The Value of Managing Up: A Field Experiment in the Workplace

Last registered on August 10, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

The Value of Managing Up: A Field Experiment in the Workplace
Initial registration date
August 06, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
August 10, 2023, 1:28 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


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Primary Investigator

Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Peking University National School of Development
PI Affiliation
UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy
PI Affiliation
University of Michigan Ross School of Business

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Management strategies significantly influence worker productivity, retention, career growth, and the overall performance of a firm. Traditional top-down approaches have typically underscored the importance of supervisors in shaping managerial quality and employee performance. Much research suggests that training supervisors to effectively manage their subordinates may be a useful way to enhance supervisor-worker relationships and, in turn, boost firm productivity. However, these approaches may face two primary challenges. First, managers frequently encounter constraints regarding time and attention, potentially reducing their effectiveness in supervisory roles. Second, the benefits of training less competent managers could be minimal, thereby limiting improvements in worker productivity and retention.

An emerging alternative is the concept of "managing up," where employees are prompted to take more control in their relationships with their superiors. This strategy is gaining attention in both academic and industrial circles, but its efficacy has yet to be empirically validated. By encouraging workers to actively engage in building professional relationships and communication channels with their supervisors, this approach may alleviate the limitations on managerial time and attention. Furthermore, it could minimize reliance on managers' competence for the transmission of skills and knowledge.

This study seeks to examine these contrasting strategies and fill the existing research gap on these subjects. Specifically, we will investigate three primary questions: 1) Does managing up enhance employee productivity, retention, and career prospects? 2) Is managing up more effective in improving employee performance compared to the traditional top-down approach? 3) Under what circumstances and for which employees is managing-up training most impactful?

To answer these questions, we plan to conduct a randomized controlled trial involving a multinational spa chain with over 5,000 workers across roughly 150 stores. The stores will be randomly allocated into three groups: managing up (T1), managing down (T2), and a control group. In the managing-up group (T1), workers will receive online training through the firm’s e-learning portal, focusing on enhancing their abilities to effectively interact and manage their supervisors, including managers and middle managers. Conversely, in the managing-down group (T2), supervisors will undergo online training aimed at improving their skills in managing their subordinates. These training interventions are particularly designed to enhance the managerial relationship between supervisors and workers. By providing workers and supervisors with the necessary skills and tools to effectively manage their working relationships, we aim to foster a more productive and cooperative work environment, and anticipate observing positive impacts on employee performance.

By collecting survey data before and after the training, alongside administrative data on worker performance and retention, we aim to measure the impacts of the different management approaches. The insights derived from this study will contribute to our understanding of management practices and their influence on employee outcomes and firm performance.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Adhvaryu, Achyuta et al. 2023. "The Value of Managing Up: A Field Experiment in the Workplace." AEA RCT Registry. August 10.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details


The primary interventions in this study consist of two management training courses, collaboratively designed by the firm's Human Resources department and our research team.

Participants in Group T1 are base-level workers not occupying supervisory or management positions. They will partake in a "managing-up" training program, aimed at enhancing their skills to effectively interact with and manage their supervisors. This course is composed of ten lectures covering the following topics: an introduction to managing up, overcoming barriers in managing up, understanding your boss's style, preferences, and expectations, self-awareness about your work, preferences, and expectations, aligning your style with your boss for a productive working relationship, leveraging a good boss's traits to excel as an employee, effective communication strategies, conflict resolution, giving and receiving feedback, and building relationships with superiors.

Conversely, the participants in Group T2, who are managers or middle managers, will undertake an online training program focused on honing their skills in managing their relationships with subordinates. This course, similarly, includes ten lectures, but the content is mirrored to focus on managing down. Topics include an introduction to managing down, relationship building with subordinates, effective communication with subordinates, providing and receiving feedback from subordinates, training, monitoring, incentivizing, and motivating subordinates.

Both training modules will be delivered online through the firm's e-learning portal and will include a comprehensive suite of materials, such as a detailed course syllabus, lecture slides, lecture videos, and practical exercises. Moreover, each lecture includes a corresponding role-play scenario, offering hands-on experience that bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application.

Participants in both treatment groups (T1 & T2) will have full access to their respective training materials throughout the experiment, fostering self-paced learning and continuous skill reinforcement. This adaptable and comprehensive approach caters to different learning styles and paces, ensuring a personalized and effective training experience.

To encourage active engagement, participants will also receive periodic reminders from the firm’s Human Resources department to dedicate time to the training course. This combination of flexibility, interactivity, and supportive reminders aims to maximize the effectiveness and impact of the training interventions.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Employee retention, labor supply and productivity, career prospects, survey-measured wellbeing
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The study involves the implementation of training interventions designed to instill unique workplace management techniques in participants. Developed as part of a randomized controlled trial, these interventions will be implemented across three groups:

Managing Up Training (T1): This intervention is designed to empower non-managerial workers with the skills necessary to effectively interact with and manage their supervisors. The training focuses on enabling employees to communicate effectively with their superiors, provide constructive feedback, and actively participate in decision-making processes, thereby fostering a more participative and productive work environment.

Managing Down Training (T2): This intervention takes a more traditional approach, enhancing the management skills of supervisors. The training provides them with strategies to effectively oversee their subordinates, resolve team issues, motivate employees, and cultivate an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

Control Group (T3): This group does not receive any specialized managerial training, serving as a benchmark against which the impacts of the other two interventions on worker productivity, retention, and career prospects can be compared and evaluated.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization will be conducted by the firm partner using a random number generator.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Around 150 stores.
Sample size: planned number of observations
Around 5,000 employees
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
The three groups will be roughly equal-sized
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Washington University IRB
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

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