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THRIVE Podcast for Agency Leaders

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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.

Episode 114: Gaps in Our Own Leadership Style, with Gina Hayden

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Gina Hayden talk about how to identify gaps in our leadership style in order to deepen connection and create more meaningful impact.



Episode 114: Gaps in Our Own Leadership Style, with Gina Hayden

Duration: 31:18


Kelly: Welcome back to Thrive. What a great discussion I had with Josh Basile on the first episode. I hope that you were able to catch that. We're going to keep that momentum going this year. And today, I have an incredibly special guests. Gina Hayden is the Co-founder of the Global Center for Conscious Leadership and a Director for Conscious Capitalism UK. In 2016, Gina actually published a book called Becoming A Conscious Leader: How To Lead Successfully In A World That's Waking Up. And I have to say that that book has literally become my Bible. I connected with Gina a few months ago, and I'm not only excited to share that she is actually going to be writing a foreword for my book, upcoming. I'm also thrilled to have her on the show today. So we're going to uncover some of the gaps in effective leadership. And I really hope you enjoy the conversation. So Gina, a warm welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today. You know I always love our time together.


Gina: I'm really looking forward to talking with you. Thank you. Really excited.


Kelly: Yeah. So I think a great place to start just so everybody's on the same page would be how do you define effective leadership, because I think a lot of people have different definitions of that.


Gina: So it's probably worth saying I do a lot of work with corporations, a lot of work with leaders of different levels and corporations, right off to chief execs and with their teams and developing leadership programs. So I'm quite immersed in the space. And I think that, at one level, effective leadership is definitely to my mind achieving results through people. So that then combines the task and the human. And I know that there are companies out there where it's purely about the task. I've got some clients where it's purely about the task, never mind, the fact that there are humans executing it. And other companies that I'm working with where it's very much about the people, but sometimes they get a bit sketchy on pushing on the task. So I think a really good way is thinking about achieving results through people and how do you as a leader, contain both of those things and balance that particular seesaw. But beyond that, I think the notion for me anyway, with conscious leadership, the really effective leadership is this notion of moving from me, to we, to the world. How do I have self-mastery of myself? And we'll come onto that. What does that actually mean? But I'm operating at the highest level, in integrity to myself, and being a good beacon for others as a leader. How does that translate into my relationships so that the we is at the optimal level, whether it's team and organization? And then the world part is actually really exciting, but in now in the future is what is the potential impact for, that my company can make in the world out there that is actually for the greater good, that's for the benefit of more than just me personally, or us in the organization and our shareholders? How do we take that out and include business and organization in an outcome that looks positive for as many people as possible, and the planet, etc.? So for me, that's effective leadership.


Kelly: Yeah. And I couldn't have encapsulated that any better. And I think it's important to understand or to mention that when we say the world, we are talking about starting sort of close to home, so local community, and then the ripple effect that just naturally occurs with how other people are impacted by that ripple effect. So it could be yes, someone in the community who is being helped through some give back that is happening because of the organization or the company, then it could be the ripple effect of that on someone else. And it just goes out further and further. So I think it's important because some people will focus in on that and say, well, how could my company impact the world? That seems really grandiose, so I wanted to just kind of dial that.


Gina: Oh, that's really, I mean, I got a couple of quick examples for you, which I think really helped to illustrate.


Kelly: Great.


Gina: So one guy that I interviewed for the book. So I'm from Africa. And as you can probably hear from my accent, even though I've been living in London for like 25 years, still stays. And I grew up in South Africa at the time of apartheid. And one of the guys I interviewed also grew up, and we're at the same age. So we were living on very, very different sides of the fence in the country at the time. He went on to become a very senior chief executive, multinational. And he described it to me, as I would say, he's a conscious leader. He described it to me as bringing in coaches to work with the people in his company, who were coaching not only for success, but also significance, which I really love, success, and significance. He said that what happens then is if people, if individuals in the company are in touch with what is the significance of what it is they're trying to do, they take that into their families, they take into the communities, and that has a different impact, just by nature of a positive knock on effect, ripple effect. And he said that for him, that was a way of bringing his experience from that era in in South Africa, and actually making a societal change through community, which he felt was really important. So at a more micro level, I think it's like, we go back to our families, and do we choose to sort of kick the cat? Or do we choose to have mastery for ourselves? How are we showing up in our families? How are we showing up for our kids? Are their eyes shining? Or are they dull? And then what is the impact of that when they go out into, so I think it's at micro level and macro level. There's loads we can do.

Kelly: Yeah. I think that's a great point that it's not just outside of. It actually can be internal in terms of your own family unit. So yeah, that's a great point. I think it's also I know, we're going to talk about conscious leadership a lot. So I think it's important to kind of understand from the audience's perspective, like what do we mean, in terms of the differences between a conscious leader and an unconscious or what I might call a wounded leader, in terms of the characteristics, and I know, you have sort of like a model of four different components that you kind of pull from, so we'd love to just kind of level set on that as well.


Gina: Okay. I think the first thing that's really important to say is, we're all human beings, having an experience in life. From one perspective, we might say waking up more and more and more to ourselves. So I like to think of it as a continuum. And there are some who are and we'll look at what is more asleep mean, but there is some sort of more asleep end of the continuum, and some are at the very awake end of the continuum. And for me, the more asleep end of the continuum, or more unconscious leadership, just more asleep, would be people who haven't really gotten on top of their own programming. So the sort of assumptions of what I mean by programming is the assumptions that they've learned about how the world works, the beliefs that they hold, the way that they try to create security for themselves. So it could be one way of looking at fear and love. So there's sort of like the worlds of threat I need to survive. Therefore, my behavior at the more asleep end is and we see this in business all the time is really about self-preservation. And also knowing yourself and mastering yourself and up towards the more as we move along, we get to know ourselves bit better. So rather than uploading that sort of same behavior that I do to ensure my preservation and survival, every time with that, sometimes without thinking, there's a bit of a gap that gets created between seeing that thing like oh, there I go again, and the gap of choice. So there's awareness, and choice, or no awareness, or no choice. And so the choice that comes in then enables us to do things differently. So as we move towards the more kind of awakened leader or conscious leadership side of things, you start seeing people acting out of choice, acting out of compassion and love and kindness and those good qualities, less from defense and self-preservation and survival, and then also acting in a way that's more about we rather than about me, and at the upper end for the world, rather than just me in the way.


Kelly: Yeah, I love this definition so much. A I love the idea of a continuum because we can be on any part of that continuum throughout our lives, although typically you would move from the sort of asleep to awake but the doesn't mean that sometimes you can't backtrack, because things set you back or there are circumstances outside of your control that, it makes it difficult. But the point is that you're moving fluidly throughout your life. And ultimately, moving from this asleep or unconscious way of being in the world where you're very reactive, you're not really self-aware, there's not a lot of emotional intelligence present to this place where all of those things are basically becoming like a practice or almost I wouldn't say a default because this does take work. Constant order does. The programming that you mentioned, it's funny, you said, awakened, as in like, kind of past tense. And I was talking with my Buddhist psychology coach, and she was like, could you change that for me to awakening?


Gina: Awakening, yes, yes.


Kelly: Awakened is really what we're talking about, like you've achieved like enlightenment or Buddhahood. She's like, the amount of people who have achieved that is probably very, very little. So can we call it awakening? I said, fine. I will.


Gina: I concur with that. I concur. And, you mentioned about the woundedness. And all of us as well, I mean, I think there is something very compassionate about this continuum, because we're all doing the best we can with what we've got. So it's kind of more fun to do it together. We feel better when we’re coming at it from a sense of we, rather than kind of, I have to fight people for my corner, which is like, you don't really want to live in that space. It's de-energizing. But I think the woundedness, in your book, just reading that first chapter in your intro, we all have the experiences that have happened to us that have created these wounds. And really, when we're just acting, and I'm including myself in this, by the way, when we act out of when that automatic, that program gets loaded up, which is about survival. And we just acting out of that wound, we don't really have a lot of choice in the matter. So I think, you made the point. It's the life's work, and we have to do the work to get to grips with what it is that's formed and shaped us, then we begin to have some choice over it.


Kelly: Yeah, I just want to go back to this idea about programming and wounding and why we're using those terms. I actually just realized in as I'm writing this book, that the word trauma actually is derived from the Greek literally meaning wound. And that was fascinating to me, because we think of trauma as like, big T or small T, trauma, right? Things that were acute or chronic, prolonged or complex, multilayered, and long lasting. But what's interesting to me is that Dr. Gabor Mate, which we all know and love talks about trauma from the standpoint of not being the thing that happened to you or happen to you, on an ongoing basis. It's actually what happens inside of you or within you as a result of what happened to you. So when we talk about trauma, or wounding, that's where the correlation comes in with an unconscious leader, right? If you're still on the you said, online, or maybe offline, we could call it if you're offline, it's still running those same patterns and behaviors, maladaptive behaviors, where you are reacting, and you're not self-aware, and all these things like that's the correlation. So I just wanted to tie those two dots together.


Gina: Nicely said.


Kelly: So most of the people who are listening or watching are going to say yeah, Gina, this sounds great. And I'd love to play devil's advocate on the show. So if I wanted to begin on this journey, because I think I'm somewhere like I'm not necessarily totally asleep, but I know that I'm definitely not awakening on that end of the continuum. How would one begin to identify where they sit on that continuum?


Gina: So there are two things I think to speak to here. The easy answer, I'll give the easier, well, I don’t know if it is easier, but anyway, the quicker answer. So there is a thing that you can search up online called the consciousness quotient. And this is being developed by a professor in Hungary, I think it is, for a number of years now I think probably for 10 years, he's been working on it. And he's emailed me recently to save this kind of vamped up version of it is kind of out there. Now, if you wanted to get a sort of, how am I doing in the space of being awake? I think that's a good instrument to play around with. And he's interested in more research for it as well.


Kelly: I would put that in the show notes for sure.


Gina: Definitely. Yeah, that's a good thing. And he deserves to be supported. He is very interested in this. I think there are many ways that you can also look at your own practice in your own life. So you and I were talking before you started recording Kelly around this sort of framework that I work with, so there's the kind of the self-mastery part of it, so what are the qualities of self-mastery, that's one way of coming in one doorway. There's how am I doing in my relationships with others, and then there's kind of the world and the world beyond. So I think an easy route in is, is the self-mastery piece. Normally, what I recommend is for people to first of all actually go and have a look at their values. And do a value judgment, whether you go to Barrett Values Center and do a personal values assessment, or the exercise I often do with clients is I just have a list of values, and I get them to choose 10. And then to whittle it down to five.


Kelly: I’ve done that exercise before. It’s a great idea.


Gina: It's a really cool exercise, not because you've got to be defined by anything in boxing, but it forces you to think about what's important, prioritization. And then what do you do with it? So then the question is, like, how am I living this everyday in my life? How do my values connect with my organization's values? And another great question in the interest of self-authoring, because we're not born with our values, whether they come from where they're created over time, and we get to change them because we're fluid. So maybe a question to ask is, what value would I like to bring into my life more in 2022? Or in my work right now? So it's beginning to look at, what would that mean, in real life. Actually, practically, the other angle to come in is through purpose. So you can do some purpose exercises. And again, people get a bit scared of the notion of purpose, because there's one purpose, and then it's sort of etched in blood for rest. No, it's a sense. Richard Leid does a wonderful book called, I think it's The Power of Purpose. I've got it up here. And he says, purpose is three things. It is a sense of direction. It's a practice. And so every day, how are you living it, and it's also an evolutionary and developmental path. I love that. It's fluid, rather than this heavy responsibility; we have to find our purpose. I mean, we want that in life. We're not that static as beings. So I think exploring either Ikigai framework is great. Or what you can find online or something that Richard does, we're just beginning to play around with, what is it that gives me energy? What do I want to contribute to the world? What can I get paid for? What does the world need? And looking for opportunities of what is the bigger potentiality in the work that I do? Because we feel good when we're making a contribution. So if I'm living values, and as much as I can, and I'm living on purpose, I'm having a more rewarding life. And that's a really good beginning step; I think to begin to think about living more consciously.


Kelly: Yeah, I think that's great. Those are all really, really helpful. And obviously, we'll put notes to all of those in the shownotes. Yeah, okay. So I'm just kind of like wrapping my head around all of the different ways in which you can approach this. I really liked the last one that you talked about, though, because I feel like that sort of triumvirate of, sort of North Star plus practice.


Gina: Practice, like an evolutionary journey thing.


Kelly: Yeah. And the fact that it evolves over time, I mean, that feels I'm a person who doesn't like to be boxed into frameworks. I like scaffolding because there's lots of breathing room. So that feels really good. That feels like a lot of breathing room to me, and I think that's a great place to start. When you're working with clients who are kind of at this beginning stage, I'm assuming that they're reaching out to you, because they resonate with your work, they resonate with conscious leadership, maybe they even have that natural propensity toward conscious leadership, as I said before, but where in addition to these kind of frameworks that you just mentioned, where do you start to help them move? Because you're not doing the work for them? They're doing as a coach, but where? How do you start to help them move forward to actually, like, define what this actually looks like in practice for them? And, yeah, help them actually bring it into their business, which is, I think, is the crux of what we're talking about here.


Gina: Beautiful questions. So I'm finding in my work that people are either, but when they turn up, sometimes things have happened to people, and some of your listeners and watchers might actually have this happen to them. There seems to be a couple of starter conditions and initiating conditions. One of one of them is that you've been achieving like crazy all your life. And you kind of go, well, is that all there is? Like, there's just another thing, I didn't get that thing already. So it's like this sort of introduction to the achievement just as like, oh. So that's one thing. Sometimes there's a real sense of uncertainty in the pandemic. I think this and previously the recession, no matter your best attempts, rug has been pulled out from underneath you. And everything you thought was certain is now uncertain. So there's a kind of a crumbling of what we mistook as stability and substantiality in life and life kind of goes whack. Absolutely, and we’re forced to kind of wake up right to out of a dream. Sometimes people will arrive, and they will either have had a lot of experiences and want to apply those experiences, like the guy I told you about in South Africa, or sometimes they're just born with this kind of inner knowing. And the inner knowing is, like just, they’re looking for a space to explore something that feels unsettling them. So they'll arrive at my door. And we'll work with that. And often, the questions are around. Sometimes we'll do some of the exercises I explained. But we'll also look at helping them to become present to themselves, to listen to what the intuition is saying not just what their head is saying, too. And often in the way of working and it happens in our conversations, that I'm not actually thinking anything, I'm not making the conversation happen. I'm just being present to them and listening. And in between us this, some answers are emerging, or some questions are emerging, which then turn into how do you apply this in your business in your leadership? So I would say the starting point, I think, is the self, the starting point seems to be who are we being in the world? And then with the right kind of help, whether it's coaching or a friend or whatever, it's really just beginning to think about, well, how does this come? How am I showing up with my teams? I've had many conversations with what let's call them conscious leaders of the B Corp movement for the benefit corporation movement, where they've been super awake, like they've been working in big corporates, for instance, where they've deeply disturbed. Let's even say, three, four years ago, before plastic was so much on our radar, deeply disturbed by the amount of plastic that their companies were producing, and finding that they were one of a dozen people in their companies to be thinking this, whereas the people at the top, we're just thinking prophets, this is deeply disturbing feeling of where is my tribe? So I think finding people like you, in your companies, often younger people, I might say, because the generations coming up are awake in many cases. And connecting through and seeing what you can influence, finding your tribe. That can be really, really good in an organization. What can you do together?


Kelly: That's great. It's interesting. So I'm a new member of the Conscious Leadership Guild, which I think you're familiar with. Everyone that I mentioned, about you writing the foreword, they were like, oh, my God, that's great. We love Gina. But it was interesting because I was in a breakout session during I think it was just two days ago. And this woman was talking about how, back in the 1980s she was leading workshops inside of DuPont as a consultant. She was leading workshops on how to tap into intuition in business. I was like you were doing in the 80s?


Gina: Brave woman.


Kelly: The thing is a lot of people will say, oh, this is brand new, this is New Age, like, not a lot of companies are doing this. Like, huge corporations have been doing this for decades. And I feel like the smaller businesses, just, I don't know, for whatever reason, it's taken this long to get there. But listen, we're here now, it is not strange. And the inner knowing, the deeper knowing that you're talking about, I feel like if we do pause and dial in and actually listen to that, that's kind of where the start is, for me. I always say like curiosity, like what it actually is calling you.


Gina: Yes.


Kelly: Or the values you talked about, right?


Gina: Yeah.


Kelly: I love the question of alright, so what are my values now, but what is the value that I want to bring into my life that don't necessarily have right now, right? Mine in like 2019, or 2020 was integrity. I wanted more integrity in my life. And so that became sort of a North Star. Now this year, it's impact. That's my North Star.

Gina: Beautiful. You can evolve. You can choose. I mean, we have the power to choose. So there's something and this might seem a bit radical for your listeners, but go for it. It's been really helpful to me. So the guy that I work with who I would consider awakened, extremely evolved guy, teacher, he helped me to understand that there is self-mastery, and then there's transcendence. And I love this, because the self-mastery is how we play in the world. And we're talking at the moment about self-mastery, how to play a happier, more fulfilled, more creative, more choice for life. And, like, who doesn't want that? And then there's transcendence, which is realizing that it's all made up anyway. And not confusing the movie with reality. And for that's a whole different level of choice, right? That's what it's like a wise grounded place of grounded being to live in every day, and not be an oh, my goodness, I have not mastered this at all, but not be triggered by events that happen on the screen in front of you in quite the same way. So I think it really does start with ourselves. And it starts with thinking or maybe exploring into, yes, there's self-mastery, and then there's transcendence. And what does that mean? And honestly, mindfulness, a great fan, right? Because I think meditation, mindfulness, just grounds you in everything that's before our thoughts and helps to separate us away from the tyranny, I'm going to talk in personal, the tyranny of my thoughts at 3am in the morning, could you just shut up? I'm not alone. I'm sure I'm not alone.


Kelly: You are not alone. There’s whole owners and leaders. you are not alone.


Gina: Like just stop already. So just that quiet place, which is before thought, and being located more in here, than in the kind of in the movie, that's a really important thing. I mean, they have to add in yes, it's us. But also, it seems to be likely to be context. So when I wrote this book, which I honestly wrote for ages, and had like three versions of it, and they were all, like, more rubbish than the previous one. And I realized what I needed to do was theoretical, to come and interview people who were of this up at this end of the spectrum, and write about them and use real data, and then it's sort of flowing. So it took a long time. But it came out in at the end of 2016. And at the time, I'd been involved since like, 2012, 13, with conscious capitalism and thinking about conscious leadership, at that time, you did not use the word conscious in business in the same sentence. I remember driving in London, coming down the city road from like, Silicon roundabout, and there was some fashion company that had actually put like, conscious apparel on this big billboard. I was like, that was like radical. And then, plastics, we weren't aware of climate change wasn't so much on the radar. There was nothing to do with gender. And there was nothing to do with kind of race and diversity, rarely. These days, it's the context that is forcing us to evolve. You can't even like throw a stick and not hit something that you're supposed to be more awake about. So I think that climate is all over business at the moment. I think it's forcing us to evolve. Thank goodness. So it's partly us, partly context, I believe. I feel my book seems out of date, by the way. I now read it and really in front of the car to that, I'm like, that's a bit old now.


Kelly: No, it's still my Bible. I have it by my bedside, like one would. But no, I think that's a great place to wrap and a great point. And, yeah, this conversation, I mean, obviously, we could extend this for hours.


Gina: We could go on for hours.


Kelly: I love chatting with you, but I'm going to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining me today.


Gina: Lovely.


Kelly: I'm so excited about the work that we're doing together.


Gina: It's been great talking. Thanks again.


Kelly: Thanks.













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Episode 113: Accessibility as Agency Opportunity, with Joshua Basile


On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by accessiBe—Kelly talks with Joshua Basile, a C4-5 Quadriplegic, who shares his inspiring story and life's work as an advocate for web accessibility. Together, they uncover the opportunities that inclusivity provides for agencies worldwide.



Episode 113: Accessibility as Agency Opportunity, with Joshua Basile

Duration: 19:51 


Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource, the only podcast for creative media and technology leaders who are ready to dive deeper into conscious leadership and agency growth. I'm your host, Kelly Campbell. Thrive is brought to you by accessiBe, the leading web accessibility solutions provider. Join thousands of agencies that are already incorporating web inclusivity into their service offerings, visit today. Happy New Year, everyone. And thanks for joining us today. I've got a brand new season of Thrive for you this year. And I am incredibly excited to announce that the new official sponsor of the podcast is accessiBe. They are on a mission to make the web inclusive for all and to that end, my very first guest of the year is Joshua Basile, the community relations manager for accessiBe, who is going to share his story with us. So wait for that. You're going to be really excited about that. And we're going to talk about why accessibility is really an opportunity for agencies. So welcome, my friend. It is so good to see you again.


Josh: Happy New Year.


Kelly:So Josh, when I first heard about you, and how you've made accessiBe, pretty much your life's work, I was inspired. And I was also kind of humbled by all that I was taking for granted as a user of the internet. So will you do us a favor and share your story and kind of just the journey that you've been on?


Josh: Absolutely. And so my story started, when I was really 18 years older, my life kind of was flipped upside down. I was on a family vacation at the beach, I was a an active college athlete, and I ended up going in the ocean. And a wave picked me up, threw me over my boogie board under slamming on my head. And that day, I shattered my neck and became a C four or five quadriplegic and I was paralyzed below my shoulders. And you were a freshman in college at that point. Yep, I just finished my freshman year. And it was that summer going into the sophomore year. And after I broke my neck, I ended up going to a local Trauma Center to help stabilize my neck and keep me alive. And for the first five weeks, I was on a ventilator. So I was unable to breathe on my own. And my only way to communicate was by blinking. So blink, once for yes, twice for now. And that was the way I communicate it for five weeks. And when I regained my voice after being weaned off the ventilator, I decided to make sure that every word from that moment on counted. I guess that day is when I became an advocate for life.


Kelly: I love that story. I got chills I do every time. So, you know, I would imagine, well, actually, let's talk about how that kind of led you to becoming involved with and a community relations manager for accessiBe.


Josh: So after my injury and after kind of regain my voice, I wanted to strengthen my voice. And I ended up going back to school. I went to community college. And then I went to undergrad at University of Maryland, graduated as communication major. And I wanted to bring it to the next level. So I ended up going to law school and ended up graduating manukan Loud a from law school near the top of my class without ever flipping a page with my hands. It's a testament to technology and allowing your ability to be able to access the world through technology. It was a game changer. And it got better and better with time since 2004  when I was first injured.


Kelly: So I would imagine that most people when they think about web accessibility or technology accessibility, they think about people who are blind, right? I think that's kind of like the default. But when we think about technology and web in particular, being inclusive for all what other kinds of disabilities are we talking about here?


Josh: Absolutely. And there's so many different disabilities abilities, however you want to name it, it's, we have, you know, persons that are blind we have persons with limited vision. We have people with paralysis, motor disabilities, we have people with cognitive disabilities that are have learning disabilities processing disabilities, we have people with epilepsy that you know, if they see something that's flashing it can trigger an epileptic event. We have so many different types of abilities in this world. It's a matter of understanding that, you know, we're we want to be welcoming to all it's not just one population that we want to be to serve with businesses or with information products and services, there's so many people that we want to welcome into our doors, we welcome into our websites and say, Well, you know, what we've gotten an important product or service to be able to provide for you. And like being, being within the disability community, and being a, you know, community leader within the disability world. I live outside the Washington DC area. So I'm on Capitol Hill, very, a lot. And I love it. And you know, the fact is, is that we, as disability rights advocates, there's so many different communities or organizations that fight on Capitol Hill every day to make sure that their voices and their communities are heard, and being able to have representation and opportunities to be able to be included in the world. So it's, um, there's a lot to the disability community that people just know, they think maybe one or two different disability groups, because that's all they know. Right? Other disabilities, but it's a it's a very diverse group.


Kelly: Yeah, I was actually kind of struck by the idea that I know so many people with like, ADHD, for example. And, you know, including that on the list of like, you know, creating websites for people with disabilities, I didn't even think of ADHD as a disability from that context, right. But it makes all the sense in the world that if you could change the way that a screen looks, or how something functions or, you know, a slows down, or whatever the case may be, yeah, it just it, it was one of those things that one of those moments where I was like, Oh, wow, like, there's so much that I take for granted and that I didn't actually consider. So it just, it was like a moment of awareness for me for sure.


Josh: With all the different abilities that exists out there, if you can provide kind of customized options for them on how to absorb content, or how to navigate a website, you're giving them like a power, nibble experience it better. And that's, that's what I love about technology and everything that's out there today. It's just, it's getting better and better over time to be able to give more choice more power and how to experience something. Yeah, yeah. I'm kind of a triple threat in the disability world. Before my paralysis, since the second grade, I've been diagnosed with a reading disability and ADHD. Oh, and now I'm paralyzed. And it's like, being able to, you know, be able to keep my attention is one thing on a website, and being able to have the ability to choose a, the ability to do that is fantastic. But I also use screen reader technology to read for me on websites, and but then I also use an on screen keyboard to be able to navigate a website. So there's all these different things that I use. And there's, you know, it's, it's very interesting, a lot of people don't know how persons with disabilities navigate and experience websites.


Kelly: Did you know that one out of five people in the US is living with some form of disability, I'm proud to partner with accesiBe as they work toward the mission of making the web accessible to everyone. It's time to prioritize inclusivity ensure that your own website and your client sites can be accessed by all and that they're ADA compliant. Head over to, to learn more about their agency partner program. Now, back to the show.

So to drill down actually into your personal experience with that, when you navigate a website, or have navigated a website in the past that is not accessible or not necessarily built with you in mind or built with inclusivity in mind, what does it actually like? Give me some examples of like, what does it actually prevent you from doing so then the navigation is a big part. Being able to be able to get explore the website is important so like when someone builds a website, they want people to be able to click buttons or do drop downs or things of that nature. If I can, you know, scroll through a site properly, I'm not able to like hit that drop down menu to see you know, what their products or their services, their contact us I won't be able to get to that point if it's that, you know, made accessible or if it's not built out the right way. Or let's say there's a form that I need to fill out my personal information or my credit card. If that's not done correctly with my unique you know, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking I use an on screen keyboard. So I use voice dictation to type my voice for forms that are filled out properly. I can't type into that form. There's so there's a lot of different things where like, I wanted to go buy a pair of shoes. I was able to get find the shoe I wanted. But during checkout I couldn't come payment information. And then I had to wait for a family member or caregiver to come by to help me which, luckily, I have no credible support system. A lot of people with disabilities don't. Right? So it's like, what is the experience you want to create to be able to kind of welcome people to be able to have that good experience and want to come back again and again.


Josh: Right, right. And so this is interesting, because it kind of lends itself to what we're really talking about is the value of consumers with abilities or disabilities, however you want to say it, every fifth person who enters your website, right, or your clients website, if you're an agency has some form of disability, we know this, right? Statistically, we know this. And what was kind of astounding to me was that the like the disabilities community as a whole represents a whopping $490 billion in disposable income. So can you talk a little bit about that from like, the loyalty perspective of the community?


Kelly: So yeah, studies have been done, that have shown that the disability community is the most brand loyal community, you know, what we're taking care of, and we're recognized, when we're welcomed into the doors, at any business, we come back as repeat customers, because, unfortunately, a lot of the world isn't accessible. So when we find something that is accessible, that works, we not only come back, we also our natural mentors, we recommend it to our friends, our families, we advocate for it. But like if we're treated, right, it's just like, we've got your back. You know, if your back we got your back. Yeah. And it's in the amount of money that the disability community has to spend, like we want to spend our dollars. And when we do we want to spend it on people that show that they care.


Josh: Do you know offhand how many websites like let's say in the US alone, or like companies that are based in the US how many websites are actually accessible at this point.


Kelly: So right now, we're probably looking at around 7 million websites, wow. But we want we want to keep growing, that we want there to be more and more because more websites that are accessible, the more doors are open, the more opportunities are open, to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities. So like I'm, I'm excited for that number to keep growing and growing and growing. And it's an opportunity right now for businesses to recognize that diversity, equity inclusion is in a really important subject that businesses are really diving into right now. They want to do better, because they know they can do better. This is an opportunity right now for businesses on their websites to make sure that web accessibility is a must integrate, because it's that you know, you're going to eventually do it. So might not why not doing now? Yeah. The other thing that that kind of brings up for me, which, you know, I just want to put a pin in this for a second, because you're talking about Dei, right? So, yes, there's been so much and obviously, we'll talk about consciousness leaders at some point, but there's been so much focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. I mean, for probably, I don't know, a couple of decades for sure, but really concentrated and accelerated in the last few years, for obvious reasons, right. But I think the conversation about dei doesn't always extend to accessibility. Right? So it's almost like we have to add an eighth to the acronym. But yeah, it's fascinating that most agencies, they're focusing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in terms of culture, or talent that they bring in, or, you know, from a recruitment standpoint, maybe even the clients that they serve, or the types of businesses right, so that they've got, like a diverse roster of clients, whatever the case may be, they're focusing on it from an internal perspective, but they're not thinking about the accessibility aspect of their own website, or the clients websites that they're building. So it's just an important point.


Josh: It is important and as you build out those websites, you're bringing it into the DNA of your business, the DNA of your website, you're kind of spreading it out so that it all it touches all the right areas. And it's you know, your website in so many way and so much is your branding. It's your ability to share with the world who you are as a business but you believe it where you believe in who you want to serve, who you want to welcome into, you know, your business family, and, you know, having making sure that your website's successful as accessibility components built into create more customization, you're really just, you're saying I'm really proud message. And then also it's just you're tapping into, you know, billions of new customers that you're saying, I see you, I feel you I'm, I want you to be a part of our business journey. And that's just so important. Yeah,


Kelly: I love that. So some of the takeaways that I'm hearing from this conversation are like, that an agency shouldn't necessarily focus on accessibility for compliance. Like it's important. But it's not. It's not the be all end. All right. In fact, I would probably say, it's almost like the least important thing. So it's not just the compliance, it's like, it's the right thing to do. In the world, as much as, as it is the right thing to do from a business perspective, from a revenue generating perspective, right? He talked a little bit about that, it's the right thing to do. Because you're, you want to treat your customers, right, you don't want customers to have bad experiences, right? And, and you also want to be smart at business, open your doors to more people, allows for more revenue, it allows for, you know, to be able to focus on the right conversations, rather than having conversations about people having bad experiences. So it's just it's smart business to bring accessibility into, into your model. So it's a I full heartedly support businesses that that do something about it. And so those billions of people around the world that are waiting to have the opportunity to experience your website in a more accessible way. So it's, um, we're talking about billions of people around the world. And then we're talking about billions of spending power and dollars with people that are very Bramwell. It's just it's smart business. Yeah, absolutely. So as we start to wrap up, Josh, what is like the one you know, as, as an advocate, and someone who's like, incredibly passionate, and doing so much good work in the world, for, you know, people with various abilities, what is the one thing that you would leave our audience with, if you had like, one little nugget of gold for us, just to kind of end the episode,


Kelly: I'm just we're on this journey together. And it's, you know, I'm, I'm a big believer, so I'm in Capitol Hill, and I advocate for so many different things. And when I will, down the street, you know, I might turn a few heads, but if I will, down the street, with friends with family, with other persons with disabilities, I'm gonna be turning a lot more heads. So we're on a, we're on this journey together. And if we can do it together, we're gonna make a bigger impact together. And it's, you know, disability is not something that, you know, we can run away from, it's not a matter of if, but when, at some point, disability catches up to all of us, whether it's personally to a friend or a family member, you know, there's so many people, we're, we're part of this world together. So it's like, let's, let's do something about it, let's do something about it now. And for all the agencies in the world, it just, you have a special opportunity to have like, really make a decision for moving forward in a really beautiful way. And I can't wait to be going to many more websites that are accessible or being included and welcomed in businesses all across the country, all across the world. So just, I just want to thank everybody that takes a step forward. And that we do this together. Really, really beautifully said, Thank you so much, Josh. And I just want to have the moment to say a quick note about the fact that you are actually available for speaking engagements and things like that, and that you are newly represented by my other company, consciousness leaders. So anyone who's interested in bringing Josh into speak, please like, feel free to reach out to me. And you know, I'm happy to collect connect to you directly for your organization. Really, really excited to have them in the collective. So Josh, thank you so much. This was an incredible start to the new year, and I couldn't be more happy that it was you who helped me kick it off. So thank you so much.


Josh:  It's been a pleasure being here today. And these are just such important conversations to have, and to continue to have.


Kelly: I agree, and I really, really appreciate you. Thanks. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to subscribe wherever you watch or listen. And a final note of gratitude to the official sponsor of Thrive access to be the leading web accessibility solutions provider. Learn more about the Win Win proposition and keep your clients websites inclusive and compliant. Be sure to check out their partner program for your agency today. At











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Episode 112: Making Employees Member-Owners, with Liz Ricca


On this final episode of THRIVE for 2021 — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Liz Ricca of Big Duck dive into the details of how the agency recently transitioned to employee ownership.



Episode 112: Making Employees Member-Owners, with Liz Ricca

Duration: 21:13


Kelly: So welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. As an agency leader, have you given much thought to your succession plan? What about making your team feel really more invested in the company than they are right now? Joining me today is Liz Ricca, co-director and member owner of Big Duck, a nonprofit communications firm that you definitely might have heard of, if you're in the space, and they're based in New York. Liz, welcome so much to Thrive. I am really excited for this conversation.


Liz: Thank you for having me Kelly.


Kelly: So, I think it's important, and we've talked on the show in previous episodes about different approaches, or different options that are out there for things like this, that we're going to be talking about today. But just so we're all on the same page, what is a worker-owned cooperative?


Liz: I'm not gonna share their clear definitions when no one else can see all the data in my head, but effectively it is a business that is owned by its workers. So there can be a lot of different configurations. But in ours, you can't be a part owner, unless you are also an employee of the business. So all of the owners work for the business. And everyone who works in the business has an opportunity to become an owner if they choose to. So in our case, we're 14 employees, 14 owners.


Kelly: Okay, and you say that, when we were talking before, you said, this is sort of like an under considered option. I'm curious about why you think that might be. And then also, just like any option, there have to be some pros and some cons to it. So, can you talk a little bit about those things?


Liz: Yeah, well, I think worker-owned cooperatives, it is the cooperative movement is an old movement, centuries old. There have been a lot of different forms of worker cooperatives. I think there are probably a lot of reasons why it's not as big a sector in the United States, particularly but there are, I think, a lot of misperceptions about it, including many, I have lots of questions about coming into it, like, how do you make decisions? How do you do anything with 14 people in the room? Do you have to do everything together? How does a business function in this way? And some of the association's we might have with cooperative, with the idea of everyone voting on everything, and of it being sort of slower, or of there being a lot of work to do to bring everybody along probably makes it seem like the practical options. There's also the fact that it is unlike other sort of transition models moving to worker-owned cooperatives, someone has to have the capital to purchase a business from the selling owner. And, there are actually a lot of structures out there, including the the consultants that we worked with, who helped us basically find financing and find the model that was going to make it possible for us to purchase the company, from the selling owner without each individual worker-owner having to have the personal resources to get out of their individual funds, buy a share of the company. So I think the financing, the imagining of how the financing would work could be a barrier. But there's a strong community of folks who can help navigate those challenges and to do that.


Kelly: It’s so interesting. It's like a lot of these things that you don't really think about or like you said before, you've got some preconceived notions coming in. Can you kind of just share the story as to how Big Duck actually arrived at the decision to go this route versus all of the other options? And maybe talk a little bit about the consultants that you work with?


Liz: Absolutely. This decision goes back a long way. Our company was founded by Sarah Duran who was our owner for 27, 28 years back in 1994. She started the company and was the sole owner up until we completed this conversion process in early November 21. So she is a very thoughtful agency leader and has been talking with us for a long time about her sort of plans for herself, and what it might look like when she decided she was ready to sort of have new adventures or challenges. And so I remember a planning session we had 10 years ago where she was saying 2021, or at least will be up and my kids will be going to college, and what am I going to want to do at that point, I may be ready for a transition, then what are some of the things that might look like so not yet, having a plan, but opening the conversation many, many years before any transition was anticipated. And in the course of those conversations, just opening our minds to possibilities, we took a look at what were some of the ways that businesses like ours, that an owner like her could move on, that the business could just close, that could sell to a few employees, to sell to an outside buyer. And we looked into these options converting to employee ownership. And I should also say, while I'm not well versed in them, there are other models of employee ownership that are strictly a worker-owned cooperative. So we have this vocabulary and kind of set of options out there, even though there was nothing we were doing in terms of deeper feasibility back then. And then, about a year ago, after 2020 was a hard year, I think, for many agencies with all of the distractions of the lockdown and all of the new realities of COVID. And for us, just like many others, we went all remote, we had to re-envision a lot of things about our business. And it was a challenging year. And I think like many people outside of the agency world that was an invitation for Sarah to think about what was going to be next to her and realize that this was a time that she was ready to look for a new adventure or something new to build. So we started talking about right now, what would a great transition look like, and specifically for our business Sarah brought me and my co-director Farra Trompeter, in officially as partners a few years ago. So the three of us were the ones most involved in these conversations. And both Sarah and I felt most motivated by the possibility of leading this conversion to a worker cooperative. That was the transition that felt most exciting to us. And it was also really exciting to Sarah. So that felt like the clear alignment of what we were going to be enthusiastic about carrying forward and what was going to work for her. So that was about that first conversation. It was maybe a little more than a year before we actually signed all the documents and completed but a decade in the making took longer than a day. Yeah, it went back a long way. And, I think it's not always the case. But I think it was a big advantage for us that both Sarah and I started at the company in 2007. We've both been here for 14 years. So while our founding owner was moving on, we had two very long tenured members of the team who were here to kind of ease the transition into the next phase. But this is not a requirement to be able to make the kind of pillars and that's where consultants can. And so having decided, we were excited about the idea of a worker-owned cooperative and wanted to understand more about how that would work. We started looking into it and discovered there's a sort of network consultants who help businesses like ours accomplish conversions like this. And it typically starts with a feasibility process, just sort of both cultural feasibility, financial feasibility, and what's going to be realistic for your business. And in the process of looking for crucial things, we actually discover that there's a program funded by the city of New York that pays consulting fees for small businesses like ours, who are trying to ensure succession for a departing owner, to explore the feasibility of worker ownership. And that program is called Owner to Owners, NYC, and so the City Council funded our work with the ICA group, which is a consulting firm that supports cooperatives in a lot of different ways, and has been around for since the 70s doing this work in various capacities. So we were partnered with a few consultants who helped us. It's very change management at this scale. It's a very deep process. So those early conversations were just the three of us. And it was a lot of how does it feel? How do you know, is this something everyone wants? Just making sure that the readiness was going back. Right. And then the financial feasibility is a really significant part of the process to the firm. It has to be valued in a way that feels like it's fair and realistic to the selling owner and to folks representing the new cooperative owners and you have to ensure that the business is going to be stable enough financially, that there's the likelihood of being able. So in our case, we ended up structuring several loans to purchase the business from our selling owner and we needed to be able to demonstrate the financial stability record of performance to provide some assurance that we're going to be able to pay back.


Kelly: Right. Wow. It's kind of mind-blowing. I mean I do understand why the option might have a little bit more stigma or a little more questioning around it. But yeah, it seems like, wow, and good for you guys for having the insights of bringing that consultant firm in, and then this happy accident that New York City was actually going to pay for it.


Liz: Yeah, it doesn't make the process, but by any means the amount of time that we put into it was very significant. And then also, you have to work with lawyers and accountants at different points to accomplish pieces of the sale. But we also have so far been kind of describing the more backstage conversations between Sarah and me at some point in that process. We have a leadership team and brought in other members of our leadership team just to know what was happening. And once we were assured that we had a financial model that was feasible, we had a way of structuring the transaction, sale price that was acceptable to Sara and sustainable business moving forward. That's when we brought the idea to employees. And we rolled it out to everybody in April, so about that six months, five months before we actually completed the sale transaction. And the ICA group worked very closely with us, partnered with us on sort of the initial presentations, how to share this information with folks, how to anticipate and answer questions. Really that's a piece of the process that's very, I think, varies enormously from team to team. It really depends on your organization and your employees, how big or small, how engaged, there's a lot of bits and pieces. There's a very wide range.


Kelly: Yeah. And I imagine like the communication of how that's rolled out, and how that message is the most important thing. Luckily, I mean, Big Duck is very, very well versed in how to communicate difficult things, right? [Commercial] If there are agency leaders who are watching or listening, and they're like, this is really interesting, what would your recommendations be for where to even start the conversation? Right? So maybe it is among the leadership team. Is it doing some research first, like, what would you have gone through the process and having been in those really, really early discussions? Where would you start?


Liz: I think it's valuable to start with a conversation with the leadership team. That's really where we started, just taking a temperature, where's everybody in relation to this idea? Have people heard of cooperatives? Do they have skepticism? Interest? No, nothing? Just get the temperature of your group, is that something that folks are interested in learning more about. It's not a huge investment to just learn a little bit more about it. But once you get any deeper than that, it's pretty of time and energy. So it's the kind of, I think, if you don't feel like there's enough trust on your leadership team to start with a conversation or curious conversation, that might mean there's not enough trust to accomplish a transition like this, because it really has to be, I don't think this is the kind of thing that one person can kind of make happen by force as well. It really is something that requires deep engagement, not everybody has to be the same level of engagement, but the folks who you're hoping are going to help steer the process and help set the tone for the next phase of the organization do really need to be on board. And I should also say that for us, it's not always the case that the selling owner departs. So in our case, this was part of the intention, that on transitioning to the coop, Sara would officially transition out. But there are many organizations where the owner doesn't intend to transition out, just want to move to a more cooperatively run phase of the business, or where it's intended to be a more gradual progression than sort of starting points to eventual transition out and kind of handoff of leadership responsibilities. And that can be quite different. That's probably, that really depends on the structure of your team and what you're envisioning the structure will be. And it's also worth noting that if worker-owned cooperatives, where you go, your current iteration of your leadership team, it's not going to go away, the folks who are still helping run your business will help run your business, there's gonna be a lot more voices in the room. We have a board now and half the board are folks who are not on the leadership team in our previous iteration. So we're working with an entirely new group of leaders. Different conversations happening in the room have different voices, which is really exciting. But also, you can't really imagine, what's gonna be like, definitely deeply at that stage.


Kelly: Yeah, super exciting. It sounds like I would definitely want to be in the room with all of those voices. Two points that you made that I really love. And I'm glad that you kind of highlighted them, trust among the leadership team. I mean, that's everything, right. So if that's not there, or you feel intuitively that there might be a little question mark, if you were to broach this with your own leadership team, that might be the place to start. Maybe it's not starting with cooperatives, but it's starting to really repair that trust or create that trust more deeply. Yeah, it's such an interesting model. I mean, I could literally talk about it all day long. But as we do start to wrap up, I'm really curious about now your'e four or five, six weeks post transition, right? What are your own personal takeaways? And another curiosity is what would you have done differently?


Liz: Well, I think that I'm not sure I'm yet at the stage of takeaways, I think I'm still at the stage of taking in things that are happening right now. One of the areas I'm learning the most that is so interesting is this question of governance. And it's often one of the barriers to how folks envision cooperatives might work is who makes decisions, and how are decisions made and our consultants helped us, gave us sort of templates and coached us through the process of creating a governance chart model for what kinds of decisions get made by the entire membership? What kinds of decisions get made by the board, what kinds of decisions have been made by the co-director, or by folks in their individual roles? And kind of setting that out. We have a good theory, but now it's coming up against practice. When I need to change something administratively, who do I check with now? Structure? Do I just do it myself? I would like, get a vote going here. There's some things we're learning about what practical experience is like and it's really exciting. It's really interesting. There are some things that are sort of free-er than in our old structures, something that feel like there's more education or work to be done, but all of them are more collective, which is, all is within the clear understanding of what we are each empowered to do in our roles and what we're each invited to participate in. And that's really exciting. And interesting. And after 14 years feels like a new job. And some very exciting ways. So those are some of the questions that are most present right now. Four to six weeks out the rubber meets the road. Yeah. And in terms of doing it differently, it's a very, I don't know that I could, like if I rewound it with all the knowledge that I have, now on the other side, I don't know that I really could have changed it. But there's a lot about it, I guess very hard, it can be very, I think this is probably true of any transition. This is the only business that I've been a part of an ownership transition for but I suspect that just the nature of an ownership transition for a small business is quite personal. This is something that Sarah created and cultivated for almost three decades. And for all of us, the process of that hand off, it comes with a lot of emotions, and it comes with a lot of challenges. And there are points I wish I could go back and be kinder with myself or be like to help us see some of the things we hesitate, some of the things are going to be surprisingly hard to work through. Just maybe having that knowledge would smooth out the experience a little bit for all.


Kelly: Yeah, I appreciate everything that you're saying because that's essentially what you're doing for other people right now, right? You're helping set expectations, or at least say, hey, this was my experience, this was my journey. As part of this, this is how we came to this decision. And so, it's really, really helpful. And I just really want to say I appreciate it and I'm so grateful for the transparency and just the openness with which you came to the conversation today. So I really appreciate that. And thank you so much for being on the show today.


Liz: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.  











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Episode 111: What Do We Mean by Web Inclusivity?, with Rafi Glantz


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Rafi Glantz of accessiBe discuss web inclusivity and accessibility, what it means to people with disabilities, and why it should matter to us all.



Episode 111: What Do We Mean by Web Inclusivity?, with Rafi Glantz

Duration: 20:20


Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, I am joined by Rafi Glantz, who heads up the agency partner program over at accessiBe, which is an integrated accessibility software and actually, a lot more. I've personally been using accessiBe on since we launched that site earlier in 2021. So, I've already been a user adopter, and really, really happy to be a customer of theirs. So, today we're going to actually dive into what it actually means to be accessible and inclusive on the web. What do we mean by web inclusivity? So, Rafi, thank you so much for joining me today on Thrive. I'm really excited to talk to you.


Rafi: Me too. I'm glad to be here. Thanks for having me.


Kelly: So, we already talked about your background. Amazing. I love that you're all nice and acoustically paneled back there. Totally on brand.


Rafi: And I've got a charizard to protect me. That's probably the most important part.


Kelly: Definitely the most important Pokemon. So, let's start today by talking about why inclusivity and accessibility matters specifically on the web.


Rafi: Absolutely. So, in the last couple of years, we've seen inclusivity, diversity, inclusion, DE&I take a lot more precedence in both social and business circles. And we've made a lot of strides. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of people with disabilities have been left out of that progress, for several reasons, but mostly because most people don't know that their website needs to be accessible. And that alone would have been bad enough. But particularly with the Coronavirus pandemic, we've been seeing a lot more business than before moved online, whether it's supermarkets or buying a car, anything that you want to do, a lot of that is being done online. And because 98% of websites in the United States are not accessible to people with disabilities, they're being left out of the modern world more than ever before. Despite the fact that the internet really offers people with disabilities or should offer people with disabilities a chance for even greater equality, it's very, very clear according to the law, according to our morals that we are all taught. And for business reasons that it makes sense, it's needed to be accessible. But unfortunately, up until now, for most businesses, it either was not feasible, or they didn't know that they need to do it. And so, we're doing everything that we can to change both of those.


Kelly: So more specifically, like to get more granular when we say that a website is not accessible, right? It doesn't mean that we can't go to it, that it's down. Can you talk a little bit more granularly about what the potential implications are, and like what we mean by something being accessible to those without disabilities and not being accessible to those with?


Rafi: Absolutely. And it's something that a lot of us take for granted, that I take for granted all the time to start working in this field, that I can use my hands, I can see what's on the screen, I can use a mouse, I can hear everything, I can see everything. For a lot of people, they're not able to see, for instance, or they may have vision impairments. There are other people who can't use their hands the same way you or I do or may not even have them. And beyond that, there's people who have invisible disabilities like, for instance, seizure related disorders or epilepsy. One of the reasons that I have the Pokemon behind me is to remind me that in 1997, there was an episode of Pokemon for the nerds out there, the first appearance of Porygon where over 600 American children were hospitalized as a result of excessive flashing lights in the intro, and there was no warning. And since then, there have been a lot of warnings on TV. And, if you go back, I think the first one I remember seeing was Kanye West's all of the lights video on YouTube, where there is a warning before it that says hey, there's a lot of flashing lights. If you have a disorder, maybe this isn't the video to watch. But if you don't have that, that can physically harm somebody. For most of the accessibility, we're not talking about that. We're talking about somebody who can maybe visit your website. But if they're blind, for instance, they may not be able to navigate it because they can't use a mouse and your website might not be optimized for keyboard navigation or for screen readers. You might not have descriptions of all of your images or all of your animations. And for people who have other “minor disabilities” like color blindness, they need to be able to adjust the website to match their needs. For example, not everybody who's colorblind is colorblind the same way some people can't see perfectly. Some people can only see purple just as a random example. So unless you're building a website, only in grayscale, it's not going to be accessible to everybody. And even then, of course, there are people who can't see at all. So, it's really important to give website visitors the option to customize the appearance of it to their needs without impacting anybody else's experience, of course, and without building websites that are all grayscale, and of course, don't convert.


Kelly: Right. It's a lot. There's so much to take into into account. So, if we're thinking about designing websites in this way, and it feels like kind of overwhelming, let's talk about what the differences or to try to remediate these things. Like there's native accessibility, and then there's integrated accessibility. How do you see the connection between the two? And like, what role does accessiBe play?


Rafi: Absolutely. So, to give a little bit of clarity, native accessibility is when you're doing work on the source code, and you're permanently changing the website to make it more accessible for people. That can be adding alt text images, to describe them, adding ARIA-labels to links, all different kinds of stuff. The problem for most businesses is that that requires humans to do a lot of work and generally take at least a few hours to do that work.


Kelly: And not just a human, but like a really great developer.


Rafi: Exactly, a skilled developer, who doesn't want to do this work, because it's boring for them to just go over and describe images all the time and that kind of thing. And even if it's, let's say, four hours of developer time, and you got a very affordable developer $150 an hour, that's 600 bucks. For most people, that's almost as much if not more than you spend on your website, particularly if you're using a low-cost CMS. And it's just not feasible to expect them to be able to maintain that because every time you update your website, you have to update the accessibility as well, if you're doing it manually. What we initially did was more integrated assessment accessibility, which is basically adding a tool onto the website and overlay, if you will, that lets people make changes on their session only. So, there's a difference between the template and the session, right? The template is what the source code says. And the template and the session is what people experience. Really, it doesn't matter if the template is accessible, as long as the person who's coming into your website has an accessible experience. That being said, we believe that accessibility is really a journey rather than a destination. And that the best way to get where you're going to be as accessible as possible, is to do both integrated and native accessibility so that when you build websites, as an agency, especially, you should have best practices in house. And of course, you should use accessible structures, and you shouldn't just ignore describing images and all of that stuff.


Kelly: Which is great SEO, right?


Rafi: Exactly. It's really important for SEO. And by the way, so is accessibility. If you're not accessible, you're going to have people with disabilities visiting your website and immediately bouncing. Whereas if you are accessible, your bounce rate is going to lower and your on-site time is actually going to improve. Because generally when people are using assistive technology, it takes them a little bit longer to navigate the website than somebody else. But overall, the approach to accessibility has to be integrated, that you need multiple approaches. You need best practices internally. Sometimes you will need manual work. It depends on the organization, and we do recommend this. And I certainly recommend that even if you have an overlay, and it does most, take care of your needs. I always recommend having user testing, which is something that we offer where you can have actual people with disabilities test your website, go through the whole thing, try to use it with their assistive technology, and give you a report and tell you, hey, is this working for me? Because the American system is confusing. And as you know, our legal system always worked perfectly. But the best test of accessibility is whether a real person can use this website. And so that's always what I tried to let people know that you can do all the work you want, whether it's manual or integrated. But the best test is having a real person use that website.


Kelly: Right. [Commercial] And so I want to go back to something that you said earlier, aside from sort of the moral responsibility and ethical responsibility that we have to design for everyone. Why does this matter so much to agencies that have any portion of the lifecycle of a website, from strategy to design, to development, to maintenance, and so on. Why does it matter to them in terms of legality, their clients? Like, give me a little bit more about how this benefit an agency? Because I can already, like, start to read the minds of my listeners and viewers, right? Why does it matter? What's in it for them kind of thing? Right?


Rafi: I get, right. And just like you, I think we're in agreement here, we'd love it if everybody did this, because it's the right thing to do. But business is business. So legally speaking, it is 100% the law that you need to be accessible. The specific laws in the US are a little bit unclear, the ADA in particular. And so even though the internationally recognized standard for accessibility is WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the ADA is not super clear about that. And the problem is that that's allowed certain attorneys to start issuing demand letters rather than a lawsuit. Don't need to be filed in court. They just send you a letter and say, hey, we'll sue you, basically will sue you if you don't give us 10 grand, or however many $1,000. And unfortunately, because of the way the US legal system works, most of the people who get these letters will call their lawyer, right? And the lawyer will explain, hey, we can take this to court, but it's going to be 20, 30, 40 grand and legal fees. It's cheaper for me to just negotiate with them down to three grand and we'll settle and it's all fine. And even though that might be theoretically the best move for that business owner at the time, it's really not because, it's like if you give a moose a muffin, that old book, that if you give them an inch, they want a mile. And this kind of thing. In my opinion, I don't think you would disagree that these kinds of lawsuits tend to create a lot more animosity towards people with disabilities than actual desire to be compliant. It creates a desire to not be sued rather than a desire to be accessible. And as much as we all want to avoid lawsuits. And more importantly, as agency people, we have a responsibility to our clients to make sure that they're aware of and protected from things like this. On the other side of the coin, though, according to the CDC, 26% of American adults live with a disability. I mean, not all of those people need assistive technology to use the internet. But let's say it's 5%, right? 5% of the market has a significant disability that requires them to use the internet in a different way. For 50 bucks a month, if you don't want to expand your potential market share by 5%, your business might have a bigger problem than accessibility. For an agency, I think it's a good line. But for agency owners out there, this is not just an opportunity to protect clients from potential litigation or to appear to be more inclusive. It's an opportunity to actually be inclusive and to capture a market that is very often not catered to. And one more point on that, the community of people with disabilities and there's data from Nielsen to show this is the most brand loyal community, and also one of the most likely to bring you referrals. And as an example, because we actually had the privilege of having a lot of people with disabilities come visit the office a few months ago, and one woman who happened to be blind told us a story that she went to a shoe store. They were very, very friendly, very accessible, and very helpful to her. And what does she do, not just go back to that shoe store the next time she needs sneakers, she put up a post on Facebook and in her WhatsApp groups with other people who are blind in their families and said, hey, these people, these stores care about us, go buy your shoes from them rather than from somebody else. And that's something that can make a real business difference for any kind of company.


Kelly: Yeah, there are so many reasons to do this. And I think what I appreciate is that we're moving the conversation and shifting the conversation from like, only legal and box checking. Doing it almost as I don't know, if you would say like an offensive or defensive positioning versus doing it because it's the right thing, because we want to make the web more inclusive, because like the ripple effect of only good comes from this, which is the case for best practices in general on the web. There's a reason why they’re best practices. Yeah, so we're just talking about, like, taking that even further, and making sure that those best practices are actually touching all of the people who are going to be using the websites that you build. So yeah, and the last time that we talked, you mentioned something about an agency partner program, which I would love to hear a little bit more about. And I think, again, listen, viewers would want to know a little bit more about that. What's it all about? How does it work? And like, where can people learn more about that?


Rafi: Absolutely. So, we have many partners in the US, and a lot of agencies work with us. And it's actually starting to be noticed among clients that clients are looking for agencies that offer packages that include accessibility. And a lot of agencies now offer, you have your GDPR compliance, you have your privacy policy, you have everything else, and accessibility too in that monthly package. So, we have more and more agencies joining that program. If anybody's interested, of course, go to or check out This is our website scanner. It's totally free. And you can use it as many times as you want. It checks any website for accessibility, and gives you a free 10-page report on exactly what's wrong and what's not wrong. So, you can understand how well you're doing now and how much you can improve. Now, the great thing about the partner program is that you'll actually get commissions or discounts. And what we usually see working really well is agencies will have monthly maintenance programs a lot package, right? And of course, everybody's always looking to increase their monthly recurring revenue. And what we've seen is a lot of agencies, including accessibility into there, whether as just a standalone widget cost, or more comprehensive costs, where you have ongoing testing, ongoing development work. For instance, once a quarter, once every six months, you'll have a full-on developer go in there and make sure that everything is working properly and properly coded. But it's becoming something that you can't offer any more, right? If a client comes to you and says like, hey, do you have an accessibility solution? And you say, no, they're probably going to go to a different agency. So, it's not something that we can put our heads in the sand about anymore. It's something that we have to approach proactively.


Kelly: Yeah. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that part of the program is also that the agency itself gets access to accessiBe on their own agency website. Right?


Rafi: Yes, you get your own website for free. Because, of course, the last thing we want is for you to be talking about accessibility and having an accessible website. And also, we want to make sure that our agency partners are taken care of. We want you to be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.


Kelly: Yeah. No, that's great. And, I think that the starting point, I mean, even if you're kind of like, oh, I'm not sure about the partner program yet, or whatever, I think just going to, which I guess is ace, starting there and seeing like, oh, well, what about my own agency website? Like, how does that measure up first? Or maybe I have a client who, for sure caters to some customers who have disabilities, like maybe start there, either one of those scenarios and just kind of take a look like, what are we looking at in terms of the evaluation or the assessment of how accessible these websites are that we have potentially built? Or even if we haven't built them? Right? I think it could be a good use case for agencies that aren't necessarily web developers, but could at least broach that conversation with some clients to like, move them into a place where their sites can be more accessible, more inclusive.


Rafi: Yeah, and it's a foot in the door with new clients, sorry to cut you out. It's a foot in the door with new clients as well. A lot of people are specifically looking for a solution for this. So, it can be a great way to know whether you're a strategist or anything else, it can be a great way to acquire a new customer and build trust with them.


Kelly: Yeah, I mean, again, so many business use cases. Yeah, I can't say enough. I'm really excited about it. And to that end, as we kind of start to wrap up here, I want to tease out that, to my listeners and audience, there is a really, really big announcement coming in 2022 for our very first episode, so stay tuned for that. I know, I'm kind of dangling a little carrot, but I'm really excited about it. And so, stay tuned for that. Make sure that, if you're not subscribed to the show that you do, get subscribed to whatever platform that you're listening on, or watching on right now. And again, if you want to learn a little bit more about accessiBe’s agency partner program, which I definitely recommend, head over to Rafi, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been an absolute pleasure.


Rafi: Thanks so much for having me. This was really fun.










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Episode 110: Why Your Employer Brand Matters, with Laura Tolhoek


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Laura Tolhoek discuss the importance of your employer brand and how it impacts hiring, recruitment, and more.



Episode 110: Why Your Employer Brand Matters, with Laura Tolhoek

Duration: 21:33



Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. Seems like everyone's having a really, really difficult time hiring these days. Today, I'm actually joined by Laura Tolhoek who's the founder and CEO of Essential HR in Canada. And we're going to talk about the importance of your employer brand and how that relates to hiring and recruitment and all of those things. We have really got to start to think about how we sell our agencies to potential employees. So, Laura, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really, really happy to be here with you.


Laura: Kelly, I'm so excited to be here. I think this is going to be a really fun chat.


Kelly: So alright, let's just start when I say employer brand, what do you actually mean by that? Because I think that there's going to be an initial question mark right out of the gate. And obviously, why would it be important for agencies?


Laura: Yeah. So, when we think brand, I mean, your people understand brand, everything they do is around brand. And so, it's really easy to think, when I say brand about, what is Southwest Airlines brand, what is Target's brand? What is the Starbucks brand? Automatically as consumers, we put characterizations around that, based on what they put out in the world or their own experience of what their product and services are. But I want you to flip that around and think about what I think of Southwest Airlines as an employer? What do I think of Target as an employer, or McDonald's or Starbucks, or Apple? What are those first characterizations that I give to it? And where's that coming from? What has been established that has made me think of Apple as a good or bad employer? And that's what we're talking about when it comes to the employer brand. Now, you may say, well, Laura, do I care about employer brand, I'm not Apple. I'm not Southwest Airlines. But this is the thing. We're competing for the same top talent for new hires, as the companies down the street, the big guys, the Targets, the Starbucks, we're competing for entry level individuals, those great new hires that are fresh out of college and university, full of ideas and full of energy as Southwest Airlines. So, we really need to know who we are as an employer, and start establishing our business and our story, from not only the brand for our clients, but the brand for what we want people to think of us as an employer.


Kelly: It almost seems to me like you're talking about something that is outwardly facing that is sort of an extension of like mission, vision, values positioning, like who we are in the world, who we serve, but also from that employer standpoint, who we are, what's important to us, what is our purpose, what is our lived mission, and what is it going to be like, potentially, if you work here as an employee.


Laura: Especially when we're starting out, and we don't have a large team, putting effort and time into consideration into that, we might know we want to be a good employer, or we might have had some bad experience in the past with some other corporate employers and said, we are not going to be like A, B or C.


Kelly: I don't know what you're talking about Laura.


Laura: But we also know we want to be like D, E and F. But as we're growing, let's be honest, we have 1000 hats. And the HR hat wasn't one that we thought, yeah, this was the one I'm going to pick up and I'm going to run with and sometimes these considerations get pushed on the backburner. And all of a sudden, we have a candidate in front of us that we really love. And we're trying to win them. And we haven't set up a system and we haven't really established who we want to be as an employer to provide that employment story to them and to why they want to work for us.


Kelly: That's interesting. So, employer story or employment story. That's interesting. Like I had never thought about that in this context before. That's kind of interesting. So, I'm imagining that there's some kind of intersection between the agency brand, or the brand of the agency, and then that employer brand. And is that kind of where that story intersects for these new recruits?


Laura: I'll give you a little bit of essential HRs employer story just to frame it out for interest. So, when I started essentially, HR, it was because I wanted part-time employment. I had a young family, and I thought if I'm going to work 60 hours a week, it's going to be for me and not for somebody else. Of course, I didn't want to work 60 hours a week. I wanted to work 30. So, I started Essential HR and we hit a great thing and we needed to expand so we started hiring employees. And I thought to myself, if I wanted part-time employment, flexible work opportunities, there's got to be other passionate, amazing HR people who also want these flexible work opportunities. And that's how we started building. Our employer brand is all about fractional, flexible and remote opportunities. So instead of hiding behind the fact that I was hiring only when we started out part-time people, that became a standard for which we were looking for people. And in the same sense, when you're having to hire, you really want to figure out why did I start this company? And why do people want to be a part of it? So, was it for your family, was it a passion? What is the underlying reason for why you started the company? Because people want to attach themselves to something they can be passionate about. And you're like, Laura, I'm a garage, or I'm an agency, we help people with marketing. It is what it is. It's not rocket science. We're not saving lives here. But you've got to dig down and say, okay, but there's something important to what we do. And we want people to be excited about that as well.


Kelly: Right. Like Simon Sinek says, do you believe what we believe, right?


Laura: Absolutely.


Kelly: Yeah, interesting. So, what kind of things would negatively affect an employer brand?


Laura: Yeah, so we can throw all and I'm not suggesting you throw all kinds of money into building an employer brand, if you're a small organization, because I think relationships trumps all the fancy websites or career pages that you might throw money at. I think what you have to really, really dig down into when you're establishing this employer brand is the systems for how you communicate with people. Now, in a lot of our companies, we've established communication systems for our clients, we have very high standards for how we communicate with clients, and the amount of communication and how often. But oftentimes, when it comes to hiring somebody, it becomes sidelined. And we know there's this awful stigma in the HR world that HR people tend to ghost potential applicants. And I call it a stigma, but it's the truth, we do. And it's something that as HR we are trying very hard to change, because when an applicant applies to you, and you don't look at that resume for three to five days, that might be normal, because maybe you're looking at them all a week after you post.


Kelly: Sure.


Laura: But that applicant, the minute they apply at your exciting opportunity that you put great information and a great job posting out for, they're waiting with bated breath every single second of the day, and 24 hours goes by that why haven't they called me yet. I'm the perfect candidate. I'm so excited. I really want to work there. And so, you got to know that, what feels like a week goes by, and it's a snap of a finger of time for you. For them, they're anxious about every minute that goes by, hoping that you're going to call them. And so then maybe you step in front of them and you have whether it's a virtual interview, or face to face interview. And I know again, we've all had that opportunity where we've gone for an interview, and you go and sit down and introduce yourself to the receptionist, say I'm here to meet so and so. And you sit down in your way and you smile nervously at everybody that walks by to show how excited you are, you showed up 15 minutes early, and it only brings more pain to your gut as you sit there nervously wondering if you should ask where the bathroom is. And then the person who's interviewing you shows up 10 or 15 minutes late. And so now you've sat there for half an hour, and you're still trying to make a great impression. And then you sit down for the person who's interviewing you, and they never open your resume. It doesn't feel prepared. All of that. And I get it. We're busy people as entrepreneurs, and as business owners, we have tons of things going on. But all of those little interactions establish your employer brand.


Kelly: Thank you for doing that. Thank you for walking through what it was like, from the experience and the perspective of the potential candidate, the potential employee, because what you did was you literally just dropped us into a really empathetic moment where we were living their experience. And so, whether you're an agency leader or owner, on the leadership team, or dealing with something related to HR, I think it's important for everyone to understand what that experience was like. I mean, we've all been there, regardless of what position we have right now. We've all been there. I was laughing as you were talking about it, because I'm like, oh, yeah, I literally did that once. Only once but yeah, entrepreneurship was definitely my path, but we've all been there, right? And so, remembering what it's like, is really important because what kind of experience do you want that candidate to have of your employer brand, right?


Laura: I'll give you an example from one of our clients who was competing for fresh out of university students. This was about a year ago. And when she offered her the job after going through the interview, the girl said, “Listen, it's Thursday. I have an interview on Monday with another employer. I just feel like I really need to take that interview to be able to make the right decision.” And our client called, she's like, “I'm freaking out. I really want this girl. She's amazing. She's awesome.” And we said, “Listen, you've done everything right to this point. You provided a great experience. Your office is beautiful. You have an amazing team. Let it be.” And then Monday, literally one o'clock, right after the interview, she called our client and said, “This interview has solidified the fact that yes, I want to work for you guys.” And that's the difference. And you're like, again, I'm 10 people, what does it mean? It makes a difference when your experience and everything about what you've done for this candidate makes them feel important, makes them feel like you're the right choice for their next career move.


Kelly: Yeah. And especially right now where it is so difficult to hire people, to find them, to hire them. I've had lots of clients say, okay, we're in the process of hiring for this particular position, we found somebody that we love, we waited three days to get back to them, because we were wondering about this other candidate. And in the meantime, they took another job. And we're like, gutted because of it. And that's the thing like even that at the tail end, once you've made a decision, if you are sure, make the offer because especially right now in this market, it's a wild west out there.


Laura: It is. And we've had clients who, the person has accepted the offer. And then four days later accepted a different offer. And or we've had, once I've gone on my favorite, they went all the way through the interview process, and then decided in this environment, it's too risky to move, they're going to stay where they are. And it's just like, oh, so now we've changed how we interview when we're pre-screening for clients to ask things like, tell me about any qualms that you might have? Or are there any other offers that you're engaged with right now? Are there any employers? And especially all the way through asking if you were to receive this role, what concerns do you have about it, so that we can try to get it off at the beginning, have that conversation in the beginning. And not two weeks or three weeks into the interview process, after the offer that they say, you're a really young company so I think it's a little risky at this point.


Kelly: Yeah, no, that's great. Those are great tips. And just changing that whole narrative and the whole set of questions that you might ask someone. I love that. [Commercial] So what types of HR policies and practices are typically necessary or included in creating an employer brand?


Laura: Yeah, so I would say the first system is the job description, getting clear about what the job is so that you can post it in a way that, so I call a job description as it's everything involved in that role, to responsibilities, tasks, work environment, key performance indicators. So, what makes somebody successful in this role? What are those statistics, and then you want to turn that into your job posting, and your job posting is not going to list the 1800 responsibilities and tasks. It's more like your dating profile. You really want that job posting to be enticing. And you want that job title to be something that makes sense. So, a lot of companies love to make up these creative titles, just for whatever reason, but it doesn't accurately explain to somebody on the outside what the role is, in the same way, that general laborer isn't exactly an enticing job type, either. So, you want to make sure that job posting is something that somebody be like, yeah, I really want to work there. So, when you start working at recruitment flow, so when we kind of touched on that, it is really important in the employer brand. The next step of it, though, is your onboarding. So once somebody has said, yes, they've signed on the dotted line, what are you doing to make sure that you've rolled out the red carpet for them? And again, I'm not judging. I get it. Everyone is so busy that you're like, Laura, if I had time to roll out a red carpet, I wouldn't need to hire somebody to begin with. But this is the thing, the statistics that they have, and I'm not going to quote them because I'll probably make up the wrong numbers, but they're pretty strongly suggesting that the engagement that you provide a new hire in their first day week, month, significantly impacts their efficiency, their effectiveness. So how quickly they get on board and their loyalty and engagement to the organization. So that investment upfront, makes great, great rewards on the back end.


Kelly: Yeah, it's almost like what you put into that person from the onset is what you're going to get out of them in the long term.


Laura: So having a system that when they show up, they feel like you knew they were coming. And there can be little things and big things. I'm not the best in terms of hospitality. It's never been my forte, but a few pieces of swag from your organization sent in advance with a letter saying, we're so excited to have you join the team, let me tell you how much of a long way that goes, or even just a little vase of flowers on their desk, if you're a brick and mortar. And then having on Monday morning, if you have an onboarding system, and it doesn't have to be intense, it doesn't have to be like, again, I'm talking to small businesses here. We don't have an onboarding department. But just some agenda that they need to talk to, what they need to do so that they feel that you are prepared for them. That's going to go a long way. Also, when an emergency happens on Monday morning, and you need to step away from that individual to take care of that fire, they have something to do other than stare at an empty desk and twiddle their thumbs or read an outdated employment policy manual.


Kelly: Right. Such a good point. I feel like this is where everybody falls off, like the onboarding process, primarily for employees, also for clients. But that's a whole other show. But primarily for employees, this is where it all falls off. It's like, “I don't know, Joe, starting on Monday. I guess he should talk to Amanda. Maybe he should shadow so and so.” Right? That never works as like pulling him off on some other employee who's potentially going to be doing something similar or has been in a similar role.


Laura: Yeah, on that note, though, maybe you aren't the right person to be doing onboarding. So, for example, if you have somebody on your team, who is the extrovert who brings the office together, who is that like light and without them, the energy's just a little bit less. They are your point person for that onboarding.


Kelly: That’s a good point.


Laura: Maybe it's not you.


Kelly: I mean, it shouldn't be you as the owner, right?


Laura: So that being said, prepping the individual who is doing the onboarding, giving them the tools, time and resources to be able to do it properly is important. But let's just take a step back and figure out who is the right person to be giving the best experience to this individual. Who should we be setting them up to go out to lunch with?


Kelly: Okay, so now we have an idea of what we're talking about by employer brand, why it matters. So, as we start to wrap up, how do agencies get started with their employer brand strategy? If this is new to them, and trust me, this is new to 95% of them.


Laura: Yeah, I think it's taking it step by step. So, you can eat the whole frog in one bite. Let's start with the recruitment process. So, what pieces in the recruitment process do you need, and the easiest place to start is just the communication. If you can just change your communication with a client, or with a potential applicant, it's going to change that whole dynamic of that loyalty in that engagement, that person wanting to work for you. And then the second piece, take a look at the onboarding. And that's a system that can be set up based off of your state, federal, or even your municipal requirements for what an individual needs to have, from a payroll health and safety perspective, paperwork, stuff, paperwork, stuff, but also in terms of any person that comes in the organization, how do we integrate them in our team. So, if you can just take one hour to put your mind towards those two items, and then write it down on a piece of paper, because the thing is, your next new hire is going to come quicker than you know, and all of a sudden going to be like, oh, I wish three months ago, I put that onboarding information together or so let's try again. Again, I get it. Let's try to be proactive on this rather than waiting again until Monday morning. So, take it in small bites. But if you're also looking for some information in terms of defining your employer story, we've created a guide and we call it the five steps to amplify and identify and amplify your employer brand and it just helps you think through things that you might be overlooking in terms of your established culture, which could include things like your physical environment, how your team deal, how your team interacts. So, we have that download available for your listeners if they're looking to do that, and that can be found at


Kelly: That's perfect. Thank you for putting that together. I will definitely make sure that the production team puts that in the show notes. Absolutely. Laura, this has been really, really helpful. I think it gives agencies as employers a really good sense of why this is so important, especially as they're trying to compete with other agencies for top talent. And a lot of these little things. A lot of these things are small tweaks, right? It's not that you have to reinvent the wheel. But it's little tweaks and little optimizations along the way, along this entire, I guess, I would call it like candidate experience. So, we say CX is like customer experience, but maybe CX in this case is candidate experience, and really being very intentional about how you communicate with them, how you integrate them, how you make them feel like part of the team. It goes such a long way. So, I really, really appreciate your insights on this.


Laura: Oh, I'm glad to be here Kelly. Thank you so much for having me.




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Episode 109: What Does Change Management Offer? with Dr. Steve Yacovelli


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Dr. Steve Yacovelli discuss how agency leaders can foster internal and external change that is both inclusive and impactful.



Episode 109: What Does Change Management Offer? with Dr. Steve Yacovelli

Duration: 18:41


Kelly: Welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today I'm joined by Dr. Steve Yacovelli. He's known as “The Gay Leadership Dude”. And yes, it is actually trademarked. He's got a funny story about that. But Steve is actually a change management expert, focusing specifically on leadership and inclusion. He's the author of a book called Pride Leadership, and is represented by consciousness leaders. So welcome to the show my friend. Really excited to talk to you today.


Steve: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here.


Kelly: So, we were catching up before we hit the record button. And you're up to some really, really interesting things. I'd love for you to share a little bit about your backstory and the things that you're up to right now.


Steve: So, during this weird and wonderful reflective time that we're in, I've kind of tried to take it as your physician heal thyself, and as a development professional, very well, what can I develop? And so, I've been thinking about what are the gaps in my own competency. And so, one of those is, I will be the first to admit I am not a salesperson. Despite being in business for 14 years, as a full-time gig, I've been very lucky with some really awesome clients and stuff. So, I decided I need to know how to really sell. And so, I mean, I’m in an awesome sales class right now with some experts, and a lot of entrepreneurs and folks in my situation. And then one of my areas of passion for the long term is, I really want to position myself to be, sit on a corporate board of directors. I did on many, many nonprofit boards and all that fun stuff, but I want to get kind of to that bigger space. And so also as a queer person, the point 1% of corporate board seats are filled by LGBTQ+ folks. And so, I'm like, yeah, there's an opportunity there. And couple that with both the S&P 500, as well as the state of California have made some mandates about inclusivity. Our opportunity is widening. So, I'm trying to position myself to be ready for that. And so, I'm in this really cool Harvard class for underrepresented minority folks for corporate boards, and it finishes next week, but boy, is it intense? Yes. Good. It's like, whoa.


Kelly: Yeah, there's so much there. So, point 1% is, I think that was kind of astonishing to me. When you mentioned that to me earlier today, I can't believe that that's the number and so I guess, these mandates and these things are just in the vein of moving toward inclusivity across the board. They're super, super, necessary. And it's great. I love that you were super humble, like, oh, yeah, just as Harvard class.


Steve: I mean, well, yeah, I'm a nerd, I have my doctorate. So, there's that whole fun stuff. But I was looking for something to do to really exercise my brain. And the first thing is that I feel kind of stupid in that class.


Kelly: That's probably the sign that it's a great class, then.


Steve: Absolutely.


Kelly: If you're not the smartest one in it.


Steve: And I'm okay, there's 49 other folks in it from all over. And a lot of these are like C-suite kind of executives at big companies. And I'm like, hi, I have a TopDog Learning Group. How are you?


Kelly: No, it's awesome. So today, we're talking about change management, right? And so, I think there's a lot of confusion around some of the terminology, organizational development, IO, psychology and change management, and they all get sort of grouped together. So, let's kind of level set, like what are we talking about? What do we mean by change management? And then if you could kind of share a little bit as to like, how is it different from these other related disciplines?


Steve: Sure. So, change management, the concept is a very concerted programmatic approach to fostering change from taking an organization, a business, from point A to point Z, and to minimize what we call it the dip. So, with any change in your business, that could be a new business process. It could be mergers, acquisitions, or big stuff, it could be small stuff, like new software, humans have to adapt to stuff. And so, change management is the process of really thinking through how we get our people from point A to point Z, and minimize that lack of productivity in that middle. And so, anyone who has a business who's been in business knows, when you add something new, it takes time. There's that learning curve, that ramp, there's confusion. There's this thing called the four rooms of change that some psychologists have identified where we all go through these different facets or areas, but it's a smart approach to really thinking through what are the different ways we can minimize that lack of productivity to get people where they need to go so that they're using the tool, the process whatever, as efficiently as we hope.


Kelly: And so, how is that different from these other things that these terms that I feel like are used synonymously and interchangeably, but are actually quite different.


Steve: So, when we think about like, like, let's say, organizational development. That's where we're trying to get the workplace to be better at something and to develop them to help them grow. Could that be considered change? Sure. Is it a full-blown programmatic approach? Maybe, depending on the group, but is it say incorporating communication strategies as part of that? Maybe, maybe not. So that's kind of some of the nuances a lot of times when people say organizational or human development. They're talking about the person and training. So, when you look at a full change management project, yes, training is absolutely one of the swim lanes. But there's nothing for other people, there's definitely for others, that you have to consider at the very minimum in order to really foster true lasting change within the business.


Kelly: So as agencies, because we want to yes, we want to touch on change management, we want to understand what that's all about. But we also want to focus on inclusivity. Right? Because that's part of your expertise. And it's also part of where the world is going, thankfully. So as agencies, we have this opportunity, where we can foster change from an inclusivity standpoint, just like the marketing and the advertising that we produce in the world. So can you talk a little bit more about that, and how that's kind of related to this as well.


Steve: So, when we think about change management, a lot of times we talk about that from an internal perspective, like I said, we're adding a new business process, how do we get people to use it. So, we really think about it because it's closest, though, we can control that. So, there's that change piece of it. And then we can talk about more systemic, more cultural shifts, or more cultural changes, where we can at least have a one piece of influence. But obviously, we're one drip in the greater scheme of the world. And so, I think agencies' opportunity to foster say, inclusivity, or a sense of belonging is thinking through in a very strategic way. What are the ways that we can foster change? And so, it's maybe the images we use, maybe it's the approach we take, maybe it's the clients we play with. You're thinking through how we can have those conversations. I know, when my own clients, a lot of times they'll come to me, like we went to a training class, but I still approach it as a change management project. And I say, absolutely, will create the training. But what are you doing for your measurement strategy? What do you mean, Steve? How are you going to know if it works? You're spending money with me and my business. And we'll do it. But how are you going to know if it moves people from A to Z? What about the communication strategy that goes with it? How are you going to advertise this within the business and get people excited for it, and communicate its effects to people? Oh, we didn't think about that. And I think agencies can do something similar with their clients, and ask those right questions to say, how are you fostering inclusivity with the work we're doing? How are you going to make sure that things are working the way we want them to and that you're making a better impact, a bigger ding in the universe? And asking those coaching questions to really help foster change.


Kelly: And from what I gather from our talk earlier, resiliency is a really big component of this also, and one of the things that you said to me, that kind of really landed was that most people focus on either the business impact, or the business resiliency impact, or the human resiliency aspect of this. And if you're focusing on one or the other, that's actually why you fail, right? So, I think that this is really fascinating. And I'd love to hear more about it.


Steve: When you look at some of the research that's out there. And so, one of the groups that I'm certified in, when I worked at IBM, I was a change consultant several years ago, that's kind of where I fell into all this stuff. And so, the work was, we'd sell something, and all these amazing smart technologies, people would go and build whatever it is they're doing. And my team had to go in and get the humans to use it. So, a lot of times the focus was on just how it impacts the bottom line, the business, and that was, yes, that's a nice place to think about, hey, we're business people, I get it. But when you think about the concept of resiliency as humans, and just think about your own sales, especially the last 18, 19, 20 months, yeah, we all have a saturation point as humans to have things that change. Why? Well, because change meant lack of safety for us as a species and so that's why a lot of humans really don't like change, or have a level of tolerance for change. And so, as somebody who's trying to facilitate a change within my workplace within my business, what I need to be cognizant of is, what are the human saturation points for change around me. And so, that's the resiliency part. And it's very different for each person. And that's what makes change hard. We fear change, I think it's fun to be quote, but thinking through it from the individual perspective, and how they're approaching change, because even in the workplace, that's one change. I can leave the workplace and have your three changes at home, like you have ers and galley, all the things that are happening with us personally, professionally. There's a bigger scope to us humans in our experience, and smart leaders, smart agency owners. And understand that saturation point and really helped to work through everybody, being resilient in times of change. But it's an individual perspective.


Kelly: Yeah, I think that's such a great point. Because we do, we lose sight of it, we think of our business, our employees, we have things to get done, we have clients to manage, and deliverables to provide. And we get caught up in this kind of insular view, for lack of a better term. And so, we forget about the fact that the people who are really our products, because that agency, like the peep, the clients are buying our team's talent, their expertise, their creativity, their ability to execute. So, we forget that our product, and I absolutely use that in quotes, because I want to be very clear that I'm using that for emphasis, like our product is human. And, there's a lot to that. And living a human experience doesn't mean that our employees are only focused on the work, right? Especially because most of them are working from home. Some of them indefinitely. And so, you might have someone working on a project for you, but like their kid is crawling down the stairs, like right next to you. So, there's just more to think about.


Steve: I think from a broader perspective, what I now have thinking about just in general leadership, in my book, Pride Leadership, I focus on six competencies that I've seen over the 25 plus years of being in this space, really work for leaders, and one of the top six is empathy. And I think what we're talking about is, and I think this is one of the silver linings of this whole experience we've been going through is we've had these little tiny zoom windows into people's worlds, like you said. And we could see that kid falling down the steps or whatever it is. But I think that's been a beautiful thing. We're seeing what's really happening. These windows are two people's worlds, and it's giving us a better sense of hopefully being a little bit more empathetic on their true situation, as well as their authenticity as an employee, as a representative of our brand.


Kelly: Yeah, I think it's a great reminder to us as leaders that like there's so much more dimension behind the people who we're seeing on Zoom. So, as we start to wrap up, let's kind of keep to this resiliency theme, because I think it's really important. What are your top three strategies for agency leaders to kind of build their own resilience?


Steve: Of course, we were talking about this and in the work that I've been doing, and I love to focus on the human piece of resiliency and when we talk about change in general, and there's a lot of great books out there, a lot of great things in Google. I read about 29 books. I was creating a class on being resilient and a lot of them had overlap. And I think the top three that really stuck out to me or the first one was having a positive perspective and your positive view of the world. I’m former Disney as well. It's not, “Oh boy, everything is great.” It's not that at all.


Kelly: That impression was too spot on.


Steve: Years of being with a mouse, but when we talk about having a positive view of the world, it's not rose-colored glasses kind of thing. It's being able to say when you've had that if anyone who's listening, who hasn't child who's maybe read the book, Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, if not, it's a great children's book, but it's his little kid and he's had a bad day. And he's like, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. And it's about him trying to get out of it and have a positive view of the world. So even when we humans, as adults, have those bad days, that we could say, you know what, that was a crappy day. But you know what went well for me is these three things. And that's being resilient. And so having that attitude is probably the first of the three to really help you through times of change. The second is we call it having a positive or a healthy self-concept. And it's just knowing first of all, what you bring to the table, maybe what you don't as well. So having that understanding, but more importantly it’s having that theory, or that exposure that you know what, you've been here before, whether you know it or not, and it may feel a little bit different. It's maybe a different context, but unless you're an insanely blessed person, we've had highs and lows in our world and we've all hopefully been able to bounce back from those lower to those higher points. What was it that got us through that time and reflect, bring that forward on how we can do that, in these current times? And then the last is kind of the probably the biggest, it's the one going back to that safety. And it's uncomfortable with uncertainty. And the biggest thing I say here is that, a lot of times, we're in these ambiguous situations, and we start putting our energy in certain places, and what we need to do as humans is take a step back and say, okay, there's three different categories going on here. There are things I can control. There are things I can't control, but I can influence. And then there's things I can't control, nor can I influence, and then really analyzing where we're focusing our energy. And a lot of times on the folks that I coach and talk to, they realize that they're focusing their energy on the outside ring, which is the uncertainty they can't control or influence. So, it's like, why are you focusing your energy, they're moving a little bit, and you'll be more resilient in those times of change. So, the top three, that I think are really smart to think about, as you think about not just yourself, but also those around you to be more resilient in times of change.


Kelly: I think these are great. They're incredibly helpful. And, even though there isn't specificity in terms of like an example, I think that's actually not such a bad thing in this case, because it gives us the opportunity to say, okay, you know what, let me take this and see how I can actually apply this to what I'm actually doing, or what I'm actually thinking about, or how I am actually showing up. I think the positive mindset thing, or the positive outlook is really important. And I think it's very important for us to say, we are not talking about faking positivity, or just developing an abundance mindset out of nowhere without any training or practice or anything. This is not like manifestation 101. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's rooted in, I am valuable. I did other things today that moved the needle, or that made me happy or brought me joy, or whatever the case may be. And I think focusing on those things is really important because tomorrow is also another day. And sometimes we forget that because again, we had that insular view. And it's hard as leaders, like I get it.


Steve: Very hard. One of the things that I talked about, actually in my class on resiliency, is a very easy tactic, everybody listening, everybody viewing can do in order to be more positive, have a more positive view of the world, regardless of where you're at. And it's called the what went well journal. All you do at the end of the day, take out your phone, take out a tablet, whatever, your old school, or your iPad, if you're cool school, and just identify five things that went well today. That's it. Write down five things, and then just do that the next day. And so, when you have those hard days, it can be hard to find five things. But what studies show is that you literally rewire your brain to find those positive pieces. It's like when you buy a new car, and it's maybe new to you, but also, you're driving around like, wow, everybody has a Mini Cooper, they must have been like Steve has a mini. He's awesome. That's not what happens. But we have a heightened sense of awareness. That's what doing what went well in a journal can really do for you.


Kelly: Right. This is all really helpful. Thank you so much for joining me today, Steve. I really appreciate it.


Steve: Thanks. Appreciate it.

















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Episode 108: Overcoming Sabotage as Agency Leaders, with Brandon Wilson


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Brandon Wilson discuss the impact of sabotage on our leadership pursuit and how to overcome it when it’s present both around and within us.



Episode 108 :Overcoming Sabotage as Agency Leaders, with Brandon Wilson

Duration: 32:49 

Kelly: Welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. I have a question for you. What if you didn't actually look at your job as leading an agency? What if you looked at it as creating leaders? Today, I'm talking with Brandon Wilson, who's the CEO of Wilbron, a purpose-focused PR firm located in Birmingham, Alabama. He's a highly sought-after communications consultant, actually a New York Times scholar, and is the author of a book called Sabotage. Brandon, welcome to Thrive my friend. I could not be more excited to have you and to talk with you today.


Brandon: Likewise, thank you so much for having me, Kelly.


Kelly: So, I mean, we got to start somewhere. Right? So, sabotage is a really interesting word. How do you define sabotage? And talk maybe a little bit about how we need to broaden that definition?


Brandon: That's a big question to start off with. And I'll do it in a way that's palpable, for those who are driving or maybe listening on the fly. And I'll start by talking about what I do. So, what I do every day is I connect very talented leaders to doing really bold and audacious things. That's what I do. Every day, I wake up when a leader calls and they say what they want to do A. I say, no, we need to do A, B, C, and D. And this is how we get after it. And in that time, I've been providing management consultancy to more than 100 college presidents. I've helped them build buildings on their campus, expand their campus, enrollment, go from being a college to a university. I work with executives at Apple, and right now we're working with them to build an actual college campus, which I'm really excited about, working with Yale professionals at Yale to get after global health disparities in Canada and the US and in parts of Africa. And, what I've learned over my experience in helping to connect leaders to really powerful and bold pursuits, is that there are three types of leaders. The first leader is the one who does what's instructed, and this is about leadership development, about who does what's instructed. They're given things to manage, then they're the leaders who are to lead within or to manage them, they are the leaders who are given things to manage within. And these leaders, they do things for the sake of getting them done. Like I want to get it done. I got it done. I completed that checklist check. And a lot of people are trying to drive and say, yeah, I'm going to do a lister, like I'm going to check boxer. I'm getting it done. And then there's another level of leadership, another level of leader who connects the things they have to get done, the things that they are responsible to a sense of urgency, because they understand the consequences of them being successful or not being successful. And as a lot of the leaders that I engage with are those leaders, they understand that I have to fulfill this thing. Because I can make the world a better place, or the world might miss out on this or that if I am not successful. And it's those leaders who start to have conversations with me about not just about what things I can do, but about the barriers that they either put in front of themselves, or that are imposed upon them that stop them from getting after that pursuit. And this is sabotage. It’s any activity that seeks to subvert, slow down, scuttle, confuse, frustrate you, your leadership, and your pursuits, all for personal gain. And it's all around us.


Kelly: I mean, thank you for bringing that full circle. That's an incredible definition of sabotage. It's a word that we don't use that often. So that's why it's memorable or remarkable because it really just sticks out. And so that's your definition of sabotage. With your work in the world, what is the broader definition that we actually have to start thinking about? Because I'm going to imagine that this is a process, we have to train ourselves to start, sort of broaden this definition and understanding.


Brandon: You do, and that activity can be defined in a myriad of ways based on our own lives. And I want to give name to a face to it. And these are the things that we typically think about and I'll start on that end of the spectrum, and then work myself to the part of the spectrum that we usually don't spend as much attention talking or focusing on. When we think about sabotage on the extreme end of the spectrum, that's really common. We usually think about theft. Oh, somebody stole something from me. When we think about deceit, everybody's been lied to in their life. That's an act, those are acts of sabotage. We think about being betrayed if you go down that. Oh, I've been betrayed. The part of the spectrum that we don't tend to think a lot about is the self-sabotage, the theft that we do to our sales, the betrayal we do to our sales, and the things we steal from our sales. I have a great story about that. About 2014 or so, I had a brilliant idea. As we all do, I woke up and I was on fire. I said, “This is what we're going to do. I'm going to start a grocery delivery service. I'm going to start a technology that allows moms to shop for other moms. I'm going to do it.” And I just came out of a bad business venture, which we'll learn about later on. And I said, bad business venture be damned. I'm going to do this. So, I woke up. I willed myself to write a business plan. I failed. Some supporters, I went to go talk to my attorney. They say it's a brilliant idea. I hired a research firm to research the appetite, no pun intended, of people, for a grocery delivery technology. And, as I was leaving that research group, the person I was speaking with said, “Well, hold on, Mr. Brandon. There's another guy who is doing something similar to what you're trying to do. And he’s struggling. It’s hard work. Oh, he got stuff all over his garage. He can't even move some of the stuff he's doing. It's horrible. Are you sure you want to do this?” I think about it. Oh, got in my car. It's like, of course, I get in my car. And I said, am I sure I want to do this. I go home and talk to my wife. And my wife said, “Well, listen, you just got out of this bad deal. Are you sure we could take on this?” And I was like, “I don't know.” Then I started talking to myself. And I told myself, what do I know about the grocery industry? Like, what do I know about technology? What do I know about any of this stuff? And I talked myself out of pursuing the venture. I sabotaged myself. And it was because I saw myself as incapable, like my self-perception of myself was someone who was incapable of doing it. It was a self-limiting thought that I had. Whereas at the same time across town, in the same city, there was a guy who was a high school dropout from a family of entrepreneurs, who had the same idea. His name is Bill Smith. And he started this company, grocery delivery service. He didn't see himself as incompetent or incapable. He saw himself as a winner. And he did it. He got it done right down the street, literally 10 miles away from my house. So, he got it done. And you may have heard of that company. That company that he started is called Shipt. It's sold in about 2017 or so to Target for $500 million. And I was in a private meeting with the chairman and CEO, Brian Cornell of Target. And he stood at that meeting, and he said you want to know why I bought Shipt? You want to know why I did it? And I was like why? He said, because I thought it was revolutionary, that there was a technology that would allow moms to shop for other moms. I was like, that's my idea. But I stole $500 million from myself. And we rarely talk about that, that part of sabotage.


Kelly: I love that reframe. I mean, this is a negative refrain, but I kind of like it.


Brandon: Yeah, we steal all kinds of opportunities from our sales. And if we start to realize the forces within us, there are forces external people do, betray, steal, and deceive us. But when we start also looking at the betrayal, theft and deceit that we do to ourselves, that self-sabotage we'll start to read the forces in our lives that stop us from achieving our best lives.


Kelly: Yeah. So, kind of building on this like, yes, there are internal and external factors idea. In the book you talk about the four horsemen of sabotage or saboteurs. Can you talk a little bit about those? Because I think that's a good place to kind of keep the conversation going.


Brandon: Well, I appreciate that segue. The reason I wrote the book, and then I'll get into the four horsemen of sabotage is because I started to speak with leaders, as I said earlier, who were really high powered, but then I start to speak to leaders who are not building campuses, like they're just leading families, which is a monumental leadership pursuit. They're starting businesses, which is a monumental thing. And it may be a solo practitioner, which is a monumental thing to do. Or they're just being a role model for their children. And every one in every three leaders that I spoke with, had their own story of sabotage. And they didn't share it with anybody. And I say that I start to ask in my research in the book, why aren't you talking about this. And they instantly talk about how embarrassed they were.


Kelly: Mortified. That's the word that comes from me.


Brandon: Mortified. It weighed on them. They had to sweep it under the rug, not put a light on it. Because of course, this couldn't be happening to anybody. And if somebody in your audience is one of those people, it is happening to everybody. That's the message I want you to know. I totally can talk about this thing. And what I also realize is that even less people, who were prepared with the tools needed to overcome sabotage, or to see sabotage before it happens. And so, the analogy that I like to give is that where something physically breaks, let's say, an airplane doesn't fly. There are mechanisms inside of an airplane that stop it from propelling forward. And it sabotaged that airplane, because the airplane now cannot do what it is purposefully built to do. Your refrigerator if an engine goes and it sabotages that and it won't make anything cool, it sabotages the purpose. Well, there are things in and around our lives that we could also look to, that seek to sabotage us, maximizing, or even realizing it, fulfilling the purpose that we're built to do. And there are four of them. We call these four horsemen of sabotage. And these four horsemen are identified to give you the eyes, the lenses, to see betrayal, theft and deceit before it impacts your leadership pursuit, and not in any particular order. But the first is jealousy. If you, yourself are a jealous person, or if you see people around you who are jealous, and I'll define what jealousy is, and that is hatred disguised as anything, but it is loathing to see someone else win. And it is also a mentality that says that the pie is fixed. But if you gain a yard, I've lost a yard. And if you find yourself surrounded by those folks, then there's a set of sabotage that follows that horseman, and the book details, the kind of activities that come with that horseman, but even more what you can do to protect your leadership and your leadership journey from those activities that's powered by the horsemen of jealousy.


Kelly: I really like this. I just want to pause here for a second because it's almost like if you use the analogy of love or being in a relationship, it's like, there's an infinite amount of love available. Right? And so, if I love one person, it doesn't mean that there's less love for other people.


Brandon: Yeah, that's right.


Kelly: So, I think what's important about these terms and how we're applying them to personal and business, is being able to kind of jump back and forth and oscillate back and forth between how this applies in business. When I view a competitor as stealing all my clients.


Brandon: There are clients everywhere.


Kelly: There are clients everywhere and that other agency might have been a better fit for them. You don't actually know what the inner workings are. Focus on yourself. There's plenty to go around.


Brandon: That's right. No, that's some great background. [Commercial] The other horseman is arrogance. And arrogance needs no introduction. There are people who we lead people, we work with who have a heavy resistance to training or to corrective insights or to critical insights about how they can be better consumers, feedback in any way. And these folks who are arrogant are literally not self-aware. I mean, they're highly curated, and they care about themselves, but they lack vision of themselves in a particular environment. And that lack of vision positions them as a horseman, to do activities with lack of concern about the impact that it has on everybody else.


Kelly: Less empathy.


Brandon: That's right, less empathy. These folks are positioned to be defiant as employees and defiance is an act of sabotage. It is an activity that seeks to frustrate, slow down what you're after, for selfish gain. So, employee defiance is the next sabotage that’s driven and fueled by the horseman of arrogance. The third horseman is lying. And there are different levels to lying. Those who like to say, don't look at me, so that I can continue to operate in the way that I like to operate. And then there's also a level of lying that lies to harm others, that literally says, oh, that person did A, B, and C. Go and get them. My CEO, the ABC, go get him or her, like, go get them. And so, lying as a horseman. So, whenever you find someone around you, or the force of lying or dishonesty around you, there's a set of activities. And the last is seduction. Seduction is an incredibly captivating horseman because it thrives in its joy, people who are seducers find great pleasure in getting you to come along their journey to doing things that may skirt really close to the lines of ethics. They really don't care about whether or not the means or the end is justified by the means. And it's not really about doing something that's unseemingly, or doing something that's unethical or doing something that's close to unethical. Their pleasure is convincing you to come along with them. And they have a lot of tactics that they wield to get you to say, yes, I want to come along on this journey.


Kelly: Is this sort of like the thing that comes up for me when you're saying that is like challenging integrity, or challenging human values?


Brandon: That's right. That's right. And, one of the things, the tactics that they use is they'll say, listen, if we're successful in this, when I get that next promotion, and become the senior account director at my agency, I'm going to bring you along and put you in my division. Yes, you're coming with me? And we keep doing it again. But the end of that ruse always, always ends in that person who has been seduced, becoming the fallen person at the end of the day. And so, we could think about those four horsemen of sabotage, as canaries in the coal mine, but it's also important to think about them also, as things that we can inflict on others. You also have to be very self-aware.


Kelly: Or to a third one is things that we unknowingly are doing to ourselves or practicing within ourselves.


Brandon: That's right. Absolutely.


Kelly: It's internal. It’s external, but the external could go toward other people or toward us, right?


Brandon: That's right.


Kelly: There are 3 different ones. It's so interesting. Like, as you're talking, I'm like, oh my God, it started out as a little nebulous. And now I'm like, oh, wow, this is really, really fascinating. Because the way that you talked about it was like, oh, these types of people, but actually, it's even greater than that.


Brandon: That's right. I call them forces.


Kelly: Forces.


Brandon: Forces within our lives and around our lives that we need to protect ourselves against. And the question is, why? Like, why does it matter as a leader, and I call protecting your leadership from sabotage, I call it a leadership discipline. In the same way, we call a leadership discipline to be a reader or a learner or to be resilient, or to be a great communicator. We also need to also be very masterful when it comes to protecting our leadership pursuits from sabotage. And if you think about it this way, and I hope this is an aha moment for those listeners and viewers who might be on the fence thinking that sabotage has little to do with me is that, every mentor that we've ever had, every strategist that has ever gone, and had astronomical success, were those people who we call wise, but they are wise, because they are adept at building a leadership journey toward doing really big and audacious things with as little barriers as possible. They know how to protect their pursuits from the forces of sabotage. And there are a couple of examples from this. I like to start with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a persistent target for sabotage.


Kelly: Sure.


Brandon: He's a womanizer. He's an absentee husband. He's not ethical. He's in over his head. And if he allowed those saboteurs, whether they be the federal government, which is well documented, to be successful, then we would literally, we would have a different world than we have today.


Kelly: Absolutely.


Brandon: Another leader is Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was a victim of sabotage. He hired a guy named John Sculley from Pepsi company to be a CEO, while he went out and focused on building the iMac, I mean, and his whole pursuit was not the iMac. His pursuit was figuring out a way to put the computer in the palm of our hands. Sculley just wanted to be a CEO of an innovative company. And Steve was in his way. Yeah, it was ego. He was in his way. So, he effectively got Steve Jobs fired from the company he started. Think about that. I mean, think about it. What was in Steve Jobs? His second act was fueled by leadership discipline that we don't talk enough about. And that is the ability to know who was for him and who was against him in his pursuit. He knew how to protect all of his pursuits. From all of those forces that we just talked about sabotage. He actually called what Sculley did to him, betrayal. And it's because he understood how to overcome that leadership sabotage, that we now have the iPhone, that we now have these incredible cameras on these phones, that we now have these incredible MacBook Pros, that we now have all of this and technology. But even more than the technology, Steve Jobs proved himself, just as Martin Luther King, Jr. did prove himself to be that third kind of leader that we talked about earlier. They refuse to be deterred, or stopped, because they married the things that they were after to the consequence it can have or bear on the world around us.


Kelly: If they didn't.


Brandon: Yeah, absolutely. If they didn't succeed.


Kelly: Pursue it.


Brandon: The same with Mahatma Gandhi. The same with Thomas Edison, the same with JP Morgan, whether you agree or not, they view their leadership journey as consequential. That's a word that we don't marry with leadership enough. What they're doing and what your audience members are doing, has incredible consequences. And whenever we allow sabotage to interrupt our leadership, we're allowing those saboteurs to rob our worlds of the gifts of our leadership.


Kelly: Right. Yeah, it's really fascinating. And I wouldn't even call this like a reframe. But I do think that there's some kind of mindset shift here, where in like shadow work, we call it, like, a 180. What is the benefit that I would have missed out on had I not gone through this traumatic experience? And what we're saying here is like, from a leadership perspective, what is the potential negative impact? If I don't pursue this to the best of my ability, right?


Brandon: Yes.


Kelly: I really, really liked that. So, as we start to wrap up, I'd love to kind of talk about, you mentioned interruption, right? So, if we have this idea of uninterruption or uninterrupted, how do we actually catch it? All of these four horsemen, how do we catch ourselves before they interrupt our lives and disrupt our lives and potentially destroy any opportunity for us to find that success?


Brandon: Yeah, this is a great place to end. Because I want to share a personal story. Now, there's a great author that said, “To first write a book, you must first become the book.” And I am not just espousing what I've read in a book. I've lived and survived and overcome sabotage. So, for all your audience members, it happened before 2014, around 2012 or so. I said, “Listen, the abbreviated part of the story is that I'm going to grow my agency, and I'm going to grow it by acquisition. I'm going to buy other agencies. And I got a phone call from a good friend of mine, who said that there was one of the oldest agencies in America, I was interested in selling, and they put us, put me together with their chairman and CEO. And we had a great relationship. He was gregarious. He was incredibly well connected. I allowed myself to be put into a mentor-mentee relationship with him. He was a very older gentleman. And, because of that uneven relationship, and because the prospects of doing that business deal would make me millions of dollars, I pursued even against good advice. And one of the bad pieces of advice I got was to set up an asset sale prematurely, where we would set up a third entity, and then our monies will start going to that third entity. I started putting money, sending clients, putting things into this third entity, all under while doing due diligence, all against my advice, advice of legal counsel, and about a year into this ruse, I got a call from our attorney, and he says, “Brandon, you got to come to my office.” And he showed me a UCC check. And, that third entity never existed. And he said, “Brandon, where is your money going? He's taking your money.” And so, we filed separation documents. We moved. And this is when that person revealed himself as a saboteur. I remember taking the documents to him or sending them over to him, and we had a conversation and it went like this. He said, “Brandon, I know you said, you're going to stop giving me my money. But I'm going to keep taking it. And if you don't continue to give me my money, I'm going to kill your wife.” That's what he said. I'm going to kill your wife. And he leans back in his chair. And this bully says, “I'll tell you how I'm going to do it.”


Kelly: Oh, my God.


Brandon: “I'm going to call the buddies at the police department at the Attorney General's office, and I'm going to have all these trumped-up charges against you. And if they come and arrest you, I know you can get out because you got my money. He said sort of half jokingly. He said, “But what I'm really after is the mug shot. I want to give you a mug shot so I can send it all-around town and have you black-balled. But this is how it's going to kill your wife. It is going to kill your wife because she's going to have to look in the mirror every day and look at her friends every day and know that they know that she's married to a crook. Do you want that kind of life, young man?”


Kelly: Wow.


Brandon: And I got up and walked away. And I fought. I punched the bully back. And I survived. Nearly $700,000 later. But it was that experience that made me realize how persistent sabotage is and it led me on a journey to talk with other folks about how evasive sabotage is as well. And there are two things that we can do that can stop us from being victims of sabotage in closing. One of those is to always lead with integrity, even if it means that we have to stand alone. Never run with the crowd. I mean, just lead with integrity. And then the other thing to stop self-sabotage, the power palette for stopping self-sabotage is to harness and curate a positive self-identity, view yourself as a winner, view yourself as a fighter, view yourself as a finisher, and then you will do those things. And self-sabotage will have less of an effect on your pursuit to offer your gift of leadership to the world around you.


Kelly: I love that. Thank you for sharing that story by the way. What are two things that you do to cultivate that practice, that internal self-love, self-caring that you're talking about?


Brandon: I do business at the speed of relationship, not the speed of transaction. I do it all the time. I mean, that is a thing for me. The speed of business is really fast. And so, we want to run, run, run, run, run, run, run. Oftentimes, in doing that, we invite what we call vendors into our lives, oh, the keyword. On my podcast, we invite the vendors into our lives, and we negate opportunities to develop partners in our lives. And so, there's an equation, and an approach inside of the book for how to do business at the speed of a relationship.


Kelly: Love this.


Brandon: The other thing that I do is, I curate a power circle. It is a small circle of people who are not there because there's a contract, or because they gain something from it, and they're more than mentors. They sow into your leadership lives and you to theirs, and they will be there if your light is dim, if you're not famous, if all of a sudden you didn't have that influential position. And these are the people who ultimately will see and call out your blind spots, and in those blind spots is where sabotage and saboteurs typically live. And a great example of that, in closing, is that as we become elevated within our companies, we become more vulnerable to sabotage because we're in a place where we don't understand everything. But there are people who are already in those divisions or in those departments that are leading, or in those work functions who do understand how to get things done. And so, it's important to have a small power circle around you who can always pull out those blinders. That saboteurs so often look for your vulnerabilities.


Kelly: Amazing. Thank you for sharing those. Those are two really powerful pieces. Brandon, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for sharing your story. And I will put notes or links to the book and to your website in the show notes. Thanks again.


Brandon: It's been an honor. Thank you, Kelly.











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Episode 107: Get Comfortable Talking About Money, with Ilise Benun


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Ilise Benun discuss the disconnect between the value of business services and the value of the person selling them. They give actionable steps to get more comfortable having the money conversation with prospects and clients.



Episode 107: Get Comfortable Talking About Money, with Ilise Benun

Duration: 22:56



Kelly: So welcome to this latest episode of Thrive, your agency resource. If you are watching this on video, you'll notice some new scenery. I actually just moved into my new house last weekend. So really excited to welcome you in. Today, I'm actually also welcoming Ilise Benun. She is a marketing mentor to solopreneurs and small agencies, creative professionals, if you will. She's especially great at guiding those who are uncomfortable with having the money conversation. So that's what she's here to talk about today. Ilise, thank you so much for joining me. I'm so excited to have this conversation.


Ilise: Thank you for the invitation, Kelly. It's lovely to be here.


Kelly: So, we both work with agencies. We have both encountered all of the struggles and trials and tribulations of this thing that is sometimes seemingly insurmountable, right? Having conversations about money, for some reason, is really, really difficult. So, what does that typically look like? What are some of the common struggles that you've encountered with some of your clients?


Ilise: Well, the worst one, I would say, is when you just don't bring it up at all. People are so mortified by talking about money, because it's really psychological. There's a lot of emotional baggage that goes along with it, right? I'm sure you know all about that. And so often, people will get off a call or even begin a project sometimes without having talked about money. And it's crazy. So that's on one end of the spectrum. I think also, when people do manage to bring it up, they're so nervous. If they don't have enough practice at it, they will ask for a number and then keep talking and not let the prospect give the information or feel pressured to give a price right on the spot. So again, a lot of emotional and psychological elements that really just get in the way.


Kelly: Yeah, yeah, I see the same thing. And for me, because of the work that I do, which is kind of more on that emotional side. A lot of it comes from the relationship that we had with money based on how our parents sort of interacted with it or talked about it in the home. Yeah, really, really interesting. And it kind of also delves into this whole aspect of self worth and self value. So, it gets into a whole nother’ thing. But that is a whole different show. So today, we'll just focus on this.


Ilise: But actually, let's just say one thing. I personally think that the talking about money, the conversation about what your services are worth, or how they're valued by the prospect of the client has nothing to do with what our worth is as a person, right? As an individual intrinsically, which I don't even know if it exists, but if it does, it's totally subjective. And so, it seems like the first step often is to decouple or disconnect this, it's me and my work, from buying a service, it's business, so we got to figure out what the price is.


Kelly: Yeah, yeah. No, that's a great point. And that is the disconnection sort of like unraveling those things, because that's where it gets tricky, right? If we're bringing those things into our business, all of those things from, just younger, from a development standpoint, if we're bringing all of that in as the leader of the organization, of course, it's going to impact the business, right? If you start to question, oh, well, I'm not sure if this prospect is going to pay that, right. It's a story that you're creating, based on some self-limiting belief or some sense of a little bit less value than you should be getting. And so, exactly what you said, removing them or kind of, I think you said, decoupling them makes all the sense in the world. So, one of the things that you and I have talked about, is this idea that you have, or this concept that you put out, which I think is really fascinating, kind of fun to talk about. So, the way that you think about proposals, is you call it the proposal oreo strategy. So, can you talk a little bit about that? And maybe what like the first step, or the first cookie of that is?


Ilise: Yes. And I'll tee it up by saying that often a prospect because they don't usually want to talk about money either, by the way, right? Because they've got their own emotional baggage, their money, they're human to human too. And so sometimes they'll just say, oh, just send me a proposal. All right. And on the one hand, you might be relieved, because now you don't have to talk about money, you can figure out the price in your room, in your little office, and then put it in the proposal and send it off, and you never have to deal with it. But that is, of course, the worst thing to do.


Kelly: That's right.


Ilise: Right. So, one of the first things I say is when they say just send me a proposal, I think it actually means they don't want to talk about money, or they don't want to think about what is involved in coming up with talking about money, which is the first cookie that you referenced, right? And so, the first cookie of this proposal strategy, and the cream is the actual proposal, and you have to decide, are you going to do the proposal in the first place. You're not going to do it just because they say, send me a proposal, because we all know what happens. Often, you haven't talked about money yet. And so, whatever you quote, may be too high or too low for them. And then you never hear from them again. This is so common, and very discouraging, also. And so, this is what we're trying to avoid with the proposal oreo strategy.



Kelly: So, go into this qualifying conversation or discovery conversation.


Ilise: Okay. So that first cookie, as I like to call it, is the qualifying conversation. And then the qualifying conversation, and some people call it a discovery call, right? It's the in real time conversation that you must have with someone to assess whether or not they are an appropriate prospect for you, a good prospect for you. And so, we want to, of course, gather the information and the specs about the project, and especially what they think they need compared to what you may think they need.


Kelly: They're always different, always different.


Ilise: Always different. Right? So, there's that. And then there's also the second layer of questions, which I think about as a way to demonstrate your value, by asking really smart questions that highlight what you know about what you do, basically, because you're the expert, and what they don't know about what you do. And by asking these questions that you may not get answers to. And that's not the point of it. The point of it is for them to say, oh, this person or this agency knows the things we don't know, right? That's why we need them.


Kelly: Right. And you're also in that moment, sort of demonstrating your strategic thinking, which is actually what they're paying you for because you don't want to be in that commodity seat, right? You don't want to just be paid to be a production company or an execution firm. Right? So, it's really about that strategic thinking, if you're asking those really intelligent questions, which are mostly open-ended, and I'm sure you have a couple of examples. Yeah, just demonstrating that value.


Ilise: And the questions are actually very specific, often to the project and the industry and the client. But in general, the way I like to think about it is, you're kind of almost brainstorming with them about the project, right? You're sharing your ideas. You're using generosity as a marketing tool to show them how you think.


Kelly: I love that. I love that. That’s going to be the sound clip for this or the soundbite for this episode.


Ilise: Excellent.


Kelly: I love it.


Ilise: Yeah. Because often people are very conscious about their ideas, and they don't want to give them away because they think that's the thing people are paying for. And yes, there's part of that. But again, the good clients, the people who are going to engage in this conversation, you are not the ones who are going to take your ideas and run with them.


Kelly: Absolutely.


Ilise: So, we've asked the questions about the project, we're asking smart questions that demonstrate our value, and then you take a bridge. You build a bridge to the money conversation.


Kelly: All inside of this discovery, I just want to highlight that, because so many people leave the discovery call without ever talking about money, which you mentioned at the top of the show, and we have to get more comfortable.


Ilise: Exactly.


Kelly: So how do you kind of like transition into that money conversation?


Ilise: Well, it's really simple. You say, all right, I think we're ready for the money conversation. Are you ready to talk about money?


Kelly: Oh, I love that. Just go for it. Just put it right out there. Oh, I like that.


Ilise: Absolutely. And as a question because they may have more questions for you before you talk about money. But the point really is you want to lay the foundation of value and find out what they value so that you can make sure you're the one who can provide that value before you put any numbers on the table, because if you go directly to the money at the beginning of the conversation, they have no context for it. They have nothing to associate it with in their mind.


Kelly: Right, right. [Commercial] So going back for a second to what you just said. If you need to find out what they value, what's important to them, to me, that's like the missing piece in almost every single discovery call, right? We talk so much about features. We don't talk about impact. What is this? What would this signal to you personally or professionally? Right? Like what do you value? So, are there a couple of questions that you kind of baked into that section or part of the qualifying conversation with your clients?


Ilise: Well, one of them is a very clear question about what they're going to be making their decision on. Right? How important is price in this process? How important is whether or not we have the exact experience that you need? Or we know your industry so you can give them a multiple choice of things they could value rather than putting them on the spot and saying, what do you value? Because that's a tricky question for people to answer, right? But do you value the fact that we are quick and we turn things around quickly? And that's the thing that's most important about this project.


Kelly: There's also something that I like to do at the end of a discovery call, which most people say, okay, do you have any final question, not final, but like, do you have any additional questions for us? I think that also sometimes puts people on the spot that they have to think of some question. And, at the moment, you don't necessarily know that. So, what I like to do in situations like that is say, I'm sure that you probably will have some questions once you've digested this conversation. But for right now, are there any takeaways, like, has there been something that we've uncovered together through this conversation that you'll take with you? And I feel like it's a little bit more disarming than any questions. Right? So yeah, just another note to kind of add on to what other things for those listening and watching, if you're kind of taking notes and saying, here are some things I should add to my discovery call, maybe ending with something like that, as well.


Ilise: And actually, in one of your other podcasts, I can't remember who the woman was. She was not American. And she was talking about a proposal and a pitch that she had done that was very unusual. And she said one of the questions she asked was, do you have any concerns about working with us?  


Kelly: Oh, that was the RFP?


Ilise: Yes.


Kelly: I know which one you're talking about. Yeah.


Ilise: And I thought that was a really interesting question, too. Because you want to know that, right? You want to know what they value and what they may be concerned about? And they may be able to tell you at that moment.


Kelly: But this is so interesting, right? We're talking about having or leaning into fairly uncomfortable, unconventional conversations, right? If you're not used to, if you're kind of just using a sheet for your discovery calls, this is really kind of thinking outside of the box, and you have to be receptive to whatever the answer is, if you're going to ask a question like that, right? If you have, do you have any concerns about working with me? I mean, you're asking that person to be honest. And you're also modeling the fact that honesty is valuable to you. That's a core value of your organization. Right? So, I think that's great. And thank you for bringing that up. Because I think adding that to like, listen, if we're going to have uncomfortable conversations, we might as well just tackle them all on. Right? Get them all out of the way.


Ilise: Absolutely. And I think it also means and this is why I think people don't jump into this because they don't have enough practice, right? And so, it really takes a lot of practice, and trust in yourself. And also, I won't, I'll just mention marketing, right? Because if you have plenty of irons in the fire, then you don't need any one particular project or conversation to go to any particular place.


Kelly: That's right. The way that I talk about that, actually, from a Buddhist perspective is having no attachment to any particular outcome. Right. And so, if you're thinking from the standpoint of, if you really need business, like if you are desperate for that new piece of business to come in, because you literally don't have more than a few months worth of cash in the bank, prospects feel that on the other side, right? So, to your point, marketing and having that nice full pipeline and being able to go through a really methodical process, a really intentional process to make sure that who you're bringing in from a client perspective that they're ideal clients for you.


Ilise: That you're vetting them basically.


Kelly: You're vetting them. I mean, they're vetting and interviewing you just as much as you should be. And I think we forget that sometimes.


Ilise: Yes. Absolutely. When we want it, especially.


Kelly: When we want it, we forget it. Yeah. Okay, so let's get back to the proposal Oreo strategy. Let's think about when we are talking about the proposal itself, that's the cream in the middle of the Oreo, and  then the presentation of that proposal. We both agree, and I think a lot of people agree, you're not ever just sending out proposals. That is not something that anyone, any consultant or coach would ever advise. So, walk us through a little bit, what do you advise in terms of that presentation meeting.


Ilise: So, the idea and you have to plant the seed at the end of the discovery call, actually, to let them know, this is how we work. We're going to do a proposal for you. And then we're going to walk you through it so that we can answer any questions, respond to any objections, and gauge your readiness and hours to proceed to the next step. So, you plant that seed early on, and you might even say, and let's look at our calendars and schedule the conversation right now.


Kelly: That's it. That is the key. I always say you never leave any call without setting up the next one. Literally get out your calendars. Because if you leave it for afterwards, oh, we'll email you some availabilities, it just falls off. But if you get your calendars out right there, it's so much easier.


Ilise: And you also get them on board with this process, which they're not going to be familiar with because hardly anyone does it.


Kelly: Which is kind of crazy to me.


Ilise: Yes.


Kelly: Right. It feels very one on one. But yeah, maybe just not enough people talk about it. I don't know. But yeah, I think I've been kind of surprised that this is like a new thing to a lot of creative and technology agencies.


Ilise: Well, and the response I get is, oh, they're not going to want to get on the phone again. They don't have time to talk to me again.


Kelly: Of limiting beliefs.


Ilise: Yes, exactly. First of all, you don't know. And this is you saying this is how we do things. This is how we get to know each other, and you don't have to say this, but this is your trial run with the prospect to see, are they going to be a good client? Can they stick with the program?


Kelly: Right. It's little things, right? Like, if you make a commitment, it's like I say this, like it's like dating, right? If you make a commitment, and you have a date next Friday, and that date cancels Friday, an hour before the date, you are probably not going to go out with that person again, right? Like, there are little tiny yellow flags and orange flags and red flags throughout the process. What you want are green flags. You want a good relationship with these prospects, because you're going to essentially be in a relationship with them, in partnership with them for probably a pretty good amount of time, especially if you're offering retainer services, it could be years, right?


Ilise: And you can't build a relationship via email. I really don't think you can. You have to do it in real time with conversations and with some discomfort, that maybe you're going to force, actually you're going to create the friction. Most people are trying to avoid friction. I think friction is good. I want to put friction in between to make sure that we can get through this together so that we have a good relationship.


Kelly: Oh my god, Ilise, you're literally speaking my love language. I love that really healthy tension, right? It builds trust. If there's no tension and everything is puppy dogs, rainbows and unicorns, then it's not real. There has to be that little bit of tension. This is great. So, are there any recommendations that you would have for creative professionals as they're practicing getting more comfortable with these money conversations, whether it's in the presentation meeting, or separate and apart from that, just how they can improve upon that for themselves?


Ilise: Well, I think the first thing is to practice in low stakes environments. So, at the drugstore, no, not at the drugstore. With a vendor, with someone you're on the other side of the table with, right? You can practice the money conversation. It's the hump of getting into it. That is the hardest part, right? So even if you just practice saying, alright, let's talk about money to your partner, to the Uber driver, right? I mean to whoever you come into contact with.


Kelly: Yeah, I had a client recently that was basically having an in-person negotiation with an existing client. And they were renegotiating their rates, which is still pricing. It's still the money conversation, really uncomfortable, except there were so many things stacked in the favor of the client. But they were just uncomfortable. And what I advised and what they ended up doing very successfully, was to do some role playing amongst the people who would be at that negotiation, at that meeting with the client. And so, they recorded themselves, and then sent me the recording. And then I kind of gave some notes, and then they did it again, went really, really well. And they ended up doing so well in that negotiation. And that money conversation at the end of it was so comfortable for them that now that's translating into even more comfortable conversations with new prospects. So, practice really, really is so important here.


Ilise: The most important thing.


Kelly: Yeah. And you have a book that people can also look at from a recommendation standpoint. Can you tell me a little bit about that?


Ilise: Yes. So, I actually have two books that might be relevant. Okay, the most recent is an e-book, it's called Worth It: How Getting Good at the Money Talk Pays Off. And that is available on my website. And then I also, I think about 10 years ago now, wrote The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money. And that is available also on Amazon.


Kelly: Okay, perfect. So, I will make sure that there are show notes included for your website and both of those books. So, anyone who is doing something while they're listening to this, and you can't get to it right away, show notes will include all of those links for you. Ilise, thank you so much for having this conversation with me today. I think it's going to be really, really valuable to a lot of people. And of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Ilise. I'm sure she'd be happy to answer them for you.


Ilise: Absolutely. Thank you for the invitation, Kelly. I've really enjoyed it too.










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Episode 106: Conscious Culture in a Remote World, with Sarah Hawley


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Sarah Hawley discuss how remote work not only allows you to create a more conscious culture, it also ensures greater alignment within your business relationships.



Episode:  106 Conscious Culture in a Remote World, with Sarah Hawley

Duration: 30:14



Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. My guest today is my friend and what I would call my sister in spirit, Sarah Hawley. She's the founder and CEO of a company called Growmotely. And what they do is they culture-match professionals with growing companies for full-time and part-time remote jobs, obviously, very, very relevant in today's climate. Sara, thank you so much for being on the show. You know that I am always excited to be in conversation with you.


Sarah: Thanks for having me here Kelly. It's always good to chat.


Kelly: So, let's just start out by talking a little bit about Growmotely. And kind of like, what the conditions and everything were for all of this to kind of come into alignment literally right before the pandemic, because a lot of people I would assume, who are listening to this just from the introduction, they would think, oh, well, of course, that business emerged out of the pandemic. But actually, prior to that, it had been in development. So, I'd love to hear a little bit about that story. And just kind of like, maybe touch on a little bit of like, what you've discovered about yourself as a leader with the start of this whole company.


Sarah: Yeah, for sure. It is a fun story. So, I guess I started my entrepreneurial career as a financial advisor running financial advice businesses. So very similar in a lot of ways to a small agency where you have professionals to deliver a professional service and you have support staff and things like that. Most of my companies were 10 to 20, like team sizes of 10, to 20. And I started in 2010.

And around 2014, I started feeling like I created a business partly to have more freedom and flexibility and to be more in control of my destiny and all of that. Yet, here I am, in the office working longer hours, because my ego is, I need to get to the office before everybody else and show them how much of the hard work I was talking about. It's really late at night. And, travel has always been such a big part of my DNA. And it was such a high priority in my life. And I was finding, I wasn't able to do as much of it as I wanted. 

And so around 2014, I decided, I'm going to turn my companies remote. I want to move to the United States. I'm from Australia, if people couldn't tell. And, I'm going to do this. I'm going to turn my companies remote, so that I can have more freedom and flexibility. And of course, back in 2014, in the world of financial planning, everybody was like, you can't run a remote financial planning company. It's only like a few tech companies that are remote. And I was like, well, you know that I love to prove things wrong. And that was just like a little bit of extra fuel on my fire to say like, yeah, I can do this.

So, I basically embarked on that journey in 2014. And it was amazing. It was really phenomenal to start going down this path of hiring talent in other parts of the world, of turning the company remote, of getting rid of our office. We went through like maybe about a year of transition where we used co-working spaces and different things, but pretty quickly, everybody just loved being remote. It meant we could hire people anywhere in the world. So, it made a lot of sense to just go fully remote.

At that same time, what I was realizing was, I want to hire people anywhere in the world I can. It doesn't really matter to me, but I don't know how to find them. It's all well and good for me to say oh, I could have a client services person or a marketing manager or whatever out of Argentina, but like how do I find that person in Argentina. So, I had a couple of other friends who also were turning their companies remote, and we decided to form a business that would be a remote recruitment company. So pretty much like a traditional headhunting recruitment sourcing type agency but purely for remote talent global and so we built that company, use it as a base, use it as the company that would do all of our own recruitment for our own firms.

We had a few other clients. We had a general manager in there and it kind of grew a little bit but it was never really like a massive company. It was a side project. And, I successfully turn my company remote. I moved to the US. I've gained all this freedom, flexibility. I became a better leader, which I'll talk about in a moment. So that's like a whole other thing.


Kelly: Right, right. Right.


Sarah: And then, around 2018, I sold my last financial planning company and I was like, I'm done with finance. I want to kind of do something else and along the way I had bought my business partners out of the Grow My Team, the remote recruitment company because none of them were very interested in it.

They were like it's not growing very fast. I don't really like it. And for some reason, I just kept being like, I don't want to let it go. I don't know. I feel like there's something here. And remote work feels like it's going to be the future. I don't really know how this business fits in. But like, I'm not ready to let it go. So, I bought them all out. And in January of 2019, I stepped in full-time as CEO to this remote recruitment company.

Fast forward about six months, around mid year, and we'd had a team meeting where we're still talking about the same issue that my business faced originally. Grow My Team also had that issue like it wasn't that easy to find talent in different parts of the world. I always had to research different job boards in different countries and be posting things up and using different groups on social media.


Kelly: It sounds super time-consuming.


Sarah: Yeah, it was really time-consuming. And if you wanted to get into a new region, you had to research like, where do people in that region, and that country specifically looked for work. And it was after that meeting that I kind of got off. And I was like, that's the problem. Like that's a problem that we could solve. There's no global remote, no global job board. We have country specific job boards, but we don't have a global one. And as I started dancing with that idea, I saw that well, it's not just when you hire or when you build a global team, it's not just the job board and finding the talent, but it's also paying them and engaging them and contracts and payroll and lots of things.

And I started thinking, well, we could build tech that does the whole thing. You post a job, you look for people, you funnel the recruitment process, you make a hire, the platform can take care of the contracts and monthly payroll and all sorts of things. So that was kind of the idea I was dancing with and what ended up becoming Growmotely.

End of 2019, I decided to raise a small pre-seed round to build the MVP of this technology. And ironically close to that round, 32% oversubscribed on March 13, which was Friday. Yeah, before I went into lockdown.


Kelly: Yeah.


Sarah: I know it was slightly different in different parts of the world. But it was roughly around that time. And I don't watch the news or anything. So, I really didn't know what COVID was. And it all came on me really fast. So that Monday, I was locked down. I was like, what is this all about, and then a week, one, two weeks, and then all of a sudden, the two-week lockdown was extended to a month and two months. And obviously, we all know where we're at now. But pretty quickly, I realized, whoa, the entire world just discovered remote work.


Kelly: So, so badly.


Sarah: It’s so amazing. And intuitively, I knew like people aren't going to want to go back because I didn't want to go back. My team never wanted to go back once we went remote. Obviously, the conditions of going remote during COVID are a little different. Like usually remote work doesn't look like you're locked in your house with no options to go outside. But I still knew people would be experiencing the benefits of not having to commute, not having to do all the things that's required to get your house in order to leave. Like it's all this little stuff that we were so used to that we didn't think of.

But once it's taken away, it's like oh, well, that was actually a lot that I used to have to do just to go to work every day. Not to mention having to be in physical space with other people for 8 or 10 hours a day. And like emotionally regulating everything that comes with sharing space with people. That's not necessarily your choice of people like you might like them and everything. But people have different personal habits. People have different introverts and extroverts and all this different energy flowing around. And we never really thought about that. That's what we were asking about teams to like, come into an office and surround themselves with other people and all these other things and be able to regulate that and perform at a high level.

So, I kind of knew that obviously, as soon as everybody starts experiencing remote work and being able to be a little bit more in control of how and where and when they work, they're not going to want to go back. So yeah, ever since then, we've been working really hard to build our MVP, which we launched in April of this year. We've just closed a seed round last weekend actually so that we can continue to build our tech team and continue to market and get our product out there. But yeah, it's been an incredible journey. So much fun. I feel like I was born to do this. I love being in technology. I love being in this space. I'm just so passionate about what remote work brings to the world.

Yes, for everybody it's like freedom and flexibility and all that but diversity and inclusion. There's so many benefits there like you can very quickly unpack a lot of unconscious biases that exist when you can hire people all over the world. You can hire people in different parts of your own country. And I don't know there's just so many ways in which I've seen firsthand all of those biases just start to fall away and it does level the playing field for people a lot.


Kelly: Yeah. So first of all, congratulations on last weekend, the seed funding but so you just kind of touched at the tail end of that, like you kind of touched on what we might call, part of conscious culture, right? And consciously creating and hiring, not only hiring, but like so there's the hiring aspect of diversity, equity, inclusion. And then there's also the conscious leadership aspect of being able to support your people's values, like you said, their emotional well being, all of these other things, their flexibility, their work life, balance their mental health things along those lines. So, what you're actually talking about is conscious culture in this remote world. So, can you talk a little bit about what we mean, for anyone who might be unfamiliar with that? What do we mean by conscious culture? And can you give another example of from firsthand experience, something that you have encountered?


Sarah: Yeah, I'd like to give a little example of like, where I've seen my own unconscious biases, like get unpacked, before I just go into the conscious coaching, but I once hired someone remotely with a disability, and I didn't know they had a disability, and I didn't find out for a year later, and it didn't matter. And I really was honest with myself, and I'm like, I can't be sure if that person had walked into my office, and I had compared them with whatever other candidates wider in the pool. I can't be sure what my biases might have made me do. I like to think that I wouldn't have but like, at the same time, I haven't seen a lot of people with this particular disability working in this particular business. Like, I didn't even realize that I might have actually been biased. And when I found out I was like, wow, that's so freakin cool that I got to unpack that without even realizing it. And the other thing is, for anyone who likes to travel, every time you travel, I'm sure you experience that kind of unwinding of like, oh, like, everybody's just a person. And everybody's just the same, even if their skin color is different, or their background is different, or they grew up in a different kind of cultural environment. Like at our core, we all want to be seen, valued, all of that. And I get to experience that every single day in my team, because I have team members from all over the world. So those are just some of the ways that I think, it's like a byproduct of hiring remotely and globally that you start to unpack things and make different decisions. And it's really, really beautiful and expensive.

To answer your questions about conscious culture and like what I think conscious culture is, I think it really starts with knowing in truth and owning, what is the innate culture of our organization. And being okay with it, like not saying it's not the buzzwords of like a conscious culture is. These five things, it's flexible, it's that, if you're not flexible, that's okay; if you have a more rigid, structured type of culture, brilliant. Talk about that. Own that. Know that that's who you are.


Kelly: So, it’s the authenticity piece. Is that what you’re saying?


Sarah: Yes, exactly. And owning it and knowing it and confidently putting it out there and trusting that will call in people that also like to operate in that way. We are very flexible and fluid and have less structure than what some people would like. A lot of people would not like to work with me because it's a little bit too flowy. And there's an element of organized chaos in there. We do have systems and processes, but even though it operates within, as I say, this fluid, kind of organized chaos type thing, we have a little bit less hierarchy, and less attachment maybe to titles and things. And that's not good or bad. That just is how we are.


Kelly: That's right.


Sarah: And having hierarchy and structure is not good or bad, either. It's just a way of being. And I think consciousness is bringing awareness. It’s very definition is bringing awareness to how we are, being able to observe it, understand it, not label it as good or bad and just be able to effectively kind of communicate it. And trust that will attract people that work in the same way. When we are in alignment with who we are as an organization, it also becomes very easy to then navigate out of situations that are not in alignment.

 Let's say we take on a business partner. We're doing work with someone and all of a sudden, we start to feel like this is not right. And then you can start to say, well, they operate in this way. And we operate in that way. Once again, not good or bad. It's just creating friction points, because there's a little bit too much difference between what is each of our central points, and then we can just have a really transparent conversation. That is not like you're wrong. You should be doing it this way. It's just like, hey, like I observed that you guys work in this way. And I observe we work in that way and it's causing a lot of friction points and what do we think about potentially like moving in a different direction and you can do that, like so gently and so, with respect and with gratitude for whatever has been and kind of move on whether it's a team member, whether it's a business partnership like anyone really.

So, I feel like yeah, maybe. Yeah, exactly, totally with a client, and I think unconscious culture is very much like believing that our way is the right way, the only way and everybody else should just be this way. And like, if they're not, they're wrong. It's very like…


Kelly: Resistance.


Sarah: Yeah, a lot of resistance and this idea that others are bad. And that there's a negative and a positive or a good and a bad versus just being like, this is our truth and our highest alignment, and this is how we want to operate and you're not wrong for being different. It's just not working well for us, or what have you. And, I think really like having that awareness and that ownership of who we are as a culture, like, not trying to put ourselves forward is something that we're not. And I think this is pretty much if anyone, like as an individual, if you go on a journey to do more personal development or healing become a more conscious individual, it's exactly the same process.

It's like letting go of the judgment of self-understanding who we really are as individuals, being okay with that observing when we might be in a trigger, or we might be acting in a way that we can see is not in our highest integrity and being curious with ourselves, and doing it and applying that same logic to others, or that same compassion, that same thinking to others. I feel like a conscious culture is kind of bringing that same development of consciousness within oneself into the organization.

For me, I kind of experienced the organization as energy in a way where I can see the color of it and the vibrancy. And I can also feel like, if something's off, it's like, there's another color in that energy bowl. And I like to think of it as colors versus like, once again, right or wrong, good or bad. It's just like, oh, it's color of our company is this throbbing green energy bowl, and I can see this red, or this purple energy over here, like it's not bad, it's just purple, not green. And we need to like, get the purple out, because it doesn't work so well with what we're trying to do.

And I know that's very, like esoteric and stuff, but it's how I kind of experience it as well. And I think there's an element of intuition as well, that comes with looking at our organizations with more consciousness and trusting both like data and what the market might be telling us but also like listening to ourselves intuitively as the leaders of this organization and letting our people tell us what they're feeling, what they're intuiting and kind of like comparing that intuition with some data and things like that to make informed decisions.


Kelly: Right. It's so funny I'm sitting here noticing that I have like the largest smile on my face because you literally just dropped like a knowledge bomb. I love this definition of this like the way that you embody conscious culture and the way that you talk about it. So, for me, kind of what I pull out of that from like the either definition, or like those little golden nuggets is like, it's not about adhering to like the Bernie Brown definition of like conscious culture, right? I love her.

But it's not about that. It's about authenticity, right? And then there's this idea that being curious versus having binary thinking like black and white, good, bad, right? I'm right, you're the wrong type of thing. And then there's the element of self-awareness and all of the things that come with self-awareness, right? It's just and then this last part about intuition, I think those four elements, I've never heard conscious culture kind of defined or talked about exactly like that. That's why I was smiling because I'm like, it just resonates so much.

And I don't think that these are typically like what you would find if you're googling, like, what is conscious culture online. You're not going to find it talked about like that. So no, I really appreciate you for always being like a really interesting perspective to those things. And this is why I love talking to you. But so specifically for like the small to midsize agencies in particular, right? I could imagine that as we're talking about remote work, there is often this question that comes up, like there is definitely a palpable difference in the dynamic between in person interaction and remote work, right? Like, we can't talk about that. So how do you suggest some ways that you can deal with that if you are a small to midsize, like marketing, advertising creative technology agency?


Sarah: Well, to go back to your point of like, staying in that mindset of openness and curiosity and non-binary thinking, I think it's also important to realize like there's a difference, but neither is good or bad. So, I think that's like a really good starting point. Because definitely there’s rhetoric out there, oh that's the same as in person. But said in a way that is like, this person is good at. And I just think, it's not the same as the truth. But is it better or worse?

No, it's just different. So yes, I love being in person with people for sure. And my ideal in my company is to bring my entire team together once a year, because we are global. So, it's obviously a lot more of a big deal to bring a whole bunch of people together once a year. That's what I want to do. I think that'll add a lot of value. However, there's a lot of advantages to not having to be in the same office all day, every day with people. Because I also get to choose everyday who I am in presence with. And right now, I'm in Montana, with my husband, my baby, and a couple that were really close friends with their baby. And we're all working and hanging out for a couple of days. And I love that I have the sovereignty to choose that, like the people who I do want to be in presence with each day, each week, each month. So, I think there's also this idea that working remotely means we're isolated, which is not it. We're just having some flexibility and choice of who we might want to be spending time with or when we might want to be alone or whatever it might be. Anyhow, I kind of just wanted to frame that up, just to keep people in this open curious kind of space super important. But when it comes to actual practical things for continuing to maintain and build culture, I mean, even I've been remote, as I said since 2014. So, it's in some regards a little bit hard for me to remember like that was that like mission because it was a while ago. But one thing I will say to people as well as the culture exists, culture always exists, whether you are being intentional with it or not. And whether you are remote, or in person, there's still a culture, there's something that's going on that's defining who you are, once again, bringing awareness to it.

 So, thinking that we don't have culture because we're remote is incorrect as well. It's just like still being intentional with it. So, if you're a business that is transitioning, you once all did come into an office and that same team of people are now adapting to working in a different way. I think there are really interesting ways to translate what you were doing into what you are now doing. So if it was, let's say every Wednesday was pizza lunch day and that's what you guys always did. You order pizza in the office and sit and have lunch on Wednesdays. You can still do that online like Wednesday can be you can block out the calendar and its social and we all jump on Zoom or Google mates whatever we use, and everybody gets a Grubhub or UberEats voucher or whatever and order some pizza to their house like you can still do things like that. On Friday nights, it was when we would all go to the bar together or something. Some companies do that.

You can do 4pm on Fridays. We all jump on Zoom. We stopped working and we have a cocktail together and hang out so we can translate some of the things that we were doing into an online environment and once again I'm not saying it's the same or it's better or worse. It's just there are ways that if that existed in your culture before you can carry it forward. And then I can just give some examples of fun things that we've done over the years that are for us, we've been fully remote, fully global especially in my company now always. So, we didn't have a culture to translate. We’re just kind of who we are.

 So, we have one all company meeting a week, which everybody gets on. This is more just like my FaceTime with my team as the leader. I want everybody on for one hour a week with cameras on. Doesn't matter where you are. If you're in bed, if you're at the hairdresser, I don't care. It's okay. Just come to the meeting, turn your cams on, and let's all kind of listen and chat and there's a few different people who report on different things. We kind of keep everyone up to speed. That's really important for me because outside of that we work fully flexibly async, which is you work in your own time.

 And we spent a lot of time talking about having your own individual personal boundaries. Like I don't mind if somebody works best from 6pm to midnight, like that's totally okay. But I also want to be able to work when I work and when I fire something, it does not mean that you need to reply to me. I trust you as an adult to reply, when you decide is your best time of the day to work. So, we work in that very async kind of way. So that one company meeting a week is just something we all commit to, to at least get that Face time. We have a social dropping on Fridays, where there's one hour in the calendar, that everyone can just drop in and say hi, and the only rule is that you're not allowed to talk about work. So that's something that we created. And I didn't have that in Grow My Team, my previous company, but we created it in Growmotely because we were a new team that came together fast, and we needed some time to get social and get to know each other outside of work. So, we were kind of intentional with that. And in that meeting, we can have different topics. So, somebody would ask a question, and everybody would just answer it. And I mean, there's lots of fun things you can do that are not devalued by decks of cards, literally, that are like conversation starters, a simple way to just be like, okay. So those are some fun things we had a Halloween party last year where everyone came in costume. And that was fun, because for some people it was like 5am, and they had to get up and put their costumes on and for other people it was like the evening time, but it was really cool. And everyone was just in costume from like, here up. It's kind of funny as well. And something really awesome that my team did for me, I had a baby in March, and I went on, like a month or so of maternity leave. And about two weeks before, they called a marketing meeting. And I was like, okay, like my marketing manager wants to meet with me. So, I thought it was just myself and one person and I went on to this meeting thinking it's just going to be like you and me sitting here, and the whole team is there.

And they're like, surprise, it's your surprise baby shower. And I was like what? And they had sent gifts to my husband. He was in on it to bring in to me, one by one as they kind of went around and like said what their gifts were and they had done so much. We also did a really fun secret Santa at Christmas where everybody was given one person and then they had to create a gift that could be given in a meeting online. So, people were like, wrote poems that other people made funny little gifts that they would like to show with everybody. Someone did like a card or an Oracle card reading, like fun stuff. And we spent the whole meeting just like it wasn't a meeting that we spent the whole party the other day just going around. And I mean, this team, they love each other. Like really, really good friends. And so those are just some examples of things I've experienced, and then things that we do intentionally. And we have a really strong culture, like right now our happiness score is 9.1 out of 10. It was 9.4 out of 10. Last month, I asked my team every single month, how happy are you out of 10. Because I like to keep a pulse on where we're at and where we are in a good place. And if it ever drops below nine, that's when I'm like, alright.


Kelly: Wow, that's a pretty high standard.


Sarah: I have a high standard.


Kelly: Wow, that’s great. I love that. I'm assuming you ask as a follow up, like, what is the reason that it's not a 10 out 10 and then you’d come up.


Sarah: Yes. How happy are you out of 10? And why did you give that score? And so, people can say I'm happy because I love it here or, this is what's bothering me right now, what have you. So yeah, that's something I've been doing since 2016-ish, I think. And when I first did it, the score was only about a 6 out of 10. And, I guess that wasn't terrible. But it was about five, but it didn't feel good. But this was my step, in like, I know that I can do better. But how do I do better in every other area of my business? I have data. I ask. I research. I understand. And I need to do that with my culture as well. And so, I started doing that. And it really transformed me as a leader. I think whenever we kind of turn the spotlight on ourselves, and we're willing to ask for feedback or look at ourselves doing those hard things, that's when the growth really happens. And over time, I think I became more confident. I can say I became a really good leader after that. But it was quite some years of looking at all of that feedback and being able to integrate it and process it all.



Kelly: Yeah, yeah, no, that's great. Wow, I absolutely loved this conversation. I think the examples that you've given are really great, really actionable, really tangible, maybe people can kind of see themselves in a lot of these things. And if they had questions about whether you can actually develop a true culture or proper culture, working remotely, I think this kind of answers the question. And again, it's not right or wrong, as you said. We'll leave it with it's just different, right? And so, I really, really appreciate your time. I will post links to Growmotely in the show notes. Sara, thank you so much for being with me today. I really appreciate it.


Sarah: Thanks so much for having me, Kelly. It's always fun to chat. It was great.




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Episode 105: Can We Eliminate Burnout?, with Chris McLean


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Chris McLean discuss boundaries, setting the right example as leaders, and the possibility of eliminating burnout at agencies.



Episode 105: Can We Eliminate Burnout  with Chris McLean

Duration: 43:43


Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're going to be diving into a favorite topic among agency leaders and their employees, maybe a little more for their employees. But the question is, is it possible to actually eliminate burnout among creative technology, marketing, advertising folks, right? It's just so entrenched and ingrained in our culture and has been for a really long time. My guest today is Chris McLean, who is a fellow conscious transformation coach based in Australia. He's also the host of the Peak Performance and Predictable Growth Show. If you don't know that podcast, definitely check that out wherever you consume your podcasts. My episode on his show is going to be out later this year. So definitely stay tuned for that. Chris, welcome to the show. I am really excited and have been looking forward to this conversation for a while.


Chris: Yes, thank you. Thank you. Good to reciprocate and jump over onto your show. Everything feels like last week and six months ago. It was some time, not that long ago, but they're good to pop over. It was fascinating on that episode, just chatting to you about how aligned we were in what we do, sort of who we are, our past, history and our ages, and that there was a whole bunch of alignment in between. So yeah, great to be on your show and sharing with your audience.


Kelly: What we would say in the States, my brother from another mother.


Chris: Yes. That's the one yeah, sister from another mother.


Kelly: Right. So yeah, it was really fascinating to me also that I feel like we are probably and maybe this is not true. But I don't know of any other agency coach or coach specializing in the agency world that focuses on consciousness and trauma-informed work, and business growth kind of all together or at the nexus of those things. So what's not surprising to me is kind of how each of us found our way to this path, because that was such a similar journey, as you just mentioned. So can you talk a little bit about your former agency experience and what that was like, and maybe touch a little bit on the personal side of that as to how you got to the same place that I got to on the other side of the world?


Chris: Yes. So my agency journey started, effectively 2002. I launched my agency with my best mates. So just straight out of university. I had studied marketing business and advertising during university and I'd sort of done other ways like graphic design and creative studies. And I always thought I'd be the creative mad men style, and be a creative in an ad agency. That's kind of what I thought I always wanted to do. Actually, we went into university, and during uni, we did some pitches, we did some work with some local agencies, here in Melbourne and got a bit of an insight to, I guess, agency people and agency life. And by the end of uni I thought, the fact that I don't want to work in an agency, that sounds horrendous. This looks like, what am I doing? And then I started an agency. I sort of worked, took a couple of years. There was bartending and cleaning, working around, what am I going to do with my life? And then yeah, sort of my best mate, myself. He'd studied multimedia, which essentially back then, was kind of digital like websites. I had a bit of that toolkit. And I had a bit of business in advertising and creativity. And essentially, we launched a multimedia company, again, because digital wasn't really digital back then. We're working with Macromedia Flash and Macromedia Dreamweaver before it was acquired by Adobe. And then we started sort of basically hacking together websites and flash animations, and no hand-coding tables to build websites and all this stuff. WordPress, and Wix and all these wonderful tools that make all that super easy didn't exist. And essentially, for me, I'd never really done a lot of that work. So everything was self-taught. So I learned Photoshop. I learned Flash. I learned how to animate in Flash. I learned how to do CSS coding and style sheets in HTML, just sort of eventually down the line, a bit of PHP. I had picked this stuff up because we had to. And it was really traditional, classic entrepreneurship to get a client in. Yeah, sure. We can do that. And then kind of figure it out, jump on, build the plane while we're flying it.


Kelly: That's everybody's story though, right?


Chris: Yes. But I think it's such a good skill set to build. And for me, I think that is one of the strongest skills and biggest strengths that I have and I see in agency owners and people that run good businesses, that capability to just kind of crack on and go. I'll figure it out as I go. And that definitely is a skill set. There's a mindset and a skill set and a resourcefulness to that, having that capacity just to go, “It doesn't matter. Somehow I’ll figure this out, and I'll make it work. And we'll get into, I guess, how that risk and consequence kind of taps into flow state and peak performance and sort of altered states of consciousness later in the show. But that's sort of the beginning of that kind of stuff, where you can sort of step into risk and stepping to consequences are sort of photos of a really good focusing mechanism. Biologically, it gets you super focused, and you figure it out, access more information. You sort of expand. Your consciousness expands; literally expands, so you can tap into higher sources of information. And that's sort of what's going on there. I didn't know that back then. But that's kind of just how we naturally kind of evolved.  And then that business sort of evolved. Over the next seven, eight years, we sort of became essentially kind of digital. We sort of brought in some video. So we're doing full service digital, for servers, video production. 2009, 2010, we sort of brought in some more senior people. And we sort of shifted the business into emerging tech. So moving from websites, and animation and video production, we kind of picked up that skill set, and sort of saw where the market was going and moved into augmented reality, gesture control, touchscreens, large scale projections, interactive eye tracking. So really, really cool cutting edge interactive technologies. And essentially commercializing that stuff for advertising for clients. So building gaming platforms, essentially, where we could create interactive fun games on Windows for retail displays, or within shopping centers, or malls, or online sort of activities. So that was a really interesting place that was super early for that stuff. So 2009, 2010, sort of augmented reality and that kind of stuff was really, really new. Nobody else was really selling it, particularly here in Australia. No one was really offering that, little line to try to commercialize and productize. That kind of thing. And that was kind of that next level of challenge of how do you sell something to somebody that literally doesn't exist. So we're literally going in and picking out case studies of BMW, which was done like a little QR code based augmented reality car at the time where augmented reality was all kind of QR code based. And you hold it up and like a cart, little BMW would drive around. So it was selling, by bringing that kind of work and going, hey, look, this is what's possible, we can do this for your brand. So it's a really interesting sales process of trying to sell something that there were a few examples of, no one had really done it. People didn't really understand and trying to sell people on this thing that was like, this is amazing. I promise. It's amazing. So that was always really, really interesting, again, to be on that sort of front end of something and trying to understand, how do you convince somebody? How do you show the benefits of something that people don't really know what it is? So that journey was really fun. And that sort of took me to 2012 where I've moved the business to the Middle East. So by that time, we've been running a major airline out of Abu Dhabi, out of the UAE for several years. And this is sort of where the interesting part of the story comes. So we'd sort of switched over socially. So the technical part, I moved to run the business locally in Abu Dhabi to support that client locally and sort of try to build and grow the business in that region. And by 2016, the sort of market fit wasn't great. I stayed in the Middle East until 2018. So it's been six years out there, that part of the business sort of folded in 2016. And the business is still running now. Locally, UK, USA, sort of shifted more into interactive gaming platforms in shopping centers, so kids gaming platforms, in retail, sort of for furniture outfits, for interactive zones for kids, that sort of thing. So businesses are still running. So 2012, I had a couple things. Those are some personal stuff that started to show up for me and that was sort of 2010, 2011. I’d come out of an eight year relationship. So basically that entire started of the business. I've been in an eight year relationship that sort of ended around 2010, 2011. My parents were living in the UAE. They were living in Abu Dhabi. They got divorced in 2009, 2010. And then my dad, actually in 2012, he passed from brain cancer. So he got a brain tumor in 2011. And a year later, in 2012, he passed away from that. So it's kind of all of this stuff going on personally. But then in terms of burnout on the agency side, with all of that growth, because I'd started the business myself. And literally, when you start something and you are the coffee boy, you're doing the taxes, you're doing the finance, you're doing the work, you're doing everything, you're doing the hiring, sort of end up as a bit of a jack of all trades. And for me, that's what I really liked, that kind of Renaissance man kind of style where I could do a bit of everything. And I quite enjoy doing a bit of web design and doing some graphic design and doing a bit of sales, doing some presentations. I enjoyed doing that, as we grew this kind of this necessity as you grow to become focused on a single role. So for me, I really found that difficult to slot into an individual role. So I was strategy director for a while. That was kind of a title like, well, I think I'll go into strategy director, because we sort of brought in a CEO, we had MDS, and we had, that a petition out the workload rather than kind of doing everything. But I found that it was sort of around that same time. So 2010, 11, 12, as we were growing, there's that necessity to narrow down and then niche down roles. And personally, that was like, where do I fit? Like, what am I doing? Where do I fit in this business now, and I think this is kind of a conversation that can happen with agency leaders when you have built this thing. And then you either bring in a senior team, or you get to a point where you have to scale in like, well, where do I fit in this thing now? So that was sort of that one question? And the other question was, like, do I actually want to do this anymore? Am I part of the problem, right? So in terms of a personal growth story, so very early in the business, probably a few years in when we were trying to grow and scale and then change the business, there's kind of two routes you can take, and you still have to take. And for me, naturally, I felt I was naturally inclined to go, well, if I make myself better, then that'll make the business better. That was the logical path, if I can get better. So sort of tapping into Tony Robbins and these sorts of mentors and books and programs and developing, looking into NLP and personal development and personal growth and mindset and all this kind of good stuff. And that was the path that I've figured was if I get better, if I get more confident, if I show up in a better way, if my mind's more accurate, if I can be more attentive, I can make myself better, then that's going to catalyze into better business performance, rather than necessarily go, what's the business system that I need to build? So there's always a balance. You got to do the business stuff, but for me, it was like, if I'm better, the business will be better. So by this time, this sort of burned out 2011, 12, time shift going on in my life, probably that was sort of almost 10 years, sort of into also a personal growth and personal discovery journey. So my mind was already quite into expanding consciousness. And I'd studied Buddhism for five years. I've been going to Mahayana temple here in Melbourne, sort of on the weekend and meditating, and that was sort of the path for philosophy, Eastern religion. Wayne Dyer, always sort of greater Louise Hay, Abraham Hicks, all this stuff was sort of rattling around. So sort of, I understood the importance of expanded consciousness. So again, that was coming on, and was just sort of trying to tap into all of that stuff and like, who am I? What is the meaning of life? What am I going to contribute? What's my legacy? What am I here for? We've got to get agency growth. We've got to get clients. We've got to sell. We’ve got to do that kind of hard 3 million revenue. That was always this kind of tension. And that's where I sort of talk about with clients. There's nothing worse than when you build a business to a point and who you need to be in the businesses going this way, and who you feel like you are, personally is going this way, and that chasm just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And that essentially, is burnout. And for me, that's sort of this, I call it like this existential version of burnout, this sort of existential burnout of where it's a bit more psychologically driven than like physical, painful burnout. There's sort of various different types of burnout. But for me that division, that's something that assists showing up, particularly a lot in creative agencies, that divergence between who I feel I need to be day to day to do my business, and who I feel like and when I go home at night, and when those two things start to diverged, that's when problems start to show up. So for me that's basically what was happening around that time in 2012, was this opportunity. I felt like I just had to go somewhere to escape and get out and go. And that's why I went, if I could, I'd go to Abu Dhabi, why not? So sort of shifts over there, moving my life over there for a while, which was amazing. My fiancé is still over in Dubai, trying to get her out on a visa. So my life was amazing over there to come back in 2018, for various reasons. But yeah, so that whole journey in that whole recognition of this stuff is real. And this happens. That's sort of what led me to that sort of existential burnout. Who am I? What am I doing? Yeah, switched me off of wanting to do the business. In my mind, I didn't want to be doing that business anymore. So I started doing side hustles. I started doing affiliate marketing, looking at digital marketing and side hustling and doing other stuff and putting my focus and attention into other things. And that meant that my work in the business probably started to lapse, and that now made the excuses of market fit and blah, blah, blah. But knowing what I know now, having been applying the strategies and systems to that business, would have been a much different result. But I think it still comes down to I didn't want to be in that business anymore. And that was the real catalyst. So I think that self-awareness is the most critical thing people can really start to understand. Self-awareness is number one. If you don't know what you actually want, you're going to have some sort of problem.


Kelly: Yes. It's so interesting to me that you talk about existential burnout. I didn't even know that that's exactly where we're going to go in the conversation today. But that makes a lot of sense. And I'm sure that you know, because we do something so similar, pretty much exactly the same thing for a living now, I imagine that you like me, we have lots and lots of conversations with agency owners, regardless of the type of agency, and a lot of them come in saying the same thing. Like, help me figure out if I even want to keep doing this. I feel like I'm either not needed anymore. Or I'm questioning whether I can keep doing this, or maybe I'm just getting too old in this industry or whatever. There's a million differences. I mean, it's almost like everybody has a different response, or a different reason behind that. But I like this idea of existential burnout. It's really interesting. For the people who I think are the leaders of the agencies, that makes more sense to call it bad or to use that term. For the employees, though, I think it's also important that we're modeling behavior as leaders, where they're not just burning out literally day to day, sort of what I call the culture of overwhelm as the norm. And I have a lot of agents that I work with. That is unfortunately the case.


Chris: Yes. Toxic culture.


Kelly: Yes, that toxic, hostile, or it's just we are on 24 hours a day, or the leadership team isn't very boundaried. So they'll send an email and expect a response at 9pm, like all of these different things. So what are your thoughts around things like that from the employees’ standpoint? 

Chris: Yes. It's interesting. I mean, the burnout rates. There was a study done, I think 2018 or 2019, and the burnout rate in the larger agencies was, may not be significant in talking high 76, 77% burnout rates.


Kelly: 77 was what I've seen.


Chris: Yeah, I mean, that's not a small thing. That's most of your stuff, right? That's three quarters of people working in agencies that are burnt out to some degree. So it's not a maybe. It's a systemic problem. And it comes from a lot of the people running those bigger agencies in particular have come through that. That's been the culture forever from Mad Men till today. This sort of always on, always switched on, always mandatorily available, kind of been the way it's been. Why does that exist? I guess you can sort of think why that sort of client leads the engagement, a lot of the time.


Kelly: That was my number one.


Chris: For me, that is the problem. And that's where the solution lies for me. I can get to that. But in terms of the agency owners, not having that boundary when the agency owner, when the leadership team acts that way, and has that expectation of their people. A lot of agency owners there's a tendency, and again, this is a message generalization for some sort of a more type A type of personality, hard charging, always on, don't need to sleep, I've just, I'm happy, I'm really happy and enthusiastic about just plugging away and smashing work. And always working, working, working. There can be that tendency for creatives and agency owners to come from that personality type, more than your docile type base. There's much more of a balance now, I think. But classically, I think that they can be a bit more of that kind of hard charger, happy to work that way mentality. But there's that important distinction of you might be happy to work that way. But actually understanding that the opposite of that is actually going to make you more effective. And there's this sort of psycho biology, biologically. There's this kind of weird dichotomy between the felt sense of this kind of hustle grind culture where I feel like when I'm just working, working, working, smashing it, I'm crushing it and doing the work all the time.


Kelly: All my favorite words.   


Chris: When I'm doing that, I'm in that zone, it feels like I'm being really productive, and I'm getting shit done. It's a real sense of accomplishment and productivity. But actually, when you look at it, when you chart it, there's no overtime. There is a bit of an uptick at the front. You can kind of hustle your way into productivity and effectiveness. But there's a massive decline over time, compared to sort of a steady state. If you look at some sort of someone working 60, 70 hours a week yet, you can begin to get really good productivity. But over time, the system just goes like, biologically, we're not wired to operate like that. So that felt kind like you've been really productive over time. But if you cut work hours and did a steady state, 35 hour weeks, seven hour day, overtime, it is much more stable and much more effective. So productivity is just shortening work hours. And, again, we're hoping we can get into why that sort of is the case, why putting boundaries around things actually makes us more productive. Essentially, the tasks fit the time allocated to them. So we're happy to work 70 hours a week, guess what we'll find 70 hours of work to do. If you work a 35 hour week, you'll probably get the same if not more work done in 35 hours, because you've got an end time, you've got a due date, sort of kicks off a whole lot of internal biology, a neuro chemistry that makes you get stuff done within that shortened time. But again, until quite recently, we haven't known that. It’s only since the 90s, very recently, the last couple of decades, sort of the science of this, that we were actually able to peer under the hood of these states and actually look at people working and look at what's going on under the hood. What neurochemistry, what neurobiology, what's happening in the brain when we're working. And because of that it can now decode that and go well, if that's what's happening, and this is what we want to happen, how we can do things better that are going to create the conditions for us to be in that more optimized state.


Kelly: I wouldn't have believed it myself, to be honest. I mean, from what I was doing as an agency leader, and kind of, even like, especially when I was in the weeds and, and all of that, I definitely found 70, 80 hours a week worth of work to do. But now as a consultant and a coach, I don't work more than 30 hours a week. And I would probably argue that I probably get more done in my weeks now than I did back then. And it's literally almost half. So it's really interesting to me, but something that you said kind of stuck with me. It's like if we are trying to achieve more productivity, and we're saying that with all the new science that has come out over the last couple of decades that we can actually achieve that by working less, if we keep on this kind of even keel, well, then all of it should support a transformative culture, a transforming of culture. Why do you think it's so hard for people to really grasp and grok this concept?


Chris: Yes, big question. I think it's just so ingrained, right? And often this comes back to this, is just how it's done. It's one of those things like if you work in an agency, you've got to be ready to work on Sunday nights. You’ve got to be ready to work.


Kelly: I can’t even imagine that right now.


Chris: Yeah, that expectation of always being available, it just hasn't quite shifted to being the norm yet. And definitely from people that I interview on my show, and people that I work with, there's much more awareness, particularly when you talk about talking to millennials and Gen Z's, new generations coming through. There's a much greater prevalence of looking after your wellness and your health and having that, as a health first approach. Probably, again, generalization, sort of our generation, maybe 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. Those generations are just so baked into that way of working, that the idea of actually being more productive and more effective by doing less, it just doesn't compute. It doesn't map to the set felt experience. 


Kelly: Right. So then that's the question like, how do we create that? Right? How do we map that? Because we're talking about here, like, how can we eliminate burnout? Is it really just as simple as sort of the all-encompassing self-care solution? The self-care answer?  


Chris: Yeah, I mean, essentially, we've got to shift that felt experience because as humans, we understand by what we experience, and people that were stuck in this kind of hustle and grind. And we believe that is the most effective way because that's what we've experienced. I've worked 70 hour weeks forever, and I've grown my business, right? I've smashed 60, 70 hours, weeks. I crushed it. My team crushes it. I forced my team to crush it. We work weekends. We do what we have to do. And my business has been successful. So  there would sort of make this correlation between that approach and that result.


Kelly: Oh, that's a really interesting point.  


Chris: So there could be a false correlation. Right? It could have been that I worked half that time and grew my business twice as big, or I worked half the time and my staff was more productive, therefore, my business was more productive. So it's kind of, we get into this just thinking error, right? Essentially, it's a thinking error. And then to correct that thinking error and get that experience of shit. I just worked a 35 hour week; I took Friday off and actually got more work done on Monday morning than I usually do in a whole week, right? Until you've experienced that, like you said for yourself, you wouldn't have believed it until you experienced it. That's kind of just the human condition until you've had that experience of working less and achieving more.

Kelly: Yeah, it's interesting to me, because there are so many agencies where we see this like, like you said before the 77% burnout rate. And we see the attrition that happens, right? We see employees come and go. Yes, the client is “happy”. And yes, we're delivering and yes, we're meeting our revenue goals and all of that, but I think what we're not taking into consideration with this is that attrition, or is the wellbeing of the human that we employ. Right? And so if we were actually to quantify that in some way, when you start looking at the lagging metrics, like the profitability and all of that, if you were able to quantify it, your numbers would be much lower. Right? It's just an interesting way that something about what you just said, just made me think of the fact that we are, it is kind of like false information. We're not looking at the right metrics. And we're certainly not taking all of the holistic view into account. And I think that's where my main focus is when I'm working with agencies and I know that yours too.


Chris: Yes. It's a hidden cost, right? That human component. So how do you quantify what is the cost of say, I'm your employee, I'm your head designer. I'm working 70 hour weeks. I actually hate that. I don't like it. My body's hurting. I'm not sleeping. I've got problems at home. I have never seen my wife and kid. My wife's complaining to me about never being home. I used to love playing guitar and going rock climbing. I haven't done that for years. Right? That was my passion. That was the thing that lit me on fire. I don't get to do that anymore. Because I'm working. I'm earning a shitload of money. Great. I'm on 200k a year, I'm supporting my family. That's great. But what am I doing with it? I don't have any, right? There's no way to spend it. Right, I've got a beautiful house, I got my stuff. But I don't have time to go on holiday. I don't take trips. So there's this. Again, this sort of existential thing creeps in of, well, if that person is so unhappy, and they're showing up to their work, and I said, when you're in that state, when you're in that sort of level of burnout, you may be contributing a sub 50%, 60%, maybe 20, 30% of your capability. So for every hour that I am working for you, I'm giving you 40% effort, and 40% output, multiplying that across a 30 person team. That's you losing 50, 60, 70% productivity from every person every hour.


Kelly: Not to mention, you're only talking about productivity, what about if you're my creative director, how much creativity and innovation and big ideas am I losing out on because you're not sleeping well, and you're not happy and fulfilled and all of that. So you're just executing deliverables at that point.


Chris: Punching the clock in.


Kelly: Punching the clock, yeah.  


Chris: Yes. So again, if you could quantify that and say 77% of your workforce is burnt out, and three quarters of your workforce is performing subpar. Let's call it 60, 70% of my potential. So there's 20, 30% potential productivity effectiveness in every single employee. Multiply that across every hour that those employees are working across the year. That's a lot of lost productivity. That's a lot of lost revenue generation, right? Purely because I'm kind of, I'm throwing it in. I'm not doing the work. And the creativity is actually something that's kind of the neck, that's purely just my work performance. That second piece, as you’re saying creativity, creativity needs space. Right? Creativity literally operates better in space. When I'm thinking, thinking, thinking, doing, doing, doing, not sleeping, not resting, stressed, overwhelmed. All of this stuff going on in my head. There's no room for creativity. Creativity needs the space to breathe and go. That thing over here and that thing over here. That's the connection that needs space, that needs me going for a walk, that needs me sitting and meditating for 10, 15 minutes during my lunch break. Creativity thrives in space, hustle, grind 60, 70 hour weeks, it's just not conducive to creativity.


Kelly: Creativity dies in that environment.  


Chris: Yeah, which is exactly what we're trying to do. That is our job as creative business owners, to be creative. So it's the wrong approach if our goal is creativity, then we need to set the conditions and schedule ourselves and optimize ourselves for that result. But instead, we optimize ourselves for time, because that's what we build, right? We build time. So I want to maximize the time worked. If I work more time, I can build more money. Then that really is the shift. That's the big shift.


Kelly: So I was just going to say, when we're talking about eliminating burnout, what we're actually talking about is disrupting the whole or is this the way that it is sort of a model, right? We're talking about disrupting that mad men style agency mentality. And I do see it actually happening. I have a few clients, past and current that they really do value that time. They understand that creativity needs the breathing room that you're talking about. And they're focused on making sure that their employees are really well rested and really well taken care of and feel like they have a life work integration. Yeah, so I do see it. It feels to me a little bit like moving a giant rock up a hill because it's happening, but it's really difficult. And so I feel like, once we get to the point where we have mass adoption of that as the new norm, then we're good. But in the interim, as we're pushing this rock up the hill, what are some of the small actionable takeaways that you might be able to suggest for agency leaders as they're trying to say, all right, well, I got to start somewhere, like I can't change the whole thing. But how can I impact my culture in a positive way?


Chris: I mean, the simplest way to put it is take a break, right? Build more spare time, free time, literally, calendarized free time into your work schedule. Take Fridays off. Take the weekend off. Literally, I will not work on the weekend, laptop down, phone off. You need that time for your body just to reboot, for your psychology to kind of refresh, go get a massage. Self-care, essentially. The more self-care that you can start to bake into your schedule, and ritualize it so that every week, you're starting to bake this stuff into your schedule.


Kelly: You're saying your schedule, but you mean the leaders themselves and modeling and implementing that for the employees? Just to be very clear about who we're talking about. We're talking about everybody?


Chris: Yes. It has to start at the top right. If I go right for myself, I'm going to take the weekend off. I'm going to take Friday off. I can't just do that and then have my team working 100 hours to pick up the slack. That's why I said it is systemic, but as I said, as the agency owner, I have to get that felt experience first. Then I go shit, this works. I feel so much better. I'm so much more creative because I took Friday afternoon off, or because I've shortened my workday down. I've got more focused attention. So that's one thing basic, more self-care. Take more breaks. Look after yourself more, sleep better. Number one thing is sleep. Good night's sleep, seven, eight hours of sleep, which means eight to nine hours in bed, which I know sounds insane to most people where they're picking out four, five, six hours.


Kelly: That sounds like heaven. That sounds like every night for me.  


Chris: Yeah, exactly. Again, until you've sort of experienced that. I’ve slept for four or five hours. I'll sleep when I'm dead. Right? That sort of idea. But the truth is that you're probably going to die quicker if you don't sleep more. Sleep is such an essential part. And it's actually a very, very active activity. When you're sleeping, you are not just passed out. Right? There's a whole lot that goes on, sort of biologically, when you're sleeping, you're resting and digesting, you're repairing and recovering. It's a very, very active state. And when you skip that, when you miss that every night, when you're not getting seven to eight hours every single night, the residual effect, I was reading a book called Why We Sleep. I was reading an amazing study. Inside that book in Sicily, they've got some groups of people together to do this sleep study, and one group slept less than five to six hours a night and one group slept seven, eight hours every night. And purely on the metric of immune system response, the group that slept seven to eight hours every night had something like a 20 to 30% increase in immune response. So purely by sleeping seven, eight hours a 30% uptick, you're healthier. They're healthier because the system is recovering and repairing and the immune system is doing all of this great stuff and requires that eight hour period. That's why sort of that cycle is an eight hour sleep cycle, right? We need that time to get that immune system boost. The only other part of that study, the people getting five to six hours, it is not that I care. I got six hours tonight. I'll sleep 10 hours tomorrow night and catch up. Once you've lost it, you actually can't pick up that immunity again. So if you lose it, you've lost it. So this is why you need to get that seven, eight hours every single night consistently, because you can't make it up on the weekends. So this is a really interesting insight that came out of that study. If you're not getting it, you can't make that time up. And we're talking about immunity. And today, your immune system is pretty important, right? Your health and your immunity is very, very important. So purely by sleeping less, you're destroying your immune system, which has all sorts of effects. When your immune system goes down, you feel worse, you get sick more often. If your employees are overwhelmed and stressed, not sleeping and sick, your attendance rates are going to drop again, more lost productivity purely by not recognizing that I want my people to sleep better. I want them to work when they feel like working. I want them to show up every day at 100%, not start the week at 100%. And by Tuesday, they're at 60%. By Friday, they're at 10%. And they start the next week at 10%. And this is an ongoing decimation of their performance. So sleep is a massive one, self-care, getting a massage, taking a bath, going for walks, taking a break, and literally baking this stuff into your weekly schedule so it's on your calendar. That's a very high level. Eating well, all the basics, all of the stuff that you know but you are not doing because you're working. Like we all know that we should work out and eat healthy, but we don't do it because we’re focused on I can't go, I got to work. So it's actually doing that stuff and literally putting it onto your calendar. And honoring that time. Ritualizing that time, honoring that space. This is as important to my business as making sales calls. That's really where you want to get that switch to, taking a bath on a Sunday night is as important to my business and my business growth. It’s going to make me more money than the sales calls I'm going to do on Monday morning. You can make that switch. That's how it's become systemic. And we can change the culture one by one.


Kelly: I like it. So the answer is yes, we can eliminate burnout. We actually know exactly how to do it. We just have to do it. And as leaders, we have to model that for everyone who is under our care because as agency owners, like our people are our product. Right? That's basically their output is what we sell. So take  care of them. Chris, thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate it. I could talk to you for hours.


Chris: Yeah, it's always that case. Like, let's just wrap for another couple hours. We'll have to make another call another time. Thank you so much. It's always right in the pocket of the stuff that I love to talk about. I know it's a passion for you as well. So it's always good to share insights with new people.


Kelly: Absolutely. And if you like what Chris has to say, definitely check out his Peak Performance and Predictable Growth show wherever you listen to podcasts. 




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