Episode 223:

Biz dev, mentorship, and relationship management are critical responsibilities of every agency owner. But the hours in a workday are limited, and if we fail to delegate with confidence, the work that is uniquely ours will not get done. It’s just too easy to get sucked into client work or internal issues that we shouldn’t be focused on. Every agency owner needs a #1 who walks, talks, and leads like an owner because they enable us to actually do our job.

In this episode, AMI’s own Craig Barnes chats with Drew about his observations as to what it takes to recognize, find and keep a great lieutenant from his lens as the facilitator of AMI’s Key Executive networks. Craig also walks us through how to groom an existing employee who you believe has the potential to fill that role.

Throughout his experience running his own agency for 25+ years and his role at AMI, Craig has gleaned some invaluable insights about leadership team level team members in the agency world. If you are interested in learning how to identify that critical player for your team and prepare them for success, this episode is for you.

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: https://www.whitelabeliq.com/ami/

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The common traits of agency key executives
  • All of the different functions that key executives can serve
  • How to identify key executives on your team and groom them for success
  • How you can grow as an agency owner so that your key executive can flourish
  • Why this is the ideal time to find and nurture a new leader

The Golden Nugget:

“Key executives have a passion for the business—not just for advertising, marketing or PR—but for how YOUR agency functions.” @CraigSBarnes Click To Tweet “With almost fifty percent of our time spent on business development, we need someone who will keep the wheel turning on a daily basis” @CraigSBarnes Click To Tweet “Because key executives are in the trenches more often than the owner, they can identify initiatives that will help the agency hit its goals.” @CraigSBarnes Click To Tweet “Agencies with key executives in place tend to have more wind in their sails than agencies that rely solely on the agency owner.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “It will only benefit you as an owner to have someone by your side who can help you carry out the mission.” @CraigSBarnes Click To Tweet

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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. Welcome back to Build a Better Agency. Thank you for joining us again. If this is your first episode ever welcome, you are among tens of thousands of agency owners and leaders who listen to the podcast every week, and who hopefully glean something new that they can take back to their shop that gets them thinking a little differently about the business of their business. That’s our goal, is to help you build an agency that is more profitable; more sustainable; more scalable; and, if you want to down the road, an agency that is worth something that you can sell, if that’s something that you want as part of your endgame strategy.

So today’s guest is one of my favorite people on the planet. His name is Craig Barnes. Many of you have met him. He does a lot of work inside AMI. He facilitates all of our Key Exec groups, he facilitates our virtual agency owner groups, he’s with us at a lot of our workshops and other events. He is an agency owner just like I am, he’s owned his own shop for over 20 years and continues to run that today. And is just this wealth of knowledge.

So Craig and I were having a conversation about some of the insights that he’s gleaned from running the Key Executive Groups for a couple years. For many agency owners they are hungry for that right-hand lieutenant, that if you’re a traction person that integrator, right? That person who stays in the shop and really runs it day to day or helps the agency owner run it day to day and takes really a lead role in the agency’s growth and operations. So the people who participate in our Key Exec peer groups are exactly that for their agencies. So I know a lot of you are looking for that kind of a person or are hungry to find that kind of a person, or maybe you think you have that person inside your shop right now but you’re not sure how to groom them or how to identify them.

So Craig and I thought it would be great if we just talked a little bit about our observations around what these kinds of leaders look like; some common traits among them; and then what you can do as, an agency owner or leader, to nurture these people inside your shop and to make sure that they stick around because they’re incredibly valuable.

One of the things that I think is really important, as we think about this role, is what it allows the agency owner to do. So if you own an agency and you have a leadership team, or a couple key people, who really are your right-hand people and who really do help you run the agency day in and day out. They think like an owner, they act like an owner, they have the agency’s best interest at heart, and a lot of other things that I want to get into with Craig.

But when you’re able to really, with confidence, offload a lot of your day to day task activity as an owner what it allows you to do is actually to do your job, right? And if you don’t do your job, which by the way is biz dev; and it’s mentorship of your team; and it’s loving on your clients and creating relationships at the highest level with your clients, sort of an owner to owner or president to president kind of thing; and obviously some of the financials and the running of the business of the business. If you don’t do those things nobody does those things. But so many of you are caught up in the day to day client activity and work because you don’t have someone else to hand that stuff off too or you’re too busy, you’re too in the weeds on the financials and things like that because you don’t have somebody you trust who can look at the numbers and tell you what’s going on. So you’re stuck in this daily activity, which prevents you from actually doing your job.

And having one of these lieutenants, or two of these lieutenants, is a great way for you to be able to step out of the day to day fray and focus on the business of running your agency to be stronger, and better. And so that’s what this episode is all about, is helping you identify who those folks are, and how to groom and grow them so they can be even more valuable to the agency and you. So I don’t want to dilly dally around at all, I want to jump into this with Craig because we have a lot to talk about.

So, as always, it is my pleasure to welcome back my partner in crime Craig Barnes to the podcast. Craig welcome back.

Craig Barnes:

Hi Drew, good to see you.

Drew McLellan:

You too. Hey, so we talked a little bit, before we hit the record button, that for many agency owners on their holiday wishlist was a right-hand person that many agency owners, and I certainly see this in the owner peer groups, they’re hungry for that lieutenant who can run the shop when they’re gone; that can help them manage expectations of the team; that can care about the financials and the other metrics as they do. I think we have a lot of those folks in the Key Executive Group, so I was thinking maybe the way that we would start today’s conversation is you work with all the Key Exec groups …

And for those of you who are listening who aren’t familiar AMI, for 20 some years, has had these owner peer groups where agency owners from non-competitive markets come together, they hangout for two and a half days, share best practices, steal ideas from each other, show each other their financials, all of those sorts of things. And that’s been around for a long time and has been incredibly valuable for many people, both including Craig and I as we started our agencies 20 some years ago.

And several years ago many of the agency owners asked me if I would be willing to start basically a duplicate of those agency owner groups but for their key executives. So some of these folks have a minority interest in the agency, most of them do not have any ownership; some are on an ownership track, many are not. But these are the key players in an agency who are the right-hand person to the agency. So sometimes they’re a director of operations, sometimes they’re a director of account service, we have some creative directors, we have some finance folks, but whoever is the right-hand person. And Craig actually facilitates all of those groups. We have several of those groups, and they meet twice a year for two days in Chicago in October and April.

So Craig in the peer group, kind of in a microscope, gets to look at this aggregate group of professionals. So I thought it might be helpful to you to hear what’s common about them, so that as you’re looking amongst people you already have or you’re looking for this person, maybe you’re interviewing for somebody who might grow into that right-hand person position, it might be helpful to know what Craig sees as some commonalities among those folks. So, Craig, when you think about all of the key execs that you serve throughout the year what are some of the common elements that make them so valuable inside the agency?

Craig Barnes:

I would say the first thing, and it’s consistent across everyone who’s in the Key Exec Group, is they have a demonstrated passion for the business. And not just the business of marketing agency PR but they have a passion for how the business works. They are hungry to want to learn more and continue to be of support to their owner, from everything from making sure that best processes are followed, how are the financials looking, are we working to scope, how do we keep those things under control? They’re very passionate about the inner workings of making the agency go. I would say that’s a common thread among all of them.

Drew McLellan:

Well one thing I notice about them when I interact with them at workshops, or things like that, is they talk, and look, and sound like an agency owner.

Craig Barnes:

Very much.

Drew McLellan:

But more pragmatic perhaps and more operationally focused than-

Craig Barnes:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

… most agency owners. So most agency owners are more entrepreneurial, looking out at the big picture. Where I think most of the key execs they behave a lot like an owner but like an owner who wants to drive the car.

Craig Barnes:

Absolutely. Absolutely. What I would also say is that they, from an operational standpoint, are the ones who are bringing up the ideas within the agency of, “Here’s other things I think we could be doing to improve how we are operating.” And that’s everything from creating client dashboards to score how the client’s performing for the agency, both from a cultural fit, from a financial fit, from a vertical fit, to making sure that the team then walks out with what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. They’re the drivers of that, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Craig Barnes:

They’re the ones who are making sure that everyone who reports to them, and anybody else on a lateral line who they’re working with, that they’re really focused on how can we, as an agency, get done what we need to get done under the circumstance we all know, which is a day to day agency environment? It’s not a relaxed 9:00 to 5:00 kind of operation. They’re very focused on what they can do to make sure that they’re achieving the best work possible, within whatever the definition of that work is, scope, all of those things. So see that’s another consistent attribute among all of them.

And you mentioned the variety of roles that people have, that are in these groups. In fact, there are probably … I think we have three or four who are actually the presidents of their agencies, who’s owners have moved on to a different chair within the agency, they’re still involved. But they’re the ones who are really also straddling that fence between supporting the owner’s vision, creating some of that on their own, but highly focused on making sure that the bottom line goal is met. And as an influence to the other people in the groups it’s always interesting to see how other people react to those who are sitting in that chair, that are not necessarily the owner. So that’s always an interesting thing to observe.

Drew McLellan:

Well one of the other things that I know about them is they are regular participants in our workshops and other things. They’re hungry to learn. And then, certainly, it’s one of the reasons why they’re in the Key Exec groups because they learn a lot from each other. But whether it’s the Key Exec Group, or workshop, or books, or whatever, not only do they want to improve performance but they are students of how to do that and they are always looking for innovative ways to approach the challenges that today’s agencies are facing.

Craig Barnes:

Right, exactly. And one of the things that we talk about, and that they bring up as well, is that how important it is for everyone in the agency to have a true business-first focus and to move away from what used to be the case of, “Okay, well we do websites,” or, “We do digital.” And it’s really about focusing on how to solve the client’s business problem. And their role in mentoring the other people on the team to think that way, and to be prepared, and to know everything they possibly can about what’s impacting the agency’s clients’ businesses. And I would say that they are true advocates for that, and have taken a leadership role within the agency to make sure that that becomes the standard practice within the agency and not something that one or two people can do. I think they’re really a good contributor to developing the agency’s bench strength as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well I think another thing that makes a person who plays that role, whether they’re in one of our Key Exec groups or not, but one of the things that I know across the board from the AMI agencies is they also tend to be someone who has earned the respect and trust of the staff. So agency owners if you’re thinking, “Who in my shop is this person?” Odds are you have someone in your shop that all the other employees run to when they have a problem, or a challenge, or they need to talk to you about something and they’re not sure how to approach it. This person becomes everyone’s advocate inside the agency. I think that’s another common trait I noted.

Craig Barnes:

Absolutely. And they have a unique role in that they’re … If you use the metaphor of a fence, they’re straddling both sides of the fence, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Craig Barnes:

So in one sense they’re there to make sure they’re supporting their owner’s vision, and driving that. On the other side, as the confidante, and the mentor, and the person who the team comes to, they have to be able to translate sometimes what the owner’s vision is, what the owner’s thinking, down to the rest of the team. And then, likewise, use that information to bubble it back up to the owner, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Craig Barnes:

Because, we’ve talked about this before, that as owners, you and I both sat in a chair, that we do have blind spots occasionally.

Drew McLellan:

Yes.

Craig Barnes:

And to have somebody who you have the confidence in to bring those things to your attention, so that the train doesn’t run off the tracks needlessly. That they can highlight to you, “Hey, here’s some things going on I think we really need to talk about.” Much like an account manager in an agency has, I think, a very difficult job, in that they’re an advocate for the agency, they’re an advocate for the client at the same time, same way with key execs, right? They’re an advocate for the owner, they’re an advocate for the employees as well. That takes a special personality to be able to do that. And from an owner’s position to find a person who you can have that trust in, who can carry that out for you on a day to day basis, is a huge asset, right?

Drew McLellan:

Oh my God, it’s gold. Yeah-

Craig Barnes:

[crosstalk 00:15:34] Absolutely. Absolutely. Because as you and I both coach other owners one of the things that we’re constantly talking to them about is how they’re dividing up their time. And if they’re following the rule then 50% of their time should really be spent on business development. They need somebody they can count on to make sure that the wheel keeps turning within the agency on a day to day basis.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think having the right person in that role is the one thing that does allow an agency owner to step out of the day to day-

Craig Barnes:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

… and actually step into the job that only they can do.

Craig Barnes:

Right, right. Absolutely. Because nobody, no one, can sell the agency like the owner can sell the agency.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Craig Barnes:

I mean, I know from my own experience. I have a drawer full of canceled checks of new business people I hired and that’s pretty much what I have to show for it. But so nobody drives the business like the owner. But you’re absolutely right, you have to have somebody onboard who can free you up to be able to do that [inaudible 00:16:38], so that you know that you don’t have to worry and be involved in every single detail because otherwise it just hurts the agency’s growth.

Drew McLellan:

I think a common mistake that agency owners make is they think that this lieutenant needs to be a mini-me, it needs to be somebody that’s just like them. And I think about some of the lieutenants I’ve had in my agency over the course of the years and probably one of the most effective ones of all couldn’t have been more not like me if I tried, right?

Craig Barnes:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

I mean, personality-wise we were very different, work style-wise we were very different. And that compliment really worked for us and it allowed us to have a broader base of strengths because he had strengths I didn’t have and I had strengths that he didn’t have, and we sort of canceled out each other’s weaknesses. So I think you also have to be careful if you’re out they’re listening and you’re thinking, “Oh I want to find this person. I’m going to do a personality test or something else and make sure that they’re just like me.” That is not necessary. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing but it’s certainly not a necessary thing. And there are some advantages to having somebody who maybe isn’t as big picture thinking, isn’t so quick to chase shiny objects, isn’t so easily distracted, and who can really stay focused on staying at home and making sure the knitting gets done.

Craig Barnes:

Absolutely. I mean, it’s like any relationship, right? We need to find somebody who compliments us, who doesn’t necessarily duplicate us, right? So to your point about we’re erasing each other’s weaknesses, the things that they’re strong in and the things that they’re weak in, how do you find that person who can help you strengthen the bench strength within the agency and create a more competent approach to, “How are we going to get things done?” And having somebody who you can count on to be there to do that for you, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s the ying and yang of this too. So in a little bit I want to talk about how do you help grow these people and find them? But I also think there’s a part of their makeup that is not taught, that they’re just wired that way. And I’m thinking in particular of a couple of them, that you and I both know, that are way too young to be in that role but they’re just so wired to be it that they have assumed that mantle of command, and they have earned the trust of both their owner and the team underneath them. And it’s just innately who they are. So part of it is looking for somebody who naturally exudes all the things that we’re talking about. Because I think some of that leadership, and some of that desire to grow a business, and all of the things that have to be baked into this role, some of those things are just innate or they’re just not there.

Craig Barnes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, they tend to be incredibly detailed but at the same time, to your point about some that are very young to be in the role, I would say the consistent thing about them is that they have absolutely no hesitation and being … I wouldn’t say a thorn but certainly a constant reminder to their owner about, “Hey, we need to get this fixed,” or, “We need to be working on this and I’m willing to do that.” And constantly talking about it, so that it just doesn’t become a passing conversation. That they’re very driven to make sure that change can be implemented for the good of the agency.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s a good point. I think another trait that you should be looking for, if you’re looking for this kind of person, is their willingness to have difficult and candid conversation with you the owner. So somebody who is going to pussyfoot around, or tiptoe around you, can never be your lieutenant because you need someone to say, “Hey, the house is on fire and I know you don’t see it, and I know that you’re focusing, but if we don’t get the children and animals out of the house soon we’re in trouble.”

Craig Barnes:

Right, right. Right. Absolutely. I would say if you’re paying attention it’s pretty easy to identify those people within your shop who behave that way, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Craig Barnes:

Because I guarantee you they’re constantly in your ear. Constantly in your ear about it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Unless you’ve shut them down, right?

Craig Barnes:

Right. Right, right, right, right. I would add to that, I think they’re in their ear appropriately.

Drew McLellan:

Yes.

Craig Barnes:

They’re not nagging, they’re not complaining-

Drew McLellan:

Complaining. Right.

Craig Barnes:

… about things. They’re really solutions focused, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yes, I agree.

Craig Barnes:

So they identify the issue and they’re also presenting solutions at the same time.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So let’s take a quick break but when we come back let’s talk about if I’m an owner, and I’m lucky enough to have one of these unicorn key executive lieutenant type folks, what do they need from me and how do I help them grow to be even more valuable to the agency, and to me? So let’s take a quick break and then let’s come back and talk about once you’ve found them what do you do to nurture them?

Hey, sorry to interrupt but I want to just remind you about the Build a Better Agency Summit. So, as many of you have heard me talk about before, I am sticking my neck out and I am saying it’s ridiculous that there is no conference built specifically for truly small to midsized agencies, across the globe, and it is time for someone to do it. Then I looked in the mirror and I said, “Actually Drew it’s time for us to do it,” and so we are.

May 19th and 20th, of 2020, in Chicago some amazing presenters and speakers. And some of the topics are things like building your agency’s value, so whether you want to sell the agency or you just want to use it as an ATM machine, how do you get more value out of your agency one way or the other? And how do you decide which way you want to go? Do you want to build an agency to sell or do you want to just run it, use it as the ATM machine, and some day just close the door? What does that look like? How do you earn a profit every single year? And we’re going to show you exactly how to do that. And, around the idea of agency thought leadership, what does that actually mean and what does it look like? And how can you … As busy as you are, as busy as the agency is, how can you go down that path? And how can it serve you with an incredible ROI?

And we’re going to talk about some of the agencies that are knocking it out of the park. And you’ll meet some of them there, because they’ll be there as attendees as well. So the content’s going to be awesome. If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome; if you are struggling with how to concisely tell a story in a way that is so compelling people can’t help but be drawn to it; if you are worried about how to build up wealth outside of the agency and you want to talk to some experts who are doing that in real estate, and other places, the Build a Better Agency Summit is the place for you.

So please grab your ticket. Just head over to AgencyManagementInstitute.com and the very first choice on the nav bar is BABA Summit, so Build a Better Agency Summit. Click on that and that’ll take you right to all the information you need, including how to register. So I hope to see you in Chicago in May, but now let’s get back to the content.

All right, we are back. And Craig Barnes and I are talking about the illusive unicorn that is the right-hand person, the lieutenant, to an agency owner. And early in the show, as you all hopefully heard, we were talking about some of the traits that we see, some of which are innate, and some of which can be nurtured and grown, that you should be looking for if you’re looking to hire, or you’re looking to elevate someone who’s already on your staff, into this role. But, as I said before the break, now I want to sort of change directions a little bit and identify … We’ve sort of said there are some things, like they’re willingness to have difficult conversations and their ability to earn the trust of the team, that are sort of innate. It’s not a taught behavior, it’s just sort of how they’re wired. But I do believe they need coaching and nurturing, like all of us did early in our career as well.

So what are some of the things, Craig, that you know that agency owners could be doing with and for, or alongside, their lieutenants or their first in command to help them grow, and be even better, and more valuable?

Craig Barnes:

I think the first thing is identifying and having a very clear conversation about what your expectation for them … What your expectations are. And that can be done through an empowerment conversation about, “Here’s the things that you are free to actually run with, take ownership of, and deliver on. Here are things that I’d like for you to tell me what you intend to do, prior to doing them. And here’s things that I want you to check with me on for permission or advice before you take action.” So I think that’s a good beginning point, right-

Drew McLellan:

And probably a, “Here’s a things that are hands off.”

Craig Barnes:

[crosstalk 00:26:15] Right, absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah-

Craig Barnes:

[crosstalk 00:26:16] Yeah, absolutely. “Here’s things you”-

Drew McLellan:

[crosstalk 00:26:18] “Here’s things that you don’t get to do.”

Craig Barnes:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Craig Barnes:

Right, exactly. Exactly. That’s a good add to that conversation. I would say that’s the first thing to happen. I think secondly it’s about making sure that there’s a clear line of communication between you and that person, and however you do that. If you’re doing it in weekly one-on-ones, or every other week one-on-ones, or whatever your format is I think it’s critical that you have that flow of information back and forth between the two of you, so that there’s always teaching moments in those conversations, I believe. And I think the owner can take advantage of those conversations to help mentor, help shape, help point things out to that person to, again, help them grow in their position.

I think it’s also important that the owner is very clear on what that person’s role is and how that’s communicated to the rest of the team as well. Because if you’re going to empower somebody to do that they need to be given the responsibility to also do that, it needs to be clear to the team how that’s going to work, right? Also, I think owners can be open about, from your own standpoint, demonstrating things from a leadership perspective, such as it’s okay not necessarily to have all the answers all the time. And that you can ask questions or you can try to seek additional information. And basically it’s okay to say, “I don’t know right now,” or, “I’ll find out,” or, “Let’s talk about that.” As opposed to always having the answer because none of us always have the answer. So I think demonstrating those kinds of behaviors is also very important in helping that person become more mature, become more competent, to grow in their role as a leader within the agency.

Because, we talk about this, is that they’re basically … These are leaders working for a leader who are trying to help other people turn into leaders with the agency as well. And that’s a challenging role for these folks. What I see constantly is that those who are given those tools, and given that confidence to move within that defined sphere of influence within the agency, are very successful at being able to do that. The owner has to be willing to let that go and have confidence that that person can do that, while at the same time providing those teaching moments to make sure that that continual growth is there.

Drew McLellan:

Well and I think when you don’t do that, when you don’t define, “Here are the boundaries,” like, “You are free to completely make decisions and do stuff without even telling me in this arena, here’s where we should talk about it first, and then here’s the no you can’t touch” … When you don’t have that conversation typically what happens, in my experience, is the young leader steps out of the boundaries that you never defined and then the owner ends up reining that young leader back in. And, A, that erodes their confidence but, B, if you do that in front of the team … That announces this great new employee program, and the owner stands up and goes, “We are not doing that.” Now you’ve also compromised the team’s opinion of her, her credibility, and all of that. So you really do have to be really clear about what they can and can’t do, what you expect them absolutely to get done. Because otherwise I think you set them up to have their own role diminished by the lack of clarity.

Craig Barnes:

Absolutely. And, by diminishing that, it diminishes their effectiveness for you to you as an owner, right? If they can’t carry out, with confidence, what you’ve agreed upon they can carry out, and you don’t overrule them or that you haven’t been clear about it, then having that person doesn’t serve the role it’s intended to serve, I should say.

Drew McLellan:

Right. The other thing I think … And I know you do this in the Key Exec groups, I think this is something owners can do on their own as well, is I don’t think … We typically have great accountability inside the agency around delivering stuff for clients, but I think we lack accountability internally, in terms of being able to set goals for internal initiatives, new website for the agency, new templates for proposals, whatever it is, getting everybody’s reviews done. Those are the things that tend to fall through the cracks because we don’t hold anybody accountable. So I know one of the things you do in the groups is that every key exec has to set a goal for every quarter and it has to be measurable, it has to be something that’s endorsed by their boss, and then they have to report on the progress against that goal. But there’s no reason why owners couldn’t set up that exact same structure inside the agency, right?

Craig Barnes:

Of course. One of the exercises I believe is worth going through … And, again, speaking about what we do for the clients, why not do it for ourselves? For the key exec, the lieutenant, whatever you want to call them, and the owner, to have an annual session, much like an annual planning session we would do with a client, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Craig Barnes:

“What is it we want to achieve in the next 12 months? What are our obstacles? What do we need to do to overcome that? What’s that plan look like? What do we need to do to support that plan? Who’s going to be involved in it?” And to basically put that together and document that, so that going forward, for the coming year … You could do it, certainly, quarter by quarter and update it. But if you take the time to do that I believe then it sets the path for a lot of success within the next 12 months. So again, to your point, let’s do the same thing for ourselves we do for our clients and having those two people get together to work on that collectively I think is a smart idea.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Hopefully a lot of the listeners are doing the one-on-one meetings and things like that, so it’s easy to implement without another meeting, without another conversation. It just becomes part of the, “Okay, what’s your goal for this quarter and how are we going to measure it? Then every time we meet give me an update on where you’re at with it.”

Craig Barnes:

Right, right. And the goals and commitments that the key execs take on at each meeting, to your point, needs to be something that can be measurable and have measurable impact on the agency. And that can be … I mean, I’ve seen everything from, “We’re going to implement a system whereby we are looking at the hours being spent on work as it progresses, as opposed to always doing a postmortem. So that we can be more proactive about managing to scope while we’re working the job, as opposed to doing it afterwards,” to working on commitments of, “We will have a system whereby everyone will enter their time, between now and our next meeting.” So there’s a whole list of those things that people walk out of that meeting with that they’re going to tackle. And I would say for the most part they’re highly successful in getting it done because they’re [inaudible 00:33:50] to it.

Drew McLellan:

And they’re in a unique position, in that they are often in the shop more often than the owner is, they’re often talking to all the employees more often than the owner is, so they’re able to implement some of these things more effectively than the owner could if they took it on themselves.

Craig Barnes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, totally. Totally. The other, I guess, thing that I see is is that because they are inside the agency, to your point, more often than the owner they’re taking the conversations that they’re having with the other members of the team and using that to also create a list of, “Here’s things that I think we should be thinking about. Here’s some initiatives that we might want to undertake in order to achieve what we’ve talked about we’re trying to achieve.” So they’re learning to take that information that they’re getting from the other team members and coalesce that into an action plan that they then can take to the owner to say, “Here’s some things that, as we look ahead to the next quarter, I think we should at least triage this, and put the smell test to it, to see what we really want to try to tackle between now and the end of the quarter.”

Drew McLellan:

Well and I think one of the common mistakes that we make as agency owners is we’re not always great delegators and so we tend to pile so much of this internal initiative crap on our own plate. And the truth is, if we’re honest with ourselves, what that means is it’s not going to get done.

Craig Barnes:

Right, right.

Drew McLellan:

Or it’s going to take five times as long to get it done. One of the things that I’ve noticed about agencies that have someone in this role is that they tend to move … It’s like they can get more wind in their sail and so they can move faster, and further, than an agency that is relying just on the agency owner to propel them forward.

Craig Barnes:

Yes. And the personality trait of the key exec is is that they are detail oriented, and they’re highly focused, and they see those opportunities, and they’re very good at making sure that they get done, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Craig Barnes:

They’ve very, very good with that because they see it as an opportunity to demonstrate their own leadership, but they also recognize that by getting whatever it is done that the agency will benefit from that, in one way or the other.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. One thing that I think agency owners can do to help their younger leaders is, while they are not bad at having difficult conversations with the owner, for many of them they struggle with having difficult conversations with the employees. I think it’s difficult. I know as I was rising through the ranks, before I started my own agency, it was difficult to go from being someone’s peer to being someone’s boss. And if you are used to being one of the gang, and part of the team, it’s challenging to step into that leadership role and then to have to have some of those disciplinary or corrective conversations with people that are your buddies.

Craig Barnes:

Yes. Yeah. Matter of fact in our fall meeting this year we talked about that extensively, as part of kind of an overview. We talked about Max Yoder’s book Do Better Work. And one of the lessons in that is about how to seek agreements and have difficult conversations, and the very point about that is having difficult conversations with people perhaps you’ve had a different dynamic or relationship with in the past, and how to do that, right? What are the tools? What are the tools? So how do I have this in a productive way? So it’s not something we look back on and cringe later, that we look back on and say, “This was productive. We were able to move forward. We reached an agreement. And now, as a result of that, we’re being able to solve an issue or resolve whatever the challenge was.” But you’re obviously right that’s … And that’s all part of leadership, right? I mean, it’s all part of leadership growth. How do we lead those who perhaps at one point, to your point, we were in the gang with, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well and I also think for a lot of agency owners that’s not really their gift, right? They struggle with having candid conversations because I think … And maybe this goes all the way through the whole agency, but I certainly know amongst the agency owners there is a desire … And it’s often not expressed overtly, but there’s a desire to be the favorite camp counselor, right? So if you’re the disciplinary camp counselor you never get voted the favorite camp counselor of the summer, right?

Craig Barnes:

Right, right. Good analogy-

Drew McLellan:

And so I think agency owners struggle with that because for many of us we grew up in agencies, so we’ve had to make the ultimate choice of, “My peer group is no longer my peer group. Now they’re … Not only do they work for me in a supervisory role but I cut their check,” kind of thing. So I think it’s difficult. So I’m not sure we always model that very well to our young leaders, of how to have those difficult conversations because it’s not always in our repertoire.

Craig Barnes:

Right. I’ll share a little quick story. One of the key execs in our group had to have a very difficult conversation with one of their team members who was having a problem showing up on time. And she had talked to the owner about it and the owner was … He said, “Well you have to handle this. I need you to handle this because I just don’t want to have this conversation with this person.” So the key exec laid out the strategy and how she was going to handle that, and had a successful conversation with that person based on understanding his personality but also understanding what the owner expected of how people would behave within the agency. And she was able to successfully have that conversation and resolve that with him.

But, to your point, the owner really didn’t want to have that conversation because this person had been particular close to the owner, because they were referred into the agency through a family acquaintance. And the person had been a really good performer but was having some issues simply about showing up on time. He was in a role that if he wasn’t there to get done what he needed to get done it just cascaded down to the rest of the team, it caused a bottleneck. So it had to be solved. But she ended up taking it upon herself, based on what the owner wanted to do, to have this conversation. And to her credit she did it successfully.

Drew McLellan:

Well and I think that’s one of the other things to look for in your agency, if you’re wondering if you have one of these unicorns inside your shop, is somebody who is comfortable and fluent in having these conversations. It doesn’t mean that if they don’t have that they can’t step into this role because again, as you were saying, a lot of people need some coaching around this. You, owner, may not be the right person to do the coaching. You may need to get some outside help to do that coaching though, if that’s not in your skillset.

Craig Barnes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yeah. Because, again, back to the point about how do we divide and concur here? I mean, that’s another great example of that, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Craig Barnes:

How can we expand the influence and the impact we have on the agency, as a whole, by offloading some of those roles to the lieutenant or key exec, so that it’s just not on the plate as the owner. Then have the time, the ability, to again focus across the board on things that need to be focused on.

Drew McLellan:

I think another thing an agency owner can do to help someone in this role thrive and grow is to ease up on the reins a little bit. I think sometimes our tendency … Many of us as agency owners, and I’ll put myself in that category, like to be in control. It’s one of the reasons we own a business, right?

Craig Barnes:

Right. Right.

Drew McLellan:

So it’s difficult to give someone else power or control, especially odds are they’re not going to do it exactly the way we would do it. So I think one of the ways we have to grow, if we’re going to have a strong lieutenant in the agency, is we have to learn how to delegate and really let them do it their way. And as long as the end result is what we agreed upon the end result would be how they got there is less important, and we have to keep our mitts out of it.

Craig Barnes:

And that’s probably the single biggest struggle, I think, owners have is that ability to delegate and to let go. I mean, certainly owners that I coach, I mean, we talk about that a lot. It’s like, “Well if you’re going to do it all yourself what do you need these people for,” right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Craig Barnes:

“Because basically then you’re paying to come to work. No, let’s talk about how can we create a structure so that you’re comfortable with what you’re going to delegate?” And, to your point, let them do what you’re asking them to do. And how they get there, to your point, is not … It may not be the way I did it, or would do it, but it was done, it was done right, and the outcome is what we wanted, so we all win.

Drew McLellan:

Well and I think then we have to also acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that, A, our way isn’t the only way but there might actually even be a way that’s better.

Craig Barnes:

There could be. There very well could be, one or two.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, not very often though. No.

Craig Barnes:

Right, no, no.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So as owners are listening, and let’s say they’ve got somebody who is in the early stages of stepping into this role, what are some of the ways that they can encourage … Because I also think you have to want to step into this role. You have to be willing to take on this role. It typically is more work and certainly more responsibility. It’s more worry. It’s sort of like ownership lite, right?

Craig Barnes:

Right, right.

Drew McLellan:

And, oftentimes, without a lot of the perks of ownership. So, from your perspective, what do owners do that make the key executives feel appreciated and make them want to do even more? How do owners encourage and support, and celebrate, this important role, so that these people are willing to do this difficult task?

Craig Barnes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think first is to be very clear about what you want them to do, what you’re asking them to do, and be very clear about that. Secondly, I think that feedback loop is very important. As they begin to step into that role, or you give them tests along the way to help them get there, is to make sure the feedback loop is there. “Here’s what I saw. Boy this was great, you did a really good job. This is exactly the outcome we were looking for.” To find those opportunities to celebrate those moments as they occur, because that will instill the confidence. I mean, like any great manager would do, whether it’s a sports team or any other kind of team, it’s recognizing what that person’s strengths are, leveraging that, and then making sure that the feedback to them is such that they understand that you appreciate it.

And, of course, there’s all kinds of other things that you can do in appreciation for what they’re doing for the agency. And we’ve talked about that in other workshops and other meetings, about things that owners can do to show that appreciation in some small way. It’s not necessarily monetary, right? It could be expressed in other ways. But I think, again, to treat them more as … I’m not going to say a total equal but to give them that confidence that you see their leadership abilities and you are communicating with them in a way as if you were talking to someone else who’s in a leadership position, and not somebody who necessarily is just a subordinate. It’s the dialogue you use, it’s the tone, it’s your body language, it’s all those things combined I think is a great way to instill that confidence in that person, who you want to continue to elevate and grow within the agency.

Drew McLellan:

Well and I think another thing too is just pure on gratitude. Just to be able to say thank you, right?

Craig Barnes:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

And I don’t know an owner that does this as often as they think they do. I think we think we are more grateful and more clear about our gratitude than we probably are. I think most of us are running at such a breakneck speed that to slow down and actually notice that someone’s done something, taken responsibility for something, solved something, whatever it is, and then stop and be able to say, “Hey, thank you for handling that. Thank you for doing that.” Whatever it is. I don’t think we’re as good at that as we should be. So I know that it sounds less meaningful, perhaps, but honestly I think you should calendar that. I think asking yourself, “Have I demonstrated gratitude this week? Who have I” … Putting it on your calendar as a question, “Who have I said thank you to this week?” And if I haven’t done it for three, or four, or five, or 10 people, how many people you have in your shop, some subset of that, then get off your butt, leave your desk, and find people to be grateful for.

Craig Barnes:

And no better way to mentor and to model that kind of behavior, for this person that you want to elevate to this position or to this role, then to do that, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Craig Barnes:

Because if they see that then, A, they know, “Hey, my owner’s paying attention to the basic blocking and tackling of human dynamics, and relationships.” And that then becomes something they put into their pattern of behavior in how they carry forth in working with the people that they’re leading within the agency. So I can’t think of a better thing to do than that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And I also think, in this age that we’re in right now where everybody’s employees are being cherry picked-

Craig Barnes:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

… by clients, by the corporate side, by universities, whatever. There’s not an agency that we work with that has not been struck by somebody important to them being plucked out of their organization by some other entity. It’s a very sticky thing to regularly, and consistently, voice your gratitude. It can be as simple as putting your hand on somebody’s shoulder, and looking them in the eye, and saying, “I cannot tell you how glad I am you’re on the team,” or, “Thank you for handling that specific thing.” But as they’re getting job offers and people are trying to poach them one of the things that will influence whether or not they stay is if they feel appreciated.

Craig Barnes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well that goes back to a tool that I’ve talked to owners about, is when it comes to making sure that they … Again, we don’t want owners involved in every single piece of client contact, but to make sure that clients know that you, as the owner, appreciate their business and their contributions to the agency. To your point to calendar that but to create, what I’ve sort of termed, a touchpoint matrix. And to get that on the books that, “This month I’m going to do this. Next month I’m going to do that,” or whatever interval it is. And if you have it down, and you have it scheduled, it becomes then much more of a natural behavior at some point. But get it down, think about it. Because again, to your point, you’re right the breakneck speed and I think the focus can be tunnel vision on things, you tend to forget those things from time to time, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. At the end of the day we probably can’t express our gratitude too much, right?

Craig Barnes:

No. No, no, no.

Drew McLellan:

As long as it’s sincere and feels real.

Craig Barnes:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

I mean, I think if it’s smarmy then obviously they’re like, “Okay, I don’t want”-

Craig Barnes:

[crosstalk 00:50:19] Sure they’re going to see through that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah, right. All right, so I want to wrap this up. As I’m thinking about going into 2020, I’m an agency owner, I’m very conscious of the fact that the stability of my team is critical to my success, everybody’s worried about whether or not we’re going to have an economic event in 2020 or 2021 that’s going to slow things down, it seems to me that this is the season to really invest in finding, and then nurturing, that young leader. By the way, all key executives are not young-

Craig Barnes:

No.

Drew McLellan:

… but they tend to be younger. but that up and comer who really does want to step into a role that is incredibly valuable to you as the agency owner, incredibly valuable to the agency. And also, by the way, having somebody in that role is also very sticky, in terms of the rest of the employees as well, about keeping them engaged and happy. So it seems like this is a season that owners would be wise to make an effort to either nurture someone they have inside the shop already or to seek out someone to put into that role, and step back and be able to actually do their own damn job.

Craig Barnes:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). One of the things that I would suggest is that if I have somebody within the agency who you have thought about they’re exhibiting some of those behaviors, that you look at and say, “They could be of more assistance to me, in terms of making my job more effective as the owner of this agency,” then I would look to tap into that person and give them opportunities throughout the year to continue to practice, and demonstrate, and find ways to help them grow as leaders, however you do that. Certainly the Key Exec Group is one way but there’s other ways you could do that as well. But to make a conscious effort to do that, right? To not only identify that person but then to wrap around them the things that they need in order to grow as well. And if you think back to your own experience, as an owner, and maybe the agency you grew up in, who did that for you and what did that look like? And use that, perhaps, as a reflection of how you could do that for somebody else in your agency.

Because it’s going to benefit you as the owner to have somebody who’s strong at your side, who can be that person to help you carryout the vision; to keep turning the wheel; to help lead those on the team in an effective way; and to create the environment, the culture, that will help keep the agency, in terms of the stickiness of those people within the agency, that it continues to be a great place to work. So we all need help, so why not look to that person to become an extension of what you want to get done, so that you’re not necessarily having to do it yourself?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the things I’ve seen a lot of agency owners do, lately, is they’re sitting down with that key executive and saying, “Look, you’re super valuable to me and to the agency, and I want to make sure you stay happy. Yes, we can talk about salary and things like that, but what else do you need? Or what else would be valuable to you to make this the job that you never want to leave?” And it’s fascinating what they come back with. It’s everything from more vacation time, to being able to start half an hour later so they can drop their kid off at school, or maybe it is, “Boy two plane tickets once a year, so I can go see my parents.” It’s amazing how small and, with Amex points and other things, how easy it is to really create a package. Because I think that’s the other thing, is how do you compensate these people well? So it’s not just about the money.

Yes, obviously you have to pay a competitive wage. But for most of them they’re trying to balance their home life and their work life, and all those other things. And we, as agency owners, have access to things, or tools, or points, or resources that we can actually help them have a better life, which is one of the ways that we earn their loyalty for the long run.

Craig Barnes:

Right. We have some agencies that are in one of our virtual groups, and some agencies that we’re coaching, that are doing exactly that. They’re finding ways to reward their teams with things that are important to them. I mean, a quick example is one of them has a predominately female team and a lot to them are single moms. And a couple of them, one of the things they stress about is just keeping the house together. They’re sending in a cleaning team once a month. So if you think about the person within the agency who you’re looking to, who you want to groom into that role or who is close to that role and continue to give them the kind of tools that they need to grow, I do think it’s important to find ways to express that appreciation. And to ask them about what is it that they would like? What would help them become better at what they do; make the day, make the weeks, more meaningful to them within the agency? And they’ll tell you. I mean, they’ll tell you. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yep, I agree. All right guys hopefully this has been helpful. Craig thanks, as always, for coming on the show and sharing-

Craig Barnes:

Thank you Drew.

Drew McLellan:

… your expertise and your wisdom. I will be back next week with another guest, just like Craig, who’s going to help you think differently about your shop, help you grow it, make it stronger, make it more stable. In the meantime a big shout out, a big thank you to our friends at White Label IQ. Those folks are our presenter sponsor of the podcast. They make it possible for us to hangout with you every week. And they are an agency’s best friend. If you need some help with PPC, with dev, with design, they can white label all of that for you. Both Craig and I know agencies that swear by them, and they’ve become just an incredible part of their team. So go check out WhiteLabelIQ.com/AMI they have a special pricing gig for you where you get some free hours from them. And, again, many thanks to them for their sponsorship and support. We’ll be back next week. In the meantime you can always track me down at AgencyManagementInstitute.com. Otherwise, I’ll see you soon.

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