How best to utilise your team members to build trust and understanding of your business.Jul 24, 2023
I have just delivered presentations at three agencies' team conferences.
What was glaringly obvious to the outsider was the gap between hard-working and well-meaning management and leaders and the hard-working and well-meaning teams.
It wasn't as if there was just one gap… there were many. Let's review the gaps I noted between leaders and their teams.
Fill in the gaps
A gap in understanding basic business principles
Teams asking, 'What is utilisation?', 'What does EBITDA stand for?', 'So are X our target market?'
A gap of ambition
Teams asking, 'Can we have the cash rather than attend the team conference', 'Can we do it online?'
A gap in understanding the purpose of the business
Teams asking, 'Why can't we get paid more?'
A gap in getting what the business does
Teams asking, 'Aren't all sales strategies attempts to rip off the clients?', 'Why should we listen to the customers?'
A gap in understanding what a proper day's work looks like
Teams asking, 'Why do we need to put in a full shift?'
A gap in alignment
Leadership and the team want different things for themselves and the business. One person's success is another person's mediocrity.
A gap in understanding who the customer is and what they care about
The team, at the sharp end of the client relationship, will hear and see entirely different things from what the leaders imagine is going on.
And the one that worried me most…
A gap in understanding who they think they work for
For agencies above about 15 people, the agency Directors and Leaders assume that the team works for them, and in many cases they are wrong.
Yes, you pay the wages and the bonuses, and yes, you are referred to as the boss, but they don't work for you.
They work for their team, their team leader, or to get the money for a deposit on a wedding… but you are just the boss, the slightly out-of-touch, older, wealthier, more comfortable boss. Behind your back, they might even refer to you as the dinosaur!
Please do not mistake their friendliness towards you as friendship. You are not their mate - even if it sometimes feels like that.
They will be polite and civil and be happy for you to buy the drinks. They will laugh at your jokes and join in with team-building exercises, but I am witnessing this gap between what the boss thinks is going on in the relationship and what the team members feel.
My point is simple…
We think our team will have picked up what we are all about. Being with and around the senior team, employees should have absorbed our direct and indirect messages. One would imagine they couldn't fail to absorb our agency's what, why, and how. Osmosis is a wonderful thing. And yet there is a fundamental gap.
There is an 'us and them' situation.
Why does this matter?
I think most management and leadership teams overestimate the team's level of understanding. While the leadership team is preoccupied with strategies, dashboards, cash flow, profitability, KPIs, and OKRS… the team may hear the words, but life is about working (doing the doing) and going home. And drinking. And laughing. And binging on boxed sets. Or alcohol. Or whatever. But they ain’t obsessed with you and your agency!
We overestimate the team's engagement in:
- Marketing initiative
They listen, and they nod. Some even lean in. But they don't behave as if their lives depend on it. It is above their pay grade, and they often need to gain business experience and interest to be as committed as you are.
As leaders, we live and breathe our quarterly plans and results. But not everyone else is as intrigued by the minutiae of your business performance.
Of course, you should share, involve, and engage your team in your plans and ambitions for your business. And many will appreciate your attempts to keep them in the loop. But we must recognise that much of the leader-speak is just that, a different language with a different vocabulary.
Can they really understand the intricacies of discounted cash flow? I doubt it. But they can appreciate your attempts to involve and share with them and to educate and inform them. They would rather feel you are being as transparent as possible than the alternative.
The more your people hear the language, the more they 'get' it and why it matters, but these things take time.
Sometimes, I worry that a little information can be a dangerous thing. Sharing performance results (or lack of them) can add oil to the fire. A potentially toxic team member can grab hold of disconnected stats and wind things up. ("They charge us out at how much per hour? They make how much profit?") That is a risk you have to take.
Leadership is actually about 'followership' (if such a word exists).
You want, nay need, your people to want to follow you… into the inflationary recession or to the next client conference. You need them to believe in you and what you are creating. They need to feel that they understand what you are trying to achieve and why you are doing it. Get this right, and your agency will be cooking on gas.
Are there gaps?
Do your people understand what the leadership is talking about?
Does this matter?
Time for trust
Maybe what matters is that you are building up significant levels of trust (and some understanding). That trust will get you where you want to go. Who wouldn't want some of that?
Need support in understanding your agency's team? Identify the gaps and discover GYDA Mastermind, where we help you create a roadmap for your business journey and growth.