How to Manage Upwards

October 9, 2019



To be a great hotel manager, you need an ever-evolving set of people skills. There is, of course, the critical task of leading your employees day-by-day, and fostering a healthy work culture. There are relationships with suppliers, OTAs, and sometimes with consultants. And of course, there are the guests, whose experiences at your hotel will ultimately define its performance.


Navigating these diverse relationships is an integral part of hotel management, and it’s one of the things I used to love about the job. But one of the questions I often get asked by up-and-coming hoteliers is how to manage upwards. They’re finding a good rhythm when it comes to all of the other relationships involved in hotel management, but they’re less confident when it comes to creating a winning dynamic with owners and executives.


The first thing I tell them is that no two situations are alike; no single formula will work in every situation as the culture varies from organisation to organisation. As a hotelier, managing up is like so many other skills that come with the job – less about fixed ideas, more about the ability to adapt to your particular circumstances.


That said, I’ve learned a lot on managing up during my career in hotel management, and I’ve put much of it into practice with good results. Here are a few pieces of wisdom about managing up that are, at the very least, worthy of consideration for young hotel managers:


1. Identify problems and solutions


A common pitfall in managing up is to make things seem a little rosier in reports than they really are. Always remember though, your interests and those of your superiors should by rights be aligned. And senior management don’t like to be surprised when something turns out to be far worse than it was reported. You can and should articulate good things that are happening, but you should be honest about pressure points that could be hampering the hotel’s performance or where challenges might be arising.


Don’t just identify problems, either – talk about solutions, even if you’re still looking for the right solution. I often used to say to my teams,  don’t bring me a problem unless you have a suggestion as to how to address it. Nobody likes a whinger and senior execs want to know that their teams are just as invested in the business as they are; coming up with solutions is what makes some managers stand out from others.


2. See it from their perspective


Being a hotel manager presents new challenges every day, and if we’re not careful, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. In order to manage up effectively and build a healthy dynamic with upper management, we have to be able to step back and imagine things from their perspective. Owners and executives have their own stresses, pressure points, and objectives. Making an effort to understand what drives them (and what worries them), and how they respond to challenges, will put you in a better position to align your interests with theirs. At the end of the day, upper management is still human too (no, really) and have their own anxieties and stresses. The solution that makes you feel better may not necessarily make the situation better for all stakeholders, so try and see it through their eyes.


3. Be the expert


Even if more senior people have experience managing hotels, you were hired because you have expertise in this area and are more closely engaged with the day-to-day operations now. When you approach your bosses with confidence and purpose, it shows that you are engaged in your work and honing your skills. Owners and executives want their managers to take initiative and steer the ship. Part of managing up is projecting confidence in your ability to do just that.


4. Articulate your goals


It’s not all about other people. You are the manager, and your personality figures into this equation. It seems like a tricky prospect to tell your superiors how you would like to be managed, or how to get the most out of you – and you’ll want to think carefully about such statements before you make them - but good superiors will understand that you are an enterprising professional with your own goals and stresses. Look for constructive ways to let upper management know what kind of professional you are. Let them in on your vision for the future, and give them an idea of how you work. Remember, companies are more successful when they understand each other in order to reach common goals.


A constructive dynamic between hotel managers and executives


Much of what we see in hospitality is about people (in fact most of it) – and a particular emphasis has been placed on workplace culture and employee dynamics. We sometimes forget though that the relationship between a hotel manager and their superiors is a key part of this ‘people’ equation so a constructive dynamic between managers and executives is good for the bottom line. As long you continue to develop a clearer understanding of those dynamics, your superiors should thank you for it.  



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