Give Your Employees the Power to Think Big and Act Bigger
As a former chief marketing officer (CMO) and an entrepreneur, I have managed both large and small teams. Over the years, I picked up a few key lessons in employee management. One of those lessons is to empower my employees to own their stories and make their own decisions. In my book, Think Big, Act Bigger: The Rewards of Being Relentless, I aim to teach leaders the importance of owning their stories and allowing their employees to do so, too. Everyone in your business should be thinking big and acting bigger. This means tying visions to actions, going beyond the stories and excuses, the self-imposed limitations, preconceived notions, and constructing structure—and becoming the biggest, baddest, best version of who you are and what you want to be.
No matter what anyone says, there are ways to get things done without compromising who you are. And you want your people to be empowered in the same way—to act like themselves, but bigger. This is the foundation of what everyone in my office calls “The Katelyn Rule”:
If I have to answer something or do something that you should be able to answer or do yourself, then why do I need you?
Here’s how the rule got its name.
From time to time, I’m asked to consult for high-growth companies—businesses I call “Big Dogs.” These companies are the cornerstone of our motto at The Hayzlett Group’s TallGrass Public Relations: “To run with the big dogs, you got to learn to piss in the tall grass.” I have a team that backs me up for these “Big Dog” consultations, and our work begins before we get the business. The team assembles background information and presentations, sits in on meetings, takes notes, and helps me do the deep dive into the work that needs to be done. We then meet with CEOs and their teams to lay out our plan and define what our value proposition is in light of what they have to pay us. We call this our “Big Dog Plan.”
Expectations are high for these types of meetings, which they were for the 2 p.m. presentation the day our newest employee, Katelyn, walked into my office about 15 minutes before we had to leave. In her hand was the single color copy of that day’s Big Dog Plan presentation.
“Should I bring color copies of our presentation to the meeting?” she asked me.
Before I continue, let me tell you how Katelyn became part of our team. About a month before this moment, I’d given a talk to a group of college students considering advertising as a profession. The advertising group that invited me had started social media activation in the weeks before, and one woman was doing it consistently and smartly: Katelyn. That got my attention because I’m always looking for talent when I work.
After my talk, I found Katelyn in the audience. “That young woman is going to go places,” I told the entire audience. Later that day, I talked with Katelyn, told her she should come work for us, and made it happen.
And now Katelyn—the woman who was going places—had gone someplace she never should have: into my office, 15 minutes before a “Big Dog Plan” presentation, asking me if we needed color copies of that presentation.
“Katelyn, you’re fairly new,” I said. “You and I haven’t really had a chance to talk much about expectations and promises. So here’s what we are going to do: Let’s imagine that you only get to ask me 21 questions a month. They can be about anything you can imagine, but you get only 21 questions. Are you still going to ask me right now if we should take color copies to a meeting that we’ve been preparing for since you started? Do you really want to use one of your questions right now?”
She took a breath. “Probably not.”
“Good move. Because if I have to answer that question, what the hell do I need you for?”
I could see my words start to sink in, so I continued: “This is what I pay you for. This is what I expect from you. I hired you because you’re going to be a superstar in this company, and I have to answer a question like that? That is not a ‘Big Dog’ question. That is a question no one with any experience should ask. Now, will we look better if we bring color copies instead of black and white?”
“Of course, we will. Will anyone die if it’s in black and white?”
“So it’s adequate.”
“Yes, it’s adequate.”
“Now let’s imagine I answered your question, ‘Yes, we must and should print color copies because that’s what ‘Big Dogs’ would do.’ Do you have time to make them before we go?”
“So why would you want me to say, ‘Yes,’ and then not have the ability to deliver?”
She looked at me, and it became clear that Katelyn now owned the rule that bears her name: If I have to answer something or do something that you should be able to answer or do yourself, why do I need you? In fact, Katelyn never violated her namesake rule again. She’s now a superstar. That’s the reason the rule is named in her honor— not because she continued to fail. In fact, her mistake helped me define my expectations for any team.
The people who work for you need to be empowered to create and own what they do in support of you, your team, and your customers.
So many people are afraid to make mistakes, especially when they’re new at their jobs. One of the first things I say to my employees and at keynote speeches is: ‘Go ahead, make mistakes. Unless you’re a brain surgeon, no one will die.”
Dare to be bold! Dare to think BIG and act even bigger!
Jeffrey Hayzlett is a primetime television host of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett and Executive Perspectives on C-Suite TV, and business radio host of All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett on CBS on-demand radio network Play.It. He is a global business celebrity, speaker, and chairman of C-Suite Network, home of a powerful network of C-suite leaders. Hayzlett is also the author of two bestselling business books, The Mirror Test and Running the Gauntlet, and his third book, Think Big, Act Bigger, released September 2015.