10 Tactics to Build the Best Staff

What does it mean to build and then lead a staff? Few of us received any formal training for it, so we often model our own style on the examples we’ve had in other bosses (and parents). Too bad, really, because learning to do this ought to be a lot less accidental.

If you stop and think about it, there are two big finding tasks that occupy much of your mind as a principal or manager. The first is finding great clients and the second is finding great employees. To find great clients, you need a compelling positioning and a strong marketing plan. Come to think of it, you probably want the same two things to find great employees, too! Start by crafting a place where people want to work, and then employ a mix of referrals and active marketing to attract them to the fold.

Here are 10 simple thoughts that I find myself repeating when I’m out in the field working with marketing firms on a weekly basis.

  1. Mind Your Own Business ConferenceIf you’re doing the wrong things at your firm, you’re stealing from the time you should be spending doing the right things. So quit solving the same problems today that you solved yesterday and start looking at the bigger issues like culture and processes.
  2. Relearn the source of your own significance. No longer do you need to be in the loop for all those decisions. Nothing screams co-dependent quite as much as hiring terrific people and then guiding their every step. You’re the conductor, silly, and you can’t play every instrument in the orchestra.
  3. Don’t worry so much about the craft side of staffing. That usually takes care of itself. Concentrate instead on the things that your clients are more likely to notice, including how the services are delivered, the communication and the organization of the details. Most of your craft people over-deliver to the point where no one even notices the difference‚ but they may be ten minutes late for a client meeting and your client will notice for sure.
  4. Recognize that the two most difficult positions to hire are new business development and whomever sits at the front desk. There are very specific reasons for why this is the case, and they have to do with the personality profile of the average principal.
  5. Be careful about career paths, especially when portraying one position as a stepping stone to another. The stepping stone will always be occupied by people who want to move on, for one thing. For another, the skills required for one don’t often translate well for the next one. A classic example is having people support project management internally and then move on to managing client relationships. The innate skills for each are very different, and they each deserve people who crave that role.
  6. Make sure you separate career paths into management paths and craft paths. People ought to be able to climb a career ladder without managing people, especially if they aren’t any good at it.
  7. Clues to the management environment come from watching your best people. If they stay, you’re doing something right. If they leave, you’ve got a problem. (Here’s another way to say this: only the rats who can’t swim stay on a sinking ship.)
  8. When you try to fix an underlying management issue by paying people more, you set up a hostage situation for yourself.
  9. You can’t motivate people. They’re either self-motivated or they aren’t. You can, however, do things to demotivate them.
  10. If you hire the wrong person, don’t make a second mistake by not fixing the first one.

The essence of leadership is articulating a vision, sharing it with others, making small, daily, consistent decisions to support it, and accepting uncertainty in your role by acting before clarity appears.


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