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Maggie Harlow

5 Hacks for New and Experienced Sign Managers

Compassion, clarity, meetings, meaning and problem-solving.




GOOD MANAGERS COME in lots of different styles and types. There is no “one way” to be a good manager. What works well for one person might be impossible for another to implement.

Our job, as managers, is to always try to improve what we do and get better results from our work, and from our team. Even after 30-plus years of managing people, I’m still surprised by the challenges and problems I face that I’ve never seen before!

I love trying “hacks” or new ideas, tactics and shortcuts to get a different or easier result. These are some that I’ve used for years to help me find my footing as a manager. Hopefully they are helpful to you!

1. Learn to be compassionate and candid. Being honest with your employees about their performance and doing it in a way that makes them feel seen, will be the single most powerful skill you can have as a manager. Good employees want to know when they are doing things right as well as when they are doing something wrong.

Don’t see criticism as the opposite of being kind. Deliver your criticisms with compassion and kindness, and you’ll find the experience empowering for all.


2. Clear and articulate goals help everyone. “Do more” or “move faster” or “sell more” aren’t great instructions to get the results you want. Before you simply lash out at employees over your frustration for their performance, give some genuine thought to exactly what behavior you are looking for. People cannot consistently hit a target they cannot see.

Examples: Installers are out of the shop by 7:30 a.m. Produce a minimum of $2,000 per day in new orders. Answer the phone before the third ring. Generate an average of 15 design proofs per day.

3. Meet one on one with direct reports regularly. This is probably the hardest one for me, as it is easy to believe that “employees will come see me if there is a problem.” But meeting privately, one to one with every direct report will give you access to a lot of good information. Using open-ended questions, you can learn more about how content they are in their work, what struggles they are facing that could be addressed, where they envision their career going, and what skills they hope to learn. Don’t be blindsided by departures or issues that may not come up in day-to-day interactions.

4. Give meaning to the work. As the owner or manager, part of your role is to inject meaning into what they are doing, even when it is mundane. Yes, it can just seem like replacing hours of operation letters is a “small job” but to a business owner, getting them done right and on time means much more. Help your team see the value in both the work the client is receiving, as well as the value in teamwork. Notice when a teammate is doing something exceptional. Highlight it and explain why the good work matters. Share stories and connect the work to the higher purpose of excellence.

5. Don’t forget your job is to solve problems. Sometimes I hear business owners complain endlessly about their vendors, their clients or their employees. Don’t expect the problems to stop. “That shouldn’t happen” thinking traps you in negativity. It happened for a reason: bad luck, training, management, follow up, quality control, etc. Things will happen and that’s the reason we do what we do: We believe we can do things better all the time. Watch out for constant complaining and replace it with “Oh, great, a problem for me to work on!”

I hope one or all of these hacks can help you improve your management performance!




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