Michael Willard, writer, painter, columnist, entrepreneur
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Chapter Twelve

The World's Shortest Employee Manual

By necessity, and for obvious reasons, this will also be the shortest chapter.

My guess is that most of you looked at the chapter outline and turned to this one first. Most employee manuals can be used to build biceps. They have chapter headings, subchapters and then subchapters to the subchapters. No one really reads them, with the possible exception of the newly hired folks in the Human Resources Department. They are proud of the creation.

I once interviewed for a job at The Louisville Courier-Journal, a great newspaper. I was swinging for the fences when I talked my way passed the receptionist, by-passed the personnel department, and went straight to the editor, without an appointment. For starters, this isn't generally the way to get hired. They don't think you are creatively brash. They think you are dumber than your grandmother's Gladiola plant. But I was only 23.

The editor, a Mr. Giles, was nice enough. Though I had interrupted his desktop lunch, he smiled and asked me to explain my story. In about 10 minutes, I explained that even at my young age, I was an experienced reporter, having worked for the Springfield Union in Massachusetts, the Orlando Sentinel and the Tampa Times, where I still worked. He was very patient, though I think he simply wanted lunchtime entertainment, and I was the closest thing to a monkey he had available.

I felt I made a persuasive case for him to hire me. He felt I was out of my depth, and said so, but not in those words. He asked me where I received my graduate degree. I couldn't afford to aspire to such. Two more years of school was something I could not afford.

"The last person we hired had his graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University. Previous to that, we have brought on several who graduated from Harvard," he said, condescendingly.

I thought for a moment, and then replied, "Yeah, but can they write? Would you like to look at my clips, and see what work I have done."

He politely answered that wouldn't be necessary, and suggested I fill out an employment form in the personnel office. "Come back when you get your graduate degree," he said dismissively as I walked out the door.

After a couple of wrong turns, I found the personnel office (it was much later they became the Human Resources Department), and received a form to fill out. The last question was: Can you drive a forklift?

I will never be able to drive a forklift. I am scared to be around forklifts. They require dexterity beyond chewing bubble gum and walking at the same time. Written also on the application was that it would be held on file for six months. It would take me much longer to get a graduate degree.

I never looked back, but I am sure the employee manual at this particular newspaper was longer than Edward Gibbon's The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire - all three volumes. Just as self-proclaimed music outlaw, David Allan Coe, wrote a song about pickups, and moms, and trains and prison and drunks and called it the perfect country and western song: Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got out of prison, And I went to pick her up in the rain, But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck, She got runned over by a damned old train.

I sincerely believe I have written the all-time perfect employee manual. This one, of course, is written for a public relations and advertising agency. Yours might be a sentence or two shorter or longer.

The Willard Group Employee Manual

Preamble: Every agency says it is creative, strategic and gets results. If everyone is doing it, then this is just being average. We must be better.

Section 1: Imagination

Use your imagination. We are in the imagination business and the idea business. Our people -- all our people -- are imagination engineers.

Section 2: Judgment

Do your best, and use your best judgment. If we all do this, The Willard Group will succeed beyond our dreams.

Section 3: Difference

We will be strategically different. Calculated risk is part of the fun and interest of being in business. Be a little weird sometimes.

Section 4: Our business

We are not in the advertising business. We are not in the PR business. We are in the client problem solving business, and often that takes great advertising and PR solutions, or some variation thereof.

Section 5: Human Resources and Benefits

We will be imaginatively ad hoc as it relates to holidays, salary and other benefits. We will endeavor to surpass all other agencies in our pursuit of a better life for our best employees. The others need to strive to be best. Effort counts. Success counts more.

Section 6: Change

Don't be afraid of it. Hold on to your hat, and enjoy the ride. Better yet, be an agent for change.

Section 7: Mistakes

Make a few. If you don't, you're not using that imagination. However, don't make the same mistake twice.

Section 8: Dress

We don't believe in casual Fridays. That was thought up by a Human Resources director with little else to do. We have no dress code.

You have joined a professional organization. Therefore, it would make sense you would want to dress professionally, especially if you come into contact with clients who are dressed for the business day. You never know when a client will be in the office.

I refer you to the section on judgment.

Exceptions: Creative Directors and other creatives can have spiked hair and nose rings and wear tee shirts that say Long Live Ho Chi Minh. Don't try to use them as an excuse to dress unprofessionally. This is the nature of the business. Yes, we have a double standard.

Section 9: Rules

I refer you to sections 1-8.

Reality Bites: Reread the World's Shortest Employee Manual

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