Episode 191:

Whether we articulate them or not – we all have dreams. One of mine for me (and for all of you!) is to visit every Disney theme park in the world. Not that I want to mandate your dreams but who doesn’t love Disney?

The truth is, a serious business case can be made for agency owners to help their team members achieve their dreams. I know this from first-hand experience. More than a decade ago, I read the book Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly and began to implement it in my own agency. I believe it’s one of the reasons I have the employee tenure (17+ years on average) that I do. So when I met Dan Ralphs and learned about his company/mission, I knew I had to get him on the podcast.

Dan is the founder of Dream Leadership Consulting and is one of the world’s foremost experts in unlocking the power of dreaming inside a workplace. We often think that someone’s personal goals and dreams should be separate from their work life but that’s so short-sighted when you think about it. Your goal is to create an environment where your rock stars can flourish, be happy, and stick around for a long time. Why not help them achieve their dreams?

Before founding Dream Coach, Dan was the facilitator of the Dreaming Program at Infusionsoft, where he helped its employees identify, articulate, and accomplish their dreams – all based on the work by Matthew Kelly’s book.
Dan has the amazing ability to help people discover their dreams and learn how to go after them. His realistic approach toward dreaming recognizes that dreaming is not a ‘magic pill’ but, rather, a new way of thinking about our ability to create.

He is also the creator of the Dream Leader Certification course, through which he has helped more than 100 leaders from across the world become Dream Leaders to those whom they lead.
Together, they have helped their people accomplish dreams like buying a first home, riding elephants in Thailand, and starting a foundation to help mothers facing infant loss. Due to the efforts of Dan and the Dream Leaders he has certified, thousands have been awakened to their dreams and their ability to achieve them.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The power of helping employees achieve their dreams
  • Why investing in employees leads them to invest in the agency
  • How to advocate for people’s dreams without simply writing a check
  • Why helping employees achieve dreams must be more than a means to an agency end
  • How to establish systems around dream fulfillment
  • How to help people understand the price tag attached to their dreams
  • Why agency owners experience greater fulfillment in their work when they encourage others to fulfill their dreams
“Employees dreaming of earning more may sound scary, but if they are adding all the more value to the agency, it is a win for both of you.” – @dreamtolead Click To Tweet “There are times when you’ve got to choose an employee’s needs over revenue.” – @dreamtolead Click To Tweet “When you change your role from boss to advocate, the relationship dynamic changes dramatically for the better.” – @dreamtolead Click To Tweet “The choice of whether or not your agency is successful is really in your employees’ hands.” – @dreamtolead 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, now on our third year of bringing you insights on how small to midsize agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. We’ll show you how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks so much for coming back. Always glad to have you with me, and you are going to be really glad that you picked this podcast to listen to. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. It’s a little off the beaten path for us, it’s kind of tied to culture, it’s tied to employee retention, it’s tied to employee satisfaction, it’s also tied to owner satisfaction, but maybe in a way that is going to surprise you a little bit.

So, back in 2007, 2008, when I was a young man, owning my agency, I read a great book that really inspired me called The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly. And the premise of the book is that when business owners, when leaders inside companies understand what the team’s dreams are, what each person’s individual dream is, and they go forth in a very active way in supporting that person to achieving that dream, that magical things happen. And so, I embraced this book.

This is something that I have brought into my own agency and it’s something that I try and do with every employee, if they are open to the idea and willing, and it’s amazing. It’s amazing in terms of the relationship shift that is created inside your company, it is amazing to watch people achieve their dreams and what happens next, because we don’t only have one dream, we all have lots of dreams. And so what’s interesting is to watch people build upon their dream success to chase after their next dream. And it’s gratifying and remarkable to play a small role in helping someone do something that is so important to them that they articulate it by calling it a dream of theirs. That’s a powerful word.

On a very pragmatic sense, what it does for employee retention, employee satisfaction, the ability to grow and groom your team is remarkable. And so that’s what I want to talk about today, and I have the perfect guest. So, I’m going to introduce you in a minute to Dan Ralphs. So Dan, started out being the dream manager, like that was his job, at Infusionsoft, for many of you, you’re familiar with that software, and now has broken off in the last year or so to create his own company where he teaches companies how to build this, I guess you could call it a benefit, a focus inside their company and helping companies recognize… organizations of all kinds and all sizes, helping them recognize what can happen when you help someone else achieve a dream. And so I’m really excited about this topic, and I want you to just listen with an open heart and think about what this might do for you personally, to be a part of something like this, and what it will do for your agency and your team.

Okay, Dan, welcome to the podcast. I am excited about this topic. I am a fan of it, I love the outcome of it, so I can’t wait for you to help me educate the listeners to the power that is helping clients or helping employees figure out what their dream is and how to make it happen.

Dan Ralphs:

It’s awesome. I’m excited to be here. It’s like being a corporate fairy godmother. I’m excited to dig a little deeper with you.

Drew McLellan:

There is a visual that I’m going to have for our entire conversation now.

Dan Ralphs:

Corporate fairy godmother, yeah. Imagine a wand, a tutu, the whole works, right?

Drew McLellan:

That is what I’ve got in my head. Yeah, absolutely.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the origin story of this. So, I mentioned in the intro, I talked a little bit about the book and my own experience with the book. So, talk to us about how you came to be someone who has expertise in helping companies help their employees dream and make those dreams come true.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, fantastic. I was an educator before I did all of this, and one of the things I learned very early on in the educational process, I actually started my own private high school, and one of the things I learned with high school students is that if they didn’t care, then it didn’t matter. Anything I did didn’t matter, because at the end of the day, I couldn’t force education on anyone.

So, when I entered the corporate space, I ended up being handed the book, The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly by one of my friends who owned a company, and he said, “Hey, why don’t you come check this out? I think that we’re going to hire for this and you need to be that guy.” And so, I worked for the company for a couple of years before they ended up hiring it, and I was hired to be the dream manager at a company called Infusionsoft in Chandler, Arizona. And they had about 300 employees, and I was handed this book and it said, essentially, “Help the employees identify, articulate, and accomplish their dreams.” And the book, if you haven’t read it, by Matthew Kelly, is a fantastic story of how one company applied this principle and it helped them decrease their turnover rates by like 200%. It was crazy the impact that it had.

And so, I was handed the book, The Dream Manager, which simply said, “Hey, if we are able to help our employees to identify, articulate, and then accomplish their personal dreams, that we as an organization are going to get a better employee, a more committed employee, and a more engaged employee at the end of the day, and then our outcomes are going to be better.” So, they just had this brilliant win-win, and that was my opportunity to go try to make a great dreaming program happen in Infusionsoft.

Drew McLellan:

And so, what happened when you built it in Infusionsoft? Did it work the way you thought it would?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, great question. Actually, the answer is no, which is a great setup. So, let me tell you a little about this story. So, when I started, initially, the idea is, hey, you have a dream manager, the dream manager sits in an office that people walk in and say, “My dream is to ride an elephant in Thailand. My dream is to write a book. My dream is to lose weight.” And I would coach them through the process of accomplishing that. And it was good. It was good. We had some good success helping individuals accomplish those dreams, but it wasn’t as good as it could be, and it certainly wasn’t scalable if I wanted to grow it beyond 20 people that I was coaching.

So, what I discovered was that… because I would always have leaders come to me, and they would say, “Dan, I wish I had your job. What a cool job, you just help people’s dreams come true.” And it finally dawned on me that my job wasn’t to help the dreamers, my job was to help the leaders, and that I should give them the job of helping their employees and accomplish dreams.

So, we developed this two-day training, we trained our leaders and we said, “Leaders, what if we had you be the dream managers for those that you lead? What if we change the relationship between you and your employees from one, a boss employee, to dream manager, dream leader employee?” And it totally changed the game for us, because leaders were then able to shift their role from boss to advocate, and that really changed the game. And when I say boss and advocate, I want to just explain that real quick.

So, I remember before I was a dream leader, I was just a manager at our company, I managed a small team, and I remember sitting down with one of my employees and saying, “What’s your dream? Where are you headed? What’s the big goal for you?” And she said, “My dream is to work internationally.” I said, “That’s great. What would it take for you to work internationally?” And we started working on it, and she came to me and she said, “I think the biggest thing that needs to change…” And she was an employee that I was struggling with, had kind of a bad attitude, and she came in that day when she was describing what it would take for her to accomplish her dream, and she said, “I would have to fix my attitude, I’d have to be a much better employee.” And she outlined all of these things that I needed her to do. And I said, “Would it be okay if I helped you with those things?” And she said, “Would you? That would be wonderful.”

And all of a sudden, I was no longer the boss asking her to fix her attitude, I was the advocate, I was her coach, I was her supporter, and it kind of flipped the relationship. And so, we gave that same kind of shift, that same kind of adjustment to all of our leaders and we saw just awesome outcomes as a result of that.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and again, the reason why she was able to change her attitude and all of that, to your earlier point is, now she cares. She’s got skin in the game around this, right?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Dan Ralphs:

It’s like an important epiphany, I think, for all leaders to realize every employee in your organization could quit tomorrow, and that every project you hand them, every content piece you ask them to do, they can either choose to do it really well or choose to half ass it, and it’s really up to them. And that’s a scary realization when you think about that, at the end of the day, the choice of whether or not your business is successful is really in their hands, not yours.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, I’m channeling all the listeners, and they’re saying, “Maybe I’m missing something, but odds are my employees’ dreams aren’t to be a better account manager or to be a creative director someday, their dreams probably are more likely to, ‘I want to write a book or I want to ride an elephant in Thailand,’ or whatever it is. So, how does it help my business to encourage people to have dreams outside of their career? Is that my role, and how does it help my agency if I help BABA ride an elephant?

Dan Ralphs:

Yes, great question. So, the answer to that question is built on a fundamental understanding of human nature, and that is this, that when we grow in our lives, when we overcome fear, when we stretch outside of our comfort zone, when we stretch outside of what’s comfortable or familiar to us, as we learn new skills and abilities, when that happens in one area or aspect of our lives, it inevitably impacts all areas and aspects of our lives.

For example, we had someone that came in and said, “My dream is to own an Xbox.” And so, that’s not that inspiring, and nor do I see that helping business, by you owning an Xbox. And then we sat down together, and in a short time, three to four weeks, this guy had saved enough money to own an Xbox. Now, I should mention, he was married, which makes it a little bit more of a challenge, so he had to convince his wife and all that.

Drew McLellan:

Right. He had to have some permission. Right.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, exactly. And so he got his Xbox, and then he came back and I said, “Listen, I want…” And something shifted in him, though, in that moment, and he realized, “Man, I thought I was just a guy, but now I can go create things, I can go accomplish things in my life. This is cool.” And I said, “What’s the next dream?”

And it was the next dream when things started really to move. He said… and he got kind of serious and he said, “Dan, honestly, my wife and I have been thinking about having kids, and I can’t afford that.” “How much do you need?” I asked. “Double.” “So, you need to double your income.” And I said, “But how much do you want, if we’re really dreaming here?” And he said, “Triple.” I said, “By when?” He said, “We want to start having kids right away, it would be within the next year.” I said, “You want to triple your income this year.” And we established that as a dream for him.

And what was so funny about it is, again, I didn’t go in with the intent of, “Hey, what’s in it for the agency? What’s in it for me?” I went in simply saying, “What is it that will motivate you to move off your spot?” And it started with an Xbox, just to move him off his spot. And then what else to move him off the spot? “Hey, listen, I’m thinking about having kids.” Now, we didn’t accomplish the goal of tripling his income within a year, we were within $100 of tripling his income within the year, which I felt very good about.

Drew McLellan:

Right, I would too, yeah.

Dan Ralphs:

But what did happen is he was able to get two promotions at work, and that was an epiphany to me, to say, all we did was we started by saying, “What will motivate you enough to move you off your spot, to get you growing, to get you engaged in life?” And when we did that, we were able to get him engaged in his work, we were able to get him engaged in his life. And all of a sudden, we’re like, “Man, this guy is a stand out all of a sudden,” where before he wasn’t maybe worthy of note. And he got a promotion, and did great, kept crushing it, kept being fully engaged and fully involved, and he got another promotion.

So, to me, the answer to your question is like, how does helping someone ride an elephant in Thailand, is because when they come back from that experience, they’re more well traveled, they’re more confident, they’re more fearless, they’re more willing to take appropriate risks, they understand how to pay a price to get something that they want. And in all of that, I go, “Man, I want that employee instead of the other one.” So, that’s number one of why this is beneficial in the company, is they’re better employees.

And number two is… I’ll bring them back to that idea… they have a choice, and when I’m investing in them, the natural response is reciprocity. “I’m going to invest in you as a company.” It’s just like if I’m nice to my kids, my kids are nice to me, if I’m nice to my wife, my wife is nice to me, if I’m nice to my friends, my friends are nice to me. And sometimes we assume that because I pay a check that all of a sudden I can demand, but that’s not really how true relationships works, how investor relationships work. And so as a result, if we want to keep them around, keep them invested, we’re going to have to invest something in them. And this is one way where we both get a better employee and a more invested one because we’re investing in them.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So, I’m hearing about the guy who tripled his salary, and I’m, again, channeling my listeners and going, “Holy crap, everybody’s dream is going to be more money and I figure out how to help them make more money. I don’t want that. I don’t have any more money.”

Dan Ralphs:

Yes. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t it wonderful to have a bunch of employees who are ambitiously seeking more money, because inevitably, most… I would even say most… many dreams are connected to, “Hey, I need some more cash to fund the trip to Disneyland.” And we found that when you’re an employer and you have an employee who’s coming to you saying, “Hey, I need to figure out a way to make some more money,” that’s actually not a bad place to be as an employer because you’re now in a position to say, “Sweet. How can you provide more value, and even significantly more value to the company? And when you do provide more value, we’re going to pay you more.”

Now, you have to be willing to pay more for more value if you’re an employer, but at the end of the day to tie in to your bonus, or rewards, or compensation, whatever that is, connection to a dream, all of a sudden motivates employees in a different way than just saying, “And by the way, we’ll give you a 2% raise at the end of the year.” So, we’re getting the leverage of that motivation, but we’re also inviting them into more value, into harder work. So, you have to have an answer to that question, I guess, it’s true. When they come and they say, “Hey, I want more money,” you have to say, “Here’s how you create more value.”

But man, I love a motivated employee who is hustling and working hard and willing to sacrifice in the name of a dream. And if that means that they do more work with you, or for you, or harder work, or more valuable work, then that’s a great thing.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and the reality is, they are all coming and saying they want more money, it’s just not tied to a dream. So, you don’t really have the leverage that you would have if you were helping them chase after a goal that both understood was important to them.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Nobody’s coming into agencies and saying, “Hey, you know what, I’ve been here three years, and I’m good with the same salary.” Right? They’re all asking for more money anyway.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, it’s like, help me help you get your dream, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. So, as an agency owner, if someone like a rock star employee says that… let’s say they say they want to go to Disney World, which by the way, should be everyone’s dream, should I pay for that? Should I just stroke a check? Should I use it as a reward, or is there value in them figuring out how to get it done and getting it done on their own, even if I am advocating for them or supporting them or helping them?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. We’ve never paid for a single dime of a dream, and the reason that is, is because part of the journey of dream accomplishment is learning how to grow yourself and sometimes your ability to save, sometimes your ability to provide more value to the world, so you’re earning more. And so, that’s part of the journey, to feel that accomplishment of struggling, and working, and then accomplishing that dream. And so, certainly, like I mentioned before, we might provide it as a bonus if you do great work, we might provide it as a reward for exceptional service, we might promote you into higher levels of leadership, but all of that is going to be on your merit and not because we’re nice. So, we want to connect to the-

Drew McLellan:

Right. Or because I’m afraid you’re going to leave.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. Our niceness is we want to help you be able to help yourself, we want to teach you how to fish instead of giving you a fish. And so that’s where our kindness comes. And we’re going to be a little over the top and helping you learn how to fish, but if you have no interest in fishing, we’re not going to give you any fish.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So, you stopped. So, you were doing it at Infusionsoft, it sort of worked, it didn’t scale, so you had to teach the leaders how to be dream managers or advocates for their own department or their own team. And then what happened after that, because I know there’s a little more to your story than that?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. So, initially, we did, we kicked it off with the leaders and we saw just tremendous results, and where we had teams that were accomplishing all kinds of dreams consistently, the connectivity, and trust, and care on those teams skyrocketed. And as a result of that, we started getting a lot of interest. We got featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, we got a lot of people noticing we had this really great program. And about a year ago, I broke away from Infusionsoft because I had so many outside the organization asking, “How do you do this? How do we do this for our companies?” That I started a consulting firm called Dream Leadership Consulting at the beginning of last year, and have seen it now, not just one group do it, but now I’ve seen hundreds of different companies start programs where they’re helping their employees to dream.

Drew McLellan:

So, I’m guessing that there’s an advocate inside the company, somebody has either read about you, or they’ve read the book, and they decide they want to do this. Is there trepidation inside the organization? These are pretty personal conversations to have with your employees, and if you’re not wired to be that sort of transparent and personal with your employees, is it weird?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. No, a lot of times, the question will come up, “Well, how do we know if someone’s going to be qualified to have this conversation with an employee?” Because maybe some people aren’t hardwired to be dream coaches for their team. And really, there are two criteria that someone needs to possess to do well at this, and that is, number one, they have to genuinely care about their employees as humans and not just as business units. They have to say, “This is a human sitting across from me and I’m interested in all aspects of that human.” And so, they have to care, they do. And if you don’t really care about that, and you’re not interested, and you just want to get the work done and go home, then you’re probably not going to be in a good seat to do this.

And then, second, you have to be a good problem solver. So, when something shows up and there’s a problem at hand, you have to be able to meaningfully go, “All right, I’m going to be able to figure out how to solve a problem and help you solve a problem.”

And so, the good news is, I recommend that all leaders have those two criteria. I recommend you only have leaders who care about the individual, and I recommend you only have leaders… And by the way, I think this old like 2000s command and control style of leadership is retiring and there’s a different style of leadership that requires, especially in the millennial generation, a lot more connection, a lot more care, a lot more human relationship. And so, I have bad news for those who are like, “Just show up, get your work done, and go home.” Man, the next generations aren’t okay with that anymore and they’re going to leave in droves, if that’s the way you’re leading.

So, yeah, we expect you to care, we need you to solve problems, and if you’re not that person or someone in your group is not that person, they’re probably not going to be a good person to play the role of dream leader.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think too, I mean, we talk so much about culture, and life-work balance, and all of that, and I don’t care how old your employee is, they don’t want to think about work 24/7, and they don’t want to only work, and they wouldn’t keep showing up if you didn’t pay them. They’re not just hanging out because they like it. So, they have other things they want to accomplish, other things that matter to them.

So, part of this, to me, seems like you’re just queuing up to the team that you actually care about their life-work balance as well, and again, it’s advantageous to you as the business owner to understand what the goals are of your team rather than, “No, they all have goals,” but you have no idea what they are, so you have no idea if work is supporting or getting in the way of those goals.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. The leaders who embrace this, the reason they embrace this is because they care about their teams. They love them, and they are concerned for them. You can’t really do this well if it’s only to benefit you as a business. You just can’t, because they’ll see right through it. And there come moments where you have to choose the employee, sometimes over revenue, and that’s your long term play, is to say, “I have employees who stick around and care and that’s worth it to me to make a decision about this particular project, this guy who’s a jerk, and we’re just going to release that project back into the world and we’re going to give it to our competitors, because man, it’s killing our employees.” So, you have to be able to make those kinds of decisions because you care about your employees.

But at the end of the day, here’s the thing that I’m also arguing. Not only is this a place where you’re going to demonstrate care about your employees, but if you do, you will win in the market. You will be a better agency, because at the end of the day, the statistic is 85% of global employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged at work, which means most people, 85, more than eight out of 10 employees aren’t trying very hard.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s so staggering.

Dan Ralphs:

They aren’t trying very hard. And all I’m saying is, if you are engaging your employees by demonstrating care, and your employees are trying hard, and 85% of your competitors aren’t trying hard, you will win. That’s the [inaudible 00:25:19]. And so, the question is, how do we get our employees to try hard? And usually, we try hard in relationships where I care about the other person. I try hard for my wife because I know she cares about me. And if she stopped caring about me, I would stop trying hard. I don’t know. It would take a while, but…

Drew McLellan:

But over time, that trust and that mutual care does get eroded.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. And so, you have to do sometimes dramatic things to say, “Hey, no, really, I care about you, not just because you’re a business unit, not just because you deliver things for me, but because you’re you.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, I want to dig in and ask you a little bit about the mechanics of how you do this inside an agency, but first, let’s take a quick break.

I want to take just a quick second and remind you that if you head over to the agencymanagementinstitute.com website, one of the things you’ll find there in our effort to support agency owners is some on-demand training. We know that many of you want to attend our live workshops, but for some reason, that doesn’t work out. Maybe you’re outside of the US, or maybe you have little kids and it’s tough to travel, or it may just be that our calendar and your calendar do not align.

And so, what we’ve done is we now have three courses that we either regularly or occasionally offer as a live workshop, and now we’ve got them in an on-demand training version. So, you can now find Biz Dev Workshop, our agency new business blueprint course, you can also find our AE BootCamp, and our most recent addition is the Money Matters Workshop. So, all of those are available. If you head over to the website and you go under training, you will see on-demand training under that tab, and you can check out all three of those courses. And obviously, those are courses that you can take at your leisure. You can get through the whole thing in a weekend, which I don’t recommend, or you can space it out over time. You can do it individually, you can do it with your leadership team, whatever serves your agency best. We just want to make sure that you know that they are there and available for you.

All right, let’s get back to the episode.

Okay, we are back with Dan Ralphs, and we are talking about dreaming, and we are talking about helping our employees dream, all based on the book, Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly, that Dan took and sort of programatized inside Infusionsoft and now is doing it inside his own organization.

So, if somebody is listening to this, Dan, and they’re thinking, “Well, this sounds kind of cool. How do I start?”

Dan Ralphs:

It’s a great question. If you’re brand new to the idea, it’s a good idea to grab Matthew Kelly’s book and to read it. It’s a good start. So, you can at least have some deeper sense of what is. I also have some resources and case studies at dreamleadershipconsulting.com that are free, you can just go check them out. But once that’s out of the way, and you’ve done a little more research, and you’ve gone and checked out the case study and saw how it worked, the next step is really actually pretty simple, and that is for you to make a list of dreams for yourself. So, for you to go, “All right, if I’m going to be a good dream leader, I need to be a good dreamer, first of all, and I have to be open to the fact that I have some dreams inside of me that I’m not currently pursuing. And I’m going to choose one of those to begin to model for my team, ‘This is what it looks like to be in the pursuit of a dream.’” So, that’s step one.

Once that’s kicked off… and again, this is in a period of a week, it doesn’t have to take a long time, you can get going right away… then you’re going to turn to your employees and you’re going to say, “Hey, I want to introduce you to this idea of dreaming. I’m pursuing a dream. Here’s one that I’m chasing down. And what is a dream for you, something that you feel excited and passionate about, something that would light you up if you were able to go and pursue it, that you can accomplish in the next 12 to 18 months?”

The reason it’s 12 to 18 months is simply because if I say five years, it doesn’t really call on me to take action right now. “And so what’s the dream you could accomplish in the next 12 to 18 months?” And just make a list of the dreams of your employees. That’s a very simple way to get started. And what you’ll come to find is you’ll learn some things, and some employees will feel a little off. They’ll be like, “Why are you asking? Are you going to fire me? Are you trying to set me up to get fired because [crosstalk 00:29:58].”

Drew McLellan:

Right. Because my dream is to own another business or something else.”

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, they’ll panic, right? And you’ll say, “No, no, I know I’ve been a jerk most of your career, but I care about you and I want to demonstrate some care.” And so, as you get to know the dreams of your employees, that’s a great place to start. And you’ll come to find that to incorporate this into your business isn’t like taking 10% of your time, it’s taking like 0.4% of your day to actually demonstrate interest and care. And for the most part, business will be as usual, except for now we’re shifting that relationship, again, from boss to kind of advocate and you’ll move things forward. So, that’s a very simple way to get started.

Now, when I work with a company, there’s additional training, and kickoffs, and other things, but if you wanted to do-it-yourselfer, that’s how you start, is you just read the book, do a little research, start your list, and then the fourth step is just to ask your employees what their dreams are.

Drew McLellan:

So, that sounded like a group conversation, but I’m assuming some people’s dreams are probably private, or they don’t want to talk about it i front of everybody else. So, do I stand up as the owner of the agency and say, “Hey, you guys, read this amazing book, I want to weave this into the culture of our agency. I know we all have dreams, and I think part of working here should be that you get to accomplish your dreams. So, I’m working on a dream and my dream is to get to all of the Disney Parks throughout the world.” Which, by the way, is another good dream for all of you listening, if I were to self-direct your dreams. So, if I were to say that, then am I giving them updates on like, “Here are the barriers to my being able to do that, and here’s what I’m trying to do?” Am I sort of modeling how I’m problem solving through to my dream?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, the modeling is a good way to do it. So yeah. First of all, you’re right in saying there are some dreams that are sort of personal in nature and that people might feel hesitant to share. I usually am going to discourage… not discourage, but I’m going to encourage them to choose dreams out of a list of dreams that they’re willing to share. So, I’m going to say, “Hey, choose one dream that you’re willing to share with the team” Not only does that prevent us from getting into some seedier areas of dreaming, where it’s like, “Yeah, my dream is to open a strip club on Main Street.” Just avoid some of that.

Drew McLellan:

Maybe do that on your own time.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. “Fine. Good work, but we’re not going to work on that here because the nature of that might be offensive to some people in our group.” And so we’re saying, “Hey, self-monitor, choose a dream that you can accomplish that you feel comfortable sharing with everyone.”

The second thing that that allows for is it allows for everyone in the group to have some buy-in, and support, and it builds trust, and it’s a great team builder from that aspect. So, that’s kind of the first thing, is “Yes, we want you to be able to share it, and if you don’t feel comfortable sharing it, then let’s leave it at home, and we want to bring to work the things you’re comfortable sharing.”

And then the second piece of that is that, yeah, one of the keys to kicking this off correctly is there is a good way to kick it off to where people can understand this isn’t us being people who burn incense and have dream catchers, this is just us setting goals for our future and making progress. So, you can kick it off in a really good way. And that was one thing I took a lot of pride in is the way we kicked off the dreaming program to our employees. We only had one opt-out out of almost like 400 and something employees because everyone, once they understood how dreaming helped them, and served them, and how it made sense and fit in, they were willing to take that next step forward. So, kick it off in a good way.

And then, yeah, as a team, maybe once a month, we’re checking in to say, “Hey, how’s everyone dreams coming?” “Well, you never believe it, but I actually got the tickets to go to Disney World-

Drew McLellan:

Hong Kong.

Dan Ralphs:

… Hong Kong, right? And we’re really excited about that.” And everyone cheers, “Yeah, way to go. I can’t wait for you to go.” And so we’re checking in as a team. And then in our one-on-one conversations is where most of the coaching is happening. And there is a good way to coach that process. We probably don’t have time to get into it right now, but to make sure you’re coaching that employee in a good way that allows them to make sure they’re making progress towards the dream, because you can do it wrong.

Drew McLellan:

So, what are the things I shouldn’t do? If we don’t have time to get into all the right ways to do it, at least what are some pitfalls that you would suggest I avoid?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. The way that dreaming programs are detract is when we have a lot of people declaring dreams but not a lot of people accomplishing dreams.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Dan Ralphs:

In other words, we’re better at what we practice, and if I’m really well practiced at declaring dreams and then not accomplishing them, then that’s not helpful, that’s not empowering. It’s actually disempowering. And so we want to be in a position where we’re ready to coach people through to fulfillment of some dream or else we might end up having a lot of high energy around a program, and then everyone has a bitter taste in their mouth because they say, “Oh, yeah, they talked about how they wanted to help us dream, but no one ever did anything and blah, blah.” And so, we want to make sure that we are helping them get through to completion, so we want to make sure we’re following through with them and with the program.

The second thing you want to avoid is having people declare dreams that they don’t really understand the price tag of. So, for example, I had somebody come in my office, this little Indian woman, and she said, “My dream is to run a marathon.” And I said, “Man, that’s fantastic.” And then I said, “What do you know about running? Do you run? What’s your story?” And she said, “Well, I’ve never run.” And I said, “Really?” I said, “Hey, so maybe you should grab some shoes before we declare the dream of running a marathon and just run a mile, see how that feels.” And sure enough, she came back to my office and said, “I think I will run a 10K.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. I’m going to modify my dream. Yeah.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. We want to help them understand the price tag attached to any dream, and it sometimes requires a little research. So, again, things you want to kind of avoid are… and the main one is just having people declare dreams they don’t fulfill or accomplish. And one way we help prevent that is making sure that we right size the dream. And it’s not us, it’s them, is right sizing the dream.

And then the third thing I would avoid is mandating this program, requiring it, having everyone saying, “If you don’t dream, then your performance metrics will be dinged.” It really does require that it belongs to them. And if we try to take ownership of their dreams, then we’re going to miss the point of helping them really feel happy and we’re caring about them. Because it’s one thing to say, “Hey, I bought you a birthday cake, and I’m going to force you to eat it.” Somehow, the birthday cake loses some of its effect.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, after you had done this for a while at Infusionsoft, and now as you’re doing it for your own clients, what are the business owners saying to you about their experience with it, what the outcomes of it are, both from a business perspective and also a personal perspective? So, somebody looking back on it and saying, “Wow, this happened.” What is the end game for all of this, other than, obviously, people are riding elephants in Thailand and running 10Ks, which are all great things. But from a business owner’s perspective, “I’m going to invest time energy and focus on this, because what?”

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, there are a couple of things that happen. Number one… and I don’t want to diminish this. The fulfillment and joy of running the business go way up. In other words, man, I love the work that I do, and all of the burden, and sacrifice, and suffering that is of being a business owner is lightened because I’m not only getting and serving my clients in a really great way, but the people around me are being fulfilled and are serving and being happier. And that’s usually the number one thing they come out with. They’re just like, “I like my job as a founder, as an owner a lot better. I just feel better about myself, I feel better about the business.” So, that’s probably the number one thing I hear back from them.

The second thing we’ll often hear is there’s a higher spirit of ownership throughout the organization, where people are diving in to solve problems that they weren’t necessarily assigned because they are fully bought into who we are and what we’re doing. That’s another common bit of feedback we get.

And then, of course, the third one is, “And our business is growing.” And so, there is a bottom line productivity where the business continues to grow and scale, and it’s fun because you see entrepreneurs feeling like, “Man, I’m not only doing great for…” They just have a swagger about them, right? It’s like, “I’m crushing it on all fronts. My family life is good, my business family is good, and we’re growing the business.” And that’s what we see when business owners are able to put this into place.

Drew McLellan:

You’re seeing that because the retention is going up, right? I’m keeping good employees longer, my people are more engaged, so they’re not one of the 85% that is actively disengaged with the work, because they’re in an environment that supports them as people and their own dreams, and someone is actively helping them accomplish whatever matters to them. They’re more engaged, and in many cases, because as you said early on, in many cases, what they need is money to accomplish these dreams, there’s a very personal reason why they’re hustling to do their job well because they have a very clear picture of the outcome of that or the benefit of that, which is that, “I get to go to Thailand and write an elephant or whatever their thing is, right?”

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. You got it. And so, it tends to smooth out all of the employment problems and issues.

I had one employer that said, “I used to have people coming to my office a lot just complaining about stuff or they would just whine and moan.” One employee in particular, said, “When someone got hurt, it became like a three week ordeal, and they would apply for workman’s comp, and it costs us a ton.” And he said, “Now they just walk in and say, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on,’ and we worked through it,” right? Again, it shifts that employee-employer relationship from being adversarial to being cooperative, and that just smooths everything out and makes it a lot easier to run a business.

Drew McLellan:

I also think it has to, not only just between the boss and the employee, but even amongst the employees, has to foster a sense of camaraderie and trust because you’re sharing something very personal, even if it is something as impersonal as like, “I want to go to Disney World,” it’s personal to you, and it matters a lot to you. And odds are as you’re describing what your dream is, there’s probably some backstory around it or tied to it that makes it very person, right.

Dan Ralphs:

There always is a story, yep.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Dan Ralphs:

Oh, absolutely. And that’s the fun part, is that we get to get to a personal place without bringing up anything that says a lot about us. It’s kind of funny, because if you’re talking about past things, where you say, “Let me tell you something personal from my past,” usually, it’s pretty emotional and tender, but if you say, “Let me tell you something personal about my future,” all of a sudden, it’s a safe place where we can talk about that. And so, you are getting personal, but it’s not offensive, or weird, or we’re not talking about the time that my stepdad did something funky, we’re talking about future and positive rather than past and negative when we get personal, and it does. It creates a great camaraderie amongst the team. You got it. You get it.

And now I should ask you, because I know you do a little bit of this kind of thing in your organization.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I’ve been a fan of this book for eons.

Dan Ralphs:

Let me flip the conversation and let me be the question asker here for a minute. Tell me about one success story where you’ve watched somebody accomplish their dream and the impact it had on your agency. Is that okay? Is that fair?

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Yeah.

Dan Ralphs:

Is that allowed.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, of course. Yeah. I’m a big advocate of this, and probably the mistake that I’ve made is that it has been more one-on-one rather than agency-wide. So, everybody inside by shop probably knows that I do it because I’ve had the conversation with them personally, but we haven’t done as good a job of sort of sharing each other’s dreams. So, one of the notes I made for myself is that that’s a change that I want to make.

But I had an employee who his dream was to record videos with his grandparents and parents to capture their family history, but he didn’t have… and this shows you how long ago this was… he didn’t have a video camera and iPhones weren’t really hot and heavy back then, they didn’t have the video capabilities they did. So, he had some investment infrastructure that he had to make. He needed to get like a camcorder. For those of you under 30, that’s now what you carry [crosstalk 00:43:54]. But we used to have to carry a video camera around. He had to get a camcorder, and a tripod, and that was even before digital. So it was like he had to get the tapes, and then he had to think through the process.

So, we worked through all of that and helped him figure out how to do all of that. And he took some extra time off, and he started traveling around, identifying, first, with both sets of grandparents, and then his parents, and then he added some of his grandparents’ siblings who were still alive, and then he archived all of it. And so he taught himself how to edit video, which was a benefit to the agency, right? And he created a story, but then he also had hours and hours of these family stories on tape. And when his maternal grandfather passed away, he put together this amazing video of the grandpa telling these family stories that would have been lost if he hadn’t done that. And so, A, being at the funeral and hearing it, but just having him talk about that he was going to make these things available to his family and all that, and just the sense of connection and pride that it gave him, it was really amazing to see, and it was fun to go on that journey with him and to watch how it unfolded.

I mean, I guess we never said, “Sooner or later these people are all going to die and I want to get it on tape before they die,” but we sort of knew in the back of our heads that that was part of his motivation.

So, when his grandpa died and we actually saw the outcome of that effort, it was like… This sounds silly, but I didn’t have anything to do with it other than helping him figure out how to do it, but I was as proud and excited for him that he had done it and it was a gift that he could give his family, and his children, and his children’s children, and I’m sure now they’re burned on DVDs or they’re on YouTube or something, I’m sure he’s modified it. So, he’s no longer with me.

Dan Ralphs:

And as you add, by the way, the team component to it, the whole team will feel that same feeling.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Dan Ralphs:

“Wow, we did it, we made it, we accomplished it.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, it was really cool.

Dan Ralphs:

And you remind me of the fact that this program, in theory, we’ve just talked mostly theory today, is cool, but it’s far cooler when you actually go through it and you actually see someone’s dream accomplished.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Dan Ralphs:

Because it’s not just that you’re making a little bit of a difference, you’re transforming people, and it’s a transformational process where you get a different person when they show up tomorrow. And for all the employee growth and employee improvement plans out there, this one actually has the effect of creating true transformation, because at the end of the day, we win… We’re in the middle of the NBA Finals right now… you win if you have better players. [crosstalk 00:46:58] win, not as fun if you’re not a Warriors fan, because we win if we have better players. And at the end of the day, that’s true of your agency as well. You win if you have better players. And so the question I ask is, how are you getting players to play better, and not just a little, but step function improvements? And the dreaming program allows them to have a reason to get off their spot and become much better. So, I love it. I love that example. Thanks for sharing.

Drew McLellan:

And also, just I think they care at a different level, right? I think they care about each other at a different level, I think they care about you as a boss at a different level, they care about the company’s success at a different level, because now it’s personal to them too.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah. Now it’s personal to them too.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Dan Ralphs:

Man, that’s the quote of the day, I think.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, a good place to stop then perhaps. This has been awesome. I knew that this conversation would be great when you and I met, and I said, “Oh, I’ve got to get you on the podcast to talk about this.” I believe in this so much in terms of creating a culture that is sticky and in today’s world. Agencies are struggling to attract great employees and to keep great employees, and this is a great way that doesn’t cost you a dime to do, and also I think for the agency owners that I know and love, they love their people. And so this is just another way to love your people and love them well, and it benefits the business too, so everybody wins.

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, I love it. And I’ll kind of close by saying that, it’s so important that we recognize and remember that at the end of the day, the people that we work with, our employees, have a choice every day, and they decide how much they’re going to put in, decide whether or not they’re going to come in to work today, they decide whether or not they’re going to stick around with your agency. And as a leader in the modern age, we have to make a decision about how we’re going to help them make a choice that’s going to be, “Hey, I’m going to stick around, I’m going to care, and I’m going to commit.” And so, we have to invest in them. We have to choose them and we have to choose some of their items, their agendas, if they’re going to choose ours.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, such a great point. Dan, if people want to learn more about your business and how you’re working with companies of all sizes to implement this inside their business, what’s the best way for them to track you down?

Dan Ralphs:

Yeah, for sure. The best way is just my website; dreamleadershipconsulting.com. Again, dreamleadershipconsulting.com. And you have to know, I’m committed to helping people implement these kinds of programs, that’s my life’s work, is to figure out how to help people do that. So, if people want to reach out to me and contact me there, they can, or find me on LinkedIn, Dan Ralphs on LinkedIn and let’s connect, let’s chat. Let’s figure out a way to make this happen in your organization. So, I’m happy to field any follow up questions or concerns one-on-one, if people have any questions.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. We will put access links to Dan in the show notes to folks, so if you are driving and you didn’t get a chance to jot down that URL, or if we’re walking on a treadmill with you right now, just go to the show notes and you will find it there.

Dan, thanks so much for your time. Thanks for your passion around this topic and for sharing it with us.

Dan Ralphs:

It’s been a pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

All right, guys. This wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. I’m hoping this one fired you up. I’m hoping this gave you a view into what your agency could be at a completely different level. This isn’t about the work, this isn’t about the clients, this is about you as a human being, and the team that you’ve built around you, and how you can help them have a happier more fulfilled life, which honestly, one of the biggest byproducts is you get to have a happier more and fulfilled life too. So, I would love to hear, if you decide to implement something like this, I highly recommend, I’m with Dan, start with the book, and then decide how you want to fashion this for yourself. But I hope this fired up today and I hope it gives you some joy to think about helping your employees really live their best life, because I think you have a very unique position as their boss, and their mentor, and hopefully, their friend, in helping them have that great life. You are a conduit to that, so I hope you take full advantage of being that.

I’ll be back next week with another guest to help you think about your agency a little differently. In the meantime, you know how to track me down, just head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, or you can just shoot me an email at [email protected] and I’ll be back next week. Talk to you soon.

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build a Better Agency Podcast. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to midsized agencies. Don’t forget to subscribe today so you don’t miss an episode.