I’ve been out of the corporate/agency lifestyle now for four-plus years. Technically, I work for myself. I am my own boss.
But, I still have to manage up.
Every day I am managing client expectations and “managing up”. So, even though I’m not longer an “employee”, I still have a boss. Multiple bosses in fact–they are my clients.
So, managing up is a skill I’m constantly working to hone. In fact, I’ve been working to hone it now for almost 20 years.
While I can certainly always improve in this area, I thought I’d share some tips and advice that have been “politely” shared with me over the years–or tips and advice I’ve seen work effectively first-hand.
Help your boss relieve pain points
When you’re part of a corporation or agency, one of your chief un-stated goals is always quite simple: Help make your boss’ life easier. In other words, help make what’s bothering them go away. Is your boss’ boss all up in her face? What can you do to take work off her plate so she can deal with that a bit more. Is your boss dealing with stress at home? Maybe there’s a project you can help a bit more with that would free him up a bit more to spend more evenings off the computer. Is your boss looking bad in meetings because she doesn’t know enough about digital marketing? Maybe you can help educate her a bit, in private, so she gets smarter–with no one else being the wiser. Find out what’s really bothering your boss–and work to help them get rid of it. Those pain points will quickly turn into gold stars in that upcoming review (people still give out gold stars, right?).
Be hyper-cognizant of your boss’ time
When I sat in for a client on maternity leave a few years ago, I had weekly hour-long meetings on the schedule with her boss (and one of my primary clients). I remember spending time prepping for those meetings and organizing my thoughts for each one. Making sure I had a crisp agenda. Organizing any content or plans that needed her approval–and making sure I had hard copies I could throw in front of her at a moment’s notice. I treated those meetings as they should: A precious opportunity for me to spend an hour with someone who’s locked away in meetings all day. I knew I had to spend that hour getting her approvals on urgent items, getting her input on strategic initatives, and figuring out other ways I could help relieve her pain points (see bullet #1 above). Use your boss’ time wisely–it’s precious. To them, and you.
A little bit of ass-kissing never hurt anybody
Managing up doesn’t come without a little ass-kissing. Sure, that comes in different forms. I tend not to be the guy who’s going to fawn all over his boss in hopes of a quick promotion. But, the fact remains: Bosses are human beings. They have egos, just like you. They want to feel loved. They want to be respected for their work. And they want that work to be recognized by their peers and bosses. So, would it really kill you to compliment your boss every once in a while? “Great work on that media campaign.” Or, “I really thought that memo you wrote from our CEO was spot on.” I mean, this isn’t that hard. And, it doesn’t have to come off like some sort of corporate suck-up. Really, it doesn’t. But the fact remains: stroking your boss’ ego is always a good idea.
Create and maintain a “Arik is Awesome” folder
Picked this one up from a good friend, actually. She said for any job she’s had, she always starts an email folder that’s dubbed “Amy is Awesome.” In this folder she catalogues all emails from internal partners, customers and vendors that laud her good efforts. Then, at the end of the year, when it comes to review time, she has a healthy does of emails singing her praises to show her boss. What better third-party validation of your work? Instead of YOU saying you’re awesome–your colleagues and partners are doing it for you!
Do great work–and work independently
Want to really manage up well? There’s really just one thing you need to do really well: Do great work. Consistently. And work independently. Most people who manage people want to hire great people who do great work. If that happens, everyone wins. The employee looks good because she’s doing great work. Your boss looks good because her employee is doing great work. And the company looks good because the employee is doing great work. Sometimes, the best “managing up” you can do has nothing to do with “managing”–it’s all about keeping your focus on the work at hand.
Know your boss’ hot buttons
Sometimes managing up has more to do with avoiding the hot buttons than it does relieving the pain points. Case in point. I once had a boss who employed what I would call more of an “authoritarian” management style. Needless to say, this particular boss was a top-down manager. So, chain of command was important. Unfortunately, this was many moons ago and I was much “greener” than I am today. I had run into an issue with my boss and we didn’t see eye to eye. So, I thought it would be a good idea to approach my boss’ boss and see what he thought. Once my boss found out I had gone directly to her boss, she didn’t like that so much. I got a severe slap on the wrist, and I looked bad in front of both my boss–and her boss. The lesson I learned? Know and understand your boss’ hot buttons and DO NOT push them. Unless you really want to get fired.
Last week, I received the following email from a student at my alma mater at Winona State University:
Hey Arik, I had you as a guest speaker at Winona State a little over a year ago, and I just wanted to tell you that I am now majoring in public relation because of your presentation. It got me really interested in it, and after taking it into consideration I finally did it. Now I just want to ask you a few questions. Can give me a little more detailed description of what someone in PR would actually do during the day? Or what you do during the day if that would be better. Any other advice would be great! I just want to say thanks for coming to our class.
Quite simply, that email made my week.
I speak at my alma mater a number of times each year. I devote a decent amount of time to “paying it forward” to the kids at Winona State. I do it because it’s my way of contributing to my alma mater–and I believe in helping out those students in need, just like so many people have helped me before.
But, I want to focus on the question in the note in this post: How do you spend your days in PR? In essence, what do you do each day? It’s a question almost every student has when starting out: What does a job in PR entail? And it makes sense since PR is such a tough industry and job to define. So, how would I sum up what I do each day? I thought we’d break it down into percentages of time:
20%: Client management
This bucket includes things like: Emails to clients; status and update meetings; and in-person planning meetings with clients. Overall, a significant portion of time each week is spent working and communicating with clients on a regular basis.
This could probably be a bigger number–and is, on most days. But I thought this was the best percentage on an ongoing basis. Writing can take many forms, too: Blog posts, news releases, web copy, Facebook posts, research reports, Powerpoint presentations. Comes to think of it, this number can be as high as 80-90% on some days.
For me, research isn’t research in the formal sense. It also includes a bunch of reading I do periodically throughout the day that I use to keep clients abreast of trends and changes in the marketplace. But, this certainly does include more formal research I do on behalf of clients each day. Competitive analysis. Audience research. Trend research. It all lumps in here.
10%: Professional Development
This is another one I may define a little differently than most. I definitely lump in more “formal” professional development here: PRSA events, Social Media Breakfast events, etc. But, I would also include events I have created myself–a solo PR meetup, for example. A digital brand marketer meetup that I just started. And, add in some blog reading each day. 10 percent may be light, depending on the day.
A guy’s gotta have SOME fun at work, right?
10%: Media relations/Blogger relations
This kinda depends on the flow of my business, but I usually have some sort of media/blogger relations angle at work–at least for one client. This includes researching media/bloggers, pitching media/bloggers and all follow-up and coordination with the client.
10%: Community management
This number is actually a bit higher for me right now, due to some more extensive community management I’m handling for one client. But, in general, I usually try to keep this number a bit lower.
Yet another number that fluctuates. Back in Feb/March of this year, this number would have been significantly higher, as I was putting together two strategic communications plans for two clients. That was a ton of work–but it was also confined to a 4-6 week period. At other times, 10 percent feels about right.
So, that’s how my days are made up. Hope that helps Mr. Unnamed Student. I’ll be sending you a follow-up note soon!
It’s a common problem, but one many infrequently discuss: How do you search for a job when you already have one?
I know for me, it was a big issue. I was a job hopper before job hopping was en vogue (millennials: you can thank me later ;). And with every job hop came the same challenge–looking while effectively doing my current job.
Now, I didn’t have the social web to worry about when I was looking (1996-2006, roughly). In most of those cases, I was able to keep my search fairly (if not completely) private.
But, with social media’s evolution, there are new challenges to this dilemma.
So I thought we’d spend some time today talking about those challenges and how to get around them a bit:
Challenge: Updating your LinkedIn profile without your boss watching
Solution: Constantly update your LinkedIn profile
Might seem obvious, but judging on behavior I saw with one former employer, clearly it is not. For many, networking and LinkedIn is something they do only when they need something (i.e., “a job”). For the savvy, networking and LinkedIn are an ongoing experience. Always be updating your profile. Approach current and former colleagues for recommendations. Fine-tune the “resume” piece of your profile. Join new groups. Make new connections. You get the idea. I’d suggest putting 1-2 hours into this a month–you’ll reap the benefits in a big way when it comes time to start making “asks.”
Challenge: Networking while trying to do a full-time job
Solution: Make lunch breaks your new BFF
Classic challenge. I know I need to network to find a new job, but I simply don’t have the time with my stressful, time-consuming job. Well, you eat, right? Why not use that “lunch hour” to network, as time permits. You won’t be able to do it every day, but even if you have lunch with a new contact (or former colleague) 1-2 times a week, it’ll pay off. You simply HAVE to get out and network in order to get ahead in today’s connected world. Ignore this advice at your own peril.
Challenge: How do I network? I don’t even know where to start…
Solution: Target. Prepare. Perform. Repeat.
I hear this one all the time. People know networking is important, but they have no idea how to go about it. Or, it still feels “dirty” to them. My thought: it’s only dirty if you treat it that way. For me, networking has always been more about meeting and getting to know people (and then helping them) than it has about “networking.” In fact, I rarely refer to it that way. Those who do–yeah, then it’s dirty. See the difference? As far as getting started, use the “target, prepare, perform” approach. Target the people you want to meet–those who will help you get the job you want. Could be hiring managers. Could be connectors. Whatever the case, use your friends (your real social network) and LinkedIn to ID these people. Then, research the hell out of them. Find out where they worked. Where they went to school. What their dog’s name is. What their dog’s dog baby’s names are. I mean, really dig in. Then, set up the meeting and perform (here’s my two cents on how to organize that coffee meetup–that’s a whole separate post). Repeat this process 1-2 times a week for a few months and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Challenge: Where do I find the time to do all this extra work? I mean, I already have a full-time job!
Solution: Accept the reality: You now you have TWO full-time jobs.
This one is simple expectation management. If you’re looking for a job while working an existing full-time job, you now have two full-time jobs. There’s no getting around it. No matter how you slice it. And, the most hungry wins. So, how bad do you want that new job? Badly enough to work 2-3 hours each night after you work all day, eat, workout and go home? That’s what you’re competing against, so if you want it badly, know that fact. I just can’t underscore this mantra enough: You’re going to have to work hard to find that new job. No one’s going to hand you anything. It’s going to require long hours. It’s going to require extra effort. It’s going to require late nights. Quit whining about and get to work!
Note: Photo courtesy of Rooner Toy Photography.