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Managing employees in a small agency

This SAGA Member Webinar is available only to individuals with active memberships. Login or join to gain access.
Webinar presented live on May 11, 2023

In this webinar, Chip Griffin offers guidance for less experienced managers in small agencies. 

Whether you are an owner new to managing employees or you have recently been promoted and want some advice on how to meet your new responsibilities, this session will have useful tips.

Chip explores the essential do’s and don’ts, including potential HR landmines to avoid. He will also help you to understand your role and how to get the most out of your team members through better communication and effective leadership.


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Hello and welcome to today’s SAGA webinar on managing employees in a small agency. I’m your host, Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance, and I’m looking forward to a good conversation today where we’ll focus on some of the basics. It will be for. If you’re an agency owner and maybe you are new to managing employees or perhaps you are a mid-level manager in an agency who is employ, is managing employees for the first time, there will be useful nuggets in here for all of you today.

So before we jump in and while people are continuing to stream in live to attend this webinar, I will go through a few housekeeping items as I always do. First of all, the full webinar replay will be available in the library for SagaPro members, which you can access right on the SAGA website if you want, want, if you are watching live.

I’m having a hard time speaking today, so this is a great start. If you are watching live and would like to ask a question, use the q and a function. It should be at the bottom of your screen. Submit the question at any time throughout the course of this webinar, and I will take the questions from all live attendees at the end of the main presentation.

If you’re watching this on replay and would like to ask a question, feel free to email me directly at chip@small aencygrowth.com, or you can chime in in our Slack community. It is free to join and a great place to have conversations with myself, other experts and agency owners. If you’re talking about this webinar on social media, I would love it if you would use the hashtag agencyleadership to make it easily discoverable for others who may want to join in on the conversation.

And if you’d like to access any of the many resources that we have available, and that I may talk about over the course of today’s webinar, just go to smallagencygrowth.com. We’ve got a very handy search engine in there that will help you find podcast episodes, workbooks, webinar replays, articles, the whole gamut of things is there for you to explore and dive deeper on some of the topics that we’re going to look at today.

Which of course brings us to the agenda for today’s conversation, and so we’re gonna talk about a number of different things that are relevant to new managers. Starting first and foremost with what your role is and how you should think about being a manager, why communication is important, and how you can do it more effectively with your team members.

How you set general expectations and specific expectations with your team, the general expectations being those things that you want them to always do. And the specific expectations would be tied to specific individual assignments. Of course. We’ll also have a little bit of time to talk about micromanagement because that’s something that many both new and experienced managers fall into the trap of, and we’ll talk about how you can avoid that. I’ll talk about how you manage up. So this, for those of you who are owners, you can, you know, maybe take a break for a couple of minutes or maybe learn how your mid-level managers are going to be managing up after listening to me talk. We’ll talk about some of the difficult conversations that you might have to have with your team members and how you can go about those most effectively. Talk a little bit about some potential pitfalls that you want to make sure that you avoid as a manager. Some things that perhaps you need to think about more so now as a manager than if you are just an employee, or if you have no employees and are an owner.

And finally, we’ll wrap up with a little bit of talk about the basics of recruiting, because if you are managing a team, then that is something that you will necessarily be involved in, whether that’s recruiting new employees or effectively re-recruiting or retaining your existing talent. So let’s start by jumping in and talking about what your role is as a manager.

And I think there’s this, this misperception that as a manager, your role is to dole out tasks and make sure that people are held accountable for the work that they’re doing. And certainly those are things that you have to do, but they’re not the most important things, in my view, that you have to do as a manager.

And so I would encourage you to think differently about the role. I would encourage you to think of yourself as a mentor, as a coach, as an advocate, facilitator, educator, and then last as a supervisor. So let’s walk through each of those roles a little bit and talk about what I mean by them and how you can do so effectively.

So being a mentor to your, to your team members is important. And so you need to think of yourself as an ally, not someone who’s telling them, I need this done, but instead helping them to grow, and I mean, grow within the agency, but also grow in the course of their career. You need to remember that most of your team members will not be with you indefinitely.

They will move on to other things, either within the agency or perhaps to another agency or another organization down the road. It benefits you, it benefits the agency if you are helping them to grow in their careers. Because while it is disappointing when a talented team member leaves, it also creates new opportunity because wherever they go, you’ve now got a new relationship.

You’ve got an in that could help you with potentially someone that you might be able to hire to do some subcontracting work for you or partnering with, perhaps it’s someone who could actually hire you or your agency down the road as well. And I came from the world of politics in Washington at the start of my career, where you often had people who would move on to other jobs and so, and they would end up hiring their old boss.

So there’s all of these different ladder climbing things that can happen over the course of one’s career. And as a mentor, you’re helping them to look out for where they can go. You’re sharing the experience that you have in order to help them develop into more effective employees for today, but also more effective professionals for the future.

You also want to be a coach, and I think it’s important to think of yourself, again, not as telling someone you need to do this, and if they don’t do it exactly the right way, you did it wrong, and tell them how to correct it. Instead, you need to help them. You need to educate them, and that education is something we’ll talk a little bit more about as well, but you need to help point them in the right direction, guide them.

If you’re doing that, you’ll be able to produce much better results because the employee feels like they are in it with you. If you simply sit there and dictate that this is how they must do things now going forward, that’s not generally as well received and particularly with. Some of the newer members of the workforce, they are used to a much more collaborative approach to their lives.

And so we need to be thoughtful of that. As managers, we’re also advocates as managers, particularly if we’re managing a team within an organization, we need to be advocates for that team. And that doesn’t mean blind advocacy. It doesn’t mean that we go out there and we just stand up for our team and we try to build our little fiefdom.

What it means is that we need to be there and act effectively as their blocking back if you think in terms of American football. If you are thinking in terms of how you can help your team to get what they need, and you can go and, and if you’re a mid-level manager, you can go to the agency owner and tell them, this is what we need in order to be successful.

This is how we can work best. This is how we can collaborate with clients or other teams within the agency, and you need to advocate on their behalf. You need to be thinking about how you can facilitate the work that they’re doing. In other words, figure out what their roadblocks are, and whether that’s it, whether you need to be an advocate or whether you need to give them some information or resources.

What do you need to give them in order to help them be more successful? And that’s the role of a facilitator. As an educator, you must be willing to train your team, pass on the knowledge that presumably you have, and they don’t. Most managers are at a higher level of experience, perhaps higher skill sets, and so they need to be passing that on.

You need to be passing that on to your team members in order to help them grow and add the skills that they need. You don’t want them always coming to you and asking you questions. You want to give them the knowledge, point them in the right direction of additional knowledge. Give them the training, give them the resources that they need to continue to, to develop their own skills, and that will make you happier, and it will make them a more productive team member.

And then at the very bottom of the list, but not unimportant, is that you are indeed the supervisor. And we’ll talk about some of the responsibilities that come with being a supervisor, but you absolutely do need to not just allow your team members to wander off into the wilderness on your own. You need to provide the guiderails that send them in the direction that you and the agency want them to go in.

You need to give them the clear direction. And we’ll talk about the importance of communication and expectation setting and how that all fits into your role now as a supervisor. So let’s go ahead and talk about that communication element, because agencies PR agencies, marketing agency, advertising agencies, were all focused on external communication.

We’re all focused on helping our clients communicate their messages better, but we often do a very poor job of communicating internally. And as a manager, you need to have excellent communication with your team as well as with your boss. And that’s something if your mid-level manager will talk about, as I noted later in today’s presentation.

But the key to, to effective communication, I believe, is to have weekly one-on-ones with all of your direct reports without exception. It’s something that can be rescheduled, but should never be canceled. Of course there’s a vacation or something like that. I’m not encouraging you to do one-on-ones when you’re on vacation or the employee is, but you need to be having them.

They are incredibly important. If you’re doing them effectively, they don’t have to long. There’s lots of resources on the SAGA website. I’ve done webinars on this, articles on this podcast episodes. There are tons of resources and I would encourage you, if you’re not familiar with how to do one-on-ones effectively, read up on it, watch up on it.

Listen, try to figure out how to to do those correctly because it will make a huge difference if you are meeting with all of your direct reports and having open and honest and transparent conversations. On a weekly basis, and that honesty and transparency is something that is incredibly important as a manager.

It doesn’t mean that you need to startle your employees or your team members by telling them every little detail and every little concern that you may have, every little risk that you’ve spotted, but you need to be communicating enough that they are able to do their jobs effectively and that they can see what’s coming.

That kind of thing takes place most effectively in these weekly one-on-one conversations. And one of the things I talk about in my one-on-one training is that you need to have listening as your first and foremost priority. You need to be having your team members drive these conversations. They need to have the opportunity to ask questions.

They need to share their concerns. They need to share their ideas. And so as a manager, we often think we need to spend a lot of time telling our team what to do and how to do it. The reality is we need to be prompting them and listening. Think of them almost as ChatGPT, and you’re putting together your prompts for them to see what they come back to you with.

And it’s not a game of gotcha. It’s a game of trying to understand. It’s not a game even. It’s a process of understanding what their thoughts are and taking advantage of that so that you can get the best possible results. You do need to make sure that you are providing necessary knowledge as part of the communication that you’re doing with your team members.

So if you are assigning a project to them, you need to make sure that they understand clearly the scope of work. They need to clearly understand what the client has been promised in terms of what they will do for them and what the expected results are. A lot of times managers have the problem of trying to keep things too close, too, the too secretive.

They think, oh, I have this knowledge and, and I need to keep this to myself. Owners are terrible at this. Owners oftentimes don’t want to share the scope of work with team members. You absolutely need to be sharing that, and if you are a mid-level manager, you need to be sharing that information with your own team members. Because if you don’t know what the agency is supposed to be doing, You as an employee have a very difficult time doing so effectively and making sure that you are not over servicing or contributing to scope creep.

You need to be part of the solution and not in the dark, and so that necessary knowledge comes with it. But you also need to provide the necessary knowledge in terms of what do they need to know in order to be effective? So it’s not just about scope of work for a client, it’s telling them the information that you have based on your own experience.

Here are the things we need to focus on. Here are what, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish. Here are the deadlines that we have. Share as much information as possible, and that all feeds into the honest and transparent approach. But it also means that you need to be having back and forth conversations with your team members on a regular basis.

Again, the one-on-ones a cornerstone to this, but it doesn’t need to be limited just to that. Make sure that you’re creating a culture in which your team is comfortable coming to you to raise questions, to raise concerns, whether that’s in the one-on-one environment or separately through Slack or email, direct message, or however you prefer to be communicated with.

Make sure that, that you’re not just telling and assigning and holding people accountable, but instead you have them participating in the process right alongside you. That’s how you build both a strong team mentality, but also produce the best results because it’s not merely treating all of your team members as individual cogs in the machine.

So you need to start all of this by setting general expectations. So anytime I’ve had a new employee, I’ve always sat down with them and said, okay, here are the things that I personally expect. These are the things that I want from you on an ongoing basis, regardless of what particular assignments you may have on your plate.

And you need to explain things that are, that help them to work best with you as their manager. And we all have our own approaches to things. We have our idiosyncrasies. So what I’m gonna do now is share some of the things that I have typically shared with my own employees as my general expectations that I have for them.

Probably top of my list is that I don’t like surprises, and I think you’ll find that most agency owners don’t like surprises. Maybe you’ll occasionally like a good one, but in general, I personally prefer not to be surprised by good news or bad news. And so that means as soon as you have a a strong inkling that something may be happening, you need to let me know.

I was just talking with an agency owner who was having an issue with one of their managers who was letting people know far too late in the process that they didn’t have enough time to complete it because the client had been slow to provide feedback or necessary information. And so what I want as a manager is to be informed as soon as you, as an individual project manager knows that something might be off here, maybe maybe the client has missed the deadline by a couple of days, and now we know if we miss by two or three more days, we’re not gonna be able to meet the deadline that had originally been set.

Make sure that you’re encouraging your team, in my view, to convey that information to you sooner rather than later. Almost any employee I’ve ever had will also be able to tell you that I say all the time, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And this doesn’t mean that I think you should do sloppy work, but what it means is that we need to remember that good enough is often just that – good enough.

And in the agency world, we as owners are often perfectionists. We hire a lot of people who tend to be a perfectionist. It’s a the nature of many creative and strategic folks as they want to get it just right. But we need to remember that our team will not be at that same level that we are. There’s a reason why we are owners or managers, and so we need to make sure that what we’re getting helps us to meet the expectations that the client has, but are not hung up on getting it so perfect, so right, that it takes too much time and becomes unprofitable or helps or causes us to miss deadlines. And we’ll talk more about this expectation that I have, particularly when we talk about micromanagement later in today’s webinar. I always tell my team that I expect mistakes and I don’t have a problem with most mistakes being made, but what I do expect is that we won’t repeat the same one over and over again because we will take some learnings from whatever mistakes, whatever failures we may have, and we’ll incorporate that the next time we’re doing something similar.

So my expectation is that you won’t do the same thing over and over again. And if you do then, then I’m gonna have an issue with you. But if you make mistakes, I’m okay with that. And I think it’s important personally to create an environment in which employees understand that it’s okay if they make mistakes, because that makes it less likely that they’re gonna hide things, cover them up, try to prevent us from, you know, try to solve a problem on their own without coming to us and sharing it.

And then, so then it becomes a surprise when they’re not able to. So I think it’s important to have this culture, and so it’s one of the expectations I have always set. With my team members. I also ask them, don’t bring me just solu just problems, but also bring me the solution or a proposed solution or an idea of how we might address it.

So if we’ve got an issue where perhaps we know we’re not gonna be able to hit a deadline, come to me and let me know what we could do by that deadline or what deadline might actually work. Come to me with those ideas so that you’re not just laying a big rotten egg on my plate. Instead, you’re telling me how we can make it smell just a little bit better.

And finally, for me personally, I think. I almost anybody will be able to tell you, I don’t answer the phone, haven’t for years. I don’t like out of the blue phone calls. I prefer to do scheduled phone calls. So I always told my team members, email me, don’t call me. And however you prefer to be communicated with whatever is most effective for you is something you need to communicate to your team as part of those expectations, because that will help them to work with you more effectively.

And I don’t care how weird or idiosyncratic your approach may be, share it. I would rather you do that and be again, open and honest and transparent with your team to get the most out of them than to secretly resent that they’re calling you or texting you or something like that. So, communicate all of these general expectations to your team.

And again, they’re probably not gonna be the same as mine, but hopefully this gives you some of the ideas that you might include when you’re setting those general expectations, either when you’re taking over a team for the first time or when you’re bringing a new team member on. You also though, need to have specific expectations that you’re setting for individual projects or assignments.

And so what this means is that you need to let them know what they’re gonna need to deliver, when they’re going to need to deliver it to you. You’re, you need to let them know what resources they have available, how much time should they be spending on it? What are you, you can’t just assign something to a team member and expect that they will intuit, well, I should only spend two hours, five hours, 10 hours on this.

You need to set an expectation and if they can’t meet it, you need to create a culture in which they, they push back and say, those aren’t enough resources. I can’t do this in two hours, or I can’t do this without some outside help, or, I can’t do this without a particular piece of software. You need to make sure that you are being clear about what your expectation is, but also give them the opportunity to push back.

That’s true also with deadlines. It’s why you need to make sure your team is involved before you pass a deadline on to a client or to your boss. If you are a mid-level manager, get that input so everybody is part of it, and everybody can raise issues or concerns that they may be having with those expectations before those expectations get spread more widely.

You also need to make sure that they understand what your goal is with this. What are you trying to achieve with the project that you’re assigning? Because if the individual that you’ve assigned it to doesn’t know what the ultimate goal is, they can’t contribute to it as effectively. So make sure that you’re setting that expectation straight up.

And finally make them aware of any known issues. If you know that the client tends to be slow on providing information or feedback, make sure that you’re letting the team know that so that they can build that into their own planning. They can make sure, perhaps, to get them a mockup or a draft a little bit earlier.

Give your team the tools and information that they need in order to be successful, because that’s a critical part of your role as a manager because you can’t expect them to cope with things that you haven’t told them about. So if you set those general expectations up front when you’re first working with an employee and you share the specific expectations on individual assignments, you’re much more likely to get results that you are happy with and that produce results that your clients are looking for, and that also maintains your team morale.

So I referenced micromanagement earlier, and I do want to address it. It would be foolish to have a webinar on management basics without talking about micromanagement because it’s something that many new managers fall into. And part of it is because as manager, as new managers, we’re coming to this from that perfectionist standpoint that I referenced earlier, part of it comes from a fear, particularly if we’re a mid-level manager, that perhaps our boss, our, the agency owner, won’t appreciate the work that we’re doing if it isn’t just so and so, we get in there and we get into the weeds.

The problem is that micromanagement effectively is an expression of a lack of trust in your team. And what does that do? It demoralizes your team. It causes them to, to not feel valued and not feel like they are truly part of the team because you are there looking over their shoulder at everything that they are doing.

It also demoralizes you, though. I’ve talked to so many managers, so many owners who are frustrated about the amount of time that they have to spend correcting someone else’s work or just doing things and, and I often hear people say, oh, you know, it’s just, it’s easier for me to do it. That may be true in the short term in the moment, but it’s causing you frustration and it’s causing your team frustration.

So what you need to do is figure out how to educate, facilitate all of the things we talked about on the earlier slide in your role as a manager to make sure that you are communicating to them the information that they need to be successful. And you need to make sure that to the extent that you are providing feedback and input, that it is needed and necessary in order to achieve the results that you’re looking for, and that it’s not simply because you would’ve done it differently.

We’ll talk more about that later. Keep that thought in mind. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean that it’s worse. Micromanagement is also a time suck because it wastes your, your time, it wastes your money. It takes away from all of the things that you could be doing otherwise. So if you are spending time on things that are not valuable, figure out how to solve that.

If you truly cannot get the results without micromanagement, it means you need to have a different team member. But more often than not, you can simply make adjustments in providing the information and resisting the temptation to provide unnecessary feedback in order to keep things moving along well.

Micromanagement is also a problem though because it encourages mediocrity from your team. And I’ve talked to many employees over the years who say, I, you know, I, I just didn’t even bother to put in my full effort on that draft, cause I knew my boss was gonna tear it apart anyway. Agencies do this with clients as well, and this is very risky.

You can oftentimes fall into a rut where you start providing lower quality materials to the client because you know that they’re just gonna monkey with it anyway. And you don’t wanna put yourself in that position as a manager. Make sure that your team is encouraged and incentivized to produce the best quality work because you will recognize that and you will help them achieve it, and you won’t just unnecessarily make changes or unnecessarily peer over their shoulder.

That’s how you get lesser results at higher cost. And finally, micromanagement restricts your growth. It restricts growth of the agency for the reasons I’ve talked about because it is a resource drain. It restricts the growth of the employee because if they’re encouraged Schwartz mediocrity, they’re not growing in the way that they should.

It restricts your own personal growth in the things that you can do as a manager because you’re spending more time duplicating someone else’s effort instead of focusing on the higher value things that you could do that perhaps could help the agency or help grow your own career. So micromanagement we all know is bad, but here are some key reasons why you need to focus on it and get it out of your system sooner rather than later.

So how do we solve this micromanagement problem? And it, it really does come down to trusting your team. You need to make sure that you’re not adopting, as I said before, that I can just do it myself mentality, even if you can. It’s better to assign it to someone else whenever possible because that helps them to grow.

It also frees up your time. You need to allow those mistakes to happen. And going back to my expectations that I always set with my team, make sure that people are learning from their mistakes. It can be a great tool. I often tell people that they learn more from failure than from success. And if your focus on your team is helping them to learn from their mistakes, you will eliminate a lot of the need for micromanagement because they cannot use you as a crutch to handle their mistakes in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, different is not always worse. You need to really internalize that. You need to understand that not every team member is gonna go about doing things the exact same way that you do. They will not produce the exact same design or piece of writing or strategy that you might, but is it good enough?

Is it producing the results that the client needs? That’s the important thing you need to focus on good enough instead of same as. If you do that, that will really help you to give up on micromanagement. It will help you to empower your team, and as you have a more empowered team, you’ll produce greater results for the whole entity and you’ll produce more results for yourself because your time has been freed up, as I mentioned earlier.

So part of your role as a manager, as a mid-level manager, so for you owners, you can either tune out or you can listen to understand how your mid-level managers may be looking towards you. But as a mid-level manager, you have a responsibility not just to manage the people who work for you, but to manage up.

And what does that mean? There’s a lot of different ways to think of managing up and as a manager who is sitting in that, that middle layer of whatever kind of organization. But today we’re talking about agencies in that mid-level, you need to make sure that you have agreement both above and below on what the expectations are.

And so we’ve talked about how you set expectations with your team, but you need to make sure that if your own manager, your perhaps your owner, or you know, if you’ve got more layers in your agency, your senior manager, that if they have not voluntarily communicated the expectations that I described, that you should set with your own team.

You need to ask them for them. Understand what their personal expectations are for you. Understand what makes them tick, understand their pet peeves. That will make you a more effective individual at managing up because you will know how to get the results that will make them happy. You will know how to avoid the third rail that they have that you just want to stay away from.

You need to remember in managing up that you are representing your team. What does that mean? It means fundamentally that, that you need to be, you don’t need to cover up for them, but you also need to make sure that you are not badmouthing your team. And I’ve seen this a lot with middle managers who will go to their boss and say, geez, you know, I, I’m just, I’m struggling because, you know, Sally’s just not able to do her job.

And it’s, it’s kind of her fault that we’re not getting to where we need to be. That’s not where you should be as a manager. Remember that your team is a reflection of you. A mirror can be one of the most valuable tools as a manager because when your team isn’t producing the results that you’re looking for, it often means that you are not doing something as well as you could, and so you need to take responsibility for the shortcomings of your team and figure out how to address them.

But you also need to be an advocate for your team when you know that there’s something external to that team, whether that’s resources or a client obstacle or an obstacle from another team. Make sure that your boss understands what those obstacles are, and you need to be an advocate for getting those, those problems solved in some fashion.

And that means that you need to ask for whatever will help you get there. Could be more resources, it could be more approvals. It could be asking your boss to talk to a client or another manager within the organization. There are a lot of different things that you can use to solve these problems, but as an advocate for your team, it’s important to make sure that you are asking for those things that you need and not assuming that it’s already known.

Just as I don’t like surprises, your boss probably doesn’t either. So even if they haven’t set that as one of their expectations, I would encourage you to over-communicate with them until they tell you not to about those things that could present potential risks. Let them know when you’re working on a project that may be off track.

Let them know when you’ve had a communication with a client where you hear maybe there’s some turmoil in the client and that might present a risk to the the contract that you have with them. Maybe you’ve heard in your day-to-day conversations with a client contact that they’re struggling financially.

Pass that on to your boss. Make sure that that information is moving up the chain so that nobody is surprised if they come and they ask for a haircut or perhaps even ask to cancel the contract early. And finally make sure that you are a team player. There’s nothing worse in an organization and nothing more poisonous than when you have mid-level managers who are gossiping amongst themselves and complaining about things and all that, and it’s normal.

I, I’ll tell you, in almost every organization I’ve been in, you have some degree of this, but you need to be really mindful of this as a manager, particularly as a new manager, that you don’t fall into that trap. Make sure that you understand that you’re an advocate for your team, but you’re, as I mentioned, I think earlier, you’re not building a fiefdom.

You’re not trying to build your team at the expense of others. Find ways to work together. Find ways to help each other because if the agency grows, it truly is one of those rising tides, lift all boats kind of situations. And if you’re fighting with each other, if you are trying to undercut other portions of the organization, if you are gossiping about the problems that the agency has or the agency owner, that’s a problem.

So make sure that you’re not doing those kinds of things. Make sure that you are instead collaborating and working towards a common goal. Now, as managers, we don’t, it’s not all sunshine and roses. We don’t get to just spend all our time doling things out and saying, do this, and kind of sitting back and watching it happen.

Sometimes despite our best communications, despite all of our efforts, we have to have difficult conversations with our team members and those difficult conversations… it could be about performance, it could be about attendance, it could be about. How they present themselves and Zoom calls are in individual meetings.

They’re all sorts of different things. It could even be that you have to let an employee go. And so these difficult conversations are things that many of us want to avoid. And so my first piece of advice is avoid avoidance. In other words, don’t try to put off these difficult conversations because they don’t get any easier over time.

They don’t resolve themselves in 99% of cases. So if there’s a difficult conversation to be had, it’s better to have it sooner rather than later. And so sitting down with a team member and having a difficult conversation means that you need to walk into it knowing what your objective is, what’s your goal?

Don’t just sit down with an employee and tell them, look, your performance isn’t great, and just, you know, kind of wing it. You need to go in there and say, okay, I’m sitting down with this employee and my goal is to explain the performance problem that I’m seeing and that I wanna walk out of this with an agreement on what our action plan is going forward.

And so if you don’t have a clear idea in your mind of what outcome you want from the meeting, there’s a good chance that you’ll go into it and it will devolve. Either the employee won’t get the message that you’re trying to communicate, or it will turn acrimonious or unproductive or both. And so make sure that you are clear with yourself going in what you need to have when that meeting concludes.

Similarly, you need to be very clear and direct with your team member about what you’re about to discuss and that objective that you’ve formulated in your mind. So for example, if you’re sitting down with an employee to discuss perhaps their performance on projects of late, you can sit down and say, look here, here’s the problem that I’ve observed.

We’re not meeting deadlines, the quality’s not up to snuff. Whatever it is. I’d like to sit down with you and talk with you about how we can improve it, and then I’d like to put together a plan for the next steps for how we can implement those changes. Now at this point, you’ve explained the problem to them, and typically, so assuming that this is something that is salvageable, and this is not a termination, I’ll come back to termination in a minute, but assuming that it is something that is salvageable, I then like to turn it over to the employee and ask them for their insights.

Why are these things happening? Why is the performance not there? And what do they think would help to solve it? And so they might, first of all, they might disagree with you, and you need to be quiet and not debate it. Listen to them as they’re explaining what they see as the issue, or perhaps that they don’t see an issue.

It’s possible they’re right, it’s possible they’re not, but at least hear them out and understand that. But then listen to them as they describe how they might address it. So you could have the employee say, well, I haven’t been able to meet the deadlines because I’ve had too many conflicting projects that all have the same deadline, and I simply can’t manage my resources.

And so they might then say, so we need to have different deadlines. And so then you can discuss that. Do different deadlines make sense? Or perhaps is there a way to juggle them? Is, is, is the solution that perhaps you work with them to figure out how they can spend less time to meet each one? Because maybe, maybe they’ve misunderstood what the expectations or requirements are, and so that’s something that you can address.

Maybe part of the solution is that they need additional training or additional guidance, or maybe the feedback hasn’t been coming from you in a timely fashion. Maybe you’ve been busy and so you haven’t given them feedback on the drafts that they’ve put in. They’ve been putting together or other things that they need.

Maybe they don’t have the resources. Maybe they need some additional training. Maybe they need some additional piece of software. Work with them to understand how they see it, and then agree upon a solution. That’s typically how you can best exit your difficult conversation by having agreement on a solution.

Now, in cases where it is not salvageable and you’re going into the meeting and it’s not, this is not about coming and sitting down with an action plan for improvement of something, and instead it is a termination conversation. First of all, I would encourage you if you’ve never done a termination work with someone who has, whether that’s an HR consultant or your boss or a lawyer or whomever, to make sure that you’re doing it correctly and by the book.

And I’ve had I think we had a webinar not too long ago on how to do terminations effectively. If this is your first time running a termination meeting, I would encourage you to absorb as much information as possible on it to make sure that you are doing it by the book. But in those cases, the key important thing from the difficult conversation portion of it is to understand that you need to be, you need to rip that bandaid off and, and a good termination conversation only lasts a couple of minutes.

This is not a drawn out conversation. You sit down, you explain what’s happening, you explain what the next steps are in terms of severance or other things, and that’s it. At that point, you can listen. If they wanna raise things, they can raise things, but don’t debate them. You, it’s time to move on here. So difficult conversations are designed to be collaborative, designed to have a clear objective to what they’re going to be, whether that’s an action plan or a termination or whatever.

And so make sure that you know all of those things going in and it will make your difficult conversation. Not pleasant, not easy, but hopefully at least easier. And if nothing else, more productive. I do wanna touch on some potential pitfalls, and generally speaking, as a new manager, you want to get advice when you come across anything that is unusual or that you haven’t seen before.

But you also have to remember that as a manager, you need to live by a higher standard. And so things that were okay for you to do, or maybe people looked the other way at when you were an employee, now you have team members who are reporting to you. When you have team members reporting to you, you need to make sure that you are leading by example.

And so that means having that higher standard so that you’re really thinking about everything that you say and do in such a way that it is presenting to your team a model for how they should act. But as importantly, you are being careful about the things that you say or do because more eyes are on you, more people are paying attention to it.

And so you need to live by that higher standard. As a manager, you need to make sure that you are avoiding things that you, you, that, that are potentially problematic. So that means thinking really carefully before you introduce conversations about controversial topics that are not related to work.

Thinking about the observations that you may make about individuals, whether they’re clients or team members or anything like that. Be really mindful of what comes out of your mouth, what you put in text, what you put in emails. And this is not an occasion where you need to think about you don’t wanna be just

Gossiping or, you know, acting like you are sitting at you know, the park with a friend or something like that. You need to be remembering that as a manager, everything you say gets looked at through a different lens. And in particular, I think one of the areas where I see a lot of new managers trip up a bit is when they try to get too personal with their employees.

And I’m not talking like personal relationship stuff, I’m talking about introducing personal things into conversations. And the lines get blurry these days and I understand that. And frankly, they’ve been blurry for a long time. But the, they are more blurry today, I think, than ever before. People want to get to know their colleagues oftentimes as people.

And I understand that, but you need to allow the employees to initiate that instead of probing them and asking them a lot of questions about what they do outside of work. So if someone opens the door to it, and so if you were working with me, I might mention that I do sports photography, that’s fine. Now we can talk about that, but I would not want you to be asking employees what they’re doing in their free time or things like that.

Give them their space because as a manager, you’re being looked at differently. And if you are starting to probe into some of these areas, you could be inadvertently stumbling across things that could make your management relationship more difficult. And there are things, if you, if you watch the webinars that I’ve done on some of the, the HR management issues, particularly terminations and hiring, there’s a number of things in, in both the termination and hiring webinars that I specifically go through that you want to avoid.

So dive into those resources a little bit more. If, if this is something that you want to learn more about. And so that brings us to recruiting because I think that it’s a good place to wind up the prepared presentation today and talk about one of the other things that you do as a manager. It’s not just about dealing with your existing team.

Most managers are also working on trying to find new members of that team, either to replace individuals who have left or preferably by growing a team and the organization. And so when you’re going through this process, and again, I have a webinar that talks about this in more detail, but when you are looking to hire a new employee and bring someone onto your team, you need to to keep some things in mind.

Because as a new manager, you’ll often be asked to participate in more interviews within the agency. And if you haven’t sat in on them before, you wanna make sure that you’re getting good advice before you do, but you wanna make sure that you’re keeping them professional. Going back to the point that I made in the last slide, you don’t want to be asking those questions about personal lives in interviews because it exposes you and the agency to a lot of risk.

I once worked with or was talking with an employee at an agency who said that one of his favorite questions to ask during the interview process was, what do you do on Saturday night? And. In his mind, he was just trying to get to know the individual. And I appreciate that and I think that is valuable because you do need to, to judge the team chemistry, and we’ll talk about that in a minute.

You need to figure out how someone’s gonna fit into your existing team. But when you start asking questions like that, it exposes you to knowledge that could then create impermissible or the perception of an impermissible factor in the hiring decision. So you don’t want to go down that path. Make sure that you’re keeping the interviews professional and anytime something personal is interjected, it should be by the interviewee and not you as an interviewer.

I think the most important thing you need to remember though, when you’re doing recruiting for the first time is that it’s a sales process. And think back to the places where perhaps you’ve been hired in the past. Yes, you’re getting asked a lot of questions about your skills as an individual and potentially joining the team, but you’re also evaluating if you want to join this team.

And so remember that everyone that you’re interviewing, everybody that you’re potentially recruiting is in that same boat. And so they’re evaluating you just as a client would. They’re trying to figure out, would I be a good fit here? Does this team feel right to me? Do I like the management structure? Do I do they want to look at all of those things.

And so you need to make sure that you’re not just grilling them. And one of the things I see a lot of new managers do is just rapid fire, send questions at the individual that they’re interviewing. And instead, you need to give them an opportunity to speak. You need to invite them to ask questions.

Frankly, I learn a lot more about a potential job hire from what they ask me than from what they answer when I ask them a question. And so evaluate them that way. Allow them to understand why you’re a great place to work and not just because you say you’re a great place to work. Everybody says that.

Instead, make sure that you are fostering that environment in the interview process where you’ve signaled what it really is like to work for your agency, what it really is like to work for you as a manager, and make that appealing for the individual. In evaluating your potential new hires you do need to look at their skills, but you also need to understand how they fit. And this is a difficult thing to do when you’re recruiting because you want someone who’s a good fit with the team, but you also need to make sure that the basic skills are met and, and trying to figure out how to modulate that. I, I think it’s difficult for even experienced managers to do because on paper you want to match the skillset, but I’ve had plenty of employees over the years who are excellent on paper and they actually can do their jobs in isolation very well, but they can’t get along with other team members.

They don’t mesh. Their ideas aren’t the same. Their, their work style is different, and so it creates unnecessary clashes, which drains resources and impacts morale, not just of that new hire once you’ve brought them on board, but the rest of the team. And, and toxic employees can be just as poisonous to an agency, if not more so than toxic clients.

So make sure that you are evaluating that in the mix. At the same time, don’t just focus on the person that you’ve got along best with, because sometimes that will will be someone who might be great in team meetings and be fun to be around, but if they can’t do the minimum things that need to be done for that role, it doesn’t matter.

So try to learn as you’re going through this process how to balance that chemistry versus skillset challenge. And finally, as a manager, you need to now be thinking about recruiting in terms of filling your own gaps. Where are your gaps in knowledge or skills or interests? And so for example, one of the things that I would often do when I was hiring was try to find people who are very detail oriented, because I tend to be kind of a big picture idea guy, stretching the rubber band, trying to go in as many different directions as possible.

And so I knew that as a manager, I needed people on my teams who were much more focused on the ensuring that every detail of a project actually got done and mapping out deadlines and timelines and that sort of thing. And so if you have that, Look for the, the folks who can help you to, to, as I did, fill those gaps.

Maybe you’re the other way, maybe you are very detail oriented, but you need someone who is willing to push the envelope. So that’s what you should be trying to add to your team next. Be really thoughtful about those things. Don’t just try to find clones of yourself. Clones of yourself are generally not the best way to grow and to, to build a successful team.

So these are only some basic ideas around recruiting up, but I did wanna make sure to touch on them because it is an important part of your role as a manager. Again, lots of additional resources within the SAGA community for you if you want to, to brush up on this. Either because you know that you’ll be doing recruiting in the future or because you have a specific recruitment process underway now that you’d like some insight on.

So with that, I just want to, to tie it all up with a bow, as I always do at the end of these webinars before we move to q and a. And I think the, if you take away just a couple of things from this webinar, what I would encourage you to take away is the importance of not being a supervisor, but instead being a manager, a coach, an advocate.

Think of yourself as someone who is there to get the most from all of your team members, not someone who is there to demand the most of all of your team members. And if you do that, I think you will find yourself in a much more successful place, whether you are the owner as a first time manager, or a mid-level first time manager.

It will give you the room to grow and develop the skills and develop the success that you need in order to go wherever you want with your business or with your career. So with that, that will draw to an end the prepared portion of today’s presentation. If you are watching this on replay, this is where the replay will end.

But if you have questions, you can email me at chip@smallagencygrowth.com and I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly. And you can also ask questions in the Slack community as well, and get answers not just from me, but from other agency owners and experts alike. So with that I’m gonna grab a sip of water and we’ll jump into the q and a for the live attendees.

Thanks for joining.

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