Episode 259:

Ongoing professional development is a challenge in most agencies. It’s tough to gather the right tools/resources, some agency owners aren’t sure about how to make it happen and for most the biggest challenge is making the time. And yet we know that one of the critical elements of our agency’s ongoing success is that our team has to keep getting better. I am a firm believer that professional development is a shared responsibility, which means your employees should do some of it on their own time and on their own dime. However, creating a culture of ongoing skills development and contextual learning is vital to stay ahead of the pack. And it’s not as hard as we might think.

My guest for this episode is a longtime veteran of the advertising industry. From print production and creative services to leading employee development within HR, Cecilia Gorman earned her stripes at agencies and brands large and small – most notably Y&R, Oakley, and Innocean. She currently consults on manager development, helping creative-minded companies strengthen the communication, leadership, and effectiveness of managers at all levels.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Cecilia joins me to talk about what it actually looks like to build a team of lifelong learners. She explains how agency owners can integrate professional development into their culture and create an active learning environment that impacts their clients and their team members alike. That not only serves your clients well but dramatically impacts retention and employee satisfaction. Everyone wins.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Owners | Creating a culture of active learning in your agency

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The number one thing that gets in the way of professional development
  • Why agency owners need to make professional development a part of the culture
  • How some agencies are carving out time for professional development, and when is the best time to invest in employee growth and development
  • What managers can do to create an active learning environment
  • How we can use storytelling to get more buy-in to our culture
  • The importance of developing self-awareness on top of technical skills
  • Four key skills that agencies should never neglect
  • Cecilia’s background in the agency world, and how she transitioned into professional development coaching

The Golden Nuggets:

“The most expensive asset agency owners have is their people, but we don’t really know how to help them develop their skills over time.” @_ceciliagorman Click To Tweet “The number one thing that gets in the way of professional development is time.” @_ceciliagorman Click To Tweet “The professional development initiative has to be a part of the culture—it has to come from the top. Without that step, it will never have a powerful everlasting effect.” @_ceciliagorman Click To Tweet “Professional development is not something that gets added to our plate, it is just how we exist and how we operate.” @_ceciliagorman Click To Tweet “Today, employees are less tolerant of working in an environment where they are not being invested in.” @_ceciliagorman Click To Tweet “The four key conversations that agency owners should never neglect are courage, resilience, curiosity, and initiative.” @_ceciliagorman Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Cecilia Gorman:

Announcer:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road sellable.

Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency, I am very grateful that you are hanging out with me today and that you are here ready to learn and think a little differently about your business. I know how crazy your world is, so I’m grateful that you made the time to spend this time with me, so thank you.

A couple quick comments before we get into today’s topic which you are going to love. The first one is the Build a Better Agency Summit. So people have been saying to me, “I know you had to move the summit from May to November. It’s not November 11th and 12th in Chicago. Are you really going to have it live?” And here’s what I will tell you. As best I know in mid June, yes our plan is to have it live. It’s a small event. It’s going to be under 250 people. We are working with the hotel to make sure that everybody feels safe and has plenty of space around them, all those sort of things.

But who the heck knows? If you would’ve said to me a year ago, “Hey Drew, do you think a pandemic’s going to get you to move your first ever conference?”, I would’ve said, “No, I don’t think so.” So what I’m saying to you today is yes, we plan on doing it live. We are working right now to make sure it’s safe and fun and amazing. But who knows, maybe we will have to move it to a virtual event.

But I will tell you this. We only have about 100 tickets left, and if you want to attend, now is the time to grab the ticket. So I would not dilly dally. Obviously if we don’t have the event, then we’ll give you your money back. But my plan is if for some reason, knock on wood, some unforeseeable reason we can’t do it live, then we’ve talked to all the presenters and we have the technology lined up. We will do it virtually. Is it ideal? No, absolutely not. There is nothing more magical than having a bunch of agency owners and leaders in a room connecting with each other, learning from each other, that’s just indescribable how amazing that is.

And so, I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen. But, we are going to get you the information. We are going to give you all of the tools you need to walk into 2021 with a great plan, with a great vision, and that you’re going to have a great year. So one way or the other, Build a Better Agency Summit is going to happen, and we’re going to deliver that for you.

However, there’s still a limited number of tickets. So if you think you want to come and you believe that by November, if you haven’t already traveled, many of you have already got on planes and been on vacations and things like that, but if you think you’re going to be ready to travel by November, than by all means grab a ticket. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com. In the upper left part of the navigation, you’ll see BABA Summit, click on that and you can register right from there.

Remarkable speakers, great conversations I know are going to happen, and we’re going to have a blast, so I hope you join us.

All right, let me tell you a little bit about the topic today. So early in my career, one of the first agencies I worked at was Y&R. And one of the things that was amazing about Y&R when I was very young in my career was they had, as you could imagine they had the resources for it, they had this amazing training program. You could take courses in a plethora of ways and you were encouraged to take a minimum number of courses or professional development classes a year. But if you were a high performer and you were getting your work done, then you were able to do even more than the minimum that everybody was asked to do. And I was really fortunate that I got access to take as many classes as I wanted.

And what didn’t occur to me then but has occurred to me since is that none of the classes were about me getting better at my job in terms of what my skills, my hard skills like writing skills, they were really all about how I could be a better professional and how I could learn how to be a better team member, how I learned how to be a better communicator. And I think when we talk about professional development in agencies, first of all I think we have to acknowledge that as a general rule, we are really lousy at professional development. Most agencies don’t invest a ton of time and money into it, most agency owners aren’t sure exactly how to do it.

And the reality is from the day someone comes into our agency, so our onboarding is lousy if we have anything at all, and it just sort of goes from there. We just expect everybody to learn on their own. And while I am a firm believer that professional development is a shared responsibility, meaning that some of it should happen on the agency’s time and on the agency’s dime, and some of it should happen on the employees’ time and the employees’ dime.

But absolutely creating a culture where ongoing learning, professional development, self exploration, is not only encouraged, but that is rewarded, that you recognize when people have done it, I think is critical to us making sure that our team is staying ahead of the pack and that we can continue to deliver against client needs at a higher level than anybody else.

And so what I’m going to say to you is I think this is a topic that we don’t give it enough attention and time. As leaders, we all talk about we want to be lifelong learners, we want to employ people who are lifelong learners. But we don’t really talk about what that looks like, and we don’t necessarily offer a helping hand.

Now some of you absolutely do. I see your people in our AE boot camps. I see them in our online courses. I see them if you’re a member of one of our peer groups, you have access to the special interest groups where people who do the same kind of work from other agencies come together and learn from each other, and many of you take advantage of that.

So I’m not saying everybody doesn’t do this well. What I’m saying is no matter how good we are at it, I bet we can be better, which makes me think that our agencies can be even better.

So I met Cecilia Gorman a few weeks ago. Cecilia has an agency background, so she’s worked in agencies for a big part of her career. Found her way into the HR side of the business, discovered that she really loved mentoring and coaching and training people on how to be better at their job, and then set out on her own to really help particularly managers learn how to manage better. And so after talking to her and hearing her philosophy about agency professional development and growth and learning, I knew that she would have a lot for us to think about and give us a lot to chew on.

And so, I invited her on the show, and lovely for us she said yes. I don’t want to take up any more time in my commentary. I want to get right to it. So let me introduce you to Cecilia, and let’s get started.

All right, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Cecilia Gorman:

Oh, thanks for having me. I’m excited to have this conversation today.

Drew McLellan:

Me too. I’m excited to introduce you to my audience because you come from our world. And so, tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you have come to do the kind of work that you’re doing today.

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah, very good. So Cecilia Gorman from Orange County, California. I’ve lived here my whole life. I kind of stumbled into advertising. My first job out of college was at a printing company, and so I learned a lot about ink on paper. And one of our clients was an ad agency, and the print producer left and my boss was like, “Hey, I think you could do that job,” and just fell in love with advertising, just the whole entire process of it.

I never would’ve called myself creative, but the second I was immersed in that environment, I was like this is my jam, this is where I want to be.

Eventually, I moved into creative services, so I was running resource management, a lot of financial management, performance management, and then recruiting obviously. So part of that was going out to colleges and speaking to students talking about, “Hey, get a career in advertising.”

I fell in love with two things at that point. The first thing was public speaking. I loved having a mic in my hand. And the second thing was that age and getting your start and helping people find their way because I felt like that was a clunky period for me. And so, entry level folks, new managers, people who were just trying to get their footing, became a group that I became focused on. So a lot of side mentoring, side coaching. Going to HR, “Hey, can I help with some trainings?”

So I did that for the bulk of the time I was in advertising, and towards the end of my full-time career I was blessed to go brand side to work at Oakley for a couple of years. And Oakley had a pretty big training and development team, and so I was like, “Hey, what are you guys up to? Can I hang around with you?” And so they fortunately gave me more opportunities there to do official training and development.

So then I got certified as a trainer. I went back to an ad agency, worked in HR in organizational leadership, and I was just hooked. And so, I went out on my own five years ago, and mostly work with ad agencies or brands in working with their creative teams or their marketing teams. So I still have my foot in the creative world, but now I focus exclusively on manager development.

Drew McLellan:

If there is an industry that woefully under-prepares their people to be successful, I cannot think of one more than agencies. I mean our onboarding typically is, “Hey, it’s great to have you. Here’s your desk. Here’s your computer password. By the way, you have a client meeting at 10:00. Go.” Right?

Cecilia Gorman:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

That’s sort of how it is. We offer AE boot camps, and a lot of times even though somebody may have a decade of experience in the business, it’s the first professional development they’ve been offered. And so one of the things I worry about, in most agencies without a doubt the most expensive asset they have are their people. And yet, we don’t really know as an industry, there are certainly exceptions to that rule, we don’t really know how to make them better at their work. We don’t really know how to help them develop their skills over time. So why do you think we suck at that so badly?

Cecilia Gorman:

Well, I think the answer is, and this is one of the questions I ask in one of my presentations, I say, “Hey, what’s the number one thing that gets in your way of employee development?” I can ask employees that question and I can ask agency owners or HR that question. Number one reason is always going to be time.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, yeah.

Cecilia Gorman:

Don’t have time, don’t prioritize the time. Time holds hands with budget. Time holds hands with priorities. We just don’t make the time. And so at the end of the day, if I have a client asking me for something or I want to go work on myself and take some training, the client’s going to win every time.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Cecilia Gorman:

And so, that’s the conundrum is trying to figure that out, and that’s where I’m trying to be focused on, “Listen, if we say success is important for us, if we just started at the top. We say success is important for the agency. Success is important for the client’s business.” And everybody nods and agrees and all the executives say, “Yes, yes, yes.” And then we also say, “Well, we need great employees to help us get to that success.” Everybody’s nodding, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

And then you go down another tier and we say, “We make time to equip people to help us lead to that success.” We’re like, “Yeah, until we’re busy.” And so those things can never align, and so that’s what I’m trying to focus on is what can we do that’s low cost/no cost, and we just engrain it into the things that we do as an agency that ancillary is equipping the folks that we need to rise up through the ranks and to be ready and to grow with us. So if we always say it’s time, time is never going to go away.

Drew McLellan:

Right, and we’re never going to have … Well, and if we have so much time that we have plenty of time for training, what that means is we don’t have enough work to keep people busy and we’re going to go out of business. So even hoping that that would happen is actually not a hope that many agency owners hold in their heart, right?

Cecilia Gorman:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

So when you look at agencies that have made the time and have carved out the time, that have made the commitment, what’s different? What do they do that’s different than the average agency who sort of seat-of-their-pants on the fly might train as a teachable moment, but really doesn’t have a formal policy or program for their team?

Cecilia Gorman:

My inclination is to say something that I think sounds cliché, but honestly this is where I land every time. It has to be part of the culture. It has to be that the person at the top says, “Learning is part of what we do.” And I think without that step, I just don’t know if it’s going to be a permanent, everlasting, powerful change. But until we say, “Our culture is about learning,” and it’s ingrained in what we do, then once you say that you can umbrella down the things that lead into that. You can say, “Listen, we have coaching moments and then we talk to our senior leaders.” “Well, what’s a coaching moment?”

“Well, you just came back from a big client meeting, didn’t go so well. You were the only account person in the room. You come back, and you coach the other account people about what went awry, what could’ve been better. Get them to throw in how might you have prepped this differently, what might you have said if the client said this?” And so, there’s different ways that we can make it just be this is who we are, this is what we do. So it’s not a thing that we do that gets added to our plate, it’s just how we exist and how we operate. I feel like there’s just a slight but important differentiation between those two things.

Drew McLellan:

And I think most agency owners would say, “We love lifelong learners. The business is changing so fast that we have to keep learning,” which I think is true. I mean when I think about what agencies did five years ago versus what they do today, it doesn’t look very much the same. So we had to learn all that in the last five years. So what do you believe, beyond saying we are an organization that has a commitment to learning, what does an owner have to put in place? Because here’s I think part of it too is I think a lot of employees want to learn more, but they think they’ll get in trouble.

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Right? So how do I as an agency owner not just give lip service to we’re lifelong learners blah blah blah, but how do I actually convince my employees that I want them to keep learning?

Cecilia Gorman:

Well, I think that there’s strategies and then there’s reality. So the reality is going to always go through the filter of what’s the agency, what’s the culture, what are the other senior leaders, are they buying into it, that sort of thing. But the strategies I feel like are the same, and that’s honestly I think there’s key junctures where we can’t skimp on training. There’s just key junctures.

If you’re talking about a mid size to a smaller size agency, the very first juncture is onboarding. And so it’ll always go like, “What does it look like when you onboard an employee?” And it’s anything from, “I show them the desk and I give them the login to the server,” to, “Hey, they’re asked to take this online course. They read this book. They go to lunch with so and so. They do this,” an extensive and thorough thing. There’s a huge range. So that’s the first juncture, that’s a serious juncture. If we could just take that a little bit more seriously, I think that that sets the tone for, “Here’s what we expect from you as a member of our agency.”

Because we get back to we have all these unspoken expectations of people. I talk about initiative, right? You’re breathing, you’re an adult, you have a job. I assume that you have initiative. And yet, how do I know you have it? Have you learned it? Have you been tested in it? But if I set the expectation in our onboarding, “Here’s what initiative looks like Junior AE. Here’s what initiative looks like as you [inaudible 00:17:58].” And I’m able to say it in a place where I know all my employees have heard it. You set up that process once, that’s gold.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the best onboarding I’ve seen is an agency, and they’re small, they’re 10 people or less, the owner put together a series of some of it’s email and some of it’s video. But when you onboard at their agency, for about 60 days every two or three days you get a new email. And it’s telling everything from the origin of the company … And the point of it is we hope that we actually talk to you about all of this stuff, but in case we don’t here’s the backup system, right?

And so it’s like everything from here’s how we do certain things to like you say, “Here are our values, let me talk to you about one of our values today and why it matters to us and blah blah blah blah blah.” But the time that it took to do that … But what I love about it is everybody hears the exact same thing because we have all this tribal knowledge bouncing around in our agency, and depending on who tells the story about any aspect of the how we work with clients or whatever, the story is slightly different. But if there’s a common shared library of these stories, then everybody hears the same thing.

Cecilia Gorman:

Right, and it keeps people accountable. I know you heard it, you know I heard it, and if one of us goes awry we’ve kind of got that, I don’t want to say pressure, but there’s just this built-in accountability to it. So that onboarding is a key juncture.

And then obviously for me, my next juncture was then you become a manager, and I give you a business card. I give you a pat on the back. I give you a team. And then I’m like, “See you later.” You never hear from me again.

Drew McLellan:

Right, yeah. “Best of luck with the team,” right, right.

Cecilia Gorman:

And we know struggling new managers turn into struggling mid level and senior leaders, and so if we’re having problems … And there’s what’s interesting. So when I first started my business, I made my New Manager Boot Camp. It was an online course. New managers, 20 lessons. And what I found after about three years was that the people that were buying it from me were not enrolling their new managers. They were enrolling their mid and their senior level managers, or even having their leadership team go through it.

So I was like, “Wait, this is telling me something.” So we ended up rerecording everything, taking the word new out of everything. There’s just fundamentals, like you said. Maybe the same thing with your AE boot camp, just things that never change and you need to [inaudible 00:20:31].

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So we’re recording this mid June, it’ll probably air a month or so later. Agencies have been in panic mode because of COVID and all of that. But it seems as we’re coming out of COVID, and maybe the agency has shrunk by a couple people, maybe people are wearing multiple hats, or in some cases the agencies are busier than they’ve ever been before depending on who their client base is. But is there a perfect time to invest in employee education and talent development, and is this it? Or is it just one of those things where the perfect time was you start yesterday, so start today?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah, yeah. Well that’s my favorite saying is, “The future is now.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Cecilia Gorman:

So we say we want the agency to be successful, want the client’s business. We say that. That’s the future that we want. That’s the state that we want. And yet today, we’re de-prioritizing it because all these other things that are coming in the way. And so, it’s like if you want to lose weight. If I say I want to lose five pounds and I say, “That’s the future I want, I want to fit in these great jeans. I want to lose five pounds,” and I’m saying that while I’m eating a plate of nachos, what I’m doing right now is the future I’m going to have. We have to connect those two things.

And so now is that time. We have to have a plan for now on talent development if we say, “We want to be more equipped in the future.” And we can’t speak out of both sides of our mouths. So either it’s a priority now, or you might not be as well-equipped and you might not be as successful. You’re making a choice every time it gets de-prioritized.

Drew McLellan:

And I guess that’s really the crux of it, right? Like what’s at stake do you think for agencies or internal agencies at brands if they don’t keep sharpening the saw, what’s the cost to them? I mean it seems to me that in the world that’s changing as fast as ours is, it’s pretty easy to become irrelevant.

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah. There’s so much irrelevancy. There’s the talent war. People are cherry-picking talent from wherever they can find it right now, so there’s this competition. And as well, I feel like employees are less tolerant of working in environments where they don’t feel like they’re being invested in. A generation ago, or even when I first started, you’d stay at a job 10 years. Maybe you didn’t get a raise for five of those, but it was good work and you stayed. Now it’s like, “I’m not sure. I might bunny jump and hop a few places.”

So it’s a retention strategy. I can pour into you and help you grow and be more equipped because maybe I don’t have all the money to give you a raise, but man I’m going to teach you a lot of things. It’s an engagement strategy. I’m going to do more work. I’m going to be more engaged. I’m going to be more productive when I feel like I’m really learning and growing. There’s so many pieces of it.

So all of that is at risk, and maybe even the biggest risk is that we have someone who’s under-equipped client-facing.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. Yeah, what is that saying, “I don’t want to train somebody because they might leave,” but isn’t it worse than not training them and have them stay, right?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Every year we’d go out into the field and we’d do research in a series we called The Agency Edge. Normally we talk to CMOs about their relationship with agencies. But a few years ago, we talked to almost 1,000 agency employees, and the number one reason why they would decide to stay at a specific agency is because they continued to learn and grow. Number one reason, right?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, so I think you’re right. While I think it is sort of generational, I think we all want to keep getting better.

Cecilia Gorman:

Oh absolutely, absolutely. Someone called me on that once while we were talking. I was on a presentation, I was saying, “Millennials will leave.” Someone actually wrote me a note after that and said, “Hey, I was really offended that you said that.” And I got her on the phone and said, “Talk to me about that.” And I was like, “You know what? You’re right.” I think overall people are focusing more on this is my whole life and this job is part of it. And if it’s not really floating my boat, I might have more courage than I would’ve previously to go and move. I don’t know if it’s an age thing. I think it’s that I want more from my life.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think the kind of employees that we all say we want, which are go-getters, people who really want to do excellent work, they’re the same ones who want to keep getting better and smarter. There are some people who just want to check in, check out, dial it in, do their eight hours, and go home. They may be less interested in learning, but that’s not the employee that you want to have surrounding your clients.

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah. And also when we talk about learning, I just want to make sure we caveat that doesn’t mean get them in a training room or in a training class. That learning is going to happen in so many areas, so that’s that whole scope. We’re not just talking about pay money for a trainer. I’m a trainer, of course I’m going to say that, but I actually want to equip managers with tools to help them help their team learn more that isn’t necessarily about stopping, adding time, you’re going to have to be away from your desk to go to a formal thing. No, we could be learning all day every day if we just knew a few things to be able to do.

Drew McLellan:

So give us an example of one of the things that you think managers can or should do to create an active learning environment where learning is happening every day?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah. Well I mentioned that one a bit earlier. My favorite show is Grey’s Anatomy, and in Grey’s Anatomy, the hospital, it’s called a teaching hospital, this Grey Sloane Memorial. And what they do to make it a teaching hospital is they narrate what’s happening with the patient. So everybody in the room, all the interns in the room, can learn while they’re actually doing the procedures.

So the example that I gave a little bit earlier was an account director goes to a client meeting. It goes to hell in a hand basket. They come back, they think on it, “What could I have done?” And they’re the only person that takes that lesson away. Versus, when we come back, we postmortem our pitches, we postmortem our big presentations, and we’re talking as a team what went wrong or what went great, but just that narration of what we’re doing. Managers saying, “Hey listen, I had a really tough client call today, and let me talk you through the dynamic and what went wrong. What would you have said if they said this back to you?”

And just get people talking and learning from someone else’s experience. That doesn’t cost any money. I mean maybe it’s a little bit of time, but it’s not a ton of time. It’s not eight hours in a training room time.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right, right. As you’re talking I’m thinking if the manager had the courage to do that, that’s what gives the employees the courage to do. Because if I’m a rank and file, I don’t really want to come back and go, “Yeah, I just screwed the pooch in a meeting, and this is bad.” Unless they’ve seen their boss do it and that’s it okay, culturally it’s okay to go, “Yeah, that didn’t go so well,” or, “I didn’t present the creative as well as I should’ve,” or, “Boy, I realized in the middle of the meeting that I didn’t even talk to the Art Director about why they picked that color palate. When the client asked me, I had no idea.” But you have to be in a safe environment to do that.

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah, absolutely. So I call it optimizing failure. It’s not just failing, it’s optimizing that failure. And again, that comes back to we’re actively cultivating a culture where we do that. And then that can be as simple as Mistake Mondays. So the team has a Monday production meeting or a standing meeting, Mistake Mondays, and it just becomes a thing we do. So you have to share something you made a mistake on, I have to share something.

And a contact of mine does this every Monday, and if you don’t have something to share, they make you do something silly like you have to do five burpees or you have to sing the National Anthem. So it becomes a silly, safe thing that proves we’re taking risks, we’re staying humble, and we’re learning, and so we’re going to share. So Failure Friday, Mistake Mondays, whatever it looks like, but it’s intentionally cultivating that this is a safe place to make mistakes, and then reminding your senior leaders this stuff starts with you. This is you saying, “Hey listen, here’s something that happened to me. It threw me for a loop and I want to talk you guys through this.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And also in that conversation, so if I make a mistake and I internalize it, I don’t learn anything and neither does anyone else. Somebody else could’ve said, “Oh, I did that three times, and then I did this thing. I’ve never done it again.” And it’s like, “Oh great, you just saved me two more times at least of making that mistake.” Right?

Cecilia Gorman:

Right. So I think that’s where it goes back to it just has to be part of what the culture of the company is, and I say just right, that’s the hardest word in the English language. It just has to be part of the culture. An agency, a department, even just a team, is intentional about this is how we learn.

Drew McLellan:

Okay, so I love the Mistake Mondays. I don’t know why we always have to have alliteration, but we do. What’s another way that we can bake this sort of learning spirit into the day-to-day of our shops?

Cecilia Gorman:

So here’s one that I love, and I love it in an advertising environment and a creative environment, and it’s about storytelling. So as advertisers, career-long people working in the industry, we get it. We know the importance of stories. They’ve been told since the dawn of man, they connect us as a culture, human beings love them, we’re hear to heart, we love stories.

When you talk about how we’re telling stories of ourselves at the agency and how we’re being connected, if you think of it like weaving a spider’s web. So let’s say Drew you’re my boss, and I know you’ve told me the story about how you got your job here, and I know a little bit about you. So we’ve just woven one strand of that spider’s web between me and you. So I know a little bit about you, maybe you know a little bit about me.

But that’s just one strand. That’s pretty fragile. That’s not necessarily keeping me longer at the agency. Maybe I don’t feel fully connected, but if I also know the story of the person who’s the head of Finance and I know the story of the person sitting next to me and I know the story of how the agency got its start, I know the story of how we won that client, all the sudden we’ve got this web now. And it’s harder to break, and if one key person leaves, we’ve still got a pretty good web going.

And the reason why we want to feel connected to our workplace by way of the stories we know about everyone is it’s a retention strategy. It’s a longevity strategy. I need you to be here longer so I can develop you so you’re rising up my promotion pipeline. And frankly, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, this word rising up through your LinkedIn feed but I have is belonging. So now we’re talking diversity, inclusion, and belonging. People say I want to feel like I belong, and when I know the story of more people of where I’m at …

When I worked at Oakley, it was such an interesting perspective to be brand side for the very first time. If you lined up every single person that worked at Oakley in a line, 1,500 people, and you said, “Do you know the story of how this company got started?”, every single person could tell you the story of Jim Jannard in his garage pouring this special mixture and making BMX bike grips and discovering that the problem with bike grips was they were too slippery so when your hands got sweaty your hands slipped off the grips. He made this special plastic that when your hands sweat, they actually got sticky.

And so this invention of this product launched what Oakley was at the beginning. Everybody knew that story, every single person knew … So it connected you to the brand in a way. And we can do this as simply as using LinkedIn telling the story of your Controller. “This is Mary, she’s our Controller. She’s been in the advertising industry forever. She loves this, she loves this,” and publicly feature key people in your company. People will be stoked. “Hey, we’re featuring you this week.”

If you have an intranet, if you have a newsletter, if you have a town hall, start telling people’s story. And once I know more about you and that person that I just passed that I don’t really know what they’re up to, it’s a connection thing.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things I think a lot of agencies have been doing during COVID is because we’ve had these Zoom meetings, a lot of agencies have been doing … of course we’re agencies, so immediately we go to a Zoom happy hour. But they’ve been playing some interesting games like everybody tell us about your worst haircut. It’s almost like getting to know you dating stories, but they’re connecting in ways that they didn’t when they were in the office before. And they’ve been doing it to make sure that they keep the culture in tact and all of that.

So one of my hopes is that some of that habit goes back to the office when they go back to the office so that they again, as you say, they get to know each other at different levels. And I also think part of that means when you know somebody, it’s easier to ignore the third Art Director from the left when they have a problem and you don’t really know them from Adam. But when it’s Babette, and you know that she’s trying to get out of there because she’s got a three year old she has to pick up at the daycare, but the client just brought this problem to her … All of a sudden, you actually lean in and have compassion for and connection with your coworkers.

So that’s a different kind of learning. I agree with you it’s an important kind of learning. It’s a different kind of learning than what we were talking about before. So are there-

Cecilia Gorman:

But let me make a connection real quick. The reason why I say that’s a learning strategy is because you have to have butts in the seat to be able to develop people. So if people aren’t staying very long, they’re taking all the learning you’ve invested in them so far, and they’re leaving because they don’t feel connected and they don’t feel like they belong. So it’s an important piece of that foundation. It’s not putting you in a training room, but man you’ve got to have some longevity of these employees here that you’re investing in.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, absolutely. Are there different kinds of learning? So if I’m an agency owner and I’m thinking there’s skills learning, but what are some of the other learnings that I need to be thinking about that I make safe and available to my team besides I want you to be a better writer for example.

Cecilia Gorman:

I think that if you were only going to do one thing and you were only going to focus on one topic, and it’s one topic that would maybe instantly, drastically, and permanently change the effectiveness of your employees, it would be to spend time learning, talking about, working on self awareness. Self awareness is just helping people understand the importance of self awareness, what it looks like, how it helps us, how it hinders us, how it contributes to relationships and communication and growth. You could talk about self awareness now until the next millennium, but what I think it is one of those topics that we don’t say that word out loud very often if at all in the workplace unless there’s an asshole and he’s not self aware at all.

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say we do say that in the workplace, we just don’t say it to their face. You’re exactly right, yeah.

Cecilia Gorman:

You know the absence of it, and yet we’re not cultivating it. We’re not talking about it, and we’re not saying, “Listen, it effects having tough conversations. It affects having performance conversations.” There’s just so many pieces of it, if we just fundamentally started with a primer on self awareness, you’re going to see an instant change.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I want to ask you a little bit more about that, but first let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and continue the self awareness conversation.

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All right, we are back. And right before the break, we were talking about the idea of teaching people about self awareness. So I was going to ask you, and then I decided we should stop first because I figure this will take us for a while, but I think most people think self awareness is either something you have or you don’t have. I don’t think most people think about it as a learnable skill, they just think some people are more self aware than others, right? So how do we teach it?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah. So I’m going to disagree with that. It’s not-

Drew McLellan:

I agree with you, but I think a lot of people make that assumption.

Cecilia Gorman:

Any time we can get a little bit more information about anything, about better communication, better relationship, better leadership, we now can not only impact the moment that we’re in but every other moment where we need to be self aware for the rest of our lives. So that it’s almost like compound interest. You make a penny on your $100, it’s going to pay off for you exponentially as the years go by. It’s the same with learning self awareness in your career. Some people aren’t going to learn it to the level where they’re making compound interest until they’re maybe in their 50s. They never listened to feedback, they had a big ego, their style was working for them, who cares if employees were leaving, they were the head of the biggest revenue account, nobody could touch them, nobody could [inaudible 00:39:52]. And yet if we could back that up a decade or two and really help people understand here’s what growth and self awareness gains you. Here’s what it looks like, here’s what you can do to get better at it, and here’s the help I’m going to give you because it’s going to involve getting some feedback.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And I think about the generational issues that we’re having inside agencies now where people paint people of a certain generation up and down the age range by certain characteristics. And I think if everyone had more self awareness of understanding how their generation comes across to others who have had different life experiences than they have, I think a lot of that might go away or at least be muted.

Cecilia Gorman:

Well for sure. I mean you get smarter about anything, it’s going to help. If you spend some time talking about what are the biases that come along with my generation? What are the biases I’m holding against other generations? I do a little bit of study there, it’s going to help me. Same thing as if I do a little bit of study about relationships. Maybe I read The Five Love Languages or whatever. If I read a few things and I’m concerted about getting smarter, you’re going to be able to apply that and grow from it.

The thing is with a skill like this, it’s one of those ones, like I mentioned initiative, we just assume because you’re an adult and you have a job and you’re here that you have some level of self awareness that comes along with you. And then I start making assumptions about that and I hold you to some expectations where I haven’t actually been purposeful in helping you hone that skill.

Drew McLellan:

So if somebody’s listening and saying, “Oh gosh, we could do some of that in our shop,” what does that look like?

Cecilia Gorman:

It’s actually one of my favorite things to teach. I just got done with a three part series on emotional intelligence. We did three weeks, an hour a week. The first week was self awareness. The second week was social awareness, third week was self control. And we just did a short deep study on what that looks like and how we grow in it. My Manager Boot Camp has similar lessons in it.

I think you could easily start with talking about what does self awareness look like for you. “Hey, when you think of being more self aware, what does that mean to you?” We could honestly just have a conversation in our team for 10 minutes. If you think someone doesn’t have any self awareness, what are they doing? They’re a jerk, they’re this, they’re this, everyone can name that. “Okay, when you have good self awareness, what does that look like?” This and this and this. We could ask just some simple questions and get a discussion going about it, and everyone’s going to get a teeny bit smarter.

I think there’s power in, I don’t know what you want to call them, like masterminds or group studies where that’s another low-cost/no-cost way an agency can get the group getting smarter is, “Let’s just talk about this for the next 20 minutes.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So if a manager or owner is not particularly self aware, A I guess do they know they’re not self aware? But B, can anybody lead that conversation? Like do you have to have this mastered to lead this conversation?

Cecilia Gorman:

You know what? I don’t have an answer for that, and people ask me that a lot like, “What if my boss is the world’s worst leader?” It sticks me because I love leadership so much and I feel like if you’re the CEO or you’re the department head, you’re not allowed to not know. So I have this very firm like I want to shake the person by the shoulders, and so I never have a good answer for that besides if you have a high turnover rate and you’re losing good people, man you just got to start paying attention to that kind of stuff. You just have to tune into your own radar. You got to want to get better. And you can’t force people in leadership positions to do that.

So what I tell people who are struggling with it, and their manager maybe is not self aware, has no sign of ever being self aware, I just say you focus on you. You role model it for you. And you speak into it so you can say, “Hey listen, I actually just took this three part study on emotional [inaudible 00:44:28]. It was really cool. They talked about this,” and you kind of just bring the subject up. You try to expose them to it. You try to role model it. I just don’t know how you get that person to change. It’s a tough one for me. I want to crowdsource the answer for that so I’m like, “If you don’t fix it.”

Drew McLellan:

Well it’s interesting because when we talk about training inside agencies, I think people immediately go to hard skills. And really, a lot of what we’ve been talking about are softer skills. So I’m curious if an agency owner says, “You know what? I’m going to think through a year-long educational program,” what are the skills you think that every agency has to elevate their game on that if they were going to do a skill a quarter let’s say, what would you think those four are?

Cecilia Gorman:

Gosh, that’s a great question. Okay, so I just put together a package for an agency here in southern California, so they kind of wanted to do the same thing. So we’re doing a quarter at a time. We’re taking one topic for each quarter, and we’re going deep once a month on a lesson. And then we’re going to give them emails to support it. We’re going to give them some discussion guides. So it’s this emersion thing.

They haven’t picked their four yet, but the one that’s always in the top runner for everyone that I talk to is this art of tough conversations. How do I help people get more skilled and equipped at giving and receiving feedback? A number one, always, so that will definitely be one of them.

Foundationally, we want to talk about either management skills or you’re an emerging leader and here’s the things we want you to focus on. So that’s a little bit about self awareness, that’s a little bit about understanding what you stand for. There’s always just a foundational course on here’s some of the things that you need to know, like the bricks that you need in your foundation to be able to grow here.

It depends on what’s going on in the agency, but a lot of times the topic turns into trust. Building trust on teams, navigating when trust is shattered/broken/dented a little bit, especially as we start talking about client relationships and things like that. And then always something to do with better communication and just how we’re … So not only in tough conversations, but how do I have those skills to be able to communicate better? Which might be some some disc training. I’m going to learn about different communication styles, learning how to be flexible, learning how to speak up for myself, have a little bit of confidence in what I’m saying.

It runs the gamut kind of right there, but the reason why I hesitated at the beginning was because the four key skills that I also think are important, I don’t know if they’re the four I would start with in a yearlong training curriculum but they’re ones that I don’t want agencies to neglect, are courage. I want us to be having conversations about what does it mean to be a courageous leader, what does courage look like for us, how do we take action into courage, how does that benefit us.

The other side of the courage coin is resilience. What are we doing to build resilience? Are we allowing our employees opportunities to take risks, potentially fail, and learn how to be resilient? Where is resiliency required of us most? Do we have a really asshole client that just pushes us and you need to be really resilient to pick yourself up and head back into that ring every time with them?

Curiosity, which falls into that bucket. We’re ad agencies, of course we’re curious. Okay, great. Are you purposefully and intentionally curious? Are you setting the bar for what curiosity looks like? Are you role modeling it or have you gotten into that rut of this is just what we do, client’s going to say no, they never pay for that, budget, we don’t have enough money for that?

Curious falls into the empathy and compassion and diversity bucket. I want to be curious about the people that are in front of me. I want to be curious that I can learn more.

And then the fourth one is that one about initiative. That one’s kind of been in my crosshairs lately because I just don’t know if we’re equipping people with a thorough understanding of what initiative looks like. Are we actually saying, “Hey, here’s what initiative looks like for an intern.” We’re assuming they know.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah right. I think everybody says, “Look, you got to be a self starter here,” and then they walk away. Right?

Cecilia Gorman:

Exactly. So I’m loving those four for a different reason.

Drew McLellan:

But what’s fascinating is not any one of those is about the work we do. They’re all about how we do the work and how we come together as a team. But I think a lot of agency owners think about professional development. They think about I want to make you a better fill in the blank whatever your title is, and what you’re really talking about is I want to make you a better professional. I want to make you in some ways a better-equipped human being, just to function through life, part of life is work. But it’s really about … I mean if you take the eight skills that you listed, they’re kind of survival skills, right? They’re not about agency work, but they are about how to survive and thrive in probably any culture, but in a culture that is as deadline-driven, as pressure-driven, as our world is, those really are survival skills.

Cecilia Gorman:

Right. And if that were me, I’d put all my money on that because here’s the deal. If you’re at a smaller size, you need that versatility.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Cecilia Gorman:

Because I need to be able to decide, “Hey account executive, actually I need you to be a project manager right now.” I have to be able to maneuver employees when an agency’s at a certain size. So if I’m investing all my time in making you skills heavy in a certain thing, one I run the risk that you might walk out the door and take all that knowledge with you. But two, I might be putting you in too narrow of a thing that doesn’t help me. So if I’ve equipped you foundationally with some more transferable skills, that might be in our best interest.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. It’s an interesting perspective that I don’t think that’s where agency owners heads go when they think about professional development. I think they do think about, “I should send them to get certified in project management,” or whatever as opposed to, “I need to teach them how to have really tough conversations with the vendor who dropped the ball, but in a way that that vendor still really respects us and honors our relationship in the future, right?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah. I can see an equal need for both, but the second one is a foundational need for just everything that person’s going to do for you.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I suspect that there are some folks listening who are going, “I would rather teach him how to be a good project manager.” That sounds easier, that’s like a skillset. So if you’re an owner or a manager and you’re listening to this, how do you wrap your head around teaching something that maybe you haven’t mastered yet?

Cecilia Gorman:

That’s a beautiful question. Listen, I think the beauty of good leadership is knowing that you don’t know everything, and you don’t have to know everything. I honestly recall the team I had at Oakley was pretty big, and I was intimidated there for a little while. Just the brand and being outside of this comfort of an ad agency. But I feel like what really connected me to my team was my ability to say, “I don’t have the answer here,” like I’m making this stuff up as I go along. “What do you guys think? If this was your problem to solve, how would you guys solve it?” And we worked through a lot of the challenges we had together.

So if I’m not as mastered in a skill, I think what I would challenge managers to do is to just have some self admittance to that. Say, “Hey listen as a team, we’re all going to get better at listening. I know that I’m not a number one student in that. We’re all going to commit right now. Active listening, that’s on our radar this month, and here’s some of the things we’re going to do. We’re going to put our phones down when we’re in meetings, just to make sure we’re all staying focused.” And as a group we decide we’re all going to get better. And I don’t have to be the best to be able to do that, I just have to rally the troops and say, “Hey listen, I’m going to be in the ring with you.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah, I think about … Obviously everybody listening is putting this through their own lens of how they have approached leadership. And I think about the way I’ve chosen to parent which is I define it as I sort of live out loud. My daughter’s 27, but for her whole life I’d be like … like we’d be having dinner and I’d say, “Boy, daddy made a big mistake today. I had to go and apologize to an employee because I did this or that,” or whatever.

And I honestly think if we could more of that, probably not refer to yourself as daddy in the agency, that’s just weird, but take that out and just say, “You know what? I messed up today. I really didn’t listen. This is something we have to get better at and here’s a great example of where I didn’t excel.” I actually think that invites other people to want to learn more with you because they’re doing it with you as opposed to being the student and you’re always the teacher?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah, so here’s the gold I’m going to give. So everybody who’s listening, you got to have a pen and write this down. This is the phrase that I think is the game changer when you talk about a manager’s ability to be vulnerable, to be impactful, to be inspiring to their team, and it’s this. “I was thinking about you last night.” So it sounds a little creepy stalker, but you got to hear me out. “I was thinking about last night.”

So Drew, let’s say you’re on my team. I’m the manager of the team. I come in one morning and I say, “Hey Drew, I was thinking about you last night. That conversation we had yesterday, I think I misspoke more than once. I feel like you looked upset. I don’t think we solved the problem. Do you have a few minutes so we can start over? I was thinking about you last night.”

So that beautiful phrase communicates so many things. It communicates I actually think about how I show up as your leader, and I spend my free time doing that. Two, you’re really important to me. Three, I’m not perfect. Four, I’m cool with apologizing for that. And five, I want us to work on us getting this right. And there’s probably a six, seven, eight, nine, 10 on top of it, but it’s just this easy sentence that you can come back at something where you didn’t show up in a way that was as leaderly as you wanted to be.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah, you’re right that’s gold. And it ends up with education, but it starts with compassion and connection.

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah. It’s like we’re all growing. “I was thinking about you last night. You know what? I don’t think I was really listening to you.” I’m admitting something, we’re calling out the trait, we’re going to agree to work on it together. So I just think it’s little subtle things like that that if we could help managers … And I keep going back to managers because that’s like throwing the stone in the pond. You hit the one person, but they ripple out and they affect the whole team. Just some targeted phrases and teachable moments and tools that they could use, I think you’ll see impact on that pretty readily.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah, this has been fascinating. I know people are going to want to learn more about the work you do. I know you’ve got some free resources for folks. Can you give everybody a sense of some of the work that you do and how they can find out more about it and how they can connect with you?

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah absolutely. I’m doing my best to keep the flow on free resources right now just because of COVID and all of that. I’ve been teaching some free classes, creating some free PDF resources, etc. All of that is at ceciliagorman.com. So if you click on Resources, I also have a training calendar on there. Some of the trainings I have on my calendar are paid, some of them are free. Almost everything I do that’s free gets archived on my blog, so you can always catch a video replay on that.

And then if you want to talk deeper just about some of the things I mentioned, maybe it’s a three part series on emotional intelligence and the conversation we had about self awareness, maybe it is an annual program like I mentioned I’m putting together for one of my clients. All remote. We pick a topic a quarter and we go deep on training. All of that, it’s [email protected] So we can have a conversation about that, but whatever I can do to offer people assistance. I love this. I love talking about it. I love teaching it, so happy to just jump on a call with anyone.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with me for an hour and for I think changing how people think about the idea of professional development. I think our conversation today and what you had to share will broaden the way people think about professional development. And in some ways, it’s so much more accessible the things you’re talking about because I don’t have to know SEO to teach somebody SEO, I just have to know that maybe I could be a better question asker and I could show up in a way to be more curious, and let’s talk about what that might look like.

Cecilia Gorman:

Yeah, absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think you’ve given everybody lots to think about, so thank you for sharing your expertise and your time today.

Cecilia Gorman:

Got it. Okay, thanks for hosting me.

Drew McLellan:

Of course. All right guys, this wraps up another episode. So Cecilia gave you a lot of things to think about, but here’s my challenge for you as it always is. What are you going to do with it? If you’re on the treadmill and you’re like, “Shut up Drew, I want to get off the treadmill,” and you’re going to get in the car and you’re going to go to work, what do you actually do with this? How do you have it change your agency? How do you have it change your own leadership style?

That’s why the podcast is here is yes I want to give you interesting things to think about, but I want you to do it better. And I want you to do it better because I think that means you get better results, which ultimately means your agency is more successful, you’re more successful, all the good things that you want start with doing it a little better. So you have all kinds of little tips that came out of today’s episode that you can do better. And so I’m curious about how you’re going to do that, so if you want to shoot me an email and let me know, I would love to hear that.

Just a couple things before I let you go. I just want to remind you that you can go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/assessment, and answer a series of questions, I think it’ll take you five minutes or so, and we will send you back a report that shows you where you need to be focusing your attention in terms of your agency. So take that free assessment, and let it give you a little bit of insight of what you need to be focusing on, especially on this back half of 2020 as we try to kick COVID to the curb and we try to move forward and have a successful and profitable 2020. So take advantage of that if you can, would love to make that available to you and it’s easy and quick.

Also want to remind you that every week we put out videos and we put out other free resources. If you’re not connected to me on LinkedIn, that’s the first place I post those videos every week, so please feel free to reach out, introduce yourself, make a connection with me on LinkedIn, happy to have you.

And remember, we have the Build a Better Agency Facebook group, so if you want to actually ask questions about your agency. Right now, we’re having a fascinating discussion about what project management software people are using. So come on into the group and ask your questions. Not only will you hear from us at AMI, but you’ll also hear from other agency owners. We haven’t been doing it very long, so there’s plenty of room for you. So just go to Facebook, search for Build a Better Agency group. And then you have to answer three questions which are do you own an agency, what do you want to talk about, and are you going to be nice? That’s pretty much it, and then we’ll let you in. Okay?

So I will be back next week with another guest hopefully to get you thinking in as interesting a way as Cecilia did for us today. Otherwise, you can always track me down at agencymanagementinstitute.com. I’ll talk to you guys soon, thanks for listening.

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our Salary & Benefits Survey. Be sure you also signup for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.