Episode 308

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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 Share on X “It is important as a business owner to be thinking about the future when it comes to putting the right processes in place.” @DropinCEO Share on X “Be careful not to forget what got you started and the people that were there in the beginning.” @DropinCEO Share on X “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 Share on X “Everybody can be a high performer if you have the right conversation with them.” @DropinCEO Share on X “Our core competency should be people development.” @DropinCEO Share on X “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 Share on X

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. Tha