Episode 153:

As agencies struggle to attract and retain top talent, it’s natural that we’re having a lot of conversation about culture.

We’re in a creative industry, and I find that most owners are pretty self-aware. We want to love the business we’ve built, and we want to do right by our employees. Everyone wants their agency to have a culture that employees value and enjoy, but some owners don’t really know how to be intentional about it.

Gina Trimarco is the chief results officer and founder of a company called Pivot 10 Results. In this episode, I wanted to get her take on some of the challenges owners are facing in the current business climate – mainly getting and retaining the right employees. Work culture is a big part of that equation.

We get into a lively discussion about core values and how they can either sit unremembered in an employee handbook or be pivotal in shaping culture. What does it take to keep core values front-of-mind for both owners and employees? How does that help attract and retain the best people? These are questions I am asked every day, so I was glad for Gina’s perspective on all this. I think you will be too.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How to define a healthy work culture
  • Creative ways to thank employees for a job well done
  • Putting your best foot forward when an applicant is interviewing you as a potential workplace
  • Empathy-based training and emotional intelligence to create a positive work environment
  • The critical role of stated, repeated, and lived-out core values in establishing a healthy work culture
  • Using your story to sell services, and attract and retain great people
  • How a team of happy employees that has bought in to the core values can be your best recruiting tool
  • How to listen to employees’ hopes and dreams and develop strategies to retain them longer
  • Creating a positive culture that stays positive when the owner is away

The Golden Nuggets:

“In order to understand and shape your company culture, you need to be hyper aware and actually feel what is going on in your environment.” – @GinaTrimarco Click To Tweet “When it comes to good relationships with employees, it’s not a matter of ability. It’s a matter of understanding where they are coming from.” – @GinaTrimarco Click To Tweet “Everyone likes to be listened to. You can see it on a person’s face. It delights them.” – @GinaTrimarco Click To Tweet “Owners can be bad at making time for one-on-ones. Make sure one-on-ones are a part of your routine – scheduled into your calendar on an ongoing basis.” – @GinaTrimarco Click To Tweet “Agency owners should be just as nervous as applicants are because those potential employees can choose who to work with. You need to be clear on what's in it for them.” – @GinaTrimarco Click To Tweet “When you know your own story, you can turn that story into a message about why people should work for you.” – @GinaTrimarco 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, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 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. Just once I’m going to say with a different episode of some other show, I’m just going to pop that in and see if you guys are paying attention, but today it is Build A Better Agency. And today we are going to talk about agency culture. So for many of you, the last 12 to 18 months have been really fruitful in terms of new business. It seems like the tide is turning on that front, but what it’s done is it’s created a completely different problem for many agencies, which is you’re struggling to find enough and the right people to put on the team. That you’ve got more business than your current team can manage. And you are looking for new teammates and it’s getting harder and harder to find them. It’s getting harder and harder to recruit them and to win them because it seems like every time you find a great potential employee, you’re in a battle to win them from other potential employers.

And on top of that, not only while you are dealing with that struggle, but you are also struggling to keep the great employees that you have in-house because they are being recruited and poached at a super rapid rate. And by the way, the poaching is coming from all over. So it’s not just other agencies poaching, which we’re sort of used to, but it’s also corporate jobs. It is a lot of people are leaving to start their own thing, people want to be an entrepreneur, work out of their house in their pajamas, so they’re leaving you to do that.

And I think sort of the most egregious of all the ways that we are losing our employees, and this seems to be a really commonly recurring theme that I’m hearing from agency owners, is your clients are hiring your employees. And by the way, in your service agreements, you should have something that says, “If you offer one of our employees a job and we in essence served as a recruiter for you, there’s a fee tied to that. So I’m not saying you can’t hire them. I’m just saying you have to pay us a fee.”

But that’s an aside for another show. But anyway, you’re having a hard time finding good people. When you find the good people, you’re having to go to battle to actually get them to choose you over their other options. And at the same time, you’re playing defense, trying to keep the people that you have. And for all of you, one of the factors that plays into your ability to find and keep good talent, find them, get them to join you, and then keep them, is the company culture that you’ve created, is the agency’s culture that you have contributed to, and that your employees have helped you flesh out. So I knew that we needed to have a guest on, that talked about how to create culture. And there was no one that I could think of quicker than Gina Trimarco.

So let me tell you a little bit about Gina and then let’s just jump right into the conversation. So Gina is the chief results officer and founder of a company called Pivot10 Results. And she is also the founder of an improv theater and troop. Both of her businesses live in Myrtle Beach and she’s been down there for about 10 years doing this. And she’ll tell us a little bit more about that, I’ll definitely ask her more about that. But Gina’s whole thing is that Pivot10 is a training company and they work with entrepreneurs, business owners, business leader teams, but they coach and consult executives and entrepreneurs in the idea of people. And by people, what they mean by that is how do you catch and keep the best people for your team? How do you know if someone’s going to be a keeper and then how do you attract them and then keep them after you win their head and heart, and they start working for you?

So they focus a lot on training and strategic planning around the idea of talent acquisition and attraction. And in Gina’s opinion and in her company’s opinion, they hold out the truth that a lot of what makes or breaks us in terms of being able to attract talent is how buyable we are as a commodity, that we have to think of ourselves… And her point is we’re marketing agencies, so we should be good at this, but we have to think about ourselves as a product and how do we position and package that product authentically? So what is the culture that we create and then how do we merchandise that culture to attract the right folks? On top of all of that, Gina also hosts a great podcast called The Pivotal Leader, which I highly recommend. You will enjoy that as well.

But today we’re going to talk about sort of her personal experience in teaching and coaching around culture, also some of the studying that she does around that, so that she keeps her own saw sharp on the topic and some skills and some best practices that we can all employ to create a culture that does allow us to attract the right kind of people to our shop. And then once they get there, to try and keep them for as long as we can. So with that, let’s get right to the conversation because I have a lot of questions to ask. Let’s welcome Gina to the podcast. So without any further ado, Gina, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Gina Trimarco:

Thanks Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So give everybody a little sense because you have a non-traditional background. Give everyone a little bit of a sense of sort of how you have come to be doing the work that you’re doing today.

Gina Trimarco:

Sure. I started, actually, in television production. So I started a little bit in the ad agency world. So I worked on a lot of television commercials in my early career that moved me into marketing. I had a marketing agency for about a second when I was 23 and got scared and got out. Didn’t realize I was smart as I was, but I got out. Then I went down the path of marketing director in live entertainment, was a media buyer through that, PR, doing publicity. That led me into an operations/marketing job in the IMAX world, which then brought me to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina from Chicago to take over another IMAX theater because I had successfully turned one around in Chicago. By then, it was 2008-ish, when everything was crashing. And I was actually pretty burnt out in making the big move from Chicago to South Carolina and needed an improv refresher class.

Because when you grow up in Chicago, you grow up going to Second City. And I [inaudible 00:07:11] a lot of agency people because they all went to classes and I inevitably started an improv comedy theater and school accidentally as a hobby because I just needed an outlet. And that opened 2008, the theater opened in 2009. And then through that process, we use improv to help companies in training. So we go into organizations to help them think faster on their feet, solve problems, be better communicators, using all those soft skills to improve performance, to help companies get to the results that they need to get. So I’ve been doing that since 2008 and that’s kind of the journey I took to get where I am today.

Drew McLellan:

So today I know you focus a lot on sort of leveraging your people and your culture to get better results for your company. Yes?

Gina Trimarco:

Correct, yes.

Drew McLellan:

So as you might imagine, agencies sort of by default have… Well, what we agency people anyway think is a pretty cool culture. So most agencies are not bank-like or insurance company-like.

Gina Trimarco:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

But I do think sometimes agency owners struggle to define the culture and culture, meaning something more than beer o’clock on Fridays, right? So-

Gina Trimarco:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Talk to us a little bit about sort of your definition of culture and what are the signs of a healthy one?

Gina Trimarco:

Well, my definition of culture is your people create your culture. I think the founder of an agency is going to be a big part of that, but then the people that you bring into the culture are going to further define it. What was the second part of that question? And-

Drew McLellan:

And so what is culture and what does a healthy one look like?

Gina Trimarco:

I think what a healthy culture looks like is a happy people which leads to more profitability and more money and happy clients. That to me, is what makes a healthy culture. That’s how you’ll be able to see that it’s a healthy culture, when there’s not all the backstabbing and less productivity and gossiping and things just not getting done. That’s not a healthy culture.

Drew McLellan:

So I see and I peek into the lives of about 250 agencies a year. I see their financials, hear about their operations. And I have to say that for the most part, I think agency owners are pretty good bosses. I think they treat their people well. They pay them well, they have reasonable and fair benefit packages and all of that. But one of the things I hear a lot from agency owners is whether they give out a bonus or they close down early for a holiday or whatever. What I hear back from agency owners is two things. Number one, no one ever says, “Thank you.” And number two, “They don’t really actually seem to appreciate what I’m doing, so why am I spending all the time and money to do it?” How would you respond to that if an owner said that to you?

Gina Trimarco:

Well, I would start with saying… Because it’s the first thing that came to my mind as you said that, I would start to say, “How often are you, the owner, saying, ‘Thank you,’ to them?”

Drew McLellan:

You know what? I actually, honestly, I think that most of them, in company meetings, in… So a lot of them, not only in company meetings, call people out and acknowledge the team for doing whatever, but just about every agency owner I know has a stash of gift cards in their drawer and stuff like that. And, “Hey, you’ve been working late, so you should take a day off or take your wife out to dinner or whatever.” So for the most part… And without a doubt, there are exceptions to the rule.

Gina Trimarco:

[crosstalk 00:10:51] Sure.

Drew McLellan:

But for the most part, I do think they model gratitude pretty well.

Gina Trimarco:

Okay, [crosstalk 00:10:57].

Drew McLellan:

Let me preface it by, and most of them blame all of this, of course, on millennials.

Gina Trimarco:

If that’s part of the issue that they’re not getting thank you’s from the millennials, that’s a more specific topic that I’ve done, actually, a lot of work on. And we do a lot of training in that area because it is such a hot topic. 50% of our workforce is going to be millennials by 2020 and that’s the reality. We had a client recently, he said, “Can you please teach me how to like them?” He’s Gen [inaudible 00:11:33] as I am and he was really frustrated, and I’m like, “It’s not a matter of likeability, it’s a matter of understanding where people come from.” And what we ended up doing with that company was we did some empathy based training to teach them how to be a little more emotionally intelligent, because you can actually become more emotionally intelligent through training, taking the time to understand where they’re coming from.

And when you understand millennials… I have a couple of millennials right now that I deal with that, my gosh, they exhaust me quite honestly. I love them, but what I’ve realized is that I have to put more attention and work into them because God love their parents, I don’t think that they got the same kind of upbringing we got. They were handheld, they were driven to their baseball tournaments. They were given agendas, they were given structure. So millennials want that structure. They want to know where they’re going. They want to be developed. They want development opportunities. I just did a phone screen for a client yesterday, screening someone in an interview and she’s clearly a millennial. And all she kept saying was, “I want to be developed and I’m tired of broken promises.” She’s 24 years old. [crosstalk 00:12:45] I’m like, “Wow, where is this coming from?”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

So you’re not going to be able to change them, you’re going to have to try to find a way to adapt to them. That’s just the sad reality of it. And that takes patience and it takes intention, constant patience and attention of, “How do I meet them where they are?” So how do you, as a boss, as an owner, take the time to get to know what their thing is? What triggers them, what motivates them? It’s taking the time to understand what motivates them. They might not be motivated by the gift card you’re giving them. So it’s finding out what are the motivators for them.

Drew McLellan:

So how do you find that out?

Gina Trimarco:

You spend the time talking to them and so maybe you’re the owner of a 500 person [inaudible 00:13:36] agency and that’s impossible, then you have to empower the rest of your managers to spend that time getting to know them, creating social events, having one-on-ones. I do a lot of consulting around that, of teaching managers how to actually schedule time to meet with their people. And they look at me like, “I’m so busy.” I’m like, “Well, your people are an investment, so you have to spend time doing that.” Other options, we survey employees to find out anonymously what’s going on and take a temperature. I just recently did this with my own company. Now I manage a whole bunch of creatives in our improv business. You want to talk about creatives and sensitive and personalities. I could start to sense that something was bubbling up, I can sense it.

That’s the other thing you need to do is be hyper-aware and feel what is going on in your environment. So I could sense it. So I sent out an anonymous survey to the group to find out what was going on. And there was some hostility that came back in the survey results. I’ve also created a culture that says, “You can say whatever you want. You don’t have to apologize. Say what you’re thinking, it’s not going to hurt my feelings.” Even though it does.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

But I want to create that open environment where they can say what they’re thinking so that we can make changes. So ultimately we had that survey. Then we had a meeting with that team, that was our leadership team with the theater. And I let people air their differences. And it was a really long meeting, three hours and it was painful, but it’s [inaudible 00:15:14] everybody back online. So staying really in tune is important.

Drew McLellan:

So you mentioned EQ or emotional intelligence.

Gina Trimarco:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

So if somebody is either not wired that way, or they, like most business owners, super busy and so they’re flooding in and out of the office because they’re with clients and they’re doing all the things that they have to do that is on their to-do list on their plate. How does someone develop a better EQ? How does someone have a better sense? So you said you sensed when your team was-

Gina Trimarco:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

There was something bubbling up. So how does somebody who knows that they’re not good at that… How do they get better at that?

Gina Trimarco:

Again, it’s intentional. Anybody can get better at it, even though it’s really not in their wheelhouse. So one of the ways that we focus on it as a training company is teaching people how to be more hyper-aware. So it’s really the fundamentals that you were born with. Are you really an active listener? Are you really, really taking the time to listen to what’s going on? When someone stops to talk to you, are you sitting down, stopping what you’re doing, making eye contact, having that conversation, even though you’re super busy? Are you observing what’s going on in the environment? Are you checking in with people? You can practice all of that. You can practice all of those things to get better at it, but it takes practice. You can’t just do it once and think that that’s going to be enough.

Drew McLellan:

So how do I know when I’ve gotten better at it? What will I see or do, or feel differently as I practice that and I get better about it?

Gina Trimarco:

Well, as you get better, then you’re going to also observe your people better. You can just look in someone’s face and see their reaction. Everybody likes to be listened to. And when you’re being listened to as an individual, that kind of delights you, you can see it on someone’s face, that’s an instant way to tell that someone is connected. If they’re not connected, if they’re not engaged, if they’re not motivated, if they start avoiding you or avoiding people they don’t like working with, you know that you’ve lost engagement with them.

So if those things improve, you know that you’ve gotten better at it. And you’ll also feel it because we all do have intuition, we were all born with that. If you think about what we’re wired for, you think about caveman days and fight or flight and we all have it in us, but some of us use it more than others do.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

I know I was taught to push it down. I had a boss tell me once in a performance review that I made too many decisions based on my gut, but usually my gut was right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

But they wanted me making decisions based on the numbers. So now what I’ve learned is I’ll make decisions based on the numbers and my gut combined.

Drew McLellan:

Well, one of the things I tell agency owners, oftentimes, interestingly to your comment earlier was when agency owners get themselves into trouble is when they don’t trust their gut. When they have that sort of nagging feeling, that they do something anyway, or they don’t do something that they sort of have this push that they should. And then inevitably, I get the phone call that says, “Oh my God, this blew up. And I knew better. And I blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Why didn’t you listen to yourself?” So I think you’re right. I think all of us have a tendency to downplay or discount the value of that.

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah. I think society has told us as we’ve become adults to not do that. And I use that as an example, when I talk at events that I had a boss tell me not to trust my gut. And he also told me when I was president of the company, I could do whatever I want. So I decided to become president of my company and now I listen to my gut.

Drew McLellan:

There you go. Right. So I know one of the things that you teach is you also… You don’t just teach me, Drew, the agency owner, how to have more emotional intelligence, but you also help entire leadership teams to develop a higher IQ so that they create a sense of care for the team. So if I have a leadership team and I want us all to be more empathetic and I want us all to be more plugged into our people, how does a whole team learn how to do that together?

Gina Trimarco:

Well, there’s a couple of different things that we can do, from an empathy perspective, again, it comes back down to listening, you really have to spend the time listening to what people have to say. You may not be able to relate 100% to them. And you can imagine though, what it might feel like to be in their situation, and that can help you create empathy. Some of the stuff that we also do is working on your own triggers. What triggers you? What frustrates you? When you can get to the core of your… I know what my trigger is, my trigger is disrespect. And so once I was able to identify what triggers me and I’m about to lose my temper on something because I am highly emotional, I have to really keep my emotions in check and it’s super intentional and it’s hard, but I know what my triggers are.

So the second I feel myself getting angry, I know, I need to not even react or respond. I need the 24 hour rule with email because I’m feeling disrespected. Maybe they don’t intend to do that, but that’s how I feel, so I need to identify it. So we help leaders identify what some of those are that trigger you. That could take you into an emotional down spin, which will then impact you as a leader and mixing in active listening exercises, like actually making you listen. We have an exercise we called [Shareaphy 00:21:02]. It’s not an uncommon exercise, but in pairs, you talk to each other and you share something significant about your life or work. And while you’re sharing, your partner can only listen and never interrupt. Not even to make a comment and can’t make a noise.

It’s strictly for the listen and then they switch. The other person talks, the other person listens. And then in smaller teams, what I say to them is, “I want you to listen with such intention, that there’s going to be a quiz about your partner, that you’re going to have to be able to answer these questions.” So then they have to do an introduction and introduce each other. And then I ask their partners, “Did they get it right? Did they get everything?” And usually they don’t get everything. They get most of it.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

But how much were you paying attention and listening and really hearing? And we don’t do that a lot because we’re so busy and we’re so distracted by our phones, our computer. Some people have two computers on their desk. So forcing them into that focus, what also has come up with that are people saying, “Well, I just felt weird because I’ve been taught I should show interest and I should ask a question and I should say something.” That’s also, especially for women, that’s sort of a natural. The intent of that exercise is to be nothing but a listener. So when you’re nothing but a listener, you create instant trust with people because, “Wow, they’re letting me talk. They’re not interrupting. They really hear me.” And then when you hear them repeat and validate what they said, they’re like, “Wow, they really did hear me because they remember everything I said.” That creates an instant bond and an instant trust. So that’s some of the work that we do with people.

Drew McLellan:

As much as I hate to do it, I’m going to stop you for a quick second, so we can take a brief pause, but I want to get right back into this conversation. If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, odds are, you’ve heard me mention the AMI peer networks or the Agency Owner Network. And what that is really is, it’s like a Vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table owns an agency in a non-competitive market. It’s a membership model, they come together twice a year for two days, two days in the spring and two days in the fall. And they work together to share best practices, they show each other their full financials, so there’s a lot of accountability. We bring speakers in and we spend a lot of time problem solving around the issues that agency owners are facing. If you’d like to learn more about it, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com\network. Okay, let’s get back to the show. So if I have a employee that I don’t get, so maybe I’m not getting the gratitude thing from them.

They’re checking out right at five, even though other people are staying late, whatever it is that irritates me about this person, what kind of questions… And I know this to you probably seems stupid, but I have a lot of owners who say to me, “I don’t even know how to start the conversation. I know I need to get to know my team better, but I don’t really even know… A, I suggest that we do something after work like, ‘Let’s all go to a bar or whatever.’ And everyone’s like, ‘No.’ So I have to do it during business hours and B, without getting super personal, I don’t know, where are the lines? What do I…”

So how might someone start that conversation? So assuming somebody’s my age, mid fifties, and they’re talking to a 25 year old and let’s make it more complicated, let’s make it of the opposite gender. And so, in today’s environment, [inaudible 00:24:43] be super careful. So if I had a 25 year old female employee that I was trying to get a handle on because I don’t get her, what kind of things might I ask her that would help me begin to understand her and also give her a sense that that’s what I’m trying to do and I’m not being a creeper?

Gina Trimarco:

I would be really casual about it. And something as simple as, “Hey, Katie, how’s everything going on in your life? What’s new?” Something guy-like. “What’s new?” Something simple like that, that shows an interest, you can just ask one question and people will start sharing. Let’s say Katie just doesn’t even like you and she doesn’t want to tell you anything. There’s that, there’s a reason for it, you’re not quite sure what that reason is. You might want to tiptoe around it. You might want to go a different route, instead of trying that one-on-one, you might want to start out with some group interactivity of, “Okay. So nobody wants to go out after work. I mean, you’re agency people, come on, you’re creative, right? Can you like have a midday break? And it’s mocha time and you have a quick go around for 30 minutes. We’re all going to stop and have a coffee and say one thing that you did over the weekend.”

And create more of a casual environment where everybody gets to know each other. And no one’s kind of creeped out by that one-on-one. Now, let’s say that you don’t have a problem with Katie and everything is fine. Why not start to establish and start to incorporate into your schedule some one-on-ones with people on an [crosstalk 00:26:27] ongoing basis?

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Gina Trimarco:

So on an ongoing basis, it’s like, “I want to get to know you because I want to know how I can further develop you.” Now that to me is a key word with millennials. When you say, “I want to help develop you,” they feel like you’re invested in them and that’s what they want. So there are different ways to do it, those are some of them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I know that you recently hung out at Zappos for a little while and everyone sort of holds them out as the king of culture. A, what did you do there? And B, what surprised you? What did you learn that you didn’t expect? Or what were you like, “Oh, I didn’t see that one around the corner.”? What stands out for you as sort of the most interesting of all the experiences you’ve had there?

Gina Trimarco:

Well, first of all, the reason why I went is because Zappos… And I think you talked about it in one of your podcasts. I think you mentioned they’ve created a whole entire division on teaching other businesses how to create cultures like they have done. And so I wanted to go to one of their culture camps so that I could learn from them to infuse with our own clients. I also wanted to see, is it really for real that it’s so great to work there?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

So I spent the money to do the three-day culture camp. What surprised me were people that came from all over the world to go to this culture camp in Las Vegas. So that was surprising to me. And it was, I guess, slightly surprising to me to see how real it was, how they empower their employees.

So we got to spend time in the call center, you got to shadow someone in a call center and see how they deal with calls. And that was really interesting to me. They live and die by their core values and their employees really… I mean, they know their core values by heart like the Ten Commandments. They can recite to you every core value, they know. I can’t remember mine by heart. I’m like, “Okay, we invite everybody to the party.” That’s core value number one, I can’t remember all 10 off the top of my head, but when they make decisions, they make decisions based on that. So for example, a woman called, she said, “The box arrived without the shoes in them.”

I was shadowing her along with this woman from Australia, so there were two of us and she handles the call and she says, “I’m so sorry. We’ll get another pair out to you. We’ll send you those. We have them coming out to you. You should have them by this day.” And she gets off the call. And so we ask her, we’re like, “How do you know she wasn’t lying to you? She got a box and you really believe that?” She’s like, “It’s not my job to question it. Based on core value number six, we’re here to make the customer happy, so that’s what we do.” I was like, “Wow.” Could you imagine as an agency owner, if people made decisions and weren’t afraid, but what happens is there’s such a fear.

I have a marketing intern right now, and I love him. He may hear this. Tony, the intern, he’s always got a fear that he’s in trouble for something. I’m like, “I don’t know where that came from, I’ve never even yelled at you.” But he comes in with a fear of, he’s going to mess up. There seem to be no fear at Zappos, they’re completely empowered. They can send flowers to a bride who got her shoes messed up for her wedding. And they literally have stationary stations where they can send out greeting cards to customers.

Drew McLellan:

Interesting.

Gina Trimarco:

That was interesting. Everything that they had there was interesting. You have those little perks, the free snacks and the nap room and there’s a room just for moms who want to breastfeed and they have the gym and you have that going on. But I think the biggest thing is that they’ve created this culture where you can make decisions as if you’re your own business owner.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s interesting that you mentioned the snacks and the nap room and all of that, because I took a bunch of agency owners and we went out to Google headquarters in California, and it is amazing. I mean, it is crazy amazing, but I also think it’s pretty tough for a 20 person agency to try and emulate Google or Zappos.

Gina Trimarco:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

And I know you believe that that’s not the way to build culture in your own company is to aspire to be like the big guys.

Gina Trimarco:

Right. You really should aspire to be you. And so I think it’s really important to be yourself as an agency, know your story. Do you know what your core values are? A lot of us, we start our businesses and we fall into them and we don’t really get the structure in place upfront.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

I just got our core values written after… I don’t want to tell you how many years, but we had to live it a while before we knew what it was, now it’s easier to make decisions based on that. So I think you have to do you, what works for you, what’s going to be comfortable for you and find out what your culture wants. They don’t necessarily want a nap room and snacks. The big thing that they want right now is flex time, they want to be able to create their own schedules and live that kind of life. They want to live a really full life. They want to be able to go travel and do things. That’s another thing Zappos does, you can go do community service on the clock and things like that and give back, they want to be able to give back. And this is mainly millennials. So find out what they want and that’s where you want to deliver and engage them and not worry about a foosball table.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting, I was just working with an agency, they wanted to reward a key employee. And so they were like, “Well, I’m just going to give them a bonus.” And I was like, “Are you sure that’s what she really wants?” And they were like, “Well, doesn’t everybody want that?” I said, “Well, everybody our age does.” I said, “What if you put together a menu of things that she could choose [crosstalk 00:32:49], like a two week paid trip or this or that, a cash, a extra day off, whatever it is.” I said, “But come up with a big menu. And then the last thing on the menu is, ‘What did we not think about?’ And then engage in that [crosstalk 00:33:04] conversation with her [crosstalk 00:33:05] about how she wants to be rewarded, because it’s all going to cost you basically the same.”

Gina Trimarco:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

But now she gets to custom her reward.

Gina Trimarco:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

I think that’s what you’re saying, but I want to get back to the values thing because so many agencies, either they don’t have sort of mission vision values or even the owner can’t recite them or they’re in the employee handbook, and that is the first and last time you ever see them. I can’t imagine how a company like Zappos infuses their values into everything that they do. And I have to think it’s on the walls and-

Gina Trimarco:

It’s everywhere.

Drew McLellan:

In the bathrooms.

Gina Trimarco:

It’s everywhere. And when Tony Shay got the values in place… I don’t know if you’ve read his book on this, but he sent an email out to his entire team to find out what their values were and to get a sense of did they all match? If you’re not aligned… Especially as an employee, I tell employees that are interviewing for jobs, “You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.” So agency owners, if you’re interviewing people, you need to be just as nervous as they are because they can choose who to work with. And you need to be clear on what’s in it for them. What are your values?

Again, one of our number one values is invite everybody to the party. We are all about inclusive and we’re all about accept everybody who’s a little bit different. In the theater, it’s a bunch of theater nerds and who weren’t accepted in other areas. So everybody is invited. So I think that’s really important to get really clear on what your mission is. And Zappos’ mission is to give great customer service. Our mission at Pivot10 is to shift businesses from people problems to performance results, but even more defined at Carolina Improv, the mission is to develop people. That’s it, it’s just as simple as that. I had to make a decision the other day that really aggravated me and I didn’t-

Drew McLellan:

Because you had to live by the values.

Gina Trimarco:

I had to live by… Yeah, because those are the values we set, but it made the decision easier, even though I didn’t necessarily agree with it.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

I’m not always right.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

So that’s the other thing you have to tell yourself, you’re not always right. But once you set those guidelines for yourself, it makes it so much easier to guide the culture.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. So I want to take a quick break. When we come back, I want to talk about how you use your mission and your values to attract talent because a lot of agencies are really struggling with finding and keeping great people. So let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and chat about that.

Gina Trimarco:

Awesome.

Drew McLellan:

All right. We are back. We are talking culture, we’re talking people, we’re talking values. And right before the break, I set up the question, which is how should an agency be thinking about leveraging their mission and their values in terms of attracting the right prospects and also keeping the great employees that they already have?

Gina Trimarco:

So a couple of things on that, one thing that I think agencies really need to leverage is the fact that they’re agencies. Boy, if I had a agency division, how great that would be, you have the power to craft the right messages. And this is something that I really want to get more into is the marrying of marketing and mission. When you can take your story, know what your story is, turn your story into a message, that that’s how you’re promoting why people should work for you. Then you’re creating messages to get clients.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

So create messages to attract people to work with you. Also, you want to leverage your values and your mission with your own employees, you want to live up to what you say you do, because the second you go against that, that’s where the disengagement happens, that’s another pet peeve of mine. Companies create these missions and values, but then they’re hypocritical.

Drew McLellan:

Right. [crosstalk 00:37:18] Which is why the employees are scared and don’t want to act based on the values, right?

Gina Trimarco:

Exactly. You say one thing, but you do another thing. I have a really good mentor, he calls it the unwritten rules. So it’s those unwritten rules that scare people. So write your rules, follow your rules and happy employees will then talk about you. And they will bring in more of those same people like them. So utilizing your own team to bring in more of them will help you attract more people. But living up to your values is going to help, it’s going to help retain them.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting, every year we go out into the field and we do some primary research. Two years ago, we interviewed about a 1000 agency employees. And one of the questions we asked them is, “What is the most compelling thing to you? If you’re looking for a new job, what will make you consider that job?” By a huge number, the answer was, “If I am referred or a friend recommends that I look at that agency and if the friend is inside the agency, even more so.” So in some ways, I think it’s funny that the people we recruit are sort of a self fulfilled prophecy, right?

Gina Trimarco:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

So whatever culture we’re creating today, we just make that a deeper hole either that’s awesome to swim in, or [inaudible 00:38:47].

Gina Trimarco:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Because we’re attracting the same kind of people [crosstalk 00:38:51] that we already have. So [crosstalk 00:38:53] creating a culture and having those mission and vision values and really, to your point, actually living by them. And you know what? When you made that difficult decision and you had to do it based on the values, which didn’t make you happy, did you do that sort of in front of other people? Did you say, “Okay, I don’t love this decision, but our values say this, so here’s what we’re going to do.”?

Gina Trimarco:

Yes, absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Because to me, that’s the litmus test for the employee is, “Okay. Look, even when she doesn’t love what the value says, we’re still doing it. So she’s kind of eating her own dog food here, so [inaudible 00:39:33] I can eat it too.”

Gina Trimarco:

Right. You have to stick with it and follow your gut on it. It’s hard, but it’s what you got to do. I remember being in college in Chicago and I was taking classes at Second City. Again, filled with a lot of agency people from… Primarily most of them were from Leo Burnett, but hearing them talk, as a college kid, I’m like, “How do I get a job there? How do I get a job there? I want to work there.” [crosstalk 00:40:03] That word of mouth, I knew nothing about working there other than people liked working there.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and especially in today’s environment where there are a lot more jobs than there are people to fill those jobs.

Gina Trimarco:

Correct.

Drew McLellan:

We have to be the employer of choice and we have to attract them to us because otherwise… Here’s the other challenge with agencies is we’re never the highest paying option, right? So there’s got to be something else other than money that makes them choose us over the corporate job and having to wear a suit at a bank marketing department or whatever their other choices are.

Gina Trimarco:

Well, I’d like to talk about that for a second.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s do it.

Gina Trimarco:

So to me, it’s intrinsic value. And here’s a great example. I run an improv comedy theater that started as an accident. Our revenue stream is really in training and we develop people. So they come in, they take classes, then they get the bug, it’s not Chicago. We’re the only improv comedy theater in Myrtle beach, South Carolina. I have performers who perform there on the average, they’re there for four years.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Gina Trimarco:

None of them get paid. None of them get paid. And they are there on average four years. I mean, I have people who have been with me the whole time, we’re going on 10 years. So why would people do this for free?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

Because there’s something that they’re getting. So you got to think about what’s in it for them, so when you’re frustrated… People don’t take jobs necessarily for the money, they need enough money to pay their bills. But if they’re so focused on the money, they’re not the right person for you in the first place. Now you don’t want to pay them terribly, you want to pay them market value. Obviously you’re going to pay a little less than what it is to make a doctor be a doctor, but what is in it for them?

For us in a company where they don’t get paid, what’s in it for them is an opportunity to be creative in a way that they can’t be in their jobs, in their life. I give a lot of creative freedom to have people… Create your own show, create what you want.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

So that’s another thing to think about with employees. What do they want? Help them design their plan. When you onboard them, don’t go, “Here’s your job description. Here’s your cubicle, go.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

Find out what else they want out of their future so that you can retain them a little bit longer. The average millennial’s going to stay for two years. Can you get them for a third year?

Drew McLellan:

So one of the things that in the one-on-ones that we teach, the very first thing on the one-on-one sheet is your quarterly growth goal, and the employee gets to set that. So it’s not me telling the employee what they have to grow. And it’s the employee saying, “I really want to learn more about this. Or I want to get better at that.” And then the supervisor’s responsibility is supporting them and helping them to make sure they achieve that goal.

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Because to your point, what is it that they want to get better at or learn, or do, or experience that a “normal job” is not [inaudible 00:43:14] them the opportunity? I think one of the best things about being an agency, we don’t have to be a normal [inaudible 00:43:20].

Gina Trimarco:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

We don’t have to do it by everybody else’s rules. We can have unlimited PTO, we can have flex time. We can stock the fridge with beer on Fridays, whatever [inaudible 00:43:33], but we have the freedom. And in some cases, I think we have the expectation. So I think sometimes when somebody starts on the corporate side and they open an agency, I think it takes them a while to sort of earn their agency chops, which is, “Loosen the tie a little.” Right? Because they come from that corporate environment, [crosstalk 00:43:54] so it’s hard for them in the beginning to sort of go, “Oh, right. We don’t have to do it that way. Everybody doesn’t have to punch in at eight or whatever it is.”

Gina Trimarco:

Right. You can design it however you want to design it. Going back to Zappos, they have life coaches for their employees. So it’s about making sure that the employees are happy in their personal lives. So think about that. A lot of times, the reason why we have problems with employees is because there’s something going on in their personal life.

Drew McLellan:

Right. And it’s [inaudible 00:44:31] to work with them.

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah. And another one of our core values is take care of each other. So we really strive on, “Okay, someone’s sick, someone’s husband’s got cancer and something’s going on.” We take the stress off of them. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to perform this weekend. We got you covered.” Because I’m pretty strict on how we run the theater, but it’s about taking care of each other so that they can feel whole enough to produce what they have to produce. So really pay attention to what’s going on with people personally. Zappos also has Zappos University. You can take classes, there’s a class catalog. You want to learn Excel, or you want to learn how to be a merchandise buyer. You want to learn how to paint while you drink beer, I mean, seriously, that’s a class. Again, it’s what kind of developmental opportunities can you create internally for them?

Drew McLellan:

So most agencies are pretty good about offering training, but sometimes it’s directed training, which is, “By the way, you’re going to take this class.” As opposed to [crosstalk 00:45:35] saying, “This third-party vendor…” Because most agencies probably aren’t big enough to have a whole training department like Zappos does. But, “Hey, this third party has all this training that we have a subscription to.” One of the ones that I think more agencies should do, are the master classes. Have you seen the classes that they have [inaudible 00:45:57]? You can get an all access pass and you could do it over a lunch hour. I mean, it’s pretty cool stuff.

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah. There’s really great stuff out there and that’s not expensive to do and that’s a great perk.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So if you want to create a culture that cultivates, that gets the third year out of that millennial, and you want to learn from the employees, what kind of things would they value? Do you give them a blank piece of paper and ask them to write it down? Do you prompt them with some ideas? For many years, I was a Wish Granter for Make-A-Wish.

Gina Trimarco:

Oh, cool.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things that they trained us was that the kids didn’t really understand how big they could wish. So you’d go to a Wish kid and you’d say, “You can have anything you want in the world.” And the kid would go, “Well, I kind of like a skateboard.” And you’d go, “Well, what about a trip? Or is there someone famous you want to meet?” And then the kid goes, “Oh, yes, I want to meet Hulk Hogan,” who was one of the big ones back in the day, or, “I want to go to Disney world,” or, “I want to go [inaudible 00:47:05].” But you had to sort of seed it for them to understand sort of [inaudible 00:47:08] possible. So do you recommend that same strategy when you’re having that kind of conversation with employees? Or is it better off just to say, “What kind of things would you like to have be a part of the work environment here that would make you happy to be an employee?”

Gina Trimarco:

I think you have to take a couple of different approaches to it. I think you can ask them directly, you can give them a menu of ideas to prompt them.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

Some of the work that we do, especially in Improv is… Which is great for the agency worlds, we actually play a game called ad agency, it’s about creating the craziest product that would never exist. And it’s interesting to watch people get really stuck in it because they’re so stuck in the conformity of their businesses or their companies that, “Well, that would never happen or that would never exist or where we can never have that.” Being playful about it, in a brainstorming session even, some sort of playful team-building environment that, “Let’s think really big. If we could have anything in the office, what would that look like?”

And make it a group activity, especially if you’re a smaller agency and we call it, if this then what? You keep building on it. How can you build a bigger idea till it gets really crazy, but encourage them to get really crazy. And then you can whittle it down from there. Like, “I want a trip to the moon.” “Okay, great, let’s do a trip to the moon.” “Let’s take it a step down, maybe it’s a trip to Europe.” Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

So, they obviously want to take a trip, they like adventure. So I would encourage some playfulness as a group to get those ideas out of them.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a great idea. I have one employee who’s been with me for a long time and every once in a while, she’ll go, “Hey, can we get a pony?” And I’ll go, “No.” And then she goes, “Okay. Then can we have a cat?” [inaudible 00:48:59] “I’m going to set you up by asking for something ridiculous. And then, okay. I’m going to ratchet down to something more normal.” Right?

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah, you could even say, “I want you to ask me for something that you know I wouldn’t give you.” [crosstalk 00:49:13].

Drew McLellan:

Interesting.

Gina Trimarco:

“Get crazy. What do you think I would never give you?” And then they’ll give you that idea, but you might get a kind of a rough idea of a version, a smaller, realistic version of that, like pony to cat.

Drew McLellan:

Right. That’s a great idea. So as agencies are thinking about culture, one of the challenges, I think, for a lot of agency owners is that they are gone a lot. And so a lot of the culture happens when they’re not there.

Gina Trimarco:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

So for an agency owner that’s in and out a lot, how do you stay cemented in the culture? How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the culture? If you’re not present for it, as often as perhaps you would want to be, because you’re always out in new business meetings or you travel a lot with clients or whatever it is.

Gina Trimarco:

First of all, as an owner, you have to have a key team around you. So there has to be a key leadership team that is back at the agency, running things. And those have to be your confidants. Those are the people that you’re going to trust to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s going on and keep you updated. Now with the running joke at our theater is that, “Gina always knows what’s going on.” And when I do show up, they’re like, “Gina’s here. Oh my, yay.” But they don’t realize I know everything that’s going on in the environment. And I have a good team of people that will let me know. And I ask them, “Do you think I need to address certain things?” And then I will, and then I’ll come in on the white horse, [crosstalk 00:50:52] and address issues.

But what I’ve really come to learn is that your people want you there because especially if you were the founder of the agency, you’re probably a big reason why they’re there and they’re attracted to being there because of you. And if you are not there, that’s where some of the more disengagement’s going to happen. So you’re going to have to find a way to still come in and infuse yourself in some way. Think about it as being the traveling parent and your kids are at home dying to see you, [crosstalk 00:51:27] you’re going to have to make an effort to get in there. So I would make an effort on that.

You can also get creative too. You can get creative and be dad on the road on a video call with them and checking in on the team and encourage them to do something goofy, or maybe encourage them to, “Send a goofy video of yourselves, while dad’s away, what are you guys doing?” You guys are creatives, you could do some really creative wacky stuff that gives them freedom to be wacky but gives you a sense of what’s going on.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I love the video idea because it also gives them a sense of play and playing together.

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And we have to be collaborative and creative all day. So [crosstalk 00:52:08] why not let them exercise that muscle? And that also creates culture.

Gina Trimarco:

That would be super fun.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I have one agency that they have three offices, and I don’t know why I held up four hands [inaudible 00:52:20] I don’t do math. They have three offices and they do video competitions. Every quarter, they’ll get a theme and then the agency [crosstalk 00:52:28] office has a week to script out what they’re going to do on the theme. And then they all have to turn in their videos at the same time. And then the leadership team, which is a mix of people from all the offices, then sort of grades and gives prizes for the thing. But they have this great time basically entertaining each other with these videos.

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah, that’s super fun. I like that.

Drew McLellan:

I thought it was really great too. So we’re getting to the end of our time together. So what is the one thing about culture that you think agency owners… Either it’s not on their radar screen or they really need to be paying a lot more attention than they are? If we’re going to double down on something, what should we be doubling down?

Gina Trimarco:

I think you have to be doubling down on your emotional intelligence. I think you have to really be a little more intentional about paying attention to what’s going on and have a really good sense of what’s going on and with the culture and really have a good sense, especially if you’re small enough agency. If you’re a 20 person agency, there’s 30, 35 of us in our company, I know exactly what’s going on in everyone’s life.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

And every now and then I’ll check in, I’ll send a text and I’ll ask a question about that certain situation. And I always get a response back, “Thank you so much for checking in on me.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Gina Trimarco:

So I would say that’s where we really need to be. As business owners, it’s really hard, but you have to do it if you want to keep your team humming.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think it’s one of the reasons why agency owners have to spend more time working on the business and not in the business because one of the things we should be working on when we’re on the business is our relationship.

Gina Trimarco:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

This has been awesome. I knew that we would have… As I said to you, before you hit the record button, a lively conversation. [crosstalk 00:54:20].

Gina Trimarco:

Thank you.

Drew McLellan:

[crosstalk 00:54:22] You did not disappoint. So thank you so much for bringing your expertise and your energy around this. If folks want to learn more about your training and the work that you do with companies, what’s the best way for them to track you down?

Gina Trimarco:

Real easy to go to pivot10results.com. That’s our website. You can find me on LinkedIn. That’s real easy to find me. And I also produce a podcast called The Pivotal Leader, thepivotalleader.com. So I interview CEOs from all over the world. So Pivot10 Results, fastest way to find me.

Drew McLellan:

And 10 is T-E-N or the number 10?

Gina Trimarco:

The number 10.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Great. We will put all of those in the show notes for sure, guys. So don’t worry, we’ll have that for you there as well. Thank you so much for doing this. I know you’re super busy, so I’m grateful that you carved out the hour to spend with us. I’m sure people are… Heads are buzzing because this is not the kind of thing agency owners think about all the time, which is exactly why I knew I needed to get you on the show. So [crosstalk 00:55:18] so much.

Gina Trimarco:

Thank you.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right, guys, this wraps up this week’s episode of Build A Better Agency. You know what? Do something with what you heard, take one idea that you heard and actually go apply it, go pick the most prickly of your employees and go learn something about them. Go ask somebody who is one of your trusted advisors, what you should know about what’s going on in the agency that maybe you’re not plugged into, but this is not a podcast for you just to listen to and think, “Oh, that was interesting.” We really do want you to put this stuff in action and Gina gave you a ton of stuff to do. So pick one, put it into action and let me know how it went. And I will be back next week with another guest to help you build a bigger, better, stronger agency and the agency that you want to work in, as well as those employees you [inaudible 00:56:11]. All right. In the meantime, you can track me down at Drew at agencymanagementinstitute.com and I’ll see you next week. Thanks.

That wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. Hopefully you found it incredibly helpful and inspiring, and that you are ready to go out and do some great things. I also want to talk to you about another tool that we’ve built that I would love to offer you. So, as you’ve probably heard me preach, I believe a lot of agencies chase after the wrong new business prospects. And I think we do that because we have not taken the time to clearly define who our sweet spot clients should be. And the way you do that is by looking at your current clients and then developing out who your prospects should be based on your best current clients.

So we’ve put together a sweet spot client filter… Say that five times fast. That I would love for you to take advantage of and for you to use inside your shop to figure out exactly who you should be targeting for new business. To get access to that free tool, all you need to do is text AMI, for Agency Management Institute, as you might imagine, AMI, text that to 38470. Again, text AMI to 38470, and we will get the sweet spot client filter out to you right away. Thanks again for listening. If I can be helpful, you can find me as always at Drew at agencymanagementinstitute.com. Otherwise, I will touch base with you next week with another great episode. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build A Better Agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.