I know it seems like common sense and your brain may agree — but your mouth often takes a different path. If you’re struggling to work with some of your team members, odds are you have not embraced the idea that employees need clarity. Truth be told — most agency leaders struggle with this, especially if they are offering constructive criticism or even tougher — disciplinary action. One group of employees that really needs you to get good at the whole clarity thing are your millennials. They come into your agency with very different ideas about how employees behave, what success looks like and how they can contribute. They’re eager but raw. But if you really find a way to be straightforward and very directive with your feedback, I think they will surprise you. Be it millennials or any other group of employees, agency owners and department heads can be vague, passive-aggressive, or just absent in their management style (you may well be the exception to the rule) and I think there are a few reasons for that. In a recent blog post, I dug into what gets in the way of us being more clear and then offered up some tools we can use to get better at it. Check it out and let me know what you think.
As we struggle to find and keep great employees, we need to do a quick self- assessment. Are you creating an environment that breeds trust and connection among your team? Especially with you and your leadership team? MediaPost asked me to explore how agencies can create a culture of trust and connection and I’d love your thoughts on my recommendations on the topic. So, how do you find out if your environment is one of trust and connection? You ask. We have built an assessment tool that will help you measure the health of your agency in five key areas - account service, finance, Bizdev, staff management, and agency owner happiness. We're aggregating a large number of agency owner participants so we can come back to you this summer with a comparative analysis of where agencies ranked on these issues. And so you can compare your rankings with other agencies. All you need to do to take the assessment is click here. Just a few minutes of your time and you will get your results as well as a follow-up email with your results. Later this summer I will be letting you know that we're going to do a webinar where we will walk you through the results and you can compare yourself to everybody else and see how you're doing.
Many agencies are struggling with what I have termed “stale employees.” These are seasoned pros who have probably been with your agency for a long time. They were incredibly talented and valuable back in the day, but their skills have not evolved as your agency and the marketplace have. Odds are, they’re someone who has stuck by you through thick and thin as your agency has gone through its ups and downs. Which is why you’re ignoring the issue. But the truth is — this employee is typically one of your more expensive salaries and they are contributing less and less. Not only is this team member costing you money but odds are, they’re going to cost you some of your most valuable employees too. American Express’s Open Forum asked me to dig into the issue and offer some solutions. If you’ve dealt with a stale employee — I’d love to hear how you resolved it.
If your advertising agency culture sits on either end of two extremes, you don’t need an engagement survey or a high-priced consultant to confirm your reality. You can feel the energy when things are amazing, and you can smell the stench when things are rotting away in your business. But what if things are somewhere in between? What if you’re unsure if things are heading in the right direction? Or what if you’re confident they’re really good, but you want a heads-up before you suddenly realize you’re whiffing six-day old cod? You might need that engagement survey, and you may need that consultant. In the meantime, here are three danger signs that will tell you if your advertising agency culture is in trouble: YOU’RE EXPERIENCING "MEGO" A journalist friend once had an editor who routinely rejected poorly written copy because it produced what he called MEGO – My Eyes Glaze Over. In other words, it was boring. Are your organization’s vision, mission, and values creating MEGO? When you read the statements to employees, do they say, “Yes! That describes us so well!”? Or do they roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, right. That’d be nice.”? It’s great to have statements that set the bar high, but most employees have a pretty sophisticated BS meter. If you acknowledge the gaps between where your advertising agency culture is and where you and others want to take it, most employees will help you make it happen. If you’re trying to prop up your culture with $10 words, however, you’ll lose respect and trust. YOU’RE BEGGING FOR RECRUITS When your culture is strong, healthy, and vibrant, your employees become your best recruiters. They sing the company’s praises every chance [...]
Pause for a few seconds and make a mental note of the five-to-ten most recent examples of how you are rewarding agency employees within your organization. In other words, who got a raise, a bonus, a promotion, an award or some other form of recognition for a job well done? In many organizations, perhaps even most, those honors go to people who achieved some tangible, measurable result. They hit their sales goals, signed a new client, or found some way to save the organization a few buckets of money. That’s all good, but it might not always connect in a positive way back to the organization’s stated values. When rewarding agency employees doesn't factor in the means that lead to the ends, they actually can become culture killers rather than culture builders. Tae Hea Hahm, the managing director of the venture capital firm Storm Ventures, once pointed out that “real culture” is defined by “compensation, promotions and terminations. Basically, people seeing who succeeds and fails in the company defines culture. The people who succeed become role models for what is valued in the organization, and that defines culture.” Performance is vital to success and growth, but values are foundational to organizational health. So, the challenge for Extreme Leaders is to increase the real value of things that are critical but hard to measure. Here are a few tips for doing that: ALIGN ON YOUR VALUES People often define their values based on their personal experiences and expectations. Your definition sustainability, for instance, might not be the same as someone else’s definition. So, it’s not enough to publish a list of things that are important to your leadership and your culture. Go a step further and [...]
Ever hired an employee that didn’t live up to expectations? Or didn’t mesh with your company culture? When you’re growing your agency you don’t have the time or resources to waste on boarding and training employees who aren’t a good fit. But hiring is HARD and you’re BUSY, so how do you expedite the process and get quality talent? One way is to follow the seven-step hiring process I created. I know seven steps doesn’t exactly scream "quick," but the amount of time you’ll save by hiring right the first time makes it worth it (plus, it’s easier than you think). One of the most important parts in the process is the face-to-face interview. You’re finally meeting the candidate who may be the piece of the puzzle that your agency is missing. The only way to really find out is to ask the right questions. Questions that don’t proceed pre-canned and rehearsed responses. Questions that get right to the core of the candidate and give you the insight you need to make the right decision. Questions like these…. Agency Specific Interview Questions Asking questions about your agency is a great way to measure how prepared and how dedicated a candidate is. If a candidate looks great on paper and has all of the necessary hard skills, but can’t answer agency-specific questions, then they aren’t a good fit. They either don’t care enough about the position to do a quick Google search or preparation just isn’t in their nature. Whatever the reason, they’re unlikely to be a good fit. In the early stages of your agency it’s especially important to ask these questions because you need people who are invested in your agency from the get [...]
“I hate selling.” I hear that so often from agency owners and agency leaders. I especially hear it from junior agency staffers. I think the key to solving this problem is moving away from “I hate selling” and moving toward “I love helping others succeed.” My years of agency experience have taught me that the most successful agencies have a specific mindset. They have embraced the art of being the very best at understanding their clients and have a deep desire to make their lives easier and better. The agency business is a relationship business; it’s about putting the needs of your client front and center. Your success is based on their success. Their good days are your good days; and conversely, their bad days are your bad days. So, if agency success is about building great relationships, I would pose to you that for agencies, executing on strategic selling is very much like dating. If that’s the case, then imagine thinking of the prospect the same way you think about a prospective date - that person you’ve wanted to date for oh, so long. As you get ready to make the ask… what’s first? The answer: the first thing is understanding the prospect. Strategic Selling Requires Understanding the Prospect First and foremost, remember that you must think about this from their viewpoint – the viewpoint of the prospect. What’s on her mind and how has the landscape changed since the last time she looked for agency services? Budget and headcount pressures are enormous in most companies today There are heightened expectations that marketing supports sales – it’s no longer enough to simply produce great creative Sales and revenue are typically the top marketing success [...]
There is a great dilemma many agency owners face time and time again: Do you hire an internal new business development person for your agency with solid sales experience (and a price tag to match), or an inexperienced individual that’s cheaper, but seems driven/teachable? The former example is certainly a potentially sound investment, although not always feasible, and the latter doesn’t traditionally have a great success rate unless an agency is willing to put real work behind their training and possesses the requisite patience to see the process through. That’s probably why the average new business director at an agency lasts about eighteen months. In my first example, you have likely experienced this in some form or another. That person with experience in one vertical and an abundant network of prospects within that vertical; or the other kind, that person with the fabled “ultimate agency new business Rolodex.” And sometimes, you run across someone with both deep experience in a vertical and an abundant network. These kinds of hires occur often and I don’t blame agencies for it. They can work but, in far too many instances, that new business director with the legendary prospecting network hire ends up flaming out. In fact, I recently spoke with an agency principal on this very topic, and she gave me permission to share her less than desirable experience with you. So, here goes. The Legendary Prospecting Network When my agency owner friend initially hired this new business development guru with the “legendary prospecting network,” the big draw was, of course, that huge network. There were assurances, apparently all in good faith, that success would result from that network. It sounded promising, but unfortunately, it was not in [...]
The aroma of vegetable soup wafted up the stairs to my office. Moments later, my wife called, “Dinner’s ready!” “Mmmmm … I love homemade soup,” I thought. Rushing down the stairs and past the pantry, I spied a tube of crackers, grabbed them, and headed for the dining room. My wife sat at the table, waiting for me, smiling. Her smile vanished as she saw the tube of crackers. “Oh, this isn’t good enough? I really tried to get everything you like. I even brought out the oyster crackers …” Confused, I looked at her. Then, I looked at the table. She had arranged a beautiful spread of crackers, sliced cheese, chips & dips, salsa, veggies and grilled sandwiches to go with our soup. And there I stood, tube of crackers in hand, inflicting help. Acting Without Asking Inflicting help occurs when the helper acts in a way they feel as helpful but the recipient does not. It often stems from the helper not asking if, how or when someone would like to be helped. Instead, the helper jumps in and acts without asking. “But, I was only trying to help!” I was trying to comfort her. “I didn’t know you had all this out. I smelled the soup, saw the crackers, and grabbed them to be helpful.” We quickly sorted things out and went on to have a great meal together. Looking back, it was an interesting interaction, and it holds some lessons for agency managers. Because too often, well-meaning agency owners or managers inflict help on their teams. And when we realize what we’ve done, we might exclaim, “But, I was only trying to help!” Step One — Stop and Look Inflicting help is almost [...]
I’m writing this note from South Africa, where I am on a photo safari vacation with my daughter. We’ve spent the better part of a week in the bush, coming face to face with prides of lions, serene giraffe, wild dogs right after a kill and even some mating leopards! (And yes...that elephant is THAT much bigger than that Land Cruiser!) I’ve been fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scan the dirt for tracks, examine the foliage to look for breaks and even test the temperature of dung to determine what animals are nearby and how long ago they came through. The clues are so subtle that it’s amazing when they spot them. But the rewards that come from that attention to minute detail is the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) or it being just a lovely drive in the woods. It made me think about our own business and all of the subtle clues that our clients, prospects, and employees give off. I wonder how many of them we blindly walk by, about to enter into a danger zone we’re not expecting? I think most agency owners are very astute at picking up the signs — unless we’re moving too quickly and are too distracted to be present. Which is pretty much every day. So what are we missing? One of the traits of the tracker and ranger that took me some time to get used to is the speed at which they work. Slowly. Sometimes painstakingly slowly. As a Type A kind of guy, I was pretty antsy in the beginning. But then I began to understand the method to their madness and saw [...]