What is “taking a top management perspective”?

This blog post is a part of a larger Success habits collection which demystifies the “secret sauce” expectations that define a high performer at work. In this specific blog post, I break down for you the idea of taking a top management perspective.

Idea in a nutshell

A top management perspective is how the executives at the top of the organization see business situations:

  • In a broader business context

  • While keeping in mind organizational complexities

  • As they optimize for how to best achieve overall success.

Taking a top management perspective means thinking like an executive, even if you do not yet have the job title or the full visibility into the broader business.

Pragmatically speaking, it means that when you make recommendations and decisions, you proactively anticipate and consider bigger-picture questions.  

Backstory

As a little bit of a backstory, “take a top management perspective” is one of the expectations that gets drilled into the heads of young McKinsey consultants from day 1.

I have to say, on the receiving end, it feels a bit cryptic at the beginning. More tenured colleagues drop the phrase on you as feedback on your analysis. Then they act as if they have just offered you a gold nugget of guidance that will shape your problem-solving and take it to the next level. But it takes some time to understand — and appreciate — the meaning of the words and the importance of the principle behind them.

And that is the motivation behind my blog posts on this topic.

Recognize management’s role

The opposite of taking a top management perspective is taking a limited perspective, where the recommendations or decisions only take a narrow, siloed approach.

This happens because most employees have a focused role within a specific part of the company. Their visibility into the broader business is limited, and their daily routines are contained within their department. 

In contrast, the role of the executives is to manage the integrated system across the many moving parts, so that the company achieves its objectives. Top managers have a broad, holistic view of the company and its place in the world.

Know executive expectations

I have listed below 10 actual and frequent comments from executives on what they expect from the people they are developing to step up and assume greater responsibility:

  1. “Take a cross-functional view.”

  2. “Consider the impact on the other groups.”

  3. “Have an integrated point of view.”

  4. “Show some systems thinking.”

  5. “Step outside of their roles.”

  6. “Come ready to answer my questions.”

  7. “See the forest for the trees.”

  8. “Know the context.”

  9. “Think strategically.”

  10. “Walk in my shoes.”

Read the blog post “Walk in the boss’s shoes” to viscerally understand what managers expect of you.

Ask big-picture questions

Here is a hack that you can use right now: To support recommendations and decisions, proactively anticipate and consider bigger-picture questions.

Which of the 3 questions below do you think are good examples of questions that help you take a top management perspective? 

  1. How does this impact the rest of the organization?

  2. How does this fit with our strategy?

  3. How does this support our priorities?

If you answered “All 3,” you are right!

And to see the value, how about you try to ask these 3 questions for projects you are involved with at work?

[Psst, here’s a secret: Much of this applies to your personal life too. Think about a project you are investing time and effort in — how does it align with your overall goals? How does it impact your life partner and family members? How does it interact with other projects you have underway?]

Please explore other blog posts in this Success habits series.
Originally written by Aneta Key in February 2016. Last edited December 2018.