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It’s been over five years since I first entered this biz. In that time I’ve worked in a single small agency. We don’t do a lot of office birthday party type celebrations but we’re all family. There are a number of benefits to working in such a firm – the office manager doesn’t bean count days out, part days may not even count against your vacation/sick days, we’re all relatively familiar with each other’s clients, etc.
There are, however, a number of dangers of working in such an office. After speaking with some flackery brethren at various events it seems a number of these are recurrent themes among small firms.
Some of these come with the territory and are difficult to fix. Others can be easily fixed.
Why bother fixing these problems if business is good? Dedicated employees – the ones you want, the ones who stay loyal to small firms – do not work merely for a paycheck and they specifically don’t work for small firms for the paycheck. They work for the culture, the opportunity to get their hands dirty off the bat, and the chance to make a difference for your clients.
Employees of this caliber and in these situations also expect something from their employers besides a paycheck – guidance, the chance to learn, moral support, etc.
And so, what are the persistent problems among smaller firms? Well, since you asked:
Treating everyone the same: Yes, having everyone from your most senior person to the lowest man on the totem pole doing everything from client interviews to compiling the clip book means every employee gets to do everything and gets bits of experience in all areas.
However, when they’re performing the same duties in Month 1 as Month 24 it means they aren’t growing as PR pros. It doesn’t really matter that there may not be any new tasks because you’ve got a model in place that works for the firm – you’re depriving your employee of the chance to learn and grow.
The Fix: Take a look at competing or larger firm job listings and how the “Responsibilities” or “Required Skills” differ from year to year based on experience. Does a 5th year “Account Manager” at another firm require “experience leading a team on national clients”? Do you not have teams because the entire office only has 5 employees and everyone works on everything with jefe in the lead?Guess who’s not gaining valuable experience. Make teams – Project Alpha is run by Andy and Project Beta by Barbara and they take direction from each other on the other’s projects. They each get experience leading and experience following and working as part of a group.
Provided they don’t just pile on vengeful work because of each other’s managerial skills (easily monitored) you’ll get better employees. Not only because they’ll get the chance to feel special (something we all need) but because then you can more easily delegate when needed and your team will be ready.
No policies: Do you have an employee handbook beyond what your payroll company provides? Does it address what the employees can expect from the employer (beyond stopping sexual harrassment)? Large firms have all kinds of systems in place, not only to ensure that their employees aren’t taking advantage of them, but to also ensure they (or the mid-managers) aren’t taking advantage of the employees.
It’s too simple in a small, family-esque environment to ask (or rather guilt) the employees into working additional unreasonably long hours without additional compensation, perform tasks that should be done by an assistant rather than an account coordinator, skip reimbursement for small office supply purchases or difficult to calculate travel expenses (e.g. gas costs and mileage/wear and tear to a vehicle), etc. Yes, some of these, particularly the long hours, are expected of salaried employees and big firm employees do it all the time.
Big firm employees also get the bigger paycheck, more upward mobility within their firm, and the prestige of the firm’s name when they go looking for their next job — it’s the trade-off.
The Fix: Sit down and take a look of the duties you’re actually assigning to your people. Are you diminishing your AE’s duties by asking them to get the office TP (and I don’t mean in extreme cases, but rather when this becomes the rule rather than the exception)?Are you reimbursing your employees for all of their work related travel.
Assuming a $40K per year gross salary (approximately $770 gross per week), a 100 mile round trip in a new compact car making an average of 30 mpg, at a gas price of $2.75 per gallon runs around $10. Of course it’s not a fortune, but it also happens to be nearly 1.5% of the employee’s gross weekly pay (and even though they may be able to, what are the odds they’re putting in for the unreimbursed business expense?). How many 10-20 mile trips do they take for work on a regular basis?
It’s not all about you: Has your employee been given the chance to shine outside your office? A potential client approaches your employee to retain your firm but you reject them because you didn’t bring it in? A request to write a case study but you require, in addition to the name of the firm, that your name be on the paper even if you don’t contribute?
By grabbing the spotlight all the time it makes it appear you are the agency – which is fine – we’re all brand builders whether or not we want to admit it. The flip side of the coin, however, is that it appears you’re all your agency has to offer.
The Fix: Make it appear (or, even better, make it really be true) that you cultivate education, personal and professional growth, and thought leadership within your organization by letting your employees shine without you. Any additional professional development your people do will surely include your agency name (which is a reasonable requirement), making it appear your entire organization has the goods, not just the top person on the totem pole.
Presidents, military leaders, CEOs of Fortune 100 companies surround themselves with smart people and allow them to do their jobs (and more) increasing the halo effect a top leader creates and broadening the overall awareness and positive brand recognition of the organization. By not allowing your employees to thrive, you’re making your organization seem like a one-man operation — just the opposite of the image you’re trying to project.
So, how about it, anything else gotten your goat lately?
Oh, and if anyone wants me to tweet a link to this post to their boss, just drop me an @ or dm.