ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

THE EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT

Most of you who know me also know that I’m never shy of learning from others. One of my mentors is Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I actually try to pattern my life on the Seven Habits and I recommend that everyone who wants to be BOTH happy and successful read and live these seven habits. You can be either happy or successful without these principals, but you will likely not have both happiness and success without them.

Imbedded within the Seven Habits is the concept of the ‘Emotional Bank Account’ that everyone creates with everyone they have a relationship with, both personal and business in nature. Understanding and pursuing the Emotional Bank Account in your personal life allows you to make better choices at every fork in the road. It will keep your relationships strong and life-long.

Pursuing the EBA in your business life will act to stabilize your business relationships, downward, laterally and upward to attain the best long-term results for you professionally.

I’ll explain the EBA in a nutshell in this article, but I highly recommend that that you get Stephen’s books and read about it in detail for a better understanding. The purpose of this article is NOT to sell Stephen’s books, but to illustrate how the EBA affects you as an agency owner.

The health of an EBA, like any bank account, is the result of a series of deposits and withdrawals from a relationship that you build with employees, co-workers and managers. If you hire someone and never interact with him again, positively or negatively, you have invested nothing in YOUR EBA with that person and will gain nothing, but most of us interact with our employees – a lot.

The hire is like the first blush of opening an EBA. They wouldn’t have accepted if they didn’t think that there was a positive promise for them in creating the EBA, or accepting the position. So, all EBAs begin in a positive light, but with little capital.

Initial interactions between you and your new employee are usually light and constructive. You spend more time initially to train and acquaint the employee with the agency. Every such interaction is a “deposit” of good will and the employee feels good about the attention and your help.

Eventually, you must do what is most productive for you in your business and the employee is expected to gain productivity and efficiency with time in the position, either gaining proficiency by repetition or asking advice of you or others to clarify any fuzzy points.

Once the training and the “honeymoon” are over, the potential for “withdrawals” from your EBA with the employee becomes stronger and you must work harder to balance withdrawals with more deposits to keep the account positive.

A withdrawal is made from the EBA every time you criticize or confront an employee, justified or not. Of course, everyone makes mistakes and will need corrections, but if you find yourself doing nothing but criticizing – watch out! Early in the relationship, employees are tender and unsure of themselves. Criticism feels like an attack and they think that you have ‘found them out’ and will terminate them. Being a professional manager, of course you encourage your employees to try things judiciously, knowing that the only person who makes no mistakes is the person who doesn’t try hard enough and cares more about protecting himself than serving either the customer or the agency.

Every deposit or withdrawal from the EBA defines a measure of TRUST that increases or decreases the relationship between you and your employee. So if you must correct an employee, do so in the spirit of improvement and better performance instead of pointing out a ‘stupid mistake.’ You have little control over an employee’s state of mind or self-esteem and you can’t really estimate how your words or actions are going to be interpreted. But you need to know and understand every employee well enough to know what would hurt them, and to know how you can communicate corrections positively.

This is a difficult part of management, but without it you will join the multitude of bosses and owners who are tolerated for the paycheck instead of loyally followed because of respect and love.

One way of minimizing the withdrawals from the EBA is by having very clear expectations. Almost every problem I have had with my employees has not been from their inability to perform or their lack of desire to perform, but from either my inability to communicate my expectations or their inability to understand my desires. Yet if I criticize the result when they have tried their best to perform to my expectations both frustrate me AND cause a serious withdrawal of trust and ‘like’ from my EBA with the employee. They feel they have done their best, albeit faulty, and I criticized them for working to the best of their ability.

I try (sometimes successfully, other times not-so-much) to clarify my expectations, repeat them or have the employee repeat them to me and to do so in writing as often as possible to minimize these types of withdrawals. Even so, by the looks in their eyes, I know when I have just made a ‘withdrawal.’ This brings me to the next method of ameliorating the withdrawals and making a few deposits.

Honesty, integrity and sincerity will always add deposits to the EBA, especially after a withdrawal was made. Try to show a consistent moral character and don’t consider breaking an employee’s trust, even if you think the employee may have broken yours. Getting down in the gutter just gets you as dirty as the person you may be criticizing for their hygiene. NEVER criticize an employee in public. The rule is PUBLIC PRAISE, PRIVATE CRITICISM – always. If you catch yourself doing otherwise, apologize to the employee, to the people who heard the criticism and continue your conversation privately. This is NOT a sign of weakness. It is a sign of integrity.

Finally, to keep the EBA in balance and on the positive side of the ledger, be concerned with the little things that everyone around you does to keep your business running. For every mistake that is made, dozens of things are done right. Make sure you thank your employees (publicly) for those things they do to make your life and business a little easier. You’d be surprised how strong those little things make that EBA.

Please understand that we are FAR from being ‘touchy-feely’ social liberal managers who permit their employees to do whatever they want and run the company or their departments. If the business is yours, you get to determine how you want your employees to perform and how you want your customers treated. However, if you do so as a professional manager with written job descriptions, procedures and working guidelines, your employees will know exactly what they need to do to deposit to THEIR EBA with you. If they consciously choose to make too many withdrawals or if the withdrawal empties the account (loss of trust, illegal activity, E&O blunder, opposing your directives, mistreating employees or customers), then you will “close the account,” regretfully, but terminally, nonetheless.

Be careful of the EBA with everyone with whom you deal. Can you always guarantee to make deposits and no withdrawals? No, of course not. We are human and will commit blunders of our own. It’s not making mistakes that is the problem, it’s our reaction once we have made those mistakes that deposit or make huge withdrawals from our EBA with our employees. And the worst employee is not the one whose EBA has been bankrupted, but who decides to stay on as long as you are willing to pay them. They diligently pursue emptying all of the EBAs in the agency until you realize that they are poisoning the well.