Keep your eyes and ears open for valuable intelligence up and down the chain of command. That doesn't mean listening to and spreading gossip. It means learning from your direct reports about what's happening on the front lines, from your boss about what's occurring in the executive boardroom, and from everyone else about anything in between.
It's not enough to align yourself after the fact. You want to help inform the decisions and priorities being made, and you want to understand as much as you can. In a world of infinite business data, human intelligence--what people are thinking and saying--is still incredibly valuable.
Often that intelligence is there, but is not communicated up and down the chain of command. So, when you gather and share intel, you are telling your boss that you care about how your job fits into the organization, and you are showing your direct reports that you care about their experience and perspective and value what they are learning.
There are five simple steps to achieving vertical alignment with your boss and direct reports at work.
1) Get regular updates from even higher in the organization
Ask your boss for regular updates about key decisions made at a higher level, especially when any changes in high-level priorities, personnel, policies, procedures, systems, or resource allocations.
2) Understand what affects you, what to share, and what's confidential
Make sure you understand how any changes might affect your planning or that of your direct reports. Clarify what information is meant to be kept confidential, at least for now, and what information and messages should you communicate systematically down the chain of command to your peers and your direct reports.
3) Report on important developments for you or your team
At the same time, keep your boss informed of any important developments or reportable facts you observe at your level or learn from your peers or direct reports. That will help your boss see around the corner to any upcoming risks, challenges, needs, or opportunities you perceive on the front lines.
4) Tell your boss about current and anticipated issues
Keep your boss apprised of what's going on in your other dialogues with your own subordinates and other colleagues, if you have any: Are you dealing with or anticipating any personnel issues? Performance problems? Conflict on the team? Superstars who may need special rewards? Staffing-level changes? Training needs? Other resource issues?
5) Establish the same communication habits with your colleagues and direct reports
If you are someone's boss, make sure you are driving the same kind of intelligence gathering and sharing conversations with your direct reports. Don't become so insulated in intelligence you cannot control that you leave your team hanging. They are relying on you to provide guidance, direction, and support every step of the way.
Want more tips like this?
Find more insight, advice, and tips like this in The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.