On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and LaTonya Wilkins discuss how to lead by building psychologically safe relationships within your agency.
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On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and LaTonya Wilkins discuss how to lead by building psychologically safe relationships within your agency.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Massimo Backus discuss emotional awareness in order to mindfully ride the waves of high-highs and low-lows in agency leadership.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Dorie Clark discuss the power in saying no to things that don’t make sense for you, and how to strategically position yourself as a long game thinker for the benefit of your agency.
Episode 119: Are You Playing the Long Game? with Dorie Clark
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 accessiBe.com today. So welcome back to Thrive. Last time, I was talking with Melanie Chandruang about the future of agency operations. I hope you enjoyed that episode. And today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Dorie Clark, renowned consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author of now four books, the newest one being The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World. Hope you can see that if you're watching. Dorie is also represented by consciousness leaders, and I'm really excited to have her in that collective. She was actually named one of the top 50 thinkers in the world. And you're about to find out why. So, Dorie, thank you so much for being on the show tonight. I'm really, really grateful to spend some time with you.
Dorie: Hey, Kelly, thank you. Great to be here.
Kelly: So, I love this book. I hope everybody who's listening or watching goes out and grabs a copy. Early on in the book, you talk about this concept of whitespace. And obviously in the creative realm, we all understand the importance of whitespace. But in this context, you're talking about saying yes to everything means being average at everything, which I think is a really insightful way to think about that. And I think what I'm hearing in the book is that you're suggesting that a lot of people just don't have a checklist or a filter by which they gauge what to say yes or to what to say no to. So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. And then maybe the correlation with our perpetual calendar cramming that we all suffer from?
Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. So, part of what inspired this line of thinking was actually a book I read about a decade ago, by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss called Uncommon Service. And it was really interesting. It was a book about service industry businesses, so everything from airlines to banks, and they were really trying to explore the question of why is it that most businesses are just so mad? I mean, it's pretty rare that there's anybody that's like, oh, I'm so excited about my airline, let me tell you about them, right. Like, that just doesn't really happen. And so, why is it that despite, clearly every business would love to be exemplary; they would love to have viral chatter about them, but it just doesn't really happen. And what they realized at a very fundamental level, is that companies, and I will argue this is true for individuals as well. But in this case, companies are just so reluctant to make choices, to make strategic choices, that they just try to do everything, but it does not work out well. They have this fantasy in their head that like, oh, we're going to choose to be great at this. And then we'll just be average and everything else. But this is where we'll be great. And what they said, which I think is very true is no, it doesn't work. That way, you have a finite amount of energy. If you're going to be great at something, you have to choose to be bad at something else. And the strength is in understanding what to be bad at. So, we do have to really plow down and make the choices. And so that inspired me a lot as I was thinking about us as individuals in our own careers. What are we going to choose to be bad at? We have so many things clogging our inboxes and we get our attention grabbed and waylaid and we need to become a little more ruthless about prioritizing.
Kelly: Yeah. And so, I think that as this correlate for me, and obviously what you said in the book about the idea of jampacking our calendars saying yes to everything, right? It's not just saying yesterday, we're going to offer all these different services, although that's clearly part of this as well. But it's even on that kind of more microlevel on the day-to-day level, where we just cram and cram, say yes, say yes. And there is really very little filter. Part of me thinks that it comes from a trauma response of people pleasing and not wanting to hurt someone's feelings. And maybe your argument in the book is that, saying yes to everything, maybe there's an element of like, fear of missing out, or fear of losing some opportunity. But there's got to be a checklist. There's got to be a filter, right?
Dorie: Sure. I mean, ultimately, it's all of those things, right? I mean, nobody wants to be a bad guy. Nobody wants to miss that out on anything. You don't want to leave money on the table. There are a million reasons why we might justify saying yes. But ultimately what I've come to discover and part of what is so powerful to me, honestly, when I think about strategy and just the concept of strategic planning, I mean, it might sound kind of like nerdy or arcane, but ultimately, it strikes me is really, almost a modern place where we actually have the ability to show courage, because it is about making decisions and cutting off options, just saying no, this is the plan. This is the way that we're going to do this. This is the hypothesis. I am going to test it. And, we all know ultimately that, not deciding is a form of decision. But frankly, it's a weak form of decision. It's just, oh, well, let's see what happens. There is strength in making a call and being willing to accept the consequences of that call. And I admire that in people.
Kelly: Right. It's interesting because as you're saying that, I'm thinking about one of the practices that I have, and I've talked about this on the show before is, I have these five post it notes that I tried to write one thing on each day, and each post it note stack has a different question on it. And one of the questions is, what did I say no to. And I would need to write something on that every single day. And the other day, I was asked to be on a board, like a local nonprofit board. And this is the second year that I've been asked, and I was like, you know what, at this point, it's not about timing, it's just not a good fit. And the response that I got back was, we’re so disappointed, and I was like, that's not about me, like this is a very clear choice. I feel good about it. And it is courageous. And I like that I used that word. It's courageous, because it does take courage and strength to say, this might be a great opportunity for someone else.
Dorie: Or it might have been a great opportunity for you five years ago, but not now. And I think sometimes there's a lag in how we think of ourselves or how we understand ourselves. And so sometimes we're kind of drawn back to like, oh, but this would have been so good. I wanted this so much. But now we're in a different place. And we have to recognize that we're in a different place.
Kelly: Right. So, there's another concept that I love in the book, and you call it thinking in waves; it's kind of this four-part—learning, creating, connecting and reaping. So, let's dive into that a little bit as a framework, because I think it's actually pretty hard to argue against, like, it's philosophy at the core. So, I'd love to talk about that.
Dorie: Yes, definitely. So ultimately, kind of similar to what we were talking about before the fact that we can't do all the things, this isn't, in some ways, a kind of refinement of that, which is that we have the things we're choosing to do. We have to also recognize we can't do all the facets at one time. We have to understand that there are phases, I call it, think of them or call them waves, where we're in a different place in the cycle of whatever it is that we're doing. And it becomes really helpful, I think, because for a lot of people, there's a tendency to beat ourselves up, that we're not doing more things, that we're not doing them faster, that it's not happening faster. But the truth is like, you can't plant a tree, and then just be so mad, like, why did he grow a foot. It's like, you know what, it will grow a foot, just like you have to wait a little bit. And similarly, for all of us, there's really kind of four stages that we're in, in almost any skill that we're learning in almost any business that we're cultivating. And they are as I identify them, learning, creating, connecting, and reaping. And briefly, I mean, the learning phase, in some ways is kind of self-evident, which is that before you start doing your own thing, it is really useful to kind of know what sphere you're operating and how does this work? Who are the people? How do they fit together? What's the culture here? What have other people done before? These are really important things for you to know before you start mucking around. But then, once you do, and this is a transition that many people actually fail to make. You need to start creating yourself. You need to start raising your hand and sharing your ideas, contributing in some capacity, whether it's writing articles or just speaking up, but oh, well, what about this? What about that? It's very easy for a lot of people, just continue to be the wallflower that takes it all in, but you're not adding much value at that point. So you start creating, adding your own genetic quoi to the mix, and then at a certain point, you get to connecting because no matter what you're doing if you're the only one speaking up, if you're the only one that knows what your ideas are, they're inherently not going to travel very far. It's not going to be very useful. You need to amplify that. And you can do that by building your network, getting even more and better ideas by connecting with other folks. And then finally, once the wheels are turning on all this, you get to reaping mode, which is the great part where you're feeling successful, you're making a contribution, you're making a difference. But this is also a potential trap as well, that we have to be mindful of, because sometimes people just get into reading mode and are like, well, this is great, I'll just stay here. But if you do that too long, you eventually wear out, you're welcome. The world changes, the industry changes. And all of a sudden, it's like, no, sorry, we don't want you in your blast faxes anymore. It can become very disrupted and disruptive. So we need to be thoughtful about how to move into the new wave. We go back in to learning so we don't become obsolete.
Kelly: So, it's cyclic, essentially.
Dorie: Yes, exactly.
Kelly: I love that. And I think it's true that some people can go through the first three waves. They get to reaping and then they become like, that guy in the networking event who's just like not connecting with anyone on a personal level, handing out the business card saying the spiel. And then looking at the room as like what's in it for me, as opposed to how can I add value here? Yeah, nobody wants to be that guy.
Dorie: Totally. Okay, no, that makes sense. I like it.
Kelly: And so I would imagine also, like, as you're in this process of thinking in waves, and maybe you're going from learning, you're transitioning into creating and connecting, I think maybe between and you can see if this is true, or not between connecting and reaping. Could there be a moment or months or years where you're like, it's not happening fast enough? Like I should be somewhere else at this point? Like, what about that point? I mean, I know that it kind of, it fits in between that transition, but is that where what you call strategic patience kind of sits into the chronology?
Dorie: Well, the main thing Kelly is it never happens fast enough. I mean, like, literally all of us at every stage. I mean, I, in part, was inspired to write the long game, because I work with so many clients, where almost all of our sessions would basically start with him just venting and being so frustrated because I did this, and I did this, and I did this, and then then Ted isn't calling yet. Right? It's like, okay, I get it. I totally get it. And it’s just this process where we, unfortunately, typically have to keep plowing the fields far longer than we thought or wanted or expected. So that is a big piece of it. But yes, you're exactly right. In the long game, I talk about a concept called strategic patience, which is basically it's sort of my version; it's my way of helping to make peace with this for myself, for my clients. Because so often, I come up with my own name for it, because regular patients, I think, it often has the connotation, which I don't love of passivity, right? Like, I remember, like, as a kid, whenever I sort of wanted to do something or whatever, my mom would be like, just be patient. And basically, that's kind of code for like, please shut up. Please stop asking about this. And it's so frustrating, like, nobody wants to be told that we want to be forward moving. And so strategic patience is kind of my way of navigating this because the truth is, I mean, there's certain things you just can't speed up, like there's only so much control we have in the universe. So yes, we do kind of have to be patient, but it also doesn't mean that we just have to sit back and do nothing and kind of wish and hope because that's not good either. You want to have a kind of active patience, strategic patience, where you're trying things, you're testing things. You have a hypothesis. You say, okay, well, I think this might work. I think this might show some progress. Let's see, let's investigate. If you're at least doing something positive to move toward your goals, rather than just sitting back and creating your vision board or whatever. I'm curious how do you think about this in your own life Kelly?
Kelly: Well, it's interesting, because the way, so after I sold my agency in 2016, I was like, well, we were working with nonprofits and foundations and corporate social responsibility initiatives and things like that. So I thought, oh, well, naturally, I'll just go and be like a nonprofit consultant from a marketing perspective. And that, I think, was not getting so much traction. Probably mostly because I wasn't really wanting to do that. It was just the thing that naturally felt like, well, this is the thing I should be doing because this is my expertise. And then, when I felt like and, I had the opportunity to work on some great projects, one for NASA. So it's not like it didn't work. It just my heart wasn't in it. And then I thought about, probably what you're talking about cutting out everything else. And looking at well, what are the things that I'm really passionate about, like, essentially developing, using myself as a client or a test case for really strong positioning? And so, when I started with messaging and understanding what fellow agency owners wanted and needed, and were looking for, and what their challenges and pain points were, I would start putting creating. So creating content from the place of like, I've been in your shoes, here's how I could potentially help. And I think it took a little while for that content to catch on. And then it took me a little bit longer to start talking differently than some of the other agency growth consultants out there who were just about scalability, profitability. Bottom line, I was like, no, it's actually about the people. Why is no one talking about that? So yeah, but it took a while for that flywheel of content to catch on. And so strategic patience definitely came in at that point. And now, I’m definitely in that whole circle or cycle that you're talking about.
Dorie: It's great. It's such a good example. Thanks for sharing that.
Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. So for viewers and listeners who are kind of like, okay, well, I get the idea of strategic patience. I really liked that it's active. I also would imagine there are some questions that they might be able to ask themselves, just to kind of take that away, and maybe implement that pretty immediately. What are some of those questions?
Dorie: Yeah, well, I think one useful thing to keep in mind, first and foremost, is we often, I think, this is a human tendency. And I see it in a lot of my clients, we often are so afraid that we're going to be the sucker, that we're going to be the laughingstock that is holding on too tightly to a thing that's not working. We tend to veer to the opposite extreme. And instead, we give up too quickly on a thing that actually might work and might have potential, but we have not given it enough room to run and enough room to actually develop into what it could. And so, I certainly understand, no one wants to be victim to the sunk cost fallacy or what have you. But it the tendency really is for people so often the opposite. And so I think what is useful to keep in mind is a few things. The first is to the extent possible at the outset. It's really useful to develop hypotheses about what are the metrics of growth that we should be looking at, because presumably, it's going to take a while for something to reach full fruition, but there may be certain signs that we can be looking for. So, okay, maybe we don't have signed contracts yet. But maybe, we're tracking the number of leads, we're tracking the number of click throughs, we're tracking the number of calls and meetings we've had or whatever. But what are these intermediate metrics? And are we showing signs of positive growth there? I think another thing that's really important, and I talked about this, in the long game, is doing sufficient research so that we actually have a sense of what's realistic. Now, it's not impossible, that your results will be wildly different than other people's. They might be, but more likely, statistically, it will probably be in line with what other people have done. Right? And so if something has taken somebody 10 years to build, you're probably not going to build it in a year. You might build it in eight years or something like that. But we just have to scope it out. And it's actually crazy to me the extent to which we often are flying blind and don't even realize we are. There's a story that Jeff Bezos tells in a 2018 Amazon shareholder letter, where he talks about some friend of his who hired a handstand coach for yoga. And the handstand coach tells the story and says that the average person if you ask them, hey, how long do you think it'll take to do a yoga handstand. They think it takes about two weeks of practice; it actually takes six months of practice. And so, this is not like being off by 10 or 20%. This is being off by 12x. And so often, we are making those mistakes ourselves. So doing the research upfront, and then tracking those intermediate metrics, I think can be incredibly helpful and prevent a lot of heartache.
Kelly: Yeah. Handstand coach, okay.
Dorie: Yeah, right. I mean, I hired a musical theater coach. So I feel like there's a coach for everything.
Kelly: There is a coach for everything. I have a shadow work coach. I have a Buddhist psychology coach. I've hired a stylist coach at some point
Dorie: Wait, did you say, a shadow coach? Is this like some union thing?
Kelly: Yeah. Shadow work.
Kelly: We'll talk about that another time. That's a whole another show Dorie.
Dorie: Oh, I bet.
Kelly: So yeah. So just finding that support, that you're looking for maybe, that you're not looking for that could be kind of unexpected. I mean, it's why people hire all different types of coaches and things like that. But I want to actually kind of wrap up the conversation, talking a little bit about what I think is really important, and what I really appreciated about how you ended the long game, which was this kind of overarching idea of celebrating the wins. And you call it savoring the success, which is just as nice. And you told a little bit of a personal story about being invited back to the college where you did your freshman and sophomore year undergrad. Can you kind of reshare that story for the audience, just because I think it's a good corollary for how we might look at some of the ways in which success takes a long time. And celebrating that is super important.
Dorie: Yeah, thank you. So what you're alluding to is, in the long game, I shared a story about how kind of unexpectedly I got an email back in early 2019 from my alma mater, Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, I did my first two years at Mary Baldwin as part of kind of early college entrance program that they had. And I had not been particularly active at all in terms of alumni things. I really didn't even think they knew who I was, or that I was on their radar. But they reached out and asked me if I would be willing to be their commencement speaker for that year, which was really exciting and kind of an honor, of course, but it was, especially satisfying, because I think for anybody, if you're able to find a way to kind of come full circle in your own life, it has a lot more meaning. It would be nice if any college invited me to be a commencement speaker, like, that's a great thing in general. But when it has that kind of personal salience, it means a lot more, and it's kind of that personal sign of success. And I think that for me, what I take from it is a few things. I mean, one is that success really does look different for all of us. And we need to get clear about what we want, what is special for us as compared to the so called, societal version of success. Some people are super into boating, and they want to spend their money on boats, and some people want a vacation home or whatever. These are great things, but it's not one size fits all, for me, taking the time to be able to speak at the school, which, it's this little school in this little town, but it was extremely meaningful to me because of my personal connection there, and just the sort of message in my own life of like, oh, wow, okay, now we're coming full circle. I have made enough progress that I am, essentially doing my teenage self proud, which is kind of a nice thing for any of us to be able to do. But it is very true that as we think about the long game, I think mistake, sort of systematic mistake that many of us make is on one hand. Of course, there's the mistake of just not devoting enough time to strategic or long-term thinking in general because we're so overwhelmed. We're so busy with the day to day which is kind what we were talking about earlier about the need to create more whitespace. But there's a second mistake, which is for the people who do the long-term thinking, their thinking is so long term; they create the narrative of like, we'll all be happy when, and it's always like this sort of super final state. I'll be happy when I have the Lamborghini, or I'll be happy when I get to be the keynote speaker at South by Southwest or whatever. And I mean, these are like, super long-term goals. It's like, okay, if you're gonna, like, hold off on your happiness for 25 years, that's really a long time. Like you don't have to wait until you're the keynote speaker. Getting to be a workshop presenter, you should celebrate that, frankly, getting your email returned by the conference organizer that celebrate that, because that doesn't always happen, either. So it's understanding that there are milestones and that we can and we should be tracking them. And at every point along the way, we can say, you know what, good job, because what the me of five years ago, would have been happy even for that day new, right? But now it keeps getting better and better. And if we can appreciate that and recognize that I think it leads to a lot more overall life satisfaction.
Kelly: 100% I agree with that. And I think it also leads to or is a reflection of how present we are. Right? Because if you're always thinking about well, that's fine, like great that that happened. Let me kind of shove that to the side. And what's the next thing, clearly you're not maintaining that presence, which is so important for satisfaction and purpose and fulfillment and all of those things. So, great point to end on. Everybody, go pick up a copy of this book, The Long Game. You will thank me, you will love it. Dorie, thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate you.
Dorie: Great to speak with you, Kelly. Thanks for having me on.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Melanie Chandruang discuss both the connection and distinction between the people within our agency and our operational strategy.
Episode 118: The Future of Agency Ops, with Melanie Chandruang
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 accessiBe.com today. So welcome back to Thrive. I'm really excited to talk today about the future of agency operations and what that actually means versus what we might think it means, with my good friend, Melanie Chandruang. She's the founder of WeConsult. It focuses really on helping agencies across the country to streamline their systems and get productivity humming at agencies. Melanie, welcome to the show. I'm so excited that we finally got to connect.
Melanie: Thank you. I'm excited too. I'm excited for all these interesting conversations that are about to unfold.
Kelly: Absolutely. So we were chatting a little bit earlier about this idea that agencies have a little bit of a tough time, kind of grasping what operations really means and what it is. Why do you think that is? Let's kind of start there.
Melanie: Yeah, I think operations is such a broad term. And even the title operations manager or director of operations is such a broad title. Within every industry, if you type in, Operations Manager, you're gonna come up with an operations person that works at an agency, or it could be someone that works in a production, focused company where they have like a tangible product that they are manufacturing and selling. And so I think that's the start of it. It’s just operation is very vague.
Kelly: And so with clients, I imagine you have this conversation all the time, especially at the onset of the relationship. What are kind of the top, let's call them, operational challenges that agencies have been facing over the last two years? Obviously, the pandemic threw everything for loop. And I'm imagining that maybe the challenges have been a little bit different for the last two years than they were prior.
Melanie: Yeah. I mean, the biggest one that is top of mind right now, I think is hiring in our industry. Yeah, it's just so challenging to find quality people. And that, I mean, they're all being competed for. And right now those people are creatives and developers and project managers, and they're all highly coveted roles, within not only agencies, but other industries as well. And so these, say it's a designer, for example, they could go work in house at a product company, and quite frankly, they could make more money than they would at an agency. And so agencies are finding it really difficult to compete. And so, my solution is always make sure your operations infrastructure is really solid, and that you have some well-crafted HR strategies to really recruit those people and also keep them satisfied at your organization.
Kelly: So it's interesting, where you go from operational challenges is immediately into recruitment, candidates HR strategy. And I think that in and of itself is kind of interesting, because I think it rubs up against the understanding or the maybe the misconception that agencies have over operations being this kind of bucket and not necessarily touching the people. They think about it more like the systems and I know that you do focus on financial systems and project management systems and things like that. But it's almost like those are the tools of the trade. But the actual, like, what makes it all work are the people right? So have you ever have situations? I'm just curious about this, where you're having maybe a prospective client call and you go to like, HR strategy, when they're talking about their challenges, and they're like, wait, why are you bringing up HR? This is an operations call. Like, do you ever have things like that?
Melanie: I mean, I try to do a pretty good job of addressing my area of expertise in the beginning and one of those areas is going to be the people aspect of operations. And like we talked about just now, the operations is so broad. And so really, it's just making sure that things are running efficiently across an organization. And so I mean, for us in this industry, the output is the service and the service is provided by the people. And so for me, I need to make sure that the systems are in place for the people to make sure that they're empowered and set up for success. And that, they're going to want to stay at the agency for a long, long time, because hiring is really, really difficult. And then turnover is very, very expensive, right? So yeah.
Kelly: Do you find also that a lot of agencies get the correlation between focusing so much on the people, making sure like you said they're supported, they're set up for success, totally speaking, my love languages, and how that correlates to retention, and lack of attrition and all the things that we're kind of talking about. Do you see that they make those correlations? Or is that something you have to actually educate on?
Melanie: I have to educate quite a bit. And sometimes I'm not able to really get through, and they really just want the metrics to be improved upon, right? They say, okay, I want these metrics. And they don't really understand sometimes that in order to address metrics, you have to address any people problems. And for me, those are the types of clients that aren't a great fit for me. I need to make sure that they value the metrics aspect of operations as much as they do. The people side. They go hand in hand from my perspective.
Kelly: Yeah. This is why I am always happy to make a referral to a client who's looking for operations, consulting, because we're very much aligned in that way. Yeah. So let's go back to this, like the concept of the people are the product, right? I've been saying that a long time. You've been saying that a long time. And that those people are actually the what? What comprises a system? Right? So here, we're not talking about tools. We're talking about the people who are actually helping all of those gears turn in the right ways. Right? Can you talk a little bit about why you in particular are so passionate about this? Because you could have gone in lots of different directions from an operational standpoint, but you chose to focus, really zero in on the people. And I'm curious about that.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the first agencies that I worked at, I was in house at agencies for a long time. I was really lucky that I got to learn the value of process at that organization. I mean, it was a little bit overkill. They had process for everything. And so in that aspect, it did stifle creativity of it, but from my kind of admin operations mindset, I was like, oh, my God, this is music to my ears. This is amazing. But where the agency didn't shine was managing people. And that was a really, really difficult experience, part of my career kind of trauma, if you will. There was the owner of the business was really, not that he wasn't a great manager. He wasn't great at managing people. And I was, unfortunately, one of the people that were his direct reports. And so I think, part of me, it kind of fights for the people. When I do work with an agency, I have this passion that burns inside that I need to make sure that the people of that agency are taken care of, and that leadership, view it as an important aspect as well. And so, yeah, it's something that I can talk all day about, making sure people are taken care of. And so, that is really what kind of seared it in for me, and I've talked about this before that I almost feel like I'm kind of doing the work to kind of heal my past self a little bit. And so, yeah, it was really something that's just seared into my memory forever. And that kind of made me who I am today.
Kelly: So interesting, and I love kind of hearing those backstories. Because we all have those stories as to like how we got into what we're doing now. Mine is very similar to that. But I love the fact that your realization around kind of healing this traumatic experience is like, oh, this is maybe part of my purpose in the world, is to get in from the operational consulting standpoint, and then kind of advocate for the people, by way of the people comprise the systems, and it leads to better output, more innovation, more collaboration, the whole thing. It does kind of, if I would say disappoint me, or makes me a little sad or wish things are different, though, there has to be so much education around this. Because for you or for me, many of the people listening, it just makes sense. Right? I think this is obviously on the show. I talk about conscious leadership all the time. This is the basis of conscious leadership, right? Especially in the services industry. Whether it's creative services or other. So yeah, just fascinating. So thank you for sharing that story.
Melanie: Yeah, of course.
Kelly: So I would imagine that there are some conversations that you have, where I know, this is the case for me. There are agency leaders, agency owners, founders who come to you and say, we screwed things up, like things are broken, we have no idea either it was like we grew too fast, or we just never set up things properly, or people are leaving, like there's lots of kind of symptoms of our broken agency. What do you typically recommend when leaders kind of say, does this make sense for us to engage? When is the right time? Is now the right time? What should we be thinking about? What are the criteria? I mean, there's a lot to that question, but I think it's kind of important because it may be on the minds of the people who are listening or watching.
Melanie: Well, I think the first thing that I like to dig into is how ready are they for change? Because when there are those types of symptoms that you listed, that it's pretty clear, what's the word I'm searching?
Melanie: Indication. Yeah, that something needs to be fixed. And so my responsibility coming in and engaging with an agency is to fix those things. But it can be disruptive for an agency. And so really just having those conversations really early to gauge, are they ready for that type of disruption? Are they ready for that type of change within an organization? And how is the team going to respond as well? I like to gauge, are there any, do you think how's the team going to respond if we rolled out a whole new process for, X, or Y, or Z, and then I like to, also when I come in, I do interviews with someone from every team, just to make sure that all the information is there, I'm getting every aspect from every department. And so yeah, that's one of the first things I like to do is, are they ready for change?
Kelly: Yeah. I've had, and I start my process the same way. I typically work with agencies that are 50 people or fewer. And so as part of my first phase, I'm interviewing, in many cases, almost everybody at the agency, but if it makes an agency of 50 or more. I'm going to probably interview half of them, send out a survey for the rest, that kind of thing. Yeah. I'm curious about if you've ever gotten any pushback, because that's one of my initial questions is like, this is how I start my process. It's really important to get that holistic perspective of how everyone views what's working, what's not working. Where are their opportunities for improvement from their perspective, especially because they're the ones doing the work? Have you ever gotten pushback to say, wait, why do you want to talk to all of these people? It's really the leadership team who has all of the insights that you're going to need. Have you ever gotten that?
Melanie: I have. Yeah.
Kelly: Fascinating to me. To me, that's a red flag. I don't work with an agency that way.
Melanie: Exactly. I have that same criteria. Yeah, I've had owners and leadership come to me and they say, well, we already know what all the issues are. We just need to execute. And that really doesn't give us credit for our expertise and what we can provide. Because I think, and I don't know, I'm making this assumption that part of our kind of superpower is to really get down to the nitty-gritty of what is going on. Yeah. And like I said, I'm kind of trying to heal this past self of mine. And I like to make sure that it's clear that I'm advocating for them, and also looking out for what's best for the agency at the same time. So having that kind of conversation with people. They usually do open up quite a bit. And it's almost like, oh, finally, I have someone to talk to that really understands and can do something to help.
Kelly: Yeah, I have the exact same experience. We've had other conversations, we've never had this particular conversation, and I find it so fascinating that your experience is exactly the same. And with those discussions with the employees, they feel so seen, so heard, like you said, it's maybe the first time that they've even been asked some of these questions. Yeah, I've had employees from agencies just end up in tears in conversations with me. It sounds like you have to get your head nod. And I take that, like, it's a sense of responsibility, I guess, in a way to say, yeah, I'm going to hear you. And I'm going to kind of bring this into the consideration for recommendations that I might make, because something is clearly wrong. If you are to the point where you are breaking down emotionally because of your job, right? Super fascinating. This is not the direction I thought this conversation was gonna go in. But I love it even more.
Melanie: Yeah, I know. Also, that aspect of it gives us a little bit of skin in the game too, right? You're connecting with the people that are on the ground floor, doing the work, and this is their livelihood. They're providing for themselves and sometimes their families. And so that just gives us more motivation to do our job well. And so yeah, hopefully, that if anyone's listening, and you're hesitant to do it, just have us do the stakeholder interviews.
Kelly: Super important. So we were setting out to talk about the future of agency operations. And I'm wondering if what we're actually coming around to, is, the future of agency operations is not about systems in terms of tools, right? So much as it's the future of agency operations is your people. Right? And that's not kind of a way to back out of getting to oh, what does the future look like? I think the whole economy is changing so much. And so employees are literally just not going to stand for certain ways in which they were treated before or having leadership that doesn't support them, that doesn't care about them, and sees them as expendable, sees them as only metrics and not as humans. And so I kind of like this idea of where we've arrived as like the future of agency operations as people. Yeah, it's always been people, but you actually don't have a choice anymore. Because you used to be able to replace people really easily. And you no longer have that option.
Melanie: Yeah, which is great. I think it's kind of forced agencies to really take a good look at themselves, and to analyze how they can treat their people better. I've seen agencies where it's like, that's the name of the game is to just burn and churn. And they go through employees, and they say, oh, well, there's another person waiting in the wings, and we're just going to pull them in when that other person burns out. And it's just so unfortunate, sure their agency can be profitable and successful in many ways. But my indication of success is also just how employees experience a company when they're at it, so important as well.
Kelly: Yeah, how they experience it, and to come back to your story, so that they're not feeling like going forward in their lives that they have to like, heal from this experience, right? You want to create, I think, I imagine I hope you want to create positive experiences for people who are under your leadership, under your stewardship. And I think that actually has to be part of the metrics conversation, right?
Kelly: Yeah. Melanie, I love this conversation. I could talk to you for three more hours about it. Let's leave it there. Maybe at some point we'll do a part two. But thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really, really appreciate you.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBle — Kelly and Michael Anthony discuss how it is both imperative and paradoxical to unravel past coping mechanisms in order to be good leaders.
Episode 117: Our Trauma, Our Agency and Our Values with Michael Anthony
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 accessiBe.com today.
So welcome back to Thrive. Always happy to have you tune in to another episode. And I really hope if you loved the episode with Rachel Roberts Mattox. You're gonna love this episode. Today, I'm joined by Michael Anthony, who is the founder of Think Unbroken. He's a speaker. He's a podcast host. And he's also author of the book by the same name, Think Unbroken: Understanding and Overcoming Childhood Trauma. Michael, welcome to the show, my friend. So good to see you again.
Michael: I'm super bummed to be here with you, Kelly. Thank you so much.
Kelly: So you've said, before we hit record, context is everything. So why don't you go ahead and just give us a little flavor for your story, as much or as little as you want to get into, and then I'm sure I'm gonna have a ton of questions.
Michael: Yeah, for sure. Um, so I grew up in Indianapolis. My mother was a drug addict and alcoholic. And in fact, when I was four years old, she cut off my right index finger. And people always be like, how can your mom do that? Well, it was a continuation of abuse. Right? You always hear this old adage, hurt people hurt people. Then she married my stepfather when I was six, and he was super abusive. Kick the shit out of my brothers and put me in the hospital. The kind of guy you pray is never your stepfather. I mean, imagine a guy six foot four, beating up a child, spent a lot of time living with different families. We were deeply in poverty, often homeless. And by the time I was 12, we live with 30 different families. And that would be from the church, from the community, friends, strangers, sometimes a van or a car, like I never knew I was going to sleep most nights. And I never met my real father, which is actually kind of a godsend because of I lay in bed at night and I prayed, like, why won't you send me my real dad to rescue me God. And I learned at a very young age, nobody's coming. And that hindered me for a while and then actually empowered me. We'll talk about that. At 12, after living in an abandoned house for about two months by myself, my grandmother found out and came and adopted me and like great, end of that trauma. Here we go. Life’s gonna be great. Well, I'm biracial, black and white. My grandmother is an old racist, white lady from a town in Tennessee you never heard of. We had a copy of Mein Kampf, Hitler's autobiography on our living room table. And at 12, I got high for the first time, drunk at 13. And by 15, I was expelled from school for selling drugs, was breaking into houses, running from the cops, getting shot at hurting people, stealing cars, like it was the whole nine. And luckily, I got put into a last chance program. But I still did not graduate high school on time. And in summer school that year, basically, the teacher looked at me, he goes, we just want you the hell out of here. Here's your diploma. Good luck. And I remember thinking like, okay, hold on a second. What is the solution for all this? What is the solution for poverty, for homelessness, for abuse, for trauma for all of it? I was like, oh, it's money. It's gotta be money, like, what else would it be? And so I made a declaration myself, that I would make $100,000 a year legally by the time that I was 21. Now, the legal part was super important because I have family in prison for life. I've been in handcuffs, many, many times. And as of today, my three childhood best friends have been murdered. Like I knew what was gonna happen. I knew where I was going. And so I landed a job working for a fast food restaurant and at 18 years old, I had 52 people under me, like I was reading P&Ls as a baby, you know what I mean?
And then I started getting skills because skills have utility, and fast forward a little bit, I landed a job with a Fortune 10 company, no high school diploma, no college education. And I hit my goal of making six figures. And then that thing happens to people, that happens when they've never had money before. And it destroyed my life. And I found myself at 25 heading into 26. I was 350 pounds, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, drinking myself to sleep, cheating on my girlfriend, and that's when I put a gun in my mouth. I was done. I was like, I thought money was supposed to fix this. It didn't. And the next day I'm laying in bed.
Now keep in mind, I'm 350 pounds, it's 11 o'clock in the morning, I'm smoking a joint, eating chocolate cake, and watching the CrossFit Games. Like, if that's not rock bottom, I don't know what it is. And, I got up and for whatever reason, I went to the bathroom and I looked at myself in the mirror. And I remember being eight years old, and the water company came and turned our water off. Now people were always turning our things off our water, electricity, our heat, we're getting evicted. But on this particular day, I went in the backyard, it's blistering hot, Indiana, August, summer day. And I take this little blue bucket, walk across the street to our neighbor's house. And for the first time I stole water. And I remember being like when I'm a grown up, this will not be my life. And it wasn't financially. But in every other way, I was still that hurt last little boy. And as I looked in the mirror, remembering that moment, knowing I had let myself down, I asked myself, what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have? And the answer was no excuses, just results.
And from that moment, I dedicated myself to getting the hell out of my own way to ultimately be the hero of my own story. And 11 years later, here, I am talking to you. Now that process has been a tremendous amount of work, therapy, group therapy, men's group therapy, trauma therapy, CBT, EMDR, ABC, all the acronyms. I was getting a coach, going to personal development, getting education in trauma where I have over 30 trauma informed certifications. It was putting myself in a position to be successful by investing in myself, by learning, by asking difficult questions, and by ultimately showing up every single day. And today, we think I'm broken, my mission is very simple. I want to end generational trauma in my lifetime through education and information. So another kid never has a story like what I just told you.
Kelly: Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that story. I know that you've shared it on many stages, and I've heard it before in different variations. And it never loses impact, right? Because this is very true to who you were and how you grew up and what you experienced. And so the people who are listening or watching may not have the exact, I mean, definitely they're not gonna have the exact same experience. But maybe there are pieces of your story that resonate with them. Maybe even if it's just the eight year old stealing water, maybe if that's the only piece, right? Or maybe if it's more. So I'm really curious. This whole idea of looking in the mirror, right? I think that is something that all of us have done at certain points of our lives, and how long we stand in front of that mirror; what we actually see, what we allow ourselves to see. I'm curious, like, what happened in that moment for you? Like, when you kind of asked yourself, like, what are you willing to do? What was the experience of that? If you can kind of just like dive into that a little bit more?
Michael: Yeah, it was me very much. I mean, I'd never actually looked at myself before. To that moment, I cannot recall one time where I ever actually looked in my own eyes. I mean, there was so much shame, so much guilt, so much of the embedment and ingrained moment of you're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you're not capable enough. I had no self-esteem, I had no self-belief. I was a ghost effectively just kind of navigating the world as I thought I was supposed to be by placating, by bending myself, by being plastic to the needs of other people.
One of the things about trauma that I don't think people fully understand that I've wrapped my head around, especially recently, trauma is actually the theft of identity. It's not the experiences that we have, like I got the scars, like I have the finger of my mom cut off like that. That's with me. But the thing that is taken from you stripped is your ability to be you. And you think about this, the most dangerous thing I could do as a kid was have an opinion. The fastest way for me to get my head slammed into a wall was to say I need something. And so you learn how to turn that off. Why?
Because it becomes autonomic. It's a survival mechanism. Your brain serves one purpose, Kelly. It's very simple, survival. It doesn't give a shit about your dreams. It doesn't care about the color of shirt you have on. None of those things only want you to survive. And so it's adaptive. And you're put in these situations, and you have to be able to navigate them. So you learn to stop being you because every time that you're you, they're suffering. Every time that you're you, there's pain, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, something happens. And the more that it happens, the more your brain goes, oh, shit, man, don't do that. Don't do it. Don't you dare ask for that thing you need?
Don't you dare have an opinion. Don't you dare show up. Be silent, be hidden, be in the back, be quiet. And that serves you. That's what's so messed up about it. It is for a period of time it serves you. Your'e 4, 7, 12, 15 years old. And then it doesn't any longer. But you're still operating through this scope of not understanding who you are. Because you've only ever been what other people needed you to be so that you could be safe. And then you're 25, 37, 50 to 80 years old. And you're like, I don't know how to say yes. And I don't know how to say no.
And in that moment, really what it is, it's you don't have agency, you've never been allotted the ability to be you without massive suffering. And so now you're in this weird juxtaposition of measuring the dichotomy of all this stuff that led you here, looking at the top to bottom, the ups and downs and being like, holy crap, I have no idea who I am. And at 25 years old, looking in that mirror, that's what I recognized and understood. I never ever was me. Yeah, your favorite band was my favorite band. Your favorite food was my favorite food. The way that people treat each other I did based on how I thought I needed to be so that I could be a part of the community.
Kelly: Belonging. Right?
Michael: Yeah. 100%. Right. It's I mean, for me, when I was a kid and running around with the kids that I did, that was brotherhood, right? And in my 20s, it was the same thing. But it was so toxic, it was partying and women and drugs and money and cars. And, we rent limousines and go down to this club, and people be doing cocaine all night. And they'd be like, I've never done cocaine in my life. I never wanted those things, but I'd be in the room. Right? And be in the room just so I could be seen. And eventually, I found myself though the weirdest moment of my life, probably even this fucking day. It's crazy. Like my friends like, do you want to go to this country music concert?
Yo, I hate country music so much. It's not even funny. And I was like, absolutely I do. I can't wait to go. This is like my favorite thing ever. And in that moment, sitting here looking at all these people. I'm like, I'm not supposed to be here right now. I'm only here because they want me to be here. And in the mirror. And looking at that moment, it was recognizing the truth. And when people understand what I'm about to say, it will change your life forever. And the people who don't understand they're going to judge me and call me narcissistic. But the people that understand this is going to hit home. Healing trauma, being the person you're capable being is about this. I only do what I want to do. And I never do what I don't want to do. And that's agency. And that's the thing that I discovered in that mirror.
Kelly: Yeah, thank you. It's funny. I love the word agency. When I started creating all my social media handles, I chose agency scaler not just for the obvious reason that part of what I do for a living is helping creative and technology agencies to scale but it was about scaling or augmenting personal agency, human agency. And so I love that you kind of bring it back to that. [Commercial] It's funny. One of the things that you said that resonates so deeply with me is like the things that we use, survival mechanisms as coping strategies as those numbing agents even if you know what, let's not even go to numbing agents, let's just focus on like the coping strategies that kept us safe, right?
Those things were brilliantly designed back then. Like our bodies and our minds are so brilliant in the way that they showed up for us, right? And what I find fascinating is that as we develop into adulthood, and even become leaders, those are the exact things that we have to undo, unlearn, unravel, in order to move forward. I mean, it's like, such an interesting paradox, right? So I'm curious, I mean, you're a leader now in many, many senses of the word, but even when you were in that Fortune 10 company, right? Even if you were kind of low man on the totem pole if you will, you still worked at a Fortune 10 company. I'm wondering about that experience and your leadership experience now? And how you kind of see the unpacking related to that.
Michael: Yeah, one of the really fascinating things, I read this book, if someone knows the name of this book, please email it to me, because I cannot remember. I've read like 700 books in my life. And this always sits with me. There's a line in the book where the guy was talking, he says, people often become their nickname. And I thought that was really fascinating when I read that, because when I was a kid, people used to make fun of me calling me coach. Because I always wanted other people, wanted us to be successful. I wanted us to rise, and it wasn't like this thing where I did it just for fun. Like I did it because I want to see success. And people I love it, right? And people used to make fun of me, all these kids were assholes about it. And I'm like, well, that's really interesting, because that's what I do now. And like I never connect those dots. So if you know the name of that book, please tell me.
Kelly: I don't know the name of the book. But what does it say about me that my nickname was hot sauce?
Michael: Yeah, I don't know. We got to sit down.
Kelly: That's a whole another conversation.
Michael: So you know what happened is, I've always been in some sense, a leader in 18. Having all these people under me, it was really weird, because I made every mistake. What do you think an 18 year old boy is doing when he's hanging out eight year old girls out of a fast food restaurant all day, right? Being an idiot. And all the employees were either younger than me or dramatically older than me. So not only I’m leading kids, but also I’m leading adults who are in their 40s and 50s. Some even in their 60s, where this is like their full time job. And I learned so oh my god, I mean, Kelly, I made every mistake you could make. But I also broke every record you could break working for this company at the time.
And it was, I mean, we were doing 10 G's a day and burgers and fries. Like when I mean like nonstop, like you learn how to move and pivot and go really quick and do all the things. And that served me for a while because I was learning but the hours were gnarly. Like I wouldn't get home till four o'clock in the morning. I'd have a day off. And I'd have to be back the next day at four o'clock in the morning. Like it was really intense. And so I definitely learned what I didn't want to do. And so I bounced around for a little bit between that trying to figure out where I wanted to land. I work for a shoe company and I worked for a hardware store. And I was just like this, ain't it? None of these things are gonna get me 200,000 a year.
And I'm going somewhere to answer this. One day my friend calls me. We're on MySpace, excuse me. He didn't call me. We're on MySpace. We're messaging. He just got a brand new tile. I was like, bro, you went to my high school. You grew up next to me. how did you get a Tahoe? What are you doing? He's like, I got a job with an insurance company. And I was like, oh, my God, like I didn't know that was possible. Only thing I knew was Buy Here Pay Here, unemployment lines, WIC vouchers. I didn't know you could do. I didn't know how he figured it out. And I was like, okay, cool. That's how I do it. Now, obviously, I won't say the name of the company. But I end up landing with this company.
And in that, one of the really cool things that happened is they actually took us through training. Like we had to learn, we had to be studious to work for this company. Like we went through Franklin Covey stuff, we went through sigma six stuff, we went through stuff that they just made up, that was pointless, but we were always learning. And what I discovered was that to be an effective leader, you have to continually learn. And that's kind of what started to kind of spark my interest in IT. Because I always really enjoyed being in the room and I would look at these, I would look at the CEO, or I'd look at the SVP, and I'd be like, but you guys went to college, I'm never going to be successful. I had such an incredible limiting belief.
Think about this. I'm never going to be successful making $125,000 a year, right? That's my thought pattern at the time. But I would look at these guys. And sometimes I get to go and sit with them for a minute and have a conversation. And I was just like, oh, you can have this kind of growth. You can build this, but I hate being told what to do. So it didn't work very well for me. And so I was always getting in trouble. I would get kicked out of meetings. Can you imagine that? Like you get kicked out because I'm like, the thing that you're talking about is asinine. It doesn't make sense. Why would we do it that way when honestly this is the way that makes sense.
Not recognizing whether that's true or not, but just feeling like I got to speak my mind in the moment. And what happened was, I was sitting one day, talking on the back porch with a friend. And he was like, I'm quitting my job tomorrow. I was like, oh, cool. I'm gonna actually quit mine too, because I had started a photography business. And I was doing that as my side hustle. But that was starting to take over. And I was like, okay, cool. I'm gonna go over here and do this. And so many of those skills became transferable: sales skills, conversational skills, follow up skills, doing things legally and by the book, right?
Because, I mean, all I did was illegal stuff as a kid. And so, I learned so much, but the number one thing that I took away from leadership in corporate, was that there's no nice way to put this, they only care about money. They only care about money. And I took that away, and I knew what kind of leader I didn't want to be. And then as I've built and cultivated my own businesses, my own brands in the last 12 years kind of just doing my own thing. It's been really about understanding that leadership is first about vulnerability, probably more so than anything. Because your team if you sit here and you tell them bullshit, they're gonna see through it. We're not stupid. If you're talking about, oh, numbers are great, and things are amazing. But your P&L is garbage, and you're not paying yourself because you can't afford to, because you're not making any revenue. They're gonna know because we can sense that energy. Right?
Kelly: It's a great point.
Michael: Authenticity is the number one energy producing element on planet Earth, right? I'm taking that from my friend, Gary Brecker. He told me that is incredible. And it's so true. Because think about what you want when you connect with people, authenticity. And so the greatest leadership skill that I learned in corporate was that those dudes are never authentic, right? They got PR to come clean up. When was the last time some dude in corporate was like, yeah, yo, I really fucked up, I'm so sorry, guys. Not going to happen again. Never. Everybody's in running everything. And then over here, when you're on your own, if you do that, you're going to lose people, you're going to lose money, you're going to lose credibility, you're going to lose everything.
One of the reasons why most people are not successful in their businesses, in their endeavors, and everything that they do is because they're always bullshit. They're not keeping it real. Like I'm willing, and this is my superpower. I'm willing to be publicly embarrassed, because I don't care. I really don't. I'm like, great, I learned something if it happens, and so my team knows, you can call bullshit on me in the middle of the team meeting with all 37 people on the phone. And let's figure out why. Right? Because if you're going to be an effective leader, it's got to be more than about the money. It’s got to be about the impact. It's got to be about the brand values and the mission, which are not the same thing. It's got to be about where you're going. Your team needs to be in alignment with that they need to understand, their purpose.
You need to be on the same page about their goals. How do you help them? It's amazing to me how many people will stop working for me, because of the next thing that they're able to go to. And I love when I get to keep people. I have some people under me, have been with me for 6, 7, 8 years, right? But I have people who are with me for like 18 months, and they're like, yo, I just got a promotion, double the salary to go into a leadership role because of the things you taught me. I'm like, great, bye. Help me replace you. Good luck. I'm always here for you. Right? And that's what I want. And there are people who are so afraid of that, when I interview people, and they come to my team. Like there's multiple processes before I'll even sit down with you. But I'll be like, where do you want to go? What do you want? I don't want to keep you here, if you don't want to be here. If this is a stepping stone, keep it 100.
Tell me, great, I will give you everything I can as long as you show up and you produce every single day. And so many people who own businesses are scared to do that. Because they're like, I'll never be able to find that person. Yes, you will. And there's more of them. Because people are incredible. And there's so many people who can bring value to your business. But you're afraid to give them the tools that you've learned which is actually hindering your whole business, which is making you an ineffective leader. I mean, I'm sorry, I'm on a rant right now. I can keep going if you want me to.
Kelly: Please keep going.
Michael: Well, look, I mean, it's really gonna sit back. You sit here and you look at this idea like okay, I want to build this company. I want to build this brand. I want to build this business. Well, if you don't know your values, personally, first and foremost, how are you going to integrate somebody into believing that in your business? Like when I sit down with people, the two most important questions that I ask them is what are your values? If you cannot answer them, I'm not hiring you. Even if you're like, my values are like this, these nonsensical things that I would never consider value and be like great if you have no, because that to me is level one of do you know who you are?
And if you cannot work for my company because you have not yet done what you need to do to get to that place. And number two, and I took this from my mentor, Tom Bill, which has dramatically changed the way I hire people. He goes, ask them the last time they were offended. And I've always loved that question because if you want to work for me, you're gonna have to be willing to take massive criticism in a good way and publicly because I'm willing to do that. So I lead the same way I want people to follow. And that means that when we're in team meetings, and you don't come through, I'm gonna like talk to me exactly what happened.
You cannot cower and run away. Like, we've got to find the root of what happened here. Because like, honestly, Kelly, I probably fucked up as the leader. It's like, I've come to find 99.9% of the time when there's mistake downstream. It is my fault, 99% of the time, because I didn't show up effectively, because I wasn't clear on directions. Because in the SOP that I wrote, I missed a step, because of whatever it was somewhere along the line, that mistake happen. But I can only get to that when we are in this setting, whether it's publicly or privately, and I go, why did you mess up? Tell me what happened. And they go, oh, well, that thing that I thought you gave me wasn't there or complete, and I go, okay, great.
And then the other side of it, like they just might not have been paying attention and doing the job. And so when you're in a leadership role, you've got to be willing to fall on your sword for everything. I take no credit for the accomplishments. And I take all the credit for all the failures, right. And that's one of the things that has helped us grow businesses to multimillion dollars over the years. In COVID in 2020, in my retail business, because I run multiple companies, we increased revenue by 77%, over 2019. We did it again in 2022 at 74%. We're talking millions of dollars. Because when everybody else tell and ran, I said, let's walk into the fire. Let's see what happens. Let's go for it. Let's be the most aggressive we've ever been.
Let's show up. Lets build community. Let's make sure. And look, this was hard. We had to remove people from one of the companies that just were not producing; they weren't showing up. That's the worst part about leadership. You got to hire slow and fire fast. And you really do. And you've got to be willing to look, you can only give people so many chances. And there's companies right now somebody listen to this, you have somebody on your team you should have fired on day one.
Because you knew they weren't the right culture fit. Because they're toxic, they're a complainer. They're always right. They're the people who don't show up. They're the people who they leave early, and they show up late. And they always have an excuse, and, and this and that. And like, I want to take care of my people. I want to. Like everyone who works for me knows that they're getting taken care of. Because that's how I think about it. But you've got to show up to and if you got people on your team who are not showing up, get rid of them, because you're not going to be successful with them on your team.
Kelly: It's also going to just stay in your mind, like this nagging thing that you constantly have to deal with.
Michael: Well, yeah, and look. Yeah, 100%. Look when it comes down to this, right? If it's keeping you awake at night, yo, you know what to do. But you're like, there's such a great coder. And? So as Rose in the Philippines, and go find them. Stop making excuses. Right? Some of you are in boards that you shouldn't be in, some of you are doing all these things that are taking away from productivity, some of you just aren't showing up. And so I think the greatest thing about leadership I've discovered is just been through the massive number of failures. I've been leading teams. I've been leading teams. I was 18 years old. I've hired over 500 people. I've consulted with major Fortune 500 companies, I've done all these things. And so it's like, I promise you as much as I know the sun's gonna come up tomorrow, that two things are gonna happen. One, I'm going to look at my phone. I'm gonna have to solve a problem as soon as we're done with this interview. And two, somebody is gonna f*** something up.
Kelly: That's the reality.
Michael: And that's the truth about it. But when you're willing to step into and acknowledge that and not run from it, instead be solution-oriented. I don't look for problems. I look for solutions. And when you are willing to be solution-oriented, there is always a way to, it's really funny people on my team will come to me and be like, I don't think we can do that. I'll be like, why? And they'll go through and I'll be like, why? And they'll go through. I'll be like why. Will go through and I'll be like why? I'm like okay, cool. Great. So you gave me all the reasons why you can't, now tell me the same number of reasons why we can.
Kelly: Yeah, I love spinning that around. Absolutely. But I've never heard it where you had to create the same like the equal number of why you can't. So that's actually good. I'm going to use that.
Michael: You should. Well so many people are always looking for the reason why they can't. I'm only looking for the reason why I can. I'm only looking for the reason why I can. I've already been at rock bottom. I already have all the cans. I've already had as low as you can go. I've already had massive failure. And so what I think about is what do you need to do to be successful? Now that comes back to that question I asked myself, yeah, the answer is no excuses. Just results. Figure it out.
Kelly: Yeah. It's very interesting. Because what you're talking about in the context of dealing with an employee who only brings you problems, or only gives you the reasons why you can't do something, you're almost stepping into really a very traditional kind of like, trauma informed coaching container. What I mean by that is, you're empowering them to say, okay, I hear all of these things that are true for you. And that may be, has been the case, have been your history. Your experience with whatever you're trying to solve here. Now, where do you want to go with it? And as opposed to solving it for them, you're empowering them to say, oh, I actually have the answer to this. And then that helps them to show up differently. Fascinating. Yeah. I love that.
Michael: And, there's two rules that everyone knows when they work under me. One, I'm not replying to your email. Like, for real. I'm not. Email is the death of all entrepreneurship.
Kelly: That's why we may need to text you.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. You have my real phone number, right? I'm not replying to your email. I get 10,000 a day, I don't know. What am I supposed to do with that? And two, everyone knows, you are not allowed to pick my brain or ask me a quick question. I'll make it higher, 98% of the thing that you're about to bring to me, you could Google. Right?
Kelly: Or ask a colleague or whatever.
Michael: Yeah. Or find the answer. Here’s what I love. Train your team to do this. “Hey, Kelly, I recognize when I was going through our CRM, that there's a tagging issue. And I think the thing that can be the solution for this when we're sending out our outbound emails is that we could go and put this into Google Analytics that on the backside of this two-step process. Is it okay if I go ahead and do that?” Yeah, bye. “Not, hey, there's a problem with the tagging system. What do we do, Kelly?” Right? I hired you to solve a problem. I didn't hire you to bring me more. I got plenty.
Kelly: Right. So honestly, Michael, what I hear you saying a lot is like, accountability. And also, I will absolutely support you in every way that you need. Right? So as a leader, I'm going to hold you accountable. I'm going to call you out in meetings because that is the culture and style that I've created. And you also know that I have your back no matter what.
Michael: Well, and you know what? So I'm going to go deeper than what you just saw because you're not in my brain. That is a byproduct of something very simple. My values, honesty, kindness, leadership, self-actualization, no excuses. Everything that happens in all of my businesses, in all my relationships, and all my communication, always filters through my value system. So it comes back to what I said a few minutes ago, if you are a leader without values, you're screwed. You've got to figure it out. It's the same reason I asked employees when I'm going through the hiring process, tell me your values. I cannot have the time when you come into my company to teach you what your values are.
Kelly: Right. It’s not your job.
Michael: Yeah. Exactly. 100%. And so if you don't know your values as a leader, and somebody that you're sitting with, you're not going to be able to have understand whether or not that juxtaposition of where they're at and where you're at is positive or negative. Because when I come and I sit down with somebody, and you hear the language I use and the words I speak in the way that I show up, that's honesty and self-actualization all through and through. Before we recorded, you're like, you love me because I'm this way and that says who I am all the time.
Like, I'm not going to not be me. And so when you're in this position, as a leader, and you want to create a culture of authenticity, of vulnerability, of truth, of the ability for people to come and have accountability, and accountability, someone I love said this the other day, and it struck me so hard. He goes, “Accountability should be encouraging.” And you cannot have a couraging accountability when everything is facetious, when everything is on the backside of bullshit, because as a leader you're afraid to be honest and keep it real.
Kelly: Yeah. Man, well, everybody who's watching and listening now you know exactly why I wanted to invite my friend Michael onto the show. Michael, thank you so much. I appreciate your time. I know you're really busy. Thank you for coming on and sharing all of that. I mean, total mic drop. So thank you.
Michael: Well, it's my pleasure. And thank you for allowing me the space because of you. Now you're a part of my mission and my goals and that means the world to me. So thank you.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Manish Dudharejia discuss the continuous need for additional agency resources and the benefits of a white label partnership solution.
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 accessiBe.com today.
Welcome back to this episode of Thrive. What I've heard from clients over the last five or six years prior to the pandemic, is this continuous need for additional resources to either fill specialized gaps or to handle overflow work that they have. So today I'm actually talking with Manish Dudharejia who's the CEO and founder of E2M Solutions. It's essentially a white label agency for agencies. So if you need website design, development, ecommerce solutions, SEO content, marketing, things along those lines, this is exactly what they do as a white label solution. So Manish, I am so excited to talk to you about this because it is such a pervasive issue with so many agencies, including my own when I had it many years ago. So let's talk about these like bandwidth solutions for agencies because there's so many out there.
Manish: Sure. Thank you Kelly. First of all, thank you for having me on the show. Really appreciate it. And likewise, I'm also equally excited to speak about this specific issue and how are we solving that. And, hopefully, the listeners will get a thing or two to learn from this.
Kelly: Yeah, of course. So I'm really curious when you started E2M, why did you go in the direction of being a service provider for agencies? What was that sort of maybe a light bulb moment for you, where you realize that this was necessary?
Manish: Yeah, you know what? When I started this agency nine years back in 2012, before I started, I was doing a lot of research. And I obviously have had two options where I could have gone to the direct clients or I could have gone to the agencies as a client. So we have a headquarter over here in India. And my core expertise is hiring and training people and creating a great culture over here. And then I was like, okay, what if someone is filling up a shoe of doing sales and business development. So there is someone who is really interested in doing sales, branding, strategy, marketing, and like that, but they really don't want to be into a position to hire people, train them, creating a great culture, and like that.
So I thought there was a huge gap where there are a lot of agency owners, they are really good at like sales, business development strategy side. They really do not want to get into the operation side. Right? And specifically, the delivery side, because it has its own pains. And, obviously, cost is one thing, but there are a lot of things other than the cost. So that's where I thought, okay, how about, if I just focus on one area, which is kind of like, solving the bandwidth issues, and not solving two problems, where I really don't focus on, doing sales and marketing and like convincing clients that this is the good technology for you. And like discovery phase, and like that. Instead, we kind of decided to be part of an ecosystem where someone is focusing on one side, which is kind of sales and business development, bringing clients on board. And then we come into the picture, we become kind of like solve the bandwidth issue, and become a part of the team and help them deliver what they commit to their client. So that was the first reason. Second thing, absolutely, agencies is a competitive space, right? Agencies would like to close more business.
And specifically, if you're catering to small to midsize businesses, your prices have to be competitive, right? And that's where, we thought, okay, we would be indirectly helping small to midsize businesses by offering a competitive price to our agency partners so they can lower their prices as well, where they can be still competitive. They can be still profitable, but competitive as well, while using white label team in the backend where they do not have any additional overhead expenses. So kind of like, the idea was that, where do we want to fit in this ecosystem? And secondly, how can we help small and midsize businesses to have cost-effective solution to go online and succeed online?
Kelly: Right. I love that you describe it as an ecosystem because I think that that's really just like a very apropos term here. And on the flip side of that, I would imagine that, there is some skepticism on the part of the agencies themselves, right? I could imagine as a host of different sort of misconceptions and common questions that you're probably answering day in and day out, as you're talking with agency owners and leaders. So can you talk a little bit about kind of some of those things that you have to address when you're engaging with an agency?
Manish: Yeah, absolutely. No, this is kind of common questions we get every now and then, very often. So I think, initially, when we started, we were just having a local presence over here. And gradually, I realized that if I really want to understand the US market, we have to have a company established there. I have to be there. So five years back, I decided to incorporate our company in the US. So we have a sequel register in California. We have an office in San Diego. I lived there for one and a half year. I traveled a lot. I met our clients in person. I traveled literally like 30 plus states in the US, and 40 plus cities in the US as well. So I kind of like tried to understood the gap. So, generally, agencies always have a skepticism that, okay, when we work with an offshore team, or white label team, they do not understand what we commit to our clients, what is the value of turnaround time, what is the value of quality, and what do we commit to our clients?
Would it be delivered with absolutely same commitment, right? So I kind of fill that gap over here, where I understood I have studied the US market, specifically. I met so many clients. I kind of understood their pain points to work with a team. And that's exactly I have trained a team over here. So we are close to 150 people working at E2M. So, we have created our leadership team, where we have trained in a way, not what our organization needs, but what our clients need, and what are the pain points we can solve doing that. So having a local presence there, kind of like helps them to build a trust that technically they are dealing with a local company.
And also, what we do is, we have defined processes in a way which goes hand in hand which are kind of aligned with them. So, usually, what happens is that agencies work with us, they always think like, okay, when we do an outsourcing, we sometimes have to train the team. We have to explain them the process, and we don't want to work with a vendor, but we want to work with a partner who can understand what we are committed to our client, and they exactly delivers the same. So, I have tried to do it over here where I have defined and designed the processes where we really do not deliver what we want, right?
We absolutely deliver what actually their clients want. So first thing we always ask them that okay, what have you committed to your client. We always work as a team, where we decide mutually what are going to be the deliverables and what are the turnaround time and what is the expertise. We do not recommend clients to commit to something which we do not have an expertise or we cannot commit if we cannot deliver basically. So, I think yeah, that's the common question we get. The other thing is obviously, outsourcing is kind of like cheap and quality issues, and like that. So, I personally believe quality is the most important thing, quality is something we are obsessed about.
So, we are 10 dedicated QA engineers, who just work on a quality site, making sure that we delivered so we have defined great SOPs, great checklist when it comes to building the websites, delivering, launching websites, and doing QA like that. So generally they face an issue where agencies do not have their own standards, checklist, SOPs. And in an ideal world, when you are working with a freelancer or just an agency, would just have an approach of getting things done. They do not have all these things, processes, SOPs, standards, checklists, and like that, and they kind of have like one person for everything. So, we're here.
We have a different process, generally what happens in outsourcing, communication is the major challenge and barrier. So, because of the language barrier, what we have done here is we do not lead developers to communicate to clients, our agency partners. We help process where they will have always a single point of contact, whoever, like fluent communication skills, they absolutely communicate very clearly. So there are no language barriers, which kind of make their life much, much easier, because now, when they would like to engage with us for different kind of services, they have to talk to multiple point of contacts, multiple people, and they have to always juggle between different people.
They have to explain the same thing to multiple people. So all the time, I have kind of analyze the pain points. And sometimes they are bad because they're outsourcing in terms of they have committed, I think the most important thing I have observed is transparency. Okay, so usually, they always feel that, they are kept in dark. The white label partner or outsourcing partner, they do not communicate things clearly. So transparency is something we have in our foundation, where we kind of like make sure that we do a very transparent communication. So there are these kinds of challenges we get to hear literally, every now and then. And we have no specific solution for that. [Commercial]
Kelly: So it sounds like collaboration is a big piece of this. It sounds like being process-driven is a big piece of this. The transparency and communication, and just communication in general. So yeah, that's great. And I also was really impressed with speaking about all of these kind of like, questions and misconceptions and things. I was really impressed with the FAQs list that you had on your website. As I was going through that I was like, wow, they really have covered almost every single thing that I would have wanted to know. So good job there.
So yeah, we're talking about some of those pain points or some of the skeptical nature of the agencies that could engage with you. Let's talk a little bit about the benefits, because I think that that's really important to talk about as well. When you're working with a white label team that you trust, and I did this with my agency as well for some specialized services. There are so many benefits, right? Whether they're offshored, nearshored, it doesn't really matter. There are really a tremendous amount of benefits. Now that you've worked with over 100 different agencies in the US and Canada and Australia, what would you say are the top three biggest benefits that you see your agency clients realizing through the process?
Manish: Yeah, that's a great question. I think, first I would obviously put as a cost because what is happening is that we are kind of a full service white label agency. So, having partnership with agencies like us, will kind of put agency owners in a situation where they do not have to hire different people for different kinds of skill set. So let's say, if there is a full service agency, then they are doing like websites, they are doing ecommerce stores, they are doing SEO and copywriting and like that. So having like, a one-stop shop for everything which kind of gives them a peace of mind where they are not juggling with different people for different things. They have a single point of contact. So that is the first benefit and cost.
When you hire like multiple people for the same thing, while instead they can hire, they don't have how to hire different people, right. And specifically, if I talk about the full project, so full project unit is designed, you need a developer, you need a QA guy, you need server people, right? You might need an SEO consultant as well. So you are kind of hiring five people, but here you are hiring like one person who is doing everything. So that saves a lot of cost. And obviously, the currency conversion, and like that, that kind of gives them a huge benefit. So usually our cost is 1/3 of the work cost in the United States, and what agencies charge over there. So that's where the cost helps them to increase their profitability. That's the clear benefit.
And there are no overhead costs, and we'll talk about our business model, but we have a very flexible pricing model where there are no any hidden costs, no overhead costs, no retainer fee, no long term contracts. So that kind of sales, they are only paying for the services they use. So that gives them a lot of cost benefits. So I would definitely put cost as the first benefit. The second most important thing is the flexibility to scale and down. So, I designed this business model in an agency, our agency in a way, we never force our partners to work to lock into a contract. It's purely month to month, right? So I understand, code specifically has taught all of us that things could change at any point of time. Right? Not every day is the same, right?
Kelly: And they will continue to do that.
Manish: Yeah, absolutely. Regardless of COVID. I think we live in a world where it's very fast, evolving, and growing. So what the market is, right now, it could change a year from now, right? So agencies need change, specifically, if we talk about regardless of the size, whether it's like solo agency owner might have just one project, but they might have 10 projects down the road. A small to mid-sized agency, they have a really great volume, but specifically holiday’s time, they do not have a great volume, and they do not want to pay continuously on the same although they are not using the services.
So the flexibility and scalability is the most important thing where they can decide, like however, resources, however, they want to work at whatever capacity they want to work, and scalability. So, if they have a project tomorrow, they will scale up; if they do not have a volume tomorrow, next month, they will scale down. So the flexibility and scalability, it gives them peace of mind that, okay, I do not have just my monthly cost, where if I don't have a volume, if I don't have a projects work, I'll just simply scale down. And whenever I have a work, I can scale up. So the flexibility and scalability is the most important thing. And the third thing I would say is, having multi-tech step, right?
So, in a traditional world, if you hire a WordPress developer, they are just going to do WordPress things, for an example, right? But here now when they hire a dedicated developer, they are getting like WordPress, Shopify design expertise, SEO expertise and copywriting expertise, like that, because they are hiring a team over here, not just one expertise. They are hiring kind of a white label team. So that's the third most important benefit I would put is like, having an access to multi-tech stack partner, because it's constantly evolving. Now imagine, I mean, you have run an agency.
So you had a client tomorrow, they will need a custom web application. A day after tomorrow, you will have a client who will need like robust Shopify Ecommerce store which needs to build on solid because that's a need of a project. You cannot just like have a WordPress expertise and keep selling WordPress thing, right? Because you have to understand your clients requirements. And accordingly you have to propose the technology solution. So, that's the third benefit, I would put is like, having an access to team where they have an expertise on multiple technologies.
Kelly: And so, in that process, are you also engaging with the agency either directly with the client in like discovery calls or maybe even after a discovery call to kind of brainstorm with them? What technology solution might be best for a particular project are you getting involved or is your team getting involved that early on?
Manish: Yes, we do, maybe even a normal thing. Generally, for agencies, they already decide the technology by themselves and they do the discovery phase. And once the project is in, then we get into the picture. But a lot of agencies, partners, we help them during their pre-sales process as well, with no obligation where they kind of share the requirement with us. We recommend them, okay, this is the technology best for, this is what they know, proposal cost looks like timeline deliverables, and they use it our proposal and put it as a white label and share with the client.
So yeah, we definitely get involved. We help. So we do not work in a fashion where we just like take the project and get it done. We have a very consultative approach. So we let our partners use our resources as well, our checklist, our standards, our processes, and like that, right? Even sometimes agency owners use our portfolio in the offline word. And we never let them ask to put it publicly. But yeah, we let them use our resources, we educate them, we help them during the pre-sales process, we help them with that.
Kelly: So what I hear you saying it's sort of like the through line for this whole conversation is that white label, even though it could have had a negative stigma years ago, really it has elasticity built into it, if you find the right partner. And so, what I hear you saying a lot is about collaborative partnership, right? This isn't just a vendor relationship, right? This is really a collaborative partnership where you're being very transparent, not from a communication standpoint only, but also in like, hey, these are the processes that are working for us.
If you don't have those in your agency, please take ours if that can help build your agency, and then we can handle the projects on the backend for you. That's great. It feels very reciprocal, which is kind of what I like about it. Yeah, I just wanted to say that because it was coming up for me, as you were talking, I felt like this through line of the collaborative partnership. And I think that is your business model to your point before, because I do want to touch on that even your business model feels very collaborative to me in the way.
It's not locking people into a yearlong contract, or just the ability to have that, again, flexibility or elasticity in terms of, if I need to be on this subscription plan this month, because of my project or workload, but in a month or two from now, if that needs to kind of drop, even down to zero for a period of time, and then back up. And I think just that flexibility feels very inviting. It's very invitational. So can you talk a little bit about how agencies will typically determine how they might engage with a white label service provider like yours? Like, how did they enter into the ecosystem as you call it?
Manish: No, absolutely. So before I go there, and I'll touch base on the point you mentioned earlier, I think when we work with over the course of last nine years, we have worked with hundreds of agency owners at present, currently, we have 110 active agency partnerships. So, agencies, you like to say, we do not act like a vendor, we take some time to educate our partners that okay, this is something working really well for other agencies that can work really well for you as well.
In fact, we are in the process of building a very practical and actionable guide on how to use your white label team effectively. So how to get the most out of it. So we are in the process of putting that actionable guide, which will be out in like a week or two. So, yeah, that's definitely there in terms of business model. So what I did, in an ideal world, ideal white label ecosystem, there are three pricing model. One is kind of like, a fixed cost model. The second is like ad hoc, or time and resources material model. And third is a dedicated model where the resources agencies hire on a dedicated model.
I found a problem with all these three models. The fix cost, it's kind of like every time agency owners have to come to white label partners and ask for the code and then, they add their markup and with ad hoc, kind of like, it's an hourly basis where they sometimes, white label they have to deliver to their clients depending on the availability of their white label partners. And in a classic dedicated model, if they hire a WordPress developer, they just get WordPress expertise. If they had a Shopify development, they just get Shopify expertise, right? So, three years back, I decided to change our business model completely back in 2019.
We have productized our white label services. So, think like that. We have designed different plans considering the agencies would have, on a given day, they would not have a higher volume, where they can sign up, like for a small plan, and always scale from there, where we do not limit ourselves to just one expertise. And also, it's kind of like, well, they can get it done anything. So we have designed a model, where they can get like unlimited projects done for unlimited number of their clients where they hiring a team, where they have a ready team. They don't have to train.
And we kind of have a process where we ask them, in the first month we understand their processes, their project collaboration tool, like that. So it's a business model where there is a flat monthly rate, no hidden cost, no retainer fee, and there is the list of expertise, and the number of hours, there is a range of number of hours. So it's very 100% crystal clear model, and it's purely month to month. We do not lock them on the plan for a long period of time. We can change the plan at any point of time, literally at any point of time. They can downgrade at any point of time, upgrade at any point of time.
So, that kind of business model gives a very peace of mind. So whenever we speak with agency owners, they kind of like, okay, this is something we never heard of. So now they know, we have a trained team. They know their monthly costs. They know the expertise they have access to, and they have peace of mind. And we have like, a very good process where we kind of educate our partners, agency partners that okay, which plan is the best for you. Sometimes they sign up for the wrong plan, and they do not utilize the hours, then we educate them, no, this is not good for you. Because you do not have a volume. Right?
So you better downgrade to this plan or upgrade to this plan. And also, like with scalability, there are a lot of agencies we work with. There are tons of volumes, and then we give them like good offer, where they sign up for our services for a long period of time. They get over the discounts as well. So we kind of like have a very consulting and customized approach. So although we have productized our white label services, where we have plans to choose from, a flat monthly rate, very transparent pricing model, but still we get on the call, we understand their needs. And help them choose the best plan.
So here now, they do not have to ask, they do not have to come to us every now and then that, hey, I got a client, what will be the cost, because in the backend, they already know this is what my cost is in a monthly basis. And what happens, now they have a small help they need, maintenance need, right? Now, imagine you are going to your white label partner and ask them, okay, what is going to cost, like their partner will get back to them within 24 hours, then they will reply too. So here in that process, literally, they will lose two to three days. But here, they know they have a team. They will just send the request and it's getting it done. Right?
So it's kind of this unlimited thing where we do not limit as long as they have projects and work related to technologies expertise we have. They can just literally send anything for any one of the advantages. We identified agency owners’ louder collaboration tools, louder project management tool. And when you work with freelancers, if not bigger agencies, what happens, they are not adaptive to be part of agencies collaboration tool. So we have designed our plan where we actually let our project managers become part of their collaboration tool. So now, they have everything under one thing. So if they use Asana, for example, then they have their clients on Asana. They have the renounced team. They have the project managers, and they have our development team also part of their Asana.
So I think we have designed over the nine years I have learned a lot and decided, okay, that let's design something which solves all the problems rather than following the traditional models. So we still do a fixed price model, but that says 20% of our business, we have like 70 plus agencies who are signed up on either of these plans right now. And they are loving it. A lot of agency owners, we speak with them, and they are like, okay, this is something, we did not know, until we speak with you right now. So, I think this business model we have, where we are also solving the problem, it's not just about the cost, right?
It's about like how we help them at every step to help them focus on growing their agency and scaling the agency, rather than spending unnecessary time and communication to like get a quote, and add your marker and then share with your agencies, share with your clients, and like that. The other thing I always faced is like when you work with like project to project, your point of contact keeps changing with your white label partner. Here we give decide one point of contact, they learn everything about agency processes, standards, so we make sure to adopt that. And we have a guaranteed respond back of 12 to 24 hours max. So under any of our plans, this is the major problem I saw that like, turnaround time where the agency partners do not hear from their partner in like, for two days or three days. So we kind of like have a guarantee 12 to 24 hours of time in terms of turnaround time, wherever it's like responding to clients’ acknowledgement or getting the task done.
Kelly: Yeah, and I like the flexibility and the adaptability, rather, that you talked about with utilizing the agencies project management software, whether it's Asana, or Basecamp, or Trello, or whatever, they're using task project management software, or task management software, whatever it may be. So I think there's so much efficiency kind of built into that as well.
Manish: Yes. And then that also like solves the bandwidth issues, right? Because sometimes, they need more bandwidth. And they’re just like unlocking more bandwidth. It's just an email, becomes an email away, or, like downscaling the bandwidth also just becomes an email. So the flexibility is the most important thing because I believe that ethics is the most important thing to run the business. So, I think if you are not creating a win-win situation in any anything, be it like business relationship, any kind of relationship, it's not going to work out for a longer period of time. So we have kind of tried to come up with a business model, which creates a lot of premium for all the parties.
Kelly: So, I know that you've created a very generous offer for the listeners and viewers of Thrive, which I greatly appreciate and I know that they will, too. So if you head over to e2msolutions.com/thrive. Manish is actually offering 20% off your first month of subscription service, so you can get additional information there if you want to try out the service. I definitely recommend that you give it a go. And again, I'll put that link into the show notes. Manish, thank you so much. Such a generous offer. And also just really enjoyed this conversation with you today.
Manish: Thank you Kelly. Thank you for having me also. Thank you so much.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Rachel Roberts Mattox discuss how an agency leader’s self-development work can significantly change culture and business trajectory.
Episode 115: What 'Doing the Work' Does For Your Agency, with Rachel Roberts Mattox
Kelly: Alright, so welcome back to Thrive everyone. The last episode with Gina Hayden was a great entrance into what we call effective leadership. Some people call it conscious leadership. And today I'm actually talking with Rachel Roberts Mattox who is the founder and CEO of Oyl + Water. It's a brand development and go-to market agency for beauty brands. And full disclosure, Rachel has actually been a client of mine for about a year. Today, we're diving into something that very few people want to talk about, but we want to talk about it. And hopefully you want to listen to it. So we're going to talk about how our emotional history actually can hold us back in terms of leading our agencies. So I'm really excited to finally record this episode with her. Welcome, Rachel. It’s so good to talk to you.
Rachel: Thank you so much, Kelly. It's awesome to be here. And I love that people get to listen into this conversation. I've gotten a lot out of it with you in the last year. So I'm excited to bring it out in the world.
Kelly: Yeah, let's bring it on. So, let's start with where you were with the agency with Oyl + Water a year to three years ago, whatever it was when you initially reached out to me?
Rachel: Yeah, well, right, if I reached out to you in like, 2019, and then we've worked together, starting in 2021, so we've been around for nine years, and we've been growing every year, incrementally. When I reached out to you in 2019, it was actually our biggest year today that year. And I had some team members actually who I loved and respected saying to me, hey, I think you're thinking too small. I think you're kind of holding yourself back. You're holding the agency backwards a little bit with the way you're thinking and I think at that time, it was around things like were we charging enough and were we kind of getting out of our box. And if I was very clear on like the services that we were offering. But I think that my team was seeing that there was more than we can offer. And I remember at that time, being a little bit kind of ticked off that they were saying that to me. I was like, you don't understand what it's like to run an agency and to have to keep clients happy and keep money coming in and keep paying all my people. And, I kind of felt like they just didn't get it. And it really did. And we talked about it I remember in 2019. And that wasn't the right year for me to engage. And then 2020 happened. And I think 2020, we survived it. But it was a really hard year, of course. And I think that coming out of 2020 I had the aha there. I was like, okay, if that didn't kill us, then we've got something. But I've got to go bigger bubble. I've got to figure out some way to really come out in 2021 in a really powerful way and shifted pivot. And I realized two years later that what my team had been telling me was true, that I was holding myself back somehow. And I didn't know quite how. And so I called you and I reminded you who I was. And I said I think I'm ready. And luckily you were able to take me on as a client and now a year later, oh my gosh, I can see so much more clearly now, how I was holding myself back. But I think when I called you, I just knew that something was holding me back. I wasn't sure what it was and I needed some outside help.
Kelly: Yeah. So over the last kind of year or so, what are some of the realizations that you started to come to on your own as you were kind of becoming a little bit more self-aware?
Rachel: Well, I think the big sort of meta-idea that was coming to me and it still is, the veil is always sort of being lifted. But I think that one of the big ahas was that I couldn't disassociate myself as a leader from my real self. There was no like real Rachel in the real world and in my relationships that was separate from the Rachel that showed up to work every day, and the Rachel that was hiring and bleeding and, signing on clients and trying to make them happy, like, there was just this one self. And I think for a very long time, I thought that I could hide out in my work, and in my role, like if things weren't quite okay, in my personal life or in relationships, or, I was having my own sort of reality over here, that I could just drown myself in work, which I did for many, many, many years before even the agency started. I found a lot of comfort in that I found a lot of sort of identity in that. And I do feel like I thought that I could sort of like now I can see it very clearly or more clearly that I felt like I was almost like hiding out. But the truth is, is that all of the stuff that was going on sort of in the background, and this sort of inner world, was showing up in the way that I was leading, in the way that I was growing the business. And the people I was hiring that were a big aha, like, I could start looking at the people I had hired in the past and say, oh, they're a reflection of my mindset. They were an embodiment of the things that I was thinking and fearing and all of that. So I started to really see that there was no separation, and that I was bringing it all to work, whether or not I was conscious of it.
Kelly: Yeah. It's interesting, because what you're talking about in terms of hiding out in the work is really, it's distraction. Some people could call it that, as a socially acceptable thing. That's a trauma response, right? So if we don't want to face something, and again, I say this all the time, but trauma, big T, little T, it doesn't actually matter. Right?
Kelly: It's a response to, like, I can't cope, there's something else going on. So I'm just going to distract myself and not actually face whatever is actually going on underneath the surface. So some people throw themselves into work. Most agency leaders throw themselves into work, because that is socially acceptable. And other people, not that agency leaders don't also do this, but it could also look like, drinking or lots of other like, “addictions”
Kelly: So this is natural. It's kind of like a coping mechanism.
Rachel: It absolutely is. And I can really now see it. I mean, it started probably in my, well, it started probably in my early use, but I really started to see work becoming a coping mechanism in my 20s. And it's a very sneaky coping mechanism, because it's also attached to achievement.
Kelly: That, because you get reward for it.
Rachel: Exactly. And you get rewarded financially, you get rewarded from bosses, who you're hoping to impress. You get rewarded from the family, who may be where this is, where it came from, and you're just hoping that they see you finally, as like the star that you are. So I think that, like the achievement, addiction is a really powerful, and a very long lasting, and sort of like, it's sneaky. And it really, I think I could have had my whole career sort of operating from that place. But ultimately, I think, I came to a place where I was like, what is the next rung on the ladder that I'm trying to achieve that I think is going to bring me some sort of peace of mind or some inner peace or reduce this level of anxiety that I have? And I think that it was that level of sort of anxiety, I'm feeling like, and I mean, as agency owners, we know this, that we're, I say this all the time, where we kind of eat what we kill. We're really only as good as our project pipeline. And when you're a founder, and you're running the agency, you're looking at that pipeline all the time and saying, is this healthy as a substantial? Is this going to sustain us? That's just an o ongoing sort of chronic level of anxiety, right? And so, that reality, which is like nobody can really escape, if you have an achievement mindset, and you're also coming from sort of maybe a scarcity mentality, of always feeling like you're not, it's not quite enough and you need more. And, you start saying yes, to kind of everything in anything and trying to figure out how to make this happen. I was very stuck in that for most of the nine years. And, it's funny now, but to look back, we didn't really even have like a project management system. We didn't really have like a production schedule. We would sort of glance at the calendar and go, I think we can say yes to this, or they can fit it in. And these two days, it doesn't work like that, like you have to allow for buffer. You have to allow for the reality of what projects really take to complete when you start squeezing projects in between projects, just to kind of pad and support your bottom line. I mean, it's a recipe for chaos and burnout.
Kelly: Hundred percent.
Rachel: So these were things that were just sort of the natural state of the day to day inner workings of the agency for so long until I started to wake up to some of this deeper stuff.
Kelly: Yeah, it's interesting, because as you're talking and kind of like, describing that experience, I'm like, well, yeah, I absolutely went through that, for the majority of the time that I own my agency, and I'm assuming that every agency owner or leader that's listening to this is like nodding, even if they don't admit that that's been the case, or that that is currently the case. Like there's definitely I could feel the head nod from the collective right now.
Rachel: My team is nodding their head, and they're, ah, yeah, we're not quite out of that. Are we? I mean, it is the reality to have, like you've got to make the numbers work. And you've got to make your month and you've got to make your quarter. And so I mean, I'm deeply compassionate about this issue. But I think that there are not only systems to put in place to support that, but the work that we're doing, and I think the big aha is that or kind of coming to me more regularly, are about why am I operating like this? Why am I planning from this place?
Kelly: Well, let’s go to into that. It's good, because my curiosity is around how has unpacking some of your own emotional history just directly impacted the business? That’s what we’re here.
Rachel: Yeah. Well, I'll talk about the thing that I think nobody really wants to talk about, including me, but I think it's really important. Because I think we all have it, to some extent, most likely is the scarcity mentality. Right? And it can show up in so many ways, but the idea that, are we enough? Do we have enough? Are we good enough? And I think that are we good enough kind of correlates to the imposter syndrome, which is its own sort of emotional territory. But I think that the scarcity mentality, I imagine that every agency owner has had times where that's been very up for them, like, is it all enough? And I think that, as we just said, that can lead to some making some really poor decisions, and making what I would call sort of blind decisions. And Kelly, we've talked about this so much. I'm not going to look at it. I'm just going to say yes, and we're going to figure out how to make it happen. I think that the hard work that we're doing, but that I think we should all be doing if we want to just get better at being sort of an awake human, not to mention a leader is having the courage to look and to really start unraveling, where does that come from? So I think for me, certainly, family upbringing, and sort of family issues around money. I was raised by an entrepreneur. My father was an entrepreneur. Seeing him throughout my whole life thriving and also struggling at times, that's just sometimes the reality of being a business owner. And being really sensitive to that as a child, I just was just very attuned to it as a child. I really sort of like picked up on that energy. And then coming out of college and getting into my career, and really just having unbelief that like, I had to do this on my own. I wasn't sort of wired to just sort of like, coast. I wasn't wired to get married and settle down and not work. I was wired to like, go and get out there and shred and I really wanted to experience life and I loved business. But there was definitely this sort of unconscious tape that was playing in my mind that was like, you have to hustle, to make it always. There is no rest. The hustle is what keeps you fed. The hustle is what keeps it all going. The moment that you start to sort of lay off the gas pedal, it's gonna all crumble like the axes. Right? And that I mean, that phrase is a phrase that we've used throughout my life in my family like the shoe is gonna drop. So I just came into this world and was born into an amazing family but a family that these were the issues for us. So I carried this into my adulthood and into my career and, the veneer of achievement and the veneer of hustle and like, I may not have been the smartest person in the room, I was definitely not the most like educated person in the room. I was setting with Harvard MBAs at many tables, but I would outwork anybody, like that was my thing. I was going to show up first. I was going to leave last. And that was the badge of honor I've worked for a really long time. And I think that, it got the agency up and running. But launching an agency and running and scaling an agency are two different things.
Kelly: Right, because exactly what you're just talking about that like hustle mentality where like, I have to do it all on my own. This like, I'm gonna outwork everybody else, it ends up alienating our own employees, like your city mindset means that we say yes to non-ideal clients, it means that we don't price our services appropriately. So literally, like what gets you to this point of owning an agency is the literal thing that holds you back from scaling, growing, etc., right?
Rachel: You just said it exactly perfectly. Like, I don't regret the things that it took to get here. Just like I don't regret the hustle and the sort of achievement oriented mentality that I had in my 20s. Like, it got me here. I've got to love that woman and that girl, and I love that the agency got to this place. But I'm definitely aware now that like, you're absolutely right. Like, my team was looking at me, like, first of all, this is totally unsustainable, what you're doing and then what you're asking me to do, , and it wasn't this is the big thing for me. It was like, it wasn't producing the best work, right? Like my team was burning out. They were losing creative energy and vitality. They were definitely not stoked. Just like, they were doing what they were doing, you're showing up and luckily, like, I've got an incredible loyal team, like they've stuck with me through a lot of it. But yeah, it wasn't sustainable. And I think seeing being able to really remove the veil and see that like, it's not just me. I'm impacting now all of these other humans that are showing up every day working for Oyl + Water. So it’s self-awareness, but it's also like, collective, like, what is my impact? How is it impacting my community? And that's a huge aha.
Kelly: Yeah. So where are you sitting right now? Not that you're on the other side of it, but you're certainly on the other side of it, if that makes sense.
Rachel: Yeah. I mean, definitely. Yeah, we're definitely in the work. What I mean by that is, the lessons over the last year in working with you, and just how I've been actively sort of implementing these things in the agency have led me to a few really key realizations. One is that I'm working on this conscious leadership. The concept of conscious leadership or effective leadership really on like three layers. There's the self, of course, that's where it begins. And that's the only place that we can really have the truest like impact is being willing to work on the self. See where the triggers are coming from. I'm always working on like, you will always work on that. Yeah, at least and responding consciously instead of just reacting, taking those pauses before making decisions. Really knowing that like my first response may not always err, my first reaction may not be the healthiest. Sometimes that first reaction is an old tape, right? The conscious reaction or response is the one that you go wait, stop the, like what's going to be like the downstream effect of this of this decision that I'm about to make? Like just pausing and thinking. I know it sounds simple, but boy is it when you're in the moment and making bad decisions, like having that practice is really key. So self-mastery. Mastery is a very strong word, just working on myself. And then, practicing conscious leadership with the team. And I've got a small team, and they're tight. We're remote, but we're tight. I'm really encouraging them to work on this in their own way, working on themselves, their own self-awareness, their own sort of self-care. This is a really big thing for us at the agency. We're obviously in the beauty and health and wellness space. So we talk a lot about self-care. How are you nurturing your creative health? This is a conversation that we have to start every Monday meeting. Let's see, I want to be really real like this, it's just a conversation. Sometimes people don't have anything to say. Some people are like, I'm not nurturing it this week, like we're just in the practice, but at least there's a space and a container where we can talk about it, and share ideas, and some of the ideas that have come up have just been so beautiful. Yes. It's like, getting into nature, taking time in the middle of your day to do a quick meditation. I mean, these things, they sound so trite or simple, but they really do change the course of the day. So culture, and then the third one is, of course, clients, like how is this effective leadership and conscious leadership practiced internally, for us, as a company, impacting our clients? And how can we share it with our clients? This is actually like, to me the most exciting territory because we're marketers, and we're branders and we're helping to build brands. And yes, a lot of it is marketing, and messaging and design and what you see and what you hold, but really, at the end of the day, it's like, what company are you building? And are you living your values? Are you really like practicing what you're preaching in your own company? So there is sort of a dotted line or like a string that connects what the work we're doing with our culture, and possibly the company that they're building. And that feels really good. It feels like we're gonna have maybe a bigger impact with this work. So, yeah, I would say we're sitting on, what I'm sitting with now, is these three layers, and how am I working on them every day.
Kelly: It's interesting, the way that you just described that because I almost see that third layer of like, what is the impact that I can have on the clients, on their businesses, maybe on their employees, as well as your own, of course, and then like, the larger impact of like, their customers, right? So like, they embodying conscious leadership, and I almost see this, like, third layer of leadership that you're working on, as almost like an undercover service offering. It's like, consciously, right?
Kelly: You're thinking that we're just gonna build your brand, and maybe give you a go-to market strategy and a content strategy. But at the end of the day, we're also kind of like consulting, as to like, how to live your values. They're not just things that sit on a website or on the packaging, right? It's like, how are you actually embodying that and then conveying that to the world to the customers who may also be impacted by it. So like, the ripple effect is kind of incredible.
Rachel: It's, well, the ripple effect is one of our, we have six sort of creative commitments. And the ripple effect is the sixth one that I added later, because I was because of this exact thing where I thought. I've always been passionate about mindful marketing and marketing the truth of the product, or the formula, or the brand, or the company. And what that requires from us is to really get into the truth of it. Like, what are the underpinnings, what really is driving you to do this, and to put this out in the world? And I think when we can tell that story really authentically; these values start to just sort of naturally kind of come out in the context and what we're creating, right? So yes, absolutely. Like if we're doing our jobs well, and the client is really open to it, and they're on the path of making the world better with their brand or their company, then it's really about just communicating through the company and through the brand and through the product, these really important values that can make us all a little bit better. So it's aspirational, but that's what we want to be up to. So you definitely nailed that.
Kelly: Yeah, it's interesting also, because the way that I was thinking about that, as you were talking is, there's been so much focus on like the why, right? Like, if you're building a brand, everything comes down to the why. But what you're saying is yes, the why is incredibly important. And that's how we're going to get to actually have a brand, have a company. But then this thing that I call like lighting the way, you call the ripple effect, but in my forthcoming book, I call lighting the way, like one of the prerequisites of conscious leadership. And for me, it almost seems like the why but beyond ourselves. Right?
Rachel: Yeah, for sure.
Kelly: And then, what's next?
Rachel: That's it. And I think, the emergence of conscious leaders is, I think, it's a requirement for our planet. I mean, to just speak boldly, like, I think we have to be moving in this direction. But it's not just for the benefit of the leaders doing their work and all of that. It's really so that they can lead and we can lead bigger companies and make this impact on a bigger scale. Because it really, I believe, is like, these big companies, and maybe hopefully one day governments that are awake enough to create this big change into like, the way. We need these pillars, these examples, these like lighthouses in the world, and it begins with this work on a very individual internal level.
Kelly: So that's a good segue to kind of like wrap up here. What's the biggest takeaway that you would impart on other agency leaders, regardless of what vertical they serve? Agency leaders who are maybe a bit skeptical about this correlation between like healing our past or unpacking that stuff and becoming a more effective leader. Like, yeah, what guidance would you give?
Rachel: I think the, the simplest thing I can say is that we, I think, growth and success, like connecting success, your success as a professional to your success as a human and being such a successful human is, I believe, like, really having the courage to look at yourself really, really closely. And to say, like, what are the things that might be getting in my way, from having a really fulfilling peaceful things, less anxiety, kind of like existence, and a lot of that stuff that stands in our way professionally, that stands in our way, in relationships, that stands in our way between us having really great relationships, even with our employees and our colleagues like that stuff is often just like past stuff that we haven't dealt with. And again, you can call it a lot of things. You can call it trauma. You can say that you need to heal old wounds, whatever you call it, that sounds sort of therapeutic. The bottom line is that we are one human walking around in all of these different capacities and all these different roles, and the same human that's in the relationship, or that has unfinished business with a partner or a parent or whatever, is the same person that's showing up to this role as a leader. And it's informing the decisions that we're making and hiring and who we're saying yes to, and how we're actually operating and acting. So I would say that, like, the big takeaway is having the courage to kind of look at that stuff and work with someone if you need that help, so that you can be the most successful, the most sort of vibrant and alive and vital. And it's really not scary. It's actually deeply empowering because you start to really see like, oh, man, this was just something I could let go of. And it's opened up this huge, like, new way of looking at things. So I guess the big thing is, is that it's all connected. We can't silo ourselves off. We're all connected. And we have to lead with that awareness.
Kelly: Yeah, beautifully said. And I heard you say empowerment, I would also have build on that to say, freedom. There's a lot of like, emotional liberation and other forms of liberation that are really on the other side of that and it's not scary, as you said. I know a lot of people don't want to talk about this stuff. But I feel like we're kind of in a place in this world in this life, like wherever you're at, where there's not really another option so like, let's just go, right?
Rachel: Exactly true. There's no hiding. There's no hiding in work. There's no hiding. We're here. Let's fully embody all of it and wake up to all of it. Yeah, that's the one thing I would leave for any agency owner who's a little skeptical of all of this work. It's the work.
Kelly: It's the work.
Kelly: Rachel, thank you so much. I love that we were able to get together on the show. I know I've been wanting to do this for a long time. So I appreciate you.
Rachel: Thank you. I appreciate it too, Kelly. Thanks.
Episode 114: Gaps in Our Own Leadership Style, with Gina Hayden
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.
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.
Kelly: Or the values you talked about, right?
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.
Kelly: I'm so excited about the work that we're doing together.
Gina: It's been great talking. Thanks again.
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
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 accessiBe.com 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 accessiBe.com/thrive, 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 accessiBe.com/thrive.
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
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.