Several of our account folks recently attended a training session conducted by Beryl Loeb and sponsored by the PR Council.
The stage setting from the PR Council nails it:
People are the single biggest asset of a PR firm, and the relationship between individuals and their managers is one of the most important drivers of professional gratification, motivation and high-performance. That relationship is especially important in agencies today, where clients are demanding more than ever before, with shorter turnaround times. The agency of the future is nimble, flexible and mobile, which means managers need to rapidly change and build connections with staff sitting adjacent in an open floor plan office or working remotely. Today’s workforce wants constant challenges, ongoing feedback, and to know that their work matters.
In this spirit, I asked four participants to capture how the training will shape their path to being a people manager.
Matt Burrows, Senior Account Executive
Be as direct as possible when delivering directions, feedback and delegations.
Vagueisms are the enemy of clarity when it comes to delivering directions, feedback and delegations. Too often we rely on generalities like “make it more strategic,” “own this”, or “I need it ASAP,” without relaying specific needs or instructions. Succinctly put, we assume that people understand why we asked for something.
This portion of the training really resonated with me, as it brought up memories of conversations with my father when he was asking me questions. I’d launch into an explanation of why I thought he needed the answer to my question. He’d cut me off and say, “You just need to answer the question. I’ll be clear about what I’m looking for – don’t try to read my mind.” That applies so much so now that I’m transitioning into management. I can’t expect anyone to read my mind.
We’re really good at delivering information to our clients with clarity and purpose, and it shouldn’t be any different for our own co-workers. We can be as clear with team members as we are with the people who pay us.
This goes for upper management, too — being clear and conscious in how we communicate to upper management. Beryl Loeb gave us the “15-5 principle” for delivering feedback to upper management: aim to write something in 15 minutes that your manager can read in 5 minutes. (Took me 15 minutes to write these points, so I’m putting these tools into practice right now.)
You should be striving to enable autonomy, mastery and purpose in those you manage.
No job at an agency is without meaning, and that is something we can highlight for the people we manage. Instead of saying, “Everyone has to track coverage as they’re starting out and pay their dues like it’s busy work,” we should be delivering instructions by showing the value added by that activity: “The coverage tracking you do is an essential component of what we deliver to our clients. Our links of coverage and tallies of impressions is the receipts of our accomplishments, they’re what the client reads and refers to as they’re determining how valuable the PR support we provide is.” We’re not saying, “Do this because I said so,” but rather, “This is an important need for our account and by doing it well, you’re doing us an invaluable service.”
I think this boils down to one word: pride. Pride in your work, and fostering that pride in those you manage.
Listen to understand, not reply.
Sometimes, we focus so much on what we’re going to say next that we forget to actually listen and take the time to understand the concerns being brought to us by an employee. There was an exercise where we examined the difference of a manager taking the time to converse with an employee about their concerns, as opposed to replying while typing away or continuing to work. I actually caught myself as someone called me to ask a question this morning, and realized I was still composing an email while they asked their question. I forced myself to stop, really take in what they said, and provide my feedback and advice (with clarity of course!) I think the lessons are already sinking in and making a difference.
Justin Gillespie, Account Director
Management is like a game of chess.
In chess each piece has certain ways that it can be used and serves a specific role. In management every employee has different strengths, weaknesses, personalities and goals that can make it a challenge to customize your management style to get the most out of them and give them the most in return.
Our world of social media and texts has created a much more informal culture that can lead to issues with appropriate dress code to having a professional persona. The rise of communicating via text and social has also made many in younger generations uncomfortable communicating in person, so an office environment with team/client meetings can be a challenge.
Another unique factor with younger professionals is they are used to getting credit for simply participating and have never experienced failure. Part of management is teaching them how to fail and teaching them it’s OK to fail most of the time as long as they learn from their mistake. This is especially hard to do when happiness, not money or title, is the top factor in job satisfaction.
Communications professionals are horrible at communicating internally.
For being experts at communicating clearly and concisely about our clients’ business, the PR profession is notoriously bad at communicating internally. Our vocabulary is full of “vagueisms” that can leave staff, especially junior staff, wondering what it really means. Words and phrases such as, “Be more strategic”or “You own this” can be open to misinterpretation, especially if given on-the-fly.
It’s important to think through what is actually being asked for and give as much detail as possible. There are communication techniques that can be helpful such as the diamond-shaped message:
1. Give a concise and attention-grabbing headline statement that makes your point
2. Provide 3 (3 is a magic number since people remember things in 3’s) reasons, data points or questions that support the main point
3. Give a memorable statement that drives home why this matters
Whoever said “Those that can’t do teach” was never in management.
The hardest transition to becoming a manager is you are no longer an individual contributor. Of course in agency work it’s never as simple as that, but the point is that at junior levels, you’re only concerned with your own work. A manager needs to shift to leading the overall work.
This is tough because it involves letting go of some of the tasks that you are used to doing and can complete faster and better than anyone else on the team. However, without the opportunity to take on those tasks, junior staff will never develop the skills they need to succeed and advance.
This is where strong management skills can help both you and those on your team. By avoiding vagueisms and intentionally delegating, junior staff have the opportunity to learn new skills and grow, which in turn gives the manager the ability to learn new skills and grow.
Elements of intentional delegation include:
- Confirm what the assignment is and why it’s being done (shows transparency and builds value in the purpose)
- Clarify expectations such as deadline and milestone check-ins
- Convey impact (again builds value in the purpose)
- Be open, perhaps even proactive, to suggestions on how the work will be done and the format (when possible, this allows a certain amount of autonomy that employees will appreciate)
- Ask questions to ensure they understand the task and be accessible to answer questions
- Provide enough direction and support to ensure success without micromanaging)
Cecilia Zhong, Senior Account Executive
Put yourself in their shoes. Be empathetic.
It’s been several years since your first day as an account coordinator. You have mastered the art of media relations and probably have forgotten the frustration of finding 10 reporters for that semiconductor chip.
When you assign a task to a junior member or when they run into a problem, don’t assume “it shouldn’t take too much time” or “they should be able to figure it out themselves.” Pause to think for a minute: What would you do if you were in their role? What resources did you wish you had? What could your manager have done to help you?
You don’t have to tell them you’re on their side.
Vagueism is the enemy of effectiveness. Be specific.
It’s surprising how many of us are using vague phrases in our feedback and instructions without realizing they are vague.
— “You didn’t quite get the tone.”
— “Don’t spend too much time on this.”
— “Be more creative.”
— “Good job!”
What tone do you want them to use? How much time is too much time? How would you know they had not tried to think out of the box before turning in the assignment? And yes, even “Good job!” is too vague, and it’s often followed by a big “but” that dilutes the good part of the job. Instead of “Good job, but the second paragraph needs some work.” Try something like, “I really like how you started the article by using the X anecdote. The second paragraph sounds less lively in comparison. Can you please use more conversational language?”
Let’s all be more specific about what is done well, what can be improved and how to do it.
What you’re good at changes over time. Let go.
Right, you can write that pitch better and faster than explaining it to someone else, and you know what your client wants better than anyone else on the team.
By not letting go, however, you not only deny other members of the team the opportunity to practice, but also deprive yourself of the chance to grow. An agency is a dynamic, fluid environment filled with possibilities, so don’t fixate on one role.
Being a manager requires a switch of mindsets. You’ve proven yourself a skilled PR practitioner. Now turn that “Leader” switch on!
Nate Tolley, Account Manager
You want to create an environment where your team/managees feel valued rather than simply needed.
This goes far beyond simply giving an employee a vital role at the company or a higher salary than their peers. The primary reasons employees become dissatisfied with their jobs are monotonous work routines that don’t challenge or empower them.
This involves showing coworkers that we care about their general well-being (physical, mental and emotional health). Asking about how their week is going, generally socializing with them during the day, catching up with them outside of work. We want to be making more sure that we’re adding to a coworker’s “emotional bank account” more often than we’re withdrawing from it. This induces trust, confidence and happiness — while reducing stress.
We also want to prove to them that we care about their professional growth as well. This involves giving them extra guidance on new tasks, taking the time to help them gain new skills, explaining your thought process on more difficult items so they can pick up that level of thinking, and really calling out when they’re doing an amazing job. We want them to grow and evolve as professionals too.
In addition to our interactions with clients, our internal communications should be succinct, straightforward and easy to understand.
Vague instructions (and “vagueisms” like the phrases, “Make this more creative” or “It really isn’t quite popping”) are the death of productivity. Not only are they incredibly frustrating to receive, but the unclear direction provided almost guarantees that the product delivered won’t be what the assignee has in mind.
Our coworkers aren’t mind readers, they can’t figure out exactly what we want and are expecting of them unless we provide clear directions and guidance.
A simple change in communication like this makes coworkers feel more trusted, but also better ensures quality results
The best way to foster talented employees is for senior management to “Let It Go.”
From the training deck: “it’s a big shift to go from knowing the work to leading the work […] it’s hard to let go and no longer own what you were truly great at.” And yet, if you don’t let go the team suffers overall –
- No one new can learn the task and gain the skill
- It prevents coworkers from getting to know our clients’ needs better and build that relationship
- It creates a dependence on you when you should be focusing on other aspects of the team
Going back to my first point, doing this also gives employees the independence to learn for themselves — and makes them feel trusted and empowered with their work. Obviously we still want to guide them where needed and serve as a safety net when necessary, but fostering autonomy in our coworkers makes them more talented, responsible and accountable overall.
The importance of listening prompts me to climb up on my soapbox. A few years ago I wrote the post, “I know you hear me, but are you listening?” making the point that we should focus on the conversation at hand.
Yet, today’s business world prizes the ability to multi-task. Nowhere is this more apparent than in PR agencies where multi-tasking can qualify as a circus act minus the bowling pins. The quest to be accessible 24/7 magnifies the problem.
How can you listen and hear the words in their glorious aggregate when a ping moves attention to your mobile phone and the incoming text message?
How can you absorb what the other person is saying when you’re scanning emails?
While many variables come into play in managing someone — as shared by Matt, Cecilia, Nate and Justin — the simple act of listening seems like a good first step in aspiring to be a people manager.