Monday, May 7, 2012

How to be a Better Manager

Over the past several years that I have worked in promotions, I have probably read no less than 50 manuals, orientation letters, training guides, and blogs, written by agencies and staffing companies.  They all seemed to focus on one thing:  How to be a better employee.  While I appreciate the advice, I believe that a good team is as much the responsibility of the manager as it is the staff.  Good leadership is reflected in good employees.  And I’m sorry to say, the opposite is also true.  With that, I present this …

How To Be A Better Manager

***Part One in a Series of Three...or Four...or however many I feel like writing.  After all, this is MY blog...***

1.  Set rules and enforce them.  

My rules are very simple, easy to understand, and never change.  People who work for me can recite them ... in their sleep:
  1. Be on Time
  2. Be in Uniform
  3. Never, EVER be on your Cell Phone.

Simple, right?  Easy to follow?  You would be amazed.

I have something of a reputation.  I tend to fire someone on the first day of a promotion.  Why?  Well, usually because one or more of the above rules were not followed.  

As a manager, you have to draw your line in the sand.  Define what it takes to keep the job.  Define what it takes to lose it.  And don’t be afraid to fire someone who doesn't follow those rules.  Believe me, the rest of the staff will pay attention. You will have their respect -- and the respect of your client.

This is a job not a party.  Those who are here to work should not have to tolerate people who are not.  Show up late, dress sloppily, spend your time yapping on the phone or Facebooking?  Buh-Bye.

Last year, I managed the Docents program at Cisco Live!  On the first day of the assignment, my employer (and mentor) Dan Smith, was conducting a facilities tour.  A young woman directly in front of me was on her smartphone.  I happened to glance at the screen and when I discovered what she was up to, I politely suggested that perhaps she not be on Craigslist, looking for other jobs while working this one. She looked at me as if I had just asked her to turn off her mother's life support system!

She did not make it through the program.

OK, we got the nasty one out of the way.  The rest are easy.

2.  Beat your staff to work, dress better than your staff, and never, ever be seen on your cell phone.

What, you think the rules you set for your team don't apply to you?  Not only must you do as you say, you must do it BETTER than anyone on your staff.  Give them an example to strive for.

When I work conventions on the Event Staff side, I am at work at least 30 minutes before my staff.  Sometimes this means I'm in at 5:15 AM.  I get to have my coffee, relax, assess what challenges I might have for the day and deal with them.  I have plenty of time to pow-wow with my boss (who is usually at work 30 minutes before I am) and get ready to receive my staff with a well-prepared agenda and a smile.  

Too much of our business is done on-the-fly and at the last possible minute.  Why not avoid adding to this stressful situation by being early and prepared.  I learned this lesson by watching Susan Sperry of CSS run her shows.  For starters, she is ALWAYS there before I am and ready to prep me for the day.  (I actually think she sleeps at the convention hall.  I kept looking for her little Japanese roll-away mat, but then just decided that she probably doesn’t sleep at all.)  Susan is a woman I have never seen thrown off guard or unprepared for anything. 

Always make sure you are the last of your staff to leave the event.  You are accountable for your staff's actions as well as any material lent to them by the client, so make sure your staff gets out the door or off-site before you go home.  You don't want staff lingering and getting into trouble.  And trust me, you don't want an iPad going missing on your watch.

If you don't dress better than your staff, then how can you ask them to improve the way they present themselves?  Tuck in your shirt and wear a belt.  Have clean shoes, smooth hair, polished make-up and conservative jewelry.  Tuck a small mirror in your bag to discretely check if you have food in your teeth.  And under no circumstances have a bad manicure with partially chipped nail-polish!  That's just icky.  It shows that you don’t care about yourself.  If you don't care about your appearance, then how can you possibly care enough about your staff to make them successful?  Image is EVERYTHING in this business.

If you must be on your phone for work, let your staff know this during the Pre-Event Meeting or training.  When you were a BA, did you watch your manager text and Facebook continuously?  How did that make you feel after you were told NOT to?  If constant communication is a necessity for your job, consider Nextel radios or a separate business phone provided by the client.  Trust me, it helps!!

3.  Be respectful of your staff.

I can't stress this enough.  We are people.  You don't like to be treated like shit by your boss, do you?  Well your staff does not like to be treated like shit by you.  

We are all individuals with different needs, different morals and values and different personalities.  Respect that.  Anticipate your staff's needs before they do, and let them know that you care.

I'll give you an example of what I say in my Pre-Event Meeting (That's the second time I've mentioned a Pre-Event Meeting, think it's important??):

"I know we all have separate lives outside this particular job.  Some of us have families, some of us have kids, some of us have pets, and some of us have other things that we need to pay attention to because they are important.  I will make a promise to you right here and right now that I will do my best to respect you and your values and do whatever is in my power to make sure you get your needs met.  But I cannot meet your needs unless you communicate them to me in advance.

If you have a family that you need to check in with every day at 3:00, let me know in the morning, and I will make every effort to get you off the floor to check in.  If you have dietary restrictions such as Diabetes or Hypoglycemia and have to have a shot or a pill or a snack, let me know and I will find someone to cover you so you can attend to your medical needs.  If you have a religious or culturally specific task that you must perform, let me know and I will do my best to accommodate you.  It might not happen right away, but I promise you that if you work with me and you trust me, I will do my best to make it happen.  But that involves us all respecting each other and being honest with each other.  If you don't work with me on your needs and I see you sneaking off every few minutes to talk on the phone, check your email, sneak a snack or whatever it is you feel you need to do, I will assume that you don't care about your position and will find a permanent replacement."

I make that promise and I stick to it.  I've had staff come to me in the morning and ask me if it is OK for them to make a call at 3:15 to have a five-minute interview.  Of course.  I've had staff ask me if they can take their lunch at a certain time so they can be on a training call for another promo.  Of course.  I've had staff ask me if they can take a quick break so that they can say hello to their kids who are stopping by the Convention Center in a half hour.  Duh!!  Of course.  Those who show me this kind of respect are those who are on my speed dial for future work.

Be honest with your staff, communicate openly with them, and you will be a much better manager.  Why?  Because your staff will TRUST you.   Then, when your client walks up to you in a panic and asks, "Where is Dave?  I thought he was stationed at the front door?"  You can calmly reply, "Dave is on a scheduled break right now and will be back in exactly ten minutes.  Until then, Diane is staffing the position."  Suddenly, your client is happy.  And happy with YOU.  They are free to go away and put out someone else’s fire.  You have proven to your client and to your staff that you know what you are doing.  You are in control.

Life is good.


  1. This is good stuff. Should be required reading for ANYONE in the promotional arena. For that matter, it should be read by anyone who is in a managerial role !!

  2. This is a great model for anyone who is serious about what they do. It is shocking how little common sense there is in this industry. Well... Most industries actually. Can't wait for the next installment. :)

  3. Excellent article, good tips, and well written to boot! Nice work.

  4. I feel the same way about managing! I have been a manager before, not for promos though, but I feel the same things apply. Now that I am in promos, I've realized this field is very strict. I have to plan accordingly beforehand, most of the time, for whatever special needs I might have. It would be nice if I had a manager believes me when I say I will get dizzy and almost pass-out sometimes. It happens randomly and I don't know if its dehydration or low/high blood sugar. I'm not clinically diabetic, hypoglycemic, or hyperglycemic, but i feel I may eventually be in the future. This has been a huge problem for me working promos as well as just about any other job, excluding office work. I am in good shape, eat a healthy diet, and am a good worker, but if for some reason I feel lightheaded and need to get a soda to drink or something to eat, they look at me as if I am irresponsible and procrastinate letting me go do that. It would take less than 5 minutes!!! I almost never ask for anything, never cancelled, and never had a complaint. I guess some people probably ruined it for me by taking advantage of the manager at some point in time. The outcome ends with me taking a seat for a couple of minutes until it passes, but unless I eat something, it will happen again shortly. It even happened while I was in class once, and I almost vomited I was so dizzy. Its good to hear there is someone out there who is willing to work with their employees. I'm sure some of the people I've worked with have been like you, but I guess I didn't have any problems those days :) thanks for the awesome read!

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