Get up close and personal

Five minutes of a boss chatting with a member of staff tends to work better than months of formal feedback.Phil Jones explores the art of team-building

Loyalty has to be a two-way street and there are no guarantees when it comes to the crunch. Some employees will stay with an employer through thick and thin, while others will move if the grass is greener. Take the Ashley Cole v Ryan Giggs model in football. Both are great players, playing in top teams under fantastic managers, but one made the dash-for-cash and one devoted his career to one club. Why? Could either club have acted differently and had a different outcome?

I have had more than 25 years’ experience as a boss in the creative industries and have spent the past six years as a non-executive director observing different management styles. There is no doubt that some consultancy heads are better than others at creating a bond with staff.

ccording to reports, many individuals are biding their time and waiting to jump ship as soon as the green shoots of economic recovery start to appear. They may well have seen colleagues made redundant and many will have taken pay cuts to help their consultancy through the recession. Very few design groups have escaped recession completely, but the way they have communicated with staff may have been very different.

So how does a business retain loyalty and avoid losing its best people while dealing with financial chaos? I believe that if they were consistent in their approach to dealing with staff before the recession they should be in a strong position to keep them when this one becomes a distant memory.

If a consultancy builds up an emotional bank account with staff they will be in a much better position to retain their loyalty through the tough times. Much of this comes down to using common sense, and it isn’t something you can learn at university or by doing an MBA. Not all senior managers find it easy to build a genuine rapport with the staff who report to them. I don’t remember reading any books on management when I was working full time, but for those for whom managing people doesn’t come naturally, help is now available.

In their book How Full is Your Bucket?, Tom Rath and Donald Clifton maintain we all have a metaphorical bucket inside us. When it’s full we feel great. But this bucket can be drained and it does leak.

One simple, highly researched question to every member of your staff will identify immediately how full their collective buckets are. The question is, ’Have you received praise or recognition for good work in the past seven days?’

However, before you ask it, it’s worth thinking about the roots of this question. If you don’t think it is important, you need to think again, because the evidence is overwhelming. One of the few positive outcomes of a recession is that it forces us to reconsider our practices. This might even be quite therapeutic and help us get things into perspective.

Praise and recognition mean different strokes to different folks. Some of your staff will appreciate you patting them on the shoulder and giving them a genuine ’thank you’ or saying ’well done’. It has to be honest and given at the right time, because insincere praise is even worse than not giving it in the first place. For others, it might be asking them if there are any courses that they would like to go on to help them with their progression.

Knowing when your staff have things going on in their lives (marriage, divorce, illness and so on) means a lot to people. It makes them feel valued when the boss asks about things not relating to work. In a larger consultancy you need key managers to keep you informed, but make a point of asking them every week. Also ask which staff have been working long hours or weekends – it’s amazing how often the bosses are not even aware of how conscientious many of their staff are, and if it gets taken for granted too often the bucket starts to spring leaks.

Great businesses have a culture that ensures recognition of the value of each staff member. Some 70 per cent of people leave managers rather than leaving businesses.

All consultancies should conduct regular reviews with staff and many of these things will be picked up during those chats and dealt with in a timely fashion. Relying on the human resources department to manage relationships with staff is a poor substitute. A boss chatting with a member of staff for five minutes is worth months of feedback from HR. Some bosses realise the value of putting money behind the bar and taking the team out to thank them for hard work. It’s worth it.

The bottom line is to encourage honest, consistent, grown-up communication with staff, even if you are giving them bad news. The best managers succeed by being accessible and gaining staff respect through consistency.

Building loyalty

  • Recognise and value every individual working for you
  • Regularly give your staff honest praise, in a way that is appropriate for each person
  • Take the time to chat about matters not relating to work, and to learn about any big issues affecting employees
  • Be consistent in your actions

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Comments
  • Mark Williams November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I worked for Mr Jones for many years, and without a doubt, he is the best boss and people-person I have ever had the pleasure to work for.

    I have a lot of time and respect for him purely because he is approachable and will take the time to chat to everyone – not just about work, but on a personal level too. He never spent all his time confined to his office.

    As a result, I felt more inclined to go the extra mile when required.

    His approach to his staff has left a lasting impression on me, and I would encourage every other employer to adopt his style of management.

  • S C November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I was recently given a book called ‘Authentic leadership’ by Bill George. ‘This will change everything’ I was told by the client who gave it to me. The basic proposition running throughout the book is that the primary role of leaders/bosses is to serve – enable and serve the individual, serve the team and so serve the company,
    As far as I’m concerned it’s the best advice any leader could ever learn, if only more of them did.

  • Richard Holley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I have worked for this man in person. It is so true what he says about motivating his staff. He made sure that everyones ’emotional buckets’ were brimming. By giving everyone nicknames, he would demonstrate a closer affinity to his staff and show them how well he knew them personally. I will always appreciate the way he referred to me in the presence of clients, as ‘Little Richie Poo’s’. Drawing attention to my below average physical stature used to fill my ’emotional bucket’ to overflowing. On arriving at dinner for a judging event among the company of some highly regarded creative directors, I found a baby seat in my place. It is little things like this that make staff feel valued. Another of Phil’s most successful business management traits is his ability to explain any situation using football metaphors and analogies. Phil’s ability to fire staff randomly on a Monday morning depending on the performance of his beloved Manchester United football team, was something he failed to mention in this article.

  • Richard Holley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I have worked for this man in person. It is so true what he says about motivating his staff. He made sure that everyones ’emotional buckets’ were brimming. By giving everyone nicknames, he would demonstrate a closer affinity to his staff and show them how well he knew them personally. I will always appreciate the way he referred to me in the presence of clients, as ‘Little Richie Poo’s’. Drawing attention to my below average physical stature used to fill my ’emotional bucket’ to overflowing. On arriving at dinner for a judging event among the company of some highly regarded creative directors, I found a baby seat in my place. It is little things like this that make staff feel valued. Another of Phil’s most successful business management traits is his ability to explain any situation using football metaphors and analogies. Phil’s ability to fire staff randomly on a Monday morning depending on the performance of his beloved Manchester United football team, was something he failed to mention in this article.

  • Stephanie Brown November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Couldn’t agree more with Phil’s thoughts. And so do staff. In the Design Industry Voices survey 2009 (http://www.designindustryvoice.com) the widest perceived delivery gap between people who intend to stay at their agency and those who intend to leave is in the area of “rewards people for going the extra mile.”

    So agency heads take heed – good performance in terms of reward and recognition will be necessary for talent to consider the agency as a preferred employer both in terms of retention and recruitment.

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