Managing up is hard to do

January 22, 2015
 

What are the best practices for communicating when managing up? It’s a phrase that when you say it again and again, your mind bounces back and forth through a few different scenarios depending on your persona. For instance, person No. 1 may think, “Why do I need to think about this? It’s pretty straightforward.” If you communicate to your managers, set expectations and address things tactfully and head on, you’ll always be successful when managing up. However, person No. 2 may think, “I hate managing up. I want my manager to tell me what to do. That’s why she’s my manager, right?” Finally, person No. 3 may think, “I feel comfortable managing up, but only when I work with a manager that does what she says without me chasing her. It’s tough to work with a manager that sets certain expectations for her teams but doesn’t live up to those expectations herself.”

Can you relate to any of these? Probably.

I faced this exact scenario when I recently put together a management training activity at Metis. It always seems to come down to analyzing the behavior of the manager to be able to work most effectively when managing up. Most PR and marketing agencies have an account structure where the account manager or senior account executive is tasked with the daily client management. That person is in charge of keeping track of client activity, assigning team tasks and making sure everything is followed up on in a high-quality, quick and efficient manner. That’s a big task to do daily. But, the other task these managers are faced with is managing their managers or bosses, who are juggling sometimes two to three times the number of clients, management challenges and internal activity that they face daily. It’s not a complaint to the team. It’s a plain fact.

So, how are newer account managers and senior account executives supposed to manage up if they don’t feel comfortable telling their manager what to do? Or, how do they manage their boss when their boss isn’t getting the job done? These are questions everyone faces. Here are some tips that our team found most effective.

  • Choose your moment wisely. Know the right time to approach your manager. Analyze his or her stress levels and behavior. The best thing to do is ask before assuming that your manager is available to you on demand.
  • Plan your message and present your case. What is the point? What do you need? Think through the context. What do you hope to achieve?
  • Consider the urgency factor. Don’t cry wolf for something that can wait for a time when you have your manager’s full attention and you can have a productive conversation.
  • Remember that attitude matters. Don’t go into a conversation with a negative attitude. Be realistic but actionable.
  • Develop a relationship. Learn your manager’s reactions and pet peeves.
  • Don’t take things personally. Disagreements do happen. Move on; it’s business.

For more management advice, see my last blog, “The new management KISS principle: Use emoticons.”

 

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