Agony Aunt: How to stop push-back and deal with nightmare clients

Jackie Elliott chairman of Cathcart Consulting gives her verdict on your professional conundrums.

A healthy respect for authority

I have a good and ambitious junior colleague, but he seems to find it difficult to take orders from a female. In fact he seems to find it difficult to take orders from anyone. How can I help him stop the constant push-back?

It sounds like you are a sensible person who does not want to be surrounded by yes-men/women but you must help your colleague get a grip on his stroppiness.

After a heated debate on a client issue, my boss at H&K once said: "I am not running a democracy here, Jackie." I was grumpy but he was right. Open discussion and genuine listening to input is essential but the responsibility if things go wrong is yours – and that of your boss or CEO. Perhaps und­erstanding this will help your colleague realise he is part of a team with a hierarchy of responsibility and accountability. It’s not a question of dictatorship or authoritarianism but experience and leadership. Most of all, he needs to know that the better he learns from direction, the better a boss he will be.



Business 101

What is the worst thing you’ve ever had to face in business?

Firing people. Whatever the reason, however justified or necessary for the sake of the business, telling people to rearrange their lives is when you really earn your money. Make sure you always do it with grace.



Horrible clients

I am running a very important account in a medium-sized PR firm. It is not our biggest account, but close to it. We do a good job but the day-to-day client is horrible: inexperienced, unreasonable and rude. The MD is aware and my boss is supportive. But the client continues to be a nightmare and shows no sign of leaving. Help!

Develop a new business strategy to replace the business. Discuss how to change you and your team without damaging the work. Your MD can speak to your client’s boss to explain why. Get your MD to speak to the headhunters and recruiters you use. Have the client taken out and given a nice new opportunity elsewhere – preferably with one of your competitors’ clients. And remember that what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger.



Keep it in the family?

What are the pros and cons of working for a family-owned business?

A pillow-tocracy, a small firm dominated by a couple? Or a larger enterprise where the name is that of the family founders, as Saatchi & Saatchi used to be? The former can be problematic. Seek clear answers on the few points bel­ow and others that occur as you get closer to the company.

If the chain of command is living with itself where do you go with a complaint? If the firm is to expand, what management and ownership opportunities are there? Running a tight ship is one thing, running a closed shop is another. Do the owners represent the sum total of management? Worst of all (and perhaps it’s best not to raise this during your interview...) consider what might happen if the relationship at the top ends? Finally rem­ember that the idea of "it’s such a great company, it feels like a family" is all very well, until you consider what families can be like in real life.

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