Episode 62

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Joe Calloway has been speaking to business audiences for about 30 years. He’s written seven books, including the just released “Keep It Simple.” He has served as the first Executive In Residence for Belmont University’s Center For Entrepreneurship, and he invests in and advises start-up companies, including Gilson Boards, a snowboard manufacturing company. Joe is an active investor in a real estate development group with current projects in Louisville, Nashville, and Chattanooga. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Annette, and our daughters, Jessica, and Cate.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why Joe wrote “Keep It Simple” and how it’s different from his other books
  • What all effective leaders have in common
  • What your vision/mission statement should sound like
  • Why you need to follow Warren Buffett’s advice and say no to almost everything
  • The Gold Standard: doing what you say you will do, the way you said you will do it, when you said you would do it
  • Why you have to set the example inside your business
  • Why you can’t get stuck doing what used to work
  • Being better tomorrow than you are today
  • Why you need to be so good at the basics that you are cutting edge
  • Why you need to work on the relationships with everyone you work with
  • Being your authentic self and believing in yourself
  • Why — whatever happens — that’s normal
  • Improving upon your strengths
  • Why your success is dictated by your culture
  • Why you need to get clear on the three things you need to get right

 

The Golden Nugget:

“No company is any better than the standards they set internally.” – @joecalloway Click To Tweet

 

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Announcer:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invest in employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency, today, I am psyched. This is a guest that I can’t tell you how excited I am to introduce you to. Many of you are probably very familiar with him already, but let me give you a little bit of background and then I’ll tell you why in particular this is a big one for me. So Joe Calloway is our guest today, and Joe helps great companies become even better. He consults, he does workshops. He does keynote presentations to develop leaders, crew, create effective teams and help businesses improve their performance. These are businesses who know that they can and should be doing more with the people and resources they already have.

Joe works with companies like Proctor and Gamble and Coca-Cola, and you probably also know him as an author of many great best-selling books, Be The Best at What Matters Most, Becoming a Category of One, Indispensable: How to Become the Company That Your Customers Can’t Live Without, Work Like You’re Showing Off, Never By Chance: Aligning People in Strategy Through Intentional Leadership, and a couple others. And he’s got a brand new book out called Keep it Simple, which we’re going to talk about. And many of you have probably heard me reference Joe before. There are two business books out there in the world today that I desperately wish I had written. And Joe’s book, Becoming a Category of One, which is all about really building a genuine brand is definitely one of them. So I’m elated to have him on the show and to introduce him to all of you. So Joe, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Joe Calloway:

Thank you for having me, Drew. I am tickled to death to be here. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Drew McLellan:

I appreciate that very much. So your new book is a departure from your other books. Your other books have been best practice teaching books, and lots of examples, lots of great stuff. And Keep it Simple is ironically, I guess, a much simpler book than some.

Joe Calloway:

It is.

Drew McLellan:

So talk to me about what made you make that shift in the style of book you were writing?

Joe Calloway:

A couple of things, Drew. One is two things happened within days of each other that were just this huge catalyst and sign that I needed to do this book. One was a client that I’ve worked off and on for years who said, of all the things that you’ve helped us with, I think the most valuable is that you’ve always helped us simplify and clarify what it is we’re trying to do, how we’re trying to do it, and what we should be doing on a daily basis. So it’s a vision, strategic and tactical in terms of getting clarity and simplifying. And he said, I wish you would write a book just about that, just about this idea of making things simpler. A couple of days after that, I got a call from a publisher who does this … as you just mentioned, this is a very different format book for me. It’s a little bitty book.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Joe Calloway:

It’s 88 pages, but it’s 80 pages of big type and a lot of graphics and a lot of quotes. So you can read the thing in 20 minutes to a half hour easily. Well, this publisher said, would you be interested in doing a really focused book on one of your best ideas? And I said, as a matter of fact, I would love to. And so that’s how the book came about. And I tell you, I’m having more fun with it and getting as good or better response to it of anything I’ve ever written. So I’m really, really, really happy with it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s a great read and it’s fascinating. I’ve read all of your books, but it is one of the threads that weaves through, one of the messages that weaves through all of the content that you’ve created both in written form and in a lot of your keynotes.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah, that’s absolutely right. It’s hard for me to talk about anything, whether it’s culture, customer experience, leadership, differentiation, the entrepreneurship and principles of entrepreneurship. I don’t know how to talk of about any of them without really starting with the idea of, okay, let’s simplify the way you think about your business. Let’s get clarity, let’s get real focused, because until you do that, it’s going to be difficult to maximize your performance. So yeah, it’s very, very much a core thread that runs through all of my work.

Drew McLellan:

As I was reading it, I was thinking, when I’m with agency owners, they get frustrated that their employees are not marching the march. And when I’m with their employees, when I’m teaching workshops with the account folks, for example [crosstalk 00:05:41] one of the things I hear all the time is, you know what? My boss is a flavor of the month person. So they read a book or they go to a workshop and they come back all fired up about something. But I know it’s only going to last a couple months, so it’s hard for me to get fired up about it because I’m always waiting for what’s the next flavor of the month?

And as I was reading your book, I was thinking, this is what they’re talking about is, let’s really boil down to the example you had about the ambulance company, where they had the three page mission statement. And the woman said, we help people when they’re hurt.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

I think agencies suffer a little bit from that, not really having as honed to focus as they could.

Joe Calloway:

Well, you’ve hit on … Oh, my gosh, give me a dollar for every time I’ve heard that exact same thing that you’ve heard, which is what’s next? At our next [inaudible 00:06:39] employee meeting, I wonder what the leader of the company is going to be talking about. And the thing is, Drew, when you look at organizations, I mean, big organizations, or tiny in terms of numbers of people, really small companies, what effective leaders all have in common is this constancy of repeating and reinforcing, Hey everybody, remember what’s important here. Now, the thing is you have that foundation of here are the handful of things that are important, and we’re going to talk about those things all the time. While at the same time, of course you want to embrace new ideas. Of course, you want to be innovated and look at new ways of doing things and possibly even new things to do.

But unless you’ve got that foundation of, look, everybody, come back to center. Here’s what’s important. Hewlett Packard started with a great, great metaphor. Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard said, we’re going to be like a gyroscope. The center of a gyroscope never moves. The outside of the scope moves all the time. We’re going to have these core values that will keep us steady, keep us centered, keep us constant. And at the same time, we’re always going to be moving forward and innovating. But without those core are things that leadership reinforces and talks about all the time, it’s really hard to get people committed and completely on board.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s so true. That’s such a great example. I mean, there probably is no industry that’s moved faster or in more divergent directions than the HPs of the world. And this, I talk to agency owners about all the time. You’ve got to have who … It’s like being a person. Here’s who I am and no matter what situation I am in, this I stay true to. And agencies need that as well.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah. They really do. It’s that idea of what is true north for me? And I mean, real heart stuff, gut stuff, which in a business translates to your culture. Who are we? How do we behave with each other? What are we absolutely steadfast about? And then that carries into strategically, what are the principles that guide us? And then tactically, it comes down to when you sit down at your desk every morning, okay, what should I work on today? Well, let me go back to what I know is most important. And of course there’re going to be the interruptions and the immediate priorities and all of that. But you can really increase your productivity and your effectiveness dramatically if you have this constant guide of … For example, for me, it’s a no brainer. I know what I’m going to work on every day because I’ve decided in advance what’s most important. And all of the interruptions and the changes that I have to react to every day, those are guided by this absolute knowledge of, I know what is most important and that always brings me back to true north and keeps me centered.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, and it can’t just be about making more money. Right?

Joe Calloway:

Well, here’s the thing. Making more money for me is one of the facets of the scoreboard, but [crosstalk 00:10:36] I don’t play the game by looking at the scoreboard. I mean, I make more money by knowing what’s important, particularly as it relates to my clients, and the score then takes care of itself. It’s like coach Nick Saban of the University of Alabama football program. He says, we don’t worry about motivation. We don’t worry about the score. We worry about process. We think about process all the time. If we get the process right, if we execute correctly, the score takes care of itself.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So one of the tenants of a lot of your work is about this idea of knowing who you all are in being true to who you are. And in some ways, that’s a big kernel of this new book as well. But in the book that I referenced in the intro, Becoming a Category of One, which really focuses on what is brand really, and how do we build an authentic brand? That’s what you and I were talking before I hit the record button. That’s a challenge for agencies, although they do it for their clients all day, every day.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

When I look at agencies and I hear them talk about themselves, the way they often describe themselves is some variation of we’re a full service agency that partners with our clients, yada, yada, yada, which is exactly what they all say. So talk to us a little bit about the challenges of branding yourself and seeing yourself through that unbiased lens.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah. There are a lot of facets, I think, to that, Drew. And the thing is it can be different and probably should be somewhat different for every agency, for every business. And I talk about this in a book you mentioned called Be The Best at What Matters Most, but there are some companies, there are some organizations that are driven by a really personal mission, which is … I mean, it can be as big as we want to impact the world in a way that makes it a better place. And that’s fine. There are other companies that have a personality that would resonate with, we create the best advertising and marketing campaigns for our clients, period. It could be of very general statement about the work itself. The trick is this, it has to resonate on two levels. It has to resonate certainly on an intellectual level, but it’s also got to resonate on a gut level.

That example that you mentioned in your introduction about the company that I was working for, and it was actually a company that has … it’s not ambulances, it’s private emergency rooms.

Drew McLellan:

Ah, okay.

Joe Calloway:

It’s like the emergency room and a hospital, except it’s private. And they had come up with this long … Oh, my God, Drew, it was so corporate speak. I mean, it was just corporate, corporate, corporate, and they put it up on the screen. And then two hours later, I went up on stage and I said, okay, what does that vision mean to you guys? What are you about? And I kept prodding and prodding. And finally this one woman that I was picking on got a little bit mad at me. And she said, look, we help people when they’re hurt. Okay? And I said, whoa, wait a minute. I think she might be on to something.

How many of you think about that vision statement and get excited about it? Nobody raised their hands about it. Nobody raised their hands. I said, how many of you can really get excited and behind the idea of we help people when they’re hurt? Every hand in the room went up. I said, well, there’s your reason for being right there? Why don’t you talk about that? And I think, Drew, that a lot of times people get stuck in the idea of, well, it’s supposed to really businesslike, isn’t it? No, it’s suppose to sound however it resonates.

Drew McLellan:

Right, [crosstalk 00:14:56] and it’s supposed to sound like you.

Joe Calloway:

It’s supposed to sound like you. There’s no master’s degree in business form that you have to adhere to. As a matter of fact, years ago, I read about an ad agency started by four fairly young guys. Listen to this. Here’s what drove everything that they did, their four rules of doing business. They didn’t have a vision statement, a mission statement, which are perfectly good things to have. Here’s what they went by. Number one, do great work. Number two, have fun. Number three, make money. Number four, and this is my favorite, don’t work with people you can’t stand.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

Joe Calloway:

And that’s perfectly okay to have those for rules. So yeah, this idea of your brand, it’s an inside out job. And I really think it’s important that organizations get clarity and get in touch with their gut level knowing of who they are and why they do this work.

Drew McLellan:

And I think oftentimes, and you make this point in several of your books, the desire to be everything to everyone, to not leave money on the table is what gets in the way of you act defining who you are. So for example, the example you just gave of the four guys, do great work, that says where their focus is, right? It’s that we want to be known for this body of work. So my assumption is that that’s about it being super creative and being super effective, but also that we’re going to be very selective in the clients that we work with, because life’s too short to work with jerks. Right?

Joe Calloway:

Not only that. I think you’ve just hit on one of the absolute keys to the kingdom, which is to understand what you do best, what you love to do most, and who you do that for. A real common question that is asked of folks in interviews is what do you wish you had done sooner? I’ll tell you what I wish I had done sooner. I wish I had been better at saying no, because you’re exact … Here’s the fallacy. And I was as guilty of it as anybody. I’m really good at it now is a potential client appears and says, okay, I want to hire you to do X. And you know that that is not your sweet spot.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Calloway:

You know that that’s not what you have decided you really want to do, but it’s money on the table. And so you say yes, but because you’ve said yes to work that you should not be doing, you’re going to take up time space. You’re going to take up mind space. You’re going to take up resources space that could have been better spent on the next client who was the right fit. So I really think that is such an important principal, to learn to say no. Let me throw in my favorite mantra right now. It’s something Warren Buffet said a few years ago. Warren Buffet said the biggest difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything, meaning they say no to things that would ultimately be distractions. They’re very focused on what they should be doing, who they should be working with and what they do best.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We have a mutual friend in Steve Farber and it reminds me of his mantra and what he teaches, which is do work you love in service of people who love the work you do.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Joe Calloway:

True. And Farber nailed it with that. You just can’t say it any better than that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. So I want to get back to the book and back to the simple principles that you outlined. All right, I want to talk a little bit about one of the things that really resonated with me as I was reading Keep it Simple were the seven simple truths that you outlined. And I thought I was reading it in prep for our conversation, so certainly through the lens of what agency owners need to be thinking about. I just want to walk through them for a second and have you expound on them a little bit? So let’s start with the gold standard.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah. The gold standard. And I mean, this is one of those things that everybody goes, oh, yeah, yeah, I know that. But I’m not so sure there are that many organizations that actually do it. The gold standard is simply I will do what I promised I told you that I would do. As a friend of mine says, it boils down to this. Do what you said you would do the way you said you would do it when you said you would do it. And it simply means I keep my promises, to be able to say, look, to your client, to the marketplace at large, you can count on us. We are rock solid, dependable. We deliver on our promises. That is the gold standard, is quite simply to keep your word. I’ll do what I promised I’ll do. And once more, I’ll do it every single time.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and as I was reading this, I was thinking that for many agency owners, they espouse this, but the one place they violated it is with their own team. And it’s not that they don’t want to keep their promise to their team, but back to what we were talking about before, they’ve committed to too much. And they’ve said yes to too many things. And so the person who always pays the price for that is their own staffer who has meetings canceled on them or the owner walks in late or whatever that is. So I think this is particularly important as agency owners for us to be thinking about, not only do we want to make this promise and keep this promise to our client, but even more so set the example inside our shop, because if we don’t set the example inside our shop, we can’t really expect our employees to keep it outside of the shop.

Joe Calloway:

Listen, I don’t know. There is no company, there is no business that will be any better than the standards that they observe and keep internally. I mean, really, it’s like having unhappy employees and expecting to deliver great customer service.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Calloway:

That’s not going to happen.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Joe Calloway:

And yeah, you’ve hit on I think a real truth, which is the standards that you set for how you behave to your clients, you’ve got to be at least that good internally with your employees. Great point.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. And you really pound that home in Becoming a Category of One, that you can’t be one brand to the outside world and a different brand inside your own organization.

Joe Calloway:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So the second truth really resonates in the marketing world, the agency world, don’t get stuck in what used to work. I’ve been in the agency business my whole professional life, which is 30 some years now, and I’ve never experienced the rapid change that we are experiencing in our industry. And I know everybody is outside of our world too, but the way agencies work today is nothing like how agencies worked three years ago. And it’s light years away from how we worked 10 years ago. And I know that next year it’s going to be even faster change, so this principle is really critical today.

Joe Calloway:

Oh, I think it’s … Yeah. And as you say, it’s more critical than it’s ever been. Not only the significance of the change, but the speed. Oh, my gosh, it’s [crosstalk 00:22:57] Yeah. It happens at light speed now. And so my mantra is if I am successful up to this point, that means that I know what used to work. And I love to say that, let me do some bragging here, I can compete and win in markets that no longer exist.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

Joe Calloway:

They’re gone. I can tell you how to succeed in 2014, I did it. 2015, I did it. 2016? I’m still figuring out how. So, so far, so good, but the rules change a little bit, sometimes a lot every single day.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and this get back to your HP example. When you have a solid core, a base that you can count on, a foundation that’s solid, it’s easier to have all the rest of it be spinning around you in what I call controlled chaos, which is how I think our business is run today, because you know you’re standing on solid footing.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah. And by the way, just for the record, HP has had their own problems [crosstalk 00:24:07] in dealing with change.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely. So your third tenant, which really ties right into the second one, which is be better tomorrow than you were today. So in agencies, when I talk to agency owners, one of the things that they value most in their employees, and I think is how they’re wired too, is this lifelong learner mantra of I’ve got to keep learning. And certainly as the industry changes as quickly as it is, we can’t really afford not to keep changing. Right?

Joe Calloway:

No, I mean, it’s not an option anymore. It’s interesting though, Drew, I will ask it. I’ll be working with an audience. I’ll say, how many do you believe that it is absolutely a requirement for you and everyone in your organization to be better tomorrow than you were today? Of course, every hand goes up. And then I say, okay, let me ask you a much, much tougher question. Think back to last Friday. What did you do in your organization last Friday that made you better than you were on Thursday? And everybody’s stumped. Nothing gets more lip service than the idea of continuous improvement. Everybody said, oh, we got to get better. Well, okay, what are you doing today that makes you better than you were yesterday? Because continuous improvement isn’t a project. It’s a process that has to be built into everything you do. So while everybody gets it, it’s much, much tougher to actually do it.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and it doesn’t happen by accident, right? It has to be intentional.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah. You just used one of my favorite words in the universe, which is, are you intentional about it?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So the fourth one, agencies are always talking about thinking outside of the box. And it’s often one of the things they promise their clients is we’re not going to bring you the same solution. So we’re always breaking the envelope, thinking outside the box, whatever phrase they want to use. But your fourth simple tenant is make sure you win inside the box. So talk to us a little bit about that.

Joe Calloway:

Yeah. It’s counterintuitive and I say that to get people’s attention, but here’s the deal. The way I define inside the box is, for example, what are your clients most important needs and expectations? That’s where you win. There’s an IT company that’s got the greatest, greatest saying that they use, which is, I love this, buzzers and bells wear off, usefulness never does.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Joe Calloway:

Listen, Drew, I’ve had the same ad agency for over 30 years because they are so incredibly useful to me. They win inside the box because there are other people that come to me with buzzers and bells, but I keep going back to this agency because, number one, they understand me and they have from the very start. They know me exceptionally well and they deliver on those things that are most important. And of course you want to be innovative. Of course, you want to constantly inject new ideas, but look, whoever wins on