Agencies have a lot in common with the NFL. Both are brutally competitive businesses that turn on making the most of the talent. They depend on management to elevate teams, but sometimes the managers make them worse.
Take Jeff Fisher, former coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Last season, Fisher shrugged off two quarterbacks, Jared Goff and Case Keenum, deeming them not worthy to start in the NFL. Now that they don’t work for him, both are having impressive seasons, leading their teams into the playoffs with winning records of 9-4 and 10-3, respectively.
Dig a little deeper and you see that the Rams had losing seasons for all five years that Fisher coached them. He blamed the losses on lack of quarterback talent. In all, six of the quarterbacks that played under him (including Goff and Keenum) are part of winning teams this year. It’s possible that all of them end up in the playoffs.
This should give agency executives a chill. You count on your managers to make the best of your teams and judge the quality of the players. But how many Jared Goffs have your managers driven away, only to excel beyond your expectations at their next agency, or on their own?
As in the NFL, it can be hard to see when it is happening. One reason is that star performers who agencies instinctively promote turn out to be less than ideal managers (there’s a body of research on this). And the managers most involved with teams – the ones who look like they’re constantly managing – are often the worst, decreasing team productivity, growth and engagement. But when you ask them how things are going, they rarely admit, “I’m not sure I’m doing this right,” or “maybe I could use some help.” More often, they pin the performance problems on team members (your talent).
So, how do you spot the Jeff Fishers before they bring the agency down? The best way is to stop asking other managers for their opinions and ask the team. Most of your team members have had multiple managers in their lives. They live every day, even many moments of the day, under the influence of their managers. They know a lot. And they deserve your trust as honest brokers of that information. They want to be well-managed also, because it makes them happier to be more productive.
How? Do a simple eNPS (employee net promoter score) survey for every manager, much like the customer-service surveys used in industry now. “If you were the owner of an agency like this one, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 means absolutely yes and 1 means absolutely no, would you hire this manager for your agency?”
Then ask a simple second question: “Why did you give that score?” You’ll get more data about what people like and dislike about your managers. Realize that your managers work for the team. The team is their customer, and if the team is not productive and happy, then it is most likely because the manager is failing.
Another question to ask is whether people leave, citing management as the cause, and then do a better than good job at their next gig. Follow up and ask what has changed for them. Then ask your manager(s) how they can explain the ex-employee’s newfound success, and tune your ears for excuses. The good managers will answer with humility, knowing that managing is a tough job even on a good day. The bad ones will shift the blame away.