Episode 153

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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 c