Episode 446

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As agency owners, we all want to be different. We don’t want to be the boss who is a stickler for punctuality or to feel like we’re micromanaging our employees. But HR issues will inevitably arise, and that’s when the reality check sets in.

HR issues aren’t always as intense as the term may imply. They could be as small as someone being late to a couple of meetings or an employee missing a deadline one too many times. They’re often small things that build up over time and can balloon into bigger issues — like souring client-agency relationships or diluting the agency’s core values.

In this week’s episode, Allyns Melendez shares lots of great tips and tricks to help prevent minor HR issues from getting out of control. From leading by example to being a chameleon leader who can shift based on who you’re talking to and what tone is needed, she knows exactly how to help agency owners and leaders resolve nearly any conflict an agency might face.

Tune in to learn tons of valuable tactics that will make you feel like no employee problem is too big for you to handle.

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.

HR issues

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How HR has stayed surprisingly the same over 100 years
  • How to show up as an agency leader to everybody vs. with individual employees
  • Handling first-time HR issues with an employee
  • What happens when we don’t address bad habits immediately
  • Preparing for difficult one-on-one conversations with agency employees
  • Conflict resolution with agency employees and how to follow up with your plan
  • Why chameleon leadership will help you communicate better
  • Get to know your communication style and how you show up in a room
  • How to ask for candid feedback and make your employees feel safe to do so

“Every business owner wants to be the one that's different. And then quickly they realize they can't.” - Allyns Melendez Click To Tweet
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” - Allyns Melendez Click To Tweet
“The person that is at the head of a company is the employees’ example for success.” - Allyns Melendez Click To Tweet
“Do not use your people to talk about another person’s situation. You absolutely need to go outside to a trusted advisor where you can find guidance to move forward.” - Allyns Melendez Click To Tweet
“You need to create a culture of open feedback, even if it's anonymous, just to handle the crap that you don't want to.” - Allyns Melendez Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Allyns:


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.

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 the money you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies are getting things done, bringing his 25 years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with yep, another episode of Build a Better Agency. We are marching our way to episode 500, and this is a good one. So I’m excited to talk to our guest today and pick her brain around. I think one of the biggest challenges for us in 2024 is keeping the amazing staff that we have. Many of you are telling us that you have probably the best staff that you’ve ever had, and so we wanna help you keep those superstars. But before we, and before I tell you about our guest and we jump into that, I do wanna remind you that the Build a Better Agency Summit is coming up very soon.

May 21st and 22nd. Member Day is May 20th, for those of you that are associate members or in one of our peer groups. So you’re welcome to come on Monday for a half day of content and dinner, but for everybody, the conference starts Tuesday, the 21st, and goes through the day on Wednesday. So one of the breakout sessions we’re gonna do, which we’ve done for several years now, is Susan Beyer and I, Susan owns Audience Audit, and as you know, she’s our research partner for the Agency Edge Research series. We’re actually in year 10 this year of going out and doing proprietary research on your behalf.

This year we are focused on biz dev talking to people who hire agencies about how, when, and what makes them hire a new agency. So what makes them decide it’s time to change agencies? How do they go finding perspective agencies to do research with or to interview to see if they’re the right fit, what we can do to accelerate their decision making, how they make the decision? Is it a committee decision? Do they have criteria in advance? So lots and lots of questions. So the where we are going to unveil this research is at the summit. So if you wanna come and get a deep dive on what we learned, we’re out in the field right now, so I can’t even tell you what we’ve learned yet ’cause we’re still asking the questions.

But if you would like to learn how and when and why clients are hiring agencies and what you can do to be in the consideration set and what you can do to win, because we’re gonna ask them what tips the scales for them between one agency over another and what you can do to accelerate the process. This would be a great session for you to attend. So grab your ticket for the summit, come join us, and we will give you the scoop. Okay, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So Eileen’s Melendez has worked at a PR firm for many, many years. She worked her way up to COO and is running the agency day in and day out.

She stepped away from that role for the most part, to start an HR outsourcing firm and works exclusively with agencies and other small businesses on all of the HR issues that are super challenging for us. And so one of our areas of expertise is how do you sort of set some boundaries? How do you have hard conversations with employees? How do you help set the standards that you want all your employees to live by, and then sort of hold their feet to the fire in terms of asking them to really honor those. And so I’m super excited to talk to her about the methodologies and the tips and tricks on how we can have those difficult conversations, how we have them differently with different people, and how we can be successful in keeping our best players by having better conversations with them, and also by creating a better environment at the agency as a whole.

So if you will join me in welcoming Eileen’s and let’s get to it. Eileen, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me. Drew.

So we are gonna talk about everybody’s favorite topic, which is employees. So tell everybody a little bit about your background, your agency experience, the work you’ve done, and the work you do now, just to sort of lay a framework for why you have this expertise. And then I have a ton of questions for you.

Great. So I’ve been in HR for 27 years now, and I, I’ve gone to

Survived HR for 27 years.

I have, I feel like I’ve been in HR my whole life. It’s something I was definitely born to do. I had no idea what empathy was, but I used to use it a lot in school and, and sort of get called out for that of Oh wow. So empathetic. And I found this job in HR 27 years ago, and I, I just haven’t looked back. It’s definitely made for me. My company focuses on HR outsourcing and consulting project work for agencies or companies that don’t have someone there to think strategically in HR or do the HR work. We also do corporate executive level coaching for business owners and their number twos and also their up and coming leadership members.

And then we do just corporate training for companies, all the compliance training and all of that. And for the past 16 years, I’ve been at an HR at, in an HR capacity running a PR firm, a global PR firm. And so I have very, very intimate knowledge with the challenges within an agency structure around its people, especially if you’re in the service industry, people are what you’re selling, their ideas, how they show up, they’re gravitas. And navigating people can be very, very difficult at times when you’re just so focused on growing your company.

Yeah. So really you cut your HR chops inside an agency so you understand all, all of the challenges that the listeners are dealing with day in and day out.

Exactly. What

Do you think, what do you think in your 27 years, what has changed the most about hr? What, what has, what has made it, what, has it always been this hard and we just didn’t think so? Or has something made it more difficult?

I think it’s always been this hard. We’ve always sort of dealt with generational differences, you know, from the time where the baby boomers were the ones kind of coming into the work world. And, and I gotta tell you, I have handbooks from 1929 in my bookshelf behind me, fascinating stuff that my father-in-law’s given me over the years, and I read it. And there’s a lot of similarities between what they were saying then and what we are saying now. There’s a lot more protection now. You know, there’s a lot of laws, new things happening every day today. There’s a new poster in New York you’ve gotta post to employees just this morning is the deadline. So there’s all these changes that are happening every single day. But I think the one commonality is navigating the people on their behaviors because it is always shifting and the environment around you is always shifting.

You know, there’s always a something going on in the universe that kind of takes everybody out of whack. And so as business owners, we have to navigate those interest intricacies of the human behaviors at work.

So in other words, people were writing books about how difficult we were as employees. Absolutely. And, and we were clueless. And now that we’re the owners, we’re the ones who are looking for the books on how to manage employees.

Exactly. And guess what, yeah, it’s gonna happen again with this, this next patient coming into the workplace,

Right? Challenges for a lot of agency owners is they’re accidental business owners. They, they didn’t go to school to run a business, and most of them grew up in the agency space. And so they’re really good at some aspect of agency life, account service, strategy, creative, whatever it is. A lot of HR classes, they probably didn’t take a lot of site classes. And so they’re handed by hook or crook this company that they now need to run. And they’ve started it all of a sudden they look around, they have employees, and they’re sort of trying to figure out how to, how to do this well, and, and like you and I were talking about before, before we hit the record button, I really do believe that most agency owners, the vast majority of agency owners want to be good employers.

They want, they want to keep, they wanna attract and keep and grow great employees, and they just are not sure how to navigate all of the intricacies of conversations we have to have with employees today. So let’s talk a little bit about sort of managing employees. So talk to us a little bit about, so how do I, how do I need to show up as a boss, as an owner to everybody? And then how do I decide how I show up for individuals within that body of employees? Because, you know, everybody’s wired so differently. Everybody’s got their own needs. So first of all, when you are coaching a business owner, how do you recommend that they show up at an all team meeting, or when they’re setting policies and procedures and announcing those, what, what do you, what are you saying to them to help them present in a way that they would feel good about how they show up?

Yes. I’ll start that off by saying that every business owner wants to be the one that’s different. Usually they leave this environment and they say, well, well, when I open up my own shop, I’m gonna be different. And then quickly they realize, oh boy, I can’t be that different because there are all these things I didn’t realize or recognize I had to handle. Like the compliance things like the payroll, like all the state requirements. So when you’re showing up, you should absolutely be your authentic self because that person is who they’re buying into. So you can’t be more than than who you are. But in terms of how you communicate your body language, you send signals every single day and not blatant signals.

So think of it as wifi. So I think about your signal strength as being the head of an agency. You send out a signal that’s very strong by nature of your position, by nature of who you are and how long you’ve been there and what you do. Other people at your organization send out signals as well, whether they’re weak or strong, and they have an impact on people. So when you show up, you have to think about what is my signal strength and how am I showing up? So I would say that everything that you do sends a message. Even the things that you don’t think you are doing. So for example, if you are showing up and you’re not addressing that someone came into the meeting late and maybe was super disruptive, it sends the message of, oh, it’s okay to show up to meetings late, right?

That’s okay with this business owner. So you know, what if I show up 10 minutes late, then guess what? You’re gonna have a meeting that starts 10 minutes late every Monday, let’s say. So thinking about how you show up, you have to make sure you’re intentional and authentic because that’s not what you would do if you were showing up to a meeting. You would want everyone to respect your time and respect everybody else’s time. The second thing is the way you message the things that come out of your mouth, and all of it is gonna be smart and business focused and caring and kind, you would hope to your staff. But then there’s a way that you do that. So there are some people who are not gonna stick around for tons of data.

So if you’re the type of person who gives data upfront, you’re gonna lose that person in the back that’s only focused on kind of like, why am I here? What’s the big picture? Right? Or why are we getting into finish about this person’s account? I’m not on this account, I’m checking out, I’m gonna start checking slack. So think about what is a cadence of my communication? Am I going high level then am I getting into this sort of weeds of things? Am I losing people? Do they need to be here? Do you need to spend all this money? How much money is tied up into that meeting? Add up their hourly rates and times that by an hour or two. So when you show up, not only are you being authentic, but you are considering your message, body language, how you address things.

And you’re also showing up in, am I messaging things in the right way so that I continue to keep their listening open, otherwise I’m wasting everybody’s time. Is this meeting for me or is it for them? Yeah, so I answered your question sort of several parts. We could probably go anywhere from here, but at the end of the day, be that chameleon leader, be the one that can shape shift. And I’d sometimes meet with leaders and I say, you know, sometimes you do have to be a chameleon. You have to shape shift your messaging. You have to shape shift how you show up in your own style in the moment to kind of get that person in and with you. And sometimes I get the resistance of, well, why should I change? Well, guess what?

They’re not listening. So if you really want someone to listen, you take ownership of how you’re gonna communicate and then Dr. And bring them in, and then they’re gonna understand you seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Yeah. Well, and I think too, you just set the tone for the shop and you set the tone for your expectations. And I think a lot of people, a lot of agency owners are pretty comfortable winging it, right? So, right. They’re used to stepping in front of a crowd or a small meeting or a big meeting and just, you know, they’re good on the on off the cuff. And so, right. I think what you’re also saying is, you know, give some thought to, how do I wanna show up today? What do that, what do I want them to get from me both verbally and non-Verbally? And then how do I intentionally do that? Make sure that I’m clear about that,

Right? Because it is their example of success. The person that is at the head of this company is their example for success. And so it’s like, it’s like if you have children, what your parents do signals to them what they should be doing. So if I see this business owner and I say, wow, look at this business owner, and they show up late to meetings. I mean, I’m just using that as an example, right?


That means success to me. So it’s okay if I do that because this very successful business owner is doing that too. So we do have to think about how do we set that tone? Remember that nonverbal cues are really strong based on that person’s signal strength.

Yeah. Well, and too, you know how you, correct. So that’s what I was gonna get to next. Showing up, late’s a great example because everybody probably deals with it. So I have an all team meeting, either it’s in person or it’s on Zoom and somebody shows up late. What is the appropriate way for a leader to call out that that’s not acceptable?

So in the first sort of infraction, I would pull them aside privately because that might be someone who had an emergency that morning or you know, maybe they were running late or whatever it was. And if it was their first time doing it, I would say to them and pull them aside and say, listen, I just wanna call out. I saw that you were late this morning. It sort of disrupts the flow of what we’re talking about, but it’s also a respect thing, right? We wanna make sure we’re respecting everyone’s time. And sometimes somebody might say, well, I had an emergency this morning and say, next time just text me or write me a note beforehand that you’re expected to be late so I can announce it. Right? Hey, so you know, this person’s gonna come in late to the meeting, they called me up, had an emergency this morning.

So, you know, they’ll just kind of sneak on in when they get here. This way it is sort of acknowledged beforehand. So again, sends the message that, oh, I should be letting you know, drew know, for example, that I’m gonna be late this morning. And then you, it’s your turn to say, Hey, just so you know, you know, this person let me know that they’re gonna be coming in late. And again, that sets the tone for how we handle our meetings and the office, if they do it again and they didn’t reach out to you, then I would again, pull them aside. Again, I, I’m not, I’m not the type of leader that’s gonna call them out in front of everyone. The only time I would do that is if someone’s being disruptive in the meeting. I would say, Hey, is there something we need to go, you know, is there something we need to discuss?

I see that you both are talking about something, or let’s wait until you sort of let us know what’s going on. If it’s urgent client issue or something, that’s when I would sort of call things out in a meeting. Otherwise, if it’s a one individual thing, I’d pull ’em to the side privately and set the tone for the expectation of what I want going forward.

Okay. So let’s say somebody has not done that and now they’ve created a culture where people show up late or don’t turn their camera on on a zoom meeting, which frankly drives me insane right now. How do I handle it?

Yeah. So if you’ve already created that culture, I would make an announcement. Like, let’s say, let’s take the video camera for example. That’s a really great one. Yeah. So if you show up to every meeting and the expectation is that you have your video cameras on as soon as a meeting starts, I’d say, all right, everyone put your cameras on. And if someone doesn’t, I would call them out. I’d say, you know, person A, your camera’s not on. And I usually get something, well, I’m not camera ready. Well, you know, it’s okay, blur your background or whatever it is that you need to


But we are here in person. And then if they continue to refuse, then I’d say, I’m gonna ask you to leave the meeting. It’s our expectation that we’re gonna have everyone on camera present and ready to go. And because you’re not present and ready to go, you’re not ready to be in this meeting. Yeah. And I would, if that’s something that has been established, if it’s something that needs to be reminded and send out an email and set expectation, again, make the announcement in the beginning. You have to be camera ready on at all times. The other thing that sort of brings up for me is that I like a culture where we can video call each other just randomly villa video, call each other during the day. Some agencies that I work with say, oh, that would be fantastic. I always wanna do that with my employees. And I said, and why can’t you?

Why can’t you be the one that sets the tone of video calling someone they have the option of, of picking up on the spot or not? Some don’t wanna show you that they’re not at home. Some right. Will show you that they’re at their workplace or maybe they’re in the kitchen grabbing a coffee and they miss your call, but they call you right back in a couple minutes. So you can start that as a business owner to set, set the tone, everything you want them to do, you do yourself in the way that’s best done. It’s like if you show up to the meeting and you turn off your camera, but everyone else’s camera’s on, what does that send, what message does that send?

Right? For sure. Yeah. All right, so let’s talk a little bit about conversations with staff members. So, you know, agencies love assessments, 16 personalities, disc, Myers-Briggs, the Harry Potter version of Myers-Briggs. And we, we love those things, right? We, we, we love all of those. We do believe that they are helpful in sort of understanding sort of how to interact with folks. But let’s assume that an agency owner hasn’t done that or doesn’t know what my disc profile is or whatever. And, and they need to have a serious conversation with me. How do, how should a leader, whether they the agency owner or a department head, how should we p