Seven steps to valuing your team

7 steps article in a newspaper

As business owners we don’t just work the 9 to 5 grind, we grind the 24/7 merry-go-round of crazy.
It’s true, I can honestly say that since starting up my business nearly 5 years ago, I have had my little Smack Bang rolling record playing out in the back of my brain non-stop. Whether I’m scrubbing dishes, sipping cider on a balcony with best mates or reclining on an isolated beach in the middle of nowhere, it’s always playing. The thoughts, the to-do lists, the constant chatter of business play out over and over in your head. Sure, over the years you get better at quieting the chatter, but business is still synonymous with your physical makeup and it becomes ingrained so deep in your psyche, that you never truly switch off.

Granted, we don’t physically show up to work to occupy a seat Monday through Friday from 9am til 5pm, but we’re always on the job.

My working week used to comprise about 70-80 odd hours sitting at my computer slogging it out. I was getting this thing off the ground and it was completely necessary for me to be doing those crazy hours. Now that I’m able to tone it down a little, I’ve learnt to be expertly savvy with my time rather than martyr myself. My week is far less hands-on and I measure my productivity not by the amount of hours I spend at my desk, but by the quality of my output.

I’m not in the studio as much as I used to be, but I can tell you, the value of my work has increased dramatically. I’m more concerned with results than clocking hours and I never work for work’s sake.

One of the challenges I’ve found with this transition is making sure that my staff don’t feel like I’ve abandoned them or because I’m no longer in the studio as much, that I no longer care. They know that I’m not off gallivanting around, dancing with the stars or getting my nails did. They know I’m still 100% attached to this baby and work my butt off to get things done.

I’m taking a bit of a gamble here in assuming my team genuinely feel the way that I think they feel – I guess they can comment anonymously below if not (winky emoji)! I’ll never claim perfection as a boss – that’s an insane proposition I’ve done away with long ago, but as a leader steering the ship I take great responsibility in constantly striving to make the best decisions for us as a team. So here is just a little list of the ways I try to appreciate my crew and make them feel valued.

  1. FOSTER OPEN COMMUNICATION
    Whether you’re a company of two or two hundred, open communication is the fairy godmother of a harmonious work environment. When you communicate honestly and openly, as well as allowing your team to do the same, you enable room for the real magic to happen. Being real and transparent with the legends that put in the hard yards for you is like the Abracadabra of efficiency and productivity. So many companies are built on bureaucratic top-down communication from management that reeks of hierarchy and disdain. At Smack Bang, we’ve built our communication on open doors, kitchen floors, cups of tea and a hearty dose of emailed GIFs. We have a culture of feedback – there’s an expectation that we each share genuine feedback from a place of kindness and respect. If an employee asks for feedback, I’m 100% honest – I don’t believe that BS helps anyone. But that doesn’t mean that I’m unkind, it just proves that I care enough to deliver the hard truth and invest in the growth of my gang as individuals and as a team.
  2. THROW OUT THE PEDESTAL
    Whilst I was studying, I was lucky enough to pour a few thousand coffees for the boys at the Three Blue Ducks. I remember so clearly in my job interview, Mark (one of the co-owners and head chef), said to me that he was no more important than the dude that mopped the floors each night. Because without the floor-mopper, Mark would have a dirty floor, which would mean no customers, no money and no surf trips for Mark. The sentiment of this has stuck with me. Whether I’m speaking to our senior designer, or a fresh new intern, my language, intent and generosity doesn’t change. If you’ve ever been in a culture where the hot-shot executives have you cutting up and curating outrageous platters of exotic fruits, or gesture you to iron, steam and press their garments while on work trips, then you might work with a bit of a – excuse my French – knob-jockey. Some of you can admit that you know firsthand what it feels like to have a boss that appears to see themselves as entitled – and while it makes for some funny stories in retrospect, it’s never an endearing quality.
  3. IF YOU LIKE IT PUT A STAR ON IT
    Remember those treasured little gold stars back in the days of Kindergarten? I’d happily collect everyone’s lunch orders and help little Johnny tie up his laces a million times over just to get another one of those bad boys on my tally. What I didn’t realise back then though, was that gold stars would rock my socks at any age.
    Yes, it’s true that people get paid to do their job. But the best employees don’t work on your vision just for the dollar bills. Empowered people crave a greater level of satisfaction than simply financial stability. They need to feel that you value their contribution and hard work, and it needs to be shown with affection, connection and genuine appreciation. Being creative with employee perks can go a long way – here’s a list of unique perks other companies have offered employees that I love.
    Whilst I do my best to always find fun and creative ways to surprise my team with gratitude or celebrate the good things they do, sometimes even just a quick appraisal will do; “Hey homie, I know you’ve had a I’m-going-to-singe-my-eyebrows-and-jump-off-a-cliff kind of day, but just wanted to let you know that the little things you do matter. Your efforts are appreciated more than you’ll ever know.”
    Gold stars… they go a long way.
  4. LET THEM DRIVE THE BUS
    Every job comes with less-than-glamorous responsibilities. But it’s important to allow your team to raise each other up and let them take the driver’s seat. The last time I went on a holiday, I went for four whole weeks (gasp!). Getting on the plane to fly home from California to Sydney I couldn’t help but feel the dread of the amount of work and crazy game of catchup I would have to come home to. When I got back to the studio though, I wanted to kiss every single one of my employees (not sure whether I was severely jet-lagged or just stoked). Whilst I had been gone, they’d all stepped up to the challenge and became all the more autonomous so that when I got back to my desk I could settle back into my role without stress, endless to-dos, or the need for 10am tequila shots. In my eyes, a leader who is constantly looking over the shoulder of their employees is no more than a babysitter. Afford your staff the freedom to breathe and empower them to lose the trainer wheels and step up themselves. It might be a little rocky at first, maybe a grazed knee here or there, but the learning curve and invested trust will be invaluable to taking things up a notch with your team.
  5. BE A HUMAN, NOT JUST A BOSS
    I’ve dealt with past employees who always wanted me at arm’s-reach, and I’ve dealt with others that have invited me into their lives completely. Although we all need to find our own sweet-spot with how close we are to our employees, it is incredibly comforting to have a legend boss that cares about the personal worlds of the people they lead. A leader that goes beyond asking about work related issues immediately begins to build connection and trust because they effortlessly prove that there’s ‘more to life’. I do my absolute best to make sure the Smack Bang gang know I would do anything in my power to support them in any way, which in turn, has created a loyalty that’s hard to find.

    “THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN COMMUNICATION IS HEARING WHAT ISN’T SAID.” – PETER DRUCKER

  6. HAVE THEIR BACK
    Here at Smack Bang, we have a strict ‘no-asshole’ client policy in our studio. If a member of my team complains about a client treating them poorly, I look into the situation and fire the client if necessary. It doesn’t matter how much the client might be paying us or what kind of profile they have – bottom line is that I have a bunch of extremely talented and wonderful employees and I want them to know that I have their back. In return, I know they’ll have my back in my times of need and we’ll be all the more united for it, which will prove to offer a higher return than any high-paying client could ever put on the table.
  7. MAKE TIME FOR THEM
    Sounds like a no-brainer, huh?! Yes, but it is so easy to fly through your day, week, year just tackling the hot-messes thrown at you and putting out the fires that burn around you, without stopping to see that someone needs a good old fashioned heart to heart. It’s hard for employees to feel valued and appreciated when their boss is too busy for a simple chat. At Smack Bang, I maintain locked-in recurring catchups with each of my staff members – it’s quick, easy and we get to catch up over a coffee in the sunshine – win, win. By holding myself accountable to these regular conversations with my team, I’m sure they will feel valued, respected, and given a chance to bring things up that may be hard to share in an open-plan office.

So do away with the excuses and keep prioritising time to shower your team with praise and a listening ear. You’ll be tickled pink at the positive response, and your staff will know they’ve got the freedom and empowerment to kick goals from the giant distance you’ve got the vision for!

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