Episode 15

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Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. For the past 21 years, he has also owned and operated his own agency. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an active agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year, give him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — he has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”


What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How you are preventing your employees from becoming the employees you want them to be
  • Why every employee needs weekly one-on-one meetings with their direct supervisor
  • How to get your employees to run these meetings
  • The form that needs to be filled out before one of these meetings takes place
  • How these meetings can help you celebrate the wins you might not know about if you didn’t have these meetings




The Golden Nugget:

“One of the big things getting in the way of your employees is you.” – @DrewMcLellan Share on X

Click to tweet: Drew McLellan shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!


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We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

Speaker 1: If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institutes’ Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by HubSpot. We’ll 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 experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.


Drew McLellan: Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. This is Drew McLellan, glad to be with you again today. Today is a solo cast, so unlike our normal episodes, won’t be a guest with me today. Just going to be you and me. And we’re going to be talking about a topic that some of you have emailed me about. It’s also come up in several of the recent AMI network meetings, and as I’ve been traversing the country speaking at conferences and that sort of thing also come up there. So I wanted to make sure we spend some time on it.


If we have talked at all before, or you’re familiar at all with AMI and myself, you know that one of the things that I am a big proponent of is the idea that your employees are really hungry to learn from you. And this is something that agency owners are constantly telling me, I hear all the time. I wish my employees behave like owners. I wish they were more strategic. I wish they, I wish they, I wish they. And I hate to tell you, but one of the big things that’s getting in the way of them becoming the employees that you wish they were is you. And it’s not that you’re not a good mentor. It’s not that you’re not a good teacher, it’s that you don’t make the time to be a good mentor and a good teacher on a regular and consistent basis that they can count on. And there’s a really simple solution to that. And I just want to dive into that today and tell you a little bit about it. I’m also going to make sure that in the show notes, there are samples of what I’m talking about. So you can download those and then modify them to your heart’s content for your tool.


So at AMI, one of the things we teach in our AE boot camps, so we’re teaching it to your employees quite honestly, and one of the things that we teach in the owner’s workshops is the idea of creating one-on-one meetings with direct reports. And let me just explain to you how that plays out. So everyone in your agency, you should report to someone. If you’re a small shop everybody may report to you or you may have a layer of management between you and your least experienced employees, however that works. Everyone’s got someone that they are a direct report to. Every employee should meet with their supervisor once a week, those meetings are no more than 20 minutes long, so in and out. And here’s why it’s important to do it every week and I can hear you groaning now, but the consistency is critical. And if you want to keep them sort of short and sweet, doing them more often will prevent the two hour meeting that sometimes you experienced when you have not spent a lot of time with an employee. So get it on your calendar, book it, commit to it.


But here’s what’s interesting about these one-on-one meetings. The one-on-one meetings are actually owned by the employee, not the supervisor. So what I would suggest you do is that you meet with your direct reports and you say, hey, starting next week, or next month, how quickly you can do it, no more than a month away, because otherwise it won’t get done. We are going to start meeting once a week for 20 minutes, and it’s going to be your meeting. You own it. If I have to reschedule it, or you have to reschedule it, I want you to be dogged about getting it back on the calendar, but we’re going to lock and load a date and time every week. So Mondays at 10 in the morning or Thursdays at two in the afternoon, whatever it is, we’re going to lock it into our calendars so it’s a reminder that it’s there. Hopefully we can honor that meeting on a regular basis, but if we have to move it, we’re going to move it, not cancel it.


So ideally you would do this meeting in person, but you can do it certainly over the phone or over Skype if you’re traveling or your employee is traveling. But the responsibility for rescheduling that meeting is the employees. Also, there is a form that needs to be filled out prior to the meeting. The filling out of that form is also the responsibility of the employee. So the example I’m going to give you in the show notes is for a senior account strategist or senior account manager. And what’s great about this form is that it asks them sort of big picture things and also very specific things around what’s going on right now in their role in the agency.


So it’s going to start by saying, what is your priority issue or growth goal for this quarter. Which means that you and they have to set a growth goal or a priority issue for this quarter. So part of your first conversation needs to be around setting goals for them that they can work on on a quarterly basis. And sometimes you’ll have to extend that goal into a second quarter. It may be something that takes them a whole year perhaps to accomplish. But you want them to have some big picture goal that they’re working on, that you are aware of and you are supporting. This, by the way, should be that one of the topics in your annual reviews, which I’m not going to dig too deep into today. But I think an annual review should be a little bit of looking backwards, but it should mostly be spent on looking forward and saying, here are the things I want you to improve upon or get better at, or really invest your time in in this following year and here’s how I’m going to support that effort. Whether it’s with training or time or whatever, the opportunity, whatever that may be. But let’s put that aside for a minute.


So on the one-on-one, we’re going to assume that you have set a growth goal for the quarter. So the first thing it says is what is your priority growth goal for the quarter? They’re going to just note on the report what it is, and then they’re going to report on the progress of that issue or goal. So they’re going to give you an update on where they’re at. So again, what this does is, it’s so easy when we’re busy and we’re putting out fires to forget about sort of those big picture goals, those not urgent but important quadrant things that really do help your employees become better assets to your agency and your clients. This forces them to think about it every week and to keep working on it in little bits and pieces all of the time.


Then the next thing on this one-on-one meeting report asks them for good news to report. One of the things that employees are sort of stunned by is how sometimes little you know about what’s going on in the agency in terms of things that are worthy to celebrate where people have helped each other out. And the truth is you’re busy putting out fires and you’re often not in the office very much so you don’t know what’s going on every day and every minute. So this is their opportunity to report on good news things that they’re doing, so being their own cheerleader and also being a cheerleader for folks on your team that they interact with, it might be a good client news, but anyway, it’s keeping you in the loop. It also gives you ways to walk through the office and do some attaboys and attagirls to other folks. And it allows them to merchandise how they are working hard on your behalf. One of the things I talked to AEs about a lot in the AE Bootcamp is that they can’t assume that you know what they’re up to every day and all the good stuff they’re doing and all the extra miles that they are traveling on your behalf. It’s important for them to tell you, and this gives them a safe way to do that.


The next thing on the one-on-one meeting report is support I need to do my job. So this is their opportunity to tell you where they are stumbling, or they are concerned. This is a great way to identify a problem before it gets to be a big, hairy problem. So by talking to them every week, hopefully there’s nothing too out of hand in this category on this report. This should be small stuff that if you give them a little bit of help or a little bit of direction, they can keep going on their way. Oftentimes, partially because you’re busy or you’re out of the office and partially because some agency owners give off the vibe that they are too busy to be interrupted, that they’re so crazy busy that they shouldn’t be interrupted. Sometimes your employees let things go too long and they don’t tell you about them or they don’t ask for help. And then all of a sudden you’ve got a big fire going on inside your agency that could have easily been doused when it was a little fire, but you didn’t know about it. So this is a way to avoid that.


And with that, it seems like a really great time to take a brief pause and then we will get right back to the show.


I get that sometimes you just can’t get on a plane and spend a couple of days in a live workshop. And so hopefully our online courses are a solution to that. Lots of video, hours and hours of video, a very dense, detailed participants guide and all kinds of help along the way to make sure that you get the learning that you need and apply it immediately to your agency. Right now, we’ve got two courses that are available. We have the Agency New Business Blueprint, and we have the AE Bootcamp. So feel free to check those out at agencymanagementinstitute.com/ondemandcourses. Okay, let’s get back to the show.


The next topic on this sheet is priority issues to discuss questions that need to answer or input. So this is that an opportunity for them to share with you what’s going on with clients or internally where they need some feedback from you. So they either want to discuss something with you, or they have questions that only you can answer, or they at least want some input from you. One of the great things about this question on this forum is if your employees know that they’re going to meet with you every week, then this avoids some of the, what I call shadow in the doorway syndrome that many agency owners suffer from. Which is every time you look up from your desk, there’s someone in your doorway waiting to talk to you. So when they know that they have time with you every week, one of the things this meeting does, and this form does, is it trains your team to sort of collect the things that they want to talk to you about. And unless something is really urgent, urgent issue, it can wait until the one-on-one meeting. So holding this meeting once a week will actually save you a ton of time and interruption throughout your week.


Then also on the form is the heads up on client or internal issues. So this might be something that they just want to give you a heads up about, something that’s going on, something they overheard at a client meeting, whatever that may be. And then the form, just as anything else. So anything else they might want to tell you, and then some to-dos from this meeting, which they then will have to report in on at the next meeting.


So very simple, very easy to do. These questions for the most part, I find that most agencies do not have to modify them for the position that these are pretty generic enough. And everybody, regardless of the position they have in your agency has heads up issues and priority issues to discuss and support they need, and hopefully some good news. So for the most part, I think you’ll have to do very little tweaking on these. But I think what you’re going to find if you implement this is your employees are going to love it. They’re going to love that they get some time with you, that they get some mentoring from you, that they know that they have access to you. It’s going to save both you and them time in terms of trying to track each other down to talk throughout the week. It also allows you to have a better handle on what’s going on in the shop. And again, you may not be doing all of these, you may have some of your direct reports may have direct reports, but nonetheless, the entire organization is sort of better plugged in to what’s happening around them, where they may not hear about these kinds of things on a regular basis.


And best of all, it will allow you to grow employees to be bigger and better and stronger to support the efforts of your agency. Good employees don’t happen overnight. And yes, every once in a while, you just get a lucky strike where you just hire somebody who comes out of the gate so hungry and so eager to learn that they’re sort of such a self starter that they don’t need you, but most agency employees really desperately want some input from their supervisor. And as we approach the employee shortage that many of you are already banging your head against. And I know a lot of you’re struggling to find folks to fill empty positions and trying to desperately to hang onto the good people that you have.


This is a great way to build in growth. It is a great way to encourage retention. It is one of the number one complaints that employees have right now is that they don’t have enough of your time and attention. So as you look around your team and you identify folks that you really don’t want to lose, this is a great way to make sure that they stay. It’s also quite honestly a great way to counsel someone out if they’re not a right fit. So when you spend a little bit of time, 20 minutes a week with an employee, and you can continue to see the struggle that they’re having, or that they’re not having the success that you need them to, these are the perfect opportunities to have that conversation with them to help them try to grow. And if they can’t grow to help them find a position where they can be successful and you can get somebody better in that slot. So there is no downside to doing these one-on-one meetings. I know that it is some time carved out of your day, but I promise you, it is a time that you will be very glad that you invested and you will begin to reap the rewards of it very, very quickly.


So again, you will find a Word document in the show notes that you can modify, steal, use just as it is with your folks. I would love to get some feedback from you on how your one-on-ones are going. And if there’s something that you thought of that would improve the form, always open for that kind of feedback as well and happy to share that back out through a blog post or a later podcast. But I hope this is useful for you. I highly encourage you to do this, even if you’re digging your heels in and say, I just don’t have the time. I promise you, it will actually save you time in the long run, and it will build a bigger, better, stronger team, which is what we’re all about.


So that’s it for today. Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it. Again if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, make sure that you do so you don’t miss an episode. We’re always happy to have your reviews and ratings. So if you can go over to Stitcher or iTunes and do that, I am always very grateful for that feedback. Anytime you have a question or want to give me some feedback directly, the easiest way to reach me is [email protected]. I always love to hear from listeners. So I would appreciate hearing from you as well. I hope you have a great week and I will see you next week with another episode. Thanks. Bye.


Speaker 1: That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build a Better Agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses and other ways we serve small to mid-size agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.