Episode 308:

All agency owners strive to be great leaders but that can be a daunting task when there are so many things that demand attention on a daily basis. And understanding what defines a great leader and how to learn and implement those skills can be equally overwhelming. When it feels like the focus needs to be external on building the company and growing client relationships, time dedicated internally to processes and staff development is often rushed, minimized, or pushed to another day.

Author Deborah Coviello has studied what it takes for a CEO to elevate not only their companies but also their people for long-lasting impact. Defining an agency’s “True North” creates the guiding star to ensure the entire team is moving in the same direction. She also believes a focus on people development sets the foundation for the greatest success.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Deborah and I look at various elements that create a great CEO. We talk about the need for clear processes that have the future in mind, the importance of prioritizing proactive internal growth, and how any team member can be a high performer if you have the right conversation with them. We also discuss the insights an agency owner can gain by taking time away and why mentors and coaches may hold the key to a CEO’s success.

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.

Rethink Leadership

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The elements that make up a “CEO’s Compass”
  • How a company benefits from defining their “True North”
  • Why the right processes are critical to success
  • The need to rethink leadership to prioritize doing something proactive to grow your company internally
  • What are we doing that’s right and wrong for growing our emerging leaders
  • How to improve the way we give feedback
  • The importance of finding a coach
  • The insights gained from three words: continue, start, and change
“At the end of the day, it’s not what you’re doing. It’s the customer and what the customer is saying about you.” @DropinCEO Click To Tweet “It is important as a business owner to be thinking about the future when it comes to putting the right processes in place.” @DropinCEO Click To Tweet “Be careful not to forget what got you started and the people that were there in the beginning.” @DropinCEO Click To Tweet “You have to find your own way but do whatever it is that allows you to move one minute, one hour closer to what you want to do.” @DropinCEO Click To Tweet “Everybody can be a high performer if you have the right conversation with them.” @DropinCEO Click To Tweet “Our core competency should be people development.” @DropinCEO Click To Tweet “Time away is something a business owner should do to look inside the bubble they’ve created to see what’s working and what’s not working.” @DropinCEO Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Deborah Coviello:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run. Traditional, digital, media buying, [web dev 00:00:08], PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road sellable. 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. Thanks so much for coming back, or if you are a regular listener and if this is your first time, you picked a good one, we’ve got a great conversation ahead for you. I am confident. So before I tell you a little bit about our guest just a couple of things I want to get on your radar screen. We have just wrapped up the Build a Better Agency Summit in early August. It was our very first inaugural, I guess, first and inaugural is the same thing. So it was our very first or our inaugural conference. We had 250 people there, amazing speakers, but at the end of the day, here’s what I heard from the attendance. It was awesome to hang out with other agency owners and leaders.

They left inspired, they left filled up. They felt like they were not alone, that they had compadres. I love that that’s the feedback. I got an email today from somebody who said, hang on, let me read it to you because it is so awesome. She said “One of my coworkers literally said to me on the plane ride home from the summit, I’ve never been so depressed to leave a work event.” I love that, that they had such a great time that they wanted to stay. And I’ll tell you, I have to admit the time went by so fast. I would have loved another day or two just to soak everybody in and to talk to everybody more. But my point in telling you all of that is if you were with us, just a reminder that we want you to come back.

And if you weren’t with us this time, we want you to show up. And here’s how you can do that. You can go to agencymanagementinstitute.com and in the upper left corner, you’re going to see the BABA Summit. We are pre-selling tickets for next year’s event. It is May 24th and 25th in the beautiful city of Chicago. We would love to have you join us. We have a ceiling of 300 attendees. That’s all we have room for, and we are already a third sold out. So I’m recording this on August 20th. So I’m telling you, I don’t think the tickets are going to be around next spring. So if you want to join us, and by the way, you know how conferences go, just keeps getting more expensive. So grab your ticket now, join us now. I promise you, it’s going to be spectacular.

I promise you’re going to find kindred spirits. You’re going to learn some things, but you’re also going to walk away feeling like you’re ready to get back into the fray of it, that you have some more energy and some more sort of juju in your system to fight the battle another day. So we would love to have you join us. Another thing I would love to tell you about is we’ve got some killer workshops coming up. We have Money Matters December 9th and 10th in Orlando, and then we have two. And as I’ve told you before, that’s two days of us just talking about how you make more money and how you keep more of the money that you make. And then we have two great workshops that are both repeat workshops that people keep asking us to do them again.

And so we do on January 20th and 21st, also in Orlando. We have Build & Nurture Your Agency’s Sales Funnel. And what’s different about this workshop is that you actually do the work in the workshop. It’s not us just teaching you how to build a sales funnel. It’s us actually working with you to help you build the sales funnel. So you’re going to leave knowing what you need to do, who your audience is, what kind of content you’re going to produce, how often you’re going to produce it, how you are going to go after your sweet spot clients, what that even means. And how you’re going to attract them to you and how you’re going to pursue them so that you can have a great 2022. I love teaching this workshop, because it’s so practical and you leave kind of loaded for bear. You know exactly what’s going to happen the next week because it’s all mapped out.

Not only what’s going to happen, but who’s going to do it. So we would love to have you join us for that roll up your sleeves, let’s start the year off by having a sales plan, a marketing and sales plan that actually is sustainable and will serve your agency. We taught this workshop right before the pandemic hit, and I’ll tell you, the agency owners that put that into play scooted through the pandemic in a way that agencies who did not have a clear marketing and sales strategy really struggled with. So I would love to set you up for that success. Also on January 25th and 26th, backed by very popular demand is the sell with insights workshop taught by our friends at Mercer Island Group. So Robin and Steve Boehler and Lindsay O’Neill. This is, I think the third time we’ve offered this workshop it always sells out. We cap it at 50 people because it’s very hands-on. 

And I’m telling you the agencies that have gone through that workshop and have employed what they learned from Robin, Stephen Lindsay, they have landed, I think we’re over $60 million in new AGI. So that’s about 70 agencies that have landed that kind of money by putting into play what they learned at this workshops. I can brag about this workshop all day long, because I’m not teaching it. I’m like the teller commentary in the back of the room, but I’m telling you this workshop is off the charts in terms of it’s value. So we would love to have you join us. You can get to all of the workshop registrations on the agency management institute webpage under the tab that says what we do. I think, I probably need to look and make sure that that’s right.

You’re going to find workshops. No, I think, it’s under the tab, sorry. Should no matter the website, it’s under the tab, how we help and then scroll down to workshops and then tab over to the right and you’ll see Money Matters December 9th and 10th. You’ll see, Build & Nurture Your Agency Sales Funnel, January 20th and 21st. And you’ll see Selling With Insights January 25th and 26th. All three workshops are in Orlando, on Disney property at the beautiful Yacht and Beach Resort. You could literally walk right into Epcot. So it’s also the Disney World’s 50th anniversary. So there’s no reason not to join us in December and January, when most of the country is in snow, come on down to Orlando, learn and connect with people and play a little. 

All right, let me tell you about this week’s episode. So my guest is Deb Coviello and Deb is the author of a brand new book called The CEO’s Compass: Your Guide to Get Back on Track. She’s also the host of the very popular podcast called the Drop in CEO. And so Deb has really studied what it takes to be a CEO that is skilled at assessing the landscape, solving their technical business issues, but also elevating their people for real lasting impact inside the organization, which ultimately all of that adds up to. And you all know this when everything’s going according to plan and you have peace of mind, that’s a beautiful thing. 

And so what she’s going to talk to us about today is this whole idea of this CEO of compass, what is it, what is our true north? And where I really want to focus is how do we align that with growing our people and growing ourselves as leaders? So without any further ado, I want to get right to Deborah because I have lots of questions for her, and I know she has a lot to teach us. So let’s get to it. Deborah, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Deborah Coviello:

Drew, it is my pleasure. So excited to have this conversation with you.

Drew McLellan:

Me too. I love where you have invested in your career and where you’ve spent time and this idea of helping leaders be the best leaders and helping them build teams that excel in the things that they do. So I want to start talking right away about this CEO compass, tell us what that is and what it means, and then we’re going to unpack it for everybody. 

Deborah Coviello:

Oh, so such a pleasure. Thank you for asking that question. The CEO’s Compass: Your Guide to Get Back on Track. I could be basically writing my life story. I have been dropped into so many situations often chaotic or going through rapid change. Head of quality, head of operational excellence in manufacturing often brought in when the foundation was crumbling or we were at the very beginning and had to bring it to a new level of performance. So it is a compass, it is a framework. It’s not a 10 step process for the business owner or leader, but sometimes along the way, as you’re growing, you feel off track, you may be smart and great at what you do and you think you’re doing everything right, but something is pulling at you. You’re more tired, you’re more frustrated, and you’re not sure what’s going on. It’s usually because things have changed. 

So in the compass, the true north, when you don’t feel that way and you feel on track is peace of mind. And that is your true north. But what I have found is I’ve constructed and seen areas like you may not have a well-defined purpose for which people can not align to on performance. Those are two of the compass points. Sometimes if you grow really fast, you might not even have time to get to know the people. The compass point of past and pride are those things that you can pull on to maybe get back on track.

And then finally, as you grow, your processes are getting more complex. People are coming on board and maybe we don’t have time to coach and mentor them often because we don’t have time as business owners. We doubt our own capability, but in essence, there are tips in there that maybe if you focus a little bit more on the people and the process, and maybe give them the right tools or platform, you can get yourself back on track and feel and see peace of mind, versus just focusing on the numbers. How many outreaches have you done? Are you meeting your budget? Sometimes that can cloud judgment of an owner, but it is the compass that you can pull out sometimes and pick out a few chapters and get you back on track. 

Drew McLellan:

So let’s talk about true north. How do I know, how do I find, how do I discover? How do I rediscover my true north and does true north change?

Deborah Coviello:

Great question. It can change, but what’s common is when you are there, you know it and feel it, and that’s very personal for anybody. But if I can share a quick story, what peace of mind means to me from a business perspective, we’re trying to make things better, faster, cheaper. I remember a time we were making a video for training purposes to teach people the process so that we deliver a quality product to our customers. And while we were interviewing somebody to talk about the process and the right way of doing things, an employee starts inching their way into the video, to the point where we stop the video and say, “Do you want to speak and share the process and why it’s important?” And they said, “Yes, I do.”

And when that employee spoken says, “The reason why this process is important, I push this button, I turn this lever is because when I do this, right, I know, I deliver a quality product to my customer. And I don’t want to impact them in a negative way.” And I was like, “Ah, oh my, all the work that we’ve been doing up to this point, the employees get it. The people that are closest to your customer, they get it.” And then you can breathe. That sense of relief to know the work you’re doing is having an impact. And everybody is aligned on true north. That’s an example of peace of mind knowing the work you’re doing and the people that carry out the work are doing the right thing. 

Drew McLellan:

So true north isn’t really a business outcome. It is maybe a different way of looking at like as Simon Sinek’s why. What you’re describing is what I’m hearing in my head is “This is how I want people to feel when they work with us. This is what I want them to know and have confidence in when they work with us, both.” And I suspect correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect true north is the same for any of your internal audience, as it is for your external audience. You would want everyone to feel the same thing.

Deborah Coviello:

Simon Sinek’s a wonderful person. I love his story about the why and everything. But that only speaks to purpose and purpose is the northwest corner of my compass. And when you have a sense of purpose, that’s good. But if you don’t align everybody and everybody is following the right process aligned with that purpose, you’re going to be off track. Whereas true north is straight ahead. And what happens at the end of the day, it’s not what you’re doing, but it’s the customer. What the customer is saying about you. You may be a small agency or a company and not have as much market share as offers, but if they come back to you, because you made them feel special, you had their back and they know maybe you’re still growing and evolving. They come back to you, they show brand loyalty. That’s peace of mind knowing that your customer trusts you and you know that when you feel it.

Drew McLellan:

Are you saying that true north is a combination of purpose and process that then allows you to hit the target right in the bullseye every time?

Deborah Coviello:

It is, because then you know everything is aligned. People are working in the same way. They’re working efficiently, they’re working towards a common cause you’re not having to seek clarification or rework something or have misunderstanding because everybody has the same purpose, they’re acting and performing in the same way. And the impact ultimately is not, it could be your internal customers, but when the customer says, “I choose your company, because you make me feel confident, I know you’re going to provide me the right solution.” And then your employees say, “aha”. Since that act of breathing deeply and soulfully, it’s that emotional connection to what you’re trying to do. And then the business comes. That’s true north.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I think the challenge for a lot of small to midsize businesses and certainly in my world agencies, is that they probably have the why, in pretty good shape as the process part that’s challenging. Especially if you’re a small business and you’re growing quickly. I just was teaching a workshop this week and I have an agency that went from 30 employees to almost 60 employees during COVID. And so every process they had built is of course now broken, it’s sustained them at 25 or 30 people, but it won’t sustain them at 60. And even an agency, that’s have five people and basically the process is all in everybody’s head. It’s all tribal knowledge. But getting it down into something that’s codified. So everyone can follow it to your point, whether it’s a video or something else, that’s the challenge, right? 

Deborah Coviello:

You bring up a lot of good points. And that is the beauty of these agencies if they’re expanding fast, bravo to them to have something that people want and you have to bring on the resources. Having the right processes are critical. Sometimes you need to be more efficient and sometimes you need different platforms. Sometimes agencies could say, “Hey, I need the latest software to do X.” Maybe you do need that for scalability. It is important as a business owner to be thinking about the future when it comes to putting the right processes in place.

But what I will caution you though, as you grow fast, be careful not to forget what got you started and the people that were there at the beginning, because you had each other’s back, you relied on each other’s knowledge, you respected each other, you communicated often. Continue that as you grow because throwing a new process, throwing a better platform to be efficient, to accommodate will break. If you don’t maintain the common communication, your purpose. The other thing if you have that, it will just make you more efficient. And a real quick story. I worked with a small company and I went in there and said, “Okay, we need to put these processes in place. And what’s your communication process if a customer has a new requirement, what’s your platform?” And it says, “We just talk to each other every day. That’s our communication process.”

And it was a little humorous, but also the simplicity was so powerful. Maintain your core competency, remember the founders and how you started, make sure that’s solid. So even as you walk by somebody and don’t even know their name, because you grew so fast you know, they’re following your core values, your common purpose, working in the same way, and then think about automating and building those things to be more efficient and reliable. 

Drew McLellan:

So I’m hearing all the agency owners that are listening and saying, “Oh my God, I don’t have time to do this. I don’t have time to coach my people and talk every day. And I’m pulled in so many directions and I can’t even get my own work done.” Talk about that. Because that’s a real challenge for my audiences and I get it. I totally get it.

Deborah Coviello:

I think differently. And I know what that’s like being caught up in the emails and the day to day and the long hours and thinking activity is generating your outcome. But I want those people listening to think differently. If a child or a significant other had to go to the hospital, you find the time because it’s critical and important and you need to rethink about “What’s important to my business is it living in the day or do I need to set up systems and processes and develop my people? Because eventually I’m going to need supervisors. I’m going to need people to take over some of the responsibility.” If that’s not important to you, I would question why you’re in business. So I would implore you to think about “What am I here to do? Am I here to have a sustainable business, to support my customers now and in the future?”

And reprioritize, “I need to spend five hours a week, one hour a day, just doing something proactive.” Whether it’s mentoring your people, giving them feedback, or setting a strategy for the future, or perhaps bringing in external support to help you see what you can’t see. You need to do that as a leader and as the business owner, your people rely on you for that. You have to carve out the time. You have to make it a priority and look at those processes that are just not valuable. That email, that subscription, think about it. You need to be able to do the most important work.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So what do you think that looks like for most leaders? Like, is it an hour a day? Is it one day a week? What does that look like?

Deborah Coviello:

Well, I too can be scattered. And when I started my own business two and a half years ago, I was busy all the time and not making any headway. So I had to start with discipline and it’s as simple as whatever your tool is, a whiteboard Post-it notes. I set my intention for the year. What do I want to achieve by the end of the year? And then I did a roadmap. What are the three most important things I need to work on? And what do I do each month? And then I broke it down into what I need to do each week and what I needed to do each day. And every single day, I would look at that. And every day I would just take a bite and just do one thing to move forward and commit to that. And then I’d look at the week, am I behind? Did I not get those things done? Commit to it, hurry up, finish that thing to get done for the week. 

And then I look for the month. I said, “Where am I still off track?” Dedicate those couple hours and get that done. And before you know it, the month is done and you’ve moved forward, and you’ve found the time. It’s really about discipline and finding a tool that allows you to move forward versus saying, “I don’t have time.” Move forward in a minute or an hour at a time. 

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Maybe that’s part of it. That is the idea that you’re not going to get it perfect the first time, but it is incremental change over time that keeps getting better. Right?

Deborah Coviello:

It Absolutely is. I mean, I wanted to write a book as part of my business, my thought leadership that I could monetize for what I’m doing. It’s a daunting task. If I had thought about it, I never would have started, but I said, “You know what? The first step is, I don’t know how to write a book. I need a coach.” I found my coach. And then I said, “I need to set a deadline. I want to get it done by August 24th of 2021. Well, what do I need to do in the meantime?” Back off of that, “When do I need to write it? When do I need to start thinking about it? When do I need to look at all those Post-it notes?” 

I laid it out one piece at a time. And when I looked back, I said, “I got it done.” But had I start thinking about the entire elephant? Of course, you’re not going to get started. You need to look at things differently in small pieces. So that’s how I did it. You have to find your own way, but whatever it is that allows you to move one minute, one hour, closer to what you want to do. 

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And you know what? One of the ways folks do think about that is as you know, I’m a huge proponent of one-on-one meetings and many, many years ago, I think it’s episode 15. I very specifically walked you through what a one-on-one meeting can look like inside the agency. I gave you the form. So if you’re not doing that, and even if you do that every couple of weeks, depending on it. And again, you’re not doing it for everybody, you’re doing it for your direct reports, they’re doing it for their direct reports. But if you don’t do it with your direct reports, then nobody else does it consistently because what you’re communicating is clearly it doesn’t matter. And so that may be a great place to start as those one-on-one meetings are 20 minutes and they are incredibly effective and powerful. You’ll be stunned at how much you learn and how much you find out from your employee and how they come to value those meetings. So maybe that’s a place to start tough. 

Deborah Coviello:

That is such an easy way because ultimately it’s humans that take care of the work, not your technology, it’s not the emails. And I have a thought about one-on-ones, first of all, kudos to your agency owners that are doing that. They need to do that because it keeps them close to the business at hand. But I also add the additional thing is when we do these one-on-ones, there is an approach. You start with “What are the skills that people need to be successful?” So we start with what development do they need as an individual to do their job well? 

We then talk about strategic things that they’re working on, maybe special projects, and only then do we maybe end the conversation. Okay is there anything this week that you maybe need help on that I can remove a barrier when we focus on the human part of what they’re doing and you want to see them successful, it’s a better way to start out because people can check the box and say, “I do one-on-ones,” but all it is, is an update meeting on projects [crosstalk 00:23:05], get the value.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. No, in fact, our one-on-ones, you’re not allowed to talk about projects. It’s all about the things that you’re talking about, which is what’s in the way, what red flags are you seeing from clients or employees or teammates, or is that kind of conversation that we typically don’t have? Because we’re so busy, worried about the projects and getting the work done that we don’t go underneath the work to find out what’s working and what isn’t working to get the work done.

Deborah Coviello:

And that’s exactly that just for people listening right now is just, you need to pause a little bit and say, “What am I here to do?” Yes, the work is important and that’s where it all started. It started with you, but ultimately your role has to change is to provide that guidance. And unless you spend time listening and talking to your people, you’re not going to see the whole thing and how collectively the business is performing. You need to do that as a leader. And it’s an honorable role to be more of a sponsor. And it a cast director, and a choreographer than simply doing the work. 

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, no doubt. One of the things that is a lot of agencies are facing right now is with the employee shortage that everybody… We’re recording this in mid to late gust of 2021. And right now it’s tough to find employees. It’s tough to find the right team members, which makes the people that you have that are good, really critical because you can’t, not only do you not want to lose them, but it’s hard to replace them. So what are we doing right and wrong when it comes to identifying and supporting and growing our emerging leaders?

Deborah Coviello:

I love this topic. I often find that your rock stars on your teams because they’re conditioned the more they do, they think the better they’re going to perform. And ultimately it’s their demise because they get burnt out and they no longer can find their way. One of the things I find, especially at times when resources are so short, you might need to give them a new tool when I talk about this in my platform, chapter, in The CEO’s Compass, sometimes they don’t have the tools to prioritize. They feel like they have to get it all done. But it is the Eisenhower Matrix where you talk about what is most urgent and most important. Those are the do nows and that’s where they should be focusing their time. 

And then there’s a quadrant about it’s urgent, but not important for you to do. Could you delegate it to somebody else? And then if it’s something that’s important, but not urgent right now, schedule it for the future. And then if it’s neither, you have to learn to delete it. And it’s okay to delete some because probably nobody will miss it. We find these emerging leaders when they want to get it all done, they don’t have good decision logic. And that matrix is a tool you need to give the limited resources you have, the right prioritization tools and they can come to you and say, “I have this priority and that priority, which is more urgent.”

You give them a powerful tool to help come to you and you help decide what are the higher priority. So it’s one tool that these emerging leaders need to learn. And you, as a leader, need to share with them, it’s okay to not try to get everything done. 

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s so interesting because again, I was just teaching this workshop and that’s one of the things that they were… So these were high level employees, and that was one of their core struggles is they just feel burdened with this to-do list that they can never get ahead of. And you’re right. They lack, they don’t believe that it is appropriate to not get it all done. And so they’re working all night, and they’re working on the weekends as opposed to using the matrix to sort of say, “That’s a medium importance. I can do that another day or tomorrow or next week or I can delegate it to somebody else.”

Deborah Coviello:

And that’s where you as a leader, as an agency owner can even start a conversation if you get a sense of overwhelm. You can ask questions for what are the most important urgent things you’re working on? And you can also glean if there may be procrastinating. So then if it wasn’t so urgent, but then it becomes urgent. Then this is an opportunity to find out “Why was that task hard? Why did you delay, did you not have the resources? Did you not have the knowledge or understanding how to do that job?” We need to help our people not feel so overwhelmed. And when we have those one-on-ones, as you speak about, you get an idea of what they’re taking on that maybe they shouldn’t, maybe it’s an opportunity to shift resources around, maybe de prioritize some work and move them, need to be agile so that no one individual is taking on too much.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Go ahead.

Deborah Coviello:

And I go ahead and I’ve been one of those individuals. And I find that when a boss comes in and just says, “Hey, how’s it going?” That is the wrong question to ask. I talk about this in the book, better conversations are, when you have feedback or have a conversation, what should I continue? What are those things that I’m really killing it with? What are those things that I might want to start doing that if I do it, it might make what I’m doing much better? What should I be changing? Those are those things that if you don’t change it, it might detract from the work that you’re doing. I think people need to have better conversations when we ask or provide feedback. Because when you just say, “Hey, how I’m doing?” You can’t action, now you can’t do anything with that. If you’re good or bad.

It has to be more specific. What should I continue? What should I start? What should I change? And it does force the leader to think, “And what value can I give this employee?” Because I’ll tell you your high performers, if they just get you’re doing a good job that will frustrate them because they’re such high performers. They want something they can improve or do more. They want something to check off. That’s what high performers do. You as a leader need to give more constructive feedback, both positive, and what should they change?

Drew McLellan:

Debra, that’s so insightful because we don’t spend time with our high performers, right? Because they’re doing a great job. They’re rocking it. And so we invest our time and energy in the mediocre people or the people we’re trying to level up. And we’re not really grooming and growing the ones who have the most potential, because we think they know they’re doing a good job.

Deborah Coviello:

And then they no longer thrive. I write an article about the three different types of employees that you may be losing. And I talk about the spark, that’s the person that has those crazy ideas, but they just don’t know how to evolve them. The person that’s got, I mean, I could go on and on, but I think whether they’re the high performer, the mediocre or the problem, you need to have constructive conversations about “What are you doing well? What can we improve upon? What might we change? And are you in even in the right role?” Because I think everybody can be a high performer. If we have the right conversation with them.

Drew McLellan:

Okay, we’re going to take a break, but we’re going to start right there about everybody can be a high-performer when we come back. So we’ll be right back. And I’m going to continue to pull on these threads. Because this is fascinating. All right, we’ll be right back guys. I know, I know you did not want to break away from the show, but I had to tell you about this workshop. That’s coming up soon. One of my favorite workshops to teach is Money Matters. And it will be in December, on December 9th and 10th in Orlando, Florida, on beautiful Disney property. 

Here’s why I love teaching this workshop. It is all about money for two days. That’s all we talk about. And we talk about how you can make more money, how you can keep more of the money you make and how you can grow the agency’s bottom line and your own personal wealth. I love teaching this stuff. There’s not a time I have taught this workshop that somebody doesn’t walk up to me and say, “You know what, Drew? I wish I had been here 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, I could have made so much more money.” And now what I say to them is “I know, but you’re here now. So let’s put it into play.” But here’s what I’m going to say to you. Don’t wait another five years to attend this workshop. I promise you it is worth its weight in gold. And as always, we have a money back guarantee. So come join me December 9th and 10th in Orlando for Money Matters. 

All right, let’s get back to the show. All right. We are back and Deborah and I are chatting about the CEO compass. And we’re talking about how to grow high-performers, and how we show up as a leader, if we’re going to get the best of our out of our people. And she said something very provocative right before the break, which I know brought you all right back. Which was this idea that everybody can be a high performer. So Deborah, expand upon that because I think right now everybody’s thinking, “Well, I’ve got an employer too, that I’m at so sure.”

Deborah Coviello:

So case in point, here’s a story. As I was building my organization, when I was in corporate, I brought somebody onto my team, a great subject matter expert. And I said, “Oh, my, this person could be the head of this role in north America. They could be a global leader.” And they said, “No, no, he’s just good at doing this.” And I chose to think differently. And as I looked at the subject matter expert, he would come and talk about, “These are the things that we need to change in our processes.” Yes. Subject matter expert, but he didn’t know how to influence and create a powerful message. And I worked with him and I saw two things. I said, “One, when you stand up versus sitting down and giving a presentation, when you stood up, people leaned into you and they were so focused on you. Your energy was a bit different. You had everybody’s attention. Versus if you’re sitting down, you’re just giving information.”

And then I gave him the opportunity to speak at a global meeting and share their insight. And immediately people were drawn to that person. They started asking them a lot of questions. That person who was on my team at a regional level was quickly starting to be brought into global meetings as somebody that was respected and had to be at the table. Now here’s the person that people wrote off. But we, as the leader, we have to spend time to understand what their strength was? And it was a subject matter expert. And then I talked to them about how they spoke and when they stoke, the energy that they needed to project later, they were sought out leader globally. That’s what we need to do with people that we might write off as just a steady Eddie. They can be your high performance. You just, as a leader have to see their gift and take the time to evolve but that’s your role. 

Drew McLellan:

Oh, so fascinating. So you were talking earlier before the break about how we give feedback to our team. And I know that you believe that there are some things that we’re doing that you call feedback failures. Can you walk us through how we’re not giving good feedback and how we can improve upon that critical? 

Deborah Coviello:

Well, it’s a place where a leader has to muster up the courage or to ask certain questions, because if they’re a problem employee, we sometimes want to avoid them. You might just say, “Hey, how’s it going?” Or maybe skip the meeting, the one-on-one. When we, as a leader, have to take the time to see every employee potentially as a high performer. So this goes back to the point that I was saying is one, to your point, you have to have those one-on-ones. Two, when somebody said, “How am I doing?” Don’t just say, “You’re doing fine.” Or if you want to give feedback, tell them what they’re not doing well, because then it’s always a negative experience.

We need to take feedback as an opportunity for you and the employee to grow. It is an opportunity to come together, to forget about all the things that we’re doing. Because I think at the end of the day, you’re going to find people have just not been listened to. And I’ll read a really quick story. Another subject matter expert. They also were told that, you know what? They’re a problem person. And I looked at them differently. I said, “Okay, yeah, they can solve problems in the business. But oh my, they are an amazing trainer.”

They were really good. They had such knowledge. They may not get along with people. But on the other hand, if they have another skill, they could be train other people to do the processes because that’s what gives them pride. What was perhaps a poor performer, just an average person. When I started exploring and getting feedback about what they like to do and what they were doing, I realized they were in the wrong role. I moved that person into a role where they were training others on critical thinking and problem solving. The impact was exponential because now they were touching many people and getting the organization to change. And it will tell you, this person ultimately left me. He eventually left the company, became a plant manager because he felt the thrill of being able to make a difference.

And now he could go into a bigger role and have a greater impact. That person was written off as a problem person. And I questioned whether he was ever given the right feedback or given the opportunity to shine in a place where he shined. That is when people become an expense. And I think as a business owner, we make an investment to hire the right people. Sometimes we have agencies, we invest money. Why then at some point, do we stop investing in the people? Because if they do stop investing, the one-on-ones, you have to rework, you have people complaining. You have somebody coming in the office and closing the door behind them saying, “Can we talk?” That’s all wasted time. That goes to your point, we don’t have time to do the work we should be doing. Instead, we should be giving people feedback. Our core competencies should be people development.

Even though there are products and services we deliver, I propose to you giving people your feedback, developing them. They have to own it, but we have a critical role in developing the people, because then they’re going to be able to align on your purpose and perform and get you peace of mind. Feedback failures, we don’t take the time to do it. It’s going to cost you money. You’re going to lose people. You going to have to hire them and you’re not going to achieve your outcome. 

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. When you talk about this, I think some people are listening and saying, “Yeah, I can do that. I can spot someone’s talent or skill, even if it’s late and I can probably find it.” And I think there are other people who are going, “I have no idea how to do that. I’m an engineer. I have an engineer brain. I like numbers and facts and that.” If you’re not wired to see past the surface, how do you learn how to do that as a leader? If that’s my job, how do I do it? 

Deborah Coviello:

Duct tape it, duct tape it. And I mean that in all honesty, because if it’s not your core competency, a three by five index card, if we still use that with bullet points can be your crutch. Okay? I was the head of Lean, a head of operational excellence in an organization. And they changed the approach on me. And I didn’t have the subject matter expertise, but I, as the leader had to go out into my organization and look like I knew what I was talking about. I took a book out with me. I had pictures in it. I gave myself a guide to help me look like I knew what I was doing, but often the employee wouldn’t won’t know the difference.

So if a leader doesn’t know how to conduct a one-on-one or to be able to give feedback in the right way, just prep and write down the three to five questions that you want to ask and just glans at it, practice it. Because it’s going to be hard, just like networking. That’s hard, but you as a leader need to grow because your company is only going to be as good as you growing your personal skills. You have to do it, but use a crutch, use Post-it notes, use a card, write those things down that are hard, because know what? If you do it, you might actually find it was okay. And then it becomes easier and easier the next time. 

Drew McLellan:

Okay. But specifically, if I’m a problem employee or I’m a mediocre employee, what do you ask me? Or how do you see through that to know what my gift might be? I’m looking for like, ask these three questions or look for those clues? Or if that’s just not my, like, I don’t even know what to write on the index card. I mean, this doesn’t happen to be my challenge, but I’m asking you for a recipe if you will, of if you’re my boss and I’ve been a problem, I’m a thorn in your side and you would really like to skip the one-on-one stuff with me, but you’re thinking, “You know what? We’ve invested in Drew. We got to keep him around. So I got to find something. I have to find his gift.” How do you do it?

Deborah Coviello:

Oh my goodness. That is a great question. You are forcing me to be at my best right now, but you know what? We start from a place of “What went well today? Hey, what went well? What really went well for you today?” When you see their eyes light up, “Oh my God. I just had that phone call with that customer. And they really liked my idea.” You start seeing what gets them excited. Ask them questions like, “Wow. What did you really enjoy doing today? What’s the best part of your job that you really like?” And see them light up. If you start asking about what are those things that they love to do? What excites them? What do they feel really accomplished that? Take note. It is hard, but rather than starting from a place of like, “Okay, tell me about that report. Tell me about the status of that project,” but just ask them, “What would you prefer doing? What do you love to do? What do you like to do when you go home at night?”

Little things like that. You see their eyes light up. And it may not be related to work. But for instance, if they’re a heads down employee, maybe doing some artwork or doing some copy or something like that, but when you see them interact with, “Oh my God, I had a great conversation with the customer. Hey, I had a great conversation with my son’s parents or whatever like that.” You might see something like, “Oh, they’re a people person. Maybe they should be on the phone with our customers and not heads down writing code or working on a website. They are good with people.” You have to find out what lights them up. 

Drew McLellan:

Okay. That’s helpful.

Deborah Coviello:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And what about our own ability to, because we have to keep getting better too, right? 

Deborah Coviello:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So in all of this, when do we look in the mirror and apply some of this to ourselves? And how do you believe we do that?

Deborah Coviello:

This is going to the core of what I have to do, because again, I try to be a perfectionist, but you know what? I have matured and realized I can’t do it all on my own. So a few places you might want to go to a significant other and say, “Honey, deer,” or whatever, “What do you see? How do you think I’m doing?” But I will absolutely say you have to find a mentor or a coach because as good as you are, you can’t say, so I’ve hired a couple of coaches and mentors. And one of my coaches says “You’re working really, really hard Deb, but do you have to work so hard? Could you be more effective or efficient at what you’re doing?” And she totally scrambled my head. But when I finally understood what she was talking about, I actually changed how I did all of my social media copy.

And you know what? People are now seeing what I do, I’m more consistent. And they know that I’m the drop-in CEO. And I did The CEO’s Compass. You do need some tough love and hire some coaches or put yourself in organizations that will tell you what they see. They’ll validate a lot of what you’re doing. Right? But they’re going to unearth some things and you need to be able to say, “Hmm, do I see that too?”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We bring agency owners together in a plethora of things, workshops, the peer groups, we just wrapped up our very first conference, which was amazing. We got to do it in person. So I think you’re right. I think part of being around people who are like you is that they talk about what’s working for them and what’s not working, but you also, as you’re talking about what you’re doing, it’s not uncommon for them to say, “Oh, well, have you ever thought about adding this or subtracting that?”

And that’s very much the, it’s hard for you to see objectively how you are, right? It’s the old, you can’t really read the outside of a beer bottle, if you’re inside the beer bottle analogy. Where you really need somebody from the outside looking in, but to be able to say, “Well, you probably don’t see this, but here’s how that feels or how that sounds. Or have you thought about adding this on top?” So I think you’re right. I think seeking out counsel and trusted partners who, especially if they do what you do, if they understand the world that you live in. Because I think when you are in a certain industry, you do certain kind of work. Sometimes it’s pretty lonely as you and I were talking about before we hit the record button. Agency ownership can be a very lonely thing.

You feel like you have to keep all your secrets close to your vest because everybody’s your competitor and all of that. And if you can find a way to find some trusted peers who do what you do and understand the world that you live in, it’s a whole lot less lonely and you can grow exponentially because whatever they’ve already learned, they’ll tell you and teach you faster. 

Deborah Coviello:

I’d to react to that real quickly. I am also part of a mastermind. If you can get multiple gifts out of them. There’s a couple things. “Yes. Oh, you use that platform. Let me check that out. That’ll make me more efficient.” Or on the contrary side, they might say “Deb, you’ve got a gifted voice. You should be using your voice more.” You might actually, from these masterminds or forums, validate what makes you different than the other agencies. So you may gain insight in how the world sees you. So it’s something also that you can validate your business model and what you should continue to leverage and ratchet up, not just what to improve, but what to really accelerate as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s not just course correction. It’s also about when you don’t see your own gifts and somebody can help you identify how to magnify those gifts. 

Deborah Coviello:

Yeah. Now I will just say something. You and I make this sound so easy. It’s not because it goes with a lot of frustration, a lot of quiet time. And then to reflect back, I just came back from vacation and I even re-evaluated my business and said, “Oh my, I have built so much complexity. All those emails that came through while I was away were irritating.” I actually went back and started saying, “You know what? Probably about 30% of these emails did not require my time and I need to get away from them.” So time away is something a business owner should also do to look inside the bubble they’ve created and say, “What’s working, what’s not working.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So true. I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface. And of course, everyone needs to go and read The CEO’s Compass so they can get the full depth and breadth of your thinking and your teaching. But if you’re going to leave the listeners with something they can tangibly go do in the next week to help them get closer to their true north, to help them grow their team, to have them grow themselves, whatever you think is the next step for them after they’ve listened to this conversation, what would you tell them to do? 

Deborah Coviello:

I’d like them to write down three words, continue, start, and change. And you can for yourself, what do you do really well? “What should I continue? What should I start doing that will make what I do better? And what should I change? Because it’s detracting from the good work I’m doing.” It starts with you. So three words continue, start, and change. And then incorporate that into the one-on-ones with your individuals. And then finally, when you have your staff or team meetings, set aside some time, “What should we continue? Where should we start? And what should we change?” That’ll make a difference. 

Drew McLellan:

I love that. Thank you so much for your time, for sharing your expertise. I know that people are going to listen to this and go, “I can do this.” And I think that was my goal was for us to encourage and support agency owners and leaders that they can be better, but they can also help their teams be better. So I think you’ve helped us accomplish that today. Thank you.

Deborah Coviello:

All right, Drew, this has been a pleasure. I’m excited that we had this conversation for your community and wish you and your agency owners amazing success.

Drew McLellan:

So Debra, people want to learn more about your work, if they want to follow your podcast. So again, we didn’t really talk about that other than in the intro, but if they want to track the In CEO, if they want to find the book, if they want to learn more about your work, what’s the best way for them to get closer to you and your work?

Deborah Coviello:

All right. So real simple, Drop in CEO, dropinceo.com is my website. You can connect with me there. You can actually click on a link and find us live on Amazon. The CEO’s Compass has actually live on Amazon, also Apple, Spotify, et cetera. The Drop in CEO Podcast, insights and inspiration for your community. Those are the best ways. And also on LinkedIn, Deborah A. Coviello. Quite active would love to connect with your community there.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you so much for being with us. 

Deborah Coviello:

Thank you, Drew. 

Drew McLellan:

Hey guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency and you know what? As always, you know I love the guests who give us stuff to do. I am all about the homework. So Deborah gave you a great, little bit of homework at the end of our conversation. But I think there’s a lot of tidbits, whether it was the one-on-one meeting or the other things that you can take away from this. So please, I know you’re on the treadmill, or on the golf course, or walking the dog right now, but make a mental note or send yourself a text. I don’t know about you, but half my texts are to me from me. Send yourself a text to put something into action. I know all of you want to get even better, despite how good you are right now.

I know you want to keep getting better and Deborah gave you lots of opportunities. The recipe for how to ferret out if an employee that maybe you’re ready to give up on, to find where they might have a better seat on the bus, all kinds of good stuff in this interview. So put some of it into practice. I would love to hear how you’re using it. Before I let you go a couple of quick things. One to thank you for listening, you know I’m so grateful for your time. 

Also want to thank our friends at White Label IQ, the presenting sponsor of the podcast. They have a special deal for you as you know. They do white label development, design, and PPC that are rocking it for all kinds of AMI agencies. So to learn more about them, go to whitelabeliq.com/AMI, because they got a special deal for you. I will be back next week with another guest. And in the meantime, you can track me down on social media. You can send me an email at [email protected] You can tag me in something, I’m pretty easy to find. And I love talking to you. So thanks for listening and I’ll be back next week. See you then.

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s, Build a Better Agency Podcast. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com. To learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t forget to subscribe today’s [inaudible 00:50:12]. Don’t miss an episode.