Brutally Honest Tips for Being a Better Employee

In pretty much any industry, we are, at some point, in the position of working for and/or managing someone else. My anal-retentive, compulsive people-pleaser personality makes me a bit more naturally inclined to make sure all T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted – thinking seven steps ahead to avoid a client freak-out. It’s probably not all that dissimilar to the mindset the child of an alcoholic/abusive parent might have – keenly aware of what to do/not do in order to avoid a violent outburst. It’s twisted, but it is effective. Learning how to cultivate but control your ultra-paranoia and use it for good – not evil – can be a great skill in corporate America.

And so, in the spirit of eco-entrepreneur/writer Shea Gunther’s no-holds-barred email response to 900 job applicants, “42 Job Application Do’s and Don’ts,” I wanted to share my personal list of no-holds-barred, balls to the wall, brutally honest account management do’s and don’ts with the hope that it can help someone out there climb the slippery corporate ladder. Godspeed.

Brutally Honest Account Management Tips

Managing the client

  • Constantly assume the client thinks you’re not doing anything they’ve asked you to do or that you said you would: so check in regularly, follow-up regularly, close the loop – always
  • If you’re pushing out a specific initiative, make sure to give the client a recap daily and weekly (or ask what frequency they want)
  • In every communication, remind them of the strategy/why you’re doing what you’re doing or suggesting what you’re suggesting
  • Be clear, direct, and kind in your emails. Don’t use 10 words when you can use 5. And use bullets rather than paragraphs
  • Be buttoned up in meetings and on calls:
    • Always have an agenda – and send it IN ADVANCE of the meeting
    • Have copies of everything for everyone – even things you may not expect to reference
    • Reserve a conference room!
    • Arrive 15 minutes early; get on the conference line 2 minutes early
    • Decide ahead of time who will speak to what and make sure you’re on the same page in terms of recommendations
    • Always send a “next steps” email within 1 hour of the meeting/call
  • Do not deliver important documents after 5 pm before a call the next day; give the client at least 24 hours to review something before you expect them to discuss it
  • Be transparent – but only when it makes you look good; the client does not need to know  how the sausage is made
  • If you’re going to miss a deadline, let them know ahead of time and have a legitimate reason why
  • Acknowledge client emails within a reasonable period of time (15 minutes) – even if just to say you received their note and you’re working on it
  • Clients want answers; they don’t want questions
  • Be efficient and quick in your turnaround on projects, but do not over-promise. If you need more time, set a comfortable deadline at the outset – factoring in development and review time
  • When emailing clients, use “we” instead of “I” – it covers your butt but also shows a united front
  • Don’t do anything alone
  • Don’t automatically say yes to larger projects/new tasks that are a bit beyond scope – check with your team first and then respond
  • Don’t get sucked into a heated back-and-forth with a client over email; pick up the phone and talk it out
  • While the client is always right, it’s important to make them realize when they’re wrong – and why
  • Don’t be afraid to defend your team to the client when warranted; clients ultimately respect this
  • Do not deliver documents after 6 pm
  • If a client is the one sending check-in emails/asking for updates, something’s wrong. You should always be the one checking in or touching base with them first
  • Clients are people too

Managing your team

  • Be exceptionally clear on tasks and deadlines
  • When setting deadlines, suggest a deadline and ask if it’s reasonable
  • Assume your team will forget deadlines; remember to follow-up on items before they’re due, particularly those with longer lead-times (they’ll usually be forgotten) – something like “you all set with the monthly report for today?” or “need any help with the recap?” are nice ways to do so
  • Set up reminders for your team in outlook (e.g., “Reminder: Deliver draft proposal to Jane by noon”)
  • If a mistake is made, talk to the person about it and make sure he/she understands why it’s a mistake. Get them to understand where you’re coming from. Do not scold – this just makes everyone feel worthless
  • Don’t be afraid to give strong, critical feedback if the same mistake has been made on multiple occasions – but make sure it happens in real time, in private. If the error is not acceptable, say so and why. But approach it with a “you’re better than this” attitude. Ask what more you can do to help them succeed
  • Be flexible with colleagues that have proven themselves and earned your trust; be stern with those who haven’t
  • Make sure your team knows the scope of work
  • Make sure your team knows the hours they’re expected to work on the account
  • Make sure your team feels comfortable asking questions
  • Make sure your team knows to tell you ahead of time if a deadline will be missed
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate: it improves account efficiency, it’s more profitable and it helps everyone learn to do their job better. Don’t be afraid to have a more junior staffer take a first stab at a more “senior level” document; it’s great for employee growth and it’s incredibly helpful to have a draft to start with, rather than a blank document
  • Have weekly internal check-ins at the beginning of the week to make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them that week; have an agenda and assignments for that meeting
  • Build in time between meetings
  • Block off travel time for meetings
  • Ask for a draft of documents at least 24 hours before it’s due to the client – more time the better
  • Ask to review all emails to the client before they are sent
  • Make sure the full team is copied on email exchanges
  • Flag email requests to your team to make sure they know who is handling; set a deadline
  • Make sure your team understands that you don’t expect the content to be perfect in a first draft, but that there are certain errors that are not acceptable: spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, formatting mistakes, URL mistakes, title mistakes, date mistakes, logo mistakes, etc.
  • Have a clean folder on the server – and ALWAYS SAVE DOCUMENTS TO THE SERVER; make sure folder names make sense, and include an “Old drafts” folder for old versions and avoid clutter
  • Establish a file-naming system. For example:
    • DESCRIPTOR – DRAFT 1
    • DESCRIPTOR – DRAFT 1 SB EDITS
    • DESCRIPTOR – DRAFT 2
    • DESCRIPTOR – DATE (always include the date on the version submitted to the client)
    • DESCRIPTOR – DATE FINAL (always make it clear when a doc is finalized)
  • Always be quick with praise when it’s deserved; and always look for opportunities to give positive feedback in front of senior colleagues (on email or in person) – it will matter more to the recipient
  • If you wouldn’t say it to your boss’s face, don’t put it in an email
  • Don’t be condescending; you’re not that smart and they’re not that dumb
  • Be empathetic, but don’t complain down
  • Your job is to make the team look good by making sure they have the tools to succeed; it’s the team’s job to make you look good
  • Colleagues are people too

Miscellaneous

  • Do the small things first; then the big things – otherwise you’ll forget the little things
  • Perfection is the enemy of done. Constantly strive to find a balance between perfection and efficiency
  • Set up your email to auto spellcheck when you hit send
  • Block off time on your calendar to get big projects done
  • Always include page numbers on a document
  • Set up reminders on your calendar; particularly when it comes to recurring deliverables (agendas) or items you’ll need to follow-up on weeks down the line
  • Good, smart content is obviously critical, but it means nothing if the document looks ugly or cluttered
  • Politics are an inherent part of corporate America. Don’t try to play someone else’s game. Learn what your game is and stick to it. And remember that not playing the game is still playing the game. That said, the best way to stay above it is to make sure your work speaks for yourself
  • Make sure you have something in your life that is more important to you than work

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