If you’re helping to integrate social media into your business or that of your clients, it’s not just your team you have to convince. In fact, the hardest part is managing UP, and maintaining lines of communication and delivering on expectations clearly and predictably.
Managing up is as much a human science as a process one, but here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that have emerged from a bit of trial and error, and have proven helpful. I hope you’ll share yours in the comments.
1. Communicate Frequently
This seems simple, but its rarely done well (and I am continually trying things and improving how and when I communicate and via what channels). I like digest updates via email that are succinct: What are we doing, what’s the status, what challenges are we facing if any, what’s our estimated next step. Ultimately, you need to use the medium that’s comfortable for the person to whom you’re reporting. If they’re a phone person, update calls might work best.
Know when you need to take a conversation to a more private channel, too. In general, I’m not a big fan of disagreeing over email (and NEVER put someone in a difficult position by copying their colleagues or team members on an email of that nature). Instead, I use email to say “I’d like to talk with you about this issue because I feel/think X, Y, and Z. Can we have a phone call to discuss?” It sets the stage for the topic of conversation, but says very clearly that this is a conversation that requires higher touch than an electronic channel.
2. Celebrate Success
Little victories are quite important, as they can illustrate indicators toward the bigger goal, and make the huge objectives seem much more attainable on a day to day basis.
This isn’t to say you shout from the rooftops about everything you did that was awesome. Instead, take opportunities to point out the great work that your team or colleagues are doing, and specifically point toward small milestones that represent progress toward your goals. If your team has done a great job of laying bricks, be sure you demonstrate and highlight how those bricks will create the bigger, more beautiful wall.
3. Hypothesize Failures
Stumbling blocks happen. They’re healthy, in fact. The key to making sure they serve you instead of hinder you is to understand a bit about why they happened, and what the alternative is. The best way to communicate these up the ladder is to say “this didn’t go the way we planned. Here’s why I think that happened, and what we can do to change our approach moving forward.”
If you communicate calm and control in the face of failures, it’s easier for your manager to have faith that when something goes awry, you’ll handle it with a level head. Failures are scariest when they’re unanticipated and when they’re met with reactionary, panicky people. If the project is burning, what you want is someone with a hose, not a can of gasoline.
4. Illustrate Guiderails
This comes with having a well-outlined plan. Plans don’t have to be complicated to be good, but they need to articulate what your main goals are, and then the projects underneath them that will help drive them forward along with who is responsible for and participating in each.
That framework will always give you a place to go back to and say hey, we agreed on this plan of attack. If we want to take on this new thing or shift the course, we have to revisit these priorities and our workloads and make decisions accordingly. It helps keep things on track without having to be the stick in the mud to throw cold water on every new initiative OR say yes to and take on a bunch of stuff that’s just not workable.
5. Create an Idea Parking Lot
When you embark on new territory, small successes tend to breed lots of “you know what we could do?” ideas from the enthusiasts on your management team that aren’t trying to herd the cats of the day-to-day. Some of them are easy to implement and do, but others are loftier, harder, or downright impossible.
Instead of stifling creativity, create an idea parking lot where you can house all of those ideas, and revisit them as a team on a regular basis to see which could move from the parking lot to the actual roadmap. It keeps the ideas alive somewhere, makes the idea folks feel as though they’re being heard, and gives all of you a place to go when you’re seeking inspiration for what’s next on your path.
6. Use Their Language, Not Yours
If you’re speaking to management, you need to spend a great deal of time listening to them and asking questions in order to understand what’s important to them. Then, when you’re discussing your social media strategy, everything you present should be in the context of those things and how they relate. Speaking about social media using jargon, buzzwords, and unfamiliar language can undermine the credibility of your program. Use clear words, and always point to the what, so what, and how of what you’re doing (hat tip to the brilliant Tamsen McMahon for labeling those elements so well).
But be wary of condescension. No one likes to feel like an idiot, and it can be easy to slip into that mode if you’re the expert in a subject and you’re trying to explain it to someone who isn’t as experienced. This goes for down the ladder as well as up, but it’s particularly sensitive when talking to someone who technically outranks you. When in doubt, ask a colleague or a friend to listen to you first to see how you might be perceived.
7. Pick Your Battles
Not everything is worth resistance, even if it’s frustrating or annoying. Ask yourself if the battle you’re about to wage is actually an issue that’s going to fully derail your projects or plans, or if it’s a minor inconvenience or a style/taste issue that you can work around in favor of keeping the larger project on track.
8. Employ Empathy
Managing up requires being mature enough to put yourself in someone else’s position. Remember that your boss has people that she’s answering to, too, and they might be asking tough questions. As a matter of fact, you might even consider asking management what *they* are being charged and challenged with, so you can understand how what you’re doing impacts upper levels of the business.
Social media can be intimidating for some folks. It’s easy to just spout off and say that they “don’t get it”, but there’s often a deeper reason for resistance, be it a human or business one (and more often than not, the former). If you can be more mindful of reading people, situations, and taking a step back far enough to see the project from a different vantage point, it can help you understand the issues and motivations that might be in play, even if they’re not articulated.
So what would you add? These don’t apply to just social media of course, but that’s a simple example of an unfamiliar strategy that many are contending with right now. Have any tips and tricks you can share with folks here?
image by Robert Couse-Baker