As agency owners and leaders, we need to help our team learn how to communicate effectively with one another. This might be an area of growth for us as well!
The need for candor in agencies is critical if we’re going to do our best work. But how do you coach candor?

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Hey everybody, Drew McClellan from Agency Management Institute, this week, coming to you from Louisville, Kentucky. So, in a meeting today, we were talking about how to build more candor and accountability amongst your team. One of the things we talked about is – and this is happening in lots of agencies, it always does – that, a lot of times, people will come to their supervisor and they will share with them a problem that they’re having with a staff member. And they’ll either say, “Hey, I just want to keep this between us,” or, “Don’t say anything,” or maybe, “I’ll deal with it later.” And the supervisor will say, “Well, you know what? You really should talk to bad bad about that directly.” But then an interesting thing happens. Number one, the employee rarely talks to bad bad, but oftentimes, the supervisor either talks to bad bad or bad bad to supervisor, especially if bad bad is at a higher level than the employee. So, maybe it’s the agency owner, maybe it’s another department head. So, the supervisor, in essence, does the work that the employee is supposed to do. And so, one of the ways that you can create a sense of accountability and candor inside your shop is to stop creating that game of telephone tag. And instead, when someone comes into your office and says that they’re having a problem with another coworker, a peer, somebody who may be they’re a direct report of, might be the agency owner, might be somebody who is at your level, what you need to do is you need to stand up and say, “Great! Come on, we’re going to go talk to bad bad together.” The person’s going to be like, “Oh no, no, I’m fine.” It’s like, “Uh-uh, in this agency, we have direct conversations.” And so I want to help you have that conversation. I’m not going to say to you, because here’s what we do: We say, “Oh, you should go talk to…” and then we step back. We passively assign them the task, but we never hold them accountable to actually doing the task, and we don’t help them do the task. And the reality is most people are not comfortable having those kind of confrontational, direct, candid conversations. But when you stand up and say, “Okay! Well, let’s go talk to bad bad about this right now. And on our way, let’s talk about how we’re going to open that conversation. How do we open this conversation with a sense of curiosity? Assuming that bad bad’s intentions are good, how do we start this conversation?” And you begin to model and lead and coach people into having candid conversations. So, the reason why this works is a couple of things. Number one, it teaches the employee that your office is not the place to just come and complain. So, one of two things: They have to decide, “Is this important enough to complain about because I know he or she is going to make me go talk to bad bad?” or, “Am I just complaining to complain, and then I’m going to keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to talk to bad bad about this?” So, you are going to create a different decision tree for your employees around whether or not they complain about their coworkers. Number one. Number two, you’re going to coach, model, and lead candid conversations. And you’re going to do that by A) coaching them or B) sitting down, and let’s say they’re silent and they don’t say anything, then you can just say, “You know what, bad bad? John and I were just talking, and he was saying that the meeting today didn’t go very well. And we were curious. Help us understand, from your perspective, what didn’t go right? Was John unprepared? What happened in terms of the meeting and how could it have been better?” So, again, instead of going in and going, “Why didn’t that work?” or whatever, you’re going to model the right kind of behavior because a lot of your employees have never seen it. Let’s face it, in a lot of families, candid conversations don’t happen. And so, if the employee isn’t somebody who’s just naturally candid or comfortable having confrontational conversations or difficult conversations, they may not have had very many of them. And so, you can model that behavior, you can coach that behavior, and you can weave that behavior through your organization. And I’ll tell you, the agencies that crushed their work, that delight their clients, they have great retention, are agencies that have a very healthy environment where honest communication can happen without everyone taking it personally, without everybody getting their undies in a bunch. And with the understanding that we’re doing this to try and make the agency better and our relationship better, and I’m going to do that, when I come to you, from a place of curiosity and honesty but also the willingness to listen and hear it from your perspective and that we’re going to work this out together because we’re a team. So, don’t let them come in your office and complain, and just stop there. And do not passively say, “Oh, you should go talk to bad bad.” Stand up, engage that conversation with them, and model the behavior so that they get good at it, too. All right? Hopefully, that’s helpful. I’ll see you next week.

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