How To Become a Steward of Your People

putting your people first

As an agency leader, your responsibilities are many and varied. Often, we focus most on the ones related to finances: we have to attract and retain clients and increase the profit margin. We’re either praised for the great success of the company or we’re blamed for the downfall. With that kind of pressure, it’s no wonder the bottom line takes front and center. Profit equals success, right?

Partly, yes. And partly, no. Financial metrics may not be your most important responsibility over the long term, especially because profitability is a lagging indicator.

You’re not just leading an agency, you’re leading a team of people. When we get laser-focused on financial growth, we may forget that we have people under our care. Your team is looking to you to lead the way.

Ask yourself: Are you the type of leader you’d want to follow? And why is that even important?

Human Stewardship: Putting People First

You are the leader, but the team has the power to make or break the company. It’s important that we not forget that. When they trust you and are inspired to follow you, they will work hard and help you lead the agency to success. However, if they don’t, they may not work very hard for you while they’re looking for another job. Turnover, as you know, can be a setback, as it requires resources to find and train the right new person. Repeated turnover can also lower morale as your other employees are asking themselves, “Why is everyone leaving? Should I leave, too?”

“Moments of success are guaranteed not to last. It’s the human cycle to go up and down. But our values do last, and the impact of our actions last, too.”

Putting your people first means listening to their ideas and concerns, empowering them to do their jobs and serve their clients, and understanding that they are living, breathing humans with complex lives outside your agency. The article quoted above suggests these four ways to practice putting your people first:

Encourage Independent Thinking: This includes the freedom to openly share the results of that thinking. What if your team is sitting on some great ideas they’re afraid to share with you? They may know exactly what your agency needs next, but you’ll never see it if they don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas with you.

Listen: This ties in with the one above; listen not only for their ideas, but also for what’s happening in their lives. Be understanding and compassionate about the challenges they face both in and out of the workplace.

Care and Provide Support: You can tell when someone is merely pretending to care about you, and your employees can tell, too. Care about their health and wellbeing. Care about their growth and education. Offer them the resources they need to be successful in their professional roles and personal lives.

Hold Yourself Accountable: Transparency and authenticity will take you places. Hiding the truth from your employees, even in a misguided effort to protect them, only breeds distrust and disrespect. Share both collective and personal successes. Always admit your mistakes.

Setting Your Agency Up for Success

You can’t do this alone. Robert Ingersoll said, “We rise by lifting others,” and that is readily apparent in business. Instead of focusing on the numbers, turn your attention to your people. How can you help them grow and succeed as individuals and as a team?

Support them with fair pay, a clear path to advancement, educational opportunities, and perks that make it fun—yes, fun—to work with you. This doesn’t have to be extravagant, but going out of your way to celebrate birthdays and personal goals achieved means a lot to your people, as does thanking them for a job well done. Work with them as they try to balance work with everything else that goes on in their lives.

Trust yourself to know when someone is taking advantage of those perks and your understanding. It’s rare, and you’ll know it when you see it. Generally, people simply need to be recognized for their contribution. They want to feel they’re part of something important. They want to be seen and treated as the individuals they are.

When you do this, you develop a strong culture and sense of teamwork. Your agency does better because your employees feel better, and because they want to do better. They want to contribute to the team’s success.

This article talks about Marriott and its people-centric culture:

“The leaders of people-centric companies understand that it’s people who make their company successful. These companies realize that when people feel valued and cared for, they do their work with stronger intrinsic motivation, a deeper sense of meaning, and a greater level of engagement. They go the extra mile simply because they want to contribute to an organization that cares about them.”

Of course, putting your people first requires more than a decision to do so. It means shifting your focus and asking, “How can I best support this team?” rather than, “How can we make more money?” Then, you must put your people-first plan into action.

When you do, you’ll find that “How can we make more money?” is easily answered by, “How can I best support this team?” Along the way, both you and your employees will feel more motivated and fulfilled because of it. You’ll know you’re not just a slave to a profit margin: instead, you’re serving people. You’re helping them become the best versions of themselves. That’s why becoming a steward of your employees is your primary responsibility as a leader.

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Author: Kelly Campbell
Kelly Campbell is an Agency Growth Consultant based in New York. A former digital agency owner for 14 years, she helps creative and tech agencies and their leaders transform—focusing on purpose, people, positioning, pipeline and profitability. Kelly is also an IA/SEO consultant to Facebook and NASA. She writes for Website Magazine, speaks at digital marketing and agency growth conferences across the U.S., and has been featured in The New York Times, Woman Entrepreneur and Forbes. She is the host of THRIVE: Your Agency Resource, a bi-weekly video podcast sponsored by Workamajig that helps agency owners navigate growth.

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