About AEF | Newsletter | Site Map | Legal | Advanced Search
Print Version

Managing Up/Managing Down

Question: Account people often are good either at managing up or managing down? Is it possible to be good at both?

Answer: No. Just kidding.
Obviously, the best account people are capable of doing both. But the truth is that it is hard to do and it is human nature to gravitate to the one you do more easily or are better at.

So here are a few suggestions that may help you do both kinds of managing well. Much of this may be self-evident, but the test lies in the consistent application of it in addition to the knowledge of it.

Managing Up

Many account people focus on managing up because they believe it is a short cut to faster career advancement.  But good senior management at an agency can usually recognize people who can only “manage up, not down” and view the inability to do a good job of managing down with the team as a deficiency.

That notwithstanding, here are a few tips on managing up:

  • Keep you boss/superior informed of all the key things he/she needs to know.  A good rule of thumb is if the client called, how much information would he expect your boss to have, without feeling that he was micromanaging.

  • Be proactive.  Bring your boss ideas, thoughts, suggestions, etc. for your account, the agency or any other responsibilities he/she may have.  If the boss likes an idea, offer to spearhead it.
  • Talk about your boss positively to other people.  Don’t make stuff up, but do stress positive things about him/her or what it’s like to work for him/her.
  • When you bring your boss problems, always have a recommended solution(s).  It may not be the perfect answer, but it takes the onus off him/her to solve it and gives him/her a starting point to build on.

Managing Down

Being a good team leader is an important skill that we tend not to pay enough attention to.  In addition to it being important for leadership, it often has a big impact on morale and productivity.  Here are some fundamental pointers:

  • Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.  The single biggest complaint people have about their bosses is that they don’t tell them what’s going on.  This makes them feel insignificant and unimportant.
  • Be firm and straightforward, but fair.  It’s important to be direct with people to minimize miscommunication.  Ambiguity to spare someone’s feelings may be an easy path to take, but it’s the wrong one.  Constructive criticism is a good thing.
  • Listen.  Make the time to ask people what they think and then really think about what they’ve said.  It’s great training for junior people and you’ll be delighted to get solutions you might not have thought of.
  • As you do with your boss, ask your people to come to you with recommended solutions to problems.  Again, it’s great training and part of the way to make them smarter/better account people.
  • Be available and accessible.  Let your people know that you have an open door policy and follow through on it.  If they don’t come to you periodically, you should initiate a dialogue with them.
  • Don’t micromanage.  Give your people responsibility and autonomy.  But let them know that you’re there as a “safety net” if they need you.

As you know, the “people” part of the advertising business and especially in account management is disproportionately high.  Being great at your job is not only about the function and content of the job, but also very much about the how you get things done, how you communicate with people and how you work with people.

In this business, it’s incredibly rare to see a successful manager of accounts who is not also a successful manager of people.



Bruce Kelley

Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved.