There's a conversation that happens in the movie The Untouchables between Eliot Ness and Jim Malone that goes something like this:
Malone: [stopping at a post office] Well, here we are.
Ness: What are we doing here?
Malone: Liquor raid.
Ness: [looking at the police station across the street] Here?
Malone: Mr. Ness, everybody knows where the booze is. The problem isn't finding it; the problem is who wants to cross Capone.
That last line, by Malone, is key.
Everyone knows where the booze is. It's no secret (except to those who are green, or don't know the streets of Chicago). They just don't want to say anything. And the same can be said of the good and bad employees with agencies and in-house departments.
"Everyone knows who the good eggs and rotten apples are. The problem isn't finding them. The problem is who wants to cross management (or HR)."
The workhorses in any creative department know who does the real work. They all know who the ideas people really are. They know the good art directors from the lazy ones. They know the talented copywriters from the hacks.
The account people know who can write a brief, and who can't. They know who is good at talking to clients, and who sucks.
And everyone knows who the good and bad managers are. Yet it doesn't stop the really awful ones from being promoted, often way up the chain of command.
The reason for this is simple.
Management is not spending all of their time in the trenches. They only have dealings with the people who the workhorses report to. They are the green Eliot Ness, whereas the people who work daily in those departments, they're Jim Malone.
Recognize the Talent and Reward it.
How do you go about this? Well, it's not difficult. Not at all…if you're in a position of power.
You can do this in any number of ways. The easiest way, you'd think, would be to talk to your direct reports. But that's not going to work, for the simple reason that many of them are the rotten apples we spoke of earlier. They'll tell you what you want to hear, as long as it puts themselves in a good light.
To do this right, you need to take a leaf out of the "Undercover Boss" book and get to know the people who do the actual work, day in, day out.
It won't take you long to find out who is really putting in the effort. When you do, you need to let them know that they have been seen, heard, and appreciated. Especially if you're working with creative people . They need the reassurance; creatives are notoriously critical of themselves. If they haven't been getting the attention due to selfish managers, they need to feel that it is all being put right.
And on the reverse of that, the rotten apples need to get kicked out of the barrel. They have been festering in there for way too long. And it affects everyone around them. If they are bad for morale, and bad at their jobs, you need to know that. Once you do, cut them loose. Clearly, this is not the right job for them anyway.
Do all this, and you will be amazed at the rise in productivity and overall optimism in your agency, your department, and yourself. Oh, and if you've been working them long hours, and weekends, give them a break!