Every day I talk to agency owners who are worried about losing a key employee and every day another key agency employee walks out the door so it's easy to see why finding and keeping talent is the #1 pain point for most agencies today. Unfortunately, having a laid back culture, flex time and more vacation isn’t enough anymore. I wrote an article for Forbes on this topic and I identified several ways (based on our research with almost 1,000 agency employees) agencies are upping their game to keep their best team members. As always — I hope it’s helpful and I’d love to hear how you’re managing this challenge.
If there is an Achille’s heel for agency owners, it’s the ability to have candid conversations with members of their team. In our work with over 250 agencies a year, this is a pattern I’ve come to recognize all too often. A strong, charismatic owner is petrified to be honest with a member of their team. So they either avoid the topic altogether or they pussyfoot around the discussion, leaving the employee in the dark but feeling as though they can check it off the list. I have my own theories about why so many agency owners allow this weakness to paralyze their agency’s growth but whatever the root cause, it’s one of the biggest barriers to building the agency you deserve to own. See if any of these seem familiar: You don’t do regular reviews of your team You often find yourself talking (and repeating the same conversation) about an employee with your business partner or another employee that serves in a leadership role You have a love/hate relationship with a superstar performer who isn’t in alignment with your agency’s culture You tiptoe around conversations because you’re afraid of the repercussions You believe that having frank conversations that hold people accountable is not good for your agency’s culture You can be good at just about everything else, but if you can’t cultivate a culture of respectful candor — you’re going to hit a brick wall. Again and again. This is a leadership issue. This is a maturity issue, and this is a profitability and growth issue. If you want to attract and retain top performers — you have to be willing to rise above your discomfort and be candid with them. Beyond that, you [...]
One of the most frustrating things for agency owners is finding and keeping good employees. Before the pandemic, many agencies were having an amazing 12-18 months in terms of business development but those same agencies were actually choosing to tamp down their new business efforts because they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to staff for it. That’s a crazy position to be in. When a right fit client knocks on the door, you don’t want to say “thanks, but no thanks” because you’re afraid you can’t convince someone to work for you. I think it starts with having a very candid conversation with yourself. Given all the options out there, would you want to work for you? Many agencies (and corporate communications departments) are paying attention to what today’s employees value, especially given the pandemic, and modifying the work world. Here’s what you are competing against: Flexible work hours (everyone needs to be in from 9-4 but you can start earlier or stay later, based on your life’s needs) Permanent work from home options Unlimited PTO An AGI (or another metric) based bonus program Educational opportunities Student loan reimbursement 401K match A suite of insurances (health, dental, disability, life, etc.) and the agency provides at least partial payment Paid time off to serve the community or agency led community projects Bring your dog to work privileges A stocked snack room, with both healthy and not so healthy options Knowing that you can get some or all of that at the agency down the street (or from one of your clients) would you work for you? If you’re an old-school agency owner, I know you might be growling at that list. And if you [...]
Every year, I get to hang out with 30+ digital team members from various AMI agencies hailing from California to Connecticut and everywhere in between. They come together once a year to pick each other’s brains, learn about new tools, and share best practices on how to manage a digital marketing team. One of the things that impresses me the most about them is that their focus is bigger than tools, tactics, and techniques. They’re also asking about agency new business strategies, how to help the agency’s social media get on track, and how to streamline processes so the agency is more profitable. These are employees who care about their agency and the agency’s performance. As I listen to them strategize together on how to bring even more value to the shop and your clients. I also identified some unspoken needs that would make a digital marketing team’s work easier and better. Require everyone in your agency to get some basic digital certifications so they have a better understanding and can work together better in identifying opportunities, writing proposals, and spec’ing projects. Use your agency as the test dummy — try video, voice, social experiments — but be out there and be bold. Be smart about tools versus time. You may be saving a buck or two by having them do something manually but if there’s an automated tool out there — use it so they have more think/learn time. Keep your own digital saw sharp — there’s always something new to learn and as their mentor and leader, you chart the course. I’m impressed and encouraged by the drive, curiosity, and hunger that these professionals display. It is definitely to your advantage to help [...]
A couple years ago, I updated my OS on my laptop and it literally ate any email sent to/from me after 2015. I went through several weeks of trying to get back to all of the people who had emailed me and never heard back. They probably thought I had no manners but I promise — I was raised better than that. This illustrates a point that I teach regarding email. We depend on email too much and we assume it’s more reliable than it is. Which is ironic, given our own inboxes and how much clutter we dodge throughout the day. I was talking to an agency owner the other day and she was lamenting that their new business efforts are falling flat. As she described their efforts it was pretty clear that the problem was they were tossing the ball into the prospect’s court by email and then just waiting for it to bounce back. This is also a huge problem with your AEs. In our AE Bootcamps, one of the best practices I stress is not to just use email to shift the burden to the client/check the item off their To-Do list. Your AEs need to be adept at quickly accelerating a conversation beyond email. If you’re not coaching to the advantages and foibles of email with your team, you should be. If you’re not building out a more robust communication matrix with prospects and clients, you should be. If you would like your AEs to learn more about this best practice as well as many others, there is still time to sign up for one of our virtual AE Bootcamps here or here! This was originally published in the weekly [...]
I think agency leaders and owners are incredibly generous people. I’m always astonished at how you take care of your people, often to your own detriment. You give to them in ways that mean you get a little less. It’s just who you are. So as I thought about this week’s message, I decided I might be able to help you scratch your natural tendency to show your gratitude in this crazy season we find ourselves in. Odds are you’re pretty good at saying thank you directly to your people. But I’m going to suggest you try a different tactic. Identify one of your super stars and take a few minutes jotting down what they do that is so valuable to you. If you can, capture a story of something that really illustrates their talent and value to you. Now, take that story and write a letter of gratitude to their spouse, kids, parents or whoever you think would be most proud to hear it. Tell them how awesome your employee is and acknowledge the sacrifices (missed dinners, Mom out of town, etc.) the family has made to allow your employee to thrive. Thank them for their willingness to let your team mate give their best to the agency and your clients. If you want to — include a gift card so they can all celebrate how amazing your employee is to you and for them. Don’t tell your employee you’re going to send the letter. Let it be a surprise. I think you’ll be stunned at the impact your letter has — both short and long term. It’s a gift they will cherish for a long time, as will their family members. And honestly [...]
In our owner peer group meetings, one of the things we always do is share a recommended app, tool or book. It’s a really easy way to discover some new ideas and tools for getting better without lots of trial and error. One must-read book has surfaced to the top over and over again and it’s become an instant classic among my agency owners. I hear them referencing the author’s terminology and more important — I hear them changing their communication patterns for the better. Radical Candor by Kim Scott is a framework that shows us how to be both a better boss and a better colleague. The book is packed with eye-opening truths and practical suggestions that will make you feel like she’s been spying on your office. You’re going to recognize yourself in many of her stories and examples and best of all — you’ll see the way to significantly improving how you work with others, give feedback and get the best from your team, your business partners, clients and yourself. Couple reading this book with starting the one on one employee meetings I keep harping about (because they are that important!) and you can have a great 2020! This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
One of the more interesting takeaways from the research we have done over the years is the juxtaposition between two beliefs that our clients have about account executives. The first was that about a third of the respondents felt that AEs were too pushy when it came to sales and that was off-putting. But that same group of clients expected (not wanted) their account exec to bring them new opportunities. How our AEs sell matters. When they go at a client in the context of their business challenges and an opportunity that their business can take advantage of — it’s welcome. When they go in talking about agency services or new “stuff” that we can make for them, it feels like a pushy sales effort. I know that you know the difference. I know that you can have that level of conversation. But you can’t be the only person in your shop who is capable of doing that. How are you helping your AEs learn the language of business? Are you encouraging them to spend time on the factory floor, so to speak? (You can’t always bill for this time but it always comes back to you) Are you sending them to your client’s big industry trade show so they can listen to the speakers, walk the exhibit floor and absorb the business? Are you surrounding them with the trade pubs your clients are following? Are you having these sorts of strategic discussions in your one-on-one meetings? This level of learning will not happen by accident. And while some of your account execs will intuitively understand they need to do this work, others will not. You’re going to have to not only show them what [...]
We’ve all heard about or been accused of being helicopter parents by now. The results of helicopter parenting (aka a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children) often show up in the workplace. You might recognize the employees who need a ton of praise for seemingly simple accomplishments, require direction/instruction as opposed to being self-directed, and/or seem moody and anxious and have no real goals or sense of direction. I am not suggesting for a minute that all employees of any age group fit this description. But I talk to enough of you to know that odds are good that you have one or two in your shop. What I want you to consider for a moment is if you’re actually making it worse. Ideally, every employee would come to you in perfect condition, not needing any mentoring or education. Let me know if that ever happens. Until then — you are responsible for molding them into the team member you’re hoping for. Here are some of the ways I see agency owners/leaders helicopter their employees, stunting their growth and productivity. You own their growth: How many times have you had an employee walk into your office and ask what their career path was? You can coach them through mapping out a plan but they should drive it. If you tell them what they want to be when they grow up — odds are, you’ll get it wrong and they’ll get disenchanted and leave. You handle the details: Is your employee traveling on behalf of the business? Do you still make all their travel arrangements? Let them at the very least, make a few recommendations or [...]
For most agency owners, one of their biggest fears is losing that key employee who helps you run the show. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it’s a fair concern. Many long- term agency employees are being lured away by the stability of a corporate job or the thrill of a start-up. I did a podcast about how many agency owners consider offering minority partnerships as a way to lock in that senior team member. That podcast triggered a lot of conversation on social media and among some of our coaching clients. Forbes also found the topic of interest and asked me to put together some questions that owners should ponder before they extend that offer. The article that resulted from that exploration is here. I’d love to know what else you think should be part of the consideration set. Not to change the subject, but we're fast approaching the holiday season. Have you taken a break, enjoyed your family and friends and just unplugged for more than a weekend? If not, you have 6 weeks before the end of the year. Don’t miss the opportunity. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.