One of the most gratifying parts about running an Ad Agency is being able to work every day with a significant number of people in the early stages of their career. What these younger employees sometimes lack in experience is more than made up for in their enthusiasm, their ability and their passion to learn.
It’s very important to realize that the requirements for managing a young team are very different from those for managing a more seasoned staff. As a result, the way you lead also has to be different.
Provide input early, but not too often
Teams want the chance to solve problems by themselves and prove that they can run projects effectively–and it’s important that they get this chance. However, critical time can also be lost when projects, right from the start, begin heading in the wrong direction, and morale can also be destroyed when the team works diligently on a project only to get it ripped apart by the boss. Get involved early to make sure that everyone is heading in the right direction when a project kicks off, and that everyone understands what the end goal is. Take the time to ask lots of questions rather than walking in and providing all the answers. You’ll ultimately get to the same place, but by guiding people toward their own conclusions the team will learn how to break down and solve problems and not just follow instructions.
Enable “recoverable” mistakes
As leaders, it’s very hard to step back and let something fail. However, failure itself is such a critical part of the growth process of a young team that, at times, it’s important to let it happen. Yeah, you’ll get a bit of heartburn sometimes, but the key is to make sure these only occur when it’s a “recoverable” mistake. Identify those occasions when the impact of a bad meeting or a mistaken deliverable won’t have a deeply negative impact on your business, then step back and encourage people to stretch themselves. Your team will inevitably feel empowered; most of the time they will succeed, and if they do fail the experience will teach them more than you ever could, without heavily disrupting your business or your customer relationships.
Teach, don’t preach
Whether it’s from frustration, overwork or personal style, we’re all guilty of telling people what to do without providing the proper context of exactly why they are doing it. Often, it’s just easier—-and when things are busy, the path of least resistance can look very appealing. An experienced team often has the ability to interpret what you are saying and realize what you’re actually trying to accomplish, but that’s often not the case with younger employees. Even when it’s most difficult, take the time to explain to them not only what they “need” to do, but “why.” It’s OK to react with frustration when an employee makes a recoverable mistake. But then, make sure you step back and explain how and why things went poorly, and what could have been done differently to achieve better results.
Be accessible, but not a crutch
Nothing is worse than being stuck on a deserted island with no knowledge of how to survive. Experience teaches situational awareness, and with a younger team, the situations they find most difficult are the one’s they’ve never encountered before. Make sure your people feel free enough to come in and ask questions or seek advice, even on an ad hoc basis. Yes, it can be annoying. There are several times every day when I’m deep in the middle of something and someone suddenly interrupts with a question that probably could have waited. However, from their perspective, the answer they are looking for is what’s keeping them from moving forward and important. Keep your BS meter going though, and avoid being the crutch they can go to for answers they could have discovered themselves. For instance, if it’s obvious they could have found the answer on Google, make them figure it out themselves.
Invest in potential
The first 5 years of anyone’s career is primarily a journey of discovery. How many of us really had a clear and direct path to their long-term future goals when they accepted their first job? It’s so important that younger employees get exposure outside and beyond their daily responsibilities; to other roles, clients and experiences. Make opportunities for exploration, create job mobility and invest in training opportunities. And Always be on the lookout for those people who are literally “sponges,” those trying to learn as much as possible from every situation–with everything they do–these kids are the truly special ones, and when you find them, take ownership of their development. Your business will be better for it, they will achieve more because of it and years from now, when you look back and gauge the impact you’ve had, it will be their success you’ll remember first even before your own.
Taking a different approach with younger staff can be time-consuming and occasionally test your patience. However, spending a little extra time, energy and thought in how to get the most out of young teams will be tremendously rewarding for you, your teams and ultimately your business.