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The Podcast for Agency Leaders

Join Kelly Campbell twice a month as she goes deep into what it means to lead a creative agency, with interviews discussing leadership, culture, mindset, and more.

EP 67:Designing Conversation, with Daniel Stillman

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Daniel Stillman, author of Good Talk, discuss maximizing human connection in our intentional design of conversation

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 67:  Designing Conversation

Duration: 26:50

 

Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. Today’s conversation is about designing conversation. And I'm here with Daniel Stillman, who is a coach, a consultant, a keynote speaker, and author of the new book, Good Talk: How to Design Conversations that Matter. We were actually introduced by a friend of ours and mutual colleague, Jay Malone of New Haircut, and I'm super excited that he felt compelled enough to connect the two of us. So Daniel, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.

 

Daniel: Thanks for having me. I expect an excellent conversation since we've already had a good conversation before we even hit record.

 

Kelly: Well, maybe we can start with sort of the backstory of how did good talk come to be, how did it come to fruition? And just would love to hear a little bit more about what either the pain points or the gaps in the market or whatever that story was for you.

 

Daniel: Yeah. Well, I mean, there's layers with everything but for me I used to work in industrial design and UX design. And I worked with my clients to try and discover what they needed, what they wanted, what their customers needed and wanted. And we did that thing where you go out, you do the research, you do the insights, and you design workshops to bring them together, you design presentations. And no one really taught me how to do that in design school.

 

And it wasn't until many, many years later that I was working as a facilitator teaching facilitation and design thinking with a group in Australia. They call their facilitation practice, conversation design, and I initially thought that that was a super douchey way to describe what I did. I was like, you're not designers. What does that even mean? But it really put a little bug in my brain because as a designer moving from industrial design to UX design, then I became aware of experience design and service design.

 

And when you have those new words, you start seeing the world in different way. When you start to see the world as services, you're like, well, this product is just connected to this big intangible surface service. And so, I was just like, what does it mean to design a conversation? I knew how to design an experience. I knew how to design a service. And so I actually sat down, I did four interviews with four people I knew and respected; Dave Gray, who wrote a book called Gamestorming my friend; Abby Covert, who wrote a book called How to Make Sense of Any Mess, a wonderful book about information architecture. My friend, Leland Maschmeyer, who is now the Chief Creative Officer at Chobani. And my friend, Philip McKenzie, who has a podcast now as well.

 

And I said to them, I was like, “What does conversation design actually mean to you? Like, what those two words mean?” And they were like, “It’s weird. It's interesting. It's intriguing. It means this. It  doesn't mean that.” It was a provocation. And honestly, I thought, this is weird. And, it took me a year to finally get around to starting a podcast about it. And in a way, like, that's the origin story for me. And so I started this podcast in 2017 to say like, okay, well, if we can, in fact, design conversations, and it seems that you are like, what are we designing? Like, literally, what's the material of design? And I don't know, like two years in, I got tricked into writing a book.

 

Kelly: That’s a good way to put it.

 

Daniel: Right, exactly. And so that to me, is the origin stories like one is, the pain point of working in a creative agency and being like, how do I guide this conversation? Like, when you learn about design thinking, like, wow, there's a structured approach to having this dialogue with my clients. And then when I saw someone else run a workshop, where they physicalized what we thought our ideal experience for this product was using collage, I was like, I can do this. I'm going to tell my boss like for this workshop we have coming up with our clients, like, I'm going to do this word and photo collage thing. And he's like, what is this? Is it? Is this gonna? That sounds weird? Is it gonna be? And I’m like, it's gonna be okay. I saw someone else do this. And I could totally get away with this. And it was amazing.

 

Kelly: Yeah. Sometimes you just have to trust.

 

Daniel: Yeah. Well, I mean, that's what he had to do.

 

Kelly: Right.

 

Daniel: I had seen it for myself. And we had this conversation where one client was like, “No, I don't want this product to be magical.” And the other guy, the client, he was like, “This thing should be magical. And so we could have this conversation about, well, what does magical mean?” And that's to understand what your client means by magical and why one half of the team doesn't want it and the other half of the team does, like that was a gift — to be able to facilitate that conversation. And so, to me, I don't think in my bio now I say like Daniel Stillman designs conversations for a living and insists that you do too. And, I think we are all designing conversations as well as we can with whatever tools we've been given or stolen or absorbed. It's like, we remember maybe being taught how to play chess, but very few of us remember being taught how to talk. Right? And so, I think it's really important.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's a good point.

 

Daniel: That's a long origin story. But that's how I feel about it.

 

Kelly: No, it's great. I mean, it gives a lot of context. And I love your mantra, which is like we live our lives one conversation at a time. And what you talk about a lot in the book is the fact that we need this range, right? Like conversations have structures, you just mentioned, and give a good example. But we're not great at sort of the dichotomy of the structure of those conversations, right? So we can be, as you say, in the book, like forward-thinking or forward and fast or we can be slow and methodical and thoughtful. Why is that so challenging for people?

 

Daniel: It's interesting. Maybe it's a false dichotomy. There's definitely attention. You know the Rudyard Kipling poem If—? There's one phrase where he says, if you can talk to crowds and not lose your virtue and talk to Kings and not lose the common touch. There's this idea of like, can you, in fact, wow a crowd? Can you talk to some to power? Clearly, like, that's range. I think a lot of people are scraped like you do, you’re a keynote speaker. It's scary to go up on stage. And it's a different type of conversation because you can't see the audience. You don't get the same…

 

Kelly: Sometimes those lights are a little blinding.

 

Daniel: Yeah, those lights are a little blinding. If you've ever done a webinar, right? Like you're talking to the air. And so you don't get that feedback that you get in a normal dialogue. And I think team dialogues they need to be designed and are usually poorly designed like half of what I think or designers do, that I've seen as they just give people better team patterns, team dialogue patterns, making sure that everyone speaks the same amount.

But this thing that you and I were talking about, which is how hard it is to introspect, and to have time with ourselves. I don't think that's a modern malady. I think it's very easy to say, oh, it's because of phones. But it's slowing down is hard. And doing inner work is hard. Because we are human doings, not human beings. What we do is we output and there's this classic Zen concept of the ball being, being but the space in the bowl is nonbeing. And what you actually need is the space in the ball. And so we see what we do, but the nonbeing emptiness silence looks like nothingness. And isn't valued in the same way because you buy the ball, coz there's no way to buy space.

 

Kelly: Right. You buy the container.

 

Daniel: You buy the container.

 

Kelly: But by buying it, you're buying it to fill it up or to do something with it.

 

Daniel: Yeah. And so like, this is something I talked about with, I think clients are actually buying their time from me. Right?

 

Kelly: That's interesting.

 

Daniel: Like when I am on site, or when they are on a call with us, they are required to set aside their regular everyday lives and to be present, and to put away their phones. They're like, oh, Kelly's gonna be here tomorrow. We have to actually get our s*** together, and focus and do real work. And so, I think time is obviously the most precious thing we have and time with yourself is the hardest thing to get.

 

Kelly: Yeah, yeah. There's this concept that you also talk about, like the fact that we are constantly designing conversations whether we know it or not.

 

Daniel: Yeah, yeah.

 

Kelly: We are clearly not conscious of it. I mean, hopefully this episode will bring consciousness to it. But we're not conscious of it. But we do it all the time. So you're asking the question, what would happen if we design these conversations from a holistic perspective, to maximize meaning and connection? So what do you actually mean by that? 

 

Daniel: Well, so the first thing is, you have a good step back. I'll break it down for you like a math problem. Maybe, it's just because I come from a combination of like, I have a degree in physics, and I studied industrial design. And so there's this idea that if we're designing, we're designing something. Like if I want to make a curve more interesting, we spent an entire semester thinking about fast versus slow curves. I'm looking at the painting behind you. And I'm like, looking at those curves and like, oh, I see it, how it speeds up and slows down. And if I wanted to change or critique the physicality of something, I know what to critique. But with conversations, we don't even know what we're looking at, because we don't see the structure. And it's like trying to play chess without understanding moves. Right? And, modularity of moves.

And so, for me, one of the things I started to realize was that, I wanted to try and give people the smallest number of things to look at when they're designing a conversation. And one of the most interesting ones is space, and interface, the fact that our conversation happens in a place. Like right now, Zoom is the interface between our conversation, but our conversation is also happening. You've got a piece of paper nearby you with a series of questions that you want to try and address. And so, you're having a constant conversation between your plan and what's happening. Right? There's a narrative structure that you have. That's another thing that conversations are made out of stories. And it's being held in the space.

And so, one of the stories that I thought was interesting enough to put in the book was the story of this woman who, on NPR, she talked about leaving voice messages to herself. She'd walk her dog, and she would call herself and talk through her problems. And so just literally taking that time is one thing, but then you can listen to them afterwards. And we all know how much it is. We are so much better at solving other people's problems than our own. Right? And so, what she did was she put her problems on an interface outside of herself, and she could listen to her problems as if it was someone else's problem.

So she literally like peeled the conversation, her inner conversation out from inside her head, where we think at 4000 words a minute, right? Speech is, I wish I could remember the statistic right now. We can talk much, much more slowly than we can think. Our thoughts are so fast, and so peeling it out, bringing it outside, changing the interface of the conversation immediately makes it easier to address and to process. It slows things down immediately. And so, I think one of the challenges that people don't even know what they're designing. And so you can steal patterns, you're like, okay, let me start leaving voice messages to myself. But to me, I think, understanding the why is more interesting, because there's another story of like Amanda Palmer, deciding… Do you know Amanda Palmer? She's super famous TED Talk on the art of asking?

 

Kelly: I don't. I'm gonna put that in the show notes though and listen to it afterwards.

 

Daniel: She's married to Neil Gaiman, who's also a badass, and there's a story of them having a dinner conversation and she's like, hey, what if we didn't talk but we just passed notes to each other? And they asked the waiter for a pen and paper, and it was basically texting. But with time to think because writing as an interface for a conversation, it slows things down, and so they would doodle something, she’d write something and slide it across the table. And while he was writing, she got to like enjoy her dinner and just be in her thoughts. And maybe think about what she was saying while he was writing something back. And so this is what I mean by designing conversations. There are ways to slow it down, to speed it up, to physicalize it, to internalize it, to switch it up, and to be playful with the way that we interact. And that will radically change the way that we're communicating.

 

Kelly: Yeah, it's really interesting. As soon as you were telling that story, it made me think of a story. Just recently, I went up to a Buddhist monastery in Pine Bush, New York. And I went with a friend of mine, and in the middle of the day, there was a lunch with the monks that live on, the residents of the campus there. And so the entire time it was a silent lunch, right? So we're all eating the only thing that you could hear were like the clanking of the utensils and chopsticks and whatnot. And it made me have a conversation with myself while I was eating and I was so purposeful and so intentional. And also really excited that once that silence was broken, I was so clear about some of the questions that I wanted to ask my friend about her experience or ask one of the monks sitting next to me. And it was the slowing down on the silence that allowed me to do that. Really, really interesting. I hadn't thought about it that way until you just told that story.

 

Daniel: So good. Great music is not just constant noise at like one volume. There's musicality to great conversations. And that is what I would call cadence. When does a groove become a rut? You listen to a baseline where it's like, oh, you know when it's like it. It pulls you forward and there's interest. There's a variety and I think that's something that we're missing too. And so just having a pattern of silence and not silence, is essential and loudness and softness and high and low. People don't know how to vary their voices and speak with a musicality. But we don't do that for ourselves at all.

 

Kelly: Well, that was going to be sort of along the lines like my next question was about like, the inner voice work that you do. I think, for me, that's super fascinating and love to hear a little bit more about that.

 

Daniel: Well, step 1, if you've never listened to Julia Cameron. She wrote The Artists Way and The Artists’ Way at Work. I did a writing workshop with her. I took my mom. It was super fun and when anybody would step up to the microphone with a problem, the first thing Julia Cameron would say is, are you doing your morning pages? And the morning pages are these three pages of free hand, free thinking, just like scraping off the first layer of your brain first thing in the morning? And that is like her base level of like, you must be doing your morning pages. Like that is the fundamental first conversation that happen.

 

Kelly: Is that like the same thing as journaling or just calling it something different?

 

Daniel: It might just be fancy journaling. But Julia believes…

 

Kelly: Fancy journaling.

 

Daniel: It’s just fancy journaling. The morning pages is not like, oh, this happened. And this happened. It's literally like, you write it as quickly as possible. It's free association. It might be a list of song lyrics. It's sometimes I've written a half a page of, I don't want to be doing this. I don't want to be doing this. I don't want to be doing this. I don't want to be doing this. Whatever it is. So I think journaling is like, oh, so last night, last week, Tom did this and I don't feel good about that versus like morning pages. It's just like, I don't care what's in it. It doesn't matter at all.

 

Kelly: And it doesn't have to be a narrative. It doesn't have to be sentences. It's yeah, okay. Got it. It’s like a brain dump.

 

Daniel: Brain dump. Exactly. Don't like barely pick up your pen. Don't think, just get it out.

 

Kelly: But handwritten, not typed.

 

Daniel: Handwritten. It's absolutely essential. I just got back to my morning pages like a week ago. Because I like to have space. I don't want to just be, I want to have a flow between doing it, not doing it, but the inner voice stuff, it's fascinating. There's a whole school of therapy called Inner Family Systems. There are some Inner Family Systems cards where you look at a grumpy, sullen teen being yelled at by like a mother and there's a mess everywhere. And there's a beautiful happy family picture in the back. And it's like, okay, well, what is the family dynamic in here? And then where's that dynamic exist in me? But the way that I've done inner voice work with my therapist is, whenever I have an internal conflict, it's actually naming the parts and sometimes physicalizing the parts so that if I have an inner critic, maybe you have an inner critic, too.

 

Kelly: We all do.

 

Daniel: Really? It's not just me? I'm normal? So when I struggle with my inner critic, we name it, we give it a name. And we actually localize it in a room. We put it in a space.

 

Kelly: Like give it a name, like calling it what it is, or giving it a name like David?

 

Daniel: Like, yeah, whatever. It could be David or it could be like the taskmaster.

 

Kelly: So like an archetype. 

 

Daniel: Well, yeah, well, I mean, I name it for myself and I drew it. I have drawing somewhere where I drew all of the different parts where it's like, he's like at a millstone. Like you put an ox around like a millstone, just like push around and grind out that. That's what I feel sometimes. I find out more stuff. And so you're like, okay, well, let's put the taskmaster over there. And what do you want to say to him? What does he want to say to you? What do you need from him? What does he need from you? And that is actually having a conversation with yourself.

And it is much easier when you have somebody coaching you through it. You can also do it for yourself. So when I teach my facilitation masterclass, I do an exercise called the facilitators hats. And people draw the roles that they think they take on as a facilitator, ones that are hard for them to take on, which ones are easier and joyful for them, which ones are sort of like outside of their reach. And then we do some physical sorting where they start to think about like, what's in the core? What's in the shadows? What do they want to bring into the center? What's the pyramid of facilitation for them, and getting introspective about what is the role that I really need to be focusing on right now.

And it's been really interesting because I made this deck of cards and it was internally very struggling for me because I enjoy people drawing their own. But I decided to just take. I've been doing this for like 5 years now. So I went through 5 years of people's facilitators’ hats, drawings, and just made a deck of like 40 some odd ones that I liked. And the other day, I had them in my pocket because I was going to show somebody a prototype and I was going to this event. And like many people suffer from mild social anxiety.

And I thought to myself, how do I need to show up at this thing? Like, what do I want to be? What's my goal? Like, what am I going to do here? And I literally pulled out 3 facilitators hats at random, and one was the nourisher. It's this big top hat where like, the brim of the top hat is filled with food. So that's something we have to do. When we gather people we have to nourish them. And the other one was the fun hat. Like it's got a big propeller on it, because sometimes we just need to have fun.

And the other one was a detective hat. And I was like, whoa, I'm going to be the fun nourishing detective tonight. Like I don't even know what that means. But it was just wonderful provocation for me to think about how to show up playfully and be like, yeah, I know how to pull those parts out of myself. If I'm thinking to myself, Daniel, let's be nourishing today, I know how to pull out the nourisher in me. And I know how to be a detective, to ask really deep questions.

 

Kelly: And that's really interesting because we all have all of these different parts, archetypes, aspects, whatever you want to call them. We can pull from all of these different things. And I like the fact that you pause and you had that moment of reflection of like, what is my intention? Who do I want to show up as in this particular event? And let somebody else decide that, which in this case was the card? Right? Or the set of cards?

 

Daniel: Right.

 

Kelly: That's pretty cool. I think that's a really, really cool thing that the cards themselves remind me a little bit of… are you familiar with Q&E cards, questions and empathy cards from Michael Ventura that go along with his book Applied Empathy?

 

Daniel: No, I don't, but I do know, Michael. 

 

Kelly: Okay. So he's been on the podcast, and yeah, so I have actually right behind me a set of those cards. And funny enough, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine over text message this morning. And she was talking about convening and I like pulled the cards out and I was like, oh my God, these questions are great. That's exactly so applicable. So yeah, it's really interesting how you can use different cards like that to either ask questions or to sort of, not dictate, but give you some inspiration as to how you want to show up or who you want to be in each given day. Right? And that goes back to your whole thing about like, we are really living our lives and designing these conversations one at a time.

 

Daniel: They have a choice. It’s to illustrate that we even have choices, is huge. Because most of the time I think we just… respond reflexively, right? So if I'm thinking about how I'm going to show up at this party, I'll just be like, I'll just pull it for myself or I'll make a choice or I'll be anxious about it. And so giving ourselves the recognition that I've got a whole deck of cards of how to be empathetic to somebody. Right? I have an infinity of choices. I don't think it is scary. I think of it as liberating. Oh, I could show up. And I could be a dick. Like, that's choice. Right?

 

Kelly: That is a choice.

 

Daniel: But some people make that choice without even realizing there are other choices, right?

 

Kelly: True. It’s just lack of awareness.

 

Daniel: It's lack of hard-nosed on purpose. It's a lack of introspection and time and being like, what do I want? What do I need? Just taking a moment saying like, well, what are my ways? What are my options on the table of showing up and which is the best to actually get me what I want? My fiancée and I talk about this all the time, because we don't really fight much. Because there's this idea of like, well, why would I yell at you about the ironing board being out for 3 days? Like that's not actually going to get me what I want. And honestly, I don't really care. But the other day, I was like, hey honey, I noticed you took out the ironing board, which we never, it's not ever really used. I was like, what's the ironing board doing? And she's like, oh, like, there's this thing I pulled out of the back of my closet. I want to iron it. So I thought if I took out the ironing board, it would have encourage me to do it. And I was like, cool. And then like another 3 days later, I was like, hey, so what's going on with the ironing projects? And she's like…

 

Kelly: How’s the ironing project going, honey?

Daniel: Yeah. I know. And she's like, well, I'm beginning to get started on thinking about doing it. I was like, oh, let's dig into the process of beginning to get started on doing this. Tell me more about this. And we just laughed hysterically about it.

 

Kelly: Oh my God.

 

Daniel: And so then she's like, the next day she irons the thing and put it away. Because like, that is just such a different way. Now I was able to do that because I love her tremendously. And I find her hilarious and amusing in everything she does. So to me, like I could be like, what's the goddamn ironing board doing out? And in fact, we sometimes pull up voice out, the old Jewish married couple for fun, and just like we pretend. And I was like, you take out the ironing board and what is it furniture now? It's gonna be there for how many years? Should I put some flowers on it? What do you think? Right? Because that's even more ridiculous like yes, let’s just play that role.

 

Kelly: Oh my God. That is designing a conversation. That's just designing an amusing fun, amazing conversation.

 

Daniel: I’m letting out my aggression in a hilarious way, potentially at least to, Janet. And so, that to me is like being thoughtful and playful with how we express ourselves.

 

Kelly: Oh I love that.

 

Daniel: Try that on. It's always fun to be a crotchety old couple. 

 

Kelly: Okay, I got to practice my Jewish accent though.

 

Daniel: Yeah, yeah. Just watch The Princess Bride. It always helps. Miracle Max and, and his wife whose name… “I'm not a witch. I'm your wife.”

 

Kelly: All right. Well, I am going to put links to the book and some of your social channels in the show notes. Daniel, thank you so much for joining me on the show. This has been such a great conversation. I don't know if I've laughed so much on the show before, so I appreciate that.

 

Daniel: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. It's been really fun.

 

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EP 66: Navigating Agency Life Transitions, with Annie Scranton

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks to Annie Scranton of Pace PR about the many transitions she’s had to move through within the context of integrating agency leadership into her personal life. 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 66: Navigating Agency Life Transitions

Duration: 27:15

 

Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I'm here actually today with Annie Scranton, who’s the CEO of Pace PR in New York. We're chatting about the many transitions that agency owners face on a continuous basis whether that's personal, professional, and she's going to share her story about how she's actually been able to navigate them. These are some of my favorite conversations, real agency owners, real challenges and just being really transparent about what those things are that people are facing and then how we kind of come to resolve those and solve them. So Annie, it's great to see you again. Thank you so much for joining me on the show today.

 

Annie: Thank you for having me.

 

Kelly: So first of all congratulations on hitting your 10-year mark with the PR firm. That's amazing.

 

Annie: Thank you, thank you.

 

Kelly: So let's talk about this first, will call it the first transition of many with the agency where you actually went on maternity leave, how you kind of navigated that because that in and of itself is pretty challenging or could be and then we'll maybe dive into some of the issues about growing and scaling the team as a new mom with a brand new baby at home.

 

Annie: Yeah. So I would say that definitely having a baby was obviously like the biggest life change I've ever had but it certainly in the context of my business, it was absolutely the biggest moment where I just kind of felt like even though I did tons of crap beforehand I had just no idea like what it was going to be like and how things were gonna kind of shake out.

 

Kelly: How do you prepare for something like that, right?

 

Annie: Well, a client gave me a good advice. He said write down every single thing you do every single day for like a week or two straight and so I tried to do that so that way my two VPs would have a little, a look, a glimpse, into like sort of what my day to day was like. And before going on maternity leave, I really was acting like the CEO, the president, the founder, the CFO, I was doing like all of those roles, but I was very entrenched in like the day to day with the clients stuff. And so what I figured and what became true was that once I came back I was not gonna be able to be as entrenched in the day to day client work. So that was something I had to kind of relinquish in terms of like control which isn't easy, I don't think if you're an owner of an agency or a company.

 

Kelly: We tend to all be a little type A.

 

Annie: Exactly. But really what really was like so surprising and like the best way is that when I, I had so much anxiety about telling my clients I was pregnant and I would be out on maternity leave and they all surprised me, every single one of them was so happy for me, was like don't worry it'll be fine we'll figure it out or work with the others on your team and they truly meant it actually. And so I think that was something that I had underestimated because being in the service industry you're there to serve and so you're not really there to take time off and not to be working but I think for my clients particularly those who are parents themselves I think they understood it and I guess believed in me and believed in the foundation of what we were doing and I should say I only I only took like two months where I was fully off. So it was not a long maternity leave and then I came back slowly like sort of couple of days a week until I hit five months and that was when I came back from maternity leave sort of right after the holidays.

 

My experience was that the first few months after maternity leave or after I had my daughter actually went really, really well because I was still working right up until the day I gave birth. I had lots of planning meetings with my senior staff about how they were going to fill in the gaps and what was most important etcetera. And I really was able to just enjoy my daughter and not worry about work for two months which was awesome and everybody should do that a hundred percent because you never get that time again. And it was really wonderful and then dipping my toe back in like a couple days a week was good. It was definitely like one of the benefits of being a founder and owning an agency. It is just sort of write your own path back in after. So that was really good.

 

But then going back full time was really hard and it was hard I think because I felt really lost like in terms of what my role was now at the company. It’s been running really smoothly while I was gone and so I came back and I was like, alright, what am I doing here, like what’s my purpose. And then I realized what it was, was that, the one component that I hadn't been doing that nobody else was really doing was keeping up the new business relationships like getting new business is not really a skill you can teach somebody. It's just sort of I think innate and probably something that all owners or agency founders are good at. That's why we started our own agencies because we had a pipeline into potential clients. And so I realized that when I was sort of reviewing the Q1 numbers after I had just come back and they were not as strong as the previous year and that was the first year in nine years in business at that point that that had ever happened to me.

 

Kelly: That was just last year?

 

Annie: That was just last year. Yeah. Almost exactly a year ago and that really freaks me out because I had always been on this slow trajectory up and now we were like looking to maybe just break even with the year before. And so that was a big realization for me. Running the day to day and keeping the current clients happy and sort of keeping up with that work, my team totally expertly handled but having sort of foresight to keep the company growing was something that I wasn't in the headspace to do while I was enjoying my new baby and that was sort of the first big challenge of 2019, figuring out okay what are we going to do here to keep growing.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so it's interesting one of the things that you said early on was that you had all of this anxiety about telling the clients, right?

 

Annie: Yes.

 

Kelly: So that anxiety I'm imagining was coming from a place of like are they going to think that I'm incompetent, are they going to look at our agency as less valuable, would there potentially be some attrition because of this, was that all of the underlying feeling of that anxiety?

 

Annie: All of it. Yes, a hundred percent. And also being the one who primarily signs the bulk of a new business, the bulk of the clients, many of our clients want me. They want me involved. They want to talk to me. They wanna make sure I'm working on their accounts. And my staff is tremendous but there’s still that connection and so yes I was very worried about, would they feel like they weren’t getting their money's worth if they couldn't get me on the phone. Would they feel like their account wasn't going as strong if I wasn't actively pitching them to producers and different media?

 

And then just from my own perspective before I started my agency ten years ago, I always worked in a corporate culture. I was at various TV networks, like Fox, CNN, MSNBC and I remember being younger like in my twenties and seeing people take their maternity leave and then realizing okay now the bulk of the work they were doing is going to fall onto me and feeling like I mean I was so naive at the time but feeling sort of like well this isn't fair. Now I have all this extra work to do so I was worried about my staff too like feeling like they weren't feeling supported because I was out. So yeah, it was a lot of anxiety but one of my clients actually who I had a conversation with about it really like put my fears at ease and he said, Annie, people are going to be happy for you, you work really hard like you have the right connections, you're doing things the right way like people will support you. And I did find that to be true.

 

Kelly: Yes, so all of the potential like that story or that narrative that you created that this was going to be devastating for the clients and it was going to impact the employees like none of that was actually true. It was all just coming up out of the sphere of like if I'm not involved like everything's gonna go and fall by the wayside.

 

Annie: Totally. And like my ego was a little bruise because I was like oh, like okay everything's going fine. I wasn't even needed here for the past few months.

 

Kelly: Right.

 

Annie: I say that jokingly but there was a little bit of that, real feeling in there, and it was an adjustment like for sure but my mom always says to me, she's like, whatever you're worried about it's not going to be that thing that happens to you; it's gonna be something else.

 

Kelly: Or nothing.

 

Annie: Or nothing. Exactly. But I'm a worrier and so I always think something's gonna happen. But for me, it was not the operational side or the client side or even the staff side, it was really just continuing the growth of the business. I mean I didn't have the foresight. I don't know if I even could have for that being the one thing that I needed to pay attention to.

 

Kelly: Yeah, but that's also really self-aware that you said yeah my ego was a little bruised like I used to have sort of control over almost every nuance of this business, right?

 

Annie: Yes.

Kelly: Hand in clients, leading the team, developing culture, new business, like all of these things and so when you step back in and everything sort of running aside from new business, but everything else is sort of running smoothly without you, you're like wait now you said I felt lost. There's also like for me what natural extensions of that is, there's a little bit of loneliness and there's a little bit of question about purpose which you mentioned so it's like how did you get over that, how did you transition back in and sort of redefined what your purpose was and then get over that challenge of not necessarily prior to that only focusing on new business and now you're in this place where that's what the agency needs and that's what your primary focus, like how did you manage that transition.

 

Annie: I mean, to be honest with you I'm still managing it. I honestly, sometimes I do, I'll have conversation my husband something like I don't know what I'm doing, like what is it am I supposed to be doing right now. But when I came back from maternity leave, it was even harder because I was getting used to not seeing my daughter from nine to five every day. I was nursing. At the times I was pumping in the office. Forget it, like that was a whole other life challenges. It was hard because I was feeling sort of like I was feeling at home, feeling in the office and it wasn't easy. What did I do to get over it? I think somebody just told me another piece of good advice was to spend your time doing what only you can do and not what others on your team can do.

 

And so on that is where I tried to really dive then in terms of new business of course, just like oversight generally speaking of how the company was working and flowing, hiring, like that was something where my resume senior team was knee deep in, in the day to day work. I was like okay I'll take on the responsibility of actively hiring and doing these interviews. And now I think, my role it's harder to define because there's not like I'm always thinking about how to keep growing and scaling my company and what are more services that we can offer to clients and how can we implement that without burdening the staff that we currently have and it's hard because I before I had Rose, my daughter, every day I feel like I could do like a checklist of like every single thing I needed to do and I got it done and here's how I made the clients happy.

 

Like now when you say okay I'm working on how to scale the business like I don't know it's more like nebulous. It's more like I need to just spend time thinking and talking to people and whatever and it kind of comes in more of like an abstract way. And it's still really hard because I'm very type A and so my brain doesn't work like that. So I don't know I'm just trying to like lean into it as much as possible like if my email isn't crazy busy then I'll go on like Fast Company or Inc. or  Entrepreneur, and like read an article that I think I could benefit from, whereas before I feel like I literally didn't have like five minutes in my day to do that.

 

Kelly: Right. I recently heard somebody say if you replace your task-list with a to-solve list and take let's say you had ten things each day on your task list and now you're to-solve list becomes like much more strategic, becomes much more high level. That to-solve list maybe should have like four things on it for the entire week. I thought that was a really interesting way to sort of reframe exactly what you're talking about.

 

Annie: I am going to try that because that is a good way. Sometimes that's all it takes, just like witching the way you think about it.

 

Kelly: Yeah. So just kind of moving into the next big challenge that you faced. At some point between what we're talking about with the maternity leave and coming back, you had four employees actually quit and give notice, some leave within like just a couple of months of each other and you were pretty clear when we talked last time that you knew that the issue wasn't systemic. They were all for different reasons but that it actually did impact morale. And so I'm curious to know how as the visionary, as the founder, as the leader how did you sort of help that transition as well.

 

Annie: Well, I just try to be as honest and forthcoming with my staff as I could about each specific situation and I try to also very quickly hire freelancers or finding new people to fill in the gaps so that way at the very least the current staff wouldn't feel overloaded by having to pick up the work. So I think those are just very easy tactical things that I could do but it was really hard like super hard because most of my staff has been with me for years and years and years and so it was just like it was a shock for sure. Each situation was really different and I think in each situation I just was as honest as I could be with the team about why that person had left but we try to just to keep the morale like up, like we just try to do more like have more moments where we were sort of trying out all feel good about something that we did or like a big accomplishment we do every week.

 

On Thursday afternoons, we do weekly wins so it's like what was your big win for the week. So we try to just do that. I tried to highlight when a staff member had a great booking or had a great client, initiative that went well. I tried to make that feel more like a moment within the team so people would feel good about their work. And I think that's all good and I think people do appreciate that but at the end of the day, what people care the most about is either, are they getting more money or are their perks that are going to benefit them, so we try to just be even more flexible than we could about like time off, for people needing to work remotely sometimes. It kind of sucked. It was like I'm not gonna lie, it was very hard for sure.

 

Kelly: Yeah. So I'm curious to know like through the spectrum of a lot of these experiences that you're talking about which are so common in agency life, so many agency leaders can absolutely resonate with one or all of these things. I'm curious to know like how would you describe your own mindset as you were going through those, like were you really freaking out, were you able to compartmentalize, were you able to just kind of be authentic like what was your mindset, what was going through your mind to kind of help you get through it all.

 

Annie: I feel like I went through different phases and like different phases almost within each day. At home with my husband or talking to my mom on the phone. I'd be like freaking out, crying. I mean not like I was doing this all the time but I definitely have my moments. Having trouble sleeping, you wake up and you're like oh god how am I gonna fix this or what are we gonna do. I don't know if that ever goes away as long as you're still like involved in running the company because like I have twelve people that are on payroll like that's a big responsibility that you have to worry about. But in the office and from my staff I definitely tried to be reassuring as possible about everything because I mean losing some of the staff members was hard but we were fortunate in that the business was never at a point where we have to be worried about loss or anything like that.

 

So that was good but I think we all have some level of imposter syndrome and I definitely felt like I knew it was a learning experience for me but it was hard to feel confident that I was gonna see myself to the other side of it. So I just, I don't know, what did I do. I worked really hard. I tried to just like put myself out there to get more biz and to meet new people we can hire but then I also just tried to take advantage of like where I was at in my own life and my own career. This summer I realized in New York it feels like nobody even works in the summer but especially in August and so my daughter was turning one and then I had a lot of clients who are away and it was just sort of slow. And I just took a lot of time off like in that month just to be with her. I mean I'm always on my phone, accessible or whatever for work but I tried to just not freak out that like things were slow and I tried to just be like okay let me enjoy this time and I'm so glad I did that because literally the day after Labor Day, I feel like oh my god everybody just woke up, everybody's back like it’s crazy and things started to really pick up.

 

Kelly: Right. So it sounds like you're saying like with the team, you were really transparent. You were very reassuring to them. But did you also feel like you had this innate sense of like I don't know maybe from an intuitive standpoint or just like a deep knowing that everything was going to be fine. You just couldn't necessarily see how in that moment. Would you say that you had that or not necessarily?

 

Annie: Yes, I think I did because I was already nine years in business and so I'm like okay what are the chances that then after nine very successful years all of a sudden, it's all gonna come crumbling down. So I was like okay that's probably not going to happen and I try to remember pieces of advice that people gave me like an executive once told me like you can't expect every single year to grow, and grow, and grow. You have to have some flat years, you have to have some time that you are down, there's no business that just goes completely up every single year forever. And so I feel like I did have that knowing but if I also didn't have the anxiety and the nerves and the drive within me that like wanna make sure a hundred percent that that was going to be the case then I think that's how I balanced it.

 

Kelly: No, that’s great. So it was definitely like an intuitive or deep innate knowing that everything was going to be fine but also an action like action steps or actionable things that you did to realize like I can't just sit back and be like yeah, everything's gonna be fine. I know it'll be fine without me having to do something. It's like a little bit of both in terms of that dichotomy.

 

Annie: One hundred percent. Like somebody said to me like after I had a baby like are you even going to go back to work? You should just like relax and let Ross and Megan run the company and whatever. And I was like no, I mean like I could but again like I think as a founder, if you want to keep it moving and keep going to the next level only you until you're ready to completely check out. Like there was no like half in or out for me.

 

Kelly: You weren't ready at that point to make yourself optional in the business?

 

No.

 

Kelly: You wanted to remain as whether it was from an oversight perspective in addition to doing business development, whatever it was, but that was what you wanted, like that's what was fulfilling to you in that moment, that that may change in five years but in that moment and right now that's where you're at.

Annie: Yeah, I think I think too like for people who are moms or dads like continuing to have that other purpose is so important at least for me, like just because Rose gives me so much purpose, but if I didn't have something that I was day in and day out working for myself, I do not think I would be as good of a parent or as patient or as just happy. So yes I think absolutely and also just tactically for the business, yeah, I think we still needed to have someone like myself sort of driving things from a higher perspective.

 

Kelly: Right. It is such a great conversation and I really appreciate your complete transparency and honesty and like sharing this story because a lot of people aren't really willing to be that vulnerable I guess we could call it to say yeah these are the things that I've gone through and this is how I am either I've come out of it or solved it or I'm like literally in the process of solving it. So I do appreciate that really. I guess my last question is really for some of the agency owners who are dealing with one or more of these things literally right now, as they're watching or listening to this. What's the best piece of advice? It sounds like you often like will ask other people for help and assistance and advice, which is amazing. Because we don't know everything ourselves that's why we surround ourselves with amazing people but what's the thing that you would actually advise other people who are going through this. What would be your number one like best piece of advice?

 

Annie: Therapy or a business coach, like for sure. I have a great therapist who has a lot of business experience too so we talk a lot in there about all the stuff we just talked about so I think having an outlet of some kind and for your business staff is so important and whether that's a mentor or a therapist or a business coach or whatever. I would say definitely that. I think I did for a long time just keep a list not everyday but as much as I could of things that made me feel happy about the business and about the job like to kind of keep practicing that gratitude part of it because it's so easy, especially as an owner but especially you’re the founder but especially when you're going through one of these issues or another big issue to like just y’all totally like burdened and just overwhelmed and my mom would always say like, you love this.

 

Kelly: I don’t love every part of it.

 

Annie: But it's like remembering why you're doing it and trying to just not feel like in every single moment I'm rushing to do the next thing or whatever and to like enjoy it a little bit would definitely be part of it and then I think to just like being as kind and easy on yourself as you can because if you're running a successful agency, you have for years and then you have a blip in the road like chances are high you're going to be able to get through it. And just remember to be good to yourself through that process. It is not easy but that probably would be helpful.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's amazing. I literally couldn't have scripted a better answer to that question. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining me on the show today. Best of luck and all the success in the world.

 

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EP 65: Workplace Transformation, with Lauren Bachynski

  On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Lauren Bachynski of Steelcase discuss workplace experience design and how agencies can begin to think differently about the impact on productivity and culture, as it relates to creating intentional physical spaces for their teams

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 65: Workplace Transformation

Duration: 21:53

 

Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're going to be talking about Workplace Transformation primarily in a physical sense, maybe a little bit of the research behind it and how it all leads to larger benefits for our agencies.

 

So my guest today is Lauren Bachynski. She is one of the applied research consultants with Steelcase and I'm sure many of us are familiar when we look around our creative agency offices with all of the furniture and everything there, probably coming from Steelcase in many cases. So welcome Lauren. It is such a pleasure to have you on the show today.

 

Lauren: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

 

Kelly: So a mutual friend of ours introduced us, someone also that works at Steelcase and was sort of teasing this idea to her talking about the fact that this isn't really a conversation that a lot of people think about. They don't think about how the design, just how are our physical office environments really affect our culture. They affect the depth or the breadth of communication that we have, the quality of the communication that we have with one another. The physical comfort that we experience throughout the day. Right?

 

So there's so many things that go into this and I think some people in the industry sort of refer to it more as like workplace experience design, but it's really about transforming the organization. Right? I think it extends so much further beyond just like the physical environment. So what do we mean by organizational transformation with respect to these physical spaces?

 

Lauren: Yeah, I mean, that's a great question and it's definitely one that a lot of organizations are grappling with today. And I would say that there's two primary aspects here. The first one is that, the physical work environment is really like an artifact of that organization's culture, whether intentionally designed or not. It sends a lot of messages about who the organization is and what it values.

 

And the second thing that I would say is that it not only plays a role in who the organization is today, but also what it will become in the future. So we always say that space shapes behavior and behavior over time becomes culture. And so the work environment can play a really important role in sort of fostering and enabling some of the behaviors that are going to enable that transformation.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. Can you repeat that? That was a great soundbite. About the transformation.

 

Lauren: Yeah. It's space, shapes, behavior and behavior over time becomes culture.

 

Kelly: Yeah. I love that. I love that. I think that's so true. And I think starting with the physical space is certainly like a good foundation, a good starting point. That's great. So I guess talking about maybe some of the statistics or maybe some of the research done around productivity, maybe employee attrition, or retention, hopefully and even profitability. Where can we sort of find some quantitative measurement here?

 

Lauren: Yeah. Well, what I would say is we get that question a lot and how we generally answer it is that, those things really depends. We want to understand like the metrics that are important to that organization in how they measure productivity is going to be very different than how another organization would. So I wouldn't say that there really is any standard measures or predefined solutions, that it's really on a case by case basis.

 

And that the approach we take is that we really want to listen to understand. And that we're able to combine both, that understanding with a lot of experience in years of research, working with other organizations to develop a set of measures, a set of variables, a set of metrics that create a really representative of like what is the ideal state or like the best, sort of like the best case for that organization.

 

Thinking about not just sort of comparing yourself to a norm, which may in fact include an average that is based on a lot of organizations who may not be well leveraging, who may not have a good work experience, who may not be leveraging their space well, but instead of really determining what is ideal for that organization and then using that as sort of the bar going forward.

 

Kelly:   Yeah, no, that's a great point. Sort of like creating your own metrics based on what's important to you.

 

Lauren: Absolutely.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. So I guess my next question would be like, I'm just curious, what process do you sort of implore in Steelcase? Like when an organization comes to you, they're looking to improve their workplace from the initial outreach to the actual installation. I don't know if you call it installation, but to that end product or that end environmental designer transformation. Like what does that process look like?

 

Lauren: Yeah, no, it's a great question. Again, I mean, we really begin this process with trying to understand what the organization's needs and goals are. And then we want to develop a tailored strategy around that. So at a high level, we have a user centered process that is very sort of like holistic in nature. No two projects look the same. 

 

Kelly:  I could imagine.

 

Lauren: Yeah. We're always adapting and customizing that to the specific needs of that organization. But that being said, in terms of sort of that higher level process that we follow, the first step is really diagnosis, which is really trying to understand through a number of different research activities, how people are working in the organization today and how they need to be working in the future. What is that desired future state? And then understanding the scope and the scale of the gap between the two.

 

We then move into a phase which is all about working with leadership and sort of defining what their critical success factors are and what their goals and objectives are both for the project, but for the organization more broadly as well. It's really important to have sort of those two levels, so that the goals of that project are very much aligned with where the organization is going more broadly.

 

We then go into what we call like an engage stage which is with employees. So it's very much like a top down, bottom up approach. And we typically engage users for like a cross section of the organization, across roles, positions different work groups to make sure that we're getting all perspectives at the table. And that's where we really start to gain a really in-depth understanding of the organizational culture, how people are working, what are the unmet needs.

 

And then from there, we go through a deep sort of analysis and synthesis of all our findings and inputs. And with that, we develop a set of key insights and those key insights inform the recommendation, the workplace strategy going forward, but also the change management effort that's going to be required. That's usually a really important part of the process.

 

From there, we deliver those recommendations to the key stakeholders involved. And then we go into a guide base, which is essentially the change management phase and looking at how we can really address the different considerations to make sure that the solution is successfully adopted and implemented.

 

And then we'll finish with a measurement phase where we're going back and we're measuring how that solution is performing and what improvements we're seeing and what are we learning and where can we continue to make refinements to ensure that we're really ending up in the best place possible.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. And that last phase, the measurement phase, is that a combination of qualitative and quantitative?

 

Lauren:  Yeah, absolutely. So it's often a mirroring of sort of what we do in the diagnose phase. So the diagnose will often do to your point. But we’ll do the more qualitative, which is typically interviews. We'll do them like workshops with the more quantitative, which is typically like surveys, utilization studies. So we'll typically go back and then we sort of have to have the pre to have the post. You know what I mean? So you can sort of compare the findings of both.

 

Kelly: Right, right. I just think it's so interesting because I could imagine a lot of the agency owners and leaders who are listening or watching this and sort of, I'm thinking like, wow, I thought Steelcase just kind of made office furniture, you know? And it's, I could imagine in their minds like, wow, I didn't realize that all of this went into it. And if I actually want to affect change in my organization on pretty much every level, including my own leadership and change management, then this is a really, really viable option.

 

And I don't think a lot of people think of it like that. It's like they think of it potentially as like another vendor or looking at just like the design of, or the aesthetic of what the options are, right? Color and form and things like that as opposed to, okay, this is really strategic in the same way that a creative agency is strategic with their clients, right? With their deliverables. So yeah, I think that that's going to be a pretty big takeaway from this. I mean, that's awesome.

Lauren:  I mean, that’s often something we hear again and again, which is that, people, it's sort of like build it and they will come, but in our experience, we know that that isn't that, that it doesn't really work that way, but you need to really have a broad and holistic approach. I mean, we generally think about we don't think about workspace. We think about work experience and we think about sort of different elements that are incorporated into that.

 

So you certainly have the space, but you also have the culture and the behaviors of the organization. You have the work process, you have the tools, and technology and all four of these things are like deeply connected and interrelated. And it's really hard to affect meaningful change in one of those areas without touching the other ones. So we really make sure that we're through all the phases that I just mentioned. That's always sort of like the lenses that we're looking through from the research activities themselves to the synthesis, the frameworks that we use to synthesize that material to our final recommendations.

 

Kelly:  Do you have an example that you could share of like specifically at like a creative organization or agency that has gone through the process that you just talked about and really saw some kind of significant improvement? Whether it was quantitative or both? 

 

Lauren:  That's a great question. What I would say is that I'll use the example of actually maybe a more traditional organization, but that organization was really trying to implement sort of a more creative approach within the organization. So I've been working more recently with a large airline company who has a number of, they're implementing a process called Agile within their technology department.

 

And we've been working with them to study how these teams are working within these spaces and just start to develop the space that would best support not only that process but also like the ceremonies and the rituals and the interactions that are inherent in it. And in tandem with that, it's been interesting because Steelcase has been going through a very similar change with our technology teams. And an interesting thing about Steelcase is we really like to experiment on ourselves.

 

So we've been testing the same thing in our Grand Rapids headquarters where we've been prototyping and studying different spaces to look at how these teams work and how to really support that. So we've kind of taken the research that we've done with this organization and we've taken some of the research that we've done on ourselves and kind of merge that and to develop sort of some recommendations about what this space might look like.

 

And what's been really interesting about the entire process is we've been doing this closely in alignment with their teams kind of working as a partnership and we've applied the Agile process actually to even how we're approaching doing that. So we're taking the solution and we're prototyping it through like multiple different cycles of learning and measurement and iteration.

 

And what's interesting about it is the intention is that there's never a final or a fixed solution, that there are always constantly an iteration. And so, it's really interesting to kind of work with them on this and to kind of see how they're taking. They’re not only trying to find the right environments to support these teams, but the kind of creative approach that they're taking to finding them. It's been really fun.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. It's such a great example because so many of the agencies that are active listeners or viewers of the show definitely employ some kind of Agile methodology, whether it's from a development sense, which is pretty traditional or in other senses in the work that they do. So it's a great example and what I love about it is that you are actually taking layers of Agile methodology, right?

 

And then on top of that, creating sort of like an agility to the way that you're putting this together with the client. I think that's great and I'm sure that what that means at the end of the day is that even though it is constantly iterative, the outcomes of what the client ends up with is going to be that much more effective because of the way that you've applied this research and are constantly working with them in partnership. So yeah, really, really interesting case study.

 

Lauren:   Yeah. It's been great to be a part of it.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. So as we start to wrap up, what would you say is the best piece of advice for creative leaders who are currently sort of considering the impact of workplace transformation for 2020 and beyond?

 

Lauren:  Yeah, so I would say understanding and internalizing how the workforce is changing. I think the younger workforce is really representing a significant shift in terms of like the values and expectations that they're bringing to the workplace. And I think, some of the things that we're seeing is definitely a greater desire for purpose-driven work. Greater sense of community, more flexibility, greater autonomy in how they're working, but also, the area of supporting greater wellbeing and work life balance has really seemed to like very top of mind.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. I was just going to say I love to use work life integration instead of balance. Just because I feel like it's really hard to kind of visualize, especially for creatives. It's almost like, it's difficult to visualize these two things being on like opposing ends of the spectrum, but trying to be like balanced as if we think about like the scales of justice for example. So like more of like a meshing or an integration. And every time someone says in the show, I always say it, so I didn't mean to cut you off. Go ahead.

 

Lauren: No, no, no, no. That's a great point. I'm going to use that. But no, so I mean, I think what's interesting about it is this is kind of all happening at the same time that like creative firms, organizations more broadly are having to think hard about how they're differentiating themselves in a marketplace in which unemployment's at an all-time low. And in which talent scarcity is kind of increasing.

 

And I think something that a lot of creative organizations have been thinking about for a long time, that like other organizations are really just kind of coming to is that as work becomes increasingly automized through technology and digital transformation, the value that humanized work brings is really the hunch. Creativity and innovation and engagement.

 

And so, starting to think about how this very high order level of thinking needs to be supported differently. There's really sort of like a renewed emphasis on wellbeing, but not physical wellbeing. I mean that's obviously important, in terms of the ergonomics and the physicality of where you work, but also like the emotional and the cognitive aspects of wellbeing. And how do you really support engagement? How do you create psychological safety within a work environment?

 

What is the right degree of stimulation so that people can really focus and concentrate deeply for sustained periods of time? So I think the workplace has a real role to play. I mean, it is the context that enables those in which those behaviors and processes happen and has a really important role to play in fostering that. And I think it's kind of brought a renewed emphasis to our role in that and also like the importance of thinking about some of those things moving forward.

 

Kelly:  That's great. That's great. I think that that's really helpful. And again, back to what I said earlier, I don't think, or again, it would be my assumption that a lot of creative leaders, creative agency owners and I would put myself when I owned an agency, I'd put myself in that same sort of head space. I don't think that I would have ever thought about all of those things from that perspective. For me, it was just, hey, we need office furniture. Where do we buy office furniture? Right?

 

Where’s that commercial furniture vendor, what does that look like? And we're basically looking at price. You're not thinking necessarily, and almost, I would say even more than that, you're looking at the physical space of your building that you own or lease, whatever your space is that you rent. And then looking at, well, what are the dimensions that I need that I can fit into this space?

 

So that yes, it's comfortable for the employees, but more so like how many can I fit in without it feeling like, there is a small level of or decent level of consciousness about the environment, but it's certainly nothing to the extent that you're talking about. That was just my experience. So this keeping in mind or starting to bear in mind all of the things that you're describing, I think that is, to me, the definition of transformation for sure.

 

Lauren:  Yeah. Well, you're definitely not alone in that. And I think it's only now that I think workplace is starting to be recognized for the design of their work environment, is starting to be recognized as the strategic tool that it is and then it can play, like culture, it exists. Sort of getting back to this idea of it being like a physical artifact of the organization. You can do that intentionally or unintentionally, but either way you're saying…

 

Kelly:  You're doing it.

 

Lauren:  Exactly. So it's like, how can we really leverage that to its fullest extent.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. Fantastic. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for being on the show today. I really, really appreciate your time.

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EP 64:  Do You Know + Communicate Your Value, Paul Boag

  On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Paul Boag discuss how to identify your agency’s value by focusing on the knowledge and experience that influences the services you provide.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 64:  Do You Know + Communicate Your Value

Duration: 23:03

 

Kelly: So welcome to another episode of Thrive. Today, my guest is Paul Boag, a user-experience consultant, author, speaker, and coach. He’s based in Dorset, England. He helps nonprofits and enterprises to really refocused the user experience and engagement for their digitally savvy audiences. Today, we're actually gonna get into identifying and communicating your value to others and we'll do that in the context of agencies but I think that that can also really be applied to then our clients and honestly sometimes in our personal lives as well. So Paul, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited for the conversation.

 

Paul: It’s a pleasure to be here. I always like catching up with other people that work in a similar failed and facing similar challenges.

 

Kelly: Yeah. So I think you and I agree for sure that, well, let me give a little context first , the reason how we got connected was I have a coaching client who had received an email from you, that was I think it might have even been titled, do you know and communicate your value, or something along those lines and he forwarded it to me and said it seems like you wrote this and Paul just put it out. So I was like well then, I have to meet Paul obviously. So I can say that I know that you and I agree that most agencies have a lot of difficulty being able to identify what their actual value is, let alone communicate it because you've got to have one before the other. So what are the inherent issues from a business standpoint in letting this issue just completely linger unresolved.

 

Paul: I think a lot of it is built out of where people started in their careers that if you're running any kind of creative agency, you began by producing assets so that might be a website, it might be brochure, it might be whatever. You produce something, something tangible. Okay. So we see our value inherently as being in the deliverable, in what it is that we deliver. But in truth that is not the whole or even the main part of what value we provide. So yeah I don't know the kind of agencies that you deal with, with all the agents but typically the kind of agencies that I'm working with are web design agencies. And these people think that they produce websites but he is the thing producing websites is a commodity. It's easy. Anyone can do it. That's the whole point of HTML, is that it's easy to write and it's even easier today than it was ten years ago because now there are these amazing themes.

 

Kelly: You don't even need to know HTML anymore.

 

Paul: No. Absolutely. So you can just use your Squarespace or Webflow, whatever tool to build these things. So as a result, that's not where the skill is. That's not where the expertise is. The expertise, the value is what's in our heads. It's all knowledge in our understanding of what makes a design compelling, what makes a piece of copy persuasive, what makes performance particularly important on a website or security, or whatever else. So it's understanding that the value is in our knowledge not in our deliverables.

 

Kelly: And you argued that we should not only not feel guilty about following the so-called best practices but we should value our role. We should value all role more because we're providing what we're providing is so much more valuable. It's in the knowledge. It’s in the experience behind influencing, these other services. And all of that really if you boil it down, it comes down to empathy. The experience, the understanding of other people's perspective, wrapping all of that together, it's really a solid understanding and utilization of empathy. So I think that's really important because I don't think a lot of agencies really focus on that understanding, that part of their value is derived in their practice of empathy.

 

Paul: Yeah, but here’s the ironic thing, a lot of those agencies will understand themselves that they empathize and aren't being able to get into the minds of users is the key to that success. They understand that for themselves and they want to do that all the time with their own users but they never apply that same methodology to their clients. They never say what is it that the client values for me, as I tend to empathize with the client, what's the value that I’m providing at the end of the day for the client. Is it just the website or is it the reassurance, the reassurance that they’re heading in the right direction. Is it the reassurance or what’s their motivation, maybe they want to get their next pay raise at the end of the year and so you need to deliver by the end of the year. So understanding how our clients think is just as important as understanding our end-users. I don’t think a lot of agencies put the same effort into understanding their clients as they do their users, at least it’s not in my experience.

 

Kelly: Right. Absolutely. So can you give actually a couple of examples of what that effective value communication looks like, and maybe some of the in-house teams or other clients that you've worked with like where did they start and then what is that effective value communication look like.

 

Paul: For me, one of the best ways of communicating your value is to educate, is to share and to educate. So one of the things that I encounter a lot because I work with in house teams as well as working with agencies and what I encounter a lot with in house teams is they’re effectively are seen as a support service because they’re often borne out of IT, for example. And so, the result of all of that is that people come to them with an idea, they’re expected to go away and implement that idea. They’re not there to have ideas of their own. And the same is true with agencies actually. You go to an agency, you expect them to deliver on your brief but actually in order to shift that relationship to one where people come to you with a problem rather than a solution and they look to you to help solve that solution, that is really about education and communication. It’s about starting that kind of dialogue and conversation with clients. So what I often do within organizations is I get those internal teams to share better their best practice so get back to explaining, look this is my process, this is how we do things to get to a final solution because having a process in a framework makes it sound like you’re not just making up stuff as you go along.

 

Kelly: Isn't that the thing that most people think when they hire an agency, right? We're working and they’re like, oh, these people don't know what they're doing, they're just making it up as they go along.

 

Paul: And that’s especially true with creative stuff. Oh yes they go and have artistic muse in the corner and spell out a lot of artistic stuff. So it’s our job to educate them that there is a process, there is a methodology behind what we do. Unless they see that methodology and as they come to understand that methodology, they understand the depth and complexity behind what we do. The problem is a lot of us within the creative industry don't fully understand why we do what we do. So a great example of that is white space in design. Every designer knows that white space is a really important part of creating a design because clients come along and they want to fill that white space.

 

Kelly: Make my logo bigger. Why you need so much room?

 

Paul: Yeah, and we will go, no, you can't do that. I'm the designer. Well, that's not a good reason. That's not educating their client. So first of all, we need to understand why white space is important and that means maybe understand a little bit of that cognitive load and the psychology behind these kinds of things then we can communicate better to the client so it's a combination of having a methodology, better communication, understanding what we do, and why we do it and why that leads to success. No, I was going to say, a lot of the times, a lot of the problems we have with clients comes down to their lack of confidence in us and that lack of confidence ultimately comes because we are very poor at explaining what we do and why we do it.

 

Kelly: Right. So it's almost like in order to communicate our value, the very first step is actually not communicating the value but actually understanding and turning that lens on ourselves and understanding what we do, documenting that, and then diving a little bit deeper to understand why we do it, then producing some content about why we do it, sharing that with the client, then we can speak to our values. So you're sort of making the case for what you do just through this conversation helping them with that framework and all of that. So yeah absolutely there's so much to this and this is the big component. Let’s call this 4 or 5 step process. There's so much meat to this and this is literally the 4 or 5 steps that very few agencies whether they’re external independent or in house, they just gloss over this and I think for 2020, this is our year of vision, we have to stop glossing them with this.

 

Paul: Absolutely. And I think you said something really interesting there. So we've got to document this stuff and we've got to have it written down and I find that that is extremely important for setting expectations with clients so as you go into a new client engagement, if you can provide them a set of documentation that says this is what is going to happen, this is the order that things are gonna happen in, and this is why things are gonna happen. That is so reassuring for the client and they also establishes you as the expert in the partnership. But also there's another thing which relates to that is, let’s say we went into a meeting and I presented a design to you and you turned around and you said, make my logo bigger.

 

Kelly: I will never do that to you Paul.

 

Paul: No, I know you wouldn’t. I know you wouldn’t, but it happens. You're being a hypothetical client in this occasion.

 

Kelly: I know.

 

Paul: Now, I might now come back with a good reason as to why you shouldn't make the logo bigger, but there’s two other things that are happening there. One, first of all, I sound like I'm just messing you at this point, that I'm just making up reasons. Two, you have already put your stake in the ground as the client and said this is what I want. So it's hard for you to back them now. However, if before, you ever said that, I’ve given you a nice little cheat sheet in why white space is important and negative space is important within the design. And I’ve preempted that issue. A, it doesn't sound like I’m making up things as I go along and B, you have an opportunity to back down before you actually say anything and lose space.

 

Kelly: Yeah, no, I'm all in favor of education, client education and setting those expectations upfront, whether it's a cheat sheet, whether it's a blog post, whether it's a video, whether it's a podcast, I think creating this content in ways in which the client can feel like they're a part of the conversation as opposed to being spoken to. Part of them wants the education but part of them wants to also feel a little bit like the equal so in those meetings like you're discussing, there's a little bit of a power struggle that happens especially if it's early on in the relationship. I'm trying to assess the agency. I'm trying to establish my expertise, my value, all of that and as the client I want to remind you that I'm paying the bill and you're pretty much I have the last say. So there's that weird balance that we have to achieve and get to a place where ultimately, this comes down to trust.

 

And this is a good segue sort of for my next question, which is that we need to understand that value is a two-way street and this was a huge takeaway from the article, that Lou had passed over to me. For me, this comes down to two things, which might sound really strange in the context of business but I think that the two things that it comes down to for me are love and respect. So respect is easy like I respect that as the client, I respect that you’re the agency with the expertise that's why I'm hiring you and as the agency and I hope everybody's really paying attention to this, as the agency, I have to respect the client. I have to respect that they know their industry, their organization, and the nuances of all of that, so well they know it much better than I do because they do it every single day whatever the service or product is and having that level of respect gives them the opportunity to communicate that to me as the agency so that I can do a better job.

 

So I think that's point number one. And then I think also, it just comes down to having a little bit more love for each other. I think that we don't like to talk about sort of squishy things in business but at the end of the day we're just humans interacting with one another. We're just humans communicating with one another and we all are sort of built from sort of the same mold for the most part. We all come to the table with different baggage and triggers and all these things. But at the end of the day, if I feel respected and appreciated and we come to the table trusting one another or at least willing to trust one another, we're gonna get a lot further.

 

Paul: But you see that's the problem I often see with agencies.

 

Kelly: And that was going to be my question, is what is that, what are those barriers to those things?

 

Paul: Yeah. So many agencies don't trust clients. They don't they don't trust the clients to be involved in the design process. So for example they’re constantly limiting the client's involvement. We're not gonna show you anything until this point and then you’re gonna get a controlled choice and then after that you'll get X number of iterations and that’s all, and then you have to sign in blood that you're happy with the design. Now all that does is, undermine the relationship and it builds up each of those decision points to this phenomenal level where oh, I've got signed in blood that means I have to be happy. I have to think this thing is perfect and so it becomes this power struggle. Instead and also, you're completely excluding all that expertise that the client brings to the table. 

 

So instead if you actively involve them, I involve my clients to every stage. We agree on keywords together or the brand needs to communicate where we do collaborative mood boarding. We do collaborative web production. They're involved absolutely every step of it. And when it comes to presenting them the final design, there's no surprises because they were involved in creating it. It's not just the natural evolution. So I almost never have to do each iteration of designs and I certainly don't have to do multiple versions of the design because I created that design in tandem with them.

 

And best of all, they then feel a sense of ownership over the design so they’re certainly not going to reject and they’re going to defend it internally. And also I never asked clients to sign off on the design either. I simply just keep of evolving, keep producing it as I build the website, accepting that there will be changes and tweaks. It's better than getting stuck in the endless cycle of iterations, which goes nowhere. So the more you control the client into the process, the more it establishes the relationship as peers working together which is what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

 

Kelly: Yeah, what's interesting that comes up for me and even though this conversation is just between the two of us, I can already hear agency leader in and saying, that sounds great in theory, how would I build for that because if I'm expected to iterate with the client and have this collaborative relationship and it takes double, triple the amount of time that I was hoping for, how would I make any money of that.

 

Paul: This is the most common question I get asked whenever I talk like this, you know what, it won't take any longer. The reason it won't take any longer is yes the actual production will be longer of the initial design but you won't have any of that endless situation and it's the iteration that kills you, that's where you lose money, on the iteration. And that is completely unpredictable. You have no idea how many times you might have to iterate and tweak and change the design before the client is going to be happy. While you know you're gonna do a mood boarding exercise, you’re going to do a wireframing excise, whatever else, I’ve talked about this on my blog, if people are interested but that is predictable. I know that that's going to take a certain amount of time. Well, if you can be stuck in iteration for weeks, if you're not careful. So it’s the predictability that makes it work because what we do is we submit proposals on the best case scenario. Oh yes, this is probably gonna be one round of iteration. Rubbish. That never happens. So actually, it works out more economical to do it that way.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so as we start to wrap up here, what would you say is the top piece of advice that you’d give to agency leaders who are trying to figure out how to identify their value and then communicate it.

 

Paul: Talk about outcomes and not just deliverables. So what I mean by that is talk about the business benefit, what you do provides not just what you’re delivering. Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't talk about deliverables, of course. They want to know what they’re going to get. But when I produce a proposal for my clients, sure I outline what I'm gonna deliver but I also outline what that deliverable, anticipate that deliverable maybe able to provide for them as an organization in terms of well, let's take a take a standard website, increases in conversion, reduction in marketing spend, more repeat business and etc. So focus on the business benefits because that is where your values lies, not in pushing some pixels around.

 

Kelly: Because then you get out of that commodity loop and there's less client attrition because they see the value. It’s definitely I always say the same thing, it's always more so about benefits over features, benefits being what our expertise is, features being the thing that comes out of the relationship, which is the deliverable.

 

Paul: The only thing, again now, I've got the people's voices right in my head. The only thing that I think people worry about is well how do I know what the benefits are going to be and you've done it.

 

Kelly: Historical data or historical experience or anecdotes give you a sense of hey for a project similar to this, with my client similar in your industry, this is what they achieved so you can draw on that for sure.

 

Paul: Yes absolutely. And there are all variables involved, which is why, so for example, I always soften it a little bit in my proposals by saying things like together we can deliver rather than I'm going to deliver these business benefits. I talk about both of us because if they don't play their part, then it's gonna be rubbish. You’re not gonna exceed those benefits. So you could do things to soften it, if you need to, a little bit for your own state of mind.

 

Kelly: Yeah. Paul, this is a great discussion. I've had so much fun. We are so aligned in the way that we're thinking and talking about this. So I really, really appreciate you coming on the show today and hope to talk to you soon.

 

 

 

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EP 63: Why Exploration Matters for Your Employees, with Erica Shieh

  On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Erica Shieh of Movement Strategy talk about the importance of cultural exploration and travel for agency employees. The multitude of benefits to your team, your agency, and your clients may surprise y

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 63: Why Exploration Matters for Your Employees

Duration: 13:52

 

Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Pardon my voice, I'm just getting over laryngitis after the holiday season. But last year, I actually work with this agency called Movement Strategy. They've got offices and a bunch of places across the US. We worked on some positioning things together a little bit of SEOs, some conversion rate optimization, and as part of that work together, they initiated this employee contributed blog.

And one of their first post was by Senior Manager of Data + Insights, Erica Shieh who is actually my guest today. Her post was called How Traveling the World Made Me A Better Researcher. And honestly, I was kind of really blown away by the post. I’ll put that in the show notes today but I thought we could have a really great discussion about why exploration matters for agency employees. So Erica, welcome to the show. I'm super excited to have you on today and just thrilled to have this conversation. I think it's one that I haven't heard before so I'm really excited to jump into it with you.

 

Erica: Thanks for having me Kelly. I'm so excited to talk about it. I could talk about travel all day.

 

Kelly: So you actually started off this post by identifying a critical issue for strategists and creatives alike, which is that they're sort of like this idea that there's an unconscious bias and like a cultural blindness that we have and kind of unintentionally creep into our work because at the end of the day like we're just making assumptions. So how does that impact the work that we deliver to our clients is really the question.

 

Erica: Yeah, I think sometimes we don't even realize it. Because a lot of my teammates and a lot of advertising agency, a lot of us are from similar areas. We have similar backgrounds. Most of us have lived in big cities and when we get together and put together a creative brief or a strategy, I think we're sometimes not aware of the fact that we kind of live in a bubble and how it is an agency life, like the timelines are really short and sometimes we don't have a budget to do proper research.

And so, we kind of sift together what we know from our own personal experiences and hope that that's enough to put together a really broad reaching insightful campaign. And sometimes it works and sometimes we hit the mark or we miss the mark just because we don't fully understand a subculture or a group of people. And unfortunately that's kind of pervasive in the industry right now. One thing that's really helpful to deter that is just doing research and talking to people and experiencing things and getting a larger perspective from travel or research.

 

Kelly: Yeah, and the reason why I think this is such an important conversation is because I think you hit the nail on the head that this is very pervasive in agency world because of all of the reasons why, you just mentioned. And so, if part of our charge is to deliver good work and effective work on behalf of our clients yet we're lacking perspective, we’re lacking empathy. We’re sort of using our own assumptions and our own experiences, which could be really limiting or limited.

That obviously has to impact the work and not make it as effective as possible. So yeah that's the reason why sometimes we do miss the mark and then the client questions our value and then there's client attrition and so really it cascades down into a lot of different things. And again this conversation is not one that I've heard before so I want to know a little bit more about the journey, the physical journey, the travel journey, that you went on. You bought a one way ticket to Asia and actually you were sort of on sabbatical for about seven months and I want to hear more about that. 

 

Erica: Yes, so I had worked in advertising for probably six years and it's the story of burnout, working long hours and I kind of was looking for a reset moment and part of my job is to do consumer insights and to study human behavior and to study psychology and discover truths about people and I realize that I don't really know my own personal truths. I had never really felt connected to my Asian heritage growing up. Essentially my sister announced that she was gonna have her engagement party in Taiwan. And then I had a friend who had a wedding in India and I thought oh my god, like this is the perfect moment for me to just go to Asia, take some long time off. In my head, I was thinking around like six months and take the opportunity to just explore other countries and be in different cultures that I'd never really known before.

So I started off in China, which was crazy and I did the typical touristy things, did Great Wall of China, and went around, Terracotta Army. Went to the meeting place called [5:47]. But I think one of my intentions with traveling was to travel slowly and to think slowly and have it be less about me but more about observing what's around me. And you have all the stereotypes about Chinese people. Growing up in America you're told certain things and then you realize when you get there that it's not everything that you were taught necessarily and being able to travel slowly and not really know where you're going and just figuring out it along the way and just being spontaneous and letting people that you meet tell you where to go.

It was invaluable and I had the best time. I think I met a lot of people in China that kind of reframed how I felt about the Chinese government and just having that insider perspective, I never could have gotten that if I hadn’t been there. So China was crazy and then I went to Nepal where I did a lot of hiking there. It was a very spiritual experience because a lot of folks are religious and they believe that the mountains are sacred and time spent there is very simple and slow. And I think along the way, being able to observe people and meet other travelers that perhaps were from German or Sweden like they have different perspectives as well. So just meeting strangers, meeting other expats, meeting other travelers, it was really, really awesome and just getting to talk to people and learning about what are my own biases, what did I not realize that I held on to. And just kind of being exposed to their thoughts and perspectives, is really awesome.

 

Kelly: Yeah. As an employee obviously you're with movement strategy but like as an employee, what advice would you give to the owners or leaders of other agencies that might be considering the pros and cons of sort of allowing employees to take these extended periods of time for travel  and vacation and exploration and things like that.

 

Erica: Yeah I'd say it’s so, so incredible in making employees not only feel like they’re growing personally but also professionally. I honestly went into my trip thinking this was a personal journey of mine. But I came out of it realizing that I grew so much as a researcher and someone who became more empathetic and more aware of my own biases and as a strategist, being aware of those things helps a lot in crafting our briefs. I would tell agency leaders that while you do miss this person for a couple of months, they will come back as more confident, bold, empathetic, open-minded, and really I would say, audacious. I think any time that people are exposed to different cultures you come back so humbled and so empowered. And like people are the best versions of themselves when they travel and then when you come back, you're not only reset from a mental perspective but you have all these experiences that make you a better strategist or creative.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I couldn't agree with that more just from my personal travel experiences and all the upcoming travel I have planned because of that. I do want to read the last paragraph of your post because I think first of all there's just so much sort of poetry and beauty in it. But also because I think it's really good for these agency leaders to understand why they should really encourage this exploration in their employees. So if you don't mind I'd love to read this last paragraph. It's a little long but I think it's important. 

You said, “I've taken what I learned during my travels and have since re-entered the agency world with a new perspective on research and strategy. I take the time to recognize my own implicit biases and ask questions that don't make assumptions. I actively listen to consumers with an open-heart and without judgment. I am more compassionate towards societies and cultures that I'm not familiar with and I share this mindset with my fellow teammates reminding them of our audiences complexities and nuances. I left America to connect with myself and I came back not only more in tune with myself but even better as a researcher.”

That to me, that was like, amazing. That was honestly, that was the paragraph that made me even want to record the show with you. Because I thought it was really moving, it was really inspiring and I think again it's a conversation that we need to have because we do get so sort of tunnel vision. Agency life is hard. Agency life is just what we talked about a little while ago. It's fast paced. Sometimes there isn't budget for all the things that we need to really get done but who are we doing the disservice to at the end of the day. So I do want to thank you for your writing that and for encapsulating it in such a way that I think it's really compelling.

 

Erica: Thanks. Yeah, I think again like it was an opportunity to slow down and be patient and be open-minded and be present. Those are all things and experiences that will go a long way especially in the agency world.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so as we wrap up, is there anything else that you would love to leave the audience with? A take away or just something that you think that they should consider?

 

Erica: That's a great question. I think that, I envision this future in which maybe once every six years, it became normal to take a sabbatical for six months like the 6/6 rule, like 6 years and then you learn in 6 months. If that could be implemented as normal and standard across not only agency world, but in the professional life, I could see a world in which employees are so much more productive, happy, inquisitive, curious, brave and I think Americans especially can benefit so much from that because we don't travel much. I feel like we’re afraid to travel sometimes. And so if we made it a norm to say hey you're with us for six years where every six years you do this, I think it would be really incredible.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's awesome and if you put a petition together or something, like I would sign that in a heartbeat. I love it. I love it. Well, Erica, thank you so much again for joining me today on Thrive and I wish you the best in your future travels.

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EP 62: Mind Training for Agency Leaders, with Anahita Moghaddam

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Anahita Moghaddam, Founder of Neural Beings, discuss consciousness and contemplative science for creative leaders. Learn how to tap into the power of your own mind and how that can lead to taking the right actions in your life and business. The guided meditation at the end is great for beginners as well.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 62: Mind Training for Agency Leaders

Duration: 21:27

 

Kelly:  So happy new year everyone! Welcome back to Thrive. I literally could not think of a better way to start 2020 and a new decade than to talk about consciousness and mind training for agency leaders. So I'm really happy to have everyone with me today. My guest is this beautiful being, Anahita Moghaddam. She's the founder of Neural Beings. She's a consultant to organizations and individuals who are really purpose-driven, mission driven and she's also an international speaker, which is actually how we met. We met last year at the World Happiness Summit in Miami and instantly I knew that we had to work together. I was in the audience, she didn't know this on stage, but I knew and so she's been working with me as my mind training and Buddhist psychology coach for the last eight months and she's also one of the people that I've interviewed for the book that I'm writing. So excited to have you on the show with me today. I'm so grateful for you to be here. Thank you so much. Welcome.

 

Anahita:  Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Such a warm welcome, Kelly. And it's an honor to be here and to be able to say some things that may add some value.

 

Kelly:  Yeah, absolutely. So let's start out with sort of setting some context. What do we mean by consciousness and how does mind training actually help us to live happier, healthier lives?

 

Anahita:  Well, I think when it comes to the question of consciousness, I'm probably not qualified to really explain what it is. I don't even know if there is any clear understanding of what really consciousness is.

 

Kelly:  Fair enough. Fair enough.

 

Anahita:  Pretty hard problem out there, but let's just call it awareness. Let's call it maybe even like deeper mind, right? So let's like borrow back with the term deep mind from the world of AI and robotics and computing and so forth, and just refer to that deeper mind, which is synonymous for awareness, for knowing that a lot of the contemplative traditions are pointing us towards, right? So with the practice of introspection and gradually sort of calming the mind, we may start to access states of awareness or states of mind perhaps that have the potential of revealing, let's say the true nature of reality, right?

So once you achieve that deep level of consciousness or awareness, you start to see things in a more, let's say clear manner, less distorted by your own filters and perhaps more congruent with the way that things really are. And coming back to your question about how does my training actually create a better life? Well, I think it's pretty simple. So let's just go back up to a more surface level understanding of the mind, which is what our current under scientific definition is of mind. So mind being sort of the cognitive processes that in let's say, reduction of scientific terms is considered a byproduct of the electric chemical processes that happen in the brain. Right? Let's just say mind is like all the thinking and that is produced by the brain, which I don't agree with that definition, but let's just hold that for a moment.

If that's the case, most of us are subject to a lot of negativity, a lot of habitual thinking. That actually doesn't make us really happy. In fact, it keeps us in these kind of ongoing inner dialogues that just make us more and more connected loops, disconnected from ourselves and let alone from other people. And so I think that the more we can have an understanding of the mechanics of mind and how mind works and mind is not separate from feelings and emotion. So the whole thing, the whole system, the more we can have an understanding of how it all works for oneself or ourselves individually, the more we can perhaps began to change it. And when we can change it, we can change it into something that is a bit more conducive to our wellbeing and our happiness, maybe even to our professional lives. Right?

 

Kelly:  Yeah, absolutely. And I know that as I said at the beginning of the show, you work with leaders of organizations, you work with individual leaders. We all know the responsibilities that come with leadership, right? But what does the responsibility to lead oneself really entail?

 

Anahita:  I would say it begins with humility. I work with leaders and I think that you know with all love and respect to become a leader, a lot of the time, a pretty well-defined ego is required. A lot of people become leaders because of motivations that they may not even be conscious of or aware of. So when you're working with a leader, the first thing to do is to just really make them aware of their ego.

And by ego, I'm referring to their sense of self and maybe in some cases when you're dealing with people in leadership positions, the sense of self is really calcified because it's constantly been reified by their environment, by the people that work for them, by themselves, by how they see themselves in their positions. So to start to slowly decalcify the sense of self or this ego is a whole art form in and of itself, which really requires willingness on the part of the leader, humility to be able to actually say, maybe there is more to me or less to me than what I think there is.

And then of course the massive discipline, resolve and resilience that is required to actually change, to really change.

 

Kelly:  Yeah, I was just going to say, and all of that obviously resonates with me. That's a great encapsulation because that's really, I think a boiled down version of the work that we've been doing together for the last eight months. It does require all of those things coming to the table to say, I had this, this sort of CEO egoic thing, this ego that I came with and now help me strip it down and unravel it. And I want to be willing to do that. I want to get down to the simplicity. Get down to that humility, be in service of others. And then, go through the disciplines, whether it's changing mind, changing action, all of those things. So that resonates really, really deeply.

 

Anahita:  Exactly as you say. And I think that the more you are able to do that, the more, let's say the weight, the baggage, the armor, the identification is removed. So what happens naturally is there's a sense of lightness and a sense of ease and flexibility that comes sort of as a byproduct of this work. With that, inevitably you're going to be more pleasant to be around when you're more committed.

 

Kelly:  I hope so.

 

Anahita:  Yes, of course. There's Apple research that's been done on how happy individuals are more likely to have better relationships when a leader is more, let's say, calm and kind and generous and friendly, they're going to invoke a deeper sense of trust and reliability and loyalty from their employees. They're going to be much more motivated to work for a leader that's kind, versus perhaps a leader who is perhaps not as, is a bit more rigid and little bit more unnecessarily firm or closed off or lacking empathy. So you're just going to benefit from it in every way.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. And I think also I would add to that or build on that with the aspect of vulnerability. I know we've talked to her, I've talked about Brené Brown on the show before, but I think that aspect of vulnerability sort of builds nicely on everything that you just said because the more vulnerable we are, the less rigid, the less closed off, the more I can say, you know what, I need help from my team to help lead this organization. Or hey, this is something that I'm struggling with. Like, remember, I'm human, not just the leader, right. And I don't have all of the answers and I have to rely on you as my team. That's why I built this team of people who are really talented and some of them smarter than me and you have to just let that go. And really, again, that goes into the trust that you're talking about. So I think vulnerability is definitely something I would add to that.

 

Anahita:  Absolutely. And that's really what my understanding is of a leader, someone who helps other people be their best rather than they are doing all the work and others are following. They actually are creating and inspiring others to become leaders.

 

Kelly:  Yeah. It's all about empowering other people. Absolutely. So in your own coaching and consulting practice, how do you actually help leaders to gain this clear understanding of how their minds work and then how that leads to taking the right actions in their lives? Like give me like a little bit more about the nuts and bolts so I can share that with everyone.

 

Anahita:  Okay. Well, I guess when they sign up with me, my role is to be that really uncomfortable instance in their life and they first show who they are and how they are. Right? So maybe, just acting as a mirror of sorts. And for that, going, referencing the Buddhist teachings, we have to become really comfortable with the reality of our suffering, with the reality of our dysfunction. So in order for us to actually go from being perhaps unhappy to happy, we have to first really look at what is making us unhappy. We have to understand the causes for that unhappiness or that dysfunction or that suffering, whatever you want to call it.

By understanding the causes we can then slowly begin to tweak them and change them, right? Because everything is subject to change. So that's beautiful. Nothing is fixed in any sense, right? We can begin to work at it. So it begins the process. The work that I do begins with really kind of shutting a realistic light on the condition and the circumstances and the inner reality of a person. And not everybody wants to do that. Not everyone wants to be…

 

Kelly:  Why not? That sounds like so much fun.

 

Anahita:  Yeah, exactly. Not everyone wants to do that. It's an uncomfortable process. Not many people want to look at themselves in that light, in that unfavorable light perhaps. But once we begin to do that, we start to then create sort of a map of where we want to go. Most of us want to be happy. I think if probably all of us want to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy, nobody wants to suffer. So we all agree that we want to be happy, but then we can get further into the definition of what happiness is for each person. Happiness would be achieving a certain level of success work-wise, achieving a certain reality in regards to interpersonal relationships, romantic or love relationships, whatever, health. So we define what that sort of goal is and then we go back to our present moment, right?

So again, referencing the Buddhist teachings, everything happens in this moment, so, right? So it's in this present moment that we can't even look like there's no, we can't even hold onto the present cause it's constantly fleeting, right? We can attempt to work with this present moment and it's our actions, right? Our actions, which actually then become our future experience.

It's the ways that I think, the ways that I speak, the ways in which I act or for a time, this will weave my reality. So we have to become clear on where we want to go and make sure that our actions in the present are congruent with the results that we want. Most of us want a certain reality in the future, but our actions are so incongruent with that reality that we're striving towards and we keep falling into this hole of dissatisfaction and unhappiness and we're able to, whether it's to conjure forth the discipline or the awareness or the resilience, whatever resources are needed to actually make sure that our actions are congruent with the results we want.

 

Kelly:  Right. So in Buddhism, it is called pervasive dissatisfaction, right? That recurring loop. I've been doing my homework by the way. So like that recurring loop of like, this is how I want to act in integrity or how I want to feel or how I want to live, but then my actions are not in alignment with that. And so that's really, that's where the work is.

 

Anahita:  Absolutely. But the sad thing is that my actions are not in alignment with that and I'm not even aware of it. So what happens is I'm constantly feeling this like underlying nagging feeling of things being off. It's almost like no matter what, there's always something that's not right. Whether it's my own experience of myself subjectively or my world, or my work or my relationships, something always needs to change in some future instance for me to finally arrive at that moment of happiness. The reality is it's like the carrot that's standing in front of the horse. You are never going to reach it unless you do what? Testing.

 

Kelly:  What's that?

 

Anahita:  I was just testing you.

 

Kelly:  Oh I didn’t hear.

 

Anahita:  Do you think Kelly? In the future. Okay. No, sorry. I put you on the spot on your own podcast.

 

Kelly:  That's okay. Hey, it's all about vulnerability, right?

 

Anahita:  Okay, fine. Yeah.

 

Kelly:  It's okay. It's okay. This is the e beauty of an organic conversation. Right?

 

Anahita:  Right. No, I was going to say, unless we really, we become really aware, whatever, forget about it. But anyway, moving on. 

 

Kelly:  Yeah. So as we start to sort of like wrap up the conversation a little bit, I think it would be really helpful for agency leaders who I don't, I don't know exactly how many of the people who watch or listen are into meditation or have a meditation practice, but I know that that is certainly part of the work that you do. Part of the work that we do together. So I think it might be helpful if you're open to it to do some kind of guided meditation that we can invite everyone to kind of do this together with us. I think that would be a beautiful way to start the year.

 

Anahita:  Yeah, sure. Yeah. Gladly. So I would say let's find a comfortable seat. And by comfort I'm referring to a sense of stability in the body, but also a sense of ease. So make sure that you can relax your body, but your body is also sort of upright and stable. And if you're comfortable, you can close your eyes. If you prefer, you can leave them open. Try to not fix your gaze upon anything if your eyes are open, and let's just take three deep breaths. Inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth.

This way we begin to sort of down-regulate the sympathetic nervous system, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and inviting the body into state of relaxing. So inhaling deeply through the nose, exhaling through the mouth, and as you exhale the air out, allow the weight of your body to drop and allow the weight of your body to be supported by whatever you're sitting on. Inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth.

And one more time. I know you may have done more than three rounds. That's okay. Make sure the exhalations are long and as you exhale, the abdomen is pulled in words and then just closing the mouth, breathing naturally through the nose and begin to lose interest in the world of the external and begin to become curious about the world of the internal. Curious to know what is happening in this inner realm that a lot of these contemplative traditions are inviting us to explore.

What is my feeling in this moment? How am I feeling? And see if you can refrain from grabbing onto language and labels and just allow yourself to feel what you're feeling and trying to refrain from judging the feelings as good or bad or wrong or right. It's just feeling.

Notice if there's any change in the quality of your mind as you keep going inwards and inquiring, inquiring into the nature of your subjective experience. Let's go a little further and ask ourselves, what is the quality of my mind in this moment and listening for the answer. So in order for the answer to become audible in a non-audible sense, you got to become quiet.

What is the quality of my mind? And allowing all sounds and activity in your external environment to be there without losing any attention on it. What does the quality of my mind, and it's almost like a tuning in or a sensing or listening quality that is required. And just mere active listening or tuning or sensing into is enough to calm the mind as an entry point into meditation.

And just take a moment to let that go and just rest. Allow your mind to rest and in that sort of state if it wants to run around, if it wants to go into the future, into the past, just let it, but see if you're going to watch how your mind behaves right now when you let it go. It's like a wild horse that you just let go and it starts doing what it does and you just observe it.

Without any judgment, of course, just taking note. And then letting that go and slowly having the intention to come out. Take a moment to acknowledge the fact that you did a meditation for a few minutes. So give yourself that credit. I just meditated. Maybe you allow yourself to feel a little sense of joy or happiness or contentment. And then slowly beginning to bring a little bit of movement into the body. And whenever you're ready, you can open your eyes.

 

Kelly:   That was beautiful. Thank you.

 

Anahita:  You're welcome.

 

Kelly:  Well, I feel a lot calmer now. Good thing we didn't do this at the beginning of the show. I would have been like monotone the whole time. And it is amazing when you do come out of meditation, your whole affect really does change. So if you don't think it's “working” it's always working.

 

Anahita:  Exactly.

 

Kelly:  It’s always working.

 

Anahita:  Yeah. I heard that Sharon Salzberg say that the other day actually.

 

Kelly:   Yeah?

 

Anahita:  Yeah. Is it a quote by her?

 

Kelly:  No, I just said it.

 

Anahita:  Oh, it's fantastic. Yes. When you think it’s not working, it's actually working.

 

Kelly:  Oh, that's funny. Yeah. Maybe I'm channeling my inner Sharon.

 

Anahita:  You are.

 

Kelly:  Well, Anahita thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you for guiding us through that meditation. Thank you for everything that you're doing in the world and really, really grateful for you to be here.

 

Anahita:  Thank you so much for having me, Kelly, and thank you to everyone that's been listening and I hope you are happier, tiny bits maybe.

 

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EP 61:Overcoming the Overwhelm Loop, with Heather Yandow

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Heather Yandow discuss the physiological symptoms of burnout. They provide suggestions on how leaders can get overwhelm under control, as well as the difference between self-care and self-soothing.   

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 61: Overcoming the Overwhelm Loop

Duration: 14:55

 

Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're talking about the recurring feeling of overwhelm that a lot of leaders can relate to, and then actually how to overcome it. So super exciting discussion. And I'm sure it'll resonate with everyone. My guest is Heather Yandow, a nonprofit consultant with Third Space Studio in Raleigh, North Carolina. And what Heather does is she essentially helps nonprofit leaders to really understand how they can create impact and then generate more of it. So Heather, thank you so much for being here. Really, really excited to have you join me today.

 

Heather: Great. I'm really glad to be here. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. So I'm glad to be able to talk about a little bit with you today.

 

Kelly: So we are actually connected after you published a blog post. And I think the blog post was essentially based on an article that you came across in the Harvard Business Review. So I want to hear a little bit about the main theme of that, and then we'll kind of dive into getting some kind of relief or remedy for these people.

 

Heather: Yeah. So the article that I saw in the Harvard Business Review is how to deal with feeling constantly overwhelmed. And so certainly, I see that all the time with nonprofit leaders that I work with, but I also see it in consultants, and in folks running small businesses that I work with. And so that article really, really just spoke to me and so it talked about how being overwhelmed shows up, feeling confused, unable to make decisions, irritable. And then also what are some of the strategies that you can use to address that? And what are some of their top tips for thinking about how to deal with overcome.

 

Kelly: Right. So if we start to dive into it, I think a good place to start is talking maybe about the physiological symptoms of overwhelm and burnout, right? Every single person listening or watching this can really relate to that. I know you can. I know I can. I think starting there, but then also, what does it feel like? And how do you recognize it? I think that's a really great place to start.

 

Heather: Yeah. So I think a lot of the leaders I talked to recognize burnout in their rearview mirrors. They can look back and say, oh, yeah, last summer, I was really burnt out. But a lot of us it's hard to recognize in the moment.

 

Kelly: Yes.

 

Heather: It might be, yeah, we're just really high functioning, right? And so we are used to having a million things going on and answering emails at all hours of the day. And so we don't realize the toll it's taking. Some of the signs that the article explains and that I really feel as well are feeling of just being foggy, inability to make simple decisions. So I don't know about you, but I get to the end of the day and I'm negotiating with my partner where to go for dinner and just cannot go.

 

Kelly: You’re just like pick a place. I don't care if it's Greek or Thai or whatever.

 

Heather: I’m just like I can't make another decision. So that to me is one of the signs. Certainly kind of stress but stress manifested all kinds of ways. For me, it manifests in irritability. And so I know when I start getting snippy with my dog, that there's something going on, when I'm angry at this adorable little thing, who does nothing but love me that there's something else happening. And then of course, you've got kind of this the sleeping, eating, exercise problems that come up with when you're overworked and overwhelmed.

 

Kelly: Yeah. I think for me, it's when I look back at when I was running my agency, it was especially in that, the last few years of it, it was just a loss of passion, just a lower vibration in my own mood, maybe a little bit of being feeling lethargic. Those were the things that I could, reflect back on and say, yeah, that if I look at that, those were definitely my physiological symptoms.

 

Heather: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it definitely gets to the end of the day, sometime, and all I want to do is go to bed, it's 8 o'clock, and I'm just spent, and so that for me is some of that lethargy as well.

 

Kelly: And that's also your body communicating to you like you need to shut down, or if you don't consciously shut down, like we're going to shut you down, we're going to make you feel that exhausted where it's like, the only thing you want to do is crawl under the covers and just like shut it down for the night. So as you were, sort of you read this article, you subsequently wrote about it, what were your top three takeaways, whether those were for the executive directors and leaders of nonprofits that you work with, or whether those are for creative and technology agency leaders who we’re talking to you today.

 

Heather: Yeah. So I think three things that I really got out of it that reinforced some of what we hear all the time, but just particularly in this context. So the first was really thinking about what's your main source of stress right now. How can you identify what's happening? What are the projects, what are the tasks, whatever it is, that's really, you are struggling with the most, that you're thinking about the most, that you're stressing about the most? Identifying those and the steps you can take to actually address whatever is happening there. Sometimes I find that I'm stressed about something because I'm letting it hang out in the back of my head, and I'm not bringing it to the front and saying, okay, I actually need to think about how I'm going to get work in the second quarter of next year. Right? What's the plan for that? So that's number one. It's kind of being really clear with yourself about what is contributing to what's going on in your brain. The second that I really like is really carving out more boundaries around your work. So that can be time boundaries and that I'm only going to work between x and y. It can be time blocking. So really thinking about if you've got a project that's on your mind, you haven't been able to find the time for it, can you just start with an hour next Tuesday morning, and just think about that project? And then along with that is just saying no, right? Really being clear. I can't do that then or I need to push this off. It's not a good time. And then the third piece that I think is probably true for you. It's certainly true for me is to let go of the idea of perfect.

 

Kelly: Oh, do you know me?

 

Heather: So just thinking about what needs to be A plus work? And what can be B plus work? And where do we really need to spend our time and energy making it perfect? And where can we say, this is great. This is good enough. This is ready to go. Let's get it out into the world. So those are the three big ones.

 

Kelly: Yeah, and those are big ones. I mean, all three of those resonate really deeply with me. And within the work that I do with agency leaders, similar to how you're working with nonprofit leaders. Listen, at the end of the day, the titles don't matter. What we do for a living doesn't matter. We are all human. And so of course, those things are going to be really resonant. And like you said before, stress and anxiety and overwhelm, presents differently for each of us. And that's based on maybe our past experiences, how we grew up, what organizations we've been a part of, all of those things. So there's a lot to that, but I think those in particular are really, really strong takeaways. So I definitely appreciate those. There's also something that we talked about the last time that we were together, this concept of, part of the resolution or part of the overcoming overwhelm, has to do with self-care. And there's a big difference between self-care and self-soothing. I think that's a really interesting place to kind of take the conversation because I'm really curious to hear your thoughts about that.

 

Heather: Yeah. So, the rise of self-care is something that I think more and more people are paying attention to. And so more and more companies and organizations are paying attention to. And there's been something that's floating around in the past couple of weeks or past couple of months on the internet that talks about self-care versus self-soothing. And so a lot of the things that we have in the past I think articulated as self-care are actually just band aids on the problem. So, the wine and bubble bath self-care is really kind of a temporary solution. The practicing mindfulness every day is more of a self-care; it's more long term, helps to get to this overwhelm issue and others. So the big difference was kind of what's happening, at one point in time, what's a quick fix, in some ways that actually doesn't fix anything versus what's taking care of yourself. So the real self-care in that are things like managing your finances, cooking a delicious meal, signing up for exercise classes, there are those things that are not going to instantly fix some of the stress or anxiety you're feeling but overtime are really taking care of yourself, rather than…

 

Kelly: Yeah, I was just gonna say so that for me what the differences I think underlyingly is it's really the discipline and the commitment after you recognize what that underlying issue is, like where those feelings of the overwhelm, the stress, the anxiety, where are those coming from? And then what can I do on a day to day basis to start to regulate those emotions and make that sort of a lifestyle change as opposed to let me go get a massage because I'm super, my shoulders and neck are super tight because I've been on the computer all week, or the wine and bubble bath or those things are great and I don't discount them. But I agree with you that they are sort of a band aid and they're just to fix what happened today versus like, do you want to actually make this a lifestyle choice?

 

Heather: Yeah. My favorite kind of self-care that I never thought of self-care is going to the grocery store.

 

Kelly: Oh my God. I love you. I love grocery shopping. Most people hate it.

 

Heather: Yeah, I don't love going to the grocery store. But when I started to reframe it as this is an opportunity for me to buy food that will nourish my body. It's a way to get me out of the kind of cycle of buying the takeout food that I know isn't good for me. But that's the only way, I don't have anything in my house. When I reframed it that way, I could see like, yes, actually, as much as I dislike the act of being in the grocery store with all these other people, it is actually self-care.

 

Kelly: So my trick for that is and why I love it so much is I actually bring my phone. I have my shopping list on my phone, so I have to bring my phone anyway. I plug in my headphones, and I listen to my favorite music as I'm food shopping.

 

Heather: Oh I love it.

 

Kelly: And so, this way it doesn't, I'm still in my own world, but I have the same mindset that you have, like I get to choose the things that I'm going to put in my body. And so I think part of that is definitely mindfulness and bringing awareness to every single thing and it could be food shopping. It could be whatever. There's so many different examples of how you can reframe and reset the way that you approach something. First of all, what is your intention in this? How are you feeling when you go into this situation? And you can make things that other people would actually dislike or find mundane. You can make them really meaningful. So I love that example. Yeah. So as we start to wrap up, I want to touch upon something that's going on with you, with this national directory of nonprofit consultants. And just hear a little bit more about that, because that could also be really valuable to the audience. I know it's a separate topic, but I thought that was really interesting.

 

Heather: Yeah, thanks. So I have launched Nonprofit.ist which is nonprofit.ist, the National Directory and Network of Nonprofit Consultants, coaches, accountants, lawyers, so all of the folks who are serving nonprofits as experts. And it's not only a chance for nonprofit leaders to find new people that they can partner with. But it really is an opportunity for us, as a lot of us are small business owners or work just one or two people in a company. It's a chance for us to meet and learn from each other across the network and to share resources and best practices. So if folks want to check it out, it's nonprofit.ist.

 

Kelly: That’s amazing. I will definitely check that out. I'd be interested in that. And I know a lot of the creative and technology agency leaders who are listening or watching that serve nonprofits, that could be an incredible resource for them also. And just to loop it all around, if those resources are in need, and part of overwhelm is, not having the right talent or resources or people in your network. Maybe that could provide some relief as well.

 

Heather: Absolutely.

 

Kelly: Thank you for that. Well, this has been a great discussion. Is there anything else that you want to leave the audience with before we wrap up?

 

Heather: The last thing is just pay attention to your body, pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you about overwhelm. One of my favorite teachers here in North Carolina. So the question to ask yourself is what do I need right now? And I think just pausing and asking yourself that over the course of the day, can really help you address some of this overwhelm and over time build to going grocery shopping, taking care of your finances. Really being intentional about that.

 

Kelly: Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me today, Heather. This is great.

 

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EP 60: Why Clients End Agency Relationships, with Tricia Atkins

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Tricia Atkins explore the primary reasons why clients end relationships with their agency partners. They talk about how to identify weaknesses and work to solidify those for repeat reliance or long-term retention.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 60: Why Clients End Agency Relationships

Duration: 16:37

 

Kelly: Welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we’re talking about something very, very valuable in my opinion. We're answering the question: why do clients end agency relationships? And my guest today is Tricia Atkins. She's founder of Walker-Stanley Communications. Basically, a fractional integrated marketing team for small to mid-size organizations, nonprofits, things along those lines. She's based in Boulder, Colorado. She and I met at Search Con, one of the conferences out in Breckenridge several years ago and I hope you agree with this, but over the course of time, we kind of discovered that we are very much aligned in terms of personal development, really addressing our client’s needs so I want to welcome you to the show and thanks so much for being here.

 

Tricia: You're very welcome. Happy to be here.

 

Kelly: So what's interesting about this conversation is that why I felt like you were really the perfect person to have it with me is that you've really been on both sides, you've been client side, you've been agency owner side, and you've been agency side as an employee so you've really seen it from all different aspects.

 

Tricia: Sure.

 

Kelly: What do you believe is the reason why clients end relationships with agencies? I know you have a thought that it's kind of twofold. But what are those twofold reasons.

 

Tricia: Well, I think some of it is just relational. Does the client still have trust with the agency? Do they still feel the agency is competent? Can they deliver on the needs? Is their transparency? Is the agency giving the client access to accounts that the agency is built for the client? So part of it is just kind of subjective relational. The other part is more quantitative. Are they delivering the results that the company needs? Are they getting leads that they need? Are they getting the kind of social media traction or online traction that they need? So I think it is twofold.

 

Kelly: So I'm hearing you say relationships and ROI. It's got to be a mix of the two, right?

 

Tricia: Yeah absolutely.

 

Kelly: So one of the things that we talked about recently was the fact that there is this, we'll call it a growth gap. So as we grow as agencies, the clients that have historically been our bread and butter, the ones that we thought were ideal or the ones that would just pay us some money especially if we're early on the agency world. As we up level in terms of our agencies, those client criteria, the client demographic, what those ideal clients look like starts to change. And so, we may have some of those historically bread and butter clients that are no longer a good fit for our agencies. Nobody wants to have this conversation. So let's talk a little bit about that because I think that's pretty fascinating.

 

Tricia: Yeah, there's a lot of loyalty to those clients that we all got when we were first starting out. They believed in us. They invested in us. They hired us. They supported us, not only financially but also probably emotionally like they give confidence to grow the agency and expand and go, pursue that next client. So there’s loyalty there and gratitude. But at some point as you grow and as you move up market, and you start looking at your systems and your processes, and what can you deliver well and efficiently and make money at, sometimes that doesn't include those clients from the early days.

 

Kelly: Right.

 

Tricia: And you still have, I think an obligation to support them well and communicate with them well that if you're not willing to continue to support them in the unique way that you did when you started, then maybe you have to have conversation about finding a new agency to support them or another way to support them without you.

 

Kelly: Right.

 

Tricia: And it's tough. Like you don't want to give up on the relationship. I mean, you don't want to walk away from the relationship, for the loyalty. You don't want to walk away from the revenue even though it’s small. It’s tough. You need to have that conversation because it's your reputation as well. If you ignore and neglect them, it erodes your reputation.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so why I thought about this as a growth gap is because I think that it's a very important conversation to have with those legacy clients, to be honest to say we are growing and you’ve certainly helped with that growth. We want to support you in the best way and honestly the best way that we can support you might actually be to help you transition to another agency, the one that can better support you because maybe our core services have kind of evolved or maybe we're set up in a way that our pricing model is no longer going to fit your budget, whatever those conversations are, but having the respect for that client to have that really difficult conversation, I think they will appreciate it more than the angst that you might be feeling about having the conversation.

 

Tricia: Yeah, I'm smiling because it feels like a breakup. You're breaking up with.

 

Kelly: Hundred percent, one who breaks up.

 

Tricia: No, they don’t.

 

Kelly: It’s not a good feeling but the thing is you're really being compassionate in that moment and you're being respectful and you're honoring the fact that you've had this great relationship together. Hopefully, it was great. You've been through a lot of things together especially if it's a legacy client you’ve had for years and what better way to honor that than to say, you know what? We were no longer the right fit for one another but we respect you so much and we value the relationship so much that we want to help you seamlessly and hopefully flawlessly transition to someone else who can better support you.

 

Tricia: Yeah, it's an integrity and a communication issue.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so there was a webinar that you were telling me about that you had recently watched and it was about over committing and there were a couple of examples that the person who's doing the webinar kind of shared with you but I think what the takeaway for me was when you were sharing it, was how that over committing, that being that yes agency really results in a lot of stress in our lives. So I wanna hear a little bit more about that.

 

Tricia: Yeah, it was a brilliant point that I'm guilty of but I have never been called out on it. The guy's name is Chris Felton and he was talking about setting boundaries with clients and talking about serving them well with integrity and watching out for over committing. So if o a client comes to you and says I need this job in two days. And you know it takes you five days to deliver quality end result, you need to stand up to the client and say this is a five day job, I won’t be able to do it. This builds trust with clients because you're so committed to delivering value and a quality end result. that you have to stand up and say it's a five day turn around. And he said that over committing that we all do in our work and our personal lives creates a lot of stress. Like that’s a brilliant point. I'm so guilty of that. And they need to stop. I don't know. It's just kind of a light bulb. It was just a brilliant thought.

 

Kelly: One of the other things that it does on the positive side, so on the negative side it creates stress, but on the positive side what it does is it really sets more realistic expectations with that client so if you do that in that moment or when you have the difficult conversation again to say, “This is a five day turnaround. We want to deliver the highest value for you. We're proud of the work that we deliver for you and we want to continue to do that. This is the situation. It's a five day turnaround and let's be real about that.” The next time that they have something that's similar, they're gonna have that in their mind. The last time I asked for this, this agency was honest with me and said it was a five day thing so now when I requested I'm gonna say hey, I've got this thing that I need done. I know last time you said it was five days. Look at the scope. Is it going to be five days again? That's a very different way to approach it from the client side but you're the one as the agency who is serving control of that and your setting those parameters and those boundaries with the client and then setting their expectations. You're changing their behavior.

 

Tricia: Yeah, it’s what they call client management.

 

Kelly: Client management training.

 

Tricia: But it also creates respect. They're not going to treat you like a commodity.

 

Kelly: Exactly.

 

Tricia: Like you're just whatever engine for whatever digital marketing. And we all know the damage. The damage of over-committing and under-delivering is real.

 

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely, drives your team crazy. They come to work and they've got their to do list or whatever it is maybe you're an agile agency and you’ve got sprint, whatever it is. You can't mess up that work flow. I mean, your people want to be focused and deliver good work. They want to be proud of what they're doing and you as the agency leader or manager or whoever is agreeing to these crazy timelines, you’re driving your team crazy and you're gonna actually noticed more employee attrition because of it because they don't feel like their work and their time is being respected. They feel like it's being controlled just because you want to make a client happy and there's no real good that comes out of about.

Tricia: Yes, absolutely true.

 

Kelly: So one of the things as we were starting to wrap up here is we have to realize who we are as agencies, right? Like what purpose do we serve or how do we fit in with our clients? So agencies become this sort of extension of the marketing team. So as agencies, we also need to start developing the self-awareness of really tapping into understanding are we delivering the value, are we continuing to support our primary contact in that marketing department making them look like the rock star, are we doing all of those things? If we feel at any point in that situation where I don't know if we're really doing that like I can't believe the client hasn't brought up that to us yet that they're not happy. I can't believe that they're satisfied with what's been going on because we know intuitively that we're not giving them the same attention that we used to give them when we were younger or smaller agency. So being on both sides of it, client and agency side, what's the best piece of advice that you would give, maybe these agency readers who are listening and watching to this. What's the best piece of advice that you would give to really change that or to become more self-aware?

 

Tricia: Yeah, Kelly you raised a really good point. I think if you have an inkling that you're not delivering a level that you know you should be, then the client probably knows it too. You're probably picking that up from the client. They just haven't had that discussion with you.

 

Kelly: And they may not until they're firing you.

 

Tricia: Yeah, for sure. But I think you also raised a really good point about what exactly does the client need. There’s the quantitative piece that we started out this conversation with like are you delivering, whatever it is, the social, the web, the strategy, there’s metrics.

 

Kelly: There’s metrics though. ROI.

 

Tricia: Yeah, there's that whole piece but there's also a piece about your primary contact and what do they need and a lot of times it might not be marketing. It might be making them look good at their next executive presentation. It might be helping them figure out, find resources for another piece of their business. When you really stop and look at, and get to know them in a very intentional level and consider are they completely overwhelmed, then don't go and just deliver a bunch of here’s a to-do list, let me add to your plate. How can I support you in ways that are kind of beyond the obvious? So appreciate your client from where they sit. What's on the plate? Are they dealing with personal issues? Is the company being acquired or sold? There's a lot of other dynamics. They don't think about marketing for you 24/7. The way you might think about them. You were not up and their top priority. We’re just a piece of the puzzle. So try to think about your client from where they sit and what does their world look like and how can you come alongside them and serve them well and support them.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And that reminds me of just really in depth and really good buyer persona development, like understanding what's important to these people, what's their mindset, what's their motivation, how could you best support them in their role, how could you take things off of your plate. But at the end of this, I really feel like what you're saying is that it's not just about checking in with your clients and with your primary contacts, it's about being really intentional about it. Not coming to that situation or that phone call or sending an email where you're trying to covertly upsell them on something like oh what other projects do you have down the pipeline. It's really about being intentional about it and what does that check in, what is that phone call or in person meeting or video call, what does that sound like to you having been on the client side?

 

Tricia: Yeah, I feel like it's a very honest and transparent, intentional phone call. Sometimes without being scheduled and it definitely doesn't have any other business agenda items attached to it. Simply I'm checking in how are things going, are we supporting you well, are we delivering the value that you need, is there anything else we can do, because  to get back to the beginning of the call, a lot of times the client doesn't want to have the difficult conversation either. So by checking in a few times a year and really this is across all industries. Your financial advisors should be doing it. The marketing people should be doing it. All sorts of consultants should be checking in with a client and just how are you doing, is there anything else we can do. That kind of discussion.

 

Kelly: Yeah, well this is great, super, super valuable. I think hopefully we can save a couple of relationships or at least help some of these agency leaders who are thinking about this and realizing that with upleveling of their agency, with growth, there is this gap and maybe this is certainly a way that they can either support the client better or help them transition out. So thank you so much for the conversation today. I really appreciate it.

 

 

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EP 59:What's Your Leadership Story? , with Aaron Rose

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly chats with Aaron Rose about the inner work that’s calling so many leaders. They talk about what’s missing when we focus on external tactics, why we resist self-exploration in the first place, and where to start if we want to change our subconscious pa

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 59: What's Your Leadership Story?

Duration: 20:41

 

Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource.Today, we are answering a question and the question is, what is your leadership story. My guest is Aaron Rose and Aaron is a transformational coach, an inclusive culture consultant and a motivational speaker. He's worked with organizations like McKinsey, Columbia University, T-Mobile, Greenpeace; I mean just doing really, really incredible diversity and inclusion work. He's also worked with a lot of public figures, really helping them to embrace their unique role in building a better world.

So all of you know that this is a conversation that's near and dear to my heart. I recently came across Aaron on Michael Ventura’s podcast Applied Empathy and that show, I was literally nodding my head every single word that was coming out of Aaron’s mouth so I felt the need to connect and he's with us today so Aaron welcome and thanks so much for joining me.

 

Aaron: Thank you so much for having me. It's really wonderful to be here. I remember when that podcast came out and it was like probably within thirty minutes, I had an email from you and clearly there’s such strong alignment here.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so with this leadership story theme that we're sort of covering today, I want to start out by talking about the inner work that is really calling to a lot of leaders regardless of what organizations they may be leading. Today, we’re talking to creative and technology agency leaders but within our work that's calling to leaders even unconsciously. You are so tuned in and so tapped into the why for all of us. So like why this happening at this particular moment in our collective lives?

 

Aaron: Such a beautiful question. And I invite everybody to really let that question sink in, and almost to make meaning of it for yourself first, if you’re into like, what was your first reaction to that why because owning our why is really what makes all of this possible. From my perspective, we have been, we're actually in a really beautiful face of human evolution where we finally have the resources to deal with all of the ways that we have experienced the illusion of separation from ourselves, from our own authentic nature as well as separation from other human beings. And really the opportunity at this time is to clean up the detritus of the past and then to give ourselves permission to release our nervous systems attachment to feeling really stressed out and defensive all the time and to figure out what it would be like to be a human being who was living life from a place of being motivated by love and expansion and adventure rather than chaos and scarcity and fear. And the perspective that I work with is very multi-dimensional. There's lots of different ways that we can see why this is happening at this time but one of the simplest ways that I like to feel into it is really that a lot of people in a sort of growing wave have been saying, is this all there is. And there's got to be a better way, even in my own my own life and in my work in the last 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 3 years, more and more people are willing to admit that what was the ideal of how to live your life isn't fully nourishing us and are starting to look around and say okay, if I've admitted that this isn't working for me in whatever way, then there is that opening to have a new experience.

 

Kelly: Right, just talking about admittance for a second, I think there is so much sort of beauty in letting go and being honest with ourselves first. The antithesis of that would be sort of the fake positivity that we see on social media and things along those lines. Admitting to yourself first, this isn’t actually what I wanted my life to look like or this doesn't feel like what I thought it would feel like. It's such a great place to start and it's almost like we are focusing on all of these external factors like society says owning an agency we have to have this range of revenue and we have to have this number of full-time employees and maybe multiple office locations. Why do we focus so much on the external? And what are we missing when we do that?

 

Aaron: I mean, we really live in a world that programs us to look externally that gives us the instinct that what is outside of us is more real than what is inside of us. Again, many reasons for this but the image that comes to mind right away is the way in which we often habitually condition children to not be able to understand and relate to their own instincts. If a kid says I feel sick, and the parent questions them and it's like no you just don't want to go to school right now. Or a child is like I don't want to hang out with that person or I don't want to go to that birthday party or I want to listen to this song. And there's some kind of external arbitration on their deeply held self-expression and sense of what drives them forward. And many of us have had that experience of being conditioned to disregard our gut instinct. And to look outside of ourselves for an external authority to tell us, what is right and wrong. And we accepted that because on a deep core level as a child. The calmer the nervous systems of your caretakers are, the safer you feel, and so you actually equate even if it's a violation of your boundaries or your needs. You equate them getting what they want with your safety because you rely on them for food and shelter and all of that. So on a core evolutionary level, it really crosses our wires. And we're just in such an over stimulated from one perspective world right now in terms of just having the ability to pick up our phone and get lots of people's opinions on things but we're slowly starting to I think return or rapidly, from one perspective return to the sense that actually the only fail safe is to rebuild the trust with ourselves.

 

Kelly: Right. And so what you're talking about before it's really like the foundation to why we become people pleasers and why we put other people's needs first, why we kind of suppress our own emotions. It's really interesting how all of that just compounds over the course of your life and it really makes you who you are because of that imprint.

 

Aaron: Completely. Yeah and just to bring a little bit of science, the way that our brains are structured between zero and seven, some people say all the way up to fourteen is that we’re really in this very impressionable state that similar to the state that you go into when you're in hypnosis, where your brain is essentially collecting all of the information about the conditions of the world that you live in and setting certain emotional and neurological patterns to recreate a certain set of behaviors to keep you safe. And so, if you are in an early environment that conditions you to feel like you have to manage other people's emotions in order to keep yourself safe, then that setting gets very firmly set and the way that it actually works is that I always sort of see kind of like a door closing. And a lot going on because ideally if your raise in a really powerful life-affirming environment, once those settings get put in, then you're locked in. And you're good for life but a lot of us have had some faulty programming put in and so we got to peel back the layers and choose again.

 

Kelly: Yeah. So at this point, what do you think the reason is, most agency leaders sort of resist that diving deeper to understand what their own leadership story really is and what it can be?

 

Aaron: For one I think sometimes we question whether or not it's worth even asking the question, what happens if I admit that things aren't going as well as I thought they would or things are going great. But I don't feel good. If we ask a question without knowing what the answer is, it puts us in a vulnerable place. It puts us in that place of having locked away from something before we know what the safety net is gonna look like.

Bu paradoxically in order for the safety net to appear, we have to create that willingness to see it. So I think that, that very understandable fear is one aspect of it and I think there's also a lot of scarcity in our culture where it's like I don't even have time for like 45 minute check in with my direct reports where I add like a few more self-reflective questions in versus a 20 or 30 minute weekly check in, like how do I have time to fully delve into the depths of my intuition and my inner world. And the third piece is that a lot of us have a Pandora's box vibe about what would happen if we went into that internal realm. I was working with I guess it was the financial services institution and we were doing a session on empathetic leadership and how to connect more fully as a team because there were some high conflict, high stress environment patterns.

 

Kelly: In a financial situation? I don't understand.

 

Aaron: Yeah. And this like bright-eyed young guy raised his hand as we sort of we were just working on some basic breathing techniques for regulating when we’re really stressed and he raised his hand and very candidly said, is it weird that I am really scared about what's gonna come up if I take a deep breath and it was just this very candid moment that revealed so much, which is that if we’ve been suppressing our authentic emotions and our intuition for so long, there can be that sense of the flood gates opening but the truth is that if you just let the floodgates open and you schedule sometimes it just feel whatever comes up, then you end up on the other side with a lot more clarity.

 

Kelly: Yeah and I'm absolutely that person. I was like I don't want this, I am suppressing it, what's going to happen; it is it really does feel like a Pandora's box. It's like I don't want to open that box, it's too scary, it's too much. I'm really afraid of what I'm going to find out being on the other side of that I’m like I have nothing to worry about. In fact, it's incredible. But so yeah I understand where that fear comes from. When we last met up for brunch in the city, you kind of joked around that we could call this the theme of the show just like subconscious patterning and the potential title for the episode could be like why your childhood maybe to blame for your business issues. We had a pretty good laugh about it but it's really true, it really is true. So can you just talk a little bit about that?

 

Aaron: Totally, I love that and as you were saying that the phrase that was coming to mind was the cold is coming from inside the house. That kind of energy what those early programming, no matter how much it seems like a problem is outside of us, it's that other person's behavior and it’s that person who made the hiring choice. It's the way this office is set up.

 

Kelly: Everything else.

 

Aaron: The building management, whatever it is. It's ultimately up projection of what's happening internally within us and so great question to ask is what's not working well my business right now and how does it feel. And when is the first time I remember feeling that way, feeling like everybody needs something from me and I just don't have enough time or feeling like people are volatile around me or feeling like the other shoes always gonna drop. Things go well for a while and then they fall apart, feeling like I have a need and it's always in conflict with what the business needs. These different things we can really look and say, where did that get set or the other way that we can look at it, is, what was my family like growing up. And do I see those similarities playing out in my business right now.

 

Kelly: For the agency leaders either watching or listening to this, the ones especially that are kind of just off the precipice of starting to like really peel back and like hesitantly peel back that first layer, really wanting to know more about their own leadership story. Is there a place that you would suggest that they start? Because there's so much information out there. We're bombarded with all different things as soon as we go down the Google rabbit hole. So is there a place that you would suggest to start whether it's from a resource perspective or mindset perspective or anything like that.

 

Aaron: So I always really, the medicine that has always guided my work is how can we make our means reflective of the ends that we seek to create and so we've been speaking about the power of taking back full responsibility for ourselves and reclaiming your intuition and so the advice that I want to give in this moment is about recreating that relationship with yourself before going and buying someone else's product and tool and things like that. So I would say first is developing some kind of regular practice where you are taking a deep breath with yourself. It could look like a five minute meditation practice. It could look like a specific song that you listen to in the morning while you stretch and you don't do anything else. Creating that space where you are starting to become more intimate with yourself again with your inner world. And the image that came to mind for the folks who are listening to this is first that kind of meditative breath moment of some kind and then second, some kind of journaling or voice note practice where you're actually letting your subconscious speak to you. There's a practice called morning pages from the book, The Artist's Way but there's lots of different ways that you can automatic and just sit down with a page or maybe what you have time for, set a timer for ten minutes maybe you have a notebook or you just say I'm gonna fill up a page  per day. If we start to finish you can put a lot of pressure on the conversation with ourselves in the same way that like if you have a kid who's been like dad like trying to get your attention for a while then you're fine you sit down, okay like put it out. And then they kind of clam up or what might have happened in other relationships that you've had. It's starting to create a regular container for what is true for you to be expressed without it being judged, without anybody else needing to see an I love writing but I know for some people, it might just be actually voice noting, pretending you're on a phone call while you're on the treadmill in the morning or while you're on the exercise bike or while you're walking to the subway. And just saying this is what's going on. I'm just gonna talk it out with myself right now because that starts to over time when you do that, you start to notice the patterns. And something that I want to offer really quickly here that just keeps coming up from a previous question that you asked is that sometimes we’re afraid to ask this because we’re worried that the answer is going to be not only that we have to make some shifts in our business but like we don't even want to be running an agency to begin with. Maybe there's something else on the horizon for us. But if the fear and the question is there, the relief wise on the other side of exploring it and whatever the answer ends up being, it's going to be for your highest good.

 

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely and again I mean you're heading it right on like exactly relatable to what my experience was. When I thought I can't do this anymore I don't know why. I'm like losing passion for this. I feel like there's something that I was meant for that doesn't really look like this right at the time when I was about this all my agents state not knowing that I was gonna sell it but really scared that I was gonna sell it I don't have children this was my like fourteen year old daughter and I was gonna like give it away to someone else like there's so much emotion attached to that.  So I was in that exact same boat and I think that's why there was so much fear it in that decision and then once I made the decision even more fear, what's going to happen next. So I really resonate with everything that you're saying. Is there anything else that you want to just kind of impart right before we wrap up here? It’s been a great discussion by the way but I always want to give you the ability to have creative license.

 

Aaron: So yeah two things are coming through. One is again kind of just to reinforce this idea of subconscious patterning, we think about the fear of connecting with our intuition. By intuition we just mean your gut instinct rather than someone else's logical opinion about what you should be doing. And why we sometimes have that fear and even thinking about you filling into making this very bold choice to sell your agency and what was the social emotional relational cost of you making a bold claim about how you wanted to live your life when you were a kid, when you were in those sort of early formative environments and what was that programming and how could that made you feel like literally the world was going to end and the way our bodies sometimes feels physically like I'm gonna die. I feel like I'm being dangled off the cliff right now that's how. Yeah. And understanding that it's a nervous system response that you can work with and shift and so I wanted to offer that to people as well because sometimes we can have that deep fear that were literally like taking our entire lives by doing something that feels good. And so just bringing in that level of compassion and that perspective and then I just offer folks that if this is something that is intriguing to you, I have a variety of levels of ways that I work with people on this including intensive one on one coaching but also different meditation practices and little tools that you can use on your own to support this inquiry because we are all being called for the next chapter of leadership in embodying even if we still run the same business in five years, the way we're going to run it is gonna feel different and we agree to participate in that co evolution that we're doing together.

 

Kelly: Yeah, beautiful. Well I will put a link to your website and all of your information in the show notes so that everybody can access that and again just thank you so much. I'm so grateful that you're here today.

 

Aaron: It was such a pleasure to have this conversation. Thank you for having me on.

 

 

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EP 58:The Trust-First Mindset , with Jay Tinkler

On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly aligns with Jay Tinkler of Conduit Strategies in Australia on the concept that we need to enter into partnerships with our clients, employees and associates with trust. As opposed to continuing on the feast or famine cycle, Jay shares why the missing ingredient in business development is that "trust is born from warmth of intention".

 

TRANSCRIPT

 EP 58: The Trust-First Mindset

Duration: 25:55

 

Kelly:  So welcome back to another episode of Thrive. Today, we're gonna talk about the trust mindset for agency leaders, and my guest is Jay Tinkler. He's a sales strategy and consultant for digital and branding agencies and he’s based over in Brisbane, Australia. In addition to owning his own digital agency for about the last ten years, Jay helps leaders to really understand how trust impacts their business. So naturally, I had to connect with him after we actually connected on Instagram of all places so it's great to see you again Jay. Thank you so much for coming on the show today.

 

Jay:   Thank you so much for having me Kelly. Awesome. So good.

 

Kelly: And I just want to say at the top of the show here that for those of you who are watching or listening and you don't think that you can form real authentic relationships off of something like Instagram or other social media channels, this show is absolutely proof that that's not true.

 

Jay: We are proof.

 

Kelly: We are proof. I had seen a couple of things I don't know if I followed a hashtag that you use or whatever it was but I had seen a couple of things that you had been posting and I found myself sort of nodding my head. And I'm like wow this guy gets it. There's definitely some synergy here. Let me just follow him. Let me kind of see what he's all about and every single time I saw something I was like okay alignment, alignment, and then we reached out and now here you are.

 

Jay: Yeah and I know a previous chat that we've had as well, I was doing the same thing with you. I’m just going, yes, yes, totally, yeah, yeah, yeah, we killed it, the conversation.

 

Kelly: So I'm really excited to talk with you today. I want to start out with the this sort of reality that service-based businesses, they need to escape this feast or famine situation that they’re in associated with pipeline and yeah I know that that's something that you work with them a lot on. The agencies themselves especially in Australia and I wanna know what led you to figuring out what that underlying factor was in helping them to change that Easter famine pipeline issue.

 

Jay: Well, at least, listen, to begin with I think it's inherent in our industry. I think it it's something that sort of has driven being a project based business initially for me and coming in as really probably the difference from me coming into my businesses is it all start off as a sales person, right? So a lot of coders come into or designers that they say you know what, I'm going to create my own business, create my own agency here. I came in as a solution focused sales person. And I was looking at the business model originally I'm saying okay, well, to actually drive that business long term and have a consistent income coming in, you need to eliminate that debt, you need to eliminate and get them flatten out that sales, not only from, you talked about mindset a minute ago and even under the heading of scarcity versus abundance kind of mindset. The beautiful thing, I was with a company today and the beautiful thing about being able to step into an abundance which is where we're at with things, we’re in design, we’re in flow, and we're actually being incredibly abundant, and present with our clients and we’re able to, I guess, nail a solution for them every time is the fact that more people buy in nature anyway, in that mindset so it's not only the obvious of hey, we need to cash flow wise, flatten out this feast and famine, but in the famine, we have this scarcity mindset that we step into which is detrimental that can be a slippery slope for us as an agency too.

 

Kelly: Right. And you did some stand-up comedy a while back and you sort of entered into this stream of consciousness right? We'll call it. How did that lead you to sort of teaching people that trust is earned in relationships because I think this is fascinating.

 

Jay: Yeah, well listen it's probably been a backstory too on that is the fact that I've been a salesperson right from day one right and one of the things that was, stand-up comedy was a great thing so it was really addressing a fear of mine which was, and most people probably getting up in front of hundreds of people and actually and telling your own jokes and saying will I stay lean? But one of the lessons that they teach you in stand-up comedy is the fact that you do a thing called streaming of consciousness, which is about getting all of the information in your head out of your head and then down on paper and what that allows you to do is actually understand what, it's a really good way to understand your why, understand why you want to be authentic, how are you going to show up. And so what came out of that was really, as humans, as individuals we do this trust thing so well as friends we do this trust thing so well as family members as we step into this and do this trust thing so well by default but the moment we put on our work clothes and step into the work door for whatever reason we stop put on this facade that everything's okay, that we don't necessarily need to be vulnerable, we don't necessarily need to seek out shared value with all the people. And so, that stream of consciousness piece that came out of stand-up comedy was really just identifying for me that I want to show people and demonstrate to people that amazing things come from trusted relationships and if we can learn how to have more trustworthy relationships that together we can create amazing things.

 

Kelly: Yeah, it's just interesting the way that you just frame that. When we do put on our work clothes it's almost like we are automatically distrusting of the prospects that we're going after, very distrusting of us because they think that we're just there to sell them things. It's like you said we just take this trust that's inherent in these familial or friendship relationships and we forget that we're working with humans. And so, that's very interesting to me because I think if we all trusted each other just a little bit more out of the gate and we're open to what the possibilities were, if we could let those walls crumble a little bit and be a little vulnerable and be more transparent and be more honest, I think that the entire economy would be different. And this is what Brene Brown talks about, you talk about it a lot. There are so many people talking about authenticity and gratitude and vulnerability and showing up and I love the fact that this is where we're at, in this moment today because it's a conversation that we have been putting off for far too long.

 

Jay: Yeah, listen. The other interesting thing about this is like it or hate it, our capitalist society is not set up for creating trusting relationships. It is actually an intended behavior change that we need to make. That it feels counterintuitive because it goes against of what is inherently a, for want of a better word, his selfish act of going I really need some money. Right? And saying I need to figure out a way but if you can then go, okay, if I slip that on its head and say, if we are doing an exchange and I'm really simplifying here but if we're doing an exchange here and we are having a true relationship, what this should mean is collaboratively, there is a win-win for both of us. And so, stepping into that realm of going we’re not selling here, we’re not going into actually sell them something but we're actually feeling how do we create a relationship together so we create a long term profitable partnership. Then suddenly we go okay how quickly can I get to the no, how quickly can I get to that we’re not a good fit, let me interview you to see whether you're a good client for me rather than doing my dog and pony show every time to actually show what my ways are to see whether you're interested. That’s abundance.

 

Kelly: Right. And obviously, yeah, and so yes, it's a little bit of abundance mindset and it's a little bit of going in with asking the questions as opposed to introducing ourselves and going right into our capabilities deck which I call the Chinese menu of services allowing that prospect to sort of self-prescribe and choose from that menu. There's no value in that. We’re not showing what our intellect is and what the value is that we're bringing to the table so it's all about questioning. I always say it's a hundred and ten percent about them at the beginning of the relationship then they'll want to get to know you, build, develop that trust. You'll develop the trust with them and that's really how these relationships in these long term business relationships are formed. So yeah I mean everything that you say makes a lot of sense.

 

Jay: And I think that we are in a revolution at the moment with the Brene Brown as you said before and these kind of people that what were considered quite feminine based trait like empathy and authenticity and vulnerability were starting to say you know what these aren’t, let go on the days of these being feminine traits, these are necessity for us to have authentic relationships.


Kelly: So what you're saying is women were right all along?

 

Jay: Well…

 

Kelly: It's okay. You're in the safe place. You're talking with me. You can say it. If you wouldn’t it, I’ll say it. So one of the other interesting things in people that you talk about a lot is using feast from Princeton and Susan Fiske has this great phrase or quote, “Trust is not born from confidence. Trust is born from warmth of intention.” And I love that term warmth of intention so I would love for you to talk a little bit more about that because you know her work so well.

 

Jay: So, it gives me chills talking about this kind of stuff because I really like get off on it, really it's so much fun, especially again just circling back to what we were talking about just a minute ago, which is around there, naturally we step into a dog and pony show right? Naturally, we default to, oh let me show you how to fix that and let me show you what we've got. Let me show you when in actual fact didn’t see what I really want as a buyer, is I really want to know that you care. I really want to know that you actually understand me and that you actually care. So talking about warmth of intention, the cool part about this is a couple of things. First of all, you need to own your competence. The first thing is you need to own that the reason why you are in business and that you've lasted as long as you have is because of your competence, you do what you say you could do. Now, stop talking about that and start building strategy around your warmth of intention. What is your warmth of intention? Everything that we've just been talking about. It's that gut feeling, it's that place around which we build on that level of care, that level of empathy, that level of authenticity and people often set aside how do you build strategy around that because what we think happens here is that we go in with our competence and we go, we've got something to fix that problem people go great, thanks so much, and then over time because we've done lots of business with them. We build warmth of intention when in actual fact the way to hack trust, for want of a better word, I mean, hack meaning  you always need time, you always need that level of, the recipe that comes with warmth of intention plus competence. But is to stop with warmth of intention is to stop with going I'm here to help first and great, if my product or service can actually serve a purpose in your business, wow, that's a win-win. But let's talk about how I can care about you guys first and be empathetic. The analogy I like to give on this is I don't know whether it's the same in the states but we've got this sort of, I guess it's from movies and that kind of thing but the typical used car salesman.

 

Kelly: Oh yeah, we have lots of those here.

 

Jay: Stereotype, right? And if you're walking across a used car sales lot, the first thing you're thinking of, when you're walking across that used car sales lot is, I'm not buying off this guy if he's so and so, right? That I can tell you that in most cases. Let's say that the poor used car salesman is walking across that car yard going, maybe a station wagon. Yeah, I don't know. He's got kids. He's so amazing competence wise. Now for him to be successful, all he has to do is, you know what right? And he meets you where you are and suddenly you build a relationship in which you can generate long term profitable partnerships who will refer you every day of the week if he feels like you care. So the second piece I just want to touch on there is to say that you can lose opportunity for warmth of intention. So if you start with competence, often you become a transactional relationship.

 

Kelly: Commodity.

 

Jay: Yeah commodity, sell, and you lose the opportunity to build true warmth of intention later.

 

Kelly: And again this isn't new. This is old stuff we do every day of the week in friendships family in that kind of thing but we almost need to learn it as a forced behavior and I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. It actually we have to because the game is not set off in a way to have that comes to default behavior. Yeah, forced just in terms of being against the grain or against the norm or against the conditions that we've been accustomed to.

 

Jay: Absolutely.

 

Kelly: I just want to touch on everything that you're saying in terms of warmth of intention to me it sounds like what we went back to earlier about asking those questions and making it all about them. What I like to do is aside from just asking questions, I'm listening not just with my ears, I’m listening with my heart. I'm listening to the things that people are saying but probably even more so I'm listening to the things they're not saying and then that gives me just from a practical or tactical standpoint, that gives me a reason to ask another set of questions or to follow up or to dig a little bit deeper and the deeper that you dig, the more emotional people will get, the more trust that they will have, the more that they will open up and the opportunities that you're talking about from a business standpoint are in the underpinning, they’re in the underlying reasons why they’re vetting you as a solutions provider. I like to use words like after we have that conversation, I like to use words like it's my intention to serve you or how can I best support you, this is not about sales, this is about nobody wants to be sold anything that they don't need, so I need to understand what the need is, what the wants are, what the impacts of those things are going to be to you on a personal level and in your business. And then I can say I would love to be able to support you. This feels like a good fit for me. I hope it feels like a good fit for you and if that's the case, then you know I would be happy to put a proposal together. That's kind of verbally how this situation goes with warmth of intention. Would you agree with that?

 

Jay: I totally agree and I think a good hack around this is the idea of and I often say to clients that we work with is, go out and get me five no’s. Go out and go, because the mindset and the exploration that comes with figuring out whether they shouldn't do business with you, is the kind of exploration that you should be doing as to whether they should.

 

Kelly: Yeah.

 

Jay: In other words it should be asking all the reasons like why we are a good fit. Some of the same kind of reasons is why you wouldn't be a good fit and if you're not, then great. Let's get a few no's. Because we're so conditioned to get the yes. Absolutely.

 

Kelly: Right. And the no’s are not bad.

 

Jay: No.

 

Kelly: No is still an answer. No to me is just another reason to dive a little bit deeper and see again like you said why is it no.

 

Jay: Yeah.

 

Kelly: It maybe that we haven't hit on the pain point yet or the challenge or the…so that's interesting.

 

Jay: We may not be a good fit and if we're not, I've got someone really good that I can introduce you to that I think that would be a fantastic fit for that.

 

Kelly: Yeah and how valuable is that to be able to have that dialogue and that exploration with someone to find out that you're not a good fit to them or for them, they're not a good fit for you and then to leave them with this amazing taste in their mouth like wow, that was a really helpful and beneficial exercise that we just went through and on top of that, they're still providing me a solution. It's just not their solution. That's just giving, that is like the ultimate giving.

 

Jay: Yeah.

 

Kelly: So that's absolutely how I think most people should operate and here's the reality for that. I mean when I work with agencies and I'm sure you do the same. Those situations don't necessarily mean that you're not going to be getting something monetarily out of that. If you have a strategic partnership, referring those non-ideal prospects for you to other people that would be ideal for them, that could be some kind of commission based structure or partnership where you're referring and again that's like pure profit into your company. So those are, I love the no’s because that's like great I'm not a good fit, I've got somebody else who probably would be and then with my strategic partnership network, I'm still getting money. I'm still getting income and it's pretty passive so I think that's an important point because a lot of times we think about oh well it's not a good fit for me, forget it. I'm not going to refer them to someone else because there's nothing in it for me. Sometimes you refer people even if there's nothing in it from you because that's just giving and that's how you should act in this world and show up in the world but sometimes there is going to be a monetary benefit so I just wanted to quote that out.

 

Jay: Yeah and not only that, but if you're able to define why you're not a good fit. And they go, yeah, totally get you, the next time they're at a barbecue you still become a referral source, you still become a third tea, you still become and it becomes an act of reciprocity as well, that you just also just given them the perfect fit for what they need. And they’re feeling that to you.

 

Kelly: Right. So as we're starting to wrap up here, I want to ask you this question. If we led with trust more often in our lives, what would happen in your opinion from an economic perspective?

 

Jay: I'm able to answer this like not theoretically because…

 

Kelly: However you want to answer it.

 

Jay: I can say that there are a lot of studies now around even if we lead with trust, even with somewhat forced trust, for want of a better word.

 

Kelly: Conscious trust maybe.

 

Jay: Conscious trust but I guess what I mean is trusting first rather than necessarily getting to a place of trust so trusting what people would call trusting bluntly, all of the studies show that all our economy markets go up. Now the interesting thing about that is that there’s two pieces to trust is the trustworthiness and actually being trusted so you still need to show up with the element of do I have the ability to do what I say I can do, do I have the commitment to do that. But also the elements of character and connection which is, will I do the right thing or will I do the right thing by this person. Did the other pieces that actually had a tied up in this? So the short answer is that through trusted relationships, I mean, if we look at just an agency level, through trusted relationship, we elongate these relationships. They become more profitable. They become more profitable not only through new business coming through that existing client, that referral base, everything starts to explore. It's the pillar in all of this that we’re trying to achieve. But I just need to touch on one last point to you Kelly and that is runway, that this isn't about going into one conversation and asking the right questions. I really want to encourage the agency community to build more time into what we all call discovery to not only allow number of quality interactions over a period of time but to understand that the time even if you charge for it but the time spent in that early planning stage, I can guarantee it pays off at the other end financially for you with the right type of client once you've gone through qualifications stages and stuff. It needs runway. Every relationship needs runway.

 

Kelly: Absolutely. And I'm glad that you sort of ended encapsulating that because I think that's a really, really important point and I'm glad we didn't leave it out.

 

Jay: Yes, cool.

 

Kelly: Well Jay, thank you so much for being on the show with me today. It's an absolute pleasure every time I talk with you and I'm looking forward to more conversations.

 

Jay: Amazing. Thanks Kelly.

 

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