Managing up

Having a healthy, positive relationship with your boss makes your work life much easier and it’s also good for your job satisfaction and your career. But some managers don’t make it easy. According to an article by Dana Rousmaniere in the Harvard Business Review, even if your boss has some serious shortcomings, it’s in your best interest, and it’s your responsibility, to make the relationship work.

Perhaps the most important skill to master is figuring out how to be a genuine source of help because managing up doesn’t mean sucking up. It means being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your employer. That’s why the best path to a healthy relationship begins and ends with doing your job, and doing it well, Rousmaniere wrote.

STMA Editorial Committee member Rebecca Auchter says, “Most sports turf managers report to senior stakeholders who are not well versed in the particulars of our profession. Securing resources, ensuring key agronomic practices fit into the facility schedule, and gaining professional respect as an integral part of an athletic business are key strategies for success. Managing your boss is a soft skill with critical consequences.”

Auchter says most sports turf managers report to a GM, public works director, facilities GM, owner—someone who has only basic or limited knowledge of what turf managers do. “It is not unusual at ALL for the grounds manager or sports turf manager to be the sole member of the organization with the operational and technical skill to do what we do,” she says.

Given that very common organizational hierarchy, it is a critical skill for sports turf managers to develop communication techniques for explaining and justifying our personnel requirements, budgetary concerns, operational needs, etc., to “laymen,” Auchter says.

“There’s an entire section at the bookstore on communication for business but the basics are to know your own communication preferences, and then figuring out your boss’s [along with other important stakeholders],” says Auchter. “It’s easiest to just ask them! Once you are on the same page, it is your responsibility to behave and communicate in a way that will be best received. Examples include does he or she prefer frequent, detailed information or infrequent, high level information? Phone versus email? Weekly office meetings or site visits?”

Auchter says, “After communication style, figuring out what your boss’s expectations are for your department or division is vital. Make sure your goals are in line with her or his concerns and success. The best path to getting what you want from somebody is to tell them why it’s good for them!”

Mike Andresen, CSFM, Kirkwood (IA) CC, Jody Gill, CSFM, Blue Valley (KS) SD, Eric Harshman, Berea (KY) College, Daniel Thomas, CSFM, Baltimore Orioles Spring Training, and Josh Weigel, Noblesville (IN) Schools answered a few questions about their experiences “managing up”:

Do you understand your boss’s perspective, agenda and preferences? If so, how did you accomplish that?

Harshman: My bosses have a hands-off approach on my day-to-day operations/management of the main campus and athletic complex. I’ve based my management style on good organization, planning and communication. From the first day I started I was entrusted in being a good steward of my overall operating budget, and I have seen an increase in that budget in recent years. I have made necessary equipment purchases to increase productivity/efficiency in our daily operations.

Weigel: Yes. I sat down with my boss as soon as he was hired by our school corporation and asked him his goals/expectations. Previous to joining our corporation, he was at a few neighboring communities, so I was able to see the work done there and implement it here. Communication with your boss is key. Even if it’s just a quick text message here and there, it can go a long way in being successful.

Andresen: My boss is vice president of facilities but he was a very accomplished and well-respected turf instructor at this school before taking the “cabinet” position. I’m in the unique position of his knowing turf science and our campus far better than me. For the past year I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut and just listen when he discusses campus politics, priorities and goals. With the landscape design instructor on campus, we worked this past year on developing a Campus Master Plan. In a nutshell, this piece was critical to express a unified vision for campus development and maintenance. I was privileged to be part of the development team and through that process I learned a great deal about the campus successes, shortcomings and its culture. I believe now we have a consensus on a vision to make a difference to staff, students and the community members that use our campus.

Gill: I am fortunate to work in an organization that believes in strong and frequent communication along with a highly supportive administration. I meet with my boss, Joe Chick, formally every week but informal communication is always happening via phone, text and email. I see it more as a partnership than a superior/subordinate relationship. I fully understand that he is the boss but I think we work to understand each other’s perspective, agenda and preferences.

Thomas: Like all aspects of business, communication is the key component when trying to understand where your boss is coming from. Every person is different in his or her own way, and finding that avenue to common ground can sometimes be a tall task. I have a very good relationship with our Director of Florida Operations, Trevor Markham. We have weekly meetings, but often the most results happen when we talk on the phone after hours on our drives home. The best business can be done when we have a chance to clear our minds from all of the day’s responsibilities and focus on the conversation. We don’t always see eye to eye but our willingness to see things from the other person’s perspective plays a major part in our success. Listen closely when people speak and you can pick up on their line of thinking and preferences fairly quickly.

Can you share an example of when knowing how your work fits into the organization’s goals enabled you to get approval for a project you wanted to do?

Thomas: Here in Florida at our spring training facilities we are in the business of training, development and rehabilitation of all our players in the organization. Providing safe playing fields and training grounds is priority number one for us in Sarasota. I like to prioritize major projects according to the safety of the fields and how they can affect the players training on them. Knowing the organization places a heavy emphasis on player safety and development, we can present our requests to the front office confidently knowing we all have the same agenda. For example, we fraze mowed and topdressed one of our fields this past May. The age of the field and settling had led to some sloping in the outfield and buildup along the grass/clay edges. We were able to pitch this project openly and honestly as a necessity for player safety. Understanding the organization’s expectations, goals, and philosophies increases the odds of the project getting approved.

Weigel: One of our middle school football fields was in really rough shape. We continued to play on it and but knew it was likely someone would eventually be injured. Initially I wanted to regrade the field and start over, but I was turned down as we didn’t have the funds for that. I presented the idea of fraze mowing it, topdressing with 72 tons of sand, and overseeding it. The corporation agreed with this plan, as it was considerably cheaper. We now have a smooth, and more importantly, a safe playing surface.

Harshman: When I took on be role as grounds coordinator my responsibilities were only over the main campus and nothing with athletics or managing their fields. After being in this position for nearly a year I was asked to create a proposed operating budget for the athletic complex. After much thought and a visual assessment of the complex I was able to provide a working document/budget on what the complex needed to be brought up to speed and for the overall safety of the student athletes. With the information I provided I was given the keys to complex with a start-up operating budget and allocated monies for some equipment/renovation needs. I also convinced my bosses that a full-time position needed to be created to handle the day-to-day maintenance of the complex.

Andresen: Not sure I’ve been at Kirkwood long enough yet to give a good example. My first priority was and continues to be having our campus grounds department become more of an asset to the 2-year turf management and horticulture degree programs. The bottom line is ensuring instructors and students in that program know they have an ownership stake in the campus grounds. Students in the program help us maintain our Tree Campus USA designation, they help us develop and maintain native and pollinator habitat, they help with athletic field maintenance and we use the landscape design students creativity in developing high profile areas of campus. We have an effective equipment sharing agreement to maximize college resources. It’s clear that communications and lack of ego on the part of all parties absolutely allows us to maximize pooled resources and opportunities here.

Gill: One thing that has been very important to my boss is eliminating the imaginary work silos that our individual departments would sometimes use as shields when we would become overwhelmed with work orders. We have three primary divisions within operations and maintenance: building maintenance, custodial services and grounds services. By tearing down the silos and sharing the workload between departments, we have dramatically increased the overall productivity of our teams. As a result, our capital project and equipment approval rates have increased.

Do you have an example(s) of things you do that make your boss’s job easier and proves your value to the organization?

Andresen: I’d like to blame the challenging 2018 weather for this but I’m not sure I’ve made his job anything but more difficult this year! Our vision and goals are long term with a very high upside so we focus on those. Coming from an athletics background helps us both accept the challenges will make each success taste that much sweeter. There are days my boss has talked me down off the ledge and there are days I have to convince him and the grounds staff that with persistence and focus we’re on track to accomplish our goals. Honesty and integrity are most important to my boss. He knows my job better than me so it’s not like I can BS him. We both know our grounds staff is full of exceptionally talented and loyal folks. The entire full-time roster graduated from Kirkwood so no one wants to leave a better legacy than each of them does. This is one of those years when each week feels like a grind but folks on the other side of campus depend on us to help project the very best image possible of this campus. Maybe the real value to our boss is that he knows we’ll stay focused on creating the greatest learning environment possible. More than anything else our job is to “make problems go away,” whether they are turf, landscape or even fleet vehicle related. The boss may value that more than anything.

Gill: I would go back to silo removal and work crossover first. This alone has made his job easier. Additionally, we have taken on non-grounds related tasks including fleet and fuel management for more than 100 operations and maintenance vehicles and the fleet of 50 student activity vans, traffic signage, school zone signal installation and programming and much more. We have always strived to be the department that our organization can’t do without.

Thomas: One example is always being organized. Providing an employee work calendar in advance taking all factors into consideration forms the foundation for being organized. Next, each day’s plans are tailored specifically around the team’s workout/game schedule. This helps determine the size of the crew I need and what projects can get done that day. Once I know the teams expected schedule I can plan the fieldwork list for that day accordingly. I take an hour each night and plan out the next day specific to each grounds crew employee working that day. Staying organized helps keep the crew on task working efficiently, which directly affects the number of labor hours each week. Overtime pay is kept under control and the boss is happy!

Harshman: In 2017 Berea College made the transition from NAIA to NCAA DIII. Once the transition took place is when I was asked to formulate a budget/management plan. I honestly feel my bosses played a vital role in my taking over the athletic complex. They trusted that I would take all the necessary steps to ensure the absolute best for the field and for the student athletes. They trusted my decision-making and have fully supported me from day one.

Weigel: I am in a unique situation in which my boss is the assistant superintendent of one of the largest school corporations in the state. He is in charge of operations as well as human resources. In order to alleviate some of his operation duties, I help manage the outdoor athletic facilities budget, the school grounds budget, and also some of the indoor athletic facility budget. The ADs and coaches come to me first with problems, ideas, or suggestions as far as outdoor facility needs go. I want to be able to take care of most of their needs daily without them taking up their time in person or on the phone. At times he does need to get involved, but my goal is to help take as much pressure off of him as possible.