Too many PR and public affairs agencies still take a cavalier approach to managing people.
Good consultants might get promoted as a result of retaining clients, bringing in new business and delivering great results from the accounts they work on.
Once they’ve been promoted, though, they’re often expected to replicate that success among junior team members, usually with little or no training or understanding of how to get the best out of people.
Bad line management can lead to junior employees’ feeling frustrated or lacking direction. It can poison relationships in the office, create an unpleasant “them versus us” working environment and reduce the effectiveness and success of the organization.
Many PR and public affairs professionals learn what it takes to manage a team through trial and error. Here are seven tips that can make the difference between being a great manager and one who just muddles through:
1. Understand how much guidance your team members need. Some employees like certainty and being told exactly what to do. Others find excessive direction stifling. If you’re not sure whether you’re being too controlling with your team members, or if they need you to be more specific and precise when setting objectives, ask them. They’ll let you know whether they’d prefer a different way of working.
2. Give your team the opportunity to get new experiences. Some agencies take a regimented approach to client management, with younger consultants restricted to desktop research while more senior team members go to events and build relationships with clients. This can lead to frustration as junior team members feel they aren’t getting the opportunity to develop professionally. You might think the person you’re managing isn’t quite ready to attend that important meeting or write the next strategy document, but if you don’t let them try, they’ll never learn.
3. Don’t be afraid to let your team make mistakes. Goethe said that we learn only by “seeking and blundering.” If you’ve been in the industry for a few years, you probably have tried things that didn’t work or have done things wrong from time to time. You can impart the wisdom of this experience to your colleagues, but you also must let them make their own mistakes and discover things for themselves.
4. Don’t undermine your colleagues in front of others. If you need to give someone negative feedback about a piece of work, don’t humiliate them in front of their peers. Instead, speak with them privately and discretely. Also, if you and a junior employee have a disagreement about how to do something on an account, keep the discussion between you. Don’t debate it in front of others, or you’ll undermine your own authority.
5. Balance negative feedback with praise. If someone on your team hasn’t done something the way you wanted, talk them through what they did wrong and counterbalance it with praise for the things they got right.
6. Don’t tolerate bad behavior. Sometimes agencies make bad hires and bring in consultants with a bad or confrontational attitude, or who simply aren’t up to the job. There is often a tendency to ignore the situation and hope that things get better on their own. They won’t. If you have a team member who is dragging everyone down with negative or unpleasant behavior, or who is obviously floundering, make an early decision about whether you want to keep them on staff.
7. Accept that your team will never be 100 percent happy with you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the best line manager in the world. People will complain about the boss at some point. Don’t be upset if, despite your best efforts, your team still want to socialize without you and complain about how wrong or difficult they think you are.