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
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Ways to Contact Dan Ralphs:
- Website: https://www.dreamleadershipconsulting.com/
- Book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/766881.The_Dream_Manager
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.
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.
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.
There is a visual that I’m going to have for our entire conversation now.
Corporate fairy godmother, yeah. Imagine a wand, a tutu, the whole works, right?
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.
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.
And so, what happened when you built it in Infusionsoft? Did it work the way you thought it would?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Right. He had to have some permission. Right.
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.
Right, I would too, yeah.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Yeah, it’s like, help me help you get your dream, right?
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?
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-
Right. Or because I’m afraid you’re going to leave.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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