Recruiting your agency’s dream team is like walking a tightrope (See Building Your Agency’s Dream Team Part 1: Hiring), but putting them to work and keeping them there is more like building a skyscraper. You’ve got to lay the right foundation, assemble your building blocks, and put them together in more or less the right order to make it all work.
Because at this point, you’re not just building a team. You’re putting together a company culture, the one that’s going to define your agency and determine your success from now until the day when you execute your exit strategy.
And so, here’s your blueprint.
Start With Firm Foundations
“If you are good at basic things,” notes Illia Termeno of Extrabrains, “like providing the context of a task, sharing regular feedback, and avoiding routine where possible, then combine it all with a bit of team-building madness, you’ll have a motivated team.”
(See what else Termeno had to say in Part 1).
Beyond the basics Termeno lists, be sure to prioritize the following.
Without respectful communication, your company can’t even function. You don’t want a team full of people who are willing to let you walk over a cliff because they’re too afraid to tell it like it is.
You don’t want hires who can’t admit they made a mistake and ask for help. And you don’t want hires who don’t understand how to give a basic project update.
Of course, you’ve got to model all these qualities yourself, practicing them every day. Your team will do what you do.
Did you know employees care more about receiving praise and positive feedback for their work than they do about the money? It may seem counterintuitive. You can’t spend a thank-you on your electric bill.
But basic human nature is what it is. Nobody wants to feel like they’re giving 110%, only to find they’re ignored.
Don’t forget to look for opportunities to acknowledge your wallflowers too. An employee shouldn’t have to constantly promote himself or herself to get ahead.
Being Truthful and Keeping Your Promises
You might remember this from your time as an employee.
Unfortunately, employers lie. Employers lie a lot. Some lie during the job interview, misrepresenting what the work and the environment will look like.
Some promise the moon, and never follow through. They tell employees about raises that aren’t coming, new equipment that is never going to materialize, and more.
Every time you do it, you erode your credibility, destroy team spirit, and kill employee engagement. Every other effort you make to bring the team together will become lame and laughable in the eyes of your employees.
Pay the Market Rate, or Better
Look, nobody can give their best work if they can’t get their bills paid, and they didn’t become rock stars in their field to get stiffed.
When you decide to hire someone research the market rate for their position. Make sure it’s in the budget.
Fair market wages are a proven way to increase productivity, to get stellar work, and to keep your employees. In short, take care of your people, and they’ll take care of you.
Leverage the Right Tools
Tech tools don’t solve everything, but they’re still important, especially for remote teams where your employees may be in three different time zones.
Project management tools are a necessity, but they aren’t the only agency tools out there that you should be researching, evaluating and implementing.
For example, Ryan Ruud, Founder and CEO of Lake One, LLC (also quoted in Part 1), uses Hey Taco to give out kudos to the members of his far-flung virtual team. And if you click on it and discover it looks a little silly, just remember it’s the kind of silly—and the kind of praise—people really love getting.
Work Together on the Regular
I’m not suggesting the dreaded open office. But you do need to find the time to share ideas, get to know one another, and, most of all, touch base to make sure you’re all pulling in the same direction.
“We have a weekly core meeting where we discuss all parts of the business,” says Magaly Chocano, CEO of SWeb, “as well as how to build it, and how to strengthen our teams, as well as daily huddles with every team member.”
This is another one of those items that is especially important for remote teams. Without some sort of regular facetime you’re basically going to feel like a far-flung collection of freelancers. There won’t be any sense you’re working towards a common goal.
Your team members won’t collaborate, and they may not coordinate. And you miss the opportunity to build the kind of company people get really excited about working for.
Make Sure Their Opinions Count (Really Count)
Lots of companies give lip service to this idea, only to penalize employees for speaking up. If you become one of them, you’re likely to create some extremely apathetic employees.
It all goes back to open communication, but in this case you’re going to start acting on that communication.
Don’t assume opinions don’t matter just because they don’t pertain to the exact job you hired the employee to do.
Employees have backgrounds. A wealth of experience you don’t know about, even if the highlights were right there on the resume.
Don't underestimate them, some of your employees are just plain smart. They can grasp all the moving parts and make important inferences.
Making sure employees give you feedback about the work they do means employees who want to do the work!
Think about it. Before you started hiring people, you loved what you did. One of the reasons why you loved it was you got to make all the decisions. You decided which clients to go after, which to accept, which to fire.
You figured out how and when you were going to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.
So why not give your employees the same power? And yes, you can do it both in terms of their output and in terms of scoring clients: Chocano asks her team to suggest potential clients they’d be excited to work for, then does her best to snag them. The employees get projects they care about, the clients get work that’s been done with real passion, and everybody wins.
Resist the Urge to Micromanage
If you can’t trust someone to do the job, don’t hire them. Keep looking until you find someone you do trust.
“Autonomy, autonomy, autonomy,” says Rudd. “Empower employees. Be a servant leader.”
This doesn’t mean you’re not going to manage at all. Rudd suggests, “Push them when they need to be pushed, and help them achieve new heights.”
Nobody likes to be told how to do their own job. This is the roof of the structure you’ve been building with all these other methods. If your house doesn’t have a roof, you don’t have a house. And if you fail here, you’re going to drive productivity down, waste time, and send A-players running for the hills.
Don’t Get Too Caught Up On Extras
Parties, retreats, seminars, the office Starbucks cart, the ping pong table, the nap pods, and the Taco Tuesdays. These are all awesome things. People like them.
But they’re coats of paint. They make the house pretty, shiny, and attractive, but they don’t do much for you if the roof is sagging, the foundation is cracked, and the wind is whistling through the walls.
If your culture is broken, all these efforts will just sort of come across as lame, tired, and empty. Worse, your own managers might give employees the stink-eye every time they try to use them, which mostly just turns their presence into some sort of cruel irony.
Get everything else in place first. Then add perks to your heart’s content. The power team you’ve created might just give you results so awesome you can afford lots of them.