean it is. It's doubtful (unless you've done the job in the past) that you are aware of everything that goes into a job. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Make an effort to understand what their processes are as it will help you with your process. Don't make pronouncements of "If they only did X instead of Z we could cut our turnaround time down by 1/3" unless you actually know that Z is possible. It may not be.
Building good relationships with your "equals" will help move your career ahead. And keep in mind, that just because someone is your peer today, it doesn't mean that she won't be your boss next month or that you won't be her boss next month. How much easier will that be if you have a good relationship to begin with?

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Photo by Kenski1970, Flickr CC 2.0