Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists.
Not Everyone Should Go Into The Family Business
Dear Content Therapist: I’m the head of content marketing for an advertising agency and have been with the company for over five years. I started as a senior content marketer and rose through the ranks. The company is great, and we’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business. I like everything about this company except for our new content marketing manager, who also happens to be our CEO’s grown child. I was wary of having this person on the team, and I was right. This person is consistently late to important meetings, rude to teammates and delivers subpar work. The one time I raised my concerns, the CEO got defensive and didn’t believe what was going on. The CEO’s child is bringing the morale of my team down and, with a big campaign coming our way, I need my team ready and her gone. What’s my best approach to solving this situation without repercussions for my team? — A THOROUGHLY FRUSTRATED MARKETER
Paul Chaney: Addressing a bad actor in a family business can be challenging due to the personal relationship. It’s even harder in this case, given that the employee is the CEO’s child. But as head of content marketing, you have a responsibility to the company regardless of the content manager’s connection with the CEO. (Keep that statement firmly in mind; it is the foundation on which everything I’m about to say is built.)
Speaking of the family business, these lessons from the HBO series “Succession” might give you some perspective:
Comprehend the Family Dynamics
Learning about the family’s values, culture and history is essential to comprehend their decision-making processes and priorities. If you watch “Succession,” you will notice that the family often bases decisions on emotions or personal relationships rather than purely business rationale. As a non-family employee, you should be sensitive to these dynamics and learn how to navigate them.
Build Strong Relationships With Family Members
You are not part of the family, but that doesn’t preclude you from building solid relationships with family members, including the content marketing manager, if possible. Fostering trust and demonstrating loyalty is crucial to establishing a strong connection with the family. That could pay dividends if and when you need to discuss the matter with the CEO.
Understand the Leadership Style
“Succession” highlights the impact of different leadership styles on business success. For instance, the show depicts the dangers of having an authoritarian or micromanaging leader while also underlining the benefits of a collaborative and empowering leader.
Learn How the Family Communicates
One of the biggest lessons from “Succession” is the importance of communication in a company — or, in their case, the lack of communication, which often leads to misunderstandings, conflicts and power struggles.
Once you understand the family dynamics and leadership and communication styles, accept that those constraints may interfere with how well you do your job. However, the fact remains: You still have a job to do.
In keeping with that imperative, here are some suggestions to apply depending on who’s involved.
There’s the acronym CYAWP to keep in mind. Keep a written record of the problematic behavior exhibited by the content marketing manager, including dates, times and any relevant details. That may help you present a stronger case to the CEO.
The Family Member
Nepotism is a central theme in “Succession.” Family members often hold prominent positions within the company despite lacking the necessary skills or qualifications, as is the case with your underperforming problem child.
Despite that, muster the courage to have an honest talk with the employee about their performance. Provide specific examples of their shortcomings, discuss the impact on the business, and ask for their perspective.
Maintain a respectful and professional tone throughout the conversation. It’s vital that you evaluate the underperforming employee’s work based on clearly defined metrics and job expectations rather than your personal feelings.
Develop an Improvement Plan:
Collaborate with the underperforming employee to create a clear, achievable plan to address their performance issues.
- Set goals: Establish realistic goals and deadlines and identify the necessary resources and support they need to improve.
- Monitor progress: Regularly check on the employee’s progress and provide positive and constructive feedback. This ongoing communication will help them stay focused on their improvement plan and give you a chance to address any concerns or obstacles.
- Provide training and support: Look for additional training or resources to help the employee improve their skills and knowledge. You might offer support and guidance to help them overcome obstacles hindering their productivity.
If the situation does not improve, consider asking for a mediated meeting with the CEO and the content marketing manager that also involves HR or an impartial third party. Present your documented concerns and emphasize the impact on the team’s morale and productivity and the potential consequences for the company’s success.
The CEO may not agree with your perspective or be willing to act in your favor. In this case, consider alternative solutions to minimize the impact of the content marketing manager’s behavior on the team, such as reassigning tasks or adjusting workflows.
Boost morale. Doing so will help your team stay motivated and engaged during this challenging time. Encourage open communication, acknowledge your team members’ hard work and provide opportunities for professional development.
Prioritize your well-being. If the situation becomes untenable and you can’t reach a resolution, consider whether staying with the company is in your best interest. Prioritize your well-being and career growth in addition to your team’s success.
Hustle Culture Is Causing Drama
Dear Content Therapist: I’m overworked and exhausted. We recently got a new CEO at our content marketing agency who’s known to embrace “hustle” culture. At first, we were excited to have someone who was determined to grow the company. But he tends to frown on people who aren’t working past regular working hours. We’ve run on the mentality that you get what needs to be done, finished by 5 o’clock and then sign off. Now, we’re lucky if we can sign off at 8 o’clock. This has left many of us feeling worn out, stressed and unhappy. I’m one of many managers that have spoken up about this issue, but it’s not getting any better. How can my fellow managers and I take off the rose-colored glasses and have the CEO see exactly what’s happening? — THE EX-CONTENT MARKETING HUSTLER
Paul Chaney: The CEO may be committed to building a hustle culture and curating a team that embraces it and will either cull those who don’t or wait for them to attrite. Since you fall into the latter category, the first thing I would say is prepare to leave. (More on that later.)
In the event you want to stay with the company, meet with the CEO and offer a work-life balance strategy that includes these steps:
- Gather empirical data and educate the CEO about the potential negative impact of hustle culture on employees and the company. Share articles, studies and statistics demonstrating the effects of overworking and burnout.
- Collect employee testimonials expressing their concerns and challenges about the new work culture. Share success stories of companies implementing work-life balance policies and seeing positive results. Help the CEO understand that work-life balance is essential for employee well-being and productivity.
- Highlight how the hustle culture can hurt the bottom line by leading to decreased productivity, increased health care costs and higher expenses for recruitment and training because of high turnover rates.
- Coordinate with other managers and develop a more sustainable work culture proposal. Include recommendations on workload management, work-life balance policies and employee well-being initiatives. Ensure your proposal aligns with the company’s growth objectives to make it more appealing to the CEO. This unified front will show the CEO that the issue is not isolated and that multiple managers share the same concerns.
If the CEO is receptive to your proposal, work together to develop a plan for implementing the suggested changes. Regularly follow up on the progress and communicate the effectiveness of the new policies. If the CEO is not responsive, consider escalating the issue to the board of directors or seeking advice from HR.
Regardless of the outcome, continue to support your team, exhibit and promote a healthy work-life balance, and advocate for their well-being.
Finally, if you can’t convince the CEO to change, or if the hustle culture causes significant harm to you or your fellow employees, prepare to leave the company. Don’t sacrifice your health for a toxic work culture.
Remember the lesson of the tortoise and the hare: Slow and steady wins the race.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.