Episode 323

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When things are going well in our agencies and our personal lives, it’s easy to relax into the comfort of that success. One of the risks of that comfort is missing the signs that trouble is brewing below the surface. There’s a difference between living in fear and anticipating challenges. No one is suggesting we live a life of paranoia where we’re constantly waiting for things to fall apart, but a vigilant approach to life and business can help us steer clear of troubled waters before we’re knee-deep in them.

Author Len Herstein started as a consultant in consumer-packaged goods marketing before life took an expected turn that led to him becoming a police officer at age 45. Though these worlds seem vastly different on the surface the through-line he discovered was one about the risks and dangers of complacency.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Len and I take a deep dive into complacency: how it’s defined, the damage it can do, and why agency owners are among the most susceptible to its dangers. We discuss tangible tactics for creating awareness in your agency, the importance of transparency, and how to successfully self-assess your own complacency. It’s a big conversation about an important topic meant to inspire you to be vigilant.

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.

Fight Complacency

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Where complacency comes from and why it is so dangerous.
  • Why agency owners are among the most susceptible to complacency.
  • Why you need to “articulate your why”
  • The opposite of complacency
  • The dangers of having a lack of engagement
  • What it means to get off the “X”
  • The need to be transparent
  • How to brief and debrief successfully
  • 3 questions to self-assess complacency
“Complacency kills. It kills businesses. It kills brands. It kills personal relationships.” @lenherstein Click To Tweet “Complacency is when you become so over-confident and self-satisfied that you become unaware of potential or real threats.” @lenherstein Click To Tweet “The reason that complacency is so dangerous is that it’s born out of success.” @lenherstein Click To Tweet “The results of complacency feel like they’ve come out of nowhere but the reality is they’ve been growing and festering and building in the background until they become something that we can’t ignore anymore.” @lenherstein Click To Tweet “Agencies and agency owners are probably among the most susceptible to complacency.” @lenherstein Click To Tweet “The name of the game here is being prepared and building in the processes that make it seamless for you.” @lenherstein Click To Tweet “You need to understand why you do what you do that goes beyond making money.” @lenherstein Click To Tweet

Ways to Contact Len Herstein:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable and, if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am excited. I know, I think I say that every time I have a guest and honestly that’s because I am excited to have them. We just really luck out and have great guests. But I have to tell you, this is a guest I’ve really been looking forward to talking to because when I read his book, it kind of haunted me like not in a creepy ghost sort of way. But there were things that he said that just chased me around. So I’m anxious to share his wisdom and his book and his thinking with you. So before I tell you about our guest, I want to remind you that the 2021 Agency Edge Research Report is out.

So as you know, we partner with Audience Audit and Susan Byer every year, we’ve done it since 2014, to do primary research where we talk to agency clients about something specific. So the 2021 report is out. You can go to agencymanagementinstitute.com and under the resources tab, you’ll see Agency Edge Research series, and you can download the 2021 executive summary and read about the research and what we found out about clients, it was fascinating. And actually you heard some things for the first time that we’ve never heard in the research before, so well worth your time to download that.

All right, let me tell you about our guest. So Len Herstein, really interesting guy, comes from our world marketing, branding and then decided to become a cop. And so the combination of his experiences led him to write a book called Be Vigilant. And it’s all of about this combination of his experiences, both in the business world and on the street as a patrol cop about the importance of being vigilant and what that means and what complacency means and what it means in business.

And he just said some really interesting things in the book about how we are most complacent, and most at risk at the things that we’re best at and we’re most successful at it, lots of little tidbits like that, and then some great stories. But really got me thinking about my business and about your business and how we have to figure out how to be vigilant and what that means.

So without further ado, I want to get Len in here and start picking his brain because he has some really, really interesting ideas about business and how we can continue to build on the success we have as opposed to allowing that success to erode. So let’s get to it Len, welcome to the podcast. I am super excited to have you here.

Len Herstein:

Thanks Drew. I am really excited to be here. I’ve been looking for forward to this.

Drew McLellan:

So I told you when we talked before scheduling this conversation, your book has haunted me since I read it, in a really good way. And it just got me thinking about all of the ways that I have and could get kind of lazy and complacent. And, like now, it’s like in the back of my head and I’m doing things I’m thinking, “Oh, that’s a spot.” So I will tell you, A, it was a great read, which I told you I really enjoyed the read, but B, it is stuck in my brain. So I really enjoyed it.

Len Herstein:

Yeah. I don’t know if I should say sorry or you’re welcome, but yeah.

Drew McLellan:

No, maybe a little bit of both, but yeah. Yeah, mostly you’re welcome. So tell the listeners how you came to have this expertise is pretty unique and it’s certainly part of what makes this the book so fun to read. So give everybody a sense of your background and how you came to write the book.

Len Herstein:

Yeah, absolutely. So my background was originally in consumer package goods marketing. So actually I started in consulting. I used to work for a company called Anderson Consulting, which is now Accenture.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

I made a move over to consumer package goods marketing. I worked for Nabisco and Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup. Spent a lot of time on the client side, right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

And running all elements of brands. I went to a lot of conferences and then I decided that I couldn’t find any conferences that I actually wanted to go to anymore. So I created my own and I created Brand Manage Camp.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

Which has been running annually since 2003.

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Len Herstein:

And so I was doing that and that was my life. When I was 45 years old, I started thinking I really would like to start doing more volunteer work and get involved in the community.

And this opportunity came up to become a reserve Sheriff’s deputy with my local Sheriff’s office. Sounds small, but our Sheriff’s office is huge, it’s a big law enforcement agency and I never really wanted to be a cop. It wasn’t something that I grew up wanting to do, but this spoke to me. So I went through a full academy. I went through 440 hours of field training and I became a Certified Peace Officer in the state of Colorado and became a police officer.

I went into it thinking that this was going to be completely different than anything I had ever done before, which it was, but what surprised me was I started learning things right away that looking through my previous lenses, I started seeing the applicability back to my business life and my personal life. And the core thing that really stuck with me from day one was this concept that complacency kills.

And it’s something that we talk about a lot in law enforcement, but I started thinking, you know what? Complacency kills businesses, it kills brands, it kills personal relationships.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

And I became obsessed with understanding what complacency is, why it’s so dangerous, what brings it on and started looking for what you do in law enforcement every day to help identify and fight it. And how can I apply that back? What can we learn from that and apply it back to business? And that’s where the book came from. The book is really me taking the lessons that I learned as a 45 year old guy getting into law enforcement, that I immediately saw, here’s how I can help brands and businesses and people.

Drew McLellan:

So, let’s talk a little bit about this idea of complacency. Where does it come from and why is it so dangerous? I mean, when we say it, everyone goes, “Oh yeah, I don’t want to be complacent.” Right.

Len Herstein:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

But you talking about complacency actually kills literally and figuratively takes it to a whole different level. So let’s talk a little bit about that.

Len Herstein:

Yeah. It’s a great question. I mean, listen, complacency in my mind has become this throw away filler word that we use. People listening to this will start hearing it in the day to day, they’ll see it on TV and people talk about it in the context of current events and sporting events and business and whatever. And usually it’s a throwaway word where people just say, “Hey, let’s not get complacent.” Right. Or someone points out, they’re getting complacent over there or people are starting to get complacent. Right. And then they move on and nobody ever talks about what is it and how do you avoid it? Right. So complacency to me is not laziness, it’s not just carelessness. Complacency is when you become so overconfident and self-satisfied that you become unaware of potential or real threats.

Right. And so that’s why it’s so dangerous. The reason why complacency is so dangerous is because it’s born out of success. We become over confident because of past success. Right. And when we start feeling that, when we start feeling that smugness almost right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

That’s when complacency can grow and complacency, sometimes the results of complacency feel like they’ve come out of nowhere, but the reality is they’ve growing and festering and, building in the background until they become something that we can’t ignore anymore. And usually it’s a little bit late in the game for that.

Drew McLellan:

Part of how I would translate that is the more successful I am, the more likely I am that I have areas of complacency that I am not paying attention to.

Len Herstein:

Yeah. It’s just human nature, it’s not an indictment of anybody. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

The human nature is we’re built to become comfortable. That’s where we want to be. That’s where we want to live, and success helps us do that. Right. Success helps us feel comfortable in the things we’re doing. The reality is like you said, that is when we become most vulnerable, that is when we become most susceptible to the detriments of complacency. And where that comes from a lot of times is from outside threats that we don’t see coming.

Drew McLellan:

And I was thinking about that this morning, that agency life is so frenetic and everything is changing so fast that when we get to a moment of calm, we’re so relieved. It’s just like, “Oh, finally, I’m not up till two in the morning. I’m not worried about payroll.” I’m not whatever I was worried about. And so you can totally see how you let down your guard in that moment, because you’re just so relieved to have the peace and quiet of a normal day, a non-crisis day that you could see how it would be so easy just to sink into that and not make sure your back’s against the wall.

Len Herstein:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And people listening, just ignore the dogs. It’s the holiday time. There’s a lot of UPS people here at the house. So they’re just going to walk along.

Len Herstein:

Like we say, it’s our normal desire to have those quiet and restful times. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

And as I was preparing for this talk, I was thinking about agencies and agency owners and, I think they’re even, they’re probably among the most susceptible to complacency, because think about it this way. In order to become an agency owner, it means you had to have been successful at what you do. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

You’re a great creative, you’re a great relationship builder, you’re a great director of creativity. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

And so you’ve now hung your own shingle. Right. And so that level of success inherently can make you become complacent. Right. Because you can become over confident.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

Right. But now you’re entering a world. And, I think, as talking before this, most agency owners can identify with this, that you’re entering a world where you’re now a business owner and there’s different challenges. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

I think it was Marshall Goldsmith, who said, he has a book, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Right.

Len Herstein:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Right.

Len Herstein:

That’s a lot of it. Right. What got you to be the success level that you are to become an agency owner doesn’t necessarily make you a great agency runner.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, or it got you to an agency of 20 people, but it won’t get you to an agency of 40 people. Right. So give us an example on the business side of what complacent looks like. Because again, I think you’re right. I think it becomes this throwaway word that we think of in such a generic way. So give us something concrete to sort of go, “Oh, okay. Yeah, I do that.”

Len Herstein:

Yeah. Listen, there is the easy examples of Blockbuster Video. Right. Becoming so over confident in what they were doing, that they didn’t see the threat of what Netflix could bring or a Netflix type company could bring.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

There’s the stories of all the brick and mortar retailers who have been shown the door by Amazon.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

Right. And there’s a laundry list. Right. Whether it be Sears or Circuit City or Borders or whatever it is.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

Right. So, there’s those examples. There’s also, an example I’m talking about right now is this idea of what people are calling the great resignation. Right. So people talk about the great resignation and people giving up their jobs or leaving jobs that they don’t enjoy to go pursue other things because of the environment that there is now.

People are talking about that as if it’s a COVID thing.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

But the reality is that it’s not a COVID thing. COVID may have-

Drew McLellan:

Heightened it.

Len Herstein:

… accelerated it. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

But this is something that was born out of complacency leading up to this. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

So what’s that complacency? The complacency is, for a long time, a lot of these employers who are experiencing the problems of the great resignation, were in a position of power.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

Right. And a lot of times, one of the things I talk about in the book is the ability to articulate your why. It’s something that is very ingrained. If you talk to any law enforcement officer, they will understand, they’ll talk about those words, articulate your why, articulate your why. And it really boils down to being able to explain why you’re doing everything in the context of your greater purpose.

Right. And what it is. When that answer is because either because I said so, or because I can, those are terrible answers and that’s what happened. Right. That’s what happened with a lot of employer, employee relationships, they underpaid, they overworked, they want everybody to be in the office all the time.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

For no other reason that they can articulate other than because I said so, and because you have.

Drew McLellan:

Or I like it better that way. Yeah.

Len Herstein:

Right. Or this is the way we’ve always done it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

Right. So that complacency has now come back. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

So that was the threat that people failed to see is what happens if the balance of power shifts?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

What are people going to do? Are people going to stay with us or are they only staying with us right now because they have to?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

Right. And whether that’s an employee relationship or a customer relationship or a vendor relationship, or, in a political sense, a constituent relationship, any relationship where people are staying with you because they have to, if I’m staying with my cell phone company, because I can’t afford to change fee.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

Right, that they’re charging me for no other reason other than they can. Well, the first time someone offers me the ability to move without charging me a fee or paying my fee for me, I’m gone.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Absolutely.

Len Herstein:

I saw that.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. So true. In the book you talk about the opposite of complacency and I think this is an interesting dichotomy. The opposite of complacency is not fear base, it’s not paranoia.

Len Herstein:

No.

Drew McLellan:

It really is about this idea of vigilance. And so talk a little bit about the fork in the road there.

Len Herstein:

Sure.

Drew McLellan:

And how business of owners can sometimes take the wrong fork.

Len Herstein:

Yeah, absolutely. I think, when I talk about complacency with people, sometimes they get a little uncomfortable because the assumption is that, especially when I’m talking about it from my perspective, the assumption is that the opposite, like you said, is paranoia.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

Right. And so that’s a terrible feeling. Nobody wants to be paranoid.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

And nobody wants to feel like they’re afraid all the time. And the way I explain it is, to me, the opposite of complacency is not paranoia, it’s vigilance. And that’s why the book is called, Be Vigilant. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

It’s not about be paranoid. Although there have been books about being paranoid and talk about, right. But to me, the difference is this paranoia is fear based. Paranoia is based in this fear of the unknown.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

And it’s very unsettling and it’s a high energy place to live and its exhausting, right. Because you’re always looking around the corner and behind you and all that stuff. Vigilance is based in awareness. Right. And so vigilance is based in building the processes and the tools that allow you to remain aware of your surroundings and use your resources to remain aware of those surroundings without draining you of your energy.

And that’s really what it’s all about. And so I think that helps people become more comfortable with this idea, is the fact that it’s not about being afraid all the time, but it’s about being in the moment. And that’s what the book is. The book delivers as you know, 10 different tools that you can use right away.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

That help you remain aware and help you fight those blind spots and not get surprised.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So one of the the takeaways I think from the book for me was that vigilance is also a shared responsibility. So as in many cases, agencies are owned by one person and that the mantle of command weighs very heavy on their shoulders. They have all of their day to day work. They have to run the business, they have all the finance stuff to worry about. And so the idea of this always being on alert, always being aware. On top of everything else, I think a lot of agents owners go, “You got to be kidding me.” But it is something that you actually can weave through, at least the leadership team level of your organization. Right?

Len Herstein:

Yeah. I mean, what I talk about in the book is, you want to drive that all the way down to your feet on the street, you know what I mean?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

There’s top down complacency that happens, but there’s also bottom up complacency and where that comes from is a lack of engagement. And especially in an agency environment again, where you have a leader who built this out of their own blood, sweat, and tears. Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

And come up, sometimes it’s hard to let go. Sometimes it’s hard to allow people to have autonomy.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Len Herstein:

To give them discretion. So this is a big part, and this is something I learned from law enforcement. I work patrol, so I’m out there driving around in a car, taking calls, but also doing proactive policing. Right.

And I have a lot of discretion in my job.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

So when I come across something, especially if it’s a misdemeanor or something, there are a lot of different directions. I can go anywhere from a warning to a citation, or a summons to, taking someone to jail.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

Having that autonomy and that discretion forces me to think.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Len Herstein:

It forces me to process information. When you don’t allow your employees to ha