Episode 71:

Ryan Ayres shows his clients what they can’t see, says what no-one else will say, and helps them accomplish what they don’t experience on their own. Through deep, bold, and customized coaching and consulting, he finds what they really want and helps them use their God given talents! His mission is to serve his clients so powerfully that they have life changing insights that change the trajectory of their life.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Ryan got himself out of the day-to-day and got his team to take things off his plate that he did not need to be doing
  • Why great employees will help you when you reach the point when you’re forced to sell what your business does instead of selling what you do
  • Why — if you can’t get rid of 100% of what you’re doing — that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get rid of any of it
  • Why you need to make sure everyone understands and buys into your vision and why it benefits them
  • Ryan’s employee rating matrix
  • Why people very rarely stay or leave based on money (and why this means you don’t need to give as many raises as you think)
  • How to deal with employees who get jealous of what perks you give to other employees
  • How to have tough conversations with “C Players”
  • Why you should journal your time to make sure you’re spending your time where you need to be spending it

 

The Golden Nugget:

“It’s naïve to think that you’re the best person to do ten tasks.” – @RyanAyres53 Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

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

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for joining us today. One of the challenges that many, many agency owners face, and this may sound familiar to you. If you’re listening, is the difficulty of getting out of your own way in terms of getting out of the day-to-day work for enough of your day that you can actually spend time working on the business during the business day, as opposed to doing that at night and on the weekends, like so many of you have to do. Today’s guest is really going to speak to that, and I’m super excited to have him here with us. We’re going to pick his brain for as much as we can in the time that we have with him. Ryan Ayres owns a company called Focus 53, and that company allows Ryan to coach folks and service-oriented businesses, including agencies.

In essence, he serves as sort of an operational virtual COO. What’s interesting about Ryan is that he walks the same walk you do. He owns an agency, a web design and development shop, and serves a lot of clients, but Ryan has made the shift and stepped out of the day-to-day. He helps his clients see what they can’t see, he says what no one else will say to them, and he helps them accomplish what they don’t experience on their own, and he does all of that as the coach. He does deep, bold, and customized coaching and consulting and together, they figure out what they really want, and it helps them figure out how to really use their gifts, and to do that to grow their business, to satisfy what their family needs, and really to fulfill the kind of day and work that is in their heart. His mission is to serve his clients so powerfully that they have life changing insights that literally change the trajectory of their life, and that is a worthy goal. Ryan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Ryan Ayres:

Thanks, Drew. It’s great To be here. I hope you’re doing well.

Drew McClellan:

I am doing well. Let’s start with what I know is the burning question on everyone’s mind, is… Let’s roll back time. You’re an active agency owner. A, first of all, what gave you the insight that said, “You know what? Maybe there’s a better way to do this”? Then we’ll get into how you actually did it in a minute.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. It really came down to a vision, Drew, and not like a vision like peyote-induced vision, a vision of, “What do I want to do in three years? What I want to do in five years?” and really living that model. When you think about it, or when I thought about it, I put myself in that position, I knew I didn’t want to be in the day-to-day minutia of whatever business I was in. In this case, I was in the web design and development space. Did I really want to be managing day-to-day projects? That alone started changing my mindset of where I wanted to go and how I want to do it.

Then I started running the tasks I was doing through that filter of, “If I do this task, does this get me closer to where I want to be, which is being the owner of the business and allowing really smart people that are specialized in those tasks run it, or does this get me back into the same mode of grind it out, agency owner, in the weeds fighting the fight all day?” That’s really how it started, Drew, is just taking a step back and looking at what I want to do, how I wanted to grow, what I wanted to do with my time two, three years from now.

Drew McClellan:

I think a lot of agency owners have that same thought process, but they’re still stuck in the day-to-day. Once you sort of got clarity around, “I don’t want to be in the day-to-day anymore. I don’t want clients calling me. I don’t want to be managing a web dev project,” what did you actually do, other than… I get the first part of the process is to sort of look at how you’re spending your day and make changes, but then you actually have to make the changes. How did you start that process, and what did it look like, and how long did it take you to really get out of the day-to-day weeds?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah, I guess there’s just different levels of day-to-day weeds. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t interact day to day customers, but I know that there’s a common thread there. I think this is the same way to solve the problem. When a new engagement comes on or a new customer comes on or an opportunity comes on, although I may be involved in the business development side or the sales cycle side, I quickly bring in people as soon as possible to help with that conversation. I tell them, “Jamie’s going to be your guy. He’s going to work with you. He’s going to set up the project management. He’s going to set up all of the operational workflows we have.” I actually build in this level of accountability already, right out of the gate, opening discussions, so that they’re aware that they’re not going to have quote-unquote access to me all the time, that that’s not how we operate.

Then also, to me, it’s like, I’d be stepping on Jamie’s toes now that that I said that. I Told him this is his job and his function and his work. That comes down to two ways for me. One is when the original conversations happen, be very clear, very direct, and be responsible for that. Then second, you have to just do it. You have to be self-aware to know this is something someone else should be doing. I know personally that that is the hardest part. Oftentimes, it’s easier just to do it yourself or be involved, or you want to have that control, but that’s where you just have to let go and let the team you put in place take care of it or manage it, or else you will just get stuck in this cycle of never getting out of your business. You’ll be in the hamster wheel of operations.

Drew McClellan:

As I have these conversations with agency owners, one of the things I hear all the time is, “Pick a task. It doesn’t matter what it is,” and then in air quotes, “I’m the only one who can do this,” or “I don’t have anyone on my team who’s good at this.” In the beginning, were there elements of the work that you did that you believed you did better, different, whatever, and how did you evolve your company so that you were confident when you handed the ball to Jamie that you knew how Jamie was going to do it and that you were going to be happy with the result?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. I did say that, and you’re just lying to yourself. This is where I transition into sort of coaching mode, self-coaching myself. I would be naive to think that I am the best person to do one of 10 tasks. I’m really good at probably two of those 10 tasks. I think it really boils down to fear, and that’s fear of giving up control, fear of hiring or firing people, or confidence. I think those are the real root causes of that dialogue that happens in your head, but we just lie to ourselves and say, “Yeah, we are really the best.” How you overcome this is actually taking action and acknowledging the fact that you do need someone to help you with that, and that becomes into hiring great people.

Whether your agency has full-time employees or you use a contractor model, the process is really the same. You have to hire great people who are on board with your vision and mission and your core values and that you can work with and build a relationship with. The quick, immediate short answer is find the things that you hate and suck at and build that confidence of giving those to people that can take care of them and build from there and sort of keep plodding along. But I told myself that lie, if you will, and it’s a big, giant trap. It’s a big, giant trap we get ourselves into. It’s a dangerous one because that is literally the mechanism that keeps us stuck in the same spot forever and ever, or burning down and burning out

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I also find sometimes as I’m working with agency owners that even as they start down that path, and maybe they’re starting to delegate some things, as their comfort level shifts… One of the reasons why they do all the day-to-day stuff is because they’ve done it forever and it’s so easy for them, and they are good at it. It’s satisfying to be good at your work. As we step them away from that day-to-day client work and into actually running the business, and often that includes mentoring, having tough conversations with employees, biz dev, that kind of stuff, A, that’s unsure footing for them. That’s not comfortable. A lot of times, they’ll retreat back in into what they know because it feels safer, and B, they have so much more confidence. It really does take some courage to step out into actually running your business because it’s not probably how you spent your whole career, and it’s new skills that you need to develop and new muscles that you need to work. Right?

Ryan Ayres:

That’s right. This really highlights how and why I moved to Focus 53, the more the coaching and consulting model, is I see this with every type of business and really, especially with service-based businesses. Whether it’s a fly-fishing customer that I have or an HVAC customer or an electrician or a golf coach, they all have this thing they think that they can do it better, and sometimes for the very specific craft or skill, they can. But then when you ask them, “Hey, what do you want to be doing in a couple years?” most all of them say, “I don’t want to just have a job doing this. I want it to be a business.” When you go from having a job to building a business, you have to take these types of steps. There’s no argument that these are the types of things you need to do.

That’s why I started Focus 53, frankly, is because I know it’s hard, I know a lot of people can’t do it on their own, and someone needs to help guide them, give them the confidence, be a crutch, their support to say, “Hey, this person, you got to let go,” or, “This task, you got to let go.” A quick story about that, I work with a guy that makes motorcycle sunglasses, and they’re a great product. He’s an awesome salesperson, a wonderful product development person. I called him up one day. I’m like, “Hey man, what’s going on? What are you up to?” He’s like, “My fingers are killing me.” I’m like, “Really? What happened? You hurt yourself? He’s like, “No, I’ve been assembling my sunglasses for the last four days straight.”

Drew McClellan:

Wow.

Ryan Ayres:

I’m like, “Dude, that’s something you could pay someone eight bucks an hour to do. That’s 32 hours of putting together sunglasses. Why are you doing that?” People just get stuck in this loop of taking care of the small things. That clearly is something someone else could have done, but he was still doing it. I suggest and believe that there are a lot of opportunities, me included, where we’re doing things we shouldn’t, and having someone tell you, “Hey man, I don’t think necessarily that that’s what you should be doing,” is a healthy conversation to have.

Drew McClellan:

Well, I also think one of the reasons why especially… That’s a great example of, “I didn’t want to ask someone else to do it because it’s this tiny, little task,” or, “I didn’t ask my high-level person… I don’t want to ask them to do this menial task, so I’m going to do it,” as opposed to understanding that your team is there for a reason. They’re there to support you. Just because it’s not a sexy task doesn’t mean that they can’t and shouldn’t do it.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. Those are easy arguments to… their time is less valuable than yours. Right?

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Ryan Ayres:

It’s a really simple, logical thing. If you can get into logic on those, it’s really simple. Their time is less valuable than yours, and they may not like it for a second, but to me, that’s where you got to start looking at people and process to put around those types of tasks.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I think that’s a spot where many agency owners air on the, “I want to be well-liked,” as opposed to, “I want to run my business well.” It’s not that everybody doesn’t want to be liked and respected as a business owner. We do, and we should. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be the one who’s always emptying the waste baskets because we don’t don’t want to ask anyone else to do it

Ryan Ayres:

Agree. I think it’s a core personality type. Some people just like to be liked, and they don’t like conflict. They view these types of action as a form of conflict. They would just rather be liked and be a good boss than to do these things. That’s not to be said that a boss that does ask those is a bad boss or someone that the employee doesn’t like. We just get tied in our head about what you believe the other person will think about you. We will hold it in. I am very much, Drew, this person. I was very much an avoid-conflict, people person, “I want my employees to love me,” and I was the one doing these things. I had to learn the hard way from it, and the hard way was being stuck in the day-to-day minutia all the time when that wasn’t in alignment with my vision and goal.

Drew McClellan:

Given that you’re wired that way, how did you get over that? How did you get past that so that you could more appropriately assign tasks off your plate and onto other people’s plates, even if they were menial or not glamorous or tedious or fill in the blank, but they weren’t something anybody was going to go, “I’m psyched to do this”? How’d you get over that hump?

Ryan Ayres:

It was hard. I’d struggle with it every day. The way that I felt best-equipped to handle these types of things was really distilling down the best use of my time and just being organized on the things I’m working on, so having my top things for the day I need to work on, and they aren’t assembling sunglasses or whatever that parallel is in the agency world. It isn’t updating someone’s WordPress site. That’s not what my vision is for what I want to do. Being really true and honest to myself, the things that I needed to get done today aren’t those items. I played a little college football, so I’m a big accountability guy once the coach says what to do type thing. Once I create that list of my top three or four things to do for the day, I made sure that it wasn’t anything that had to do with doing day-to-day stuff.

Then the next question is, “Well, what happened to it?” Well, to be honest with you, some of it just didn’t get done, and it actually was okay. Nothing got hurt at all. Then the second part of that is assigning it to people that already worked for me and were already doing work, and they were totally fine with it. The little, menial tasks that you do typically aren’t rocket science. Anyone could do it. You just have to train them and show them how and spend a couple minutes, and it’s off your plate. That was really how I did it, Drew, was really establishing a clear and decisive tasks or to-do list for myself for the week and the day, ensuring that those weren’t the things that were on there, and the things that did seem that they shouldn’t be on there that still needed to be done, having one of my people do it for me.

Drew McClellan:

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. For a lot of owners, there’s something in their business, like the strategic planning or something that is a higher-level skill, that they believe they’re the only one that can do it, and as of today, that may be the case. But to your point, if they don’t teach someone else how to do it, they’re always going to be the one doing it. Were there tasks inside your web-dev shop that really were sort of higher-level tasks that you had to transfer knowledge to someone else? If so, how did you do that?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. For me, that’s still along the selling and biz-dev side of the house. I’m a big believer that people like to do business with people. When I’m in the room, working with executives and pitching or talking to them about their technology or web development needs, they’re really buying into Ryan Ayres the person first and or most because I’m the one communicating the message. I’m just the vessel for which I try to communicate our experience, our product and service, our people. I still struggle with this, to be very honest with you, Drew, is, “How do I put someone in that place that is me?” That’s creepy a little bit, for starters.

Drew McClellan:

Right, like a little mini-me.

Ryan Ayres:

Exactly. “How do I get a mini-me, and how are they going to be exactly the same as me? What if they don’t do as good a job?” Again, these are just sort of lies that we tell ourselves, and the reality is they aren’t you, but your goal is to find a better version of you, someone that’s better at it and different at it and unique at it and making sure that that person represents your organization’s core values, your vision, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Then there’s just training. You have to bring that person along and grow them up.

But for me, I struggled with business development and sales because I knew that people were hiring me because of me, which was great. I was very successful in that mold, but I couldn’t be on every sales call, and I couldn’t be at every business development meeting. That’s a tough thing to get over because you are literally, at that point, replacing you, not the task, and that’s very different, but it’s a struggle. The best way to do it is to get great employees with you in your organization to help with that and train them.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. I think it’s a couple other things too, I find, at least in my work with agency owners. One is that it’s work that they love to do. Not only do they believe they’re the best at it, but they kind of don’t want to let it go. Right?

Ryan Ayres:

Yep.

Drew McClellan:

It’s the fun part of the work. Let’s face it. I think a lot of agency owners, and I talk about this all the time, are accidental agency owners. They didn’t really intend to own a business. In some cases, they did. It was very intentional. But for many of them, they went out on their own, they got a little busy, they had to hire a person or two, and now they’re running a shop of 12 people and going, “Holy crap, I’m running a business.” Right?

Ryan Ayres:

That’s right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. What they love is the design or the writing or the working with clients or the strategy part of it, and it’s hard to let go of that and do accounting or whatever else out there requires their attention.

Ryan Ayres:

Totally. My model at the Focus 53 in helping an agency or other businesses is to really let a business owner… The very first step is to let this business owner do [inaudible 00:19:32] inside of their zone of genius, to let them harness their given talents, and maybe it is business development. Maybe they’re okay with that and they need someone like me or people I would bring in to do the accounting, maybe to do their marketing, to do their bookkeeping, customer service, all these other things that you need around a successful business. They don’t hire the person to replace them in this place that they love. They can work in the place that they love. You can still build a pretty kick-butt business that way. If that’s part of their vision, that’s what I’m there to help them with.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Yeah. We are doing the same thing. We’re helping them identify, “Where’s my sweet spot? How do I spend my time?” I think there are some things that agency owners have to do. I think there’s mentorship of your key leaders and some other things that the agency owner has to have their mitts in, but I think there’s a lot of things where, for example, “You know what? If you’re just really lousy at math, we can figure out some dashboards for you to look at so you’re never blind about your business, but it doesn’t mean you plug everything into the Excel spreadsheet yourself.”

Ryan Ayres:

That’s right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Ryan Ayres:

Another big one’s project management, right?

Drew McClellan:

They’re horrible at it.

Ryan Ayres:

Horrible at it.

Drew McClellan:

Horrible. Yeah.

Ryan Ayres:

It’s not their personality. It’s the one thing that’s a drain-your-life-out-of-you exercise for people that aren’t project managers. That’s another big one that you just really have to look at.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, absolutely. As you transitioned out of the day-to-day to your business enough that you could focus, no pun intended, on Focus 53, how did you handle that transition with your employees? Did they ask questions about it? Did they feel like you were, again, air quotes, kind of abandoning the business? Did you have conversations with them so they understood what your vision was and that everything was going to be just fine?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. Drew, totally. Very transparent about the vision of what I wanted to do, what the organization needed to do, and where it is going. By the time I was ready to transition off, it wasn’t a line in the sand, all of a sudden, I’m gone type thing. It was a slow progress that… It was really the next logical step and evolution of how I spend my time. The team really runs things basically from start to finish now. I may do some sales things. I may have some legacy customers that I still interact with or I have a great relationship… I’ve worked with the same people for 12 years, right?

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Ryan Ayres:

Their first website for their multimillion dollar business was with me, and I’ve been with them ever since, so I still have great relationships with me. Their friends, basically. They are people that I spend time with outside of, quote, unquote, work. Aside from those people, I handed it off, and it just became the next logical step. It’s not the last step in transitioning from being an operator in your business to being the owner in the business. It’s the first few steps to getting the momentum of building it so that it just becomes a natural progression as your A players take over more work and as you grow your team in alignment with your core values and your vision and mission. That part was actually quite easy. It’s the startup of that process, it’s the getting that movement and that action in place that was hard, not the actual day that I said, “All right, you guys got it. Call me if you need anything.”

Drew McClellan:

Right. You make such a great point that it… I think a lot of agency owners approach this as it’s an all or none, like, “I can never talk to clients,” or, “I can never do this.” Really, it’s about kind of thinning down. Of course, you’re always going to still be involved in some aspect of the business. Of course, to your point, there may be a legacy client or two that is so firmly wrapped around your leg that they’re not going anywhere, but getting rid of 85% of what you shouldn’t be doing is the goal, not just staying stuck in place.

Ryan Ayres:

Totally. A lot of us, and I’m this guy totally as well… It’s sort of an all or nothing mentality. “If I can’t get rid all of them, I might as well just keep doing it.” That is just…

Drew McClellan:

It’s a trap.

Ryan Ayres:

… such a trap, yeah…

Drew McClellan:

Yeah.

Ryan Ayres:

… like you said. If you got rid of 85% of them, do you know how much time you just freed up? You freed up a ton of time to do some really cool stuff, to do things you love, and not manage projects. Yeah, totally.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right. I think agency owners are often surprised. One of the conversations I will have with an agency owner is, “Look, if you want your team to help you get somewhere, you have to show them the map. They have to know where they’re going. They have to know why they’re going there. Then in most cases, they will gladly hop in the car with you and go, but you can’t expect them to hone their skills, to take on new responsibilities, to understand why you’re not coming in until 10:00 because you’re staying home to get your three priorities done before you walk in the door because once you walk in the door, the day is no longer yours. Whatever it is, they can’t understand that and they can’t embrace it and they can’t support it if you haven’t told them about it.”

Ryan Ayres:

Totally. To me, that’s a part of the vision. Do all your employees know your vision for your organization for the next three years? If they understand that, you can have these conversations. My vision is to get less and less in the day-to-day operation, to grow this organization, and to put key people in place to help us have an awesome, kick-butt, thriving agency. When your people understand that, when you hand something off to them, and you explain that this is part of the vision and what you’re executing against, it’s very different than, I’m doing air quotes here audio-wise, pawning off work onto them and making them resentful, like, “Man, why is Ryan giving me this work? That’s ridiculous.” If that’s attached to what the vision is that everyone’s bought into and everyone’s moving towards, it becomes a team-orientated solution versus, “Hey, Ryan’s just pawning off work so he can go play golf.”

Drew McClellan:

Or, “He’s not showing up until 10:00,” or, “Boy, he’s checking out early.” I also think part of this is helping them understand what’s in it for them, so, “Here’s how we’re going to build this business together. Here’s who are going to be my lieutenants in that. Here’s how this benefits all of us. It’s going to be bigger. We’re going to be more profitable. I’m going to share those profits,” whatever the story is, helping them see why they too want to get there so that it’s really a shared goal and vision,

Ryan Ayres:

No doubt. I use an employee-rating system, and those people that are my A players, I want to handcuff them, and not like corporate America, a golden handcuff, where you make enough salary that you can’t leave and find another job, not that type of handcuffing. I want them to be part of the conversation. What do they value? What do they love that I can help provide them, whether that’s vacation days, work flexibility, salary, stock options, bonuses, time off with their kids, split schedule, whatever that looks like, a handcuff? That’s how I facilitate that with those A players that that I want to keep around. That’s really important that those are the people that are on board with you. They are what build and drive the results of your business and carry the core values forward.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, absolutely. Talk to us a little bit about how that conversation goes, because it sounds like, based on what you said, that rather than saying, “I’m just going to overpay everybody,” which is certainly a strategy… But especially for agencies, we’re never going to overpay the way corporations overpay. Even our version of overpaying can be trumped by somebody else’s version of overpaying, but it sounds like you have a very unique and personalized conversation with people to sort of figure out what their handcuffs are. Talk to us about how that conversation goes.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. Drew, the first part of that is really identifying… and I hate to use the word, but it’s really true, rating your employees and putting them into buckets. I use a matrix for this, and I literally have it on my website, where one side is results and the other side is core values. I want people in my organization that have high core values that align with mine and that drive results. The higher those are, those are the people I want to handcuff because they’re the people taking my business where it needs to go. I may have people that are not getting great results but have great core values, and those are the people I want to train. I want to get them either into a new role or execute on that. Then everyone else who either has low core values and high results or low core values and low results, they got to go, man. It’s that simple, and you have to think about it in that way.

How that conversation works, I’ve identified the people that I want to put handcuffs on, is really sit down with them and be totally candid with them. “Hey Jamie, you’re a big part of my organization. You know I love you. You know I want to keep you here. What does the next three years look for you? How can I help you get there? What do you value?” By then, I know Jamie has a family, and he enjoys his time off, and he coaches his kids’ soccer games. Talk to him about those things that really drive and mean a lot to him. I think you hit on it, Drew. Oftentimes, the very first thing that comes in our head is like, “Let’s pay a more.”

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Ryan Ayres:

I would say probably 90% of the people in my organization or the people I’ve worked with and dealt with… I consult with places like Microsoft and Dell and Sports Illustrated and some really big organizations. Money is not the reason they stay.

Drew McClellan:

Nope.

Ryan Ayres:

Money oftentimes isn’t the reason they leave. Paying someone more money, you’re just giving away free money. You could’ve given that person an extra day off. You could’ve allowed them to work at night. You could’ve allowed them to work at home in their underwear. Whatever that looks like for that person is what you want to do, and it’s a very individual, specialized conversation with people that they want to value.

Drew McClellan:

All right. Let’s say that Jamie wants to work on Thursdays at home in his underwear, so you make that change for Jamie, and then Mary comes up to you and goes, “Hey Ryan, what is the deal? Are we all getting to work from home in our underwear on Thursday days?” How do you handle that conversation?

Ryan Ayres:

Well, I would first want to know if she is in the handcuff quadrant, right?

Drew McClellan:

Well, let’s assume that she’s sort of in the mushy middle. She gets pretty good results, and she’s pretty good on the values, but maybe she’s not as senior or maybe she’s not as valuable to you, because one of the challenges for agency owners, and I’m sure you see this with your clients too, is this mentality that fair means equal, and we need to be fair with all of our employees, but that does not mean, in my opinion, that we have to treat them all equally. In fact, I think it’s stupid to treat everyone equally because Jamie very well may want to work at home in his underwear on Thursdays, and Mary, who’s a social butterfly, would hate to do that. Right?

Ryan Ayres:

Agree.

Drew McClellan:

How do you handle that though when an employee is asking you to treat everyone the same or wondering why everyone is not treated the same? What does that conversation look like for you?

Ryan Ayres:

I think you hit on it. Treating everyone the same and unique is hard and difficult at the same time. I want to first address the mushy middle. I try not to have mushy middles. I know that’s an easy thing for me to say. I know certainly that, as an agency owner, that’s not this easy thing for me to say, but that’s just a candid conversation with Mary about where she’s at in my organization and what she needs to do and why and how we’re doing things with Jamie like that. My very direct question [inaudible 00:31:29] her be, “Would that make you happy? Would that keep you here for three years? Would that be the thing that you want?” She would probably go, “No. Actually, I would rather be at the office all day, but what I would love is on every other Friday to get off at three because I go play bunko with my friends.”

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Ryan Ayres:

Done. Right? That’s the conversation that I think happens. Drew, all this stuff to me really boils down to clear values, clear goal and mission for your organization, and just being a very transparent and honest person. If everyone’s stacking hands to that, if they can’t appreciate why one person has one thing off and another person has a different handcuff, if you will, then they’re probably not a good fit anyways. These will be the same people that will complain and bellyache and be more toxic in your environment, AKA, they’ll be on the weaker side of your core values. Those are probably the people you don’t necessarily want to grow with. That’s how I would handle it and how I do handle it.

I am not naive to know that that is a very optimistic view, and there are lots of people that sit in that mushy middle that you have to have to run your business, but they’re not maybe the best person. You don’t really want to accommodate their requests. You just want them to do their job and leave you alone. I get that there’s a lot of those people. But if you really want to grow, you really want to attain your vision, you have to start having some lines in the sands and frank conversations with these types of people to establish a path forward.

Drew McClellan:

Do your employees know that you have this matrix and that you’re grading them?

Ryan Ayres:

They do. I don’t know if they understand fully how it works, but also the people that I have with me now, the value I have at my organization is that I have really great employees. We’re lean and mean. We have 10 total people, and we rock. It’s been getting through this process of hiring, firing, getting the right people on the team to do that. Basically, anyone that’s on the team now, they have the same values as us. That in and of itself is…

Drew McClellan:

Huge.

Ryan Ayres:

… the key element to get us where we are now to where we’re going. They are aware of it, but they also know that it… To them, it’s just really a high line of standard for doing great work. If anyone’s below it, they feel great because they don’t want to work with teammates that aren’t at their same level. They’re aware of it. They probably don’t understand the breakdown of how I go through it and what it means, but they know that they work with A players and they get to work with A players. If someone that comes on isn’t an A player, quote, unquote, however you find that, then we gracefully talk to them about it, either train them or find a way for them to find something that they can be great at.

Drew McClellan:

I’m curious, and this is probably why I was probably never a great employee, but if I knew you were grading me, I would’ve asked about the grading system and to see it, because I would’ve wanted to get a good grade. Right?

Ryan Ayres:

Yep. Totally. It’s really simple, and it’s the same thing I would say, “We grade on your core values and how you express them inside of the organization, and with our customers and your results. If you kick butt on those two things, then you have a place here in our organization.” That’s not profound. “If you do really good and you’re a great person, we’re going to keep you.” That’s basically what I’m saying. I think where that falls down for agency owners and really any business owner is, “Does that person know what they need to do to be successful for their job? What does good results look like for their job?”

That’s the thing that you’re asking about, Drew, is like, “What am I being measured against?” For a salesperson, it’s sales. For a project manager, it’s managing your project correctly. For a designer, it’s, “How many revisions do we have to go through? What’s your customer service? What’s the quality of work you’re outputting? If they’re not aware of what they’re being measured against or what they’re being graded against, then you’re really doing them a disservice and yourself because you’re not allowing them to flourish at the thing that they’re being measured at.

Drew McClellan:

Well, I also think part of that is most owners struggle with having candid conversations with employees about performance, especially if they’re in the mushy middle. It’s easy when somebody’s completely dropping the ball, although I will say a lot of agency owners are a little passive aggressive of about that too. But it is easy when somebody is a D player to have a conversation with them. I think it’s harder for agency owners to have conversations with the B-minus, C-plus players. Were you good at that naturally? If not, how did you get good at it?

Ryan Ayres:

I was okay at it, but I also let that fester into some problems. This is sort of why I went down this path of, “I want A players or no players.” From a story standpoint, I had a really great project with the organization, and I had a B and C player working on it. It just started to fester, the whole project, the relationship, everything, and it really hurt me. It turned into we spent a lot more time and money on making it right. It really, it scarred me. I had to take a step back and think, “Geez, what am I doing? Ryan, how did this happen, and why did this happen?” If it stings hard enough, which it did, from a cost and me doing it right and spending the time… We probably spent three times as much as we made just to make it right because that’s the business owner I am is I want to make it right.

Drew McClellan:

Absolutely.

Ryan Ayres:

That stung so bad, Drew, that I had to make changes in my organization to ensure that never happened again, or at least the best of my control. As I worked through it, I was like, “Why did this happen?” Well, we didn’t deliver. “Well, why didn’t we deliver? These people aren’t delivering.” These people really weren’t the thing, and I had to take ownership in that. I didn’t give one of the guys the tools to deliver. I didn’t give him the guidance, the training, the instruction. I just basically threw him to the wolves, a big learning curve for me. The other person was a seasoned veteran at the organization. They were just that person that I should have fired. After that, I just would think in my head, “Is there anyone on my team right now that I know I should fire because they’re doing poorly in their job, they are upsetting customers, they’re not representing our brand, AKA, our values?” If I would raise my hand to any of those things, I have to take action. You just have to do it. That’s the hardest part.

Drew McClellan:

I think it’s particularly difficult when it’s somebody who’s been with you a long time, and at one point in time, they were really valuable, but either their skills didn’t evolve or they just lost their passion or whatever it is, but they’ve been loyal to you. They’ve been a great member of the team. I think those conversations are super tough to have.

Ryan Ayres:

They are so hard. I’m a people person. The people that work for me, good, bad, or indifferent, I’m a relationship person. I know they have families, and I know everything about them. They’re so hard. I think the way you do that is with an open, loving, candid heart on any of these conversations. If they’ve been given the opportunity to understand where the organization is going, and you’ve had a number of conversations about the Delta between where they’re at and where they need to be, that makes it easier, but it doesn’t make it easy. That’s hard. It really is hard for people. That said, I’ve also had people in larger organizations that have wanted to be fired and let go, and they’re more scarred staying there because they’re not happy either.

Drew McClellan:

Right. Well, and either you can do that or… One of the exercises I make agency owners do is if they’re going to keep that lame-duck employee, I make them figure out what kind of money they’re taking out of their pocket, because typically that person’s higher on the payroll because they’ve been around for a long time, and you might be able to hire a younger, faster, better, more skilled, more passionate person for, let’s say, two thirds of their salary. I make them write down and put somewhere on their desk that every week, every month they’re taking $2,000 out of their kids’ college fund to keep So-and-So on the payroll, and “Is that really the choice you want to make?” I also make them write down what they think their employees think about the fact that that person is able to phone it in…

Ryan Ayres:

Totally.

Drew McClellan:

… and not bring the value. What does that say about you as a leader? At the end of the day, this is where the rubber meets the road. If you want to own a business and you want to be a leader of a business, this is the part of the job that sucks, and you still have to do it.

Ryan Ayres:

No doubt. It’s it. It’s as simple as that. “Do you want to be a business owner and leader, or do you want to be a team, a one-man shop, or in the business and have a bunch of friends?

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Right.

Ryan Ayres:

You bring up a really good point of, “What do your A players think about that? They’re lowering the bar of quality and standard in your organization? I was at a conference two weeks ago in Austin, and one of the presenters brought up a stat, and I don’t know I how accurate it is, but I think it’s profound, that a bad employee can cost you up to 15 times their salary, whether it’s lowering the efforts of the good players, whether it’s just not producing, the Delta between a good player and a great player, and the time you spend managing them. All these things in aggregate… 15 times seems quite bold, but even if it’s three times their salary, that’s a significant dollar amount to your strategy of saying, “2,000 bucks a month is going to this person’s…”

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Ryan Ayres:

Right? That’s a big deal.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Well, and I think it’s one of those things that as you keep them longer, the problem… It’s like a spider web. It just spreads through your organization and has a huge impact. I think the hardest part about running a business is the people side of the business, because we do care about them. Typically, even if you’re running a 150-person shop, these are people you know, these are people you care about, and it’s difficult to make decisions that impact their life, even though they’re the right decision for your business. But there is a way to do it with heart and with compassion that allows everybody to have their best opportunity move forward, even if that opportunity isn’t with you anymore.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. That’s right. With heart and compassion is definitely the way to do it. They are people. They are humans. They are fathers. They are mothers. They are people we should take care of. It’s 100% true.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and one of one of the conversations I have with a lot of agency owners is, “Quite honestly, if you have an employee that’s a C player below that’s been with you for more than six months and you haven’t had the conversation with them, you are doing them a disservice, and you owe them something. This is your failure, not theirs,”…

Ryan Ayres:

Agree.

Drew McClellan:

… because either you have to elevate them up to a B plus or better, and ideally in your role… You’re right. Ideally, you’d like to all A players, but that’s probably not realistic. But you can get darn close, right? Or you need to let them go and let them find a place where they can be an A player.

Ryan Ayres:

That’s right. I think if you have an honest conversation, people don’t want to be the C player inside of a place. If you said, “Hey, right now you’re just that person…” We could probably spend a whole hour talking about just the hiring process in and of itself, right?

Drew McClellan:

Right. Gotcha. Sure.

Ryan Ayres:

All too often, it’s like, “Hey, do you know PHP?” or, “Hey, do you know WordPress?” for my specific business. “Yeah. Hell yeah. Here you go. Here’s the project.” That is just not the way to go. That’s what gets you in this position in the first place. Changing your hiring practices is a big part of avoiding that in the long run.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, no doubt. Okay. I want to ask you one quick question, and then we’re going to wrap up because I want to be respectful of your time. When you’re working with business owners and you are trying to help them step out of the day-to-day role, operator role into really being the business owner and the visionary and helping take the company where they want to take it and, as you say, really spending their time doing the thing that they are gifted to do, and they start to slide back, what do you do as a coach? How do you help them recognize that they’re sliding back and stop the slide so that they can keep going up the mountain like they want to?

Ryan Ayres:

Drew, to me that is an awareness, “How are you spending your time?” and so not only with the people I work with… We’re not only just sort of working on things. We’re working towards something. If you’re working towards something, the things you do during the day, those actions are working towards it. I use the Freedom Journal, as a good example of that, working towards a goal or something specific. If they’re not getting their items done in their Freedom Journal that are not making progress toward those goals, that tells me they’re spending time doing other things. We’ll really just sit and say, “Hey, a little pop quiz. In the last seven days, what’d you spend your time on? Let’s take a peek at your calendar. Print out your calendar and let’s go through the things you spent your time on,” and just really doing an audit. Most of the guys or gals that I work with that are really forward-looking… This will be in their dialogue with me. “I got stuck in this trap of helping client So-and-So.”

To me, it’s really auditing their time and comparing that to the mission and focus and the project or the goal we’re marching towards. The people I work with, Drew, are people that I don’t have to have this massive accountability conversation with. They’re the people that already want to change. They want to grow. They know that they want to change their vision. This isn’t a tough conversation, typically. They’re already very self-aware. They know that spent time on things they shouldn’t. We just talk about how to adjust and maybe develop a couple specific strategies for specific things. “Hey, when this client calls next time, let them know they need to talk to Jamie, that Jamie’s their main point of person, and that you’ll be happy to send it to him, and let you know if there’s any issues when they’d reach out to Jamie,” or something to that effect, a specific strategy for the specific problem.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, almost a script. Yeah. Yeah.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. Exactly.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. All right. This has been awesome. This has been a great conversation, as I knew it would be. Ryan, if people are listening and they’re saying, “I got to get out of the rut. I got to get out of the day-to-day,” what exercise or book or tool might you recommend to them to get really clear about their vision so they know where they’re headed? Because it sounds like, from your perspective, that’s a critical first step.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. For me, I believe a lot in a gentleman called Cameron Herold. He writes a book called Double Double. It’s an older business operations book.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. It’s an awesome book. Yep.

Ryan Ayres:

Yep. He has a Vivid Vision that he uses, and I’m just actually moving what I’ve had for my vision of my organization into this framework, if you will. I would highly recommend people check out what a Vivid Vision is, and you can just Google or search it, and to really establish the vision for your organization. The next thing is to get the people on your team that can help support that vision with the core values and results, so getting your employees rated, and I just even hate saying that because I think that’s sort of slimy sounding, but it really needs to happen.

Maybe it’s an assessment of where your organization stands and, “Do you have the right people on board to help you get there?” versus a rating, but it really is a rating, and making sure that you’re handcuffing or training the right people and firing the wrong people. Those are the things I would focus on intently, and then how you spend your time. What are you spending your time on? Double Double and some of those tactics, I think you would get on the right way. If you don’t have people around you to help, find a mastermind group, find a coach, find Drew, listen to this podcast, do those types of things to get you so that you are doing what you really want to do, and if really what you want to do is being a business owner, not being in the business, these are the types of things you have to do.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Amen. I couldn’t agree more. We will put a link to Cameron Herold’s Vivid Vision in the show notes, everybody. We’ll find an example. I know it’s online somewhere. I’ve seen it. The book is a fabulous read. You should all read it anyway, but we’ll put a link to that. Ryan, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for being so transparent, for sharing your time and your expertise. I know that people, unless they’ve been driving, hopefully have been frantically taking notes, and hopefully you’ve inspired them to step out of their day to day and be true to their true talent. Thank you very much for your time.

Ryan Ayres:

Thanks for having me drew. It’s been a blast.

Drew McClellan:

You bet. Hey, if people want to learn more about you, Ryan, your business, follow your… I know you write a blog. I know you’ve got a podcast. What is the best way for them to track you down?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. The best place is my website, focus53.com, and then as well, I have a podcast, Focus 53. I really dial in on people and processes, as if you couldn’t tell. That’s part of the conversation here. That’s really what what I focus on in the podcast. Those are the two best places to catch me.

Drew McClellan:

Awesome. Thanks again so much.

Ryan Ayres:

Thanks, Drew.

Drew McClellan:

Hey everybody, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. I hope it was super helpful. I know it was for me [inaudible 00:49:56]. I took some notes, and I’m going to make some tweaks in how I do my things day-to-day. Hopefully you did the same. I will be back next week with another great guest who is going to help you think differently and build your business to serve you and your clients and your team and your family in the ways that you wanted to do that. In the meantime, a couple things, one, if you’re enjoying the podcast, or maybe you just stumbled upon us, please make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

As you know, they come out every week, and I don’t want you to miss one because all of my guests are awesome, like Ryan. I don’t want you to miss any of their wisdom. Also, always grateful for ratings and reviews. That’s how we get found by other folks. If you want to go over to iTunes or Stitcher or Google and give us a rating and review, I would be most grateful for that. If I can help you in any way, you know my email is [email protected] I will watch for that as well. Otherwise, I’ll see you next week for the next episode of Build a Better Agency. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book, and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life as possible here on Build a Better Agency.