As you go out into the world to represent your brand, who can you rely on to hold down the fort at home? Who’s your pinch-hitter? This is an important topic for leaders who attend or participate in tradeshows like the PPAI Expo premium show in Las Vegas or the SAAC Expo in San Diego—events that take them out of the office for extended periods. You can’t be everywhere at all times, so it’s important to be able to delegate tasks to trusted team members in your organization.
I’ve written a lot in this blog about how every team needs to have a star performer—a certain someone who always seems to step up at just the right time with an extra effort to propel you and your efforts forward. While I firmly embrace the idea of a star performer, what happens to your business when that star performer is you and you’re the CEO, marketing executive, or owner of your business? Who steps up when you’re unable to, either due to a busy schedule, illness, or other commitments?
IT TAKES A TEAM
I know. I know. This sounds like a life insurance pitch, but it isn’t . . . and no, the King Monkey is not contemplating mortality, retirement, or any career shifts. All business owners, C-suite executives, or entrepreneurs know that much of their business/brand value relies on the smarts, productivity, and tenacity of its employees—and when a team relies too much on one person to get the job done, it runs the risk of “living or dying” but that person’s involvement or availability (even star performers have to take time off once in a while).
Yes, you need star performers—but you also need a skilled and well-rounded supporting cast that can carry the load or step in when a key team member leaves, goes on vacation, or needs to focus on other activities.
Television ensemble casts are great way to illustrate this approach:
- When M*A*S*H’s Wayne Rogers departed the show after just three seasons, in stepped Mike Farrel, and the show hardly missed a beat. Over the course of its 11-year run, M*A*S*H would lose a number of other major characters; and while such departures would have led other shows to their demise, MASH actually seemed to flourish. Much of the reason was the presence of a strong and talented supporting cast and well-developed characters who were all important contributors to the show’s storyline and its audience appeal.
- Similarly, several major characters have come and gone over the 15 seasons (to date) of NCIS—yet the show remains a consistent top-performer. Again, a strong cast and fascinating characters have made it possible for the show to produce 20+ episodes of compelling TV drama each year though many of its top performers have departed.
Neither M*A*S*H or NCIS (or many other similar long-running TV shows who switched out characters of the years) relied 100% on any one top performer to carry the entire narrative or to maintain a connection with audiences. (To contrast, the departure of Zach Braff from Scrubs seemingly killed that ensemble’s chemistry and the show lost much of its quirky charm, though he did return for several episodes at the series end.)
SEE WHAT DEVELOPS
While finding great employee talent in the first place is difficult, keeping that talent on board, engaged, and eager to take on new tasks and develop new skills is equally tough. But to make sure the work continues when your attention is needed elsewhere, you need a strong team in place to do the heavy lifting when you can’t.
- Assess the skillsets of your team. Find the gaps and fill them, either by developing a current team member or bringing in new talent.
- Work with each team member on individual development plans. These plans should act as roadmaps for how team members will build new skills and/or hone existing ones. Stagnation isn’t good for your employees or your business, and the return-on-investment in terms of retaining key staff and boosting their productivity will likely far outweigh the resources expended to train and develop them.
- Ask more of your team members. Ask individuals to stretch and operate outside of their comfort zones, either on a specific task or project. Added responsibilities can expose team members to new settings, develop new skills, and help them explore new interests, which keeps them fresh and engaged. Eventually, you’ll be able to step away for a vacation or to focus on some of your own developmental needs without having to worry that your team will underperform while you’re away.
- Provide timely feedback. A boss or supervisor who provides only annual or semi-annual performance reviews is missing out on a great opportunity to keep his or her team members engaged year-round. I’m not talking about hollow praise—most employees can see right through that—or harsh criticism when mistakes are made. I’m talking about constructive feedback that takes place in real time. When employees know what’s going well, that kind of behavior gets reinforced; and when they know where they need to improve, they can make necessary adjustments on the fly.