Managing your career within the organization. Don’t let the company hierarchy hold you back.

John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in the class sketch

Company hierarchies as laid out on org charts can seem stifling;  but they needn’t be. The org  framework gives you a clear guide for your own navigation and success – all you have to do is search for the win-win opportunities at each level.

You have to manage up on the chart. You have to manage sideways. And you have to manage down. To do this effectively, you should be clear on your own goals: where you want to get to, what work you want to be doing, what you want to learn, how you want to grow, how you want your team to grow.

The strategy is the same all around. Search for the areas where each party can move towards their own goals.  Find out where there are mutual interests, where there is an opportunity for each of you to do better and be better. Exploit those avenues to get what you need and to make the other party happy too. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. There should be room for everyone to get what they want – so find that mutual space and own it.

Managing up. The managing up part is about convincing those above you on the org chart that you are doing amazing work, that they have to give you more resources, that you have to get the best assignments and that you are generally crucial to the success of the company and therefore to their personal progress. This is the sucking upwards part – wait a minute that doesn’t sound so good – let’s just call it the enlightened upward management part.

Managing laterally. Then there are those on your same level, your peers. How to manage sideways? You know they can get in the way but how can you help them so that they will help you? Find the areas of common interest and collaborate on those. Make friends and figure out the win-win opportunities. Defuse any challenges from the side. Be a leader, not an antagonist. And remember, you catch more flies with honey.

Managing down. And then there are the people who report to you. The onus is actually on you to figure out what will make them do their best work. Is it the hope of better projects? Is it recognition? Or promotion? I know they want a raise but for creative folk that is never the real driver. Don’t be a bully so that they resent you. If they resent you they will not do their best work for you. Figure out what will make them happy and productive and support your own goals. Once again your challenge with each of them is to find the win-win opportunity. And finding these and exploiting these – yes I did say exploiting them – these are the skills of great leaders. Read again Shakespeare’s Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. He did not ask his guys to fight because he wanted to be King of France, nor because there was some moral imperative, nor for the expansion of his borders, nor for the bounty they might score – but for the glory, the memories, for the brotherhood, for the envy of those who weren’t there. He had a tremendous insight into the hopes and dreams of his soldiers that made them want to do just what he needed from them.

So there you have it. Did I say it would be easy? I did not. Did I tell you to understand your co-workers’ ambitions? Yes I did – over and over again. Hierarchy or no hierarchy everyone has hopes and dreams – not just you. And achieving yours on the backs of others will probably have a bad outcome in the long term. But helping others forward as you help yourself will accelerate your progress and will provide you with allies in the years to come.