As a business owner of 23+ years including an agency, I've had the privilege of building teams of great people along the way. From small teams of 2-3 people to the 50-person team we have at Inbound Back Office, I've learned a lot about leadership and collaboration during this time.
It may sound clichéd, but I truly believe the success of a business depends first and foremost on its people. It doesn't matter how amazing your product or service is. If your people aren't amazing, your business will not reach its full potential.
With this in mind, I've spent a lot of time over the years learning how to attract the best people and retain the best people you already have. And it's not what most agency owners think.
It's not the foosball table. It's not the fancy office. It's not the group baseball outings. It's not beer Fridays and fully-stocked snack bars. These things are all nice, but they can be distractions. More importantly, they can make you feel like you are creating a great culture when in fact, you're out of alignment with the needs of your team.
So what do your team members really care about?
The old-fashioned concept of having to be in an office during "business hours" is a relic of the industrial age and we need to let it go. Let me say this again. We. Need. To. Let. It. Go.
People want to work from home. They want to work at the coffee shop. They want to work while traveling. And yes, they also want to work in an office sometimes. But they want the choice to work wherever they want.
We work in the world of technology. We are information workers. There is very little that we do that needs to be done at a specific location. We have cloud apps, video conferencing, mobile apps, laptops and everything we need to get our work done. Yet somehow, the default for many agencies is "butts in seats" with remote work being an exception or a special case.
The option of remote work should be the norm for everybody and should be celebrated and encouraged without guilt.
Your office should be a tool to use as-needed, but not a requirement. It has its place and your team is smart enough to know when to use it.
Try this: make remote work a no-strings-attached option for everyone in the agency, starting today.
No work schedules
In close alignment with remote work, we also need to let go of this strict attachment to "business hours" and the baggage that goes with it. Keeping people stuck at their desks from 9am - 5pm every day is yet another throwback to the industrial age where people had to be physically in sync to get work done.
Here's another thing. Making people work an eight-hour day straight pretty much guarantees that a good portion of that time will be unproductive.
Different people thrive on different schedules. Some people may very well enjoy working a 9-5 schedule. Others may be night owls. Others may thrive on breaking up their days so they can work in small "sprints" with mental breaks in between.
Additionally, being restricted to business hours has a pretty negative impact on quality of life. As agency owners, we can do what we want. If we want to make time for a doctor's appointment or an errand, we just go. If we want to play golf, we just go. If we want to set our own schedules, we just do it.
However, think about how stressful it would be if you couldn't just decide to do these things? This is what many team members face every day.
By eliminating work schedules, you free your team to fit work into their lives, not the other way around. Every person on your team should be able to work whenever they want as long as they are getting their work done and delivering what they need to deliver.
And (this is important), there should be no judgment about when they work. If someone decides to start working at 10am, no one should make them feel guilty about it. If someone decides to go run errands at 3pm, they should be able to do so without judgment.
Finally, there should be no need to ask permission. Permission creates head trash and guilt. Your team members should decide when they want to work without having to ask anyone.
Before you freak out and worry that your team will never work or that they will stop showing up to client meetings, remember that you hired your people because they are smart. They have enough common sense to know how to manage their schedules without negatively affecting their work.
Try this: eliminate work schedules from your agency starting today.
They want to know that you have their back
So many people working in agencies live in fear that they will be hung out to dry if something goes wrong.
As agency owners, we have a determined focus on growing our companies and this means delivering great service to our clients and making them happy.
For the most part, we do a good job at this but conflicts will inevitably happen. When client conflicts occur, your team members want to know that you will defend them and back them up. It doesn't mean that they are always right, but it does mean that you don't let your clients (or other team members) disrespect them.
Defend your team and help them when things go wrong.
Try this: next time a team member has a client conflict, make sure you support that person and resolve the situation without assigning additional blame.
They want to feel like you care
I get it. We're hard-charging high "D" personalities and we're focused on the bottom line. It's easy to lose sight of people when we're building an empire.
But it can be easy for your team members to feel like they are simply cogs in a machine. They need to know that you care about their lives. They need to know that you always support their dreams, goals, and ambitions. They want you to ask how you can help them in their careers.
One of the best ways to make this connection is to point-blank tell your people that if they are ever thinking of going somewhere else, you'd like them to let you know so you can help support them as they make this difficult choice. It may involve helping them find a new job somewhere else but it's the right thing to do.
Try this: next time you have a one-to-one meeting with team members, ask them what their career aspirations are and how you can help them get there even if it means going somewhere else.
They want you out of their way
This can be difficult. Remember how we're high "D" results-driven personalities that have a strong perfectionist streak? Yeah, that can lead to serious micro-managing.
I get it. We all want things done right. Or in reality, we want things done "our way".
However, you hired your people because they are smart and capable. They want your support and coaching but they also want to be left alone to do their jobs. Don't swoop in and take over meetings. Don't tell them how to manage their projects. Don't make them give you unnecessary reports.
Empower them to make decisions and get out of their way.
From what I have seen, this is one of the most difficult things for agency owners to do. But it's critically important for your people to thrive and find satisfaction in their work.
Try this: empower your team to make decisions and get out of their way.
Eliminate forced fun
So many agencies think that culture is all about after-hour events and parties and socializing. While these things can be nice, they also assume that everyone on your team is an extrovert.
While some people love going to baseball games after work, others find it stressful and irritating because they would rather be with their families or curling up with a book to recharge their mental batteries.
It's fine to have social events, but it's important to make sure that these things are 100% optional and that there is no guilt around attendance.
Try this: stop organizing elaborate social events and work to enable your team to spend more time with their families.
Creating a great culture
While many people think culture is all about fancy offices, mission statements, and social events, these are often not the things that team members really care about.
The vast majority of agency professionals want freedom, empowerment, and support. The good news is, these things don't cost a dime. They simply require a shift in mindset and a willingness to let go.
If you focus on these things and create a culture based on what your team really wants, you will build the agency team of your dreams.
"Working with Amy and the IBO team over the years has been a huge relief. They are extremely reliable, responsive, and quick to learn new tasks. We are able to trust that projects will be done correctly the first time, every time!"
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