Episode 433

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It’s clear we can’t keep hiring and managing talent as we used to. Back in the days of the pandemic, and then The Great Resignation right after that, we were afraid to set boundaries and ask for what we needed out of fear of losing great team members.

The way we work isn’t the same, either. Many of us are now remote or hybrid, and a fully in-office team isn’t as common as it used to be. So, we have to adapt and change how we hire, train, and problem-solve with our teams scattered all over the place.

It’s a mess sometimes, and many of you probably wish we could go back to the simpler days of training new hires through simple observation and shadowing. But we can still make this work for the new era of work.

Vicky Brown is sharing some of her HR superpowers with us this week so we can learn about hiring, managing, and retaining great talent, regardless of the work environment. The simple answer is that we must roll up our sleeves and invest time in our people from the very first interview.

Join us to dive deeper into the world of HR to discover how to be a better leader while hiring and managing talent so you can make your agency more successful in return.

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.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Leadership’s perspective on remote, hybrid, and in-office workplace structures
  • Agency owner fears regarding hiring and managing talent
  • Getting agency teams engaged and feeling fulfilled with their work
  • How new hire training has changed in the new era of work
  • Hybrid work is the future
  • In-person creative brainstorming is still important in agencies
  • Finding enthusiastic hires who remain passionate and hungry at work
  • How to do behavior interviewing for potential new hires
  • Conducting mid-year HR checkups for taxes, payroll errors, benefits, etc.
  • How to talk to employees about coming back to the office

“We're all striving to reignite and maintain while still providing flexibility to keep our teams engaged and rowing in the same direction.” - Vicky Brown Share on X
“Those entering the workforce have expressed they're feeling the loss of creating mentorship and career opportunities and relationships that will help them further their career.” - Vicky Brown Share on X
“It takes more from leadership, management, team leads to understand the kind of work that will engage your team.” - Vicky Brown Share on X
“There will be a small percentage of companies that will be completely remote and the outliers will be the companies who insist on being 100% on-site, depending on the job.” - Vicky Brown Share on X
“Recruiting is a marketing exercise. You have to understand you're enticing the best talent to apply for the job, not just throwing up a list of requirements.” - Vicky Brown Share on X

Ways to contact Vicky:


Hey, everybody. Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign Agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run, traditional digital media buying, web dev, PRR brand, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build, a Better, Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ, will expose you to the best practices that drive growth, client and employee retention and profitability, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. And this one is a good one. Well, they’re all good, but this one is focused on a topic that I think is on many of your hearts and minds, and it’s really all about our people. And so our guest is gonna help us sort of navigate some of the things that we’re facing as employers today, and give us some best practices and some ideas of how to have tough conversations, how to find better people, how to keep them, lots of stuff. I’m gonna try and pack it all in in this hour. So before I do that, though, very quickly, just wanna remind you that we’ve got a lot of great workshops coming up this spring. We have the Advanced AE Bootcamp, the AE Bootcamp.

We have Money Matters for the first time in the spring. We’ve always taught that in the fall or winter. So we’ve got that that’s, you know, really aimed at agency owners, CFO types, that kind of thing. And we talk all about every aspect of money for two days. Everything from financial be benchmarks to best practices, to how to know objectively when you need to hire someone else, can you afford to hire someone else. We’re gonna talk about pricing, we’re gonna talk about tax strategy. Got it all packed in there. So it’s a, that is a, a gangbuster two days of money conversations. Then we also have one of my other favorite a workshops to Teach, which is called Running Your Agency for Growth and Profit.

Here we look at the areas in every agency, so leadership, and that’s both you as an owner, but also your younger leaders. So Leadership, biz Dev, getting the work done, systems and processes, HR, money, all of those things rolled up into one. And we talk about it for two days. All the best practices in each of those category areas. So you can run a more profitable agency and a better place for people to be and to stay. So if you’re interested in any of those, you wanna read more about them or you wanna get registered, head over to agency management institute.com. And under the How We Help tab, you’ll find workshops.

And they’re all listed right there. We would love to have you join us. So with that, let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So, Vicki Brown owns an HR firm. Think of it as a outsource. Just like sometimes you guys talk about being an outsource marketing department for your clients. She is an outsourced HR department for their clients. They work with agencies and other kinds of businesses, small to large. So a couple of their clients have two people, and a couple of their clients have 300 people. So they are right in our sweet spot. They work with agencies just like us every day. Another thing that’s cool about Vicki is she actually started her career as an employee at several agencies in the California market.

And so she understands our world, but more importantly, she understands the HR world. So we’re gonna dig in and talk about hiring and, you know, hybrid versus remote versus in office. We’re gonna talk about having tough conversations. We’re gonna talk about career pathing. I’m gonna try and pack in as much as I can in the time that we have with her. She’s also got a really great podcast called More Human, more Resources, HR for Entrepreneurs. And they’re, what’s cool about ’em is they’re 10 minutes long or less, and she just gives you one tidbit in each podcast episode. So you’ll wanna check that out as well. But for now, let me introduce you to her and let’s start to pick her brain.

All right, let’s do it. Vicki, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m really excited about our chat today.

Me too. Tell everybody a little bit about your background and your expertise and how you came to have it before I start pummeling you with questions.

Sure. Well, I like to say I’m an accidental HR professional. So as probably some of your audience has experienced, you know, you get into a company and you’re hiring people and all of a sudden you realize, oh, someone has to handle that paperwork and someone has to handle onboarding people. And so I was the executive assistant for the head of the sales division at HBOA hundred thousand years ago when we had a little teeny tiny sales division in here in LA in Century City. And someone had to handle the paperwork. New York said, California’s weird. We don’t know California labor law. We do have an attorney out there, talk to them, figure out what you need to do.

And so I learned HR actually at the foot of an employment attorney who is still my attorney this today strangely. But, so that’s actually how I got into it. And then, you know, I got certified and started actually studying the discipline and became my career. Kind of went in that direction. And then in 2000, well 19 98, 99, I was, I had various roles in you as Chief HR officer in various companies. And then in 1999, I went to a tech financial services company. Hmm. And we had a great time. We grew from, I think I was employee number 12 or something to like 300 employees.

And unfortunately in 2001, if you remember technology Yep. In 2001, little bit of a bubble. Yep. So our investors said, yeah, we kind of, our, our book is looking different, so we probably won’t be able to reinvest. So we actually had to close the company. And at that time, the president of the company said to me, you know, you should start your own company. You do HR in a way, I’ve never seen it before. You’d be great at that. And I said, thank you. No, I’m gonna go get a job. Right.

I don’t want to be self-employed. Exactly.

Yeah. I said, you know, my, my interpretation of myself was that it was a great, number two, I sit on the shoulder of the CEO, I’m their confidant. I tell them, did you think about this? Don’t forget about that, et cetera, et cetera. But I never thought of myself as number one. So he, in his very sneaky way, got a new gig as CEO of an of another company and brought me on as an independent contractor to do just one little project, and then another little project, and then another little project. He was sneaky. He was very sneaky. So from April of 2001 through, I think I probably got through my, no. and in August of 2001, I was just doing more and more and more. And my compliance gene finally, you know, kicked in and said, oh, we need a contract and I need a corporate veil, and you need confidentiality agreements and blah, blah, blah.

So I incorporated, and that was the beginning of the domino in 2001.

I I love that it took you eight months to realize that you were running a business.

It did.

Yeah. Yeah. I love that. So ever since then, your role in your, in your company is to come alongside organizations and help them do what?

Yeah. And so fantastically, I found out I could create a company in my image and do a whole lot of what I love doing, being the number two. So they’re about 15 of us on, on the team now. And we are the HR department for our clients. But we do every, we do it across the board. So not just the administration onboarding, offboarding, making sure the personnel files are properly, properly filed and right and completed. And signatures have happened and the new policy has been rolled out, and you have employment posters and you know, all of those things. So we do all of those things. But the other thing that we do is we really work closely with, we’re lucky we get to work closely with the leadership teams of our clients.

So typically we’re dealing with the CEO, the CFO, the COO, and actually acting as I call it, their HR priest. We’re kind of their confidant. We’re the ones that they can kind of let their hair down a little bit, tell us what’s going on, how they’re feeling. We generally will start those, those conversations with, okay, we understand what’s going on, what would you, what outcome are you trying to get to? Yeah. And then, we’ll, we’ll talk through the possibilities of getting there. And maybe it’s not possible to get there. But, so that’s our role, our role. It really ends up being a, a nice consulting role. And I really like that.

Yeah. So your world, because all of ours has, your world has changed in the last few years. HR is like a whole new wild, wild west all of a sudden.

It is. It is. And because we’re in California, we’ve always had a little bit of the wider earp going on out here,

But Yep.

Yep. But it really is a different environment because the work horizon has really changed. It has certainly when going through the pandemic issues and then getting to the point where, you know, a lot of people took themselves out of the workforce. Right. Just took themselves off the board. And so that really impacted the talent that was available to, to search and, and bring onto your team that is slowly, like ever so slowly beginning to change now, but what it’s leaving behind is kind of the leftovers of the shutdown working from home.

I like working ho from home. I wanna continue to work from home. It real, and it’s causing a myriad of challenges. It’s certainly causing challenges for company leadership. They, they, we, me, all of us very often feel like there is something, some intangible that is missing when people aren’t in the office. There’s a, a team building. There’s the kind of incidental conversations you overhear in the hallway and you can add something, right. That will be helpful to solving that problem. Also, building those relationships. And so, you know, now that we’re at a place, and certainly the pandemic, I wouldn’t say is over, I think we’re probably gonna be tussling with that for a while, but certainly leadership by and large is feeling like, okay, it’s a good time to come back into the office.

And I know that very often people say, well, it’s because you have all this real estate and you don’t wanna waste it. And, you know, and it’s really not that. It really isn’t, is it, it isn’t. It really is that there is something, there is the X factor that happens when you bring a group of people together because they’re more than the sum of their parts. Yeah. And so that is the piece that I think we’re all striving to reignite and, and, and maintain while still being able to provide the flexibility that will keep our teams engaged and, you know, kind of really rowing in the same direction.

Yeah. I’ll tell you, Vicki, if you can solve that problem, you’re gonna be the richest woman on the planet.

You’re not kidding. Yeah. You’re

Not kidding. Yeah. You’re right. You know, before we hit the record button, I, I said to you, you know, if when, when agency owners are whispering in my ear and they know no one else is listening, they’ve, they feel stuck. They are, they are sad, they’re frustrated. They, even if they love working from home, they feel the that missing piece. What, and and you’re right, you can’t really articulate what it is, but there’s a magic and an energy that happens when you bring a bunch of smart, creative people together and you let them co-create both formally and as you said, informally, like, I’m eavesdropping on a conversation you’re having with someone else. And I’m like, oh, you know what?

At my old agency, we solved that problem this way. And it’s so hard to do that in a remote environment. And not only are they feeling sort of stuck with that in terms of, I, I, I want to bring people back, or I want to bring them back at least part of the week. Or if it were fully remote, but also feeling incredible pressure with constant demands for raises. And, you know, kids coming right outta college asking for six figure salaries. And, you know, the benefit demands and the, the challenging time of hiring people who’ve actually never worked in a professional environment. They started, they started their professional career during COVID, they’ve worked in their pajama bottoms their whole lives.

They don’t know how to show up as a professional. They don’t know. And, and agency owners are, they’re so traumatized by not only what happened during Covid, but what happened during the great Resignation where honest to Pete, we as an industry were hiring anybody who could, you know, walk in a door and, and knit together a sentence. So a lot of agencies went through a couple years of having really expensive mediocre employees. Right. Which it’s getting better, but they’re so sort of traumatized by that, that they are tiptoeing around their employees because they’re so afraid that they’re gonna go back to the revolving door of people checking back out or taking another job or doing whatever.

So I think, I think the listeners feel a little powerless right now is are you seeing that all across the board or is that just us?

It is not just you. I’m seeing it absolutely across the board. I mean, honestly, you know, I, there have been moments when I felt some level of that. Sure. And I have a fantastic team and we’ve actually recently brought on some additional talent and they are spectacular, I hate to say because I’m not anymore, but young engaged. Yep. And, and really chomping at the bit. I think that that actually is a little bit of the key to unlock the issue. Because also what we’re beginning to get is feedback from individuals who were just going into the workforce or been in the workforce for maybe a year or two.

And they’re feeling the loss of creating the kind of mentorship opportunities, career opportunities Yes. Relationships that will help them further their career as they move forward. So there is actually a little bit of feedback that’s beginning to happen happen in that vein. And I think the key, you know, people overuse the term culture and engagement and kind of makes you cross your eyes. But the reality is that actually is the key to the answer. It is such a delicate tango. And back in the day when I started, it wasn’t a tango. Right.

You know, the employer was very much leading the dance and you were following as much as, as fast as you could. Yeah.

You’re right.

And that’s not the way it is anymore, but it is, it doesn’t have to be completely flipped, but it is more of a balance and it’s a really delicate balance. So it takes more from leadership, from management, from, you know, team leads, et cetera, to understand the kind of work. And I specify the kind of work that will engage your team because it’s not really about having a foosball table. Right. It’s not really a big, you know, it’s really about are they doing work that not only engages them but fulfills them. And I will say that with a caveat of that’s not gonna be work every day 24 7.

That’s right. Because that’s right. Work is work.

So Yeah. Nobody’s job is, is fun all the time.

Right, exactly. Exactly. But being able to, and I said this years ago, actually, my team and I used to have this conversation all the time. There is because the early part of employment, the early part of your career has so much changed, looks so different than it used to. That there’s a lot more onus on the company now to, I don’t wanna use the term fi it be a finishing school, but to Hmm. Really kind of give that last little bit of professional polish Yeah. To new employees who are coming into the workforce to teach them how to communicate with one another, how to communicate with clients, how to self-manage when things don’t go well.

Yeah. Right. And you know, you’re, you’re feeling a little salty about it. How do you manage to calm yourself and get the client to a place where they are really listening? ’cause you know, both parts parties are at loggerheads. Nobody’s listening to anyone. That’s

Right. That’s

Right. So how do you get the client to a place where they feel like they’ve been heard, so now they’re ready to listen to the solutions you can bring forth. That’s a, that’s a talent, that’s an art. And that kind of thing happens with experience. And back in the day, you would’ve been partnered with, you know, a more seasoned person, you

Would’ve watched it. Right?

Absolutely. And so you’d soak it up after a few months, you know, but that’s not the environment that we’re in now. So you have to figure out another way as a corporate entity to really, because honestly, you know, I say this all the time, the definition of company is a group of people. Right. Like it really is. So you have to figure out a way to help that group of people navigate their way through the challenges that happen throughout the day. And also to help them create relationships that will help them navigate the day, you know? Yeah. Right. It’s not just about self-management, it’s about, you know, I’ve got Mary down the hall and she knows me. We go to lunch all the time, and you know, I just have to go into her office and just spill for a minute because I had this phone call.

And, and when you’re remote that, that element can be lost.

Yeah. Yeah. I was thinking as you were talking, it was so much easier to train young talent because you honestly, you didn’t have to overtly have the conversation. Right. You just partnered there with somebody who was good at all the things, whether it was showing up at a meeting early, or how you dressed, or Right. How you addressed a problem or how you collaborated and they learned it. So you didn’t have to say, you know what, that outfit doesn’t fly here. Right. Right. You didn’t have, so, so I think that’s part of the discomfort for us as employers, is I don’t really wanna have these hard conversations. Right. And I didn’t use to have to. So how are you helping your clients think about how to show up differently and teach differently because we are, the old way isn’t as easy anymore.

Right. Or as accessible. Right. And you said the critical word teach. Right. It really is a training thing. And the way it used to happen was wonderful. And that’s how I learned. And that that’s how I taught, you know, many, many, many people. But it also is the easy way. Yeah. I’m just gonna have you shadow. Right. And you’ll, you’ll absorb it. Yeah. That is the easy way. This is an opportunity because if we think back, the easy way also meant that sometimes people absorbed bad habits.

Right? Absolutely. Right.

So this is an opportunity to train that team member with all of the best of practices. And that means that, you know, you have to, to understand how people learn. It’s not just telling them I’m a big advocate because of course we have an online university that we’ve built, but I’m a big advocate of online training because everybody gets the same information in the same way. Right. It also creates a great foundation for new employees coming in because when you’re giving them, and you know, onboarding isn’t just a one and done, there’s an arc.

I used to say I used to actually have onboarding classes, groups of people that came in around the same time. And I actually at, at the time I was like a cohort. Exactly. Yeah. Exactly. And so they stuck together through a 12 month onboarding process. Wow. And it, you know, it, it, in the beginning it was intensive, it was, you know, every, it was the first day one and day two, but then after that they’d come together weekly. And then after that they’d come together monthly and then quarterly. And we’d have, you know, different department heads come in and talk to them. But what that meant was that cohort then had relationships cross-departmental relationships. And that