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Dear Carl...

By The Drum, Administrator

December 6, 2007 | 8 min read

Dear Uncle Carl,

I’m pretty sure my team just tells me what they assume I want to hear, instead of what they actually think. How can I get some honest feedback and ideas out of them?

I’m sure they’re just telling you what you want to hear, don’t all staff? Who, at any level, feels secure enough in their job to say, “Do you know what, you’re talking bollocks” or “No boss, we really are happy doing 75 hours a week for no more pay”. Being ‘scared’ stops them. They need to ‘trust’ you and how you might respond to hearing things you might not like to hear. So you need to demonstrate that you trust them. Tell them about the business, the ups and downs, why you make decisions - the good ones and the bad ones. Trust them and then maybe they will tell you how they feel and perhaps how they can help you. Stop trying to ‘manage’ them and start to trust them, but you will have to go first - or are you ‘scared’?

Dear Uncle Carl,

One of my account managers is having a romance with someone from a rival agency and I’m concerned about pillow talk. Should I be and is there anything I can do?

If, when at the pillow talk stage, they talk about their respective agencies, then I don’t hold out much hope for their relationship. This is a great opportunity - grasp it. You need to consider making your love-struck account manager privy to all sorts of insights and business objectives - all totally incorrect of course, which will then be relayed to your competitor! Also, surely it’s a chance to get your account manager to squeeze info from your ‘rival’. Consider having a staff and partners ‘do’ so you get a chance to meet and befriend the ‘rival’. Sadly, your staff do not have to be in bed with your competitors to tell them the inner workings of your business. If you want to be paranoid then worry about all of your staff - you cannot stop them ‘letting things slip’ whether they are in the doorway having a fag or in bed having a sha*..

Dear Uncle Carl,

My bank doesn’t understand me. We are only a small business but we are lumped in with hairdressers and cafes. I keep asking questions but they keep asking about our menu and the price charged for a cut and blow dry. How do I get them to take me seriously without borrowing large sums of money from them?

Keep taking your staff to Paris for Xmas parties and when you start losing money I promise your bank will pay you lots of attention… Make your bank ‘pitch’ for your business under the threat of switching banks. Find a bank like my old one, which looked after at least two other agencies so they had some understanding and interest in our market and its occasionally unreliable cash-flow. Banks, like VC’s, seem only interested in your business when you need lots of cash or have lots of cash to dispose of. Plus they are full of Business Consultants who have never actually run a business. I don’t know what questions you are asking them but perhaps it’s not the bank you should be aiming the questions at. Alternatively, keep the bank and start doing perms.

Dear Uncle Carl,

How do I make sure my team stay off Facebook long enough to do some work?

You could get your ‘tech guy’ to block the site via some clever firewall thingy no doubt, but then when your staff go home they will go on Facebook and start a hate campaign against you, their miserable and oppressive Mill-Owner-Slave-Driver-Boss! Or you could try to control it, ask them to do it in their time, or even block it from their personal PCs and create a ‘cyber café’ space which is open to all social sites. Alternatively get on it yourself and make friends with your staff and then you ‘poke’ them saying “I am paying you to do a job so get back to work you lazy fu..!” I would question how engaged your intelligent and talented people are with their work if they are distracted enough to go and write things like, “Kylie had pasta for tea last night”.

Dear Uncle Carl,

How do you shake yourself out of it, if you’re having a bad day?

You asking me? I don’t have bad days - no commuting, only working with fabulously interesting people all of whom value what I do and listen to what I say… Oh, you mean you! A friend of mine had a notice in her agency reception which said, “You choose your mood” which is meant to make you think, “Y’know, you’re right, I now choose to be happy”. What guff. I sometimes choose to be miserable - I cannot abide moronically, cheery people (usually junior creatives). BUT if you did decide to try and change your mood then maybe go about some part of your day in a different way. Have a client meeting on the roof or in the park, make yourself do something nice for people, buy a Big Issue!

I used to check out my competitors falling share prices or read who had lost what account – happy days.

Dear Uncle Carl,

When you are mates with your staff, how do you deal with them if they ever screw up - don’t they just know what went wrong?

Mate, if you are truly ‘mates’ with your staff you are screwed before you start. You are in your agency to make a living, not make friends. If you want to stay chums then you need to employ a Hard Man to do your dirty work and keep everyone in line and then you can put your matey arm around their shoulder when your hatchet man has done his/her job and say “I’m sorry that bad man told you to get off Facebook and work harder but let me buy you a pint”. Don’t be a softie, do whatever you need to do to run your business and if your ‘mates’ don’t like it then they ain’t your ‘mate’…mate.

Dear Uncle Carl,

Why do some clients say no to change regardless of rock solid commercial reasons for doing things?

Clients are becoming more and more risk averse. They are under pressure to produce results in diminishing departments with ever diminishing budgets. Perhaps they are saying “no” because your arguments just aren’t good enough. What makes you think you know their business, their objectives or market better than they do? Did they highlight the ‘opportunity’ in the first place? Maybe if they had spotted the opportunity they would be more receptive to your ‘solution’. Why should they accept a solution for a problem they don’t feel exists? Alternatively, if you think you have spotted a gap in the market, consider starting your own competitor business!

Dear Uncle Carl,

Networking or prostitution; where will I find the biggest t*ts?

You sound like a virgin to both. If you walk away from a networking event having learnt nothing or met no one ‘worthwhile’, then the chances are you were one of the t*ts you were scared of meeting. Next time make a beeline for the person stood on their own because they are obviously as rubbish at it as you are and tell them they shouldn’t be on their own at a networking event – and see what happens.

Dear Uncle Carl,

This year’s Staff Christmas party has grown out of all proportion. In the first year we went out in Leeds for Beer and a Curry. This year we are going to Paris for Escargot and Champagne… I am worried what may be suggested for next year…

Aetheism could be a cheap option.


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