Episode 236

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Agency owners wear many hats and certainly one of the most important is leader. There are days when that’s easy and even fun. And then, there are days like the ones we’ve been having lately, when the weight of that role can get pretty heavy. Our employees need us to guide them through these uncharted waters. And to do that, we need to stay calm, confident and compassionate. But how do you do that when you can’t even be in the same room.

The current COVID crisis is pushing teams and agency leaders to their limits. Fortunately, leadership and culture expert Adam Carroll has tools and insights that will help you show up to be the best leader possible; in a time when that leadership is sorely needed.

In this episode, Adam and I talk about how to manage and stay aligned with a dispersed team, how to hold everyone accountable, and how to create connections that will survive and thrive beyond the crisis. Adam’s advice is pragmatic and actionable. You’ll be able to put it into play immediately.

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.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Advice for agency owners on how to lead their team while working remotely
  • How agency owners can be authentic and compassionate and still hold the team accountable
  • The HEAT framework and how agency owners and leaders can deploy it throughout the organization
  • The importance of shared ownership and the elements you need to create it
  • What agency owners should be aware of as they transition to a virtual environment
  • How to reinforce the team aspect of your agency, despite not physically being together

The Golden Nuggets:

“Agency owners can create some calm by giving their employees something to be certain about.” @AdamCarroll Click To Tweet “Shared ownership requires three things: information, decision-making, and an understanding of the consequences.” @AdamCarroll Click To Tweet “During the COVID-crisis, there are two things that agency owners need to be extremely mindful of off the bat—frequency of communication and recency of communication.” @AdamCarroll Click To Tweet “Coming up with team projects and other things they can contribute to is a good way to remind them that, although we’re not physically together, we are still a team.” @AdamCarroll Click To Tweet “What cannot be lost in this are the lessons we take away from the downtime.” @AdamCarroll Click To Tweet

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast. Presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid sized agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable and if you want down the road, sellable. With 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 with Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to the podcast and thank you for making the time. I know that for many of you, you are in the midst of trying to figure out how to manage through the COVID-19 crisis. You are worried about clients, you’re worried about your employees, you’re worried about your own future, and  so I appreciate you taking the time to be here with us and I want to make sure that I reward that choice by having amazing guests that are going to help you through this. And that’s exactly why I wanted Adam Carroll to come on the show.

So I think we are in a season where right now our leadership chops are being tested. It’s easier … It’s not always easy even in the best of times to be a great leader but it’s certainly easier to be a good or great leader when things are going well. But when you are in the middle of a storm and the seas are swirling all around you and you’re not sure how high they’re going to be or how long you’re going to be in the storm or what’s coming around the bend, it’s difficult to think about sort of making sure you show up as the best leader you can be. And that’s absolutely what is called for right now. Our people need us to be calm and confident and compassionate. And it’s hard to do those things when you are afraid and when you’re worried and when you are unsure. It’s hard to show up that way. And it’s also hard to find a balance between being calm and confident and compassionate and also being transparent about the fact that you don’t know necessarily what’s coming next week or next month and that you are worried.

And so Adam and his company The Renzo Experience help organizations not only build and become great leaders inside the organization but also create a culture around shared responsibility and accountability and just a culture where that’s where everybody wants to be. That these are companies where people want to work there and they don’t want to leave because they’re so grateful for the work environment that they have. And a lot of that is thanks to The Renzo Experience, Adam’s company, and the work that they do. Adam and I have known each other for a very long time and he is a very, very, close friend of mine and honestly, he’s like a brother to me.

And so I was talking to him earlier this week and we were talking about just some of the challenges that business owners are facing. And I was sharing with him some of the experiences that I know some of you are having. And I just said, “Would you be willing to come on the show and just help us be better leaders during this storm?” And of course he was gracious enough to say yes. So I am going to extract from him as much goodness and practical, actionable advice as I can about how we can really be the best leader possible through this. And hopefully some of those habits and skills will stick as we get back into calm waters. I think we all want to be great leaders. And so maybe some of the things that we learn in this season will stick with us and will just be a part of our leadership repertoire even when things are going great again. So without further ado, let’s get to the conversation because I have a lot of questions to ask Adam.

Adam, welcome back to the podcast. Glad to have you back.

Adam Carroll:

Drew, it’s an honor to be back with you and your guests.

Drew McLellan:

You and I were talking on the phone which led to this conversation on the podcast about what a struggle this is for leaders. Most people who own agencies probably didn’t take a lot of leadership classes. Many of them are natural leaders but they certainly have never led through a crazy time like what we’re going through now with the virus and how afraid everyone is and certainly the business uncertainty as well as the health concerns. So I really want to talk about, how do we show up as the best leaders we can be for our team, for our agency, and how do we be the leader that we want to be remembered for being when people look back on this crisis and go, “You know what, I’m really glad I worked at X, Y, Z agency because my boss helped me stay calm, helped me stay focused, I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on.”? How do we be that boss? Because I think these are uncharted waters for us.

Adam Carroll:

No doubt. I think you hit the nail on the head Drew just right of the bat. And that is, how do we remain calm? How do we remain focused on the tasks at hand or the vision at hand? And last, I honestly think this is where most leaders are really falling down. They’re either falling down or they’re stepping up in a big, big way in this moment. And that is, are they showing that they genuinely care about their people? Not just in their actions. Hey, here’s what we’re doing to make sure everyone’s there. But in doing outreach to their people and just communicating with them in a way and in a framework that I want to share with your audience here in a bit. I think there are two things right off the bat that we need to be really mindful of. And that is the recency and the frequency of communication. And candidly, where this comes from Drew … My children are out of school as many people’s children are. There has not been one email from the superintendent of our school district.

Drew McLellan:

Really?

Adam Carroll:

Not one.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Adam Carroll:

Not one that came specifically from the leader of this entire organization. And I know because I’ve heard rumblings from other parents. There’s a little bit of frustration just about the flat out uncertainty of it all. And I think that’s where leaders today can really create some calm is by giving their employees something to be certain about. And that is, I care about you, we’re doing everything we can to make this work, and here’s evidence of that.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting. It’s such a different game that we’re playing right now. I got an email from an agency owner this morning who said, “ne of the things that we’re thinking about is pulling everybody back to a three or four day work week and adjusting the pay accordingly, but we’re still just thinking about it. Normally I wouldn’t say anything because then everybody gets their undies in a bunch and a freak out. Should I be talking about this?” So let me tell you what I said and then you-

Adam Carroll:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

If I did it right. What I said was, “I get under normal circumstances you don’t want to plant seeds in their head about things that they may or may not have to worry about. There’s nothing normal about these circumstances and they’re worried already. And so knowing what you’re thinking, even if what you’re thinking is a scary thing or a bad thing, if it’s a layoff or whatever it may be, them having some certainty about where your head’s at, what you’re wrestling with, when you’re going to make a decision or what event, a drop in AGI or whatever it is, is going to trigger that decision will help them stay calm.”

Adam Carroll:

Yes. And I would agree with that. I think that there are probably some parameters to put around a decision like that which might be things like, I’m going to talk it over with my key leadership team before I ever bring it up to the general public within the organization. But I think what it points to, and this is something that I’ve been cheerleading in companies for a good long time, is the idea of shared ownership. And shared ownership requires three things. It requires information, it requires decision making, and it requires understanding the consequences. And unfortunately for some agency owners what may be happening is, they have the information, they make a decision, but once the decision is made the consequences are only felt by their people and their people never had any information and never felt like they had a say in decision making.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Adam Carroll:

And the example I give often when I’m speaking to groups is, my son’s birthday party. He was frustrated because he couldn’t buy candy and pop and popcorn and pizza at the venue where we were going to watch a D league basketball game. And my dad said, “Well, did he have any information about the budget?” And I said, “Well, no. I didn’t know there was a budget.” He said, “Did he have any decision making ability about how many kids would show or what they would do for food?” And I said, “No.” And he goes, “Well, it sounds like he’s mad because he’s dealing with the consequences but had no information and no decision making so there’s no shared ownership.”

So for leaders today, particularly in this situation, if you were to put out information, “Here are some of the things we’re thinking about. The decision making process will look like this. You all have input but ultimately I have the decision to make. But you all have input and I value your input. And I understand that the consequences of these decisions are X, Y and Z for your families or you tell me what the consequences are.”, at least now there’s shared ownership in the decision being made and everyone’s like, “I completely understand why Drew would do what he did and I appreciate the fact that he shared all the information with us and gave us some say in how the decision was ultimately made.”

Drew McLellan:

I think what makes all of this more difficult and very unique to this moment in time is that we can’t have these conversations face to face. So many agency owners are struggling with the whole work from home thing in terms of how to manage it, how to stay connected, how to encourage. And so I know that you do a lot of coaching with people who are thinking about or moving to a working from home environment or a virtual environment. So what are some of the things that leaders need to be aware of in this weird concoction of not only do we have business slowdown and the health scare, but we’re all doing it remotely so we’re missing that connectivity that we would normally have in having these conversations.

Adam Carroll:

Yes. So there’s four separate disparate things I want to talk about. And we’ll go through each one of these that I think might be interesting for your listeners. For agency owners what they need to realize is that when you get pushed into a work from home situation, they’re immediately suffering from four new itises, four new challenges that they have. And it’s kind of a versus situation. So the first one is, flood like versus spotlight. When you go to a work place it’s easy to see the things that are happening around you knowing what the vision is. We’re getting this project done. We’re working with this client. We have a meeting on Friday, et cetera, et cetera. That’s like a floodlight. We can see it all because it’s all right there. When people go to work from home it’s very spotlight. I need to do this, I need to do this, I need to do this.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Much more task oriented.

Adam Carroll:

Very much task oriented. And so that touch base almost needs to be focused on what are your expectations about what you to get done today? And that’s what they’re going to focus on first. So we have to shift from a floodlight focus to a spotlight focus. So as leaders, if I know that you’re a project manager or you’re an AE and you’re working with a specific number of clients, my call to you might be like, “Drew, what are your expectations for today? What do you want to get done today? What would be a win based on the clients you’re working with and some of the campaigns you’re writing, those kinds of things?” Very focused on the task. So that’s number one. The floodlight versus spotlight. Number two is the idea that there is a difference at home between access and availability. And for the people that are working from home that also have children at home or, like you and I, pets at home who think we’re here to play with them all day long-

Drew McLellan:

All day long.

Adam Carroll:

All day long. I saw the ball throwing. How many did it end up being?

Drew McLellan:

52 before she had to go get a drink of water and laid down for 15 minutes and then she was like, “Hey, let’s play.”

Adam Carroll:

If you have not watched this video on Facebook on Drew’s page, go watch it. It’s hilarious. For children especially, the idea between access and availability is one that has to be very clearly defined. Yes, dad is accessible but I am not available today or I’m not available for this 90 minute segment of time. And so what work from home folks have to realize and leaders have to realize for them is it may be better just to say, we’re going to do a 90 minute work sprint from 9:00 to 10:30. We’re all going to talk a half hour to go do what we need to do in the house. We’re going to do another from 11 to 12:30 and then we’re going to break lunch. And let’s just check in real quick via GCHAT or maybe be on Zoom or something like that about what did we get done? How do you feel about the last 90 minutes? How did it go for you? So it’s this constant check in. So that is access versus availability. That’s number two.

Number three is the sociability aspect of it all. And my daughter made this great point last night and she said … And it’s kind of connectedness versus sociability if we do a versus. She said, “Dad, I wondered if we are in some gigantic Sims simulation and someone clicked pandemic just to see what happened and we’re all experiencing it now.” And I had said, “What if this is some great social experiment?” And she goes, “Yeah, I was thinking about that, that we’re all in somebody’s Sims game.”

Drew McLellan:

I wish someone would click the button again.

Adam Carroll:

Yes, right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Adam Carroll:

But what it underscores is the need to go out and connect with people even if it is virtually. And so I brought it up. Maybe it’s working in a group and you have three people on a Zoom chat and you’re just like, “Hey, for 90 minutes we just know that we’re all there and we’re all working. Let’s just see what that feels like.” Because what we don’t realize is we’re going to work every day, that we have habits and rituals of going to the coffee pot and on our way to the bathroom we stop and say hey to Jim or Janine. That’s part of our normal daily routine. We don’t have that so it feels weird.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. I think the isolation both in the spotlight and what you just talked about, that combination has a lot of people wrestling with depression and sadness and almost a grief of losing what was normal. And again I think … And I know you’ve got one more to talk to us about but it just feels like we have to help our people heal all of that so that they can be productive and they can feel okay and they can survive this mentally and emotionally well because we do care about them. From a practical point of view we also … Everybody’s trying to keep the wheels on the bus at this stage so we need everybody kind of at their A game.

Adam Carroll:

Yep. Absolutely. And the last versus, and then we’ll get into how do you keep them on their A game using this framework, is the logic versus emotion spectrum. And when we’re at work, generally speaking, we can be very logical about what needs to happen and how we’re going to get it all done. When we are in the midst of chaos like this, emotion tends to take over because of the uncertainty. So it’s that what if and what if Drew decides he’s going to lay half us off? And what if we can’t get unemployment? And what if, what if, what if? The emotions start to spiral down and then it shuts off all logic and we go, I can’t even work. I can’t even get work done because I’m so emotional about where I’m at. So first of all, how does that hit you?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think all of that is … It all boils down to the different ways we’re experience this isolation. Even the introverts I know are by now sort of itching to have human contact and the huggers I know are crawling out of their skin at this stage.

Adam Carroll:

Oh my god.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Adam Carroll:

Somebody touch me. Yeah, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

But it’s really about how do we show up as the leader and the boss to help them get through this? And also, I think it’s also an issue of outcome. So every agency owner and leader listening to this, their team has stuff they’ve got to get done. As you were talking about the spotlight versus the floodlight, I think one of the things that’s difficult is it’s easier to do hard work in hard times when you do see the big picture and you know why you’re doing it. And when you have, as you call it, spotlight focus of I have these five tasks that I have to get done, I guess it’s easy to get lost in sort of the meaninglessness of it.

Adam Carroll:

Totally.

Drew McLellan:

So how do we give them more of a floodlight? How do we help them see the bigger picture?

Adam Carroll:

So this leads directly into this framework that I think we can leverage. And just food for thought, I have started leveraging this in all facets of my life. So I know you. You’re an amazing dad. You’re an amazing mentor and coach to other people. You’re running two businesses. Probably more than two businesses at any given point in time. This can be done … This framework can be leveraged in a variety of different ways, a variety of different times and I’ll go through exactly how we might do that and then you can maybe pose a question to me about how it can be leveraged in various situation.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome.

Adam Carroll:

The framework spell … It’s an acronym that spells heat. And the idea is we want to keep our teams warm. When they’re all spread out all over it’s very easy to get cold. Just for the company to go cold, for the trail to go cold, for everything to go cold. So we have to maintain the heat all the time. And when I say all the time, I’m talking maybe two to three times a week you’re going to have this conversation with folks. But it goes like this, the H-

Drew McLellan:

Hang on. I have a question. Because I’m hearing them asking as we’re talking. Is this the agency owner that has to do this with everyone? Is it a direct supervisor conversation? Because some of … You may have a team of 50. So how is this handled?

Adam Carroll:

In my opinion this could be leveraged throughout the entire organization. It really more answers the question of what do I even say to people right now? What is the conversation I’m having on a regular basis because it feels like … Well, if you watch the news how many cases are there? I mean after a while you just don’t even want to have the conversation. So what we’re going to do and we’re going to answer some of the four itises that people are having in this but this would be agency owners, it would be direct line supervisors, it might even be people back and forth to each other that are on teams.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Adam Carroll:

So the H very simply is, how are you? How are you doing? And when we’re asking how are you, my hope and intent in this is to get someone to release some of the emotional steam that they have so that we can then get to logic afterwards. Because if someone says … If I say, “Drew, how are you?”, and your first answer is going to be-

Drew McLellan:

Well, if it was someone other than you perhaps I would go, oh, I’m good. With you I would say, I’m tired.

Adam Carroll:

Yeah. Yeah. And so what I so what I would say is how are you? And then I’d say, how are you really? Because they’re going to go, I’m fine, things are fine. How are you really? Well, besides the fact that my spouse and I are about to rip each other’s hair out and the kids are driving me crazy.

Drew McLellan:

We put one of the kids up for sale on Etsy.

Adam Carroll:

Right. Right. How are things going? Well, I’m dismembering my family as we speak but it’s good. So how are you? How are you really is meant to just … What’s really some of the emotional stuff that’s caught up in that? And what they may say is I’m just really tired. And that’s going to lead to some of the other stuff that we’re going to talk about but I might say, “Tell me more about being tired. What’s causing you that? Help me out. Is it client work? Is it home? Is it-”

Drew McLellan:

Are you having trouble sleeping?

Adam Carroll:

Yeah. Yeah. Get a sense of that. What’s stressing you out? Is it the unknown? Is it worry? And our goal is just to, again, hit the release valve, get some of the emotion out, we’re going get to logic after that.

Drew McLellan:

But it’s also just humane.

Adam Carroll:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

It’s acknowledging sort of the hierarchy of what matters here. And yes the work matters and yes the agency matters, but what really matters is I care about you as a human being and I’m worried about you, right?

Adam Carroll:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Adam Carroll:

Yep. And I think the question logically would be asked back, how are you then? And as an agency owner or as a direct line supervisor, being somewhat transparent about … I’ll be very candid. I’m concerned about revenues but we’ve planned for this. And we have some contingency plans and we may have to make some harder decisions or more creative decisions down the road but we’ll get to that point. Right now it’s fine.

E, when we move down the line, E is expectations. So the first thing … This can be done a number of different ways. Could be done with your employees, it could be done with family, it could be done with yourself. We’ll talk about yourself at the end. But E is expectations and it basically is … Let’s just take today as an example. What do you expect to get done today? What would be a win for you? And what that’s conveying from a leader to a direct report is what I’m most concerned about is that you are feeling good about what’s getting done because there is one more versus and it’s the time versus outcome. Because a lot of people would go to work eight hours a day, but let’s be real, they’re working three and a half or four. Maybe six. Two of them are spent in impromptu meetings and hallway conversation and maybe a quick brainstorm session on a whiteboard. That doesn’t happen when you’re at home.

So there are some people that are feeling stressed because they sat at their desk all day being busy and being numb to everything that’s going on because they’re probably surfing Facebook and Twitter and whatever else. All we need to know is … And this is a little bit of a spotlight conversation. What do you expect to get done today? By the end of the day today, what’s a win for you? So expectations. Comments, concerns on that one?

Drew McLellan:

Nope. I think you’re spot on.

Adam Carroll:

Yep.

Drew McLellan:

And I think it also allows us to catch if what they think is the priority isn’t the priority.

Adam Carroll:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McLellan:

Because one of the challenges of working remotely is normally you’re used to doing huddles and all of that and a lot of agencies are getting creative with daily Zoom huddles and things like that. But it’s easier when we’re not bumping each other in the hall for things to get dropped. And so this is also in my mind a safety net to go, “Oh, yesterday, you’re right, that was the big priority. But this morning so and so called and now it’s this.”

Adam Carroll:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Adam Carroll:

Exactly. And again, some people would be saying, “Do I have this conversation every day?” It may be two days, three days. I’m going to do a check in Monday, we’ll check in Wednesday. What are your expectations by the end of the week? What are you going to get done? So this can be flexible. For my wife, the question was, “Hey, do you have any expectations about tomorrow? What do you w