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ReCourses Blog | David C. Baker

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The Four Types of Employees at Your Firm

Take just six minutes with me and think about the four different kinds of employees you have. You'll learn a lot more from this exercise if you participate and apply it to your firm as you read.

Start by answering two questions about each employee:

  1. Is this employee a cultural fit? Think about your values, as well as the importance you place on honesty, transparency, collaboration, commitment, etc.
  2. Is the employee a contributor? To answer this question, think about whether you could send them to talk with a client (on their own) or ask them to teach their fellow employees through an informal seminar for an hour or ask them to write an insightful blog post.

Draw your own guadrant, like the...

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You Have One Primary Job as a Leader

As a leader, your job is to make decisions. There are other things, too, but that is your main job.

Warring against that, possibly, is your fear of making the wrong decision. Rest assured in knowing that there is greater long-term potential harm in not making decisions than there is in making wrong decisions.

So to be an effective leader, try to master the timing of your decisions rather than the criteria for your decisions.

Key Times to Make Decisions

So, when should you make a decision? Here are the four most important times to make a decision:

  • When you see an opportunity you're small enough to pounce on. This is usually an opportunity that the big firm has to study, meet about, appoint a committee, assess the risks, get funding approval, and then build consensus around three times per week for five months. There are significant advantages around scale, but being nimble is not one of them.
  • When your people are...
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Thinking Digitally...If You Do Digital or Not

Click here if you would rather listen to this blog entry (8:16).

Marketing firms have been understandably concerned about how digital they must be in order to remain sufficiently central to the marketing mix. We’ve lost something, though, by framing this discussion around whether we should actually develop digital properties instead of around the broader question of how we should learn from digital thinking. In other words, we might need to approach our work—digital or not—with a more digital mindset. I want to talk about that, but I also want to talk about how you might go about deciding the degree to which you do digital, too.

At the outset of this movement, there were so few firms developing digital properties that it was actually difficult to make a poor positioning decision. The tools were rudimentary, no one knew what good digital really was, and that world was there for the taking.

Developing digital properties, though, now shows more signs of being a mature market, meaning that there are few gaps to arbitrage. Strong tools are widespread, we have nearly twenty years of experience to inform our work, and suddenly kids in the garage don't seem to own this anymore. (They have gotten bored and moved on to social media.)

The last two decades have ushered in a new medium, but the true impact of digital is barely felt. Worst of all, even digital firms aren't thinking digitally. But—and this is so exciting to say—the promise of digital impact is at your doorstep. If you miss the promise of digital thinking, you'll suffer far more than missing digital itself. I'd like you to consider thinking digitally....

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Navigating Employee Compensation

These are the things I've learned about paying humans, most of which I didn't absorb until some time after I was managing them.

The two groups of employees who are typically overpaid are those who have been with you a long time and those who know what other people make.

There are five issues more important to good employees than money, and when they talk about money is when some of those five things have eroded over time.

No employees in the world are mature enough to know what other people make and not read "intrinsic value" into that equation.

Real power comes from shaping how and what someone is paid. Unless a "manager" is that same person, all they are really doing is making suggestions about projects.

Small, frequent adjustments are better than...

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Managing Client Relationships

I had trouble getting to sleep last night, and for some reason I started thinking about how managing client relationships has changed over the years. I'm not talking about my clients, but your clients. Do you know the really important things about how to do it right? I'm not sure i would have figured all these out, but I have paid attention to the hundreds of firms I've worked with and tried to cull out the best practices that have been proven in the field.

Just for fun, I started writing these down as they came to mind in a stream of consciousness style. Here are a few of them:

  • The only power you have in a client relationship is to withhold your expertise.
  • The degree to which you have power in a relationship is directly related to how long it takes to replace you.
  • There are only two ways to have more opportunity than capacity, which represents your ability to say "no" to prospects and clients: create more opportunity or reduce your capacity.
  • The most important criteria in evaluating a prospective client is whether or not they've used a firm like yours before. Never be the first.
  • Your cheap ass clients are the ones spending their own money. You want to work for clients with budget authority over someone else's money.
  • The clients who trust you say: "I have $140,000 for this project. What's the most we could do with that money?" The ones who don't trust you say, "Here's what I need. What will it cost?"....
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What Success Looks Like at Your Firm

A great client recently asked me to outline my definition of success for their firm. I really enjoyed doing that, and below is a version that you can adapt to your own situation, putting your own stamp on it:

  • Partner compensation equals or exceeds industry benchmarks.
  • After that is achieved, you still 20% net profit.
  • The more entrepreneurial employees are satisfied that their contribution to your gain is recognized and accounted for.
  • Partners and employees in key roles will have already tasted competence in the area of your focus, or they will experience it within nine months of joining the firm.
  • There will be few or no young employees who value variety over expertise.
  • When employees talk about your firm, while still employed, their private comments will be complimentary.
  • When partners and employees head out the door to work for the day, they look forward to the challenges, the companionship, and their participation in the overall culture.
  • As a firm you will not require extraordinary people....
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Good Questions to Ask Yourself

I was recently working with a firm under our new "Come to Nashville" program for a day and we were doing long-term planning, mainly, but with an eye on how that might impact the short term. I came up with some questions that turned out to be very helpful as they took a break from the continuous crazy days we all have, and then answered them honestly and seriously.

  • How do you feel about the current positioning of your firm? If you could waive a magic wand and change it (without regard to current employees or clients), what would your positioning be?
  • What are your biggest fears in just pursuing that positioning, even if it means doing so alongside your current firm and maybe even doing it all alone without employees?
  • If I watched you on a typical day, would it look like you are taking care of clients or would it look like you were taking care of employees (who would then take care of clients if you did your job well)?
  • Who are the two weakest employee links who probably should be dismissed in the near future?
  • Who is the most talented person at your firm who is disruptive to the culture? Are they on the list, above, of people to dismiss?
  • You likely started this firm to create an environment for yourself that allowed for more freedom, control, and money. Now that you have built it, to what degree are these three things true?...
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