Managing your manager

I have been reading Drucker quite a bit as part of a research project the last few days. In Managing Oneself [pdf]I found the following gem:

“Bosses are neither a title on the organization chart nor a “function.” They are individuals and are entitled to do their work in the way they do it best. It is incumbent on the people who work with them to observe them, to find out how they work, and to adapt themselves to what makes their bosses most effective. This, in fact, is the secret of “managing” the boss.”

There is a lot of truth in this quote. It is easy to cop out and say that it is impossible to work for or with a new boss. For example, if you previous boss was very polite and constructive in their comments to you and your new boss is more abrupt, it is easy to simply write the person off as demeaning or aggressive. This may not be so – it may simply  be that the new boss is more direct and aggressive, which could actually have significant benefits, if you take the time to discover them and think about them. The same advice goes for troubling colleagues – everyone has a something to add to the conversation, a talent, a skill, a unique point-of-view.

Through your career, particularly as a PR or communications manager, you will have to deal with a great diversity of people. Get used to probing them to understand what the key to making them more effective is. That way you will be a net contributor and not perceived as a bad fit with the new team.

Please Note: This assumes that the new manager or the troubling colleagues are dealing with you in goodwill and in good faith. You have to ascertain whether this is the case as early on as possible. If they are operating in bad faith or lack goodwill, then you are playing in a whole new ballgame – it might be time to put your head down and stay out of the way, or to start looking for a new position in a more positive environment.


Drucker’s “Managing Oneself” applied to communications management

I was recently perusing the archives of the Harvard Business Review and came across a classic piece by management theorists Peter Drucker, On Managing Oneself [pdf].

Even though it was written in 1999, before the social media and mobility revolution took off,  this chapter from his prescient book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, seems more relevant than ever.

His main point is that to build a life of excellence at work and at home, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How do I work?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What can I contribute?

The answers to these questions are neither simple nor intuitive for many. We are trained, especially as communications managers, to think in terms of our job description and our role as implementers.

Here are my interpretations of how Drucker’s questions could be applied to communications management:

  • Strengths. We define our strengths in terms of how we match the job we are supposed to do, rather than for our profound understanding of the organization’s story and how that story is related to brand, relationships, reputation and trust.
  • Work. We define our productivity in terms of how good we are at the tactical implementation of someone else’s ideas. Communications managers are often the only people in an organization who have a true “whole organization” perspective on how a management decision will resonate, internally to the organization and externally in the public. Think of BP, where legal was consulted instead of communications – it took over 60 days for BP to communicate with the public and that communication, delivered in the form of full-page ads in major newspapers, was written in legalese.
  • Belonging. We accept the idea that we belong in a service role, implementing and publicizing ideas we had no part in developing – ideas that were developed by the senior executive team. Communications managers, having the “whole organization” perspective, should be providing counsel on the strategic management decisions being made – simple errors that can have negative impact on trust can thus be averted. Think of the guest workers decision at Royal Bank in 2013.
  • Contributions. We judge our contributions in terms of efficacy instead of strategy. When communications managers set up metrics programs, it is important to remember that you should be measuring “measurable strategic objectives” and not “tactical outputs”. Metrics do tell the story of your work to colleagues and managers, but only if they are well-chosen. Many of the old metrics used by communications managers are oriented towards output, which is only a measure of tactical efficacy (eg. number of press releases, tweets, newspaper mentions, etc.), not strategic thinking.


7 Tips for succeeding at conferences

Conferences are microcosms of human society. They are opportunities to observe people of all ages interacting, performing, charming and arguing. Everyone is a little nervous before they arrive and then they reveal themselves in the few appointed days of concentrated interaction. Conferences are a great way of focusing and honing your communication skills and your identity. They are a great way of getting others to know you and your brand. On the downside, they can also be very damaging to your reputation and brand if they are not handled well.

I have attended dozens of conferences – academic, political, commercial, professional, thematic. Here are some of my takeaways for having a successful conference:

  1. Prepare for the conference using social media. Use social media to lay the groundwork for your interactions at the conference and to direct attention to yourself and your booth, as Scott Stratten points out in his engaging book, UnMarketing. Twitter (hashtags, in particular) and Instagram can be your friends.
  2. Build on relationships you already have. Every time you engage in a positive social interaction, you not only build social capital for you and the person you’re engaging with you’re also inspiring others to want to interact with you.
  3. Be authentic. Don’t treat the conference as a time to be a different version of you. Be the same person that you in everyday life while you are at the conference. The worst thing is for a group of people to begin speaking about you and shaping your reputation for you based on a performance on your part that was fake or contrived.
  4. Dress and behave appropriately. Remember that people form opinions of you within seconds of meeting you. They also form opinions of you as they gaze at you across a room. You want to be memorable, but for all the right reasons: you want to be remembered for your ideas and personality, not because of your appearance and outrageous behaviours.
  5. Plan your interactions before you converse. It is easy to get carried away in conversation during a wine and cheese, or at an after party or hospitality suite. Be careful what you say to others. Don’t be excessive in praise or criticism of others. Remember conferences are public performances to strangers. Take a few seconds an plan what you will say before entering a conversation.
  6. Blog during the conference. People are all using their computers, tablets or smartphones during the conference pretty much 24/7. Write quick, intelligent blog posts and then share them using the conference hashtag. Then follow them up in conversation. This is a quick way to build your credibility and audience.
  7. Manage your reputation. People will remember what you say to them and how you made them feel. Don’t fall prey to “What happens at the conference stays at the conference.” This just isn’t true. Conferences are reputation management on steroids. Don’t let excitement, alcohol and lack of sleep shape other’s trust in you and impression of you. People remember.

The most effective conference goers I know are those who treat them as occasions to meet people who will be new friends and professional acquaintances in the future. Those relationships are built over time, conference after conference. After a while, conferences become a place where you reconnect with old professional acquaintances and then broaden that circle as you accept others into your trust.