Remember when you were a kid and your parents started to talk about something and then in the middle of the conversation, one of them gave the other “the look” and they either stopped their conversation, lowered their voices so you couldn’t hear, or left the room to finish the conversation?
What did you immediately do? You tried even harder to listen. If you couldn’t hear, your imagination started filling in the blanks. Suddenly the story includes espionage or murder or at the very least your favorite neighbor moving away.
In the absence of facts, our brains create a story that is usually wrong and usually way out of proportion from reality. When we were left on our own to connect the dots, the picture got a little crazy.
That is happening today in your agency management system, especially as it pertains to money, billings and profitability. How many times have you uttered a sentence like this without any context:
- Our billings are down again this month. We’ve got to reverse this trend or we’re in some serious trouble.
- I don’t think that client XYZ won’t be around much longer.
- It doesn’t look like we’re going to pay out a bonus this year.
- I get so sick and tired of writing time off.
Each of those sentences may be true. But if you don’t connect the dots and give your employees the context to gauge just how serious the situation is, they go into imagination mode. Suddenly, in their heads, they are all out on the street, looking for work, and begging for change so they can bring back some milk for the baby. Of course when it’s that bad — they are going to start looking for jobs. Even if the truth is — it isn’t that bad. It’s the norm. They don’t know that unless you tell them.
When an agency is struggling, here’s what I hear agency owners say — “if I tell the employees what’s going on, they’ll freak out and start looking for another job. When times are good, the same owner will say “I can’t talk to them about profitability and our metrics because then they’re going to try to do the math and figure out what I take home.”
Guess what agency owner — both of those things are happening now. But without any context, which means that instead of an accurate picture — they’re creating the same kind of distorted stories that you did as a kid. Your employees aren’t stupid. They know when billings are down and when they’re not as crazy busy. Or when they’re crazy busy but they keep getting yelled at about going over the budget. Your stress level and what they hear you mutter, scream or ask is how they measure the agency’s success if you don’t get them a better yardstick.
Without an understanding of what I call “agency math” and how agency systems make money — they imagine the worst possible scenario. You know that over the course of a year your billings ebb and flow and you have to learn to ride the waves. But they don’t understand that. You know that you’re planning on investing in a big equipment upgrade in Q4, but they don’t know that.
You all tell me that you want your employees to behave with the agency’s best interest in mind, in other words — to act like an agency management system owner. But that’s impossible for them to do if they are kept in the dark.
That old expression “you are what you measure” applies here. Teach your agency management system employees what to measure. Educate them so they can help you hit your metrics. Give them context and connect the dots so they see how not doing change orders or a client who goes through revisions like water impact profits, raises and professional development opportunities.
Or be prepared for their over imaginations to impact your retention, morale and bottom line.