On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Sarah Hawley discuss how remote work not only allows you to create a more conscious culture, it also ensures greater alignment within your business relationships.
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On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Sarah Hawley discuss how remote work not only allows you to create a more conscious culture, it also ensures greater alignment within your business relationships.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Chris McLean discuss boundaries, setting the right example as leaders, and the possibility of eliminating burnout at agencies.
Episode 105: Can We Eliminate Burnout with Chris McLean
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're going to be diving into a favorite topic among agency leaders and their employees, maybe a little more for their employees. But the question is, is it possible to actually eliminate burnout among creative technology, marketing, advertising folks, right? It's just so entrenched and ingrained in our culture and has been for a really long time. My guest today is Chris McLean, who is a fellow conscious transformation coach based in Australia. He's also the host of the Peak Performance and Predictable Growth Show. If you don't know that podcast, definitely check that out wherever you consume your podcasts. My episode on his show is going to be out later this year. So definitely stay tuned for that. Chris, welcome to the show. I am really excited and have been looking forward to this conversation for a while.
Chris: Yes, thank you. Thank you. Good to reciprocate and jump over onto your show. Everything feels like last week and six months ago. It was some time, not that long ago, but they're good to pop over. It was fascinating on that episode, just chatting to you about how aligned we were in what we do, sort of who we are, our past, history and our ages, and that there was a whole bunch of alignment in between. So yeah, great to be on your show and sharing with your audience.
Kelly: What we would say in the States, my brother from another mother.
Chris: Yes. That's the one yeah, sister from another mother.
Kelly: Right. So yeah, it was really fascinating to me also that I feel like we are probably and maybe this is not true. But I don't know of any other agency coach or coach specializing in the agency world that focuses on consciousness and trauma-informed work, and business growth kind of all together or at the nexus of those things. So what's not surprising to me is kind of how each of us found our way to this path, because that was such a similar journey, as you just mentioned. So can you talk a little bit about your former agency experience and what that was like, and maybe touch a little bit on the personal side of that as to how you got to the same place that I got to on the other side of the world?
Chris: Yes. So my agency journey started, effectively 2002. I launched my agency with my best mates. So just straight out of university. I had studied marketing business and advertising during university and I'd sort of done other ways like graphic design and creative studies. And I always thought I'd be the creative mad men style, and be a creative in an ad agency. That's kind of what I thought I always wanted to do. Actually, we went into university, and during uni, we did some pitches, we did some work with some local agencies, here in Melbourne and got a bit of an insight to, I guess, agency people and agency life. And by the end of uni I thought, the fact that I don't want to work in an agency, that sounds horrendous. This looks like, what am I doing? And then I started an agency. I sort of worked, took a couple of years. There was bartending and cleaning, working around, what am I going to do with my life? And then yeah, sort of my best mate, myself. He'd studied multimedia, which essentially back then, was kind of digital like websites. I had a bit of that toolkit. And I had a bit of business in advertising and creativity. And essentially, we launched a multimedia company, again, because digital wasn't really digital back then. We're working with Macromedia Flash and Macromedia Dreamweaver before it was acquired by Adobe. And then we started sort of basically hacking together websites and flash animations, and no hand-coding tables to build websites and all this stuff. WordPress, and Wix and all these wonderful tools that make all that super easy didn't exist. And essentially, for me, I'd never really done a lot of that work. So everything was self-taught. So I learned Photoshop. I learned Flash. I learned how to animate in Flash. I learned how to do CSS coding and style sheets in HTML, just sort of eventually down the line, a bit of PHP. I had picked this stuff up because we had to. And it was really traditional, classic entrepreneurship to get a client in. Yeah, sure. We can do that. And then kind of figure it out, jump on, build the plane while we're flying it.
Kelly: That's everybody's story though, right?
Chris: Yes. But I think it's such a good skill set to build. And for me, I think that is one of the strongest skills and biggest strengths that I have and I see in agency owners and people that run good businesses, that capability to just kind of crack on and go. I'll figure it out as I go. And that definitely is a skill set. There's a mindset and a skill set and a resourcefulness to that, having that capacity just to go, “It doesn't matter. Somehow I’ll figure this out, and I'll make it work. And we'll get into, I guess, how that risk and consequence kind of taps into flow state and peak performance and sort of altered states of consciousness later in the show. But that's sort of the beginning of that kind of stuff, where you can sort of step into risk and stepping to consequences are sort of photos of a really good focusing mechanism. Biologically, it gets you super focused, and you figure it out, access more information. You sort of expand. Your consciousness expands; literally expands, so you can tap into higher sources of information. And that's sort of what's going on there. I didn't know that back then. But that's kind of just how we naturally kind of evolved. And then that business sort of evolved. Over the next seven, eight years, we sort of became essentially kind of digital. We sort of brought in some video. So we're doing full service digital, for servers, video production. 2009, 2010, we sort of brought in some more senior people. And we sort of shifted the business into emerging tech. So moving from websites, and animation and video production, we kind of picked up that skill set, and sort of saw where the market was going and moved into augmented reality, gesture control, touchscreens, large scale projections, interactive eye tracking. So really, really cool cutting edge interactive technologies. And essentially commercializing that stuff for advertising for clients. So building gaming platforms, essentially, where we could create interactive fun games on Windows for retail displays, or within shopping centers, or malls, or online sort of activities. So that was a really interesting place that was super early for that stuff. So 2009, 2010, sort of augmented reality and that kind of stuff was really, really new. Nobody else was really selling it, particularly here in Australia. No one was really offering that, little line to try to commercialize and productize. That kind of thing. And that was kind of that next level of challenge of how do you sell something to somebody that literally doesn't exist. So we're literally going in and picking out case studies of BMW, which was done like a little QR code based augmented reality car at the time where augmented reality was all kind of QR code based. And you hold it up and like a cart, little BMW would drive around. So it was selling, by bringing that kind of work and going, hey, look, this is what's possible, we can do this for your brand. So it's a really interesting sales process of trying to sell something that there were a few examples of, no one had really done it. People didn't really understand and trying to sell people on this thing that was like, this is amazing. I promise. It's amazing. So that was always really, really interesting, again, to be on that sort of front end of something and trying to understand, how do you convince somebody? How do you show the benefits of something that people don't really know what it is? So that journey was really fun. And that sort of took me to 2012 where I've moved the business to the Middle East. So by that time, we've been running a major airline out of Abu Dhabi, out of the UAE for several years. And this is sort of where the interesting part of the story comes. So we'd sort of switched over socially. So the technical part, I moved to run the business locally in Abu Dhabi to support that client locally and sort of try to build and grow the business in that region. And by 2016, the sort of market fit wasn't great. I stayed in the Middle East until 2018. So it's been six years out there, that part of the business sort of folded in 2016. And the business is still running now. Locally, UK, USA, sort of shifted more into interactive gaming platforms in shopping centers, so kids gaming platforms, in retail, sort of for furniture outfits, for interactive zones for kids, that sort of thing. So businesses are still running. So 2012, I had a couple things. Those are some personal stuff that started to show up for me and that was sort of 2010, 2011. I’d come out of an eight year relationship. So basically that entire started of the business. I've been in an eight year relationship that sort of ended around 2010, 2011. My parents were living in the UAE. They were living in Abu Dhabi. They got divorced in 2009, 2010. And then my dad, actually in 2012, he passed from brain cancer. So he got a brain tumor in 2011. And a year later, in 2012, he passed away from that. So it's kind of all of this stuff going on personally. But then in terms of burnout on the agency side, with all of that growth, because I'd started the business myself. And literally, when you start something and you are the coffee boy, you're doing the taxes, you're doing the finance, you're doing the work, you're doing everything, you're doing the hiring, sort of end up as a bit of a jack of all trades. And for me, that's what I really liked, that kind of Renaissance man kind of style where I could do a bit of everything. And I quite enjoy doing a bit of web design and doing some graphic design and doing a bit of sales, doing some presentations. I enjoyed doing that, as we grew this kind of this necessity as you grow to become focused on a single role. So for me, I really found that difficult to slot into an individual role. So I was strategy director for a while. That was kind of a title like, well, I think I'll go into strategy director, because we sort of brought in a CEO, we had MDS, and we had, that a petition out the workload rather than kind of doing everything. But I found that it was sort of around that same time. So 2010, 11, 12, as we were growing, there's that necessity to narrow down and then niche down roles. And personally, that was like, where do I fit? Like, what am I doing? Where do I fit in this business now, and I think this is kind of a conversation that can happen with agency leaders when you have built this thing. And then you either bring in a senior team, or you get to a point where you have to scale in like, well, where do I fit in this thing now? So that was sort of that one question? And the other question was, like, do I actually want to do this anymore? Am I part of the problem, right? So in terms of a personal growth story, so very early in the business, probably a few years in when we were trying to grow and scale and then change the business, there's kind of two routes you can take, and you still have to take. And for me, naturally, I felt I was naturally inclined to go, well, if I make myself better, then that'll make the business better. That was the logical path, if I can get better. So sort of tapping into Tony Robbins and these sorts of mentors and books and programs and developing, looking into NLP and personal development and personal growth and mindset and all this kind of good stuff. And that was the path that I've figured was if I get better, if I get more confident, if I show up in a better way, if my mind's more accurate, if I can be more attentive, I can make myself better, then that's going to catalyze into better business performance, rather than necessarily go, what's the business system that I need to build? So there's always a balance. You got to do the business stuff, but for me, it was like, if I'm better, the business will be better. So by this time, this sort of burned out 2011, 12, time shift going on in my life, probably that was sort of almost 10 years, sort of into also a personal growth and personal discovery journey. So my mind was already quite into expanding consciousness. And I'd studied Buddhism for five years. I've been going to Mahayana temple here in Melbourne, sort of on the weekend and meditating, and that was sort of the path for philosophy, Eastern religion. Wayne Dyer, always sort of greater Louise Hay, Abraham Hicks, all this stuff was sort of rattling around. So sort of, I understood the importance of expanded consciousness. So again, that was coming on, and was just sort of trying to tap into all of that stuff and like, who am I? What is the meaning of life? What am I going to contribute? What's my legacy? What am I here for? We've got to get agency growth. We've got to get clients. We've got to sell. We’ve got to do that kind of hard 3 million revenue. That was always this kind of tension. And that's where I sort of talk about with clients. There's nothing worse than when you build a business to a point and who you need to be in the businesses going this way, and who you feel like you are, personally is going this way, and that chasm just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And that essentially, is burnout. And for me, that's sort of this, I call it like this existential version of burnout, this sort of existential burnout of where it's a bit more psychologically driven than like physical, painful burnout. There's sort of various different types of burnout. But for me that division, that's something that assists showing up, particularly a lot in creative agencies, that divergence between who I feel I need to be day to day to do my business, and who I feel like and when I go home at night, and when those two things start to diverged, that's when problems start to show up. So for me that's basically what was happening around that time in 2012, was this opportunity. I felt like I just had to go somewhere to escape and get out and go. And that's why I went, if I could, I'd go to Abu Dhabi, why not? So sort of shifts over there, moving my life over there for a while, which was amazing. My fiancé is still over in Dubai, trying to get her out on a visa. So my life was amazing over there to come back in 2018, for various reasons. But yeah, so that whole journey in that whole recognition of this stuff is real. And this happens. That's sort of what led me to that sort of existential burnout. Who am I? What am I doing? Yeah, switched me off of wanting to do the business. In my mind, I didn't want to be doing that business anymore. So I started doing side hustles. I started doing affiliate marketing, looking at digital marketing and side hustling and doing other stuff and putting my focus and attention into other things. And that meant that my work in the business probably started to lapse, and that now made the excuses of market fit and blah, blah, blah. But knowing what I know now, having been applying the strategies and systems to that business, would have been a much different result. But I think it still comes down to I didn't want to be in that business anymore. And that was the real catalyst. So I think that self-awareness is the most critical thing people can really start to understand. Self-awareness is number one. If you don't know what you actually want, you're going to have some sort of problem.
Kelly: Yes. It's so interesting to me that you talk about existential burnout. I didn't even know that that's exactly where we're going to go in the conversation today. But that makes a lot of sense. And I'm sure that you know, because we do something so similar, pretty much exactly the same thing for a living now, I imagine that you like me, we have lots and lots of conversations with agency owners, regardless of the type of agency, and a lot of them come in saying the same thing. Like, help me figure out if I even want to keep doing this. I feel like I'm either not needed anymore. Or I'm questioning whether I can keep doing this, or maybe I'm just getting too old in this industry or whatever. There's a million differences. I mean, it's almost like everybody has a different response, or a different reason behind that. But I like this idea of existential burnout. It's really interesting. For the people who I think are the leaders of the agencies, that makes more sense to call it bad or to use that term. For the employees, though, I think it's also important that we're modeling behavior as leaders, where they're not just burning out literally day to day, sort of what I call the culture of overwhelm as the norm. And I have a lot of agents that I work with. That is unfortunately the case.
Chris: Yes. Toxic culture.
Kelly: Yes, that toxic, hostile, or it's just we are on 24 hours a day, or the leadership team isn't very boundaried. So they'll send an email and expect a response at 9pm, like all of these different things. So what are your thoughts around things like that from the employees’ standpoint?
Chris: Yes. It's interesting. I mean, the burnout rates. There was a study done, I think 2018 or 2019, and the burnout rate in the larger agencies was, may not be significant in talking high 76, 77% burnout rates.
Kelly: 77 was what I've seen.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, that's not a small thing. That's most of your stuff, right? That's three quarters of people working in agencies that are burnt out to some degree. So it's not a maybe. It's a systemic problem. And it comes from a lot of the people running those bigger agencies in particular have come through that. That's been the culture forever from Mad Men till today. This sort of always on, always switched on, always mandatorily available, kind of been the way it's been. Why does that exist? I guess you can sort of think why that sort of client leads the engagement, a lot of the time.
Kelly: That was my number one.
Chris: For me, that is the problem. And that's where the solution lies for me. I can get to that. But in terms of the agency owners, not having that boundary when the agency owner, when the leadership team acts that way, and has that expectation of their people. A lot of agency owners there's a tendency, and again, this is a message generalization for some sort of a more type A type of personality, hard charging, always on, don't need to sleep, I've just, I'm happy, I'm really happy and enthusiastic about just plugging away and smashing work. And always working, working, working. There can be that tendency for creatives and agency owners to come from that personality type, more than your docile type base. There's much more of a balance now, I think. But classically, I think that they can be a bit more of that kind of hard charger, happy to work that way mentality. But there's that important distinction of you might be happy to work that way. But actually understanding that the opposite of that is actually going to make you more effective. And there's this sort of psycho biology, biologically. There's this kind of weird dichotomy between the felt sense of this kind of hustle grind culture where I feel like when I'm just working, working, working, smashing it, I'm crushing it and doing the work all the time.
Kelly: All my favorite words.
Chris: When I'm doing that, I'm in that zone, it feels like I'm being really productive, and I'm getting shit done. It's a real sense of accomplishment and productivity. But actually, when you look at it, when you chart it, there's no overtime. There is a bit of an uptick at the front. You can kind of hustle your way into productivity and effectiveness. But there's a massive decline over time, compared to sort of a steady state. If you look at some sort of someone working 60, 70 hours a week yet, you can begin to get really good productivity. But over time, the system just goes like, biologically, we're not wired to operate like that. So that felt kind like you've been really productive over time. But if you cut work hours and did a steady state, 35 hour weeks, seven hour day, overtime, it is much more stable and much more effective. So productivity is just shortening work hours. And, again, we're hoping we can get into why that sort of is the case, why putting boundaries around things actually makes us more productive. Essentially, the tasks fit the time allocated to them. So we're happy to work 70 hours a week, guess what we'll find 70 hours of work to do. If you work a 35 hour week, you'll probably get the same if not more work done in 35 hours, because you've got an end time, you've got a due date, sort of kicks off a whole lot of internal biology, a neuro chemistry that makes you get stuff done within that shortened time. But again, until quite recently, we haven't known that. It’s only since the 90s, very recently, the last couple of decades, sort of the science of this, that we were actually able to peer under the hood of these states and actually look at people working and look at what's going on under the hood. What neurochemistry, what neurobiology, what's happening in the brain when we're working. And because of that it can now decode that and go well, if that's what's happening, and this is what we want to happen, how we can do things better that are going to create the conditions for us to be in that more optimized state.
Kelly: I wouldn't have believed it myself, to be honest. I mean, from what I was doing as an agency leader, and kind of, even like, especially when I was in the weeds and, and all of that, I definitely found 70, 80 hours a week worth of work to do. But now as a consultant and a coach, I don't work more than 30 hours a week. And I would probably argue that I probably get more done in my weeks now than I did back then. And it's literally almost half. So it's really interesting to me, but something that you said kind of stuck with me. It's like if we are trying to achieve more productivity, and we're saying that with all the new science that has come out over the last couple of decades that we can actually achieve that by working less, if we keep on this kind of even keel, well, then all of it should support a transformative culture, a transforming of culture. Why do you think it's so hard for people to really grasp and grok this concept?
Chris: Yes, big question. I think it's just so ingrained, right? And often this comes back to this, is just how it's done. It's one of those things like if you work in an agency, you've got to be ready to work on Sunday nights. You’ve got to be ready to work.
Kelly: I can’t even imagine that right now.
Chris: Yeah, that expectation of always being available, it just hasn't quite shifted to being the norm yet. And definitely from people that I interview on my show, and people that I work with, there's much more awareness, particularly when you talk about talking to millennials and Gen Z's, new generations coming through. There's a much greater prevalence of looking after your wellness and your health and having that, as a health first approach. Probably, again, generalization, sort of our generation, maybe 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. Those generations are just so baked into that way of working, that the idea of actually being more productive and more effective by doing less, it just doesn't compute. It doesn't map to the set felt experience.
Kelly: Right. So then that's the question like, how do we create that? Right? How do we map that? Because we're talking about here, like, how can we eliminate burnout? Is it really just as simple as sort of the all-encompassing self-care solution? The self-care answer?
Chris: Yeah, I mean, essentially, we've got to shift that felt experience because as humans, we understand by what we experience, and people that were stuck in this kind of hustle and grind. And we believe that is the most effective way because that's what we've experienced. I've worked 70 hour weeks forever, and I've grown my business, right? I've smashed 60, 70 hours, weeks. I crushed it. My team crushes it. I forced my team to crush it. We work weekends. We do what we have to do. And my business has been successful. So there would sort of make this correlation between that approach and that result.
Kelly: Oh, that's a really interesting point.
Chris: So there could be a false correlation. Right? It could have been that I worked half that time and grew my business twice as big, or I worked half the time and my staff was more productive, therefore, my business was more productive. So it's kind of, we get into this just thinking error, right? Essentially, it's a thinking error. And then to correct that thinking error and get that experience of shit. I just worked a 35 hour week; I took Friday off and actually got more work done on Monday morning than I usually do in a whole week, right? Until you've experienced that, like you said for yourself, you wouldn't have believed it until you experienced it. That's kind of just the human condition until you've had that experience of working less and achieving more.
Kelly: Yeah, it's interesting to me, because there are so many agencies where we see this like, like you said before the 77% burnout rate. And we see the attrition that happens, right? We see employees come and go. Yes, the client is “happy”. And yes, we're delivering and yes, we're meeting our revenue goals and all of that, but I think what we're not taking into consideration with this is that attrition, or is the wellbeing of the human that we employ. Right? And so if we were actually to quantify that in some way, when you start looking at the lagging metrics, like the profitability and all of that, if you were able to quantify it, your numbers would be much lower. Right? It's just an interesting way that something about what you just said, just made me think of the fact that we are, it is kind of like false information. We're not looking at the right metrics. And we're certainly not taking all of the holistic view into account. And I think that's where my main focus is when I'm working with agencies and I know that yours too.
Chris: Yes. It's a hidden cost, right? That human component. So how do you quantify what is the cost of say, I'm your employee, I'm your head designer. I'm working 70 hour weeks. I actually hate that. I don't like it. My body's hurting. I'm not sleeping. I've got problems at home. I have never seen my wife and kid. My wife's complaining to me about never being home. I used to love playing guitar and going rock climbing. I haven't done that for years. Right? That was my passion. That was the thing that lit me on fire. I don't get to do that anymore. Because I'm working. I'm earning a shitload of money. Great. I'm on 200k a year, I'm supporting my family. That's great. But what am I doing with it? I don't have any, right? There's no way to spend it. Right, I've got a beautiful house, I got my stuff. But I don't have time to go on holiday. I don't take trips. So there's this. Again, this sort of existential thing creeps in of, well, if that person is so unhappy, and they're showing up to their work, and I said, when you're in that state, when you're in that sort of level of burnout, you may be contributing a sub 50%, 60%, maybe 20, 30% of your capability. So for every hour that I am working for you, I'm giving you 40% effort, and 40% output, multiplying that across a 30 person team. That's you losing 50, 60, 70% productivity from every person every hour.
Kelly: Not to mention, you're only talking about productivity, what about if you're my creative director, how much creativity and innovation and big ideas am I losing out on because you're not sleeping well, and you're not happy and fulfilled and all of that. So you're just executing deliverables at that point.
Chris: Punching the clock in.
Kelly: Punching the clock, yeah.
Chris: Yes. So again, if you could quantify that and say 77% of your workforce is burnt out, and three quarters of your workforce is performing subpar. Let's call it 60, 70% of my potential. So there's 20, 30% potential productivity effectiveness in every single employee. Multiply that across every hour that those employees are working across the year. That's a lot of lost productivity. That's a lot of lost revenue generation, right? Purely because I'm kind of, I'm throwing it in. I'm not doing the work. And the creativity is actually something that's kind of the neck, that's purely just my work performance. That second piece, as you’re saying creativity, creativity needs space. Right? Creativity literally operates better in space. When I'm thinking, thinking, thinking, doing, doing, doing, not sleeping, not resting, stressed, overwhelmed. All of this stuff going on in my head. There's no room for creativity. Creativity needs the space to breathe and go. That thing over here and that thing over here. That's the connection that needs space, that needs me going for a walk, that needs me sitting and meditating for 10, 15 minutes during my lunch break. Creativity thrives in space, hustle, grind 60, 70 hour weeks, it's just not conducive to creativity.
Kelly: Creativity dies in that environment.
Chris: Yeah, which is exactly what we're trying to do. That is our job as creative business owners, to be creative. So it's the wrong approach if our goal is creativity, then we need to set the conditions and schedule ourselves and optimize ourselves for that result. But instead, we optimize ourselves for time, because that's what we build, right? We build time. So I want to maximize the time worked. If I work more time, I can build more money. Then that really is the shift. That's the big shift.
Kelly: So I was just going to say, when we're talking about eliminating burnout, what we're actually talking about is disrupting the whole or is this the way that it is sort of a model, right? We're talking about disrupting that mad men style agency mentality. And I do see it actually happening. I have a few clients, past and current that they really do value that time. They understand that creativity needs the breathing room that you're talking about. And they're focused on making sure that their employees are really well rested and really well taken care of and feel like they have a life work integration. Yeah, so I do see it. It feels to me a little bit like moving a giant rock up a hill because it's happening, but it's really difficult. And so I feel like, once we get to the point where we have mass adoption of that as the new norm, then we're good. But in the interim, as we're pushing this rock up the hill, what are some of the small actionable takeaways that you might be able to suggest for agency leaders as they're trying to say, all right, well, I got to start somewhere, like I can't change the whole thing. But how can I impact my culture in a positive way?
Chris: I mean, the simplest way to put it is take a break, right? Build more spare time, free time, literally, calendarized free time into your work schedule. Take Fridays off. Take the weekend off. Literally, I will not work on the weekend, laptop down, phone off. You need that time for your body just to reboot, for your psychology to kind of refresh, go get a massage. Self-care, essentially. The more self-care that you can start to bake into your schedule, and ritualize it so that every week, you're starting to bake this stuff into your schedule.
Kelly: You're saying your schedule, but you mean the leaders themselves and modeling and implementing that for the employees? Just to be very clear about who we're talking about. We're talking about everybody?
Chris: Yes. It has to start at the top right. If I go right for myself, I'm going to take the weekend off. I'm going to take Friday off. I can't just do that and then have my team working 100 hours to pick up the slack. That's why I said it is systemic, but as I said, as the agency owner, I have to get that felt experience first. Then I go shit, this works. I feel so much better. I'm so much more creative because I took Friday afternoon off, or because I've shortened my workday down. I've got more focused attention. So that's one thing basic, more self-care. Take more breaks. Look after yourself more, sleep better. Number one thing is sleep. Good night's sleep, seven, eight hours of sleep, which means eight to nine hours in bed, which I know sounds insane to most people where they're picking out four, five, six hours.
Kelly: That sounds like heaven. That sounds like every night for me.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Again, until you've sort of experienced that. I’ve slept for four or five hours. I'll sleep when I'm dead. Right? That sort of idea. But the truth is that you're probably going to die quicker if you don't sleep more. Sleep is such an essential part. And it's actually a very, very active activity. When you're sleeping, you are not just passed out. Right? There's a whole lot that goes on, sort of biologically, when you're sleeping, you're resting and digesting, you're repairing and recovering. It's a very, very active state. And when you skip that, when you miss that every night, when you're not getting seven to eight hours every single night, the residual effect, I was reading a book called Why We Sleep. I was reading an amazing study. Inside that book in Sicily, they've got some groups of people together to do this sleep study, and one group slept less than five to six hours a night and one group slept seven, eight hours every night. And purely on the metric of immune system response, the group that slept seven to eight hours every night had something like a 20 to 30% increase in immune response. So purely by sleeping seven, eight hours a 30% uptick, you're healthier. They're healthier because the system is recovering and repairing and the immune system is doing all of this great stuff and requires that eight hour period. That's why sort of that cycle is an eight hour sleep cycle, right? We need that time to get that immune system boost. The only other part of that study, the people getting five to six hours, it is not that I care. I got six hours tonight. I'll sleep 10 hours tomorrow night and catch up. Once you've lost it, you actually can't pick up that immunity again. So if you lose it, you've lost it. So this is why you need to get that seven, eight hours every single night consistently, because you can't make it up on the weekends. So this is a really interesting insight that came out of that study. If you're not getting it, you can't make that time up. And we're talking about immunity. And today, your immune system is pretty important, right? Your health and your immunity is very, very important. So purely by sleeping less, you're destroying your immune system, which has all sorts of effects. When your immune system goes down, you feel worse, you get sick more often. If your employees are overwhelmed and stressed, not sleeping and sick, your attendance rates are going to drop again, more lost productivity purely by not recognizing that I want my people to sleep better. I want them to work when they feel like working. I want them to show up every day at 100%, not start the week at 100%. And by Tuesday, they're at 60%. By Friday, they're at 10%. And they start the next week at 10%. And this is an ongoing decimation of their performance. So sleep is a massive one, self-care, getting a massage, taking a bath, going for walks, taking a break, and literally baking this stuff into your weekly schedule so it's on your calendar. That's a very high level. Eating well, all the basics, all of the stuff that you know but you are not doing because you're working. Like we all know that we should work out and eat healthy, but we don't do it because we’re focused on I can't go, I got to work. So it's actually doing that stuff and literally putting it onto your calendar. And honoring that time. Ritualizing that time, honoring that space. This is as important to my business as making sales calls. That's really where you want to get that switch to, taking a bath on a Sunday night is as important to my business and my business growth. It’s going to make me more money than the sales calls I'm going to do on Monday morning. You can make that switch. That's how it's become systemic. And we can change the culture one by one.
Kelly: I like it. So the answer is yes, we can eliminate burnout. We actually know exactly how to do it. We just have to do it. And as leaders, we have to model that for everyone who is under our care because as agency owners, like our people are our product. Right? That's basically their output is what we sell. So take care of them. Chris, thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate it. I could talk to you for hours.
Chris: Yeah, it's always that case. Like, let's just wrap for another couple hours. We'll have to make another call another time. Thank you so much. It's always right in the pocket of the stuff that I love to talk about. I know it's a passion for you as well. So it's always good to share insights with new people.
Kelly: Absolutely. And if you like what Chris has to say, definitely check out his Peak Performance and Predictable Growth show wherever you listen to podcasts.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Debra Sunderland discuss what conscious leadership is and why more creative agency owners are waking up to it right now.
Episode 104: Why Conscious Leadership and Why Now, with Debra Sunderland
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. If you've been a little unsure as to what conscious leadership is, what it's all about and why it's needed today, more than ever, you're really going to love today's conversation probably as much as I will. My guest is Debra Sunderland. She's the founder and lead coach at Sunderland Coaching. She's also represented by my other business consciousness leaders. So definitely check her out there. Debra, welcome to the show. I am so excited and have been really looking forward to this conversation for a while.
Debra: Thank you, Kelly. Me too. Let's do it.
Kelly: So, the funny backstory or serendipitous backstory, is that the way that we kind of found each other, or the way that I found you, I guess I should say, I ran a Google search because I was curious one day, what comes up on Google when you search, what is conscious leadership. And so out of that curiosity, out comes on position zero Deborah's website, what is conscious leadership, and it was a really great definition. And then I started clicking through. I found and learned a little bit more about Deborah. And as I'm reading her story, I was like, my mouth kind of hung open. I got chills. And I was like, wow, we have such a similar upbringing, such a similar path, a similar journey. Would you mind sharing a little bit about that? I feel like I definitely felt such an instant connection before we even met for the first time on Zoom.
Debra: I have chills right now as well. I remember that moment. And my mouth dropped when you started to share your story. And for me, it was having parents who didn't take good care of me, how a child would like to be treated, taken care of, and my mom was ill, and continues to not take good care of herself. And it came out towards me and my brother. So, I ended up being the one who protected both of us. And crazy stories like my mom, taking us to go shopping, and she would steal whatever she wanted. And then we would go, be taken off to the police station. And then the students at school that I went to would know about it, or my parents would be fighting, and the police would come to mitigate and take care of us or we'd go running out of the house at night to be safe from my mom and dad trying to kill each other with knives. So, it was like living in a warzone pretty much every day. And I never knew what was going to happen. And I realized that I had to become ultra sensitive to my wisdom, of my intuition, my feelings, be one step ahead. It helped me be safe. It helped me achieve it, brought me to being the winner, seeking acceptance from the outside of my life. And it's so foreign, because I really learned to love my parents. But they're just doing the best they really could. And I believe we all are. We're really just trying to do the best we can. And the best thing I can do is love them and love myself and keep loving myself. And that's what I've been learning through that whole journey.
Kelly: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. Yeah, it's interesting. So, just want to kind of put a pin in this idea that, listen, none of us had a perfect childhood. Some of us just had a little bit more of a difficult time than others. And I know that that's a very light and blanket statement. But the reality is none of us escaped that childhood unscathed. Right? There was either neglect or abuse or this or that. And, unfortunately, that's normal, right? Like that's, in some way, how we learn how we develop coping mechanisms, all these different things. But something that you said, was that you sought it externally. So, this idea that I need to validate my sense of self from the external versus having that self-validation or that inner validation. I think that's really important, because I don't think a lot of people even if you're pretty self-aware, I don't think a lot of people really think about that. And realize that, how that comes out, and how that shows up in the way that we talk or think or behave. So, can you talk a little bit more about that? That validation sense and like how that shows up for leaders?
Debra: Yeah, so I love that. So, for those of you who are Enneagram trained or know about that, I'm just going to mention that. I'm a three on the enneagram which means I'm a winner. I'm an achiever. I'm not going to fail. And many leaders, many CEOs are in that type. They're going to win. They want their team to win.
Kelly: Was that like a two or a three?
Debra: It's three. 3s and 8s typically are leaders of companies, not always, but typically in HR, the active controller, they're called. And so, the reason I mentioned that is, we have all learned, we've been taught since we've been going to school, maybe invite our parents to be winners, to be achievers to get that A, to reach something in order to get to the next level, to graduate from high school, to go on to college to get to the company you want. And we're always looking outside for that. And then we have this temporary head of I made it, oh, I made it. Oh, I made it. And there's this angst typically, that is driving, driving, and it's never enough. And I felt that insatiable, and I felt that as a child, I had this pit in my stomach. I was first chair violinist, I was the best track runner, whatever it was, but there was this thing inside of me that would never let up. Because I was looking out here. And I've noticed with leaders, when I really get to know them. And I'm talking about multibillion-dollar company leaders all the way down to startups. They'll have the same want. It's, can I be accepted? Am I enough? And do I have enough? And the ones who really strive to have enough and be enough on the outside usually are the ones who are seeking that approval, like myself. And until I learned that it won't be enough. And it has to be me. That is enough and believe that, feel my feelings, accept myself, learn. And that we're all reactive, all of us, like even when I think about my parents just now as you talked about them. And everyone has a reactivity, right? No matter what it is, we all have a reactive mind to keep us safe. They're just being reactive. It's no different. They just maybe did extreme things, but they're just being reactive. And that's how we all are and looking outside of ourselves is a reactive phase. It is a can I be safe out here if someone measures me or deems me as being the gold star, and you can move to the next level. And so, letting go of that, and really doing the inner work of how am I enough? And do I have enough right here right now? The presence of that being in the present moment is what really changed me and the work that I do with people right now.
Kelly: Yeah. So how does that translate, right? So, we're talking about self-awareness and deep personal work and all of that kind of development. Right? How does that translate into conscious leadership? And maybe also why more people are even waking up to conscious leadership right now?
Debra: Yeah, thank you. So conscious leadership is about being present. It is about being very aware, conscious, the opposite of being in a coma, which I very well know that I was put in a coma because I had a brain injury. And I woke up to consciousness, being aware of my feelings, being aware of my body intelligence, being aware of my thinking. What am I telling myself? And so I've just been floating along and being reactive to my behaviors. I've lived pretty much my whole life. So, I believe now, which I love, seeing the growth of consciousness around even the younger generation. And they are my story, my belief, my experiences that I'm going to say 40 and younger have seen an experienced people my age and older suffering. They see us trying to get there and they can. There's an energy around that as kind of icky, and they can feel it. It's not that they don't care for those people. But they're like, I don't know what that is over there. But I don't want it. I don't want it and I want to do things differently. And so, they come up with this word, purpose. But I think it's even been kind of like, I don't know, diluted, where people think it's about, I'm going to serve a company or underprivileged, or whatever it is, for once a month. But that's not what these younger people are saying. They're saying, I want to live who I'm called to be. And so, I see that yearning inside of them. They're really searching for how I can have that? How can I be who I am because I'm being told one thing over here at school, like this is what I got to do to be here. But yet, it doesn't really align with me. And so, when I work with Vanderbilt and Belmont University here, and when I talk with these younger people, they're so curious. And so, consciousness to me is can I get curious as to what's here right now? And what can I learn right now versus just being reactive? And when we're conscious, we want to look at the results if we're not getting the results we want, especially now, people are feeling more fearful than ever. People are overwhelmed. People don't have clarity. They've never had to navigate a situation that we've all been in, how do we do this beyond Zoom, not be on Zoom, be together not be together. And now we're getting a different round of the variance. So, when people try to figure out what to do, I'm out of reactivity, we will never get the result we want. So, seeing how people can step back, take a deep breath and look at like, how could this be for us? Just like our childhood for me and you. It wasn't for us? Or it was for us in the time it wasn't. And we don't believe COVID is really for us. But really, I want to encourage people like, how is it really for us to slow down and look at what hasn't been working, even though we've been a hugely successful nation? And how do we shift around being who we want to become and become with each other versus what we accomplish? Right?
Kelly: So it sounds to me that it's kind of like conscious leadership and the idea that people are waking up to this now. It's like, for some people, the way that we've historically been going has worked, but that some people are a very small percentage. It's not most people. It's a small percentage. So, what that actually indicates is that the way that we have been operating as individuals and as organizations is not sustainable, right? So, if we boil it down, conscious leadership is about trying to create sustainability within the self and the organization. Like that's probably if I boil it all down, that's what we're after. And, some people talk about it in the context of valuing the people, the humans in the organization, valuing the planet, any kind of impact from that standpoint. And profit, not profit over those things, profit as part of those things. If it was sort of like a little Venn diagram, maybe profit, might even be the bottom circle. But somewhere in the middle, where there's overlap is something called sustainability. Right? And so yeah, I just think that people are realizing that we can't keep going like this. Right. And, you mentioned that it's more people, younger generation, like 40 and under, right at that cusp. But I also notice in my coaching work that it is people who are actually a little older than that, that are also starting to wake up because they're in a little bit of a different mindset. They're not looking at the folks older than them, and saying, like, oh, I don't want to continue to do that. They're actually having some kind of experience themselves, where they're starting to do what you said, which is to dial up that curiosity. Why don't I feel happy? Why do I feel like I'm not sure if I am doing this? I thought it was going to be more beautiful than this. I thought I was going to be happier than this. Right? So, they're starting to ask those questions. Yeah. Just curious, what do you think about that?
Debra: Yeah, they definitely are. Some of those for sure. I see that there. My experience has been that they're still very still attached. They might be curious, but it's really hard to let go. If you're making billions or millions, it's really hard to let go of trying, maybe the opposite, even of thinking and feeling and doing. But yes, I agree. And I love that you brought that up. Because I mean, I think you all have a note about consciousness. So, when we're not conscious, we're living in fear. We're living in toxic fear. We're living at oh my gosh, be careful, watch out, that might be wrong, you are wrong, or I'm wrong. And so, we will never create a result we want from that space. And so, I think some of these older people are looking at me like, oh, my back hurts. My body hurts. Now, I just had a heart attack and I'm 50 years old, or and they're starting to realize that they've been storing a lot in their bodies even and that's taking a toll on them. And there's always this little niggle in them looking for some sort of fulfillment. And I've actually coined a word. I don't know if we talked about this last time but it's called genius-ship. So, my work is to move us from excellence, which I believe is killing us, to consciousness, to waking up to, we're more than achieving and winning to our genius that we all have this purpose, calling, skill, talent all lined up beautifully, because we're all unique like no one else. And if we are put into that, if we create that for ourselves and our people, the sky's the limit and talk about creating something greater than we could just by trying to achieve something. Talk about sustainability and engagement. Right? So that's my desire is that we start to really wake people up to consciousness, taking radical responsibility for I think, feel, respond or react, we're going to react, how do I like to continue to move through that to responsiveness? And then can I start to wonder, what am I doing here? Like, what's my purpose? It's got to be more than achieving. And I do see people asking and looking for that.
Kelly: I love this idea that excellence is killing us. Did you write this book yet? That's the title of the book.
Debra: Actually, I'm going on sabbatical in September, and I'm going to be working at it.
Kelly: Amazing. I didn't know that. But hopefully, that is the title.
Debra: That is totally the title. It's called Excellence is Killing You.
Kelly: Oh, my God. That's really interesting. I really didn't know that. Yeah, because that for someone who identifies or has previously identified to be clear, as total perfectionist, total type A, everything that you've said and so many people listening and watching can identify with us, right? You are the leader, or potentially owner, or both of an agency or some type of marketing creative technology firm. Right? And so, have you ever stopped to wonder, what is it that's actually driving all of that? For me, I can only speak for myself. But for me, I have come to realize that it was my need to prove to myself and to the world that I was valuable and worthy. I needed that affirmation. So, my drive, like you talked a little bit about that thing underneath, right? My drive was to prove worthiness because I didn't get it as a child. I wasn't taught that I was worthy for just simply who I was. For me, it was like, if you get the straight A, if you are captain of the sports team, if, if, if, right? If you do all these things, conditional love, then I might love you. In my case, it was like you could do all those things. I'm still not going to do it. But that's a whole other conversation.
Debra: Yeah. I know that one, too.
Kelly: Yeah. But this is the thing, right? Like we are inadvertently taught and it's not our parents’ faults, right? Like, that's probably what they were taught. It just is. But it is a good question like, what is the driver behind you owning an agency or taking the initiative to start something to start as a practitioner and say, yeah, I could do this, I could prove to everyone really to myself, but prove to everyone that I can do this. And I'll get that external validation back to what we were talking about before.
Kelly: So, what you just said, that's what a three is. They're seeking their worthiness from outside of themselves. And they're afraid that they're not valuable.
Debra: Yeah. It's really interesting because I find the same thing like knowing your motivation. And for those of you, I’m just going to make a plug for the enneagram. And to get it assessed appropriately because it really is a great tool to notice through that. What is your motivation? It does really highlight your motivation and how to stretch and grow out of that. I call my 3 as my delusion, my delusion to safety and my delusion to enoughness.
Kelly: I love that. That's an awesome reframe. Because it also takes the attachment to it as like a crutch, like, oh, well, that's just how I am. It's like, well, no, that's actually I'm calling myself out. That's my delusion. And now I'm like, I love that. So, Debra, as we start to wrap up, you mentioned enneagram as one tool, but I'm sure that there are a couple more in your repertoire that you use probably on a daily basis. So, any of that you can share with the audience?
Debra: Yeah, so for sure. You all when we are triggered, we don't breathe fully, our muscular system tightens. It pulls in to protect our body, and we only breathe a very short amount and from that space, we're not able to even think clearly, and then it doesn't feel good in our body. So, I have learned the major thing that has changed my body and my whole being is learning breathing practices. And just one simple thing that I do is breathe through my belly as deep as I can, slow as I can, in the midst of me being triggered, and just feeling the rise and expansion of my belly all the way up through my chest where my nose is, slowly as I can and then even slower, exhale all the way out. And I do those three or four times. And I practice that even when I'm not triggered. Because then I remember oh yeah, come back to your breath, come back to your breath. So that actually does change your nervous system and actually the chemistry in your blood when we breathe. The other thing I do is once I've felt my feelings through, and I'm clear-minded, I asked myself, wow, that thought I had that really got me going, could the opposite of that thought be true, or even truer than what I was telling myself? And that's neuroplasticity, really starting to think of another way. And whoa, it brings you to curiosity, because when we're triggered, we're not curious. We're just right. And it then brings me to a state of peace and calm. Just asking the opposite. Calm slows me down.
Kelly: Yeah. Do you have a specific example in let's say, the last couple of weeks where you used one of these tools, and it totally changed your emotional regulation or nervous system or something along those lines that allowed you to kind of come back to center?
Debra: Well, I've really been triggered, we talked about this earlier, around COVID. And I have found that five people that I know have COVID, and they all have been vaccinated, and I got angry, because I'm like, why are you doing this? If people are still getting COVID, and they're not wearing masks, and so I had fear. I had anger. I had this, like, what are we going to do now? There's nowhere safe to go. Like, I feel myself sparling down. I can't go on here. And there's a limit. And so even this morning, I could feel that this happened last night. So, I said, okay, just breathe. I noticed. And I said out loud. What's here? I said, there's fear here, is one of the main things. So can you just welcome fear and breathe with it? Allow it to be here instead of pushing it away. And there's anger and frustration here. So, I'm kind of just welcome at three, and just be with what is instead of also trying to push away the frustration. And this morning, I woke up later, and I just kept walking and breathing with whatever was there. And I'm a new person for sure. Yeah, I'm able to have a clear-headed conversation now.
Kelly: Yeah, I really appreciate that as the example because I think a lot of people are definitely dealing with that. Definitely, that resonates a lot with me as well. So, it's helpful. And hopefully some people can take that away as well.
Debra: This morning, it popped up on my phone. It's the great resignation, which I know you know of, of these leaders, CEOs who are like I'm out of here. I'm checking this out. Is this too much for me? It's not what I want. I don't want this on my plate. I don't have the answers, whatever it is. I don't want to be a part of this anymore. And my story that I make up around that is that they're going to think that if they leave, things are going to be okay. And then they're finally going to have whatever it is. And my want for us is for you and me, the people who are conscious supporters of this is to support them and like, let's take a step back. What if you still are the answer, but we look at it from a different path. We take a breath and take a look at how this situation is for you as a leader. So I just wanted to share that.
Kelly: I'm really glad that you did. That's a beautiful way to wrap up. Debra, thank you so much for being with me today. I love talking to you and I look forward to the next time.
Debra: Thanks, Kelly. You too.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Jennifer Briggs discuss how creative firms can use employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) or co-ops as a business model, both demonstrating equity and planning for succession.
Episode 103: Employee Ownership as a Business Model, with Jennifer Briggs
Kelly: Welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Have you ever thought about employee ownership as a business model for your agency? I know when I had my agency, I definitely considered it but I had no idea how to go about it or what questions to ask. Well, joining me today is Jennifer Briggs. She's the Senior Strategy Consultant at The Beyster Institute, which is actually within the University of California at San Diego. Jennifer, we're going to dive into this conversation. I'm really excited about it. But welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me, Kelly. This is great.
Kelly: So, can you tell us a little bit more because I'm sure most of my audience is not really familiar with The Beyster Institute. Tell me a little bit more about the work that you do there. And then a little bit more about your own background?
Jennifer: Yeah. So, The Beyster Institute was started by Dr. Bob Beyster and his family inside the University of California. But our big purpose is to help employee ownership grow and have this public will to grow even bigger. It's a way of helping more people become capitalists by helping people own stock in the company that they own. So basically, employees become your shareholders through a trust in an ESOP. So, we focus on ESOPs at The Beyster Institute. ESOP stands for Employee Stock Ownership Plan. So it's a trust that holds stock, and then the employees are participants in it. And so, the big part is, the people that work in a company sharing the value they help create. And that's it fundamentally. We grow value in our companies, which is something we all want. But your audience for that value growth is your own employees. And so, it's a really cool thing, but it is a qualified retirement plan. So, it acts like a 401k. But it's just different in that way. But I do want to mention that there's other forms of employee ownership. So, there's employee-owned cooperatives, which is another form. You have ESOPs and then some companies start building an employee ownership culture just by doing broad based gain-sharing plans, which are cash and it gives you a way to help grow employee ownership culture, as you grow large enough to become an ESOP.
Kelly: Great. And so, before you were at the institute, you were on the internal teams at a brand and then also had some agency experience. Can you tell us about that if it's not going too far into the ghosts of the past?
Jennifer: Yeah, the ghosts of the past. I think it's an important part of the story though. My first big corporate job where I cut my business teeth was inside WPP. I work for a company that got acquired by WPP. And so, I was working inside that organization. And I kind of started feeling like I was the evil HR person, and I didn't really want to be there anymore. And just because of the type of work I did, it was really fast-paced and fun. I learned a lot there. But then this little brewery in Colorado called me, who was tiny at the time, and said, “Hey, you want to come work here?” And of course, I said, yes. And so that brewery is New Belgium Brewing. If you haven't heard of New Belgium, Voodoo Rangers, kind of the hot brand right now. Fat Tire at the time.
Kelly: Fat Tire. Yeah, of course. Every beer drinker, every craft brew aficionado loves Fat Tire.
Jennifer: Yeah, so I became an executive. I was VP of organizational development, human resources there. And I think what's really important is, what a lot of your other speakers have talked about is that, the voice of the brand, the authenticity. One of the references, maybe to learn a little bit more, is any book by Douglas Holt that he's written. But it's the brand culture cycle and the environmentalism that we had, the employee ownership that we had, the distributed leadership and participative management. How did all those things show up in terms of the relationship with our beer drinkers, on authenticity that we had and that connection to it, which really did lead to, I was there for 13 years, and most of those years were double digit revenue growth. So, we increased jobs, we increased revenue, we increased profitability. And so, it was just a really powerful experience to do that. And so now, in addition to The Beyster Institute, I also work as an independent outside director for ESOP companies. And we really do look at brand strategy as a way to, we all have the vanity metrics, the likes on Twitter, and the Instagram vibe, and all that kind of stuff. But it all has to be for the point of growing the company. And again, when you grow a company and an ESOP, the people that work there that helped grow that value are the ones that participate in it, and that connection is really, really important.
Kelly: Yeah. So, using New Belgium kind of as a case study, can you talk a little bit specifically about the brand image and the impact of brand image as they kind of adopted this strategy?
Jennifer: Yeah, I look back to the growth years of Fat Tire, for example. When we were working on that project, we had this brand persona. We called him the Tinker. And it was somebody who just had this more bohemian attitude, Colorado lifestyle, love to ride bikes in the mountains. We actually did some TV commercials, and I still love those commercials. And the thing was, how that feeling emanated to the drinker's was actually how we were living inside the company. We all have this passion, regardless of what job you were and had this passion for what we were doing, but we were also admittedly kind of a little bit rough around the edges.
Kelly: Humid in other words.
Jennifer: Yes. It wasn’t as polished and posh brand image. It was hopefully playful, in that authenticity, and then, jumped forward to where they are now with Voodoo Ranger. That is another connection point to the consumer of a voodoo is a persona. He's a character. And so, the brands were these characters that really came from, what did the company stand for? What do we look like? And if you look at the change from the tinkerer persona, to the voodoo persona, it really represents the generational shift in the drinker, and generational shifts and what society was doing. And so, this is, when you look at cultural brands, everybody's hoping to jump on this. We want to ride that way. But it also won't show up. It'll show up as disingenuous, right? If it's not matching how you're living as a firm, right?
Kelly: That's a great point. That's really a great point. I want to stick a pin in that. One of the things that you and I had talked about before we jumped on here was that these professional services firms, specifically for our contacts, like marketing, advertising, creative technology firms, who are servicing clients, they are actually only number two behind manufacturers in terms of creating ESOPs, which was like mind-blowing to me. I had no idea. Can you talk a little bit about that? Maybe share an example of a recent situation that you've heard of?
Jennifer: Yeah, so professional services firms in the context of this can also be like engineering firms. So, they're the firms that are a wonderful fit for ESOP because of their design, and the levels of compensation of the people that work there. And so, a good example of an ESOP is Butler/Till in this world, and they acquired Digital Hyve just recently. And so, this is another thing when we look at it, every business owner is going to come to a point where they want to kind of change their capital ownership where they're ready to orchestrate an exit. And you don't always have to sell to the big person, you don't have to sell to the WPPs. You can look for other ESOP companies as potential acquirers. And that's, I think the Butler/Till example is a wonderful example of doing that. And it is an option for smaller companies to do that if the company itself isn't large enough to become an ESOP. ESOPs do need to be kind of a certain size, have a certain headcount. Usually, it's about 50 to 100 people that we start looking at as a viable option. So, for some small agencies, doing it on their own might not be an option. But there's a host of companies out there that help a company really retain that genuine authenticity and that fierce independence a lot of agencies have, which is super cool.
Kelly: I'm just curious because like the 50 to 100 headcount might not necessarily be something that some of the audience members listening or watching this, like they may say, “Well, I never want to get to 50 or 100. Maybe I'm not 10, maybe I'm not 20 people, right? What is the feasibility for an agency of that size to be acquired by a larger ESOP?
Jennifer: I think the feasibility is really strong. What it's like any other acquisition that you would do with any other company, is you want to show your strong business performance results. And an ESOP acquisition acts a lot like any other one where you go through the due diligence, and you go through that process with the company and you get acquired. So, the process is no different. It's just at the end of the day who owns the company. It's the ESOP. It's the trust that owns the company. But another option is to become an employee of a co-op, and that there are a growing number of times companies that are cooperatives act differently, they don't have the tax advantages that ESOP does. But there are a lot of opportunities. And I guess that's the point, to look at exploring this, not exclude it from your menu of options. When you look at an ownership transition, this should be on that menu. And if it's not, well ideally contact Beyster Institute, but contact somebody. There's a lot of state centers that can help companies decide if this is a viable option. But get on the menu, contact people, network, find out what agencies are employee owned, and there are resources that can help with that.
Kelly: That's great. And then just as a follow up to that. You mentioned the co-op option. Does that have a lower headcount in terms of the parameter?
Jennifer: It does. It's just a different model in terms of how to administer it because it's not a qualified plan. So, the qualifications. Our government gives us some tax advantages for ESOPs. And anytime the government gives you some tax advantages, there's going to be something on the other side of it.
Kelly: You got it. Got to get back their money somehow.
Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. There's no way out on this. So, there are other options of doing this or coupling businesses up and figuring out how to combine resources and really make that a strategic advantage. But yeah, I think the big part for me is when companies start engaging a broker or an exit planning firm. A lot of them don't have this option there, or they kind of have some myths like ESOPs are too difficult. Well, there's a lot of really successful ESOPS. Cooperatives have too much democratic governance. You get to design that government. So, there's a lot of myths around this that are just fundamentally untrue when you get to figuring out how you are going to run this kind of business.
Kelly: Yeah, and the institute sounds like it would be an absolutely great resource to start uncovering some of that. Because I can hear my audience in my head, translating all of this into numbers. Talk a little bit about potential increase in revenue, maybe not, I don't know if you could talk to profitability, but certainly increasing revenue for agencies that might be considering moving to either an ESOP or a co-op model.
Jennifer: Yeah. So, there is an abundance of research primarily around ESOPs. I'm a fellow with Rutgers University. There's an institute for the study of employee ownership and profit sharing. And there's also the National Center for Employee Ownership. And these two organizations have done so much research around this. And so, employee-owned companies, ESOPs in particular that have a participative culture. So that means that people are actively working together in growing the business, usually with some kind of decision-making or distributed leadership. I'm a fan of open book management too. But when you combine those two things, we see higher performance than average companies. So, they average more in sales. They grow revenue faster. Their profitability is better. And more recently, with the pandemic, those have also been studied. And the companies that were ESOPs in the pandemic actually weathered it and they showed more resilience during the pandemic. So, they came out of it more successfully than non-ESOP companies. So, this is not new age or anything, it's just kind of been there for a long time. And a lot of companies see stable, sustainable growth. So that's one of the things that they've also seen. As our performance is more predictable, it does tend to be more stable and sustainable. So, these are long-term durable companies that we're looking at which if you're a volatile company, and just kind of want to ride the highs and lows of stocks, probably not a good fit for any ESOP. But most of the companies, your audience wants that durability. They want that…
Jennifer: Yeah. And over and over the research has shown that to be true with ESOP and employee-owned companies. Yeah.
Kelly: I mean, the way that I sort of interpret all of this is that, it's really no different from the idea that I talked about often on the show, which is like, money follows value, right? So, what you're doing is you're supporting the employees, right? They're supporting you because they have skin in the game. Right? And so obviously, they're going to be more dedicated, they're going to just bring more to the table, for lack of a better phrase. So really what we're talking about, is this part of like conscious capitalism or conscious leadership? And like, what's the tie in there? Because for me, it seems very apparent.
Jennifer: Yeah. So, one of the things I think, or I know that ESOPs have in common is their long-termist attitude. So, they're not looking because they're not in the public realm. Even though you're measuring stock, you're measuring value over time. So, you're not going to have the same effect that you have in the public realm where you have this ups and downs and very short-termist attitude on the quarter. And living that one experience, these companies have a long-termist attitude. And when you have a more long-term outlook, I think that also drives a conscious capitalism of what are we going to be like in 5, dare we look at 10 years. And so, then that causes other things to come into mind. And the other part of this is Louis Kelso, who really helped get this law into place in the 1970s. His theory was that it's not that capitalism is the issue. It is that we don't have enough capitalists. And so, where a lot of people don't have access to, they don't have money in their pocket to be able to go buy a company or buy into a company. This is a way of getting more people involved in the capitalistic experience inside a company. And so more people are growing equity, obviously, stock equity, but also, it has a ripple effect of possibly more equity for more people to own things, and to own stock where a lot of people don't have access to that. And so that also, we know that more diverse companies are higher performing companies, right? So, you have all these. It's a multifactor effect.
Kelly: There's a lot of overlap that I'm hearing.
Jennifer: So much. Yeah. And so, you're thinking long-term. You're thinking about diversity. You're thinking about stakeholder effects. You're thinking about the environment now. I'm actually sitting in Colorado as I talk to you and the western slope is like burning in drought. And so, it allows for these things to be part of the consciousness of a company, because you're not just thinking about, well, I have to get my number for the next quarterly return.
Kelly: Right. Well, I'm going to leave it there, because that's a great soundbite. We know that numbers are not the be all, end all. They're just part of the people and planet and profit sort of triumvirate. So Jennifer, thank you so much for being on the show. I really enjoyed this conversation, and you are just like a wealth of information. So, I'll put all those resources that you mentioned into the show notes and thank you again.
Jennifer: Thank you, Kelly.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Iris Shoor talk shop about how Oribi takes the guesswork out of customer journey analytics and campaign attribution to help agencies improve performance and retain clients.
Episode 102: Actionable Analytics and Client Retention, with Iris Shoor
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. We're going to get a little more analytical today than we usually do. My guest today is Iris Shoor. She's the founder and CEO of Oribi, which is a software company that offers a little more insightful information as an alternative to Google Analytics. So, I'm really excited about it because I always felt like Google Analytics had a little bit of a monopoly in the industry. And there was a lot of data that wasn't necessarily actionable, especially for my team when I had my agency. So I know if that's been an issue for you, you're really going to love today's conversation. Iris, it's a pleasure to have you on the show and welcome.
Iris: Thank you.
Kelly: So, let's talk a little bit about this idea that as a startup, as a founder, you saw this incredible gap in the market, as we all see some of those things, but you actually went ahead and built something that could actually address some of the issues that we've all had with Google Analytics. So, I'd love to hear what you were seeing in the market and how you went about building Oribi?
Iris: Sure. So Oribi is my third company. I had two different startups in the past. The first one was acquired. The second one is still going and doing well. Each one was very different. The first one was around 3D modeling. The second one was for developers. And in both of them, I led the marketing. I was always very, very passionate about marketing and always found it amazing how hard it is to be data driven. I believe that all marketers, the more data savvy we want and the more creative we want, we all want to be data driven. And we all want to understand if what we're doing will have an impact. And today, it's so hard to measure it. So I was always amazed by how hard it is to ask the very basic questions just to understand what's unique about the user segment to sign up to a product. And what happens on a specific page that most people leave it and so on. And with my previous company that was always about using lots of developers and using Google Analytics. I would say, it's a very rich tool. There is a reason that editing dominates the market. But most people don't really like it. So it's very technical. It's pretty complex. And you need to have the resources in order to collect all the data. And we felt that the window changing and editor is a place for a much leaner and easier tool and it doesn't rely on developers and it will enable the marketing team to be more agile and more independent and to analyze things themselves.
Kelly: Yeah. All music to my ears, right? Of course, as marketers, we want to be more agile. We don't necessarily want to rely on our developers. We love our developers, but we'd rather utilize them for the heavier technical lifts.
Iris: Yeah. We love developers. They're not crazy about the marketing tasks. That’s the issue.
Kelly: Right. So talk a little bit about this no code approach, because there's so many beautiful benefits to Oribi, but like the developer cost savings, and the ability, from a resource allocation standpoint, to use your developers for what they are most skilled at, as opposed to dealing with Google Analytics, like attribution and event setup and things like that. Talk a little bit about that no code approach and how you've seen marketing agencies really lean into that.
Iris: Yeah, definitely. So when I first asked myself what is wrong with marketing analytics today, I think some of these answers were about the user interface, analyzing data, getting more insights. But definitely the first barrier is just collecting the very basic data error and being able to see all the data was around using the developer. So most of the companies and that's also an experience that I experienced myself, don't manage to collect all the data. So usually not the very low number of events. So we know who signed up, who purchased the product, but everything in between is kind of like a blind spot to us because of this issue. And I think there are different types of companies. SMBs usually don't have dev resources at all. And therefore, when they set up Google Analytics or another tool for the first time, do some events, but never changes, sense of setup. And for other companies and more address companies, they always hear the same, that there is a bottleneck around dev resources, that it usually takes weeks to months until they add a new event, and that the data is limited. And that's why I decided to focus with Oribi on building a technology that will enable us to collect all the data in a cordless way. In a way it's like Shopify or Wix that we managed to disrupt the industry by allowing everybody to create your own website. Even though you could have said before that it's pretty easy to build a website. You just need a WordPress developer for like a week or two, a really huge gap of allowing companies to do it themselves and that is what we are trying to do for the analytics world. And if you were to try out Oribi, you can see that we have this beautiful event builder. We track all the events that happen on the website. Everything is also retroactive. So at any given moment, you can say, okay, I want to see who explored my new products, who decided to sign up, who read my content. And another thing that we do that is very unique is that we really translate all the actions and buttons into meaningful events. So usually, you're not interested in understanding how many people clicked a certain button. But you want to see how many people had high intent, how many people read your content, how many people decide to purchase, and it can have, like different ways to show up on the website. So, part of the core technology is about smart grouping and understanding of the key actions. And you have this catalog of all the different events on the website, and you just choose them. And then you can see which visitors performed each event to the finals based on this information to create reports, and to analyze campaigns, analyze email marketing, to really see that entire visitor journey without all the hassle of using developers.
Kelly: Right. And so, from an agency standpoint, a lot of us have employed more junior employees who may not necessarily have the experience to let's say, when they were looking in Google Analytics to understand like, well, this data that I'm looking at, this actually is interpreted this way. And these are the actions that I need to take on the front end of the website in order to increase conversions, or in order to better understand that customer journey. So what this does, and I think, there again, there's so many beautiful benefits to this. But what this does is it actually takes all of that guesswork out of that, so that it's very plain to see this particular customer came to this page, this is the action that they took, here's where they fell off. And there are actually some, I guess you would call like recommendations, or some suggestions that come out of Oribi to say here, if you were to do this, this might increase this number, which is brilliant, right? I mean, that's what we all need.
Iris: Yeah. So the way I see marketing analytics is really taking all the tests that you perform the last week also and really understanding the impact. I think the main question that we need to ask ourselves as marketers is, how is this campaign converting? What is the impact of the last email blast that they send? What is the impact of the last video I produced or the last article that they sent? And with Google Analytics, their design is a bit outdated and it's more about metrics, like time on site, bounce rate, and how many people visited each page. And what we're trying to change is the concept of fast impact. So there might be a lower time on site for certain campaigns, but people could revert it beautifully. So it's more about asking how each action impacted my key goals such as selling the products, getting signups and so on, and understanding the visitor journey. So it's less about those website parameters. It's more about visitors and the behavior and about impact and about really connecting the key use cases and the key things that you've been working on to results.
Kelly: I'm smiling because I remember having some of these conversations with clients of my former agency, and it was like, well, if one of our KPIs is to lower the bounce rate, what are we actually talking about? Right? Because if someone was googling, let's say, this is a silly example, but googling, like the name of the company and the phone number, and the contact page actually came up in the search results, right? And Google, they clicked it, they went to that page, they found the phone number. And they either wrote the phone number down or clicked if they were on their mobile phone, or what have you. And the bounce rate is incredibly high on the contact page. And that's because they actually got exactly what they needed. So in that case, the bounce rate was not negative. And so, when you think about what these KPIs really mean, I think your approach takes so much more of the actual human behavior and the impact into consideration, whereas you're right, a lot of Google Analytics, the way that they're measuring things, and by the way, those measurements themselves have not changed in a very long time, right?
Iris: So you've seen that these metrics represent the web for like, 15 years ago, when it was mostly about how many people visited my website, which pages they visit. And today, most of the transactions happen online. And that's what we're aiming for. And for understanding user behavior, so it's not about page views. It's about conversions.
Kelly: Yeah. No, I love that. What you're really doing, essentially, what I'm hearing is that you're tying humanity into technology, as opposed to technology for technology's sake. And that's where everything is going. So this is a really pertinent conversation. [Commercial]
Iris: Yeah. That's like one perspective that we're trying to implement within the product, that is to have the aggregated view, as well as individual view. So it seemed that there are always like two angles of viewing the behavior. One like 30% of the people that read my content eventually signed up, but you also see how individual users use the product. So you can actually see how people are reading your content, what they're doing later, to really understand where they came from, what they have done in different sessions. And it's really like peeking across the shoulder of your users and trying to understand what they're doing. And I think that's also something that we're missing. So we're so much into the high level numbers. And it's also important to understand what users do. And to really see what they're seeing.
Kelly: Yeah, so important. Yeah, it really gives you that insight. And so talk about that a little bit from the standpoint of integrations. So if you're looking at this aggregated view, obviously, there have to be, I would imagine lots of integrations now, and I'm assuming ones that exist already. And then I'm assuming there are probably a lot of other ones kind of in the pipeline.
Iris: Yeah. So okay, just to make sure that we rely on you speaking about integrations of data coming from Oribi to other tools, right?
Iris: So as I mentioned, the main part of Oribi technology as differentiation between Oribi and other tools is being able to collect the entire customer journey in a tagged way without using code. When we started developing this technology, it was more about Oribi. So how to use marketing analytics in a better way. You don't need to use developers. And then we started to get lots of requests for customers asking, okay, this is an amazing event. And I want to create a lookalike audience on Facebook using this event. How do I do it? Or I want to create a segment on MailChimp. How do I do it? Or a new field on HubSpot. So that's one direction that we took during the past year, and we're going to double down on it during the next year, sending data to other platforms as well. So we have a very strong partnership with Facebook in which you can create cordless data to export to Facebook and create look-alikes, and conversion events. Based on age you can mix and match. So for example, you can say like I want to create a lookalike audience of all the users that signed up or used a chat or contacted us. So to create more accurate look-alikes. With all the recent changes of iOS 14, I wouldn't say that we're resilient to it. As we're doing everything on the server side, we are able to collect more data to match the data more accurately, and everything without any privacy issues. So, we're just imitating and sending the data as if it was created by using developers or code in a smart way and on the server side.
Kelly: That's great. And then other integrations that are planned going forward.
Iris: Yeah, so probably that Klaviyo segment, Zapier, Salesforce. We're trying to get to all the marketing tools and to enable this prebuilt customer journey data layer, without all the hassle around it.
Kelly: Yeah, it's so amazing. So I hear that's sort of like the next year of what you have planned. And then this past year, but really, this has only been, I guess, you’ve launched about two and a half years ago, and there are already 10,000 companies using this platform. It's just really, really amazing. And also speaks to the benefits of it. So even though Google Analytics might be “free”, when you start to add up the cost of developers versus the cost of this, it's kind of a no brainer.
Iris: It's the cost of developers, but also the insights. I see so many companies today that spent tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars in mass marketing, as they don't really understand what is the impact of each channel and each campaign. So every minor optimization, even if you are able to optimize your marketing efforts in like 2%, or 5%, if you're not able to see the entire picture with your marketing analytics tools, it has a huge impact.
Kelly: Yeah. So let's talk a little bit about that impact because most of the agencies, the leaders and owners who are listening to this or watching this, what they actually care about is not so much the like, how did we get here, but it's really more about how are we retaining clients? Like, is this something that can help them retain more clients simply because the results that they're achieving for their clients are going to be that much better?
Iris: So yeah, what we had in mind when we built Oribi, was the main marketing use cases. So it's paid acquisition, email marketing, content marketing, and using different channels for the website, website optimization. And what we're emphasizing at Oribi is really about all the different touch points of visitors with this type of content. So let's say for example, that you are producing lots of content marketing, and you don't have many readers to the articles, and clients might say that you're not doing a good job, you have only like 200 people a week reading the new articles. But if you're able to show them that out of these 200 people, 20 converted, and you have this amazing match rate to conversions. So this is incredibly important. If you're able to really understand, especially with all the mess that happens there right now with paid acquisition, attribution, and each platform attributing in a different way, those impact and it's also things that are important for the marketing agencies themselves. So if for example, in writing amazing content, you have lots of failure. We're able to drive a lot of visitors, but none of them convert, then you need to understand how to build a different strategy. And so one of the main pain points between agencies and clients, and the topic that we hear a lot is how to measure things. And if you're able to show the results in a very simple way, and in a very clear way, it's not about guessing and it's not about different arguments, it is about how you see the numbers.
Kelly: Just the data.
Iris: Just the data, and then you're able to show how much value you contribute.
Kelly: Yeah. Well, this is great. I definitely want to invite everyone to sign up for the seven-day free trial for Oribi. And if you would like to subscribe, once you are blown away by how insightful the data is, you can get 20% off of that subscription. You can either just mention it when you're talking to someone in the chat or by phone, just mention Thrive. Or you can actually just go directly to oribi.io/thrive in order to pop onto that landing page. So, Iris, this is so great. I am so excited that you were able to join and talk a little bit about this. It's an amazing tool. And thank you so much for building it and thanks for your time today.
Iris: Thank you.
Episode 101: What is Conscious Inclusion with Juan Cortes
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. There has been a lot of energy around inclusion in the workplace, how to become more conscious of our biases as agency leaders and what to actually do about them. So today, I'm joined by one of my friends, Juan Cortes to talk about just that. Juan is the co-founder of Matter of Culture, which is an inclusive culture and employee engagement consultancy. He's also represented on consciousness leaders, which is my new venture in the world. And I am really, really excited to have him here today. So Juan, thank you so much. I am just really grateful to have this conversation with you of all people.
Juan: Thank you. I'm super excited to do the same.
Kelly: So your background, which I didn't actually know until we started talking more. Your background is actually in the marketing and advertising world. And it's been really focused on creating employee resource groups, or ERGs for agencies and world class brands for like, 25 years. Not to age you, but can you talk a little bit about that work? Because I imagine that there are a lot of people who, if they're not part of those larger brands, or part of those larger agencies, they don't actually know potentially what those ERGs are all about. So, we'd love to hear a little bit more about that.
Juan: Sure. So, the first thing that I'll say is, thank you for having me here, Kelly. I am much like you. I actually was really quite surprised about how long it's actually been that I've been in this space.
Kelly: Because you look so young. When I said 25 years, I was like, oh my God.
Juan: Well, there's a plus after that 25.
Kelly: I negated the plus.
Juan: What I realized recently, actually was that as far back as the early 90s, when I was merely a tyke working in New York, for MTV Networks, which is MTV, music, television, Nickelodeon, and a few others. I was actually part of what at the time was called the Diversity Council, which was really at the time, there was no conversation about inclusion or belonging or equity. It was really all about this kind of new buzzword called diversity. And our efforts really revolved around how we educate ourselves about the experiences of other people who are unlike us. And that was a really rewarding experience that really launched me into a career of not only learning and development, which is where I've spent a lot of my time, but also in terms of employee engagement, and specifically around creating a sense of inclusion and belonging. More recently, I was the VP of Learning and Engagement for Wunderman Thompson, which is a fairly large agency with 20,000 plus employees across the world. And because they put a series of mergers when we formed, as Wunderman Thompson has this large conglomerate, one thing that became really clear was that there was very little engagement, or that engagement levels were actually going down pretty significantly. And one way that I thought might be a good way of getting people back, engage employees was through creating opportunities for them to have a voice to share their experiences, and to contribute to the business in more significant ways. And I found no better way of doing that than through creating the first employee resource group that was created for the agency.
Kelly: And for the people who don't know necessarily what that definition is. What do you mean by an employee resource group?
Juan: So an employee resource group is typically defined as a group of employees who volunteer their time because more often than not, the efforts of Employee Resource Groups are done outside of your working hours, often within working hours, but particularly in agencies when billable time still rules. That's another conversation. We don't need to go in that direction. But worth mentioning only from the perspective that typically ERGs especially in agencies don't necessarily have billable hours. So don't count those as billable hours, for which reason, then they become volunteer hours in essence.
Kelly: Got it.
Juan: These groups are formed primarily for the purpose of creating a sense of inclusion and creating some educational components for the organization, whether an agency or not. But what I felt was really most compelling about creating an ERG, again, this group of employees was, how do we leverage the employees on the experiences that we have here collectively for the purpose of moving the business forward, moving the employee experience forward, and moving the communities in which we are forward. So that was kind of the three-part or the three-prong approach that I took to forming ERGs. ERGs are typically formed around an affinity. So, an ERG for women, or LGBTQ or people of color, and so on and so forth. So that's a little bit of what ERGs are and a little bit of what my focus was in creating the Wunderman Thompson.
Kelly: Yeah. Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. So, our charge today is to talk about conscious inclusion. There's a lot of talk about consciousness. The collective consciousness, conscious leadership, which I sound like a broken record. I feel like I say that phrase about 17 times a day, and so on, right? Like, we are learning a whole new vocabulary here, because there's a new, I guess, linguistics that is kind of coming to the forefront. So, what do we mean specifically by conscious inclusion? Because people are now familiar with diversity, equity and inclusion, or intentional culture or inclusive culture. But what do we mean by conscious inclusion?
Juan: So conscious inclusion is really a way of talking about moving beyond what we typically focus on or what many organizations are still focusing on when it comes to efforts related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and that typically revolves around unconscious biases. Most of the calls that I get from clients or potential clients looking for diversity training, when I asked them what they're looking for, they're like, actually, we don't know what we need. But typically, they do point out that one thing that they've heard a lot about is unconscious bias. And the thing about unconscious bias for me is that unconscious bias is really the precursor to information. When we learn about our unconscious biases, that gives us information that then we can use for another purpose. And that purpose is really to create an intentional, more inclusive culture, or this idea of conscious inclusion. So if our biases are unconscious, when we bring them up to the consciousness, what do we do about that? What is the action beyond that? Because otherwise, we end up falling for this idea of, well, now that I know that unconscious biases are normal, and are natural that all humans have them, and so on and so forth, I'm aware of them, I went through that training so I'm good.
Kelly: And it's almost like a pass, right?
Juan: Exactly right. And that pass actually has a name, that's called the licensing effect. And the licensing effect is really all about, now that I know what I know, I'm good and I don't need to do anything else about it. So what I've done is the term that I've been using of conscious inclusion is really the movement, the actual, the action, beyond or moving beyond just a sense of awareness, and inputting that or setting that in motion. So for instance, more often than not, whether agencies or other organizations, we think about the issues of diversity and inclusion, as it relates to how we are attracting talent, and how we're retaining talent, all of which is great. But there are many other opportunities for us to also create this sense of conscious inclusion. And those are some of the things that we've been working through.
Kelly: Right. So you just mentioned a really great point. I think most people would hear conscious inclusion and automatically kind of create a correlation between that and like the hiring process, and HR and all of that, right? Because it's all about candidate selection and all of that, but there are actually larger, ethical and business reasons to consider. So, let's talk a little bit about the idea of, like, the triple bottom line, which I would imagine that most of the people listening or watching this are pretty familiar with.
Juan: Yes. So, what I find is that when we begin to think about inclusion, we have to move beyond HR and we need to move beyond recruiting. Certainly, those things are really important because if we are not even attempting to get people from different backgrounds into the organization, and find ways of creating an environment where they can thrive and where their voices are heard, then we might get all the right numbers potentially, in terms of diversity, but not really get the benefits of that, that we get when we actually include them in the day to day and in the business decisions that we make, etc., etc.
Juan: So moving beyond just recruiting and HR, I find this important because, for instance, for agencies, I find that there's something magical about agencies, a power that as agencies that we have, and that is that we exist for the purpose of selling stuff, of helping our brands sell stuff. If we are not being mindful about the campaign's that we're creating, or the ads that we're creating, and so on, and so forth, we might be leaving some folks behind or not really taking them into consideration. So as an example, I've recently learned that in the world, 25% of the population worldwide has some form of disability. And that disability can be physical, it can be visible, or it can be invisible, or it could be neurodiversity, and so on and so forth. If within our teams, we don't have the opportunity, or we haven't taken the opportunity to create conscious inclusion for people with disabilities, we're leaving 20, 25% of people off the table, we're not including them in the work that we do. And we're missing an opportunity. So, to me, it goes beyond the recruiting and the HR efforts. And it needs to really translate into what sources strategists are looking at when they're looking at information that helps us create the right campaign. How are the creative teams looking at the people that we include in those campaigns, the actual talent that we include in those campaigns, and things along those lines.
Kelly: Yeah. And then how that translates to this triple bottom line effect, right? Like, if you think about that, when you harness the power of all of those different perspectives across the entire lifecycle of that creative process, the work is just better, therefore, the work is more effective, therefore, the clients are happier, therefore, the clients stay, therefore you can attract, like more talent that's of a higher quality, on and on and on this, like the cycle. And at the end of the day, we know profitability is a lagging indicator, but by focusing here, it then leads to sort of this triple bottom line impact. So, it's just good business, right? I joke around sometimes, I'm like, this is not just everybody holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Like, that's cool, too. But it also leads to a more profitable, more sustainable, predictable business.
Juan: A hundred percent. And, truth be told Kelly, that what drives me personally to do this work, is that it's the right thing to do. I like to create a space for all humans to feel included. But the business side of me does it because it is the right thing.
Kelly: And I think those things not being mutually exclusive is kind of like the takeaway. And I see that moving into that paradigm more now at a more accelerated right now than ever before. So that personally gets me excited because I'm in the same boat as you. [Commercial] So you just gave a couple of great examples. But when we had talked earlier, another time, you were also mentioning the impacts of some things that might be really interesting to some of the technology leaders that are listening to this. So, talk a little bit about how conscious inclusion can impact things like artificial intelligence and machine learning, because that's definitely something that we have to consider with us as well.
Juan: Sure. The truth of the matter is that technology, whether machine learning or artificial intelligence or combination of both is permeating our lives, whether we are aware of that or not.
Kelly: That's happening underneath the surface of that.
Juan: Exactly right. And so if we are not paying close attention, artificial intelligence, the information is still fed by humans. If humans are not aware of their biases, and they are developing this as technologists, then the very systems that are intended to help us move forward are going to be flawed. They're going to be less than perfect. And we've seen many examples of that, over organizations like universities who have used machine learning and artificial intelligence for their selection process with the purpose of actually being more inclusive and it actually backfired because the information that was set into those algorithms was not appropriate or was not inclusive in nature. It was riddled with the biases of the folks who created them.
Kelly: Right. And I bring it up, because I don't want people to think that this is just about the ad campaigns that are so visible in our world. It is also the technology that we sometimes don't even know is powering some of the things that we're digesting. So, obviously, this show is for creative and technology leaders. And I think it's important to bring up that conscious inclusion and unconscious bias and all these things like we have these conversations, and then actually, to your point earlier, do something about it. It's not enough to just have the conversations and say, okay, these are things that we should be aware of. No, actually, what are we going to do? And these are the conversations we need to have in our organizations, or if we don't know how to have those conversations, hiring a team that can help a consultancy, that's one of the next steps.
Juan: Exactly right. Yeah. On that note Kelly, I find that is an important component, that we also cannot just as agency leaders, go out there and pretend that we know what we know, and create campaigns that we think are inclusive, because then we come up with terrible campaigns like Pepsi.
Kelly: Don't even say it.
Juan: Few years back. Exactly. Yeah, I won't go further into that. That is exactly. There is a tone of deafness that comes from not really being part of that experience, or not having consulted people who have been part of that experience, as an underrepresented group. Think about also, for instance, from a technology perspective, if I am designing websites or apps, how am I making them more accessible so that folks who are visually impaired can navigate through them? And there's the legality side. So setting that aside completely, there's just a drive from my perspective. There should be a drive to be more inclusive because being more inclusive doesn't exclude anybody. So there's no downside to any of it. But it does require more energy, and it requires us to be more deliberate.
Kelly: Right. And isn't that what it's all about? Right? Being more intentional and more deliberate and more considerate of others.
Kelly: Yeah, I mean, as we start to kind of wrap up a little bit, I could hear some of the people who are in the audience listening to this or watching this on video, your background is clearly with larger organizations, like that WPP level, most of the people listening to this run smaller agencies or have some kind of leadership positions, smaller agencies. So how do we translate something like the idea of an ERG or the idea of conscious inclusion into smaller agencies?
Juan: So, I think that a smaller agency can still create an ERG. So there are ways to create these affinity groups. And to put that out internally and really understand and figure out who's there who can actually be a part of that. And perhaps the affinity is not so specific to one particular group. It might be broader. And I think that what these groups are working on, even working at Wunderman Thompson while I was there, there was one particular office that was fairly small and they were struggling with how do we create an energy here for this particular office. And what they did is that they created a group that they called something like the diversity group. It was something relatively innocuous, but in essence, what they did is that they created a series, they brought ideas to leadership, and they created a series of relationships. They establish relationships with local community leaders from various organizations. They invited me to come in and once a month, they had an opportunity to have veteran talk to them about their experience. They had gender nonconforming folks come in and talk to them. And most of this was actually done gratis because these were community leaders who were really looking to bring their message forward. So those are some of the things that as smaller agencies, we can still do.
Kelly: I love that idea. I absolutely love that idea. Because then it really goes into if you think about what the part of the equation of conscious leadership is, right? It's like, yes, taking care of your employees, also considering your impact on the community. And that impact can actually be reciprocal. Because what you're saying is that they went to the community leaders or people in the community from different groups, and they were able to bring them in and develop those relationships and actually kind of gain some insight or attract some knowledge. As a reciprocal thing, there could be donation or volunteerism on the part of the agency or the organization back to that group. Like, that's a beautiful exchange. I think that's a wonderful idea. I love that.
Juan: Yeah. And I'm all about reciprocity. So, I'm always looking for relationships where there is an even exchange, or at least an ongoing exchange. And so exactly right. Certainly if you're a larger organization, pony up and help these organizations with money. But if you are smaller, you still can do it on a volunteer basis and think about how we give back? Is it volunteer hours? Is it that we create a campaign? That's actually a lot of what happened when I was working at Wunderman Thompson.
Kelly: Yeah. We did that at my former agency. Most of our clients were nonprofits so we did small fundraising campaigns like the local animal shelter or the local food pantry. And then also volunteered with those organizations as sort of an extension of that contribution. So, there are lots of ways that you can do this. And anyhow, this is such a great conversation. It's one of my favorite things to talk about, and I love talking to you. So, thank you so much Juan for being on the show. I really, really appreciate your time and your wisdom. Thank you.
Juan: It's been my pleasure.
EP 100: The Power of Slowing Down, with Mo Gawdat
Kelly: I'm excited to celebrate this hallmark episode with a very, very special guest. Some of you may remember Mo Gawdat as the Chief Business Officer at Google X. And others might know him as the author of Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy. Either way, he's also the host of the new podcast Slo Mo. So be sure to check that out if you're feel inspired by this conversation today. I actually met Mo at the World Happiness summit a few years ago. I don't know if he remembers it. But he signed a book for a client of mine. And I was blown away by his presentations. So a warm welcome to you. I'm glad that you're here. I'm glad that we've reconnected and thank you so much for being my special guest on episode 100.
Mo: It's so special to feel, 100 is a very special number. I'm honored. And yes, I remember. And I remember the word Happiness Summit. I remember before they locked us down. And the first time I went to the World Happiness Summit, I was like, “There are summits about happiness?” Isn't it all about profitability and connectivity and technology? It was one of the most incredible experiences. I probably think you would agree.
Kelly: Yeah, I had a few clients who said, “Wait, you're going to a World Happiness Summit. So what do you do? You walk around and like smoke pot all day? I don't understand.
Mo: I don't. Actually the first World Happiness Summit was when I was publishing my book Solve for Happy. I actually published it there in Miami. And, it was a very emotional time for me because of the reasons of the book and so on. And I have never received more hugs in one day than I did that day in 17th Of March 2017. Basically people were so wonderful. Everyone there is saying, “Look, there are two sides to life. Yes, you do need to contribute and succeed, and make a difference. But you also want to find your happiness.” And so it was just a group of likeminded people that are looking for something very special and wonderful.
Kelly: Yeah. So let's talk about that a little bit, just as an entry point. So you actually researched the topic of happiness for well over a decade, which I actually don't think that I realized. What gave you the idea, to design an algorithm to try to reach this state of uninterrupted happiness in one's life?
Mo: A brain defect, if you want to believe it, Kelly. Engineers were weird. And at the time, I was a very serious geek, like real. I still am quite geeky, but not as much. To my mind, I was very happy until I was 24, 25. When I had nothing, life was difficult. And I became totally miserable by age 29 when I had everything. I was very successful, rich, by lots of measures, had the ability to print money in the stock market. I was doing very well. And, in my mind, I thought, like a geek, something went wrong with the code. So this piece of software that was in my head worked well until 24, and something went wrong. So let me debug this machine. And I did it literally. We debug software. I really started to list down all of the instances that made me happy or unhappy and try to find commonalities between them and try to make sense of it all, independent of spirituality, independent of practice, basically, like a lab scientist, if you want. And that paid off because happiness is highly predictable. It follows a very predictable pattern that can be summarized in an equation and to my brain when I figured that out, the rest was engineering, the rest was just hard work. But the discovery was there.
Kelly: And so why did you feel compelled to kind of bring this message to 1 billion people around this idea that this is like your personal mission in life?
Mo: Yeah, I don't wish that it was triggered because of the events that it was triggered. 12 years into my research, I was probably close to world champion on happiness. You couldn't dent my happiness. There wasn't much you could do because it was very clear and logical in my mind. As a matter of fact, in one of my future books, which is publishing in spring, next year, I talk about something that is called the happiness flow chart. It can follow a flow chart. And, when that happened, I started to share it with my family, my close friends. And the model worked. At the time, I think 2011 was the time when I decided probably I should write this down. And, make it a book, but I was busy. I was running around like all of us, executive at Google at the time, then moved to Google X and was Chief Business Officer and was very busy. And I think life nudged me, 2014, when life said, you really have to do this, and basically, sadly triggered me to go on that path through the loss of my son. So Ali was not just my son. Ali was everything. He was my son. He was my best friend. He was my coach in many, many, many ways. And he was 21 and half at the time. He was tall and handsome and wise and kind and had the best hug on the planet. Like, I can't tell you. I swear to you. And I'm this big old man who is a senior executive who just fall in Ali's hug, who just want to stay there. And he unfortunately, had a simple surgery, an appendix inflammation, and it went wrong. And so four hours later, Ali left our world and my response to it was more around, I can't bring him back. So what can I do now that he left? And the only thing that came to my mind at the time was maybe if I share what he taught me, I mean, we worked on my happiness discovery together. I was the brain. And Ali was just that instinctive heart. And so, I said, “Maybe if I wrote it down, and I share it with the world and somehow they found part of it in them, then it wouldn't be for nothing that he left.” My whole ambition was to deliver on his dream. A couple of weeks before he died, he spoke to his sister that he had a dream. And he said, “My dream was that I was everywhere and part of everyone.” I always feel emotional whenever I talk about him.
Kelly: Yeah, of course.
Mo: And Aya came to me four days after Ali died. And she said he had that dream. And she said, “It was so wonderful that he didn't want to be back in his body.” And, of course, immediately, I felt that he was giving me a target. If you know how a businessman's mind works, I sort of felt Ali was saying, “Papa, it's now your job to make me everywhere and part of everyone.” I promise you, Aya will tell you, I basically sat down on the sofa, held my face, and then raised my head and said, “Okay, habibi. Consider it done.” These were my exact words. Google executive at the time, I was responsible for emerging markets for years. I knew how to reach billions. And, I said, consider it done. And that's where it all started. Was it my life purpose? Did I find my life purpose? I don't know. I think my purpose found me.
Kelly: Yeah, you're making me tear up. It's never easy.
Mo: I mean, it's seven years ago now Kelly. I promise you, my heart is filled with… everyone who lost a child, it just doesn't go away.
Kelly: Yeah, I can imagine.
Mo: But let me tell you this. I mean, we're now 10s of millions in. If you imagine Ali, Ali was that wonderful being in every way. And I promise you, I think about it. And I sometimes ask myself, if I had went to Ali, if I'd gone to Ali before he went into that operating room, and I said, “Ali, would you give your life for 47 million people to be happier?” My belief is he would have said, “Yes.
Kelly: He would have said yes. Yeah.
Mo: Yeah. And if you understand that’s the way I understand it. I don't think that's a very bad deal. Sooner or later, I'll hug him and say, “Hey, it worked.” And maybe it's worthwhile.
Kelly: Yeah. Amazing. Thank you for sharing that, by the way.
Mo: Oh, my God. Yes. I love to talk about him.
Kelly: I think it's also really kind of like a beautiful wraparound that you had. You sort of released that book publicly and we're given all of these hugs on that same day, when you had this special relationship with his hugs. Yeah.
Mo: Yeah. If you don't believe in karma, I am the absolute example. I mean, right before lockdowns I was in an event called Wisdom 2.0, Wisdom in Business, and the host is a friend, Martin and he made me cry on the stage because somehow he asked me a question where I suddenly realized that I lost the love of Ali. But I had the love of every single person in those audience. There must have been like 10,000 people out there. And the amount of love that can came flooding on me, of course, Ali’s love is special, but can't complain, to be honest. It's amazing how what you give out, what you put out in the world comes back to you. Maybe giving is probably, now in my mind I know it sounds like a strange statement. Maybe giving is the most selfish thing you can ever do.
Kelly: I like that. I like that reframe.
So let's transition a little bit and talk about what we kind of wanted to talk about today for the majority of the time, which is this idea that there's so much power in slowing down. So slowing down is difficult. We’re wired, especially here in America, to speed up and we're wired to crush it. And we're wired to do all of these things, to put our emotions aside and just like focus on these goals and power through, which I'm definitely guilty of. Slowing down is antithetical, especially when you think about the last 16 months. When we've been forced to slow down, arm wrestled to slow down, we didn't do it voluntarily. So the natural inclination is to as things open up again, the natural inclination is to speed up. But let's dive into the power of slowing down. And actually, what does it mean for your life? And what does it mean for all aspects of the way that you want to live the rest of your life?
Mo: Well, I think it's a myth that slowing down slows you down. The truth is almost the exact opposite. Life is a mixture of being and doing. And, if you look at how we've turned it into our modern societies, we're just about doing. We forgot about being. Now we've become so efficient at doing that we do what we put our heads to, and the problem is, without being most of the time, we do the wrong things. And we waste so many cycles. And so in a very interesting way, slowing down are those moments of being that allow you to actually recognize what it is you're supposed to do. And if you do, you do it much more efficiently. You do it much more quickly, and you just get it done. So by slowing down, you literally are going faster. I remember one of my best friends, 43 years friends, and we started together in IBM. And his name is Waeil and so I'm saying his name because he will laugh when he listens to this. And the difference between Waeil, was at the time when we were there, I was an 8088, which was one of the early Intel processors that was my speed. And we used to call him Pentium at the time because he was so fast. He was so fast. I would be sitting in my cubicle and he sitting next to me in the other cubicle and you couldn't hear from how quickly he was typing on the keyboard, like unbelievable. But then eventually you would look at on his screen and there are only three lines written. And I go like what's going on? Well, then he says, “Yeah, I keep typing and then erase and then type and erase and then type and erase and then type and erase.” And that was how fast he was going. And wouldn't it be much, I'm like the other guy, tick, tock, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and I write faster than most authors. I write at a speed that actually my publishers are unable to catch up with. Not because I type fast but because I slow down. I actually look at my idea. I write it on a piece of paper. I reflect on it. I waited a day or two. I research it a little, and I don't write a single letter. And then one morning, I wake up and poof, literally, I spit out the chapter. And, that's the power of slowing down. The big myth when you think about it is that we think that we are designed as humans to actually go fast. Not at all. If you remember the times of cavemen and women, we would go hunting one day of the week. That would feed the tribe for the whole week. And then we would stay back in safety and reflection. As a matter of fact, our natural state is a state of, your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, and your default mode network is completely relaxed, and you're really not thinking. You’re just there to digest your food, reflect, but rebuild your muscle, close your eyes and sleep. This actually is what humans are about. So I'm not saying we should be lazy, but we have to recognize that if you want to be productive, that one of the most productive ways of doing that is to actually slow down.
Kelly: Yeah, I was just thinking like, even if you're using like the caveman example, if you think about it, when we needed to run away from a lion or to run to hunt something. It was the sprint, and the sprint is very short. And you're saying it's once a week for a really finite amount of time. That's when we go fast. And then everything else is the slowing down. But somehow we have inverse this entire thing, where we're sprinting and sprinting seven days a week, and or six days a week, and maybe potentially maybe slowing down a little bit on Sundays.
Mo: Not really actually. And I think the trick is this. The trick is not because we're slower than the cavemen and women. We're actually quite a lot faster. It's because we fill our life with so much more. And so, when we were chatting before Kelly, I was telling you, I'm the CEO of a prominent startup, a very, very advanced tech startup. And I tell myself, of course, it doesn't happen every week. But I tell myself, that I would run this business four hours a day, four to five days a week. And many weeks, that's all it takes, not because I'm lazy. And not because there isn't enough to do. There is a ton to do. But we have to be very selective. For example, I do not subscribe to email updates. I do not subscribe. I don't follow many people on social media unless I find something very useful coming from them. There are many things that we can take out of our life to allow for that time to slow down. Last year, on my Instagram account, I had a series that was called Half Monk. And Half Monk was an attempt to say, being and doing. Remember being is to actually just be, not doing anything, reflecting connecting to your body, connecting to yourself, connecting to being around you, and maybe meditate, maybe you just sit there and do nothing, whatever you want. Monks do that for a lifetime. I interviewed one of my favorite monks on the planet and our good friend Matthieu Ricard on Slo Mo, and Matthieu has 65,000 hours of lifetime meditation. That's how far he goes into being. Now, we, on the other hand, if you calculate your life, 60 years of productive life, most of us will have 65,000 hours of doing, rushing from here to here. And the difference between them is there must be something in the middle and Half Monk was the attempt to say, “Can I spend 50% of my life being and 50% of my life doing?”
Kelly: I love that.
Mo: And believe it or not, yes, one of my posts at the time was the 10 things you can do to find enoughtime to become a monk. And yes, you can remove swiping and typing. You can remove subscriptions. You can remove notifications. You can remove friends that are annoying. You can remove obligations that you don't feel are important part of your life. You can remove binge watching stuff on Netflix. There is so much time.
Kelly: I’m laughing because it's exactly where I'm at right now. I'm doing some of these.
Mo: Yeah, totally. You know that show on Netflix that is called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. It's just this she's this wonderful Japanese woman that talks to you about how you can tidy your home. And her idea is that we live in so much clutter. Only very little of it gives you joy. And that's also true about your activities, that very little of what we engage in life gives you joy or make you productive. So you sit down and deliberately. Take them off one after the other. At the end of my podcast, at the end of every episode, I tell people openly, I say, I know you have a very busy agenda. But remember, there is always some time to slow down. And that's the truth. If you choose slowing down as another activity for the day, you're bound to find two, three hours for it every day.
Kelly: Yeah. And so slowing down, like obviously, there's so much power in that. And you've given some fantastic examples. I'll probably post in the show notes a link to the blog post that you mentioned. But all of this is not just to live monk like. It's so that we can sort of restore ourselves to a state of health where we don't feel so stressed out and so burned out and so much overwhelm and just so much. So can you talk a little bit about that? Because I know you have a fourth book that you're working on that talks a little bit more about that. And I'd love to go there.
Mo: Yeah. So I met actually, she was a guest on my podcast, a wonderful stress management expert, a lady called Alice Law. And Alice and I just immediately said, maybe we should write this book. And the book, we think it's going to be called Stressed? And my part of it is to understand the mechanics of it as an engineer. And stress is really not that complicated. You can easily understand that from physics. Stress is not the forces applied to you. It's the forces applied to you divided by the area that can carry it. This is the definition of stress in physics, and the reality is, the stress that we feel as humans is it's not just the result of the external pressures, or factors or challenges that we face, it's also a question of our ability to handle them. And, our ability to handle them is truly a question of, how much time do we give them? How much attention do we give them? And how much skill do we invest to learn about those things? Now, the stress in physics is actually not the scary bits. The scary bit in physics is known as fatigue. And fatigue is when you apply enough stress to an object that it breaks. In humans, we call that burn out. We call that depression. Sometimes we call it whatever. It's that point where you fail to manage the stresses anymore. And the idea is very straightforward. It's the pressures of life minus your abilities to handle them, then burnout and fatigue and break down is basically taking that equation and multiplying it by the time of application of that stress. A bit of stress is wonderful for you. If you suddenly get a tiny bit, a bit grainy, but yeah, a tiny bit because that tiny bit gets your system to work in a very interesting way. It engages your sympathetic and nervous system. It changes your hormonal makeup. You basically tell your adrenal gland to give you that amazing hormone, cortisol that basically gets you to become superhuman. But you rightly said in the cavemen and women years, that was intended to make you superhuman for seven minutes. So that you run away from the tiger or fight the tiger. And that's it. After seven minutes, you're supposed to slow down, you're supposed to relax, you're supposed to regain your strength during those seven minutes, just so that you understand, you're flooded with adrenaline, you're flooded with other hormones that are basically telling your digestive system to stop working. They're telling your muscles to burn to literally cut themselves out into little proteins so that they can burn into energy. They're telling your brain to consume all of the blood sugar in your blood. It's a very sustainable state. And, we apply that kind of stress, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, sometimes for years. You can be stressed at a job and you just get on with it. You can be stressed in a relationship and you keep waking up next to that person day after day after day. And basically that means you eventually end up in fatigue. You break down. So what's the answer? The answer is, we have to find a way as humans to just get that entire cycle back to seven minutes, or maybe seven hours; if you have a deadline for delivering a project tomorrow, that's fine. But we have to find a way to shrink that. There are many ways. The most important of them in my view, we say Alice's work in the book is focused on the types of stress. You can be mentally stressed. You can be physically stressed. You can be emotionally stressed, and you can be spiritually stressed. And the whole idea is to follow the cycle that we're actually designed to go back to our parasympathetic nervous system engaged to that mode, where we can reset and relax, and actually rebuild. So how do you do that? By planning it, by making it a very, very religious part of your agenda.
I never start my mornings before 10 am. There is nothing called breakfast meeting for me, which is very well known for CEOs with high paced agenda. I never end my day by going into bed. Right after work, or right after dinner, I have two hours of winding down, reflecting on the day, meditating, watching the comedy. These are things that are part of my agenda, and just like meeting with another CEO, if someone comes to me and says, “Oh, can we meet at 12?” And I'm meeting with the CEO of one of my clients? I'll say, “No, I can't do 12. Can we do 1?” Similarly, when people try to intrude into my peaceful time, my mo time as I call it, my mo time is mine. And you can't take it out of my agenda. And it has to be part of your daily ritual and practice.
Kelly: Yeah, what I'm hearing you saying, though, is it is absolutely a choice. It is a discipline. And it's designed with intention. So there are a lot of people probably listening saying, “This sounds great Mo. I'm glad you can do that. You're like X, Google guy. You're doing all these things. I can't start my day at 10 o'clock. I can't work only four days a week.”
Mo: Of course you can.
Kelly: Exactly. And this is what I want to pinpoint. Because it's not just the fact that you've gotten to a certain point in life where you can feasibly do this. Or I've gotten to a certain point in life where I start my day at 10:30. And I only work three days a week, or whatever the situation is. It's because it was intentionally designed that way. Like, this is the choice. This is the discipline. So what's important to you? And so that's kind of where I'd love to wrap up, like this idea.
Mo: And Kelly, it's not the number 10. If you have to start your day at 8, wake up at 6. And accordingly, sleep at 10. I mean, plan your day in a way where you have a choice. By the way, I'm the CEO, but if you're reporting to someone, and he is telling you, but I need you to work more, show them your agenda and say, I'm working on those six projects, you're adding one more, which one do you want me to drop? Because at the end of the day, I will be working eight hours, maybe nine hours. But I can't do more than that. But you have to be intentional in terms of telling yourself upfront, I can't be doing more than that.
Kelly: And that's also self-advocacy, what you're talking about. Like it's okay for you to say to your superior, to your boss, to your employer, yes, I can do this. Of course, I will take this on. But tell me where you want to re-prioritize some of the other things on my schedule? That's okay. Yeah, this is a really, really poignant and interesting conversation. Because at the beginning of this year, after all of 2020, before I even knew that you were going to be on the show, I think it was, I'm not into New Year's resolutions, but I created a mantra for the year. And my mantra was even slower.
EP 99: Selling Creative Services with Confidence, with Charlotte Ellis Maldari
Kelly: So welcome to Thrive your agency resource. Joining me today from London is the founder of Kaffeen Club, Charlotte Ellis Maldari. She specializes in revenue growth for design businesses, actually ambitious design businesses. We'll be talking about selling creative services with confidence, which is where that ambition comes from. Charlotte, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Charlotte: Thank you very much for having me.
Kelly: So you work predominantly with creative leaders just like I do. And you have a whole understanding about the self-limiting beliefs that a lot of creative leaders have, because they are typically practitioners that come from larger agencies, and they're now out on their own. What are some of the things that you've noticed in terms of where those fears come from, and what the self-limiting beliefs and fears are actually all about versus what they think they might be about?
Charlotte: So I work with founders, partners, and directors within design, predominantly design businesses and predominately between 2 and 10. There's a number of clients who are a lot bigger than that. But that's the typical kind of range. And generally, what happens is they're founded by a creative who's broken away from a bigger agency or a more established agency. They've been very used to being highly protected with inside a design environment, having very little client exposure sometimes, not even damage exposure to the account management team, as we call in the UK, in client services, and then they go off on their own, and they think they're going to have more time to spend on design. And actually, they end up being the rainmaker, the HR person, the operations person. And sometimes that can lead to a lack of confidence about what the creative output of the studio is. The other common thing that I see a lot is particularly when an agency has emerged as a break away from another agency is this kind of sense of really caring about what their peers think when valuing that way more than they would care what their prospects think, which is when we get into danger territory. For me, because revenue growth does not come from pleasing your peers. It comes from demonstrating to your prospects that you can deliver a return on investment for them, and you're the right support to be using that business.
Kelly: Yeah, and it is such a self-limiting belief, right? As soon as we start comparing ourselves to someone else in our industry, or outside of our industry, for that matter, it's a slippery slope, right? Because you're never actually going to feel “good enough”. And then that impacts your ability to develop new business. And I think a lot of people don't actually make that connection. I mean, that my audience is used to me kind of creating that through line. But I think it's one of those things that we just have to keep repeating over and over again because it's so true and it's so important. But for those people like along those lines, for those people who are running smaller design or creative or development agencies, who have this idea that they're a failure unless they have a higher employee headcount, or a high annual revenue growth number, right? If they feel like that, what are some of the things that they may not be considering? That if they were running a larger agency, they may have to be dealing with?
Charlotte: Well, I think there's so many silver linings in this area, and being part of a smaller agency, I say the number one, coming back to that mindset and that self-limiting belief about caring more about what your peers think than what your prospects think. I typically find when I work with clients who've started agencies more recently, say within the last 5 years, they can break those habits more easily, they can identify them and then start to break them down.
Kelly: A little bit more self-aware, maybe.
Charlotte: Yeah, more self-aware and just less stubborn about it being something that they can come back, whereas the people who've been in business for a long time and have plateaued from a revenue perspective and don't understand why because in their opinion, and actually in their prospect, in their client’s opinion, their output of their studio is amazing. And there is massive support for those brands that they're working with. So they don't understand why they can't generate more and more new business and it tends to be because they're limiting their outputs in terms of marketing a new business, because they're scared about what their peers think. And they just can't break that down. So I think coming back to that point, just being able to break out of that cycle, being aware of it and being able to break out of it sooner, that's a hugely powerful thing about being a smaller agency. But equally, agility to serve many multiple different markets in a year. I mean, one of the things that I encourage my clients to do when they're starting an outbound, new business campaign for the first time, is pick four industries that you'd like to work with, and let's target one each quarter for a year. And don't try and do any more, but equally, don't settle for less and don't settle for less niche than choosing for specific industries per year. Because otherwise, you become a generalist, and you can't AB test what's working in terms of who you're reaching out to. And I typically find that bigger agencies really struggle with that sense of, we can double down on a particular area, see whether it's for us, they're generally more again, need to find some synonyms for the word stubborn, but they might be ingrained in that sense of, no, we could do this for anybody. But the difficult thing is trying to be everything to everyone that you risk not meaning much to anyone. And yeah, that's one of the challenges that I see with those bigger agencies too.
Kelly: Yeah, I would say positioning from that standpoint, positioning up to four verticals is probably like the absolute max.
Charlotte: Yeah. And just be really clear about that. That's for companies who've not done anything before, they really don't have any indication. So there might be a couple of years in business, they don't have any indication about any clear data to back up, who might be the right audience for them at that point, and I'm really encouraging them to test the water rather than mean very little to anybody. I think it kind of stems from that in terms of positioning as well. What I find is when smaller agencies emerge, they tend to have positioning statements, like just the mission statement that sits above the fold on the homepage of the website. That's quite how I say, maybe they are not completely articulate about what they stand for, and who they deliver that to. And actually, a nice way of doing it is what is the ambition of the client that they serve rather than what they do and for who, but smaller agencies, I find, it's easier for them to to narrow that down, when they're really pressed, they realize that what they're saying is quite fluffy. And it's challenging for the prospect to interpret that. That means they're the right agency for them. Whereas bigger agencies are less willing to be challenged on that and actually risk driving prospects away because they don't understand the right fit for them. I mean, it's as simple as that. Say, for example, you're a creative agency when actually you're a brand design agency working in the FMCG space, like being really clear about that. So the prospect who may have never commissioned an agency before, so you got to understand, they might not be up on the terminology. It's all very subjective and could be interpreted different ways, especially across different geographies. So I think that's another big advantage that smaller agencies have.
Kelly: Yeah. And along those lines, talking about how that translates into new business, because it is like the number one thing of how new businesses developed. And it's sort of a make or break in my mind for new business. I know new businesses are your forte, specifically around this idea of establishing really strong boundaries, especially from the point of a discovery call, for example. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Charlotte: Yes. So one of the challenges that I think smaller agencies have when compared to bigger agencies is confidence on initial calls with clients, because at that stage, a lot of people have a very bad pipeline in terms of new business. They can be quite afraid to turn away any prospective clients. They are at risk of trying to be everything to everyone, when somebody calls then it’s not typically what they would do that they try to shoehorn their process rather than actually be the right fit for them. So yeah, I think it's so important to set those boundaries on those initial calls. I think one of the things that I see as being really useful is having some kind of backup script. Maybe not script is the right word, that backup prompts of things that you may not have covered on the call and making sure you encompass everything on that call because really, I aim for the initial discovery conversation to be around 30 minutes max. During that time, you need to be able to elicit the complete scope of the brief. And the commercial challenge that the client is facing, above all else, and also their budget, really, really pushing until we establish, even if it's not a figure, but just a sign of comfort or discomfort with a particular number. So important, otherwise, any time is wasted after that point of pulling together a proposal. And, I'm sure the listeners can identify that putting together a proposal on a case-by-case basis is really difficult, particularly when we're trying not to exchange our time for money directly. And we're trying to price based on value rather than hours spent. And so, it's so important to be really strong during that call, and also tell people that you're not for them, that you offer them an alternative. Don't be afraid to say I'm afraid that's just not the way we were called. Or perhaps outline exactly how you work and say, does that tell them what you were expecting? Does that sound like what you want? Because we understand that it's not for everybody. And especially with startups and scaleups, in particular, where they're bootstrapping, and they're super keen in terms of how they're spending their money. That's hugely important. And then I want to divert off into the subject of return on investment, improving effectiveness. But that's an entirely different topic, also of great value during those calls in order to get the most out of those discovery calls.
Kelly: Right. Well, we will talk about that in a second. Because I think that's important too, especially because we're talking about creative services. And it could be a part of a difficult conversation, right? [Commercial] But I just wanted to put a pin in something that you said, when we're talking about boundaries, right? This is just I don't know why I feel like it's really, really important. When we're talking about confidence, right? Like selling your creative services with confidence, boundaries are one of the ways that it comes across that you are confident as the leader or rainmaker of your organization, right? Because the more that you say, no, we can't do this little interim project, this BandAid thing, and kind of leapfrog our process or deliver something in three weeks when it typically takes us three months. Having those boundaries is really important, because what it conveys is that you don't need the work. Right? That you are not desperate. There's no sort of what I might call an anxious attachment style around business development. It means that you're not going to acquiesce to all of their sort of unfounded questions or requirements. So once you establish that you are the one leading the process, you are the one with the expertise in guiding that client. I don't want to use the word power dynamic, but there is a power dynamic a little bit when it comes to client and agency relations. So obviously, I was just going to say the more that you get into the relationship, it becomes more collaborative. But from the onset, you do not want to be in a situation where they're demanding your process or changing and modifying your process and you're just essentially acquiescing to every single demand, I want it for cheaper, I want it faster. At that point, you don't have a sustainable business.
Charlotte: Completely agree. Or an enjoyable business.
Charlotte: Because you're absolutely right, you're setting the framework from what they can expect throughout working together. And, nobody actually wants to work with a pushover like, the reality is like, even if they do from the outset, when they want a cheaper price, the best clients will want to be challenged creatively, because they know that being challenged will take them further in their journey. And you're always going to come across people who would prefer to bully or to lead and feel like they're the creative director. They acknowledge they need to employ when to actually get the work done. And I think that, not highlighting that literally, but alluding to that in that discovery call in a very polite way. And a knowledge in how you do and don't work absolutely sets the framework from what you can expect from the rest of the project. And then, it's not just about profitability, which is obviously a huge thing in this area. It's about how much you enjoy it. And ultimately, what is that relationship with the client when you finish that initial project, because we all know that organic new business is so much cheaper to develop than called new business. And so, you really want to be going into every project hoping that you can be working with that client on a long-term basis. And, at the very least being able to get a nice testimonial out of them. And some results further down the line, maintaining the relationship to the point where you feel like, yeah, they're confident and comfortable giving you that because they're proud of what you did for them. So I think it's hugely important.
Kelly: Yeah, that's great. And I love this sort of mantra that you have that like the client engagement doesn't end when you send the final artwork.
Kelly: It's great because it's true, even if it's just project based. And if you're not on retainer with them, following up making sure that they have everything that they need, if they're finding new applications that have arisen that they need additional work for, or getting that testimonial, whatever the case may be that kind of like land and expand. Obviously, it is the lowest cost per acquisition for new business. But let's dive back into that ROI conversation for a second as we wrap up, because I think that is a potentially difficult conversation for a lot of folks who are trying to develop new business. And on the other end, if the client is asking, let's say, specifically for creative services that don't necessarily tie to a specific attribution campaign, like a brand identity or something along those lines, where there isn't necessarily a “return on investment” that can be measured easily. How do you approach conversations like that?
Charlotte: On Mondays are the ones that I absolutely relish, I love finding. And it's been my blessing in business. But yeah, I love it. Because it's a bit like a treasure hunt, trying to find evidence, because the reality is, and actually, this doesn't scare me at all, because when you're talking about results, the majority of my clients work in brand design across packaging, in particular for consumer products. So, it's not the internet. It's not easy to measure. Generally, they're not trying to drive down advertising prices on Facebook, or whatever. So there's no instant gratification. And then furthermore, a lot of their clients aren't even in the consumer product sector. So there might be something even more tangible, driving the commercial objective behind the brief. So it might be around internal stakeholder engagement. I mean, there's no money, dollar signs, pound signs, whatever around that. So yeah, a real challenge. But what I always encourage people to do is look at the original objectives, the brief and generally, the client brief is at a design agency. Normally, it's interpreted into our lingo, but the client brief will have some real commercial objectives around it whether they're easy to quantify or not. So I really encourage people at the end of a project to look back at what those original objectives are, and just see whether any have been achieved literally by that project. So I had one circumstance where a client had been approached to do a project for one of their prospects, that wasn't the sexiest bit of design in the world, but allowed this brand to move from independent retail into major multiples, so into a big supermarket nationally, and it was huge for that brand. By virtue of them actually doing the design and sending it to print, that brand had been listed in that particular national supermarket. And so, the agency is like we don't have any results. Firstly, we don't want to talk about this project, not the kind of project we want to win. It's like, okay, but why did you win the project? Why did you work on the project? Because this was the window, this is the door of opportunity into a much bigger relationship with this client so we wanted to explore it. So I was like, okay, do you not think that situation that they came to you is the situation that multiple clients will come to you, prospective clients will come to you in that situation? They said, yes, it has happened several times. And I was like, okay, well, you really need to explain that. That is one of the ways you work and also acknowledge that that's a huge result. You've got them into a national chain. And so even before any sales have been measured, they had a result they could put on the website. And I would say in a lot of situations, if you look at the code, there's commercial objectives you'll find you've achieved, at least one of them at the time it goes to print, or it hits live or whatever it might be.
Kelly: Right. And that's actually probably a great talking point when you go to follow up with them. Just as a segue to after the project has been completed, if it is project based, looking back at those objectives from the original brief, that's a great point to be able to start that conversation to say, okay, now we've done this. And obviously, you were happy with it, those things have been reached. Now what else can we potentially do together?
Charlotte: And I really encourage clients to completely agree. There's so many things, an evergreen list of things that you can do post-project with a client to enable that relationship to move forward. But one of the biggest things is, I always encouraged people to position things through the client’s lens, and in a generous style. So one of the things you can do is book in quarterly brand planning sessions with that client, where you allow them to vent what projects they aren't allowed to do internally, what they want to get into their brand planning next in the forthcoming year and are struggling to do that. Allow them a safe space where they can talk through it, and maybe you can help them to understand how things are more feasible and more realistic financially or, in terms of mechanics of getting something done. Plus, you've got a heads up on what projects might be on the horizon in the next quarter or half year. And actually, I tend to find that the client side, the brand side client really enjoys it, because actually they've got an external ear to kind of chat through stuff. Sometimes it's a good bit about how things are internally, or sometimes they just need to say things out loud that are in their head. I remember sometimes there's generally marketing director, marketing manager is the role that we're dealing with as prospects of my clients. And, it can be quite a lonely job. It can be quite a small firm, and a lot of KPIs around how they're performing. So it's helpful to have your brand guardian, to be supported there.
Kelly: Absolutely. And I actually love the idea of calling them or branding them as vent sessions or like safe options, something like that. Whoever's listening, go ahead, you can brand it. Well, Charlotte, thank you so much for being on the show today. It was a great conversation. I know everyone's going to get a ton out of it. So thanks again for joining me.
Charlotte: Thank you so much for having me, Kelly.
EP 98: Reframing the Follow-up Mindset, with Lee McKnight Jr
Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. When we think about following up with agency prospects during the sales process, we immediately for some reason default to those emails that start with the subject line, “Just checking in…” Right? Joining me today is Lee McKnight Jr., who is the VP of Sales for RSW/US, which most of you probably know already. And together, we're going to help you start to reframe that follow-up mindset into one that will elicit response and actually help you close a more ideal new business. Lee, thank you so much for joining me today. It's such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Lee: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. This is great. I'm looking forward to it.
Kelly: So a while ago, the reason why this whole episode came out, or was put together, was a while ago, you had shared some really great content on LinkedIn. I know that was something you had been doing for a while. But there was one particular video where you kind of did a little bit of a tear down of some follow-up emails that you had received. And I actually thought it was pretty brilliant because you not only showed the emails, obviously respectfully crossing off the names of the people you sent them.
Lee: Yes, I'd be nice.
Kelly: But you really talked about why the way that they approached you in those follow-ups was problematic. So just for some context for the audience, I'd love you to kind of give a little bit of an overview as to what were some of those things that you were encountering and why were they problematic?
Lee: Yeah, absolutely. And again, thanks for having me. Our company is RSW/US and then we do have a separate list building group where we sell those, and I bring that up only to say, what we're doing is working solely with agencies to help them drive more new business. So this series that we do takes a piece of agency, new business. We've tried to do that for 4 to 5 minutes, and just talk about ways to help agencies drive more of it. And in this particular video, as you said, I get these emails, and we all do. I have a good email folder and a bad email folder. And I will keep all of them because I learned from all of them. And with this particular video, as you said, we were trying to be respectful and certainly not trashing one specifically or at all just to say, look, these are things that you just…
Kelly: Don't do it.
Lee: Right? And I'll take those off, just as you said to kind of lay some context. But the first one of those three takeaways was never make your prospect do the work. Way too many emails where you are asking, or in some cases, I got one yesterday, making a prospect try to do something where you have no authority to do so yet. And no relationship whatsoever. Because at the top of the funnel, especially, you can't do it that way. So making your prospect to the work is essentially like you sending an email saying, “Hey, I'm following up. There’s no email underneath. You're not referencing anything about your company, which happens all the time.” So essentially, like, well, I'm sure you've researched me, and you're making all these assumptions to where no, make it as easy as possible, be as direct as possible with your prospects. Don't make them do that type of work at all. Right? So that was number one. The second one was you just said it and it happens all the time. I stopped checking, and it almost becomes I think, for some salespeople second nature, to where they don't even know they're doing it.
Kelly: I think it's actually a task list, like a task on their CRM, like check in with so and so. And it's literally like an email that's like checking in.
Lee: Totally. You're so right. Yeah, exactly. And they just don't even think about it. And so that's an easy fix to make where you're wasting valuable real estate that the person doesn't prospect, at that point doesn't really care, just to be blunt. So that's a pretty simple fix. And the last one was, and this doesn't come up as often, but it still does. And that's don't ask for my thoughts as a prospect. Because I'll get some emails where they kick off a box of your points in the CRM. Well, this is my fourth touch. I don't know. Here's all I do. I’ll do this. I'll respond with my email underneath and just say, “This will be nice and short.” They like that. ``Any thoughts on what I sent?” Or something along those lines? It's like talking about making a prospect do the work. No, I don't have any thoughts. I mean, I don’t even know who you are. Don't ever waste your time doing that. And culminating on that email I got yesterday, which was crazy. I’ll give you one more example of this individual. This one was really fun. Didn't put the email that he sent me that hey, following up on this. Never said what his company did, then immediately proceeded to say, “Well, so I've got Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday open. I can make myself available at any time. However, the morning really is preferable.” I'm not even making that up. It's like, wait a minute. You're telling me that I'm going to do this. But make sure it's the morning even though I'm available all the time. It's going to be better for me this morning. I'm like, oh, my God. What are you doing? So things like that. So that was the context.
Kelly: That's great context. And so this is what we're dealing with. And like, if you're listening or watching this, like you get this. You know exactly what's happening, right? Like this is the case, this is most people, it could even be your vendors, your partners; it could even be your own business development reps, or your own salespeople that are doing this. We'll get to that in a minute. But since this is clearly not the way to go, this is not the approach to take. This is all about me. I need the information. You can schedule some time with me on my availability, like that is not the way to go when you're trying to establish rapport, and trying to develop new business. So how can people that are in these positions really build trust, add value? Like what are some examples that you feel like would be appropriate ways to follow up?
Lee: Yes, I love that question. And I think taking a step back to when you think about it, you and I talked previously, why does it even happen? And to frame it out, some of that might be inexperience, that's where you certainly need to be willing to, and you'll hire any business director internally a lot of times, and they're just an island on their own. And some of those are inexperienced, that you're like, well, if they were cheap, not to make less of that person. But a lot of times that happens. And what they don't do then is train individuals, which you get what you get, if you're not going to help them.
Kelly: Yeah, you don't set them up for success.
Lee: Exactly, a better way to put it. But more often than not, it is and we talked about this, you can say lazy and that certainly maybe some of it, but it is just not willing to put forth a little bit of extra effort. But the good news there is a lot of your competition, thinking about agency leaders, whether they're doing it internally, partners are doing it, for example, with a small and midsize agency, which is where our clients, typically good portion of them are that where they have one person trying to drive at all. Ultimately, it can be hard. Sales is hard. But just to put forth a little bit of extra effort. But when you do that, you've already set yourself apart from your competition, just by trying to do a little bit of homework, which you shouldn't be doing. And you've already taken a step towards adding value. So that's the first. When you asked me that question, that's the first thing you can do automatically, probably from 80 to 90% of your competition, which is huge. But then specific things that can be helpful. So one is, I was thinking about this today. First of all, let's just think about email, because that's where there are so many posts today. That's how they're trying to drive sales. I will say, we think that's a mistake in terms of how we operate for our clients; don't just, and not to get off topic, but just sticking with one platform is not giving you all the different options that you could have.
Kelly: Yeah, totally agree.
Lee: Right. But because email still is so prevalent, one of the things you don't always sell in your emails. And for some salespeople, this can be tough, to think well, I'm a salesperson, what would I? Because I can't tell you how many emails I get on a daily basis. Kelly, I'm sure you do as well, where I almost never get anything that is value based or thought leadership driven by content that they created. And sometimes you don't have that content to be fair, but Google is your friend. We may not say that all the time, right? It's, again, maybe not easy at that exact moment. But typically, you're going to be able to find something that's noncompetitive, that someone's written, that speaks to a trend or speaks to something going on within the industry to show that prospect that, look, we understand your big picture challenges. We are experts in this space, for example, here's a POV in something we thought that you would find of interest. And there's no call to action other than that, and sometimes you can put one in there, indirectly. But to just do that. And it does need to ideally, if you can gently tie it into work you've done for a client or a past client to say this. And by the way, we've done similar things for x company. I would love to talk about it sometime. You could do that kind of indirect sale. But just to do that, you're going to stand out, and you're going to start providing that value and start to be memorable, which you have to be, to set yourself apart. And doing that in the right way. Not in that example, I gave you that email from yesterday. I actually remember that company name now. It's not a great thing. I'm not going to hold that company to task for one email from one salesperson. But you don't want to be remembered in that way. Right? So you have email. And I had two other examples. One of those is just thinking about old school mail. Because it is still effective. And granted during COVID through all this, we're not out of it yet. But we had to take a pause in terms of what we're doing for our clients, but even then, we found creative ways. And it was interesting how people were more willing, if they worked out warm or hot, we had some interaction with them; we would throw out to them. We have something we'd love to send you in the mail. It’s something a little bit different, or can even be just a letter. But more often than not, when we respectfully ask that question they were willing to give us, if they were still in the office somewhere. But even home addresses, we would say, “That's great. We will totally respect your privacy. You will never get anything else from us, but thank you.” And just, again, making yourself memorable and what you are sending, obviously, has to have some kind of value as well, but you can do whatever you're including, or even if it's just, “Hey, I'm going to follow up with an email to send more to you digitally.” It’s still another way to stand out and build some value. And lastly, I will give props. There’s an agency out of New Jersey called the DSM agency, the creative director sent me specific examples of using a platform like Vidyard.
Kelly: Is it Dan?
Lee: That’s Dan. You know Dan?
Kelly: I know Dan.
Lee: Yeah. Oh, how did we not know that? Yeah. I love Dan Enrico, and they are smart. Their whole group is smart, right? And I’m not a client, actually. But we've done some videos together, too. But yeah, so Dan, and I believe, two or three days, at least lead to close business. He got on that platform, and just did I would say just 3 minutes. So hey, great talking with you. I mentioned that we didn't have time in the first meeting, or I'm paraphrasing here. But yeah, this is just I told you, I give you a brief example, and I can’t remember exactly what they demoed at this point, but it just played so well and personalized, saying that individual’s first name and ending it with those kind of things, if we do work together you can expect from us, I'll be following up. Have a great day. And you have to be comfortable with video. So I think that's something that people might practice. But yeah, it was great. And I thought, I haven't personally tried that yet. But I'm going to. So I think there's just three examples of ways to add value that are not insurmountable. They're not hard. But it takes a little more effort. That's just good sales. Right?
Kelly: For sure. I mean, those are great examples. I will build on that. Because those kind of sparked some other ideas for me too.
Lee: Cool. Yeah, please.
Kelly: So like what you said, if you're not comfortable with video, and you want to use something like Vidyard or one of the other things out there, you don't necessarily have to be on camera, right? Like you can be demoing something and be doing like a Screencast.
Lee: Great point.
Kelly: So it could just be audio. That also led me to another idea of I don't think enough people use the voice memo functionality in LinkedIn messenger. So if I get a little note from someone that says, hey, this was a great call, like, obviously, we're already first connections, because they're able to message me. So great call yesterday, whatever, they're following up. It's one minute, two minute, just as if they were leaving me a voicemail on my cellphone, right? There's something different about it. So what you're trying to do is stand apart and personalize, and add value, and develop rapport. So you can use any one of these kinds of things. The thing that sparked an idea, the way that you mentioned mailing something physically, I have taken to every once in a while, if I'm having a call with a prospect, and we talk about something where it's very clear to me that there's a particular book that they should really read. I will actually ask them like, “Hey, there's this particular book by this author. I'd love to send you a copy.” I get their physical address, just ask them for it. They're like, “Wow, that'd be great. That's really generous.” Or “I'd be grateful for that.” They sent me their address. I popped into my Amazon account. I send it off with a little note, like a gift. And it's great.
Lee: I love that.
Kelly: Do you do that with everyone? No, because that's like 15-20 bucks, right?
Lee: Sure. You’re right.
Kelly: But your cost per acquisition on an account is double digits of thousands of dollars, like yeah, you can afford a $15 to $20 buck. Right?
Kelly: It just shows that you're willing to go the extra mile that you actually care about them as a human. And then the last thing that I do pretty often is if I'm in the car, or I'm walking, I'm listening to a podcast or I’m digesting some piece of content, that triggers a memory of a conversation that I recently had with a prospect or even an existing client, talk about building relationship, right? And I will share that link to that podcast or that piece of content and say, “Hey, I wanted to send this to you because about halfway through the show, this person says this.” And it really reminded me of that conversation you and I had and your viewpoint on XYZ. Take a listen. Let me know what you think. So that's the one area where, let me know, your thoughts are actually totally applicable. Right?
Lee: Absolutely. Because you've given that context and the personalization. I mean, they're going to be wowed by that for sure.
Kelly: Right. So these are all, I mean, we just had 5, 6, 7 different examples between the two of us that none of them were the checking email. So if you have that in your arsenal, if you write those things down, or maybe we'll even put that in the show notes, all of these different journals.
Lee: Sure. Yeah.
Kelly: That's a great arsenal to work from. If you're having trouble thinking about how I am going to make sure that I develop this relationship, add value to this prospect, and try to move it, through the sales funnel.
Lee: Yeah. And I love the mailing. You made my example so much more concrete. I love that book and then LinkedIn. Oh, my gosh, because I've only ever gotten one of those from a salesperson. If nobody’s going to listen, I actually call them back and end up being sales.
Kelly: Oh my God.
Lee: Yeah, you know what? And I totally hadn't thought about that. And you're so right. So that's just another tool, I think salespeople, and I wonder how maybe they don't even know they can do it. So I think that's a great point too.
Kelly: So I guess the big question that would probably be on the minds of some people that are in the business development realm for agencies, even probably a lot of agency leaders or owners who are doing biz dev themselves, the question might be, is it actually worth our time to build this kind of trust at the top of the funnel? I want to hear your thoughts about that.
Lee: That is interesting, because I think, at the top of the funnel like that, when you say trust, it almost sounds like too strong a word, right? It's like, well, I haven't even, there's no relationship yet. Almost a cart before the horse in a way. And so I love that when we have talked previously just thinking about, talking today. I love the notion of it because there are still ways to build that trust, even at that early stage. And all this has been kind of about that. But I think specifically, I think one of the things that I always like to point out is when you are prospecting, what you have a great opportunity to do number one, is to start building that trust by showing that prospect here's what it's going to be like if you do work with us. Because like that email I mentioned, not to bring that up and that poor fellow, but…
Kelly: I mean, he's one of the reasons why we're talking today.
Lee: Yes. And think about it, would you want to work with that person?
Lee: No. And by definition, or then take this step further, maybe not that company, even though that's not entirely fair. However, it starts out that way. And that's no way to start. So I think just by showing them and again, some of these examples that we just gave, you kind of are starting to build trust, even at the top of the funnel. And I think, again, thinking about that, you want to make sure that not only talking about what it would be like if we worked together, but giving them a reason to trust that I'm not wasting your time with any of these touches. And it's not going to happen in the very first one. And the sales maximum takes about six to eight touches on average is probably about right. It depends. A lot of factors go into that. But I think you're going to make an impression over time that sticks. We just had a new client that I brought on an agency, not being here, it’s my 14th year. I've been talking to them for seven years.
Lee: Thankfully, it doesn't always take that long.
Kelly: That's a long sales process.
Lee: It's not always that long, right? Sometimes it's like three weeks but it's one of those things where and I'm not patting myself on the back here but I am proud to say that when it does take two and three years which happens too, I will typically get a comment that, “I always appreciate the fact that you stuck with us. You were persistent.” But persistent with value in the sense of you never just tried to pile things on. You did provide us over time with, ‘Hey, we have this new report we just finished or this new episode. I remember our conversation. I actually thought a lot of these things that you brought up are kind of similar to your podcast example. Those are the types of things that I certainly take pride in as a salesperson that at the end of the day, our company was putting well. They did see what it would be like to work with us. Now, again, thank God, it doesn't always take that long. But with those types of examples, I did eventually build up trust. But to use that word build, you do it kind of block by block. And so I think a lot of salespeople will get frustrated or think that this isn't really going to work because I didn't get enough return. After that second touch, I still got nothing. Like, that's only the second touch. The ideal is you always have your own content. But that's not always true. But the examples that we gave are ways that without that content, you can still start to build that trust.
Kelly: For sure. And so, what we're really talking about here is like, reframing this, what I'm affectionately calling the follow-up mindset, which really synonymously is like a scarcity mindset. It's like I have this kind of feeling inside that I'm worried, right? Like, the reason why you would follow up is you're worried that this prospect is not going to close. And they can feel that on the other end. They know when you're rushing them with these checking emails, like all that does is repelled up. So now we're starting to get into a conversation about being self-aware, and being of a giving mindset and abundance mindset as opposed to the scarcity or follow-up mindset. I know this is a little off kilter for some people in terms of how I'm describing that, but like, just stay with me. So if you're kind of going more into that giving mindset, that abundance mindset, what we're really talking about there is then conscious leadership. I am always going to bring it back to that.
Lee: No, I love it.
EP 97: Intentional Agency Trajectory with Chip Griffin
KELLY: So welcome to Thrive your agency resource, I'd like you all to meet Chip Griffin, if you don't know him already, founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance, also known as SAGA. Chip is actually a fellow coach and consultant to PR and marketing agencies, essentially around the country, and really works with the same constituency that I do, which is, small agencies that have approximately up to about 30 employees. And we recently met through a mutual connection, and I had to have him on the show. So Chip, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited that you're here.
CHIP: It's great to be here Kelly. We had a great pre-show conversation, and I'm really looking forward to this one.
KELLY: Yeah. So I know, and the audience knows how I got into this industry just from repetitive conversations with other guests. But I'm always curious to understand a little bit more about how other agency growth consultants and coaches kind of made it into this industry because we all have our own unique story. So I'd love to hear yours.
CHIP: Sure. So about 30 years ago, I got started in politics in Washington, DC.
KELLY: I’m sorry.
CHIP: Yes, well, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. And in any case, after I spent some time on Capitol Hill, I went to work for a very small PR agency. And so that was my first taste of agency life about 27 years ago now. And over time, I went to one job after the other and eventually got married. And like most people who, when they decide to move and have been in politics, they say, well, I'm not unemployed. I'm a consultant. So I became a consultant in the late 1990s. I was fortunate to sign a client before I left DC, and landed in New Hampshire where I had my first agency that sort of grew by accident. And since then, I've started about a half dozen different businesses, took a side tour by selling one of the businesses to a company headquartered in Dubai. So I was Chief Operating Officer for a media intelligence agency headquartered there. And so, that's sort of where I was before becoming a consultant. And then when I decided that I was done working for someone else and wanted to get back to being an entrepreneur, I realized it was the business side of agency life. That was my real passion. And so now I'm fortunate to be able to work with small agency owners around the world to help them with their various business challenges.
KELLY: Yeah, that's great. There's something that you said that really stuck out for me because it's really one of the things that we're going to talk about today and focus on in our conversation. You said that you sort of grew the agency by accident. And I think that that's very true for a lot of agency owners. There's very little intention setting or intentionality when an agency owner has an idea of what they want to become in terms of the leader, size of the organization. We joked around earlier when we were pre-chatting about how the idea of a headcount used to be some sort of indication as to your success, right? And, luckily, we're no longer in that place for lots of different reasons. But what do you see a lot of agency owners are doing with regard to all of the information that's out there? Some of it is quite disparate, podcasts and articles and coaches and consultants and everything. What are you seeing in general that a lot of agency owners are doing?
CHIP: So most agencies started for one of two reasons. The one might be that they were unemployed like I was either by choice or because they've gotten laid off from somewhere. And so, they started doing a little bit of freelancing, and all of a sudden, they had more business than they could handle. So they started contracting work out to others and grew their agency that way. A second way is that maybe they were within an agency, and they were working for a big client, and they said, hey, I could do better if I took this agency out on my own, and somehow, they made it work without violating their employment agreement. And so, in either case, they're not really intentionally building the business. They're just starting with a little bit of revenue and growing from there. Unfortunately, most of them then decide that they just need to focus on continuing to grow. And when they say growth, they just mean revenue. More clients, more money, increase the retainers, and they never stop and pause and say, what am I trying to build as a business? What do I want as the agency owner? And that's a huge mistake. I mean, I always tell my clients and anyone else who listens. There's no reason to take on the risk and the stress of running your own business if it's not accomplishing what you want from it.
KELLY: Right. And I would imagine. And you know that what each individual agency owner wants from their business, what they want to get out of their organization and sort of being at the helm of that organization is very different.
KELLY: And there's nothing wrong with that. That's great, right? Like, as my dad says, that's why we have chocolate and vanilla ice cream. It's whatever those intentions, and whatever the driving forces, whatever your passions are, whatever the things are that get you excited and get you up every morning about that business. They're all fine. And I think what I'm starting to see is a very acute shift in the mindset. We're talking about intention today. But it's also a mindset around what I'm going to do with this business, making me as an individual happier? Am I also contributing to the, I guess I would call it the fulfillment of my team? Right? Do they feel seen, heard, understood, valued on a daily basis? People are starting to really make this shift toward people over profit. And, personally, I've been really waiting for this shift to happen. And it's been happening slowly but surely. But now, it's like, all anyone's talking about. So that's exciting. Are you seeing some of the same with your clients?
CHIP: Oh, absolutely. I mean, 2020 changed a lot for many people, but particularly in the agency space, and how they look at things. And I think that's a very good thing. Because before there was tremendous pressure to keep up with the Joneses. And, there was tremendous embarrassment for a lot of agency owners to say, yeah, I'm trying to build a lifestyle agency where I only have to work four days a week. I can have long weekends in the winter to snowboard, in the summer to go surfing, or whatever. And I think that a lot of that has not gone away. I mean, it's still there, for sure. But it is not the same way that it was a few years ago. And that's healthy. Because you may have a business that you want to just work as little as you can and still make the kind of money that you need to have the lifestyle you want, maybe you are looking to build something really big, because that's personally satisfying. Both are fine options. You need to figure out what's right for you. And by the way, that may change over the course of your life. Just because you're 30, and you really want to charge ahead and build this giant thing. Maybe you're 45 and you want to ease off. Or maybe it's the other way around, you're 30, you've got a family, so you can't push as hard. And now as you get older, you have the time. So go with what works for you and build the business around that.
KELLY: Yeah, I couldn't agree with that more. [Commercial] It's funny, I'm curious to know, if there's a single question or something, some kind of indication that potential clients give to you to let you know that they're an ideal client to work with you.
CHIP: So really, I'm looking for clients who are curious, I guess that's probably the best word. So they want to learn more. They're not coming to me saying I need this. And this is, if you can just give me this piece of, this nugget of knowledge, I'll be all set. I don't want someone who's coming to me looking for some magic formula that says, this is how you build a successful agency, follow these seven steps and you will become a millionaire. What I really want is someone who wants to learn and understand what works and what doesn't, how they can apply some principles to their business, but still build their own business out of that. So if I had to boil it down to that one word, curiosity would be the one I would focus on.
KELLY: Yeah, that's great. I love that one. For me, it's vulnerability. I literally ask, if you are coming to me and you want to become a more conscious agency owner, a more conscious business leader, how willing are you to be vulnerable to say to your team, you know what, I don't have all the answers, I actually need you to help me run this business. I've made mistakes, on and on and on, like vulnerability, vulnerability, vulnerability, and if that prospective client is all in from that standpoint, I'm like great, that's all I need to know. Because there's something really interesting in what you said before, which is, there has been a lot of stigma, and a lot of embarrassment around this idea that I don't necessarily want to build the biggest agency, right? I don't need to have 50 employees. I don't need to be a $10, $20, $30, $50 million agency. I just want to make enough where I'm making an impact with the clients, we're working with really ideal clients, those clients are making my team happy, because they're respectful and the work is good. That's the kind of business I want. And maybe, for me, that means that I get to spend more time with my family. I get to take some more vacations. I don't have to be in control all of the time. Like, I hear more and more and more people saying that and setting these intentions for, maybe I mean, maybe at the beginning of the year, they start to set these intentions, or maybe they say, these are my intentions over the next three to five years. It's refreshing. I guess that's the word that I will use. It is refreshing to see that that shift is really happening. I agree with you that it's not 100% better yet. It's not. It's very far away from 100%. But yeah, if you could speak to that a little bit, in terms of the conversations that you have with clients, that would be really interesting to me.
CHIP: Yeah. And I think you've really hit on something there by talking about vulnerability and being willing to be vulnerable with you with their teams. And, fundamentally, you learn more from failure than you do from success. And so, failure is something that I enjoy talking about. I've been on many number of panels with other entrepreneurs talking about some of the things we fail, and I find those conversations fascinating because success can be an accident success, can be just dumb luck, right place, right time. And certainly, some failures are the result of bad luck. But you can still learn things from it. You can learn how to be nimble and flexible coming out of any kind of challenge that you have. As I always tell people, half of my time is spent telling you what doesn't work, because I've done it. Over the course of 30 years, I've tried a lot of stuff, and I can just tell you, it doesn't work, or this is the thing to watch out for so that you don't do it the same way that I did and have the same problem.
KELLY: And a lot of that is your inherent value because I feel the same way. I'm like, I ran my agency for 14 years. I made a lot of mistakes, right? And sometimes I made them more than once. Like, don't do that. Learn from that.
CHIP: Right. And then look at I mean, sometimes, someone still has to stick their finger in the outlet. And as coaches and advisors, we can't stop them. We can tell them when we did that. It was not a comfortable feeling. But sometimes just like kids, they have to do it. And that's fine. But at least they have the opportunity to know about it in advance. And, it's their conscious decision to do that. And I think we talked about intentionality. I talked with my clients all the time about the importance of making conscious decisions, and not just allowing inertia to take you somewhere. Because so many of us just allow an inertia to pull us forward in both our personal and professional lives. And, it's so helpful to just pause and step back and say, is this the path I really want to be on? And if not, how do I move to a different path?
KELLY: Yeah. So is there a particular framework or a set of questions or something that you give to clients to say, hey, when you are thinking about setting your intentions, for what you want out of this business? As an individual, as the leader, is there some kind of framework or anything that you kind of utilize with them? Or is it just a conversation? Or how do you do that?
CHIP: So I mean, most of what I do is conversational. I do have questionnaires that I use sort of as a starting point when I'm first working with a client, but really, I mean, I've created what I call the AIM GET framework that I use with my clients. And so that's ambition, identity and management, growth, execution and talent. And so, again, ambition, identity management, so that's sort of the vision planning portion of the business, and then growth, execution and talent. So that's the more tactical, the day to day, how am I building and operating the business? And so, I always start with that ambition piece and try to understand where do you want to be in a year, five years? What's your thinking as far as, are you going to work until you die? Are you going to retire in the next five years? What are you trying to accomplish? Because that then helps give me that framework for the advice that I'm going to give and for the exercises we'll go through as we work through our relationship.
KELLY: Right. I think about that also as like, sort of reverse engineering from a future state. So if you could take this client, and you sit them in a seat 10 years down the road, what does their agency look like? What does their life look like? Where is their family? What is the whole picture? What does the whole landscape look like in their ideal future state world? And then reverse engineer that back t, okay, well, where are we today? And what needs to happen in that gap between today and the 10-year future state? I think sometimes giving people a couple of different ways or frameworks to think about these things helps to really narrow them, because I have found that if you say, what are you passionate about? What do you want out of this agency? A lot of people have a really hard time figuring out the answer to that question. Why do you think that is? Why do you think it's so hard for people to really set those intentions and have clarity around what they want?
CHIP: I think it's a couple of things. I think the first is that it's hard for people to be honest with themselves. I think that it starts from, what we were talking about a little while ago in this conversation, that people feel like there's a set of expectations that they're supposed to live up to, that they're supposed to be working towards. And, it's often hard for people to admit that maybe that's not their ambition, maybe that's not where they want to take things.
KELLY: So the societal pressure, you're saying, or like?
CHIP: Societal, family, and look, we all have it to one degree or another. And, sometimes it's important to have those. Otherwise, you might have chaos. So there is some value in having those overall guardrails to our lives. But we have to be willing to challenge them too. And we have to say, I mean, because, look, there are decisions that I make today with a wife and kids that I wouldn't make probably, if I didn't have a wife and kids, right? I mean, and that's okay. You have to be realistic about what you've got going on. And, the level of risk tolerance that you have, particularly as a business owner, and things like that. But that doesn't mean that you still can't try to enunciate the dream of where you would like to go. I think that the longer the horizon, the harder it gets. So when I sit down with an owner, and I say, okay, what do you want your business to look like at the end of the year? Or the end of next year? That's a lot easier than 5 or 10 years down the road. And I look, you can't get hung up on what your plan is for 10 years. You have to have a general vision. But if I look back 10 years, I would not say I was doing what I was doing today, but that's okay. Because you have to adjust based on the circumstances on the ground.
KELLY: Yeah, it's a great point. I mean, I laughed because if someone had told me, honestly, even seven years ago, that I would be doing leadership coaching for other agency owners, I would have laughed hysterically, like a belly laugh. There's no way that that’s what I'm going to be doing, and here I am. And then we have things like anomalies like 2020 where we could have had intentions set, we could have had plans and goals and all of those things. And then through no fault of our own, or nothing that we can control, those things fall apart, or something happens, where it's out of our control, and we just have to get back on the track, or change the trajectory of the track.
CHIP: And I don't know any agency that maintained their trajectory that they were in, in March of 2020. I mean, some for better, some for worse, but everybody had to make an adjustment. I mean, if you were a digital agency, and now you were going gangbusters, because everybody was trying to go from brick and mortar to digital. And so, most of the digital agencies I know just got swamped with work at that point. So it was good for them, but they still had to make adjustments to their operations, absolutely figure out how to do things. If you were in the travel industry, that was a tough sector for an agency to be serving at that time. And so, they had to make adjustments. And so, I think that at the end of the day, that's healthy, right? I mean, it's painful at the moment, trust me. And it was painful for my business because I was doing largely on-site engagements in March of 2020. Needless to say, nobody really wanted to meet with me on site, and I didn't want to go on site at that point. And so, you have to make adjustments, but that creates all sorts of new opportunities if you allow yourself to be open to it.