Episode 291

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The last year has been one for the books as an agency owner and the HR issues we’ve had to deal with have been off the charts! We’ve faced the pandemic, working from home, layoffs, furloughs, understanding what employee assistance was available for our people and been put in the role of mental health counselor to boot! There’s also been a call to build a more inclusive workforce during a time of incredible racial tensions. All of this has challenged us to truly think about what kind of an employer we want to be.

Molly Eyerman owns an HR consulting company that does a lot of work with agencies. She’s here to help us try to figure out how to navigate all of these new challenges so that we can be proud of the way we treat our employees and how we handle some of these hot topic issues in a way that benefits both our team and our clients.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Molly and I discuss a wide range of human resource related topics, including how to best embrace diversity, inclusion, and equality regardless of an agency’s size, the new demands of work-from-home policy considerations, and ways to create and implement boundaries as far as how employees discuss delicate topics and present themselves on personal social media platforms.

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.

Human resources

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What it means to be an agency invested in diversity and inclusion
  • The importance of looking at diversity in mentorship and internships
  • How to have difficult conversations within your agency
  • The proper boundaries for political discussions in the workplace
  • What is human resources allowed to dictate as far as employee expression outside of the office?
  • Things some agencies aren’t thinking about in regards to work-from-home policies
  • Some positives that have come from the demands created by the pandemic
  • Where to find information on requirements for remote employees working in other states
“Diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean ‘we only think liberally.’ It means that we’re all respectful.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “When we hire just to check the diversity box, I think that defeats the whole purpose of diversity, equality, and inclusion.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “You’re allowed to do what you want on your personal time but just remember that the world we live in today means that what you intend as a personal experience might represent the company.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “The more that owners can figure out how to let people create a home from home and work in the office balance that works for the business and works for the employee, the more they’re likely to have happier, more satisfied employees because they will… Click To Tweet “Thinking about how you can be a business owner and still run a profitable agency while also encouraging the Total Person will continue to be the thing that drives the most successful agencies.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “Maybe some owners who thought that some of the HR things didn’t matter as much as far as policies and culture and connectedness are now seeing how important it actually is.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Molly Eyerman:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by white label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Before I tell you about the episode and our guests, I do want to remind you that the survey is open for the 2021 salary and benefits survey. Just a reminder, we do this every year. We ask a bunch of questions about salaries of different positions in different parts of the country. We also ask questions about the benefits and what kind of benefits you offer, who pays for what, all of those things.

We’ve got a special work from home section and remote work section in the survey this year to ask questions about how you’re going to handle all of that? We normally sell the report that comes out of this salary survey for $100, actually $99, but you can get it for free. All you need to do is participate in the survey. If you head at surveymonkey.com/r/amisalary21. Again, and this will be in the show notes too, but surveymonkey.com/artisanrooster/amisalary21. It’s going to take you about 15 minutes to do.

For many of you, your CFO, or somebody who handles payroll can do it for you if they have access to everybody’s salary ranges, and understand how you handle benefits. But anyway, if you take the 15 minutes at the very end, we’re going to ask you for your email address and we will send you the survey results for free if you participate. It would be awesome if you do that. The more people that participate … We usually get about, I would say 800 or so people who participate and that’s super helpful for making the data valuable and useful for all of you. I would appreciate it if you would do that. 

Speaking of salaries and benefits and work from home, if there has been an insane year for the HR side of owning a business, it has been this last year. I mean, when you think about all the HR topics and issues that we have faced as agency owners, we’ve faced the pandemic, we’ve faced figuring out how to work from home, oftentimes in the second quarter, we’ve faced layoffs or furloughs and learning about furloughing employees, and whether or not our country or county or state had programs that would help us augment the pay of some of our employees that were reducing their hours. 

We had all of that. Then we had the racial tension around Black Lives Matter and the call to build a more inclusive and diverse of workforce in our industry. Many of us had to deal with some very uncomfortable questions from employees, and many of us felt very personally that we needed to do more to help our industry and our own company be more inclusive. Then we went right from there into the political strife that not only in the US, certainly, we were on the world stage for that. But a lot of other countries were also having their own political challenges, and divisions, feelings.

It’s been a crazy year. Then, by the way, our employees are exhausted and tired and mentally stressed and we’re dealing with all of that. We have really earned our MBA in HR this year. We have faced any one of those would have been outside of the norm of what we do every day. But to have all of them in a single year while we are trying to work from home and deal with client cutbacks and all the other things that the pandemic brought, very, very challenging. I have a guest today to help us think through as of now, as of today, what do we do moving forward with all of those issues? Because none of those issues are going away. 

Molly Eyerman owns a HR consulting company that does a ton of work with agencies. I’ve invited her to come on the show just to help us figure out how to navigate all of this stuff and how we can, A, be an employer that we can be proud of the way we treat our employees, we can be proud of how we handle some of these hot topic issues, and how we create a great work environment for our team. But also, how do we run our business in a way that is profitable and takes care of clients and all of that. Complicated stuff. I’m looking forward to this conversation. I know Molly is going to have some great answers for us. Let’s get to it. Molly, welcome to the podcast.

Molly Eyerman:

Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

Give the listeners a little sense of your background and how you come to know as much as you do about the HR side of our world.

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. Early part of my career was in accounting and finance and then I pivoted into the people side of things eight or 10 years ago, and have almost exclusively worked with small businesses since I did that. Initially in another company where I started building an HR outsourcing practice, and then five years ago, I spun off into VIVO Growth Partners. We’ve really focused on being an HR partner for small to mid-sized companies. Many of our clients are PR agencies, branding agencies, and the like, and we work in other industries too. We’ll do everything from updating an employee handbook, just as a one off project, to being the everyday HR partner which is our HR outsourcing model for clients.

Drew McLellan:

Before we get into the topics that I want to talk about which is all the HR stuff that we’re all facing today, how does it work with an HR outsource partner? What would that look like?

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. When we sign up for an HR partnership agreement, what that means is we’re going to be your HR team. We set up an HR email, that’s an [email protected]. If you’re in Slack, we’ll get in your Slack group, and we’ve really handle 99% of the HR and talent issues that come our way. Certain things, maybe a payroll stays with accounting, maybe your team mostly does recruiting, but for the most part we’re pretty involved in the day-to-day processes. 

We’ve really tried to embed ourselves and make it feel like we’re part of the team, unlike there’s some other HR adjacent businesses like PEOs will often say they’ll do that, but you’re calling 1-800 number, you might not get a phone call back for three days. We just find the way that we really build our relationships and are really integrated with email, Slack and the like really helps us for people to feel like we are actually an HR team member, even if we’re not an employee.

Drew McLellan:

Make sense. Well, I’m sure you’ve been busy lately, because boy, it seems like the world is being faced with all kinds of HR issues that have raised their ugly head lately. The first one I want to talk about is the whole issue of diversity and inclusion. I think a lot of agency owners, and a lot of small businesses I think in general, but as the Black Lives Matter issue cropped up this past spring and summer and as agencies really all over the globe are struggling with this issue of what does it mean to be an agency committed to diversity and inclusion?

How in the world do I do that? I think it’s a lot easier to have a diverse workforce when you live in Austin, Texas, than it is when you live in Tiny Town, South Dakota. How are you helping your clients and how should we be thinking about diversity and inclusion? Because a lot of the agency employees are really looking to the agency owner to say, “What are we doing about this? This is an issue that’s important to me. I want to work at a company that embraces diversity and inclusion. What are we doing?”

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. I’m going to be clear for the listeners. I’m going to speak primarily about how this relates to the employee experience and talent acquisition because there’s a whole other side of it related to how you deal with clients and what your stances on that. We’ve talked about that a lot and some of the CEO groups I’m in. I’m just going to focus on the employee side of things. There’s a couple of things really that we’re talking with clients about because this comes up a lot. One of the biggest challenges is when you’re a 25 person company, and you might hire three people in a year, right? 

How do you … What if you can’t find someone who’s diverse and you say, “Gosh, no one with diversity applied to our job posting? There’s just no one out there.” I think to some extent, that can fly when you’re in a smaller business, but what we’re really encouraging clients to do is a couple of things. One is to think about how you’re sourcing candidates for open roles. If you’re looking at just receiving applications, you’re only evaluating candidates who apply to you, chances are good they’re probably going to be candidates who are a lot like you are a lot like people on your team.

You might need to do some things like spend time on LinkedIn and actually go out and actively search for people who maybe have a different background, meaning maybe they’ve got different work experience, maybe they’re not currently your network, just start to expand that. We’re also encouraging people to think about how we can we all as leaders now … because what I hear a lot is, “Well, I need to hire a VP and there’s just not a lot of diversity at that level for what I need.” Part of that goes with the systemic problem that we have, right? 

That there’s not been a lot of mentorship and sponsorship of people to grow up throughout the levels of the organization. To help combat that and really to be part of the solution, we’re urging companies to think about how they really focus on diversity inclusion across the board, but especially when you’re looking at an internship model, what groups are you reaching out to? A few universities you recruit from for either entry level roles or internship roles, there’s tons of different organizations. There’s Blacks Accounting Students Organization. There is Asian Marketing Association, right?

How are you reaching out to maybe some of those groups to say, “Hey, we’re hiring for an intern for this semester. Please, is there anyone who’d be interested in applying? We’d love to talk to your students.” That starts to build your pipeline. Then you’re starting to build that diversity and inclusion organically as opposed to just making, “Oh, we made one diversity hire.” That doesn’t really solve the problem, right? Because we also want to help sponsor people to grow and develop them so they can move on and can be a VP at another agency or your agency, and then you’ve got a great success story.

Those are a couple of the things we’re thinking about. That’s really related to more of the talent acquisition side of things as you think about how you think about it from a total employee experience perspective. We really want people to think about how they’re talking to their team, and remembering that diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean we only think liberally or we’re all only liberals or whatever. But it means that we’re all respectful. Being thoughtful about how you talk about politics or not talk about them, and how you talk about different things and you can still be inclusive without being inclusive in a way that excludes other people’s way of thought, right? 

There are certain things that we can’t tolerate. Discrimination is not tolerated. But, for example, I had a client this year who on Inauguration Day told me that she did a great … That morning on their team call, they did a great discussion around leadership. She just didn’t say anything about her feelings about Joe Biden or Kamala Harris being inaugurated, but just talk to the team about what it means to be a good leader and that she was hopeful that a change in leadership might mean a change for the good for the country. She knows she has some people who are democrats, she knows she has some people who are republicans, and it was a way to be inclusive without being divisive, and without making either group feel like they were left out.

Drew McLellan:

Agency has two candidates. One candidate looks like everybody else in the shop, is better qualified for a job. Other candidate, maybe they’re a B level, but not at the same level as the other candidate. But they would check the diversity box. What does an agency owner do today?

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah, that’s the top question, right? Typically and in those circumstances, the only differentiating question that I would ask at that point would be, is the B level candidate coachable to get to the same level as the A level candidate? Right? They just maybe not have the same opportunities as the other candidate. If the answer is no or maybe, but it’s going to take four years for them to get there and we need someone at that level right now, then I would say hire the person who has the better experience right now. But keep that other candidate in your pipeline and think about how you could mentor them maybe while they’re still on their current role so that they might be able to come in later.

Or maybe down the road when you have a job that’s a slightly better fit for their experience, you could hire them. It’s hard. I mean, but I think when we hire just to check the diversity box, I think that defeats the whole purpose of DENI, and I don’t think it serves the purpose of what we’re really trying to do with DENI. Which is why I go back to that let’s be part of the solution, start building the foundation with our college students, and even high schoolers and even young … Right? 

The earlier you can start that process of really helping to lift up individuals who maybe they don’t have a parent who knows someone in every agency in town, right? Which is how a lot of us have ended up where we are in certain places, and it’s thinking outside the box and thinking outside of your own network about how you bring people in that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting. I have a couple agencies that are predominantly white and they have reached out to high schools that have more diverse population and asked to participate in career days and things like that to get those kids thinking more about that this is a career path for them and introduce them to what we do and how we do it, to try and get some of them to think about it as they look at what colleges to go to or what to major.

They’re trying to dip into even a younger population and start influencing them to think about marketing and advertising as a career. Because historically, our industry has been very inclusive when we had candidates. I mean, I think, particularly around sexual preference and sexual orientation, that’s always been a part of agency life. But we have not seen a lot of racial diversity, simply because we just haven’t had a lot of candidates, I think.

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. Yeah, and I think that’s where I think the earlier you can get it started, the better. Help students to see what the path is, that there is a path for them, and it’s where representation matters, right? It’s one of the things Kamala Harris has said. I mean, no matter what, seeing someone who looks like you, whatever your race or gender identification or whatever, in a position helps you to be able to see yourself on that. 

Also, as we have people women or other genders who are in certain roles, as we have people who are not white in certain roles, sending them back to college to help encourage students, sending them back to their model or their high schools to encourage kids to be able to do things. That’s really where we’re going to start to see more diversity all across links of businesses as opposed to right now. It still feels very white at the top for a lot of places. Not just agencies, I mean, that’s across the board, I’d say.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt. How do we have some of these conversations with our employees? For example, I have an agency that’s predominantly white, has a couple African-American employees. They asked the African-American employees if they would talk about what it’s like to work in pretty much an all white environment. The agency owner was telling me some of the things that these professionals shared with them about how they don’t feel comfortable in certain neighborhoods, and how they feel the clients look at them differently.

He said it was really an eye opening experience for him, but also for the entire team because as he said it, he said, “It just never occurred to me that they would be having those feelings and I didn’t do anything to make that better because I didn’t know it was in their head and heart.”

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. Well, I mean, kudos to that owner for asking those individuals to share about it, and also big kudos to those team members for feeling-

Drew McLellan:

Right. Having the courage.

Molly Eyerman:

… safe enough to share, because I’m sure that that’s a scary thing sometimes. I think having those conversations are really important, just like we saw with the Me Too movement where a lot of men who maybe had never committed sexual harassment in their life but maybe we’re just oblivious because it never impacted them said, “Oh, gosh. I had no idea women dealt with those things.” I think that’s what we’re seeing now with black people and people of color. I think if black and people of color feel safe sharing their feelings and sharing their stories with their team members, that’s great.

They may not always feel that way and in those circumstances. I’d point business owners to have a facilitator who can help guide those discussions and workshops around what racism means. A lot of people have probably read the book, White Fragility in the last 12 months. I did. It was really interesting because the author, one of the things she talks about was some of the workshops she’s facilitated where white people felt, especially white women, were like, “Well, I don’t do that.” The black people didn’t feel safe enough to say, “Yes, you do. These are the microaggressions you do and maybe you don’t realize it, maybe you don’t intend it.” 

I think agency owners, you know your team best and you have to take a pulse on do you think those team members are going to feel safe whatever their differences that you’d like to shed light onto the team? Are they going to feel safe and are you going to be able … are you strong enough as a leader to be able to help guide that conversation? Or do you need someone outside to maybe help guide that? It’s okay if you need someone outside, because these are tough things a