Performance

The First Thing You Say.


Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about the general malaise and episodic funk that many in our industry seem to be suffering under.  (The New Normal, February 7, 2019.)  As a manager, I believe one of your greatest callings is re-framing situations and market conditions for your sellers and returning them to a centered, productive mindset.  In confusing times, that’s not easy.  OK, it’s never easy.

In both private manager coaching and management workshops, I tend to elevate one truly vital piece of advice.  Without it, all of your logic, strategy and motivation will end up going nowhere.  It goes like this:

Pay close attention to the very first thing you say.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift. STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provide insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s insight: Despite PMP CPMs being up 31% YOY, the steep decline in PMP impressions (-40%) makes overall PMP revenue (-21%) a smaller part of the overall programmatic marketplace so far in 2019. Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

When stressed or challenged, sellers and other team members tend to (1) come to their manager interactions very hot, (2) come seeking immediate answers and gratification, and (3) they want to dump the problem or situation in your lap.  And as managers, we tend to walk right into the trap by responding immediately and factually.  We believe that if we just answer the question or supply the information right now, then the situation will magically resolve.  But it just doesn’t work.

Your strategy shouldn’t be about dispensing answers, but rather posing questions.  You shouldn’t immediately assume the responsibility for the situation, but instead transfer the responsibility or resolution back to the employee in an empowering way.  That’s why the first words out of your mouth in these situations are so critical.  Next time the heat gets turned up, try rolling out some of these phrases and see what a difference they make in the quality of your interactions (and the quality of your life!)

  • I know what I’d do, but I really want to hear your thinking.  Give me two alternatives on what you think we should do in this situation.
  • Let’s slow down and make sure we’re solving the right problem.  Tell me what we’re not considering right now?
  • Let’s break this down into the things we can and can’t control. What do you think we can really change?
  • Tell me how I can help you get refocused on the things that are going to help you succeed.
  • I can tell you’re struggling with this.  I’m more than willing to let you blow off steam for a little while.  Then I think it’s time for us to break this situation down together.
  • I believe in you and I know you’re better than the conversation we’re having right now.  Tell me how you think this turns into a victory?
  • I’m not sure we have all the information we need to make the right call right now. You’re closer to the situation:  What else is important here that we haven’t looked at?

Spit back answers all day and you create dependent followers. Push the responsibility back to them – put the authority where the information is – and you empower confident leaders.  Every one of us wants to have great conversations with our employees and team members.  And we will.

But only if we start them the right way.


Tear Down This Wall!


At yesterday’s IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Chairman/CEO Randall Rothenberg doubled down (again) on the direct brand economy and how it’s flipping marketing models and gutting sacred cows of publisher strategy.  There was a ton of great information and examples, but there was one subtle point (Play #5 in the IAB’s new DTC Playbook: “How to Build a 21st Century Brand, Part Two”) that really grabbed my attention:

For Disruptors, branding must perform – and vice versa.

STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s insight: CPMs are down YOY from escalating impression volume. Are publishers increasing ads per page? Is more direct converting to programmatic?  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today and get these details.

This really spoke to me.  For all of the 35 years that I’ve been in media and 25 I’ve spent in digital, we’ve labored under the artificial and counterproductive divide between brand and performance advertising.  To performance advertisers (we were told), media was just so much raw material to be processed in getting to the number.  And brand advertisers (we were told) only cared about reach and audience and shooting beautiful commercials and visuals.

Now (we are told) the wall is coming down.  And disruptor/DTC brands are the ones holding the sledgehammer.  The myth that your solution must be either brand– or performance-focused has finally been exposed.   The answer to branding or performance is now – simply – yes.

In the same IAB Playbook (Play #3) we learn that Storytelling gets more acquisitions more cheaply.  Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) actually gets better in high quality, story-focused environments like podcasts.  It’s become clear that hybrid approaches – blending authentic storytelling, high engagement environments, and real performance – are the hottest vehicles on the lot.

But like William Gibson famously wrote, The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.

We can still screw this up.  We can retreat to the brain-dead, self-defeating apology tour of attribution and discounting. We can focus on the wrong metrics. We can choose to serve the status quo of the advertising business instead of embracing directly the complex, nuanced needs of a new generation of marketers.

If we only do what we’ve always done, we’ll only ever have what we’ve already got.  There’s a new beginning taking shape.  The wall that’s always stood between brand and performance has been breached.

As media sellers, I suggest we confidently walk through it.


The Front of the Jersey.


Welcome to the world of the free agent.

While the talent pool from which we draw is rich and talented, it is also ephemeral.  Even though she’s genuinely serious and committed about your opportunity, the new seller or account manager you’re interviewing today already has a foot out the door.  It’s not that she’s shallow or underhanded; she’s just always thought differently about her career than you have about yours. She expects short term assignments with many, many teams over the arc of her career.

And who can blame her?  The speed at which companies and strategies are launched today is eclipsed only by the pace at which they are abandoned.  Your rep is not thinking about ten years with your company because she can’t imagine your company thinking of ten years of anything.  Which leaves you, her manager, with the coach’s dilemma.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

A well-worn slogan in sports is “getting them to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back.”  But can this even be done in a world where everybody keeps their resume polished and their LinkedIn profile up to date?  It can, but it takes dedication to a strategy.

Call Out the Elephant in the Room.  “We both know that you won’t necessarily always work here…” can be the phrase that really opens up your dialogue with your employees and shows that you’re treating them as adults, not assets.  It puts their time with you in the context of their careers and their lives.  And that’s a great place to be.

How Does Today’s Action Create Long Term Value?  Want your team members to get better at something?  Frame the discussion around their long term value in the marketplace.  Every rep has a stock price and that stock price is either going up or down.

Commit to Them.  Tell them that you want this to be the best place they’ll ever work, and that you’d like to be remembered as the boss who made them better at their craft.  Then do what you say.

Put the Relationships in Long Term Context.  Put their relationships with others on your team in the context of their “career network.”  Will there be a network of people out there who speak well of them in the future, or a network that’s felt slighted, overlooked or abused?  In the context of career growth, this matters.  And they’ll get it.

Foster a Culture of Presence.   Great managers are like parents. We don’t always like or do what they say, but we feel their absence.  Be present for your team, individually and collectively, and focus on what’s happening right now.  Be the boss who celebrates the outstanding proposal and the great example of customer service.  This makes the name on the front of the jersey mean something today, and makes those wearing it – even if for a little while – play all that much harder for it.


Summer is for Managers (Part I)


While you might take a vacation, you never really take a complete break from being a manager. Over the next handful of weeks, we’ll be offering up several of our most popular posts on the art and science of being a great manager. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

Thousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself. The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

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When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly. Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing? You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected? You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed. Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices. If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources. But don’t forget to ask the hard question: can this employee do this job? When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue… 

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required? This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to. They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other. This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it. Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself. Share it with other managers. Better yet, share it with the employee. Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion. It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.


Is it Your Employee? Or is it You?


is-it-the-employee-or-is-it-youI spent yesterday with a team of great young managers.  During our workshop I was reminded of the three-part test I’d encouraged managers to use last April…a test to determine what to do with employee performance problems.  It’s worth a second look.

Thousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself.   The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

If you’re a qualified digital sales leader or manager and would like to be supported in your own growth or that of your team, come to the Seller Forum on Thursday February 9th in New York. Seller Forum is the industry’s only peer-to-peer gathering of people just like you.  You’ll hear from clients and market experts, get insights on the shape of Q1 spending and share best practices and tips.  Request a spot for yourself and another key manager on your team. Seating will be strictly limited.

When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly.  Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing?  You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected?  You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed.  Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices.  If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources.  But don’t forget to ask the hard question:  can this employee do this job?  When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue…

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required?  This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to.  They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other.  This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it.  Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself.  Share it with other managers.  Better yet, share it with the employee.  Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion.  It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.