Agency team management: Are your employees strong like New Rope… or weak like Wet Twine?

Written by: Karl Sakas

Are your employees “New Rope” or “Wet Twine”? The answer predicts how far you and your agency will go.

What’s the difference? New Rope is strong; Wet Twine is not. This isn’t literally about physical strength—it’s about the strength of their contributions as employees.

Lots of New Rope on your team suggests you’ll meet—and exceed—your goals. Too much Wet Twine and you’ll be treading water—or even moving backwards.

Let’s look at how to identify New Rope and Wet Twine at your agency, so you can decide what to do next—including a way to assess your team today. Kudos to Stan Phelps for introducing me to the concept of “New Rope vs. Wet Twine” (as coined by his colleague William “Billy” Craig).

New Rope: People Who Move You Forward

An ideal agency team is 100% New Rope—a team of high-performing employees focused on driving your agency forward. What are signs someone is New Rope? Look for these factors:

Drives the agency forward. They think like an owner, not an employee. They’re doing what it takes to move your agency forward.

Takes initiative to make your life easier. They look for opportunities to help the agency. They share new ideas with the team, and look for prospective clients to connect with your sales team.

Gets things done. They don’t merely talk about things—they accomplish things. You can rely on them to get things done—and to ask for help when they get stuck. They’ll also prioritize, recognizing they can’t accomplish everything.

Thinks beyond their job description. They pitch in where appropriate. They don’t have a “not my job” attitude, but they also respect others specialties—they don’t mess with things they shouldn’t.

Committed to continuous improvement. New Rope employees always want to get better. They’re looking for professional development activities, and they welcome constructive feedback on how to improve.

Resourceful. They find solutions themselves. If they come to you for help, you know they’ve already tried to solve it themselves. They frequently come to you with solutions, not problems.

Wet Twine: People Who Hold You Back

A not-so-ideal agency has lots of Wet Twine—employees who make life harder for you (and often everyone else around them). What are some signs someone might be Wet Twine? Look for two or more of these factors.

Stirs up drama. Not every Wet Twine employee is into creating drama, but the employees who are always creating drama tend to be Wet Twine. They’d rather spread gossip and talk behind others’ backs than get their job done. This creates larger morale problems for others.

Demands more oversight from you than their role requires. One of my clients shared how he put a employee’s desk where he could see him at all times. If you feel an employee needs constant supervision—especially someone with lots of professional experience—it’s a sign they’re Wet Twine. If you keep wanting to send them a Let Me Google That For You link, they’re almost certainly Wet Twine.

Fails to manage your expectations. Wet Twine frequently misses deadlines and doesn’t manage your expectations. They’re the person who requires most of your PM’s attention on every project.

Delivers mediocre work. Their deliverables are underwhelming, even when they have plenty of budget to get things done. These are the employees the rest of your team has to cover for, re-doing work and fixing things at the last minute.

Always puts themselves first. Wet Twine employees do what’s best for them, even when it hurts the agency. These are the employees who sneak out early when they haven’t finished their work, employees who abuse their expense reports, and who spend way too much time on personal social media during the workday.

Never there. Facetime is overrated, but when someone’s never there when you need them during the workday—in person, on chat, or otherwise—they might be Wet Twine. One of my clients came to me concerned about an employee who seems to spend more time on smoke breaks than at her desk.

Ignores agency and client priorities. These employees do what they want to, going on irrelevant tangents that don’t help the agency or its clients. You’ll find they spent the entire day on a pet project, even after you or a PM told them explicitly where to focus that day. They’ll often go over budget, too, because they feel they’re above such resource constraints.

Assessing This at Your Agency

Make a list of all of your employees—and your regular contractors, too. Add a column: Mark each person as either “New Rope” or “Wet Twine.” If you’re not sure about somebody, they’re probably not New Rope.

What did you find? When an agency is performing well, it’s usually a sign that the owners focused on hiring New Rope. When a client comes to me concerned about their agency’s performance, I often see a lot of Wet Twine.

I don’t recommend automatically firing everyone who’s Wet Twine—and someone being New Rope isn’t a guarantee they’re perfect for your agency forever. But make your list and see what pattern you see. If you’re not sure what to do next, get in touch—I’m glad to help you find the right approach.

Question: What have you seen as top indicators for New Rope and Wet Twine at your agency?

Image credit: Rope photo by John Patrick Robichaud, via Creative Commons

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