Maximize Your Career Potential by Managing Up


Picture this: you’ve just started a new job, but your new manager isn’t as hands-on as previous supervisors or professors. Instead, you get 30-minutes of one-on-one time with them every other week and—before you can even learn how to use the printer—they expect you to show results. Yikes! Other managers may report into someone that is too hands-on—an entirely different challenge. Whatever your situation may be, learning how to work with your direct supervisor can make or break the early days of your career. The right manager can be your mentor, guide and biggest cheerleader, and it all comes down to how you manage up.

Changing Workplace Dynamics and the Keys to Managing Up
According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials (ages 21 to 38) have overtaken Baby Boomers in the workforce. Did you cringe at the word “millennials”? It’s Ok. I hate that word, too. Younger generations get a bad rep – we are often pegged as needy, entitled, narcissistic, unfocused, lazy – the list goes on. What’s interesting is that we see ourselves as motivated and purpose-driven, trying to make a difference in the world.

Simon Sinek’s video about Millennials in the workforce highlights a key point that unlocks a lot of our problem here: Millennials tend to have difficulty developing meaningful relationships—especially in the workplace. They also tend to be impatient about getting to where they’re going.

The reality, as stated by Sinek, is that the key to managing up is found at the intersection of patience and relationship development.

We’ve all heard the saying, “People leave managers, not companies.” According to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” (Source: Inc.)

But what makes a good manager? In my experience, the best managers are available when you need them, capable of sharing quality feedback, and able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in others. While it’s easy to demand those of others,  best way to bring these characteristics out in your manager is to portray them yourselves.

Millennial psychology aside, there are some clear ways to “hack” managing up—no matter which kind of manager you have.

The Power of Quick Wins
If you’ve worked at an agency, you’ll be familiar with this concept. This is the first rule of onboarding a new account—deliver quick wins. However you define a “win,” immediately delivering on your promises and showing success can go a long way in getting the right attention from your manager.

This doesn’t only work for new relationships. In fact, this works after every performance review, weekly one-on-one meeting and more. Remind them of why they hired you and remind them that it was a good decision.

How to Ask for Feedback
How many times have you felt criticized or unappreciated at work? In those situations, I would say it’s probably because you were lacking quality feedback. There are hundreds of articles and books about giving and receiving feedback for a reason—it’s the key to every good relationship.

When giving feedback, first make sure they’re open to it. Ideally you would have already established a relationship with your manager so you can go to them with your questions and concerns. If you have a weekly 1:1 with your boss, then it’s easy—that’s your chance to talk about things that are/aren’t working.

If not, then you need to ask. It’s easiest to do that in the context of your work with them. When they come to you with a new project ask if you can discuss your concerns one-on-one. Some helpful phrases to try out:

  • “Would it be helpful to have another perspective?”
  • “Now that I’ve gotten my head around this assignment, can I talk to you about how things are going?
  • “Do you have a minute to discuss ____? I need more clarity from you on [my role, my responsibility, how we are approaching the assignment].

The key with this is to be specific and don’t get personal. If you start making generalizations or start attacking them as an individual, you could put them on the defensive, and lose your chance to be effective.

It’s worth noting that some relationships will not allow for feedback. In those situations, it’s usually a senior executive so empower yourself to do your best to see things from their perspective.

Receiving feedback is simple—all you need to do is ask:

  • “Do you mind providing feedback on this project? I’m interested in getting your thoughts so I can learn and make adjustments next time.”
  • “Did this meet your expectations?”
  • “Am I getting closer to your vision for this project? If not, where should I focus?”

Feedback should be honest (not brutal, but direct) and real-time. If you only get feedback once per year, then you only have one chance per year to improve. If you get generic responses to your questions, follow up: “Tell me more about that.”

How to Discover “Unwritten Rules”
I’m a fan of discovering “unwritten rules” by befriending the gatekeepers—like the receptionist or your boss’s assistant. You should also work to get to know the people that have been at the company longer than you—they will be a tremendous asset to you as you get to know the “way” of a company’s culture. They can also share tips for working with certain individuals (like your manager).

Unwritten doesn’t usually mean secret, so also don’t be afraid to ask. You’re probably not the first person to do so.

Why Personalities Matter in the Workplace
In Meyers-Briggs, I’m an ENTJ. That means I’m extroverted, intuitive, a thinker and judging (i.e., logical and decisive). The better you understand yourself, the better you can help others to understand you. And for someone to truly manage me, they need to understand me—it works the other way, too.

Understanding how your manager processes information is something I’m still learning—my manager internally processes information and needs more time to think before coming back to me with feedback. I, on the other hand, externally process everything—meaning I like to talk it out with you right then and there until we come to a resolution.

Get to know your manager and be curious about how they think. Learn to anticipate their questions based on their priorities. Understand that everyone is different, and it would be unreasonable to assume otherwise.

What it Means to Set Expectations
Understanding what your manager wants from you—and vice versa—comes down to how you communicate expectations. Be clear about what’s expected up front so there are no surprises (or disappointments) down the road. How do you do that? Have a process. First, ask questions and repeat what you’re hearing. Then, put it in writing (e.g., in an email) and get them to agree to it.

Communications for Communicators
Practice what you preach. Sometimes we can be so client-focused that we forget to utilize our own best practices. Try creating your own formal strategy, just as you would with any client, for how you communicate with your manager. Pre-empt their asks by being proactive. If your manager ever has to come to you and ask you for a status report, you’re too late in getting it to them.

Learn to anticipate the questions of your manager: what are they being held accountable for? That’s what they’re going to ask you about. Find a way to let them know the status of what you’re working on so they don’t have to come looking for you.

In closing, managing up is a challenge because managing people is hard. Be patient with yourself and with your manager. Everyone is on a journey and learning at their own pace.

And the key to any management relationship—up or down—is not management, but the relationship. Take your boss out for coffee and get to know her. That relationship will be the key to your success.

Scott ThornburgAbout the Author
Scott W. Thornburg, APR, is an accredited marketing communications leader with nearly a decade of global agency and in-house experience. Passionate about his work, he is known for thoughtful management of complex issues, careful attention to detail and high-impact leadership. Scott has been a strategic communications adviser for top global brands like Oracle, ExxonMobil, Dell, Cirque du Soleil, Hard Rock, Nasdaq, (acquired by LinkedIn) and more. He now works as a senior public relations manager for Sojern, a travel marketing and advertising technology company. He’s a graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi (2010), with a degree in journalism, and an emphasis in public relations. Scott is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and serves on the organization’s national board.

Member Spotlight: Hanna Porterfield


Name: Hanna Porterfield
Senior Account Executive at Development Counsellors International
Location: New York, NY
Education: B.S. in Advertising and Specialization in Public Relations, Michigan State University
Social Media Handle: @citygirlhanna

How and when did you first become interested in PR and communications?
It’s funny, I was always reading and writing growing up, but never thought of it as a career because I didn’t necessarily want to be author. I began college as a mathematics major, with a goal to be an actuary. While that didn’t work out, loving numbers still comes in handy for calculating results and ROI of work. After changing my major I looked into advertising and marketing. Public relations was a specialization at the time, and the more I learned, the more it became for me. Internships and PRSSA involvement solidified my career choice.

How did you find internships/jobs?
Well, for internships I looked at my college job website and internship websites that I can’t even remember the name of (and they’ve probably since changed and been updated!). The question I think people actually want answered as a new professional is how to find a full-time position that will launch their career. For this, it takes time; looking for a job can be a full-time job, with late nights sending resumes, cover letters and follow-up notes all while you’re in school or working. I suggest setting up job alerts so that you can get potential positions emailed to you and all of your time isn’t spent going down a rabbit hole searching. LinkedIn and PRSA are good for this. Also think outside the box – literally every type of business needs PR.

I found my first (and current) job by putting my all into it. This means you’re going to have to make sacrifices. For me, that meant setting up 10 interviews during my senior year spring break and paying my way to New York City. When asked in an interview why I wasn’t on the beach, I said I could go to the beach the rest of my life, but I wanted a career in NYC. It paid off and I had two job offers before graduation.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
One that comes to mind is when my first boss quit about a year and a half after I’d been at my company. It seemed like the end of the world to have a manager I liked and respected leaving so soon. In the end, it was for the better. Having a team member leave–while probably increasing workload–will ultimately give you an opportunity to step up to the plate and grow. For me, that resulted in my first promotion and an even more supportive manager than I previously had.

What has been the most valuable thing you have learned through classes or experience?
The most valuable things I’ve learned for my career have been though experience, not school, without hesitation. While college classes provide a good foundation, you cannot learn without doing. I cant stress enough the value of internships and your first jobs. When asked to present to public relations classes at my alma mater, I always share case studies of projects I’ve worked on, and try to apply to the topics in their textbooks.

What has been the best piece of advice you have received?
The best piece of advice I’ve received is simply to work hard. My dad instilled the word ‘industrious’ in our family, and that’s really motivated me to work hard no matter what I’m doing, in my career or otherwise.

Do you have any advice for PR pros early in their career?
Keep learning. It’s amazing how much can change in the PR industry just within a couple of years being in it. Read industry news and blogs, and keep any certifications you might have up to date. Bring up professional development budget in your annual salary reviews.

What do you think is the best benefit of PRSA and the New Pros section?
Having a network of PR professionals across the country who are going through similar things as you in their career. From Twitter and LinkedIn to MyPRSA, there’s no shortage of ways to get in touch with other members. While mentors are an important part of your career trajectory, being able to bounce ideas off people who are in a similar role to you, but at a different company, is helpful. Plus, make the connections now and run the world together later!

Is there anything you wish you would have known before becoming a new professional?
Outside of the actual office setting and your first career, I wish I would’ve known to keep balance and that it’s okay to say no to things. I have been extremely involved with lots of organizations during college and since graduating, but am just now learning how to balance priorities and make time for myself. You need time to rejuvenate to thrive. Put your all into organizations and side projects you’re passionate about, but don’t spread yourself too thin. For me, serving PRSA is one of those priorities.

Name one little-known thing about yourself.
I won my hometown’s Punt Pass and Kick in 6th grade for females and went on to the regional competition.

Hanna Porterfield is Chair of PRSA’s New Pros Section and a senior account executive at Development Counsellors International in New York. She is a graduate of Michigan State University. Connect with her on Twitter @citygirlhanna.


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February 2016 Twitter Chat Recap

The February #NPPRSA Twitter chat, earlier this month, was all about big ideas on a small budget.

Special guests during this month’s chat were Adrienne Wallace, Managing Director/COO, at 834 Design & Marketing and Todd Butler, President & CEO, at Causewave Community Partners. Delivering big results on a small budget can be challenging as you work around the parameters, but it can also challenge your creativity and help you break through with new ideas and successes. Click through the Storify below to see highlights from the conversation.

Mark upcoming Twitter chats on your calendar and view past chat recaps here.

Finding a Company Culture That Fits

think about what motivates you, makes you feel comfortable and helps you thrive. (2)

“You’re a catalyst to your own happiness, you know.”

That’s what NONONO says in its song “Pumpin Blood,” and that phrase has stuck with me.

With so many factors in the world that we have control of, we have the ability and responsibility to make our happiness a priority.

So how do you stay happy in the hectic and exhausting field of public relations? Think of what you need in a company culture that will make you happy and successful. Yes, you. Not what your parents want for you, what your friends want or what society says you want because you’re a millennial. What’s going to make you enjoy going to work most days? (Let’s be real, nobody wants to go to work all the time.) What will be an environment you can be successful in?

Are you a cubicle-loving, in-house PR person who wants to work in the automotive industry or maybe someone who likes the fast-paced, open-concept agency that works with consumer products?

It’s all up to you.

There are so many factors that contribute to company culture, so think about what motivates you, makes you feel comfortable and helps you thrive. Come up with a list and write it out, though it may seem tedious, so you have something to refer to.

Once you have built out a list of what you’re looking for, rank the items from top to bottom according to the importance of each. It’s likely you’ll have to make compromises when it comes to your list of ideals, which is why you need to determine what matters most. Then, you’ll be able to match that list against employers you’re interested in working for.

At Piper & Gold Public Relations where I work in Lansing, Michigan, we openly communicate about our company culture and what we call our #Truths that shape it. From our familial office relationships to our persistent mentality of always improving, our twelve #Truths lay out how, what and why we do what we do, as well as why it’s enjoyable at the same time. We created them during a team brainstorming session based on what already existed and have lived by them ever since.

I understand not all businesses have #Truths but most have a distinct culture that they’re willing to discuss with you – so do your research and ask questions about company culture before starting a new gig, your happiness and success may rely on it. After all, new professionals aren’t all about happy hours and foosball tables – we want much more than that.  

hannahHannah Leibinger is an account strategist at Piper & Gold Public Relations, a boutique agency in Lansing, Michigan, that specializes in government, nonprofit and small business public relations. In the Lansing community, she serves as the chair of communications for Grand River Connection, new professionals co-chair and a director at large for the Central Michigan Chapter of PRSA, social media coordinator for Giving Tuesday Lansing and a member of the Old Town Commercial Association business development committee. Connect with her on Twitter (@hleibinger) and LinkedIn.