Episode 24

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Art Boulay is the owner of Strategic Talent Management and offers common sense solutions for hiring better employees and making current employees stronger. Art has partnered with AMI for years and has created (through testing A players) profiles for the ideal candidates for most agency specific positions.

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Assessment tools for hiring the right employee lead to more objective and effective hiring
  • How Art’s tools can assess agencies, what makes them unique, and how that will help to find the right future employees
  • From hire to retire: what employers and employees should do to ensure that employees don’t leave right away
  • How to use assessments to counteract biases that we bring to the table during the hiring process
  • Why asking specific types of questions and having at least two people conducting an interview will reveal what you actually need to know about interviewees
  • Tips for making ads as attractive as possible to the people you want to hire and unappealing to people you don’t even want to interview
  • Why age is not an indicator of knowledge and skill: hire leaders, not experience

 

The Golden Nugget:

“In an interview, don’t let yourself excuse something away. Dig deeper.” – Art Boulay Click To Tweet

Click to tweet: Art Boulay shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!

 

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Drew McLellan:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invest in 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.

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with you, again, with another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am really excited about today’s topic because if there is one thing that all agencies have in common, it is their reliance on their employees. For agencies, that is our greatest asset, our biggest costs factor, and oftentimes our greatest source of frustration. We’re going to dig into that today.

As you know, this podcast is all about helping small to midsize agency owners run their businesses better, make it more profitable, make it more fun. I know all too well because I walked the path with you, the risks that we all take as agency owners. I want to help you mitigate those risks and maximize the rewards that can come with agency ownership and that’s what this is all about. No better guest to join us and talk to us about how to do that than my friend Art Boulay.

Art is the owner of Strategic Talent Management and he helps leaders fully realize their own talent and the talents of their employees. What I love about Art is that when he works with agency owners or other business owners, he’s very practical. He gives you great ideas. He’s got a great sense of humor to help you sort of get over the bumps. He really has some common sense solutions for helping us either hire better employees or better fit employees, or make the employees that we have an even stronger, better fit. With that, I want to welcome Art to the show. Thanks Art for joining us.

Art Boulay:

Well, Drew, thanks for the invitation. This will be fun. Always good to talk to you.

Drew McLellan:

It will be fun. Art has been a partner of Agency Management Institute for quite a long time. Many, many years ago, Art decided and I think this was brilliant, and has really served a lot of agency owners well, he decided to profiles sort of the best of the best in many agency positions. We can sort of create an ideal profile to test against prospects for his clients. In other words, if I wanted to hire an AE, Art’s got a model for, we took sort of the top 15, 20, 30 AEs and we tested them, and we found some commonalities in all of them, both in terms of how they work and why they work and what motivates them.

Then, Art can lay your candidate against that profile and sort of tell you where they match up and where they don’t. I will also tell you, and Art, I’ve told you this before, my agency has used Art in several cases. Sometimes, I was smart enough to follow Art’s advice and other times, quite honestly, I thought I was smarter than Art, which always proved to be an expensive mistake on my part. I can speak from personal experience that that Art’s work is on the money. I know many other AMI agency owners are shaking their head and nodding saying, “Yup,” that they too have had the same experience.

Art, I want to talk a little bit about sort of how you came to be doing this kind of work and sort of your background and the kind of work you do day in and day out. Just tell us a little more about you and your company and the work that you do.

Art Boulay:

Sure. One thing I’d say is it’s not that very hard to be smarter than Art, but it’s the assessments that it’s tough to outsmart. I’ll give credit to where credit is due.

Drew McLellan:

Fair enough.

Art Boulay:

But we, my background was in business. I had a 10-year run in the IT field where I became a manager and I was, IT in those days was kind of new and exciting. There was a lot of people like me in the business who didn’t have Computer Science degrees because they hadn’t invented those yet.

As I became a supervisor and team leader, then I moved into management, I really discovered that’s what I enjoyed and went to a lot of conferences and read a lot of books and really tried to wrap my head around this whole issue of leadership and management, which was new to me but I realized from the beginning and even in my technical field, it was the people who made a difference and yet, because I was in a technical field, most of the courses and development opportunities existed in the more technical areas, how to be technically better IT shop.

I really preach that today as I developed my own business in ’91. I brought this idea with me. It was really about the people. As we accumulated these assessment tools that I use today, which is so important to the core to what I do today, the things we measure are the soft skills, the people skills, communication, relationships, how people’s attitudes about their work or about working in teams or about doing good work or being planners or organizers. It’s that kind of thing that makes the difference.

I’m assuming anybody listening, who’s run an agency, built an agency over the years, they know how to pick out that AE that you’re using as your example earlier. They know the skills to look for, the education to look for. They might even have a test or something they can run a candidate through to better determine their technical skills but we all know from experiences, it’s attitudes that make a huge difference.

Can they communicate? Do they bring a relationship attitude toward their work or are they just, the consummate technician who cannot communicate with team members and clients and so forth? That’s what we really focus on today is the people side of the equation are the soft skills.

Drew McLellan:

Some people have some kind of an aversion against assessments. I don’t know if they think they want to trust their gut. I think most agency owners are terrible at hiring in terms of interviewing. We break all the rules. We talk too much. We don’t ask the same questions every time. We sort of end up deciding to hire someone that we like, rather than somebody who might actually be good at the job. Talk to us a little bit about the value of an assessment and specifically the assessments that you use, because I know there’s a bazillion out there.

Art Boulay:

Sure. What I’m very clear about is, I know there’s a lot of very small agency owners out there who run an agency of six or eight people. They might be thinking, “Well, who needs an assessment? I’ve got six great people. I’ve known them for years. I’ve worked with them in various places, maybe I was their customer or vice versa in past situations.

To those people, I will say you are exactly correct. You have the world’s greatest hiring system. In fact, all your systems in your business are working very well because it’s a smaller organization. The four or five or six of you can sit down around a table and quickly come up with new ideas, set a new direction in a bigger company that might be called strategic planning but you can do it almost without really thinking about it. When you go to hire somebody, you’ve got three or four people around you, you trust totally, you’ve each got a Rolodex, and you’ve got four or five people that you trust totally, you bring them in, and they work very well for you.

The key is, for when your agency gets to, I always say the teenth employee, whether it’s the 13th or the 15th of the 17th, we start to run out of Rolodex. We’ve hired all of our friends and close colleagues or the ones we’d like to hire are gainfully employed elsewhere. For the first time, we stick an ad out there on LinkedIn or the current internet job board, or what have you and suddenly, we find our hiring process breaks down. Well, it didn’t exactly break down. It’s just, it ran out of steam and you didn’t have a formal process. What the assessments and better interviewing and all those things represent is a formalization of a system to replace what always worked around here when we were very small. That’s really what I’m representing.

When you think about it too, and I just had this happen to one of your members, we’re just starting to work together and I got an email from him the other day and he said, “You’re exactly right in your assessment of that individual.” He said, “I think we get to the point where we really want to see what we want to see. We were kind of hungry for a new employee. We got a big contract on the table. We really got to make this work quick. The next person that comes in here with a decent resume, the right education, the right technical skills, maybe in our subconscious mind, we overlook some of the weaknesses we’re picking up in the interview or even after we hire them. We’re making excuses because we really want this to work.”

I think those biases are our biggest challenge is that the assessments, they don’t often tell you something that’s a complete shock. Like this gentleman, he recognized that the assessment had accurately labeled this person’s key fault. He sort of knew it. The problem was, he hadn’t really dealt with it or admitted it to himself and taking the appropriate action, which is probably should have never hired the person.

The assessment is usually, I talked about it as more of a validator to confirm some of the things you knew about but didn’t want to admit or you sort of knew but couldn’t quite put your finger on what the problem was.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think oftentimes, agency owners wait so long to hire. They wait until they’re so desperate for an employee, that that desperation sort of shows up in the hiring process.

Art Boulay:

Yeah, and I’ve been there too. I mean, we really got to fill this position. We really want the next person walking in to work out. One of the things I always remind people is your own staff or maybe even these friends of yours that are in your Rolodex, you know all their faults because you’ve worked with them for years. The new person walking in has no faults.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Art Boulay:

You’ve never seen them make a mistake. They’ve never blown a pitch to a new client. They’ve never upset one of your best clients. They come in with this aura of perfection and then when you add to that, I’m a little bit desperate. I really want this to work. Lo and behold, we end up hiring them.

Drew McLellan:

Yes.

Art Boulay:

I mean, it’s a human nature thing. That’s why I say an objective world class instrument that can really describe for you in plain black and white objective language how this person thinks they’re at the basic attitudes and beliefs that can be very helpful in making the final determination, should I actually hire them for this job, maybe a different job or maybe let my competitor hire them and suffer the consequences?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. I think one of the things that you do that I find interesting and insightful is that when you’re helping an agency owner assess a potential employee, one of the first things you do is you also test the agency owner.

Art Boulay:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Talk to us a little bit about that.

Art Boulay:

Well, it comes out of the, I used to be in IT. It was drilled into our head, you had to have a plan. You just couldn’t put a bunch of coders to work and say, “Okay, start writing code,” you needed a plan. One of the key things we do in that planning phase, among other things, like what are we trying to accomplish for business, and especially if it’s a new client, I need them to educate me as to their vision for the future and so forth but when it comes down to the assessments and individual hire, I don’t know, I only know the generic AMI agency. I’ve dealt with a lot of them.

I mean, there’s certain things I can expect. I know basically what you’re doing but the fact is, you’re all different. I mean, those people that meet with you in their groups, I mean, they recognize similarities but they also know there’s differences and they can learn from that. I need to measure that precisely. What we do is we use the assessments to assess typically the owner, maybe their spouse, if they’re working in the business, there’s always one or two highly valued people. I always tell them pick somebody who really, really deeply knows your business and what you’re trying to accomplish.

When we put those two, three, four people together in a larger agency, maybe it’s half a dozen people or 10 people but when I do those assessments, a lot is going to happen as a result. Number one, I always tell my client or my new client, you’ll see these assessments and first of all, you get an idea of what they can tell you and when you see assessments of yourself and people you know very well, you’re going to have as good an idea of anybody on this planet if that instrument is accurate.

They get a sense of what we are doing but it also gives me a picture of what makes that agency unique. There is often some small factor that comes out of the 93 different specific factors we measure. There’s often something or some combination of factors that pops up as kind of a unique identifier for this particular agency. That becomes a key piece of my work because that’s part of your culture that you’re not necessarily going to pick up or be able to quantify in any other way.

As you said, at the beginning of this interview, when we actually bring in a candidate and do that candidate’s assessment, now I can bounce it off this, what I call a cultural assessment. I’m looking for, not a perfect match, but I’m looking for somebody who’s at least complementary to this unique set of characteristics that makes agency A different from the other agencies around them. In this way, we can be reasonably certain that we find somebody who fits who will kind of hit the ground running because they get it. They understand what you’re doing and how you think right off the bat because we’ve purposely picked somebody who fits that mold.

Drew McLellan:

Well, what I love about your assessments, it’s not really about finding the right fill in the blank AE art director, whatever, but it’s really finding the right AE art director for you and your agency or you and your business because I know you work with folks other than agencies as well but it really is about the sort of the matchmaking aspect of it that I think really elevates the work you do sort of to a different level, because as every agency owner knows, it’s not that hard to find someone with the right skills but it is difficult to find someone with the right skills, the right sort of client service attitude regardless of what role they play in the agency and someone who fits into the culture. That’s a trickier combination.

Art Boulay:

It is tricky. We use words like fit. We use words like culture. We use a word like attitude. Generally, when we’re using those, what we’re saying is, I know this can’t be measured. I know it’s not very accurate. I’m just going to use this tagline to describe this kind of fuzzy area that we all tripped over as people who hire employees.

The point is, we can actually measure those things. The key is, as I tell, especially a new client, I could run this on a candidate and I can measure the candidate very accurately but again, I need to have some idea, I call it a benchmark, or a cultural standard, whatever language you want to use, but I need that target so that I can say, “Okay, this is what makes Drew’s agency unique among all those agencies.”

Now, when I run this assessment on an individual, I can actually say, “There is a match or a reasonably close match,” or sometimes we can say, “This is maybe not a great match and there may be some very good business reasons you want to hire this individual but at the very least, when you bring them aboard, you’re going to have my report that will help you understand there will be some issues, and they’re going to be in these areas. If you can work around those, build around those, talk those through, maybe even do a little development on a new person, you can make this a successful hire.” Sometimes it’s a matter of taking the mystery out of it and making sure there’s no surprises when Art Boulay shows up and isn’t exactly what you were hoping for.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, and then I think about the conversations we’ve had where, I think for a lot of agency owners, there’s such relief after you hire someone but unfortunately, agencies are horrible at onboarding clients or new employees and getting them sort of up to speed and feeling comfortable. I joke around when I teach the workshops that typically our training process is, “Hey, it’s nice to meet you. Let me give you a quick tour and introduce you to everybody. Here’s where the supplies are. Oh, by the way, you have a client meeting at 10:00.” Talk to us a little bit about what owners should be doing after the hire.

Art Boulay:

Well, that’s a great point and I have a whole flow I call for hire to retire and a key part of it is the onboarding process because it is important. I’ve accumulated different facts and articles about onboarding over the years, but most of them will tell you that about a third of your new employees will be lost in the first 30 days. Very often we find that it’s not because of any single dramatic point of failure. It’s typically an accumulation of small things that, “Oh, well, the hiring contract didn’t quite get implemented the way I expected,” or some aspect we talked about didn’t quite get delivered upon or I hear this a lot too, the owner or my boss is so busy, they really haven’t had time to work with me as I was hoping.

One of the most important things I recommend to people is put your expectations both from the new hire’s point of view and the hiring person’s point of view. Put your expectations out there in plain English. It shouldn’t be a six-page document but several bullets, five, seven things at the top, what are the expectations for this position?

Again, if both parties do that and they have something specific to pay attention to in those most critical first days, 30 days at the very least, I usually like to say the first 90 days, keep a regular conversation going about these expectations because as I say, it’s not often that there’s a major breakdown but if two or three or four of the expectations I had as a new employee are not being met, or that you had as a new employer aren’t being met, there’s going to be accumulating dissatisfaction on both sides.

If it gets to a certain point, again, the employee is brand new to your company, they don’t know the history, they’re only going from what they’re experiencing in those first few weeks and the idea begins to creep in their head, I made a bad decision. I shouldn’t have taken this job. I should have taken the other job. Maybe even the employers having a similar thought, have that conversation right off the bat, keep it going in the early days about expectations. If something’s going a bit off the rails, you deal with it.

You can at least talk about it. You can apologize, whatever it takes but basically, the onboarding process is the opportunity for both parties to say, “Hey, I’m getting to know you. It’s looking even better than it did when I first read your job ad and talk to you in the interview. I really want this to work,” but if you don’t jump on that early, you never get the opportunity and slowly but surely, the relationship breaks down and quite often ends badly. It typically ends before that, in that 30 to 60-day window.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think agency owners for a while certainly right after the recession sort of had the luxury of, A, hiring anybody they wanted because there was a ton of talent out there, and B, they were a little laissez faire about their attitudes about employees because they were sort of a dime a dozen for a period of time but now, the pendulum has swung and agencies are struggling to find good employees. They’re competing against other agencies and they’re having…

Art Boulay:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

… up the ante money wise and I think this is particularly a problem when you’re hiring millennials, who have a very different attitude about longevity and their career in terms of how long they’re going to stay somewhere. They’re much more likely to bail if it doesn’t feel good. Everything you’re saying is even more critical today than probably it ever has been for agency owners to …

Art Boulay:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

… be mindful of. Why don’t we do this better, Art? I mean, for agencies, it’s such a critical factor if our agency is successful or not, or if we make money. Help me understand. I certainly have fallen into this as well, help me understand why agency owners are so bad at hiring.

Art Boulay:

Well, I don’t think it’s just agency owners. There’s some agency owners out there that are very good at it. My wife, for example, is very good at hiring people. She has a good intuition. She reads people very well. Those skills are wonderful when it comes to hiring. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not as good as my wife is. I’ve always marveled at how effective she is at screening employees and picking out excellent people.

I think a lot of us are more like me. It doesn’t come naturally. We don’t have that kind of sixth sense or we have biases that get in the way. I don’t mean big ism type biases, but just little subtle things that get in the way of our judgment. That Canada who kind of looks like somebody we worked with one time that we didn’t like or didn’t get along with somehow various subtly, we cast them in a do not hire category or it’s a good friend of ours, we’ve known them for years, and we have a little bias to make a job for them.

It’s these biases, I think, that we have to be aware of. The assessment is just simply one tool that you can plug in, you can add to your process. That’s a key thing. I don’t let anybody think, well, somehow we can just replace interviews and all kinds of hiring devices with Art’s assessments, because it’s so accurate but we add the assessment in to counteract that bias that we all bring to the table. We may or may not be that aware of those biases. It isn’t that your agency owners are such bad hiring people. Drew, shame on you…

Drew McLellan:

Oh, we’re all terrible.

Art Boulay:

… but we all bring those biases to the table.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Maybe the question is why are humans bad at hiring? There you go.

Art Boulay:

Well, that’s kind of what I’m getting at too.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, back to your story about the guy who has sort of said, “Hey, I guess I’m seeing what I want to see,” I think one of the things the assessment does is it forces you to sort of acknowledge that sort of nudging you might have had in the back of your head or in your gut about something that candidate said or didn’t say, but you don’t really want to see it but the assessment sort of demands that you at least acknowledge that there’s something there.

Art Boulay:

Well, I’ll give you a perfect example and again, it happened with one of your members just over the weekend here, is that I had assess core team. We’re in that getting to know you phase. I’d asked to assess the four or five core people around the owner. There’s this one individual that I felt, if I just saw this as a hiring applicant, frankly, the owner would have never seen them because I would have just considered that a huge red flag and may or may not have even phoned interview them because it was that dramatic.

But I’m looking at them and thinking, “Well, this person has been an employee for three or four years, I believe it was, and the assessments are not infallible. I don’t pretend that they are. I was cautious on how I worded it but the point I made was that this person is rather full of themselves and the consequence of that is they don’t see, they kind of have arrived. There’s no need to work at this anymore or study or grow. It puts a little bit of damper on their energy and drive. I could see that very clearly in the assessment.

Again, the fact was that they’d been an employee for several years. My client thought enough of them to consider them a top player and somebody he depended on. Who was I to say, “Oh, no, you’re completely wrong. Your judgment of four years in the making is completely wrong.” Well, when I sent the report through, that’s the message I get back is, you know what, this is absolutely accurate. I have kind of been overlooking at for all this time but you’re right, this is not going to work because this person is rather full of themselves and everything you’re saying as a consequence, is ac