What would you do if a senior leader was dismissive of the media opportunities you secure and was reluctant to be interviewed?
Perhaps your press releases are signed off by a committee of senior leaders who are stripping them of impact and meaning.
Maybe you need to give feedback to the leadership team about their latest media interviews, and it is not all positive.
These are all challenging scenarios comms and media teams could face.
The answer to successfully navigating and avoiding them could be managing upwards.
Managing upwards is a topic we will explore in the next masterclass for members of The Media Team Academy, with business coach Kirsty Waite.
It is a process of working with senior leaders to create the best outcomes for them, you and the organisation.
Ahead of the session, I met with Kirsty to learn more about it.
And I began by asking what ‘managing upwards’ means.
“Fundamentally, managing upwards is about taking the lead and managing relationships with anyone senior,” she said.
“It is about you making their life easier by managing them and getting what you need from them more smoothly.
“Sometimes people think that managing upwards is about them not getting managed or supported properly and needing to take the lead to overcome that. And that can feel a bit negative.
“But that’s not it. It is not about your managers not doing what they should be doing or trying to fix a bad manager or manipulate a poor relationship.
“Instead, it is about helping those in the organisation do what you need them to do.
“Senior leaders have millions of things going on, and you need to make it easier for them to do what you need them to do.
“If you sit and think ‘they haven’t asked me to help them’, you will be sitting for a long time and won’t get what you need.
“If you go to them and help them, they will appreciate that you are trying to help.”
So, what happens when you manage upwards? What difference does it make?
“The benefits are a better working relationship, improved understanding of what is going on in the world of senior leaders, and it gets things done quicker and easier,” Kirsty said.
“It makes things easier for them, and you nurture your relationship with them. And then when you ask for their help in future, they are more likely to do it.
“It is also about the wider organisation – things get done better.”
How to do it?
Managing up creates mutually beneficial relationships. It helps the leaders to have a better understanding of what you need from them. It makes the organisation more efficient. And it can move you more from doer to strategist.
But how do you go about doing it?
Kirsty says one of the challenges people face is that managing upwards goes against the instinct of expecting to be told what to do.
She said: “No one will tell you to manage upwards.
“It is something you have to be proactive about. That can feel scary and intimidating. But you need to have that courage, be brave and understand that most times leaders appreciate managing upwards.”
To explore what that looks like in more detail, Kirsty says comms professionals should look at the role PAs perform.
She said: “If you want to get a CEO to do something or need to know anything about them, who do you go to? It is their PA. The PA controls the CEO’s life. A top PA will know everything there is to know about the CEO.
“You typically can’t do anything with that CEO without going through the PA. That PA will be on a lot less money than the CEO and have a lot less responsibility.
“But they know they need to manage that CEO to be effective in their job and to be able to get on and do their job. And the CEOs love it because they have someone doing all this stuff for them.
“You need to take some of that on, be proactive, and understand what you need to do to help that person – no one is going to turn around to you and say, “can you manage me like this…’.
So, let’s say you see the benefits of managing upwards, want to start doing it and are determined to be proactive about it.
How do you start?
Kirsty believes it begins with building connections.
“You need to take the time to nurture the relationship,” she said. “If you rock up and try to manage someone you have not spoken to before, it will be difficult.
“You need to spend time thinking about what is going on in their world and what their priorities are, rather than just turning up and asking them to do something.”
Kirsty suggests reflecting on the relationships you need to have in the workplace. Who do you interact with on a daily, weekly and monthly basis? How effective are those relationships right now? What are you doing to nurture those relationships?
“You might go to coffee with Ed from finance every two days, but not have anything to do with finance in your work,” she said.
“At the same time, you could work with the sales team all the time but not have any real relationship with them.”
And those PAs we mentioned earlier can play a crucial role.
Kirsty said: “When you build connections with the senior team, get to know the PAs. They can tell you exactly what is going on with that person that week and the slots where they will have more time to help you.”
Another tip Kirsty recommends for beginning to manage upwards is being more deliberate with your communication.
“You need to understand how people like to be communicated with,” she said.
“Is it a conversation at their desk? A call? A Zoom? An email?
“If you can find this out, your communication is more likely to land and work. Don’t send an email and rock up at their desk three days later saying, ‘I sent you an email’.
“We need to make it easy for them - that’s the fundamental point of managing upwards - what is in it for them that we can help them achieve easier?”
Kirsty will be exploring managing upwards in much more depth during the masterclass, which takes place on Thursday (9/6) at 11am. The session will include more top tips for implementing the process, a look at the challenges faced when managing upwards and how you can overcome them, and some managing upwards scenarios.
If you are a member of The Media Team Academy, check your inbox for the invite.
If you’re not a member, you can’t get access. But we can fix that for you – drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 0118 9180530 and ask to speak to someone about signing up to The Media Team Academy.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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