How much of your day do you spend working ON your business as opposed to working IN your business? If you’re like most agency owners, you are too busy fighting fires day to day to even think about anything else, let alone focus on the visionary work needed to move your business forward. It’s important to understand how to delegate tasks to let you better focus on the business as a whole.
Most of us know how we are spending our days but don’t know how to change it. My podcast guest Ryan Ayres has been where you are and is here to show you how to get out of your own way. It can’t happen without some hard work on your part but as he says, “Believe it or not, you can get yourself out of the day to day work and if you leverage your team, it can happen faster than you’d think.”
Join Ryan and I as we pave the way with …
- How Ryan got himself out of the day-to-day and got his team to take things off his plate that he did not need to be doing
- Why great employees will help you when you reach the point when you’re forced to sell what your business does instead of selling what you do
- Why — if you can’t get rid of 100% of what you’re doing — that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get rid of any of it
- Why you need to make sure everyone understands and buys into your vision and why it benefits them
- Ryan’s employee rating matrix
- Why people very rarely stay or leave based on money (and why this means you don’t need to give as many raises as you think)
- How to deal with employees who get jealous of what perks you give to other employees
- How to have tough conversations with “C Players”
- Why you should journal your time to make sure you’re spending your time where you need to be spending it
Ryan Ayres shows his clients what they can’t see, says what no-one else will say, and helps them accomplish what they don’t experience on their own. Through deep, bold, and customized coaching and consulting, he finds what they really want and helps them use their God given talents! His mission is to serve his clients so powerfully that they have life changing insights that change the trajectory of their life.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/ryan-ayres/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:
Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)
- Why Ryan Got Out of the Day-to-Day in His Business
- How to Hand Over Your Work to Your Employees
- Getting Over Being Out of the Day-to-Day
- How to Train Employees to Take Over Your High Level Tasks
- How to Handle the Transition of Getting Out of the Day-to-Day
- Show Your Employees the “Map” of Where Your Agency is Headed
- Why Rating Your Employees is Important to this Process
- Why Treating Your Employees Fairly Doesn’t Always Mean Equally
- How to Motivate Your Lower Level Employees
- How to Avoid Sliding Back into the Day-to-Day as a Business Owner
- Immediate Action Steps for How to Work ON the Business, Not IN It
Welcome, to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew McLellan: Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency, thanks for joining us today.
One of the challenges that many, many agency owners face, and this may sound familiar to you if you’re listening, is the difficulty of getting out of your own way in terms of out of the day-to-day work for enough of your day that you can actually spend time working on the business, during the business days as opposed to doing that at night and on the weekends like so many of you have to do.
So today’s guest is really going to speak to that and I’m super excited to have him here with us. We’re going to pick his brain for as much as we can in the time that we have with him. Ryan Ayres owns a company called Focus 53. That company allows Ryan to coach folks and service oriented businesses including agencies. In essence he serves as a virtual COO. What’s interesting about Ryan, is that he walks the same walk you do. He owns an agency, a web design and development shop and serves a lot of clients. But Ryan has made the shift and stepped out of the day to day.
He helps his client see what they can’t see. He says what no one else will say to them, and he helps them accomplish what they don’t experience on their own. He does all of that as the coach. He does deep, bold, and customized coaching and consulting.
Together they figure out what they really want and helps them figure out how to really use their gifts. And to do that, to grow their business, to satisfy what their family needs and really to fulfill the kind of day and work that is in their heart, his mission is to service clients so powerfully that they have life changing insights that literally change the trajectory of their life. That is a worthy goal.
So Ryan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Ryan Ayres: Thanks Drew, it’s great to be here. I hope you’re doing well.
Why Ryan Got Out of the Day-to-Day in His Business
Drew McLellan: I am doing well. Let’s start with what I know is the burning question on everyone’s mind is, let’s roll back time. You’re an active agency owner and, first of all, what gave you the insight that said, “You know what? Maybe there’s a better way to do this?” And then we’ll get into how you actually did it in a minute.
Ryan Ayres: It really came down to a vision, Drew. Not a vision like peyote-induced vision, like a vision of, what do I want to do in three years? What do I want to do in five years, and really living that model. When you think about it, or when I thought about it, I put myself in that position.
I knew I didn’t want to do be in the day-to-day minutia of whatever business I was in. In this case I was in the web design and development space. Did I really want to be managing day-to-day projects? So that alone started changing my mindset of where I wanted to go and how I wanted to do it. And I started running the tasks I was doing through that filter of, if I do this task, does this get me closer to where I want to be?
Which is being the owner of the business and allowing really smart people that are specialized in those tasks run it? Or does that get me back into the same mode of, grind it out agency owner in the weeds fighting the fire there all day.
So that’s really how it started, Drew. It’s just taking a step and looking at what I want to do. How I wanted to grow, what I wanted to do with my time, two, three years from now.
Drew McLellan: I think a lot of agency owners have that same thought process but they’re stuck in the day to day. So once you got clarity around, I don’t want to be in the day to day, I don’t want clients calling me. I don’t want to be managing a web dev project.
I get the first part of the process is to look at how you’re spending your day and make changes. But then you actually have to make the changes. How did you start that process and what did it look like? How long did it take you to really get out of the day-to-day weeds.
Ryan Ayres: I guess there are just different levels of day-to-day weeds. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t interact day-to-day with customers. But I know that there’s a common thread there and I think this is the same way to solve the problem. When a new engagement comes on, or a new customer comes on, or an opportunity comes on.
Although I may be involved in the business development side or the sales cycle side, I quickly bring in people as soon as possible to help with that conversation. I tell them, Jamie is going to be your guy. He’s going to work with you. He’s going to set up the project management. He’s going to set up all the operational work flows we have.
So I actually built in this level of accountability, right out of the gate. Opening discussions, so that they’re aware that they’re not going to have quote unquote “access to me all the time”. That that’s not how we operate.
And then also, to me, it’s like I’d be stepping on Jamie’s toes now that I said that right? I told him this is his job and his function and his work. That comes in two ways for me. One is when the original conversations happen, be very clear, very direct, and be responsible for that.
And then second, you have to just do it. You have to be self-aware to know, this is something someone else should be doing. And I know personally, that that is the hardest part. Often times it’s just easier just to do it yourself, or be involved.
Drew, you want to have that control. That’s where you just have to let go and let the team you put in place take care of it and manage it. Or else you will just get stuck in this cycle of never getting out of your business. You’ll be in the hamster wheel of operations.
How to Delegate Tasks and Hand Over Your Work to Your Employees
Drew McLellan: One of the things, as I have these conversations with agency owners, one of the things I hear all the time is, pick a task, doesn’t matter what it is, and then in air quotes “I’m the only one who can do this” or “I don’t have anyone on my team who’s good at this”.
In the beginning, were there elements of the work that you did that you believed you did better, different, whatever, and how did you evolve your company so that you were confident when you handed it, the ball, to Jamie, that you knew how Jamie was going to do it, and that you were going to be happy with the result?
Ryan Ayres: So I did say that, and you’re just lying to yourself. Right? This is where I transition into sort of coaching mode. Self-coaching myself. I would be naïve to think that I am the best person to do all of ten tasks. I’m really good at probably two of those ten tasks.
And I think it really boils down to fear, and that’s fear of giving up control. Fear of hiring and firing people, or confidence. I think those are the real root causes of that dialogue that happens in your head. But we just lie to ourselves and say, yeah we are really the best.
So how you overcome this is actually taking action and acknowledging the fact that you do need someone to help you with that. And that becomes hiring great people and whether your agency has full time employees, or you use a contractor model, the process is really the same. You have to hire great people who are onboard with your vision and mission, and your core values. People that you can work with and build a relationship with.
The quick immediate short answer is, find the things that you hate and suck at, and build that confidence in giving those to people that can take care of them. Build from there and keep plodding along, but I told myself that life you will … it’s a big giant trap we get ourselves into. It’s a dangerous one because that is literally the mechanism that keeps us stuck in the same spot forever and ever or, burning down and burning out.
Drew McLellan: And I also find sometimes as I’m working with agency owners that, even as they start down that path and maybe they’re starting to delegate some things as their comfort level shifts.
One of the reasons why they do all the day-to-day stuff is because they’ve done it forever and it’s so easy for them and they are good at it. So it’s satisfying to be good at your work and as we step the away from that day-to-day client work, and into actually running the business, and often that includes mentoring, having tough conversations with employees, biz dev, that kind of stuff. A, that’s unsure footing for them, so that’s not comfortable. A lot of times they’ll retreat back into what they know because it feels safer and B, they have so much more confidence.
So it really does take some courage to step out into actually running your business. Because it’s not probably how you spent your whole career, and it’s new skills that you need to develop and new muscles that you need to work right?
Ryan Ayres: That’s right. So this really highlights how and why I moved to Focus 53, the more coaching and consulting model. As I see this with every type of business, and really especially with service based businesses, whether it’s a fly fishing customer that I have, or an HVAC customer, or an electrician, or a golf coach.
They all have this thing, they think that they can do it better and sometimes for the very specific craft or skill, they can. But then when you do ask them, hey what do you want to be doing in a couple of years, and most all of them say, I don’t want to just have a job doing this. I want it to be a business.
When you go from having a job to building a business, you have to take these types of steps. These are … there’s no argument that these are the types of things you need to do. That’s why I started Focus 53, frankly, because I know it’s hard I know a lot of people can’t do it on their own. And someone needs to help guide them, give them the confidence, be a crutch, their support to say, hey this person you got to let go, or this task you got to let go.
And a quick story about that. I work with a guy that makes motorcycle sunglasses.
They’re great products, and he’s an awesome salesperson. A wonderful product development person. I called him up one day, I’m like, “Hey man, what’s going on? What are you up to?” He’s like, “Aw my fingers are killing me.” I’m like, “Oh really what happened? Did you hurt yourself?”
He’s like, “Oh no I’ve been assembling my sunglasses for the last four days straight.” I’m like dude, that’s something you could pay someone eight bucks an hour to do. That’s 32 hours of putting together sunglasses. Why are you doing that?
People just get stuck in this loop of taking care of the small things. And that clearly is something someone else could’ve done, but he was still doing it. I suggest and believe that there are a lot of opportunities, me included, when we’re doing things we shouldn’t. And having someone tell you, hey man I don’t think necessarily that that’s what you should be doing, is a healthy conversation to have.
Drew McLellan: Well, I also think one of the reasons why, especially that’s a great example of, I didn’t want to ask someone else to do it because it’s this tiny little task. Or, I didn’t ask my high level person … I don’t want them to do this menial task so I’m going to do it. As opposed to understanding that your team is there for a reason, they’re there to support you. And just because it’s not a sexy task doesn’t mean they can’t and shouldn’t do it.
Ryan Ayres: Those are easy arguments … Their time is less valuable than yours. Right? It’s really simple, logical thing. If you can get into logic on those, it’s really simple. Their time’s less valuable than yours. They may not like it for a second but to me, that’s where you got to start looking at people and process to put around those types of tasks.
Drew McLellan: I think that’s a spot where many agency owners err on the, I want to be well liked, as opposed to, I want to run my business well. It’s not that everybody doesn’t want to be liked and respected as a business owner. We do and we should, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be the one who’s always emptying the waste baskets because we don’t want to ask anyone else to do it.
Ryan Ayres: Agreed. I think it’s a core personality type. Some people just like to be liked and they don’t like conflict. And they view these types of action as a form of conflict, so they would just rather be liked and be a good boss, than to do these things. That’s not to be said that a boss that does ask those is a bad boss, or someone the employee doesn’t like.
We just get tied in our head about what you believe the other person will think about you. And we hold it in. And I am very much, Drew, this person. I was very much a avoid conflict, people person, I want my employees to love me, and I was the one doing these things. And I had to learn the hard way from it. The hard way was being stuck in the day-to-day minutia all the time, when that wasn’t in alignment with my vision and goal.
Getting Over Being Out of the Day-to-Day
Drew McLellan: Given that you’re wired that way, how did you get over that? How did you get past that so that you could more appropriately assign tasks off your plate, and onto other people’s plates, even if they were menial or not glamorous, or tedious, or fill in the blank. But they weren’t something anybody was going to go, ooh, I’m psyched to do this.
How’d you get over that hump?
Ryan Ayres: It’s hard right, I had to struggle with it every day. So the way that I felt best equipped to handle these types of things was really distilling down the best use of my time. Just being organized on the things I’m working on. So having my top things for the day I need to work on. They aren’t assembling sunglasses or whatever that parallel is in the agency world. It isn’t updating someone’s WordPress site. That’s not what my vision is for what I want to do.
And being really true and honest to myself, the things that I needed to get done today, aren’t those items. I’m a big … I played a little college football so I’m a big accountability guy. What the coach says, what to do type thing. So once I create that list of my top three or four things to do for the day, I made sure that it wasn’t anything that had to do with doing day-to-day stuff.
Then the next question is, well what happened to it? To be honest with you, some of it just didn’t get done. It actually is okay right? Nothing got hurt at all.
The second part of that is, assigning it to people that already worked for me and were already doing work, and they were totally fine with it. We’re not … The little menial tasks that you do, typically aren’t rocket science. Anyone could do it, you just have to train them and show them how and spend a couple of minutes and it’s off your plate.
That was really how I did it, Drew, is really establishing a clear and decisive task or to do list for myself, for the week in a day. Ensuring that those weren’t the things that were on there. And the things that did seem that they shouldn’t be on there, that still needed to be done, having one of my people do it for me.
How to Train Employees to Take Over Your High Level Tasks
Drew McLellan: Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. For a lot of owners, there’s something in their business, like the strategic planning, or something that is a higher level skill that they believe they’re the only one that can do it. And as of today, that may be the case.
But to your point, if they don’t teach someone else how to do it, they’re always going to be the one doing it. So were there tasks inside your web dev. shop that really were high level tasks that you had to transfer knowledge to someone else and if so, how did you do that?
Ryan Ayres: For me that’s still along the, selling and biz dev side of the house. And I’m a big believer that people like to do business with people. When I’m in the room working with executives and pitching, or talking to them about their technology or web development needs, they’re really buying into Ryan Ayres, the person first and foremost, because I’m the one communicating the message.
And I’m just the vessel for which I try to communicate our experience, our product and service, our people. Right? I still struggle with this, to be very honest with you, Drew, is, how do I put someone in that place that is me. Like that’s creepy a little bit, right? For starters …
Drew McLellan: Like a little mini-me.
Ryan Ayres: Exactly, how do I get a mini me and how are they going to be exactly the same as me, and what if they don’t do a good a job? These are just sort of lies that we tell ourselves and the reality is, they aren’t you.
But your goal is to find a better version of you. Someone that’s better at it, and different at it, and unique at it. And making sure that that person represents your organization, core values, your vision, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And then there’s just training, right?
You have to bring that person along and grow them up but, for me I struggled with business development sales because I knew that people were hiring me because of me. Which is great, I was very successful in that mold, but I couldn’t be on every sales call and I couldn’t be on at every business development meeting. That’s a tough thing to get over because you are literally at that point replacing you, not the task. That’s very different.
But it’s a struggle and the best way to do it is you get great employees with you in your organization to help with that and train them.
Drew McLellan: I think there’s a couple of other things, I find too, at least in my work with agency owners. One is that, it’s work that they love to do so not only do they believe they’re the best at it, but they kind of don’t want to let it go.
It’s the fun part of the work, and let’s face it, I think a lot of agency owners and I talk about this all the time, are accidentally agency owners. They didn’t really intend to own a business. In some cases they did, it was very intentional. But for many of them, they went out on their own, they got a little busy. They had to hire a person or two. And now they’re running a shop of 12 people and going, holy crap, I’m running a business.
Ryan Ayres: That’s right.
Drew McLellan: And what they love is the design, or the writing, or the working with clients, or the strategy part of it. And it’s hard to let go that and do accounting. Or whatever else out there requires their attention.
Ryan Ayres: Totally … My model at Focus 53 in helping agencies or other businesses, is to really let a business owner, the very first step is to let this business owner do what is inside their zone of genius. To let them harness their given talents. Maybe it is business development. Maybe they’re okay with that and they need someone like me or people I would bring in to do the accounting. Maybe to do their marketing, to do their bookkeeping, customer service.
All these other things that you need, to run a successful business. So they don’t hire the person to replace them and this place that they love. They can work in the place that they love and they can … You can still build a pretty kick butt business that way. If that’s part of their vision, that’s what I’m there to help them with.
Drew McLellan: We are doing the same thing, we’re helping them identify where’s my sweet spot and how do I spend my time? I think there are some things that agency owners have to do. I think there’s mentorship of your key leaders. Some of the things that agency owner has to have their mitts it.
But I think there are a lot of things where for example, if you’re just really lousy at math, we can figure out some dashboards for you to look at so you’re never blind about your business, but it doesn’t mean you have to plug everything into the Excel spreadsheet yourself.
Ryan Ayres: That’s right. Another big one’s project management.
Drew McLellan: Oh they’re horrible at it.
Ryan Ayres: Horrible at it, it’s not their personality, it’s the one thing that’s like a drain your life out of you exercise, for people who aren’t project managers. That’s another big one that they just really have to look at.
How to Handle the Transition of Getting Out of the Day-to-Day
Drew McLellan: Absolutely. So as you’ve transitioned out of the day-to-day to your business, enough that you could focus, no pun intended, on Focus 53, how did you handle that transition with your employees? Did they ask questions about it? Did they feel like you were kind of “abandoning the business”? Did you have conversations with them so they understood what your vision was, and that everything was going to be just fine?
Ryan Ayres: Yes. Drew, totally I was very transparent about the vision of what I wanted to do, what the organization needed to do and where I was going. By the time I was ready to transition off, it wasn’t a line in the sand, all of the sudden I’m gone type of thing. It was a slow progress that, it was really the next logical step. An evolution of how I spent my time.
The team really runs things, basically from start to finish now. I may do some sales things, I may have some legacy customers that I still interact with, I have a great relationship … I’ve worked with the same people for 12 years, right?
Their first website, for their multi-million dollar business was with me, and I’ve been with them ever since. So I still have great relationships with me. They’re friends, basically. They’re people that I spend time with outside of quote unquote “work”. Aside from those people, I handed it off so it just became the next logical step.
It’s not the last step in transitioning from being an operator in your business to being the owner in your business. It’s the first few steps. Getting the momentum and building it so that it just becomes a natural progression as your A-players take over more work, and as you grow your team in alignment with your core values and your vision and mission.
That part was actually quite easy. It’s the startup of that process of the … it’s the getting that movement and that action in place that was hard. Not the actual day that I said, “All right you guys got it. Call me if you need anything.”
Drew McLellan: Right. You make such a great point that I think a lot of agency owners approach this as it’s an all or none. I can never talk to clients. I can never do this. Really it’s about thinning down and of course you’re always going to still be involved in some aspect of the business.
And of course, to your point, there might be a legacy client or two that is so firmly wrapped around your leg that they’re not going anywhere. But getting rid of 85 percent of what you shouldn’t be doing is the goal. Not just staying stuck in place.
Ryan Ayres: Totally. A lot of us, and I’m this guy totally as well, it’s sort of an all or nothing mentally. If I can’t get rid of all of them, I might as well just keep doing it. And that is just such a …
Drew McLellan: Such a trap.
Ryan Ayres: Such a trap, yeah. Like you said if you got rid of 85 percent of them, do you know how much time you just freed up? You freed up a ton of time to do some really cool stuff, to do things you love and not manage projects. Totally.
Show Your Employees the “Map” of Where Your Agency is Headed
Drew McLellan: I think you’re absolutely right, I think agency owners are often surprised. One of the conversations I will have an agency owner is, look if you want your team to help you get somewhere, you have to show them the map. They have to know where they’re going. They have to know why they’re going there.
And then in most cases, they will gladly hop in the car with you and go. But you can’t expect them to hone their skills to take on new responsibilities. To understand why you’re not coming in until ten because you’re staying home to get your three priorities done before you walk in the door, because once you walk in the door the day is no longer yours. Whatever it is, they can’t understand that, and they can’t embrace it, and then can’t support it if you haven’t told them about it.
Ryan Ayres: Totally. To me that’s a part of the vision. Do all of your employees know your vision for your organization for the next three years? And if they understand that, you can have these conversations, right? My vision is to get less and less in the day-to-day operation, to grow this organization, and to put key people in place to help us have an amazing kick butt thriving agency.
When your people understand that, when you hand something off to them, they … And you explain that this is part of the vision, and what you’re executing against. It’s very different than “pawning off”. I’m doing air quotes here, audio wise, “pawning off”, work onto them and making them resentful.
Like man, why is Ryan giving me this work, that’s ridiculous. If that’s attached to what the vision is, that everyone’s bought into and everyone’s moving towards, it becomes a team oriented solution versus, hey Ryan’s just pawning off work so he can go play golf.
Drew McLellan: Or he’s not showing up till ten or, boy he’s checking out early. I also think, part of this is helping them understand what’s in it for them.
So here’s how we’re going to build this business together and here’s who’s going to be my lieutenants in that and here’s how this benefits all of us. It’s going to bigger, we’re going to be more profitable, I’m going to share those profits. Whatever the story is, helping them see why they too want to get there, so that it’s really a shared goal in vision.
Ryan Ayres: No doubt. I use a employee rating system, and those people that are my A-players, I want to handcuff them. And not like corporate America, golden handcuff where you make enough salary that you can’t leave and find another job. Not that type of handcuffing.
I want them to be a part of the conversation. What do they value? What do they love that I can help provide them, whether that’s vacation days, work flexibility, salary, stock options, bonuses, time off with their kids, split schedule.
Whatever that looks like, handcuff. And that’s how I facilitate that with those A-players that I want to keep around. That’s really important that those are the people onboard with you. They are what build and drive the results of your business, and carry the core values forward.
Why Rating Your Employees is Important to this Process
Drew McLellan: Yeah absolutely. So talk to us a little bit about how that conversation goes. because it sounds like based on what you said, that rather than saying, I’m just going to overpay everybody, which is certainly a strategy.
Especially for agencies, we’re never going to overpay the way corporations overpay. Even our version of overpaying, can be trumped by somebody else’s version of overpaying. It sounds like you have a very unique and personalized conversation with people to figure out what their handcuffs are. Talk to us about how that conversation goes.
Ryan Ayres: So the first part of that is really identifying and, and I hate to use the word but it’s really true, like rating your employees and putting them into buckets and dot dot dot I use a matrix for this and I literally have it on my website where one side is results and the other side is core values and I want people in my organization that have high core values that align with mine and that drive results.
The higher those are, those are the people I want to handcuff because they’re the people taking my business where it needs to go. I may have people who are not getting great results but have great core values, and those are the people I want to train. I want to get them either into a new role or execute on that. And then everyone else who either has low core values and high results or low core values and low results, they gotta go man.
It’s that simple. And you have to think about it in that way. So how that conversation works: I’ve identified the people that I want to put handcuffs on. Really sit down with them and be totally candid with them. “Hey Jamie , you’re a big part of my organization, you know I love you, you know I want to keep you here. What does the next three years look like for you? How can I help you get there? What do you value?”
By then I know Jamie has a family and he enjoys his time off and he coaches his kids soccer games and talk to him about those things that really the drive and mean a lot to him. And I think you hinted on it, Drew. Often times, the very first thing that comes in our head is, let’s pay him more.
Drew McLellan: Right.
Ryan Ayres: I would say probably, 90 percent of the people in my organization, or the people I’ve worked with and dealt with, so I consult with places like Microsoft and Dell and Sports Illustrated, and some really big organizations.
Money is not the reason they stay. Money often times is not the reason they leave period so paying someone more money, you’re just giving away free money. You could have given that person an extra day off, you could have allowed them to work at night, you could have allowed them to work at home in their underwear.
Whatever that looks like for that person, is what you want to do. And it’s a very individual specialized conversation with people that they want to value.
Why Treating Your Employees Fairly Doesn’t Always Mean Equally
Drew McLellan: So let’s say that Jamie wants to work on Thursdays at home in his underwear, so you make that change for Jamie. And then Mary comes up to you and goes, “Hey Ryan, what is the deal? Are we all getting to work from home in our underwear on Thursdays?” How do you handle that conversation?
Ryan Ayres: Well I would first want to know if she is in the handcuff quadrant, right?
Drew McLellan: Let’s assume that she’s in the mushy middle. She gets pretty good results and she’s pretty good on the values, but maybe she’s not as senior, or maybe she’s not as valuable to you.
Because one of the challenges for agency owners, and I’m sure you see this with your clients too is, this mentality that fair means equal. And we need to be fair with all of our employees but that does not mean, in my opinion, that we have to treat them all equally. In fact, I think it’s stupid to treat everyone equally because Jamie very well may want to work at home in his underwear on Thursdays and Mary who’s a social butterfly, would hate to do that, right?
Ryan Ayres: Agree.
Drew McLellan: So how do you handle that though when an employee is asking you to treat everyone the same or wondering why everyone is not treated the same? What does that conversation look like for you?
Ryan Ayres: So I think you hit on it right? Treating everyone the same and unique is hard and difficult at the same time. So I want to first address the mushy middle. I try not to have mushy middles. I know that’s an easy thing for me to say and I know certainly that as an agency owner, that’s not an easy thing for me to say.
But that’s just a candid conversation with Mary about where she is at in my organization, or what she needs to do, or why and how we’re doing things with Jamie like that. And my very direct question with her would be, would that make you happy? With that keep you here for three years? Would that be the thing that you want? And she would probably go I uh no.
I would rather be at the office all day, but what I would love is on every other Friday to get off at 3 because I go play bunco with my friends. Done right? that’s the conversation I think happens.
Drew, all this stuff to me really boils down to clear values, clear goals and missions for your organization, and just being a very transparent and honest person. And if everyone’s stacking hands to that they … If they can’t appreciate why one person that has one thing off and another person has a different handcuff if you will, then they’re probably not a good fit anyways, right?
These will be the same people that will complain and bellyache and be more toxic in your environment AKA they’ll be on the weaker side of your core values. And those are probably the people you don’t necessarily want to grow with. That’s how I would handle it and how I do handle it.
I am not naive to know that that is a very optimistic view, and there are lots of people that sit in that mushy middle did that you have to have to run your business. But they’re not very, maybe the best person and you don’t really want to accommodate their request you just want them to do their job and leave you alone.
I get that there’s a lot of those people, but if you really want to grow, you really want to attain your vision, you have to start having some lines in the sand, and frank conversations with these types of people to establish a path forward.
Drew McLellan: Do your employees know that you have this matrix and that you’re grading them?
Ryan Ayres: They do. And I don’t know if they understand fully how it works. But also the people that I have with me now, the value I have at my organization is that I have really great employees. We’re lean and mean. We have 10 total people, and we rock. And it’s been getting through this process of hiring, firing, getting the right people on the team, to do that. Basically, anyone that’s on the team now, they have the same values as us. And that, in it of itself is …
Drew McLellan: Huge.
Ryan Ayres: The key element to get us where we are now, to where we’re going. They are aware of it. But they also know that to them, it’s just really a high line of standard for doing great work and if anyone is below it, they feel great because they don’t want to work with teammates that aren’t at their same level. They’re aware of it. They pride on understanding the breakdown of how I go through it and what it means.
But they know that they work with A-players and they to work with A-players. And if someone that comes on isn’t an “A-player” quote unquote, however you define that, then we gracefully talk to them about it. Either train them or find a way for them to find something that they can be great at it.
Drew McLellan: I’m curious, and this is probably why I was never a great employee, but if I knew you were grading me, I would’ve asked about the grading system and to see it because I would’ve wanted to get a good grade, right?
Ryan Ayres: Yup. Totally. It’s really simple and it’s the same thing I’d say, we grade on your core values and how you express them inside or the organization or with our customers, and your results. If you kick butt on those two things, then you’d have a place here in our organization. I think where that breaks down, that’s not profound, right?
If you do really good work, and you’re a great person, we’re going to keep you. That’s basically what I’m saying. I think where that falls down for agency owners and really any business owner is, does that person know what they need to do to be successful for their job? What does good results look like for their job?
That’s the thing that you’re asking about, Drew, is what am I being measured against and if you’re not candid on that, for a salesperson it’s sales. For a project manager it’s managing your project correctly. For a designer, it’s how many revisions do we have to go through and what’s your customer service, and what’s the quality of work you’re outputting?
If they’re not aware of what they’re being measured against, or what they’re being graded against, then you’re really doing them a disservice, and yourself. Because you’re not allowing them to flourish at the thing that they’re being measured at.
How to Motivate Your Lower Level Employees
Drew McLellan: I also think, part of that is, most owners struggle with having candid conversations with employees about performance. Especially if they’re in the mushy middle. It’s easy when someone is completely dropping the ball, although a lot of agency owners are a little passive aggressive about that too.
But it is easy when someone is a D-Player to have a conversation with them. I think it’s harder for agency owners to have a conversation with the B minus, C plus players. Were you good at that naturally? And if not, how did you get good at it?
Ryan Ayres: I was okay at it but I also let that fester into some problems. This is sort of why I went down this path of, I want A-players or no players. From a story standpoint I had a really great project with an organization, and I had a B and C player working on it and it just started to fester, the whole project, the relationship, everything.
And it really hurt me. We spent a lot more time and money on making it right. It really scarred me and I had to take a step back and think, what am I doing? Like Ryan, how did this happen and why did this happen? If it stings hard enough, which it did.
From a cost and me doing it right and spending the time and we probably spent three times as much as we made just to make it right, because that’s the kind of business owner I am. I want to make it right.
That stung so bad, Drew, that I had to make changes in my organization to make sure that never happened again, or at least the best to my control, right? As I worked through it, I was like why did this happen? We didn’t deliver. Well why didn’t we deliver?
These people aren’t delivering. These people really weren’t the thing. I have to take ownership in that. I didn’t give one of the guys the tools to deliver. I didn’t give him the guidance, the training, the instruction. I just basically threw him to the wolves. Big learning curve for me. The other person was a season veteran at the organization.
And they were just that person that I should’ve fired. After that I just would think in my head, is there anyone on my team right now that I know I should fire because they’re doing poorly on their job? They are upsetting customers, they’re not representing our brand aka our values. And if I could raise .. if I would raise my hand to any of things I have to take action. You just have to do it. That’s the hardest part.
Drew McLellan: I think it’s particularly difficult when it’s somebody who’s been with you a long time. And at one point in time, they were really valuable, but either their skills didn’t evolve or they just lost their passion or whatever it is, but they’ve been loyal to you, they’ve been a great member of the team. I think those conversations are super tough to have.
Ryan Ayres: They are so hard, and I’m a people person, right? So the people that work for me, good, bad, or indifferent, I’m a relationship person and I know they have families and know everything about them. And they’re so hard. I think the way you do that is with an open, loving, candid heart, on any of these conversations.
And if they’ve been given the opportunity to understand where the organization is going, and you’ve had a number of conversations about the delta between where they’re at and where they need to be, that makes it easier but it doesn’t make it easy. And that’s hard. It really is hard for people.
That said, I’ve also had people in larger organizations that have wanted to be fired and let go, and they’re more scarred staying there because they’re not happy either.
Drew McLellan: Right. And either you can do that, or one of the exercises I make agency owners do, is if they’re going to keep that lame duck employee, I make them figure out what kind of money they’re taking out of their pocket.
Because typically, that person’s higher on the payroll because they’ve been around for a long time, and you might be able to hire a younger, faster, better more skilled, more passionate person for let’s say two thirds of their salary.
So I make them write down and put somewhere on their desk that every week, every month they’re spending … they’re taking two thousand dollars out of their kids’ college fund to keep so and so on the payroll. Is that really the choice you want to make?
And I also make them write down what they think their employees think about the fact that that person is able to phone it in and not bring the value. And what does that say about you as a leader. At the end of the day, this is where the rubber meets the road, right?
If you want to own a business, and you want to run a … be a leader of a business, this is the part of the job that sucks. And you still have to do it.
Ryan Ayres: Yup. No doubt. It is, it’s as simple as that. Do you want to be a business owner, leader, or do you want to be a team – one-man shop or in the business and have a bunch of friends? You bring up a really good point of like what do your A-players think about that? They’re lowering the bar of quality and standard in your organization.
I was at a conference two weeks ago in Austin, and one of the presenters brought up a stat, and I don’t know how accurate it is. But I think it’s profound that a bad employee can cost you up to fifteen times their salary. Whether it’s lowering the efforts of the good players, whether it’s just not producing – the delta between a good player and a great player. And the time you spend managing them.
All these things in aggregate, 15 times seems quite bold, but even if it’s three times their salary, that’s a significant dollar amount to your strategy of saying, two thousand bucks a month is going to this person, right? That’s a big deal.
Drew McLellan: I think it’s one of those things that as you keep them longer, the problem, it’s like a spider web, it just spreads through your organization and has huge impacts. So I think the hardest part about running a business is the people side of the business, because we do care about them.
Typically, even if you’re running a 150-person shop, these are people you know, these are people you care about. It’s difficult to make decisions that impact their life even though they’re the right decision for your business. But there is a way to do it with heart and with compassion that allows everybody to have their best opportunity moving forward. Even if that opportunity isn’t with you anymore.
Ryan Ayres: Yeah, that’s right. With heart and compassion is definitely the way to do it. They are people. They are humans. They are fathers, they are mothers. People we should take care of and it’s 100 percent true.
Drew McLellan: One of the conversations I have with a lot of agency owners is, quite honestly, if you have an employee that’s a C-player or below, that’s been with you for more than six months, and you haven’t had that conversation with them, you’re doing them a disservice and you owe them something. This is your failure, not theirs.
Ryan Ayres: Agreed.
Drew McLellan: Because either you have to elevate them up to you B plus or better, and ideally in your role, you’re right, ideally you’d like to have all A-players, but that’s probably not realistic. But you can get darn close right? Or you need to let them go and let them find a place where they can be an A-player.
Ryan Ayres: That’s right and I think if you have an honest conversation, people don’t want to be the C-player inside of a place. Like if you said, hey right now you’re just that person. We could probably spend a whole hour talking about just the hiring process in and of itself, right?
All too often it’s like, “Hey do you know PHP or hey do you know WordPress? For my specific business, yeah, hell yeah, here you go, here’s a project.” That is just not the way to go. That’s what gets you in this position in the first place. So changing your hiring practices is a big part of avoiding that in the long run.
How to Avoid Sliding Back into the Day-to-Day as a Business Owner
Drew McLellan: So I want to want to ask you one quick question and then we’re going to wrap up because I want to be respectful of your time. When you’re working with business owners and you’re trying to help them step out of the day-to-day role, operator role, into being, really being the business owner and the visionary, and helping take the company where they want to take it.
And as you say, really spending their time doing the thing that they are gifted to do, and they start to slide back. What do you do as a coach? How do you help them recognize that they’re sliding back and stop the slide so that they can keep going up the mountain like they want to?
Ryan Ayres: So Drew, to me, that is an awareness. How are you spending your time? Not only, the people I work with, we’re not only just working on things, we’re working towards something. And if you’re working towards something, the things you do during the day, or those actions are working towards it.
So I use the Freedom Journal as a good example. That working toward a goal or something specific, and if they’re not getting their items done in their freedom journal, they’re not making progress towards those goals, that tells me they’re spending time doing other things. We’ll really just sit and say, “Hey in this last week, in the last seven days what did you spend your time on? Let’s take a peek at your calendar. Print out your calendar and let’s go through the things that you spent your time on.”
And just really doing an audit and, most of the guys or gals that I work with that really forward looking, this will be in their dialogue with me. “Oh I got stuck in this trap of helping clients so on so out”, right?
So to me it’s really auditing their time and comparing it to the mission and focus and project or goal we’re marching towards. The people I work with, Drew, are people that I don’t have to have this massive accountability conversation with.
They’re the people that already want to change. They want to grow, they know that they want to change their vision so this is isn’t like a tough conversation, typically. They’re already very self-aware. They know that they spent time on things they shouldn’t.
And we just talk about how, to adjust and to develop a couple of specific strategies for specific things. “Hey, when this client calls next time, let them know they need to talk to Jamie. That Jamie is their main point of person and you’ll be happy to send it to him and let you know if there’s any issues when they reach out to Jamie,” or something to that effect, right? Specific strategy for the specific problem.
Immediate Action Steps for How to Work ON the Business, Not IN It
Drew McLellan: Almost the script, yup. Yeah. Alright this has been awesome. This has been a great conversation as I knew it would.
So Ryan, if people are listening and they’re saying, I got to get out of the rut. I got to get out of the day to day, what exercise or book or tool might you recommend to them to get really clearly about their vision, so they know where they’re headed. It sounds like from your perspective that’s a critical first step.
Ryan Ayres: Yes so for me, I believe a lot in a gentleman called Cameron Herold. He writes a book called “Double Double”. It’s an older business operations book.
Drew McLellan: Yeah it’s an awesome book. Yup.
Ryan Ayres: Yup. And he has a vivid vision that he uses and I’m just actually moving what I’ve had for my vision of my organization into this framework, if you will.
So I would highly recommend people check out what a vivid vision is. And you can just Google or search it. And to really establish the vision for your organization, and the next thing is to get the people on your team that can help support that vision.
With the core values and results. Getting your employees rated. I just even hate saying that because I think it’s sort of slimy sounding, but it really needs to happen. Maybe it’s an assessment of where your organization stands. Do you have the right people on board to help you get there versus a rating.
But it really is a rating. And making sure that you’re handcuffing, you’re training the right people. And firing the wrong people.
Those are the things I would focus on intently. And then how you spend your time. What are you spending your time on? So double down on some of those tactics, I think you would get on the right way.
If you don’t have people around you to help, find a mastermind group, find a coach, find Drew, listen to this podcast. Do those types of things to you so that you are doing what you really want to do. And if that really what you want to do is being a business owner, not being in the business, these are the types of things you have to do.
Drew McLellan: Yeah. Amen. Couldn’t agree more. We will put a link to Cameron Herold’s vivid vision in the show notes, everybody. We’ll find an example or notes online somewhere, I’ve seen it. The book is a fabulous read. You should all read it anyways. But I will put a link to that.
Ryan this has been awesome. Thank you so much for being so transparent, for sharing your time and your expertise. I know that people have mostly been driving, hopefully have been frantically taking notes. And I’ve hoped you’ve inspired them to step out of their day-to-day and be true to their true talents. So thank you very much for your time.
Ryan Ayres: Thanks for having me, Drew, this has been a blast.
Drew McLellan: You bet. Hey if people want to learn about you Ryan, your business, follow your … I know you write a blog, I know you’ve got a podcast. What is the best way for them to track you down?
Ryan Ayres: The best place is my website, Focus53.com and then as well I have a Focus 53 podcast. I really dial in on people and processes as you can tell that’s part of the conversation here. That’s really what I focus on in the podcast. That’s really the two best places to catch me.
Drew McLellan: Awesome. Thanks again. So much.
Ryan Ayres: Thanks, Drew.
Drew McLellan: Hey everybody that wraps up an episode of Build the Better Agency, and I hope it was super helpful. I know it was for me. I took some notes and I’m going to make some tweaks in how I do my things day to day. Hopefully you did the same. I will be back next week with another great guest who is going to help you think differently and build your business to serve you and your clients, and your team, and your family in the ways that you wanted to do that. In the meantime, couple of things.
One, if you’re enjoying the podcast or maybe you just stumble upon us, please make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, as you know they come out very week. And no one should miss one because all of my guests are awesome, like Ryan. And I don’t want you to miss any of their wisdom.
Also, always grateful for ratings and review. That’s how we get found by other folks. So if you want to go over to iTunes or Stitcher or Google, and give us a rating and review, I would be most grateful for that.