The best and worst part of a young industry is that the rules that govern it tend to be written in sand.
It takes decades for industries to correct themselves.
It took a stock market collapse to protect against the errors of the 1920’s, the largest fraud case in recent memory to bring about Sarbanes-Oxley, a housing bubble burst for the banking industry to find regulation, and a revoked four game suspension to protect the world from deflated footballs.
This is not to imply that every industry needs a collapse to be properly run, but instead, that until a strict set of rules and guidelines are put in place, there will always be volatility within the industry.
Taking root in a young and blossoming industry, like SEO, is exciting as revolutionaries create the foundation for a new brand of marketing, but also something to take great caution with, as the ramifications of this field remain largely unknown.
Due to this uncertainty, management of the SEO industry will become more and more crucial as it develops to maturity. Although the world may be conquered by visionaries who create their own path, it is structured by those willing to establish proper principles of practice.
Visionaries, for this industry, are still vital. There remains a constant need for people to pave new ground and find new methods of performance. In fact, this need will never go away. That is why there is an even greater need for people to protect the visionaries from themselves.
There is a need to establish a new form of management.
Evolution Of The Office Manager
The image of the office manager is too often construed as the boss from Office Space: a boring old man with putrid coffee breathe, constantly informing his employees that they need to put in more hours in the cubicle. While the coffee breathe may linger, this is as antiquated a concept of an office manager as VHS tapes are of movies.
That is meant to say, the office manager doesn’t have to be that guy.
Everyone has worked in offices where the boss wanted to manage everyone’s time while, also enforcing inane office policies to reinforce the image that he maintained authority over his staff. However, this type of governance never seems to work well with employees that the boss needs.
The office manager needs to be someone who realizes the importance of a strong hiring policy. Understanding who and how to hire is the most crucial aspect to the success or failure of a company.
To illustrate this point, consider those times when a boss realizes the need to keep an employee around. All of a sudden, it is his top priority to treat that single employee with the utmost respect. The boss grants him or her all of the leniency in the world, regardless of what the other employees are being asked to do.
Well, that answer is simple.
When a boss realizes that an employee has become so critical to a segment of the company, that replacing said employee would immediately and drastically alter the corporate income structure; then the boss then starts to prioritize the minor needs of that employee.
But what happens though, when an office manager realizes they need all of the employees?
Do these managers simply collapse to the ground wondering what they have done wrong in life to deserve this fate? Do they crumble under the understanding that they now have to treat all of their employees as equally important members of the greater vision?
No, in fact, this should be the goal of any boss.
Defining Your Ideal Hiring Policy
The best managers understand that the sole purpose of a solid hiring policy is always to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You want to hire people who can each handle their own job individually and solve problems that other members of the company cannot.
If a manager is hiring the right people, they should find a need to ask their employees on regular occurrences to explain what they did or how they arrived at a conclusion.
In fact, there is a fantastic read over on Inbound that discusses starting an agency, and hiring smart and talented people is one of the most crucial aspects for a new company.
The slowest person in a room full of smart people is guaranteed two amazing things:
- They are going to, at worst, accidentally learn something they did not know before, and
- They will be able to reach heights they would not come close to on their own.
What kind of boss wouldn’t want to ascertain both of these goals?
While it is true that there is a certain level of respect that comes from having all of the answers, the truly great leaders are the ones who can position their employees properly so that they best utilize their talents and knowledge.
Rosalind Cardinal of the Huffington Post put together a great article detailing out the six types of management styles present in business.
According to her, these styles are:
- Directive – The coercive leader who believes it’s “my way of the highway”;
- Authoritative – The firm but fair leader who gives long-term direction to the employees;
- Affiliative – The leader who focuses on promoting strong personal relationships and creating a happy and fun workplace;
- Participative – The democratic leader who rewards teamwork and allows everyone to have a say in proceedings;
- Pacesetting – The “do it myself” leader who sets high standards via their own work ethic;
- Coaching – The leader who motivates by allowing each employee room for personal development and growth.
While each of these styles has their benefits and drawbacks, it is clear that the SEO world requires a certain type of management style. This industry has become so fluid that no single style really works the best.
Corporate World Comparison
Coming from a business background, the tenants of running a more traditional team differ slightly from the management styles of the blossoming SEO industry.
For instance, PricewaterhouseCoopers is the largest accounting firm in the world that consistently ranks among Forbes list of the 100 best companies to work for, puts out its own instructions:
PwC states that the most important aspects to running an effective and an engaged team are:
- Continuous Improvement
While these are important in any industry, the SEO world requires another aspect be considered.
To properly introduce this new topic, an example of the aspect in action can help illustrate this crucial point.
The Post-It Note – The Product of a Creative Work Environment
Have you ever wondered how Post-It Notes were invented?
Most people take them for granted as a staple of every business office, and most people can’t function without them scattered across their desks and study areas.
However, I am willing to bet most don’t have a clue how they were created.
In fact, Post-It Notes were actually created as a result of two accidents;
- The first took place in 1968, when an employee for a company called 3M was trying to create an adhesive for airplanes. Instead of creating a strong adhesive for aerospace, he created a weak, pressure sensitive adhesive that left no residue and could be reused.
- Years later, in 1973, another employee from 3M had a wonderful idea. He made a bulletin board and covered it with the adhesive, stating that one could attach pieces of paper to it without the use of tacks or tape.
And then finally, a third 3M employee was having trouble keeping pieces of paper organized. He knew of the adhesive that was being passed around 3M and decided to add it to his pieces of paper in order to keep them organized.
Thus, spawning the birth of the sticky note.
What does a sticky note have to do with SEO?
The best answer for that question is with a question.
What does that story have in common?
Well, all three employees worked for 3M, a company that allowed its employees the free time to follow their own passions, experiment, and grow.
This is the core principle that needs to be expertly managed while simultaneously nurtured in the SEO world. There are so many talented people throughout the SEO and tech industry, and the key to managing them is to find the perfect balance of freedom and constraint.
Every business needs to put constraints on its employees. Employees need to work on billable projects, adhere to client demands, and promote company ideologies.
However, the creativity of the hired talent is also promoted to acquire new business, which is what drives the industry.
Finding Good Problems
This industry is guided by those who thrive on finding problems and solving them. Therefore, managing those individuals becomes more about finding them the right problems to solve.
How do you find those problems?
This is something that will always be changing. Right now, it involves combining the core principles of the conservative business world with the freedom of companies like 3M.
- An employee needs to feel like he or she is part of the collective team.
- An employee also should feel like he or she is delivering on a consistent message throughout the inner workings of the company and constantly improving the company as a whole.
- An employee should have the freedom to take part in projects that satiate individual interest.
Allowing them to take on new assignments throughout the course of the work week, that they enjoy, needs to be a priority for a manager. This allows for the office to maintain a high level of creativity and passion.
Unfortunately, this raises concern among many managers who are constantly backed into a tight corner trying to reach client deadlines.
How does a manager ensure that all of the client work, which pays the bills, will get done on time and at a high level?
By removing themselves from the workflow.
In today’s high-tech world, your job as a manager doesn’t involve getting into the day to day tasks for any of your clients. In fact, your job is to stay uninvolved.
Let me clarify.
Stay Above the Work
Staying uninvolved does not mean handing off client duties, nor does it mean giving employees all of the work and then just washing your hands of responsibility until the deliverable is due.
Staying uninvolved is actually intended for a manager to pry themselves from on-going tasks in order to see the bigger picture. An office manager is consistently maintaining a fixed eye on deadlines and planning out the entire team’s hours of commitment: from individual client work, to time spent helping other employees, to fun recreational projects.
You need to have a thorough understanding of what each employee does well and what each does poorly, so you can understand when you can expect to receive work.
This places the burden of all client work on you, as opposed to your team, since you already know your team member’s capabilities. So, planning out when they are working on projects will directly correlate with efficiency.
This is what you as a manager should be aiming for, though, as you want all of the pressure of hitting deadlines on you. As the face of your company, everything that leaves your office, whether it is a deliverable going to a client, or a blog post that an employee wrote up, is a reflection of your business.
Therefore, you need to be able to see everything that goes out and trust that your employees are providing the strongest products on a daily basis.
You are on quality control for the company, not for the clients.
Remember, you need to manage clients, projects, employees, and contractors, while also maintaining a fixed eye on the financials of your company. The only way to efficiently and effectively do this is by removing yourself from direct involvement in individual tasks and monitoring the bigger picture.
The standards of your company are your standards. Do not settle for good enough or probable. Demand excellence, request facts and statistics, and maintain an open line of communication with each employee and each client.
So, while it is true that the SEO industry is young and will inevitably go through some bumps and setbacks, the scale of these changes will be determined by those managing the talented visionaries who are currently paving new grounds.
The responsibility falls upon these individuals to take the most beneficial tools from the business world and meld them with the creativity of the field as a whole.
Just as Peter from Office Space says:
“human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day long, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.”
You have the power to change that for the better, not just for your company, but for SEO as a whole.
Wrapping all of this up nicely is not particularly fun or easy to do because there is really no clear or decisive answers. The greatest point to be communicated is that there needs to be regulations put down over this industry by the very people who comprise the industry. Creating a level of trust throughout the field must be viewed as a priority among everyone involved.
Therefore, this really just comes down to individual companies finding the right people to guide this industry and relying on those people to set the methods and expectations for their teams to propel the SEO world into a prosperous future.
There are always going to be multiple styles and methods to management practices, but the key will always be to ensure the best practices specific to this industry are being employed. There is not going to be the ability to take the cookie-cutter approach that more established verticals use and simply apply it to SEO.
To truly distinguish SEO as the unique and creative industry that it is, the people making business decisions will need to formulate unique and creative processes that are most apt for the SEO workforce.