Managing up to not get shot down


PHOTO CREDIT: cover of “Managing Up” By Michael S Dobson, Deborah Singer Dobson

In the marcomm and PR industries, hierarchy and other corporate cultures have been ingrained and cemented long ago. Titles, tenure, responsibilities, office size, and floor numbers all seem to impact the way people collaborate within an organization… whether right or wrong.

Where do clients fit in inside this structure?

If we take the age old phrase the customer is always right, then clients have the clout and leverage ($$$) to drive the discussion, whether they are right and strategic, or wrong and unreasonable.

What made me think about this was my read of the great guest post by Chevis English on twitter/PR buddy Lauren Fernandez’s awesome blog about communication styles of under 30 professionals, when to be aggressive or assertive and the perceptions associated with each approach.

My thinking and response was that one needs to figure out who is the target audience first – the boss or the client – which will bring about the right starting point to your communication face versus trying to find a cookie cutter broad brush approach. Even though different faces and styles are needed for each niche, where does managing up come into play, and should it be done with clients?

More often than not ‘managing up’ is referred to as the process of consciously working with your boss to obtain the best possible results for your organization. I however, prefer a much broader take on the topic: the act of understanding and cooperation in a relationship between individuals who often have different perspectives.

I think that the broader definition opens doors for the lower totem-pole folks to be empowered enough to justify and fight for their counsel as part of the greater whole (if there is a boss blessing of course) versus adding it to the pile of other ideas, client internal or external. As I mentioned in my comment to Chevis, being aggressive may never work properly inside or outside the corporate level environment, assertiveness however, with both clients and bosses can yield better results from the starting point.

Being that most people associate ‘managing up’ with a somewhat aggressive (daring even) communication style, straddling the line between aggressive and assertive communication is crucial to do this just right. This is advice I took personally and internalized when moving to a top/large PR agency from the small agency environment I was in prior, and think it still resonates today. Keeping in mind that everyone has ideas and everyone has contacts, cutting through the clutter is paramount and managing up is likely a silver bullet… again, if done right.

To sum up, know your role 30 and under professionals, and that role is… reformer. The system that’s been there before us does not have to be there after we leave, nor while we are there. Mentorship comes from both directions, and getting your clients and bosses to grasp that is the first step in not getting shot down.