Every day I talk to agency owners who are worried about losing a key employee and every day another key agency employee walks out the door so it's easy to see why finding and keeping talent is the #1 pain point for most agencies today. Unfortunately, having a laid back culture, flex time and more vacation isn’t enough anymore. I wrote an article for Forbes on this topic and I identified several ways (based on our research with almost 1,000 agency employees) agencies are upping their game to keep their best team members. As always — I hope it’s helpful and I’d love to hear how you’re managing this challenge.
If there is an Achille’s heel for agency owners, it’s the ability to have candid conversations with members of their team. In our work with over 250 agencies a year, this is a pattern I’ve come to recognize all too often. A strong, charismatic owner is petrified to be honest with a member of their team. So they either avoid the topic altogether or they pussyfoot around the discussion, leaving the employee in the dark but feeling as though they can check it off the list. I have my own theories about why so many agency owners allow this weakness to paralyze their agency’s growth but whatever the root cause, it’s one of the biggest barriers to building the agency you deserve to own. See if any of these seem familiar: You don’t do regular reviews of your team You often find yourself talking (and repeating the same conversation) about an employee with your business partner or another employee that serves in a leadership role You have a love/hate relationship with a superstar performer who isn’t in alignment with your agency’s culture You tiptoe around conversations because you’re afraid of the repercussions You believe that having frank conversations that hold people accountable is not good for your agency’s culture You can be good at just about everything else, but if you can’t cultivate a culture of respectful candor — you’re going to hit a brick wall. Again and again. This is a leadership issue. This is a maturity issue, and this is a profitability and growth issue. If you want to attract and retain top performers — you have to be willing to rise above your discomfort and be candid with them. Beyond that, you [...]
One of the most frustrating things for agency owners is finding and keeping good employees. Before the pandemic, many agencies were having an amazing 12-18 months in terms of business development but those same agencies were actually choosing to tamp down their new business efforts because they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to staff for it. That’s a crazy position to be in. When a right fit client knocks on the door, you don’t want to say “thanks, but no thanks” because you’re afraid you can’t convince someone to work for you. I think it starts with having a very candid conversation with yourself. Given all the options out there, would you want to work for you? Many agencies (and corporate communications departments) are paying attention to what today’s employees value, especially given the pandemic, and modifying the work world. Here’s what you are competing against: Flexible work hours (everyone needs to be in from 9-4 but you can start earlier or stay later, based on your life’s needs) Permanent work from home options Unlimited PTO An AGI (or another metric) based bonus program Educational opportunities Student loan reimbursement 401K match A suite of insurances (health, dental, disability, life, etc.) and the agency provides at least partial payment Paid time off to serve the community or agency led community projects Bring your dog to work privileges A stocked snack room, with both healthy and not so healthy options Knowing that you can get some or all of that at the agency down the street (or from one of your clients) would you work for you? If you’re an old-school agency owner, I know you might be growling at that list. And if you [...]
We’re facing a mental health crisis in America. In the last week of June, nearly 11% of over 5,400 U.S. adults surveyed said they had seriously considered suicide within the previous 30 days. If those numbers reflect the larger population, then it’s likely that two or three people on your 25-person team have had similar thoughts. It’s easy to assume that your employees are fine, but some of them may not be — and it’s your job to support them. In this piece I recently contributed to Forbes.com, I discuss what you can do as a leader to support employees’ mental health by actively listening, opening up, sharing resources, taking charge of conversations and volunteering. We will get through this crisis together, and it’s important for your employees to understand that — even in our crazy agency world.
Every year, I get to hang out with 30+ digital team members from various AMI agencies hailing from California to Connecticut and everywhere in between. They come together once a year to pick each other’s brains, learn about new tools, and share best practices. One of the things that impresses me the most about them is that their focus is bigger than tools, tactics, and techniques. They’re also asking about agency new business strategies, how to help the agency’s social media get on track, and how to streamline processes so the agency is more profitable. These are employees who care about their agency and the agency’s performance. As I listen to them strategize together on how to bring even more value to the shop and your clients, I also identified some unspoken needs that would make their work easier and better. Require everyone in your agency to get some basic digital certifications so they have a better understanding and can work together better in identifying opportunities, writing proposals, and spec’ing projects. Use your agency as the test dummy — try video, voice, social experiments — but be out there and be bold. Be smart about tools versus time. You may be saving a buck or two by having them do something manually but if there’s an automated tool out there — use it so they have more think/learn time. Keep your own digital saw sharp — there’s always something new to learn and as their mentor and leader, you chart the course. I’m impressed and encouraged by the drive, curiosity, and hunger that these professionals display. It is definitely to your advantage to help them help your agency!
A couple years ago, I updated my OS on my laptop and it literally ate any email sent to/from me after 2015. I went through several weeks of trying to get back to all of the people who had emailed me and never heard back. They probably thought I had no manners but I promise — I was raised better than that. This illustrates a point that I teach regarding email. We depend on email too much and we assume it’s more reliable than it is. Which is ironic, given our own inboxes and how much clutter we dodge throughout the day. I was talking to an agency owner the other day and she was lamenting that their new business efforts are falling flat. As she described their efforts it was pretty clear that the problem was they were tossing the ball into the prospect’s court by email and then just waiting for it to bounce back. This is also a huge problem with your AEs. In our AE Bootcamps, one of the best practices I stress is not to just use email to shift the burden to the client/check the item off their To-Do list. Your AEs need to be adept at quickly accelerating a conversation beyond email. If you’re not coaching to the advantages and foibles of email with your team, you should be. If you’re not building out a more robust communication matrix with prospects and clients, you should be. If you would like your AEs to learn more about this best practice as well as many others, there is still time to sign up for one of our virtual AE Bootcamps here or here! This was originally published in the weekly [...]
Many agencies are updating their handbooks to reflect new work from home policies and other changes that have come about since or because of covid. One of the policies they're re-thinking is their maternity and paternity leave benefits. I thought it might be helpful to share what seems to be the norm for most small to mid-sized agencies. NOTE: The details below are specifically for US based agencies. As we all know, most other countries are much more generous with their maternity and paternity leave (in some cases it's cultural and in other cases, it's mandated by their government.) Here's a look at global maternity and paternity benefits based on a study by the Pew Research Center (12/19). If you do not have unlimited PTO: Birth mom (they pay first six days and then up to 6 weeks paid for by short term disability policy paid for by the agency. Anything more is unpaid.) Birth dad (Two weeks paid plus whatever PTO they have coming to them) Adopted parents (Three to four weeks paid plus whatever PTO they have coming to them) If you have unlimited PTO: First -- it's critical that you clearly spell out that they cannot use PTO for this beyond the limits and that is all the PTO they get for that year) Birth mom (they pay first six days and then up to 6 weeks paid for by short term disability policy paid for by the agency. Anything more is unpaid.) Birth dad (Three weeks of PTO and whatever they want to take unpaid) Adopted parents (Three to four weeks of PTO and whatever they want to take unpaid) It's important to note that this is their official policy. Most [...]
I think agency leaders and owners are incredibly generous people. I’m always astonished at how you take care of your people, often to your own detriment. You give to them in ways that mean you get a little less. It’s just who you are. So as I thought about this week’s message, I decided I might be able to help you scratch your natural tendency to show your gratitude in this crazy season we find ourselves in. Odds are you’re pretty good at saying thank you directly to your people. But I’m going to suggest you try a different tactic. Identify one of your super stars and take a few minutes jotting down what they do that is so valuable to you. If you can, capture a story of something that really illustrates their talent and value to you. Now, take that story and write a letter of gratitude to their spouse, kids, parents or whoever you think would be most proud to hear it. Tell them how awesome your employee is and acknowledge the sacrifices (missed dinners, Mom out of town, etc.) the family has made to allow your employee to thrive. Thank them for their willingness to let your team mate give their best to the agency and your clients. If you want to — include a gift card so they can all celebrate how amazing your employee is to you and for them. Don’t tell your employee you’re going to send the letter. Let it be a surprise. I think you’ll be stunned at the impact your letter has — both short and long term. It’s a gift they will cherish for a long time, as will their family members. And honestly [...]
Remember the “good old days” right after the recession when incredibly talented employees were easy to find, quick to hire and grateful to have a steady paycheck? The upside to that story is that in 2020 the economy is stronger, the job market is much more stable and everyone is making more money. The downside is — the days of just having a job being enough are over. Today, agencies are in a battle to recruit and retain talent and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Some agencies have adopted a blended staffing strategy (a mix of employees and a consistent contract labor pool) to combat this challenge. Other agencies are investing heavily in professional development and growth opportunities for their team (The #1 reason why an agency employee chooses to take a job/stay at an agency according to our 2016 research) to keep their top talent. But there’s a new benefit that is emerging as a deal clincher. Many of our employees (at every age) are strapped with student loans so a Student Loan Reimbursement perk is music to their ears and bank accounts. I wrote a story about this for Forbes, including some best practices for getting the most out of offering the benefit. I’m curious — if you’ve cracked the recruiting and retention code — what do you believe makes the difference? This was originally published in the AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
In our owner peer group meetings, one of the things we always do is share a recommended app, tool or book. It’s a really easy way to discover some new ideas and tools for getting better without lots of trial and error. One must-read book has surfaced to the top over and over again and it’s become an instant classic among my agency owners. I hear them referencing the author’s terminology and more important — I hear them changing their communication patterns for the better. Radical Candor by Kim Scott is a framework that shows us how to be both a better boss and a better colleague. The book is packed with eye-opening truths and practical suggestions that will make you feel like she’s been spying on your office. You’re going to recognize yourself in many of her stories and examples and best of all — you’ll see the way to significantly improving how you work with others, give feedback and get the best from your team, your business partners, clients and yourself. Couple reading this book with starting the one on one employee meetings I keep harping about (because they are that important!) and you can have a great 2020! This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.