Deep Dive Breakout 1

Thursday, August 1, 2019


What does it take to be a great advocacy and communications manager? What are strategies to get the best out of your teams, your vendors, and yourself? Our panel of industry leaders will share the secrets of their management success.


Learning Objective:

Tips you swear by to manage up, down, and around

  • Managing up is an opportunity to expand what you’re doing. Make yourself available to take things off your boss’ plate. Being a trusted resource is key to managing up.
  • Steve Jobs once said “I don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do, I hire smart people so they can tell me what to do.” Empower staff to take chances and step out of their comfort zone. Let them know you have their back and you’re ready to help them overcome obstacles.
  • Be very clear about what the expectations for your direct reports are. Have regular check-ins with them and make sure there is accountability for their work.
  • People love for an issue to be someone else’s problem. Turn challenges on their head by asking “What are we going to do to resolve this issue?” Workshop issues together to build trust with your team and gain buy-in.
  • Team chartering is helpful. This helps everyone gain buy-in, because everyone is creating the culture of the team. It’s a foundational building block – if you skip the chartering process, you’ll regret it for years.
  • Managing yourself and your own time is really critical in managing others. Hire smart people, and be clear with them about what you want, and have them come to you when they need you. Don’t just hire another you to do everything you’re doing.

Learning Objective: Building a positive, productive, and diverse team

  • Be clear about the corporate culture and what you’re looking for when hiring. If you’re not honest about what really goes on in your department, you can’t build a strong team.
  • A great exercise is creating a brand for your department. How would your team describe themselves?
  • Connect to the value of the work – hire carefully, give credit where credit is due, trust, and savor the positive moments.
  • Come back to why you do the work, and how it impacts real people. When there’s a win, make everyone pause and absorb the moment. Your staff doesn’t need you to be negative, but they may need your encouragement to be positive.
  • There’s rarely a perfect fit when you’re hiring. At times, it’s better to have a longer vacancy than rush a hire. It’s rarely been a mistake to wait.
  • Great interview questions:
    • What’s the one word you’d use to describe yourself?
    • Ask questions that will shed light on how they will interact with your members/constituents/advocates. How much emotional intelligence do they have?
    • What would your current colleagues say about you?
    • Ask a question about a complex scenario so you can watch them work through the process.
    • Always ask for a writing sample.

Learning Objective: Developing your direct reports

  • Acknowledge your direct report’s good work to others. Put them in front of your organization’s senior leadership when there is an opportunity to do so, and let them shine.
  • Coaching vs. directing employees is an important distinction. Employees will come into your office and ask you to make decisions for them. Most of the time, the boss doesn’t need to make that decision. You can coach staff through decisions by saying, “What do you think the answer should be? Where do you want to go?” Sooner or later, they will stop coming in and asking those questions.
  • Training is one thing, development is a whole other order. What problem is a leadership development program trying to solve? Try to answer that question for your organization and staff and build a program around that.
  • Give staff a set number of hours for professional development, and then give them the freedom to choose what they want to learn.

Learning Objective: Being a resource to your supervisor

  • Be reliable, take initiative, make them look good, and help them be realistic in their ideas.
  • Get to know your boss and what they need from you. Some people want you to get straight to the point. Some people want to chat. Some bosses need to be told “no”.
  • Be aware of stressful times in the organization and support your boss extra during those periods.
  • If you don’t see or talk to your boss regularly, send an FYI email once a week that is purely an informational report. No matter what their management style, all bosses want to know what’s going on.

Learning Objective: Managing the vendor relationship

  • Treat vendors with the same respect and dignity you would treat your staff. No one would go to their staff at 4:00 PM on a Friday and ask for something by Monday at 10 AM. If you wouldn’t make that request of your staff, don’t make it of your vendors.
  • Vendors want to know how they fit into the organization’s mission. 
  • Delegate vendor management to your direct reports. That contributes to their development, and they’re able to put on their resume that they have managed people.
  • The nice thing about working with a vendor is that you have a clear contract that stipulates what both parties’ responsibilities are.
  • No one likes pitch calls!

What tools do you use to get to know your staff?

  • Assessment tools such as StrengthsFinder help people have a level of awareness of their colleagues. When issues come up, go back to those results to see how they originated.
  • DiSC is a tool that clarifies how people want to be communicated with. Depending on how it is implemented, it can be a great tool to understand how to have effective meetings and communications.
  • With any assessment, don’t do it and then put it on the shelf. Integrate it into your work.
  • These tools can help give you the language you need to explore staff challenges.

What do you do with an underperforming employee?

  • Figure out why they are not performing. Are they unhappy in the organization? Would they prefer to be doing different work?
  • Spend some time thinking about them, and then have an exploratory conversation. At a certain point, bring them into the problem-solving process. Be explicit about the issues you want to see addressed. People are often either so direct that it’s hurtful, or so vague that it’s not helpful. Create an explicit plan that hones in on 1-2 things.
  • It is sometimes helpful to frame this issue in the context of professional development. “What you’re doing is fine, but it’s not going to get you to the next place you want to go.”

How do you handle the transition from doing to managing?

  • Experience makes the difference. It takes professional development and experience to become a comfortable and seasoned manager.
  • No one knows how to manage right out of the gate. All really good managers and leaders are showing up and doing the job until they feel comfortable.
  • Learn from past managers you’ve had – especially if they were not great!
  • Being a top performer is very different than being a good manager. There aren’t enough resources for that transition.