Take Time to Nurture Your Staff -- It Really Does Pay Off

Check In, Communicate, Be Willing to Change

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Trying to build an agency into something respectable is time-consuming. So it's easy to get in your own little world, working as busy as a bee, and forget that your employees need nurturing. Being too busy to mentor will cost you much more than lost time. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, so this is being written for my own benefit. In essence, it's my "to do" list of things that need doing for the benefit of my co-workers. I hope it helps you as well.

1. Say, "thank you." This may be the easiest example to execute, but it is often the most neglected. I'm not referring to the common response in polite conversation. I'm talking about pointing out to a person or team that you noticed their effort and you have a sincere appreciation for that effort. Sure, it is an employee's job to do their best. But ask yourself, would you give even more if you knew you were appreciated?

2. Check in with everyone. Like a robot, as soon as I get into work, I hit the e-mails and jobs on my desk. Before I know it, it's time for lunch. I haven't said hello to a soul. The solution? Place interaction with employees at the top of the "to do" list. Ten minutes of checking in. I see by the expression on my employees' faces how much they appreciate it. One side effect is being more efficient. Many times we exchange bits of information that quicken the pace of getting jobs done. It's a win-win.

3. Offer to help. By keeping abreast of how an employee's day is going, you will notice if they're getting overloaded. Our people are a proud bunch and rarely ask for help, even when they need it desperately. By observing, and giving them assistance when they need it, you foster the same behavior from everyone. No task should be too lowly for the boss.

4. Have a little party. About once a week, get your team together for a communal break. There's a Dairy Queen a few blocks from our office. Our Dilly Bar runs always evoke smiles, even by the more discipline that refuses to imbibe. During the snack, ask an individual to share their best experience of the week. My creative department also enjoys sharing work that they consider inspiring. Celebrating some nice work of your own is also a great activity to combine with noshing ice cream.

5. Get a critique. Asking employees to share ideas of how to improve the company should happen frequently. An open door policy isn't enough of a temptation. Continual encouragement is the best way to get critical feedback. Our employee annual reviews include the question, "How can we be a better place for you to work?" We mean it.

6. Tell people what's going on. It is easy for company information to go unsaid. For example, the status of new business pursuits. It may seem to not be an issue if things haven't moved, but the more you share with employees, the more they feel it is "their" company and treats it as such. So tell plans for improvements and long-term goals frequently. And don't be surprised if your employees help achieve these goals even sooner.

7. Demonstrate a willingness to change. For a boss, there can be a huge temptation to expect subordinates to accept your proclivities. Employees are to be in subjection to their boss, but both employees and bosses should have the attitude of servitude. Yes, bosses have to call the shots, but they are also responsible for the success of the team. So a little flexibility is in order. Listen to suggestions and give them a fair evaluation. For example, we changed the structure of how accounts are managed because of an employee's suggestion. The change energized the entire office. I think a good deal of that positive vibe came from our willingness to change.

I believe these suggestions are scratching the surface of how to work with employees more effectively. Why not add one or two as well?

Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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