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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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Managing the Hiring Manager

Managing up

The 2002 romantic comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” introduced those of us outside the Hellenic Republic to an idiosyncratic set of previously undisclosed cultural norms, mores and medical wonders. Windex, for example, ostensibly cures any ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy. The product’s safety information would have you believe otherwise. We also learned that to the more “traditional” members of elder generations, a successful daughter spends her twenties developing intricate plans to “marry a Greek boy, make Greek babies and feed everyone until the day she dies.” Any female professional would beg to differ. Yet what really piqued our interest was the Portokalos family’s innate and irrefutable expertise in the business practice of “managing up.”

The film’s heroine, Toula Portokalos, finds herself stuck in a pre-midlife rut, toiling aimlessly away at the family business, a restaurant called “Dancing Zorba’s.” She wants to escape the constraints of familial expectations, adamantly imposed by her father Gus, and seek an independent life that doesn’t involve a career in food services or birthing legions of Greek infants. Her sights have been set on taking computer classes at a local college and accepting a position at a relative’s travel agency. In a humorous ploy, Toula’s mother and aunt persuade Gus to give Toula permission to pursue these goals, while making him think it was his idea all along.

Toula’s Aunt Voula sums up the process perfectly: “Tell me what to say, but don’t tell me what to say.” Comedy aside, it’s an exemplary depiction of successfully “managing up.”


Managing the hiring manager

At its core, the concept of managing up, or managing the manager, illustrates an efficacious process of consciously working in tandem with superiors to obtain the best possible results for the program, the boss and the company. In 1980, when Harvard business professors John Gabarro and John Kotter introduced organizational leaders to this new way of approaching working relationships, they crafted a revolutionary lens though which to re-examine the accepted manager-subordinate relationship, recognizing all participants in an enterprise as engaged, mutually dependent stakeholders. Today, this collaborative support system continues to drive success for those who have mastered it.

Although an MSP’s program managers and onsite account teams are not employees of the clients they serve, the unique nature of the outsourced relationship can tend to blur the lines. A similar dynamic applies to contingent workers operating within a system of joint employment.

MSPs position their professionals as extensions of the client’s hiring and procurement teams. They often reside at client facilities and receive direction from hiring managers, who have tasked them with taking over many day-to-day activities related to administering supplier and talent management processes. It’s not always an easy task, especially when the roles seem more akin to a manager-assistant relationship than a client-vendor engagement.

Most MSPs admit that achieving the proper equilibrium and attaining mutual goals can be complicated. Educating hiring managers to the values and best practices of the MSP/VMS solution is an important first step, as we have covered in previous articles. So what happens after, when the program reaches its full swing toward maturity? We believe an innovative way to evolve the relationship is to adopt the same principles of managing up: actively pursuing a healthy and productive working partnership based on mutual respect and understanding – an understanding that encompasses the MSP’s and the hiring manager’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, work styles and needs.



The most talented MSP program managers make themselves accessible and remain open to honest feedback about any situation. The best hiring managers recognize their MSP partners as their eyes and ears in the program.


Know the hiring manager

“To successfully manage your manager, you must understand their limitations and help them address those limitations, without them feeling self-conscious about it,” says Jeremy Goldman, founder of Firebrand Group, a digital consultancy. Supporting hiring managers requires the same diligence. Familiarize yourself with their frustrations, pain points, current and future objectives, and develop an intimate understanding of their limitations with the existing contingent workforce initiative. For the partnership to work, you must first have an honest conversation about issues, projects and roadblocks, then offer to step in and optimize those operational and cost efficiencies seamlessly, with minimal direction and disruption. Remain alert to hot button issues and monitor program performance to anticipate potential problems before they arise, presenting the hiring manager with proactive solutions to alleviate them. Make it your business to stay abreast of the hiring manager’s immediate and long-term goals, as they can change with the organization’s mission.

During this preliminary stage of the relationship, you should also determine the hiring manager’s preferred communication method, approach and overall style. Seek answers to these questions:

  • What is the hiring manager hoping to accomplish for the client organization?
  • What does the hiring manager value most, professionally and personally?
  • What communication style is most comfortable to the hiring manager? Email, phone, in-person?
  • Does the hiring manager make decisions based on data gleaned from program metrics (SLAs, KPIs), personal observations or hunches?
  • How have past experiences shaped the hiring manager’s perspective on the program or influenced what he or she expects it to achieve now?
  • How does the hiring manager see the presence of the MSP or envision your role in his or her process?

Appeal to the hiring manager’s expertise and insight, emphasizing how you can tap into that knowledge to better assist.


Forge mutual respect

No relationship can endure without mutual trust and respect. Think of the hiring manager as a resource rather than a customer or some form of overseer. In a mutually dependent partnership, everyone has a vital role to play and a stake in the process. Just as you need feedback about your performance, the hiring manager needs input, too.

  • Use these opportunities to acknowledge each other’s roles.
  • Try to empathize with the hiring manager. Imagine his or her pressures from the top, commitments, demands, schedules and deadlines.
  • Validate the hiring manager’s importance to the organization and proactively suggest ways to ease burdens within your control. Work to streamline those processes.

By investing in the hiring manager’s success, offering fresh ideas, exceeding expectations and helping him or her look good to the company, you will gain sponsorship, recognition and cohesion without appearing as a threat. In doing so, you’ll quickly discover that you can convert hiring managers into service providers that work for you, advocating for your decisions, procuring needed resources and securing approvals for changes or improvements you’ve suggested.


Communicate clearly and proactively

Decisions based on assumptions are inferior substitutes for those made with accurate and sufficient information. In fact, they can be downright disastrous. Not even Windex can fix them.  When issues seem inevitable, the MSP must address them quickly, directly and thoughtfully. Hiring managers fail when their partners attempt to shield them from harsh realities. Becoming a hiring manager’s most valuable asset means fearlessly and respectfully telling him what needs to be told, difficult as it sometimes can be. Nothing is worse than being caught off guard. Ensuring a healthy and open dialog that matches the hiring manager’s preferred style will help you earn trust and confidence.

  • When in doubt, ask questions. The smartest people you know today are most likely the kids who asked a lot of questions in school.
  • Be respectful and empower the hiring manager when offering recommendations. For example, try phrasing your suggestions in this way: “I have some thoughts about increasing submittal times. Would you like to schedule some time for me to share them?”
  • If a mistake has occurred, immediately inform the hiring manager. You can’t be pushed under the bus if you throw yourself in front of it first. In fact, business people are more likely to help you up and dust you off when you do. Keeping the hiring manager consistently in the loop prevents drawn out explanations and excuses.
  • When communicating, speak and write concisely. Use the fewest words possible to make your point coherently. This saves time and makes the hiring manager’s job easier, which makes your job easier.


Keep your promises

Trust is key. When you accept a task, undertake a new project or assume responsibility for any initiative, follow through at all costs. Leaving the hiring manager in a lurch will discredit him before his superiors and strain the relationship you have been working to develop. Be realistic about your team’s time and capabilities, and set achievable goals.


Advise and comply

There are times when, as an expert in workforce management, you will notice a hiring manager about to embark on a detrimental course. If you foresee potential harm brewing in a decision, respectfully and intelligently point out the possible pitfalls by offering alternative solutions. It’s the golden rule of business: never bring up problems without remedies in mind. Be prepared for the hiring manager to reject your suggestions. And difficult as it may be, do everything you can to help implement the decision without further questioning.


Over-prepare for meetings

Hiring managers champion MSPs for many reasons. MSPs leverage massive amounts of spend across the enterprise and its multiple staffing suppliers by negotiating strategically unified contracts for countless job categories. They rein in maverick spend, contain costs, streamline communications, monitor performance, enforce universal standards of compliance and automate administrative processes. Utilizing robust reporting processes, they keep hiring managers more informed into program performance, SLAs, KPIs and business intelligence through advanced scorecarding, market rate analyses, and data analytics. Access to deep-dive program data is the hiring manager’s Windex when communicating with scrutinizing yet distant executives and other corporate leaders.

Hiring managers will frequently want to drill down into the details of your program, your team and your job. A confident presentation demonstrates competence. Uncertainty and hesitation can sabotage your reputation. Schedule your business reviews as soon as possible after receiving a request, yet be sure to allow enough time for thorough preparation.


Let your ideas become their ideas

Just as industrious employees realize the need to manage up, MSPs can find new levels of success by managing their hiring managers. Developing an effective working relationship requires introspection into your own needs, strengths, weaknesses and personal style. The goal of managing up isn’t to change structures, institutions or personalities; it’s about uncovering opportunities and impediments, and with that cognizance, taking actions that will make the relationship more effective.

  • Complement the mission and strategies of your company as well as the client’s.
  • Leverage your credibility as an outsourced workforce management specialist who gets results.
  • Act on behalf of the hiring manager and the client, not merely your own organization.
  • Develop a relationship that fits the needs and styles of the hiring manager and the MSP, characterized by mutual expectations.
  • Maintain an ongoing and open line of communication, always keeping hiring managers informed.
  • Enforce an environment of dependability, integrity and transparency.
  • Streamline processes to maximize the hiring manager’s time and resources.

And if you want a big, fat, Greek happy ending, execute strategies that achieve goals, conform to best practices and make the hiring managers shine to their superiors. Plant the seeds of successful ideas in hiring managers and let them bloom from those gardens. Tell them what to say, yet don’t tell them what to say. And if things go awry, always have the Windex ready.

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, thought leader and influencer who is transforming the way companies think about and acquire talent. Blending vision, technology and business skills honed in the most innovative corporate environments, he has launched a new model for recruitment called Crowdstaffing which is being tapped successfully top global brands. Sunil is passionate about building a company that provides value to the complete staffing ecosystem including clients, candidates and recruiters.
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