Everything I Know, I Learned From 'The Office'

Ten Tips From Michael Scott

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Maureen Hall Maureen Hall
Tiny cubicles. Beige walls. White mugs with old coffee stains. Have you ever seen an ad agency that looked like this? I'm sure there are some, but I would guess there aren't many. The truth is that the majority of corporate America works in lackluster office prisons every day. Don't believe me; just ask anyone if they identify with any of the characters in NBC's "The Office." Which if you've been under a rock lately, is like the comic strip "Dilbert" come to life. And certainly a mind-numbing work environment, insane coworkers and a complete lack of culture negatively affect job performance. Why else would we, as agency owners, go to such great lengths to order rainbow-colored file folders, pottery coffee mugs, foosball tables, sleek desks and hire employees we actually like?

But no matter how silly Dunder Mifflin's Michael Scott gets or how insane his leadership methods are, I believe watching episodes of The Office has helped me be a better boss -- and it's given me something to talk about with my agency compadres on Friday. (Obviously these lessons were taken with a grain of salt, as should this blog.) Here are the Top Ten things I've learned about my own agency by watching The Office, and some were hard. (That's what she said.)
  1. The Dundies. Having a peer-to-peer awards program is more meaningful than if the boss just hands out kudos during the morning meeting. Ours are called i2i Awards. Make sure your nomination categories align with your agency's brand and culture; funny superlatives don't work so well in a room full of serious overachievers with deep creases in their foreheads.

  2. Schrute Bucks. Employee incentives are important even if business is down because rewarding good people doesn't always have to mean big bucks. Sometimes just leaving flowers on someone's desk is nice, or bumping their title up can show them you've noticed their hard work. (That said: NBC please give your writers what they want. They deserve it.)

  3. DunderMifflin.com. Change is tough, especially when it comes to technology, but it's best not to fight it like Michael and Dwight did. That new-fangled business management software (CMPro anyone?) may look like a bitch to learn in the box, but when installed could really help streamline your process.

  4. Michael's Suggestion Box. Checking in with your employees on how you're doing is an eye-opening experience. You may think your initiative is brilliant, but the 30 people you're leading may hate it. Also don't discount the small things that can mean so much, like employee birthday cakes and soda selection (you should've heard the uproar here when we were going to switch out the sodas in our machine).

  5. The Bat. Like Dwight discovered, sometimes investigating crap just leads to more crap. I'm not saying turn a blind eye to squabbles. But more often than not those little things work themselves out better when you don't try and make them "bigger." Save your mediation skills for the big drag-out wars.

  6. Gift Baskets. Having close relationships with clients is great, but it's really only icing. The "cake" should be amazing and timely creative. When pitching new business, we've learned to focus on the prospect's needs, dreams and timeline, versus whether cookies are better than popcorn in the leave behind.

  7. Dwight & Jim. Two seemingly opposite employees, with personalities and skill sets as different as oil and water, can sometimes make your best team. When pairing an unlikely duo, set their expectations clearly so both are working towards the same goal, like when Jim and Dwight sold against Staples. Recognize that this sort of team chemistry is tricky and it may take a few tries before you start seeing dynamic results.

  8. Practical Jokes. Staplers floating in Jell-O molds and pennies stuck in a phone receiver may seem like harmless fun until it escalates to computer viruses and a couple of hundred dollars of property damage. It's inevitable with a house full of characters you're going to get some pranksters. We give our folks a week at Christmas to get all their mischief out. And to ensure that an uninvited punk doesn't hit innocent bystanders, we have "opt-in punking" called The Naughty & Nice List.

  9. Ryan The Temp. Often times the most motivated employees are the ones you least expect, like that freelancer who always seems to be around, or the associate creative director that comes in every morning with black Sharpie on his drinking hand. Be sure to promote these diamonds in the rough as soon as possible. The benefit they'll bring to your company will outweigh how weird it is to see them in a managerial role.

  10. The Scranton Family. The biggest thing I've learned from watching The Office is that when the going gets tough and the chips are down, they really do care about each other. Stanley hates to see Phyllis cry. Angela deep down (very deep down) is happy for Pam and Jim. My employees always surprise me with their gigantic hearts and capacity to love; I know that when we need to rally as a company that our petty differences melt away and we're a family.
So while you're at home for Christmas, take advantage of the writers strike to rent previous seasons of "The Office" and see what your agency can improve upon in the upcoming year, and at the very least, you'll laugh until it hurts. Cheers!
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