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


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



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

Duration: 20:20


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Kelly: Which is great SEO, right?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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










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


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



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

Duration: 21:33



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Laura: Absolutely.


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


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


Kelly: Sure.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Kelly: That’s a good point.


Laura: Maybe it's not you.


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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



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

Duration: 18:41


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Steve: Absolutely.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Kelly: That impression was too spot on.


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


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


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


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


Steve: Thanks. Appreciate it.

















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


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



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

Duration: 32:49 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Brandon: Yeah, that's right.


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


Brandon: There are clients everywhere.


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


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


Kelly: Less empathy.


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


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


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


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


Brandon: That's right. Absolutely.


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


Brandon: That's right.


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


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


Kelly: Forces.


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


Kelly: Sure.


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


Kelly: Absolutely.


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


Kelly: If they didn't.


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


Kelly: Pursue it.


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


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


Brandon: Yes.


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


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


Kelly: Oh, my God.


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


Kelly: Wow.


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


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


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


Kelly: Love this.


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


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


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











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


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



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

Duration: 22:56



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Kelly: That's right.


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



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


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


Kelly: They're always different, always different.


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


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


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


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


Ilise: Excellent.


Kelly: I love it.


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


Kelly: Absolutely.


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


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


Ilise: Exactly.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Kelly: Oh, that was the RFP?


Ilise: Yes.


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


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


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


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


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


Ilise: That you're vetting them basically.


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


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


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


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


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


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


Kelly: Which is kind of crazy to me.


Ilise: Yes.


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


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


Kelly: Of limiting beliefs.


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


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


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


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


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


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


Ilise: The most important thing.


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


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


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


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










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


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



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

Duration: 30:14



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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Kelly: Right, right. Right.


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

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

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


Kelly: It sounds super time-consuming.


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

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

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


Kelly: Yeah.


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


Kelly: So, so badly.


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


Kelly: That's right.


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

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

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


Kelly: Resistance.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Sarah: I have a high standard.


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


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



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


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




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


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



Episode 105: Can We Eliminate Burnout  with Chris McLean

Duration: 43:43


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Chris: Yes. Toxic culture.


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

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


Kelly: 77 was what I've seen.


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


Kelly: That was my number one.


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


Kelly: All my favorite words.   


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


Chris: Punching the clock in.


Kelly: Punching the clock, yeah.  


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


Kelly: Creativity dies in that environment.  


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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Episode 104: Why Conscious Leadership and Why Now? with Debra Sunderland

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Debra Sunderland discuss what conscious leadership is and why more creative agency owners are waking up to it right now.



Episode 104: Why Conscious Leadership and Why Now, with Debra Sunderland

Duration: 24:30



Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. If you've been a little unsure as to what conscious leadership is, what it's all about and why it's needed today, more than ever, you're really going to love today's conversation probably as much as I will. My guest is Debra Sunderland. She's the founder and lead coach at Sunderland Coaching. She's also represented by my other business consciousness leaders. So definitely check her out there. Debra, welcome to the show. I am so excited and have been really looking forward to this conversation for a while.


Debra: Thank you, Kelly. Me too. Let's do it.


Kelly: So, the funny backstory or serendipitous backstory, is that the way that we kind of found each other, or the way that I found you, I guess I should say, I ran a Google search because I was curious one day, what comes up on Google when you search, what is conscious leadership. And so out of that curiosity, out comes on position zero Deborah's website, what is conscious leadership, and it was a really great definition. And then I started clicking through. I found and learned a little bit more about Deborah. And as I'm reading her story, I was like, my mouth kind of hung open. I got chills. And I was like, wow, we have such a similar upbringing, such a similar path, a similar journey. Would you mind sharing a little bit about that? I feel like I definitely felt such an instant connection before we even met for the first time on Zoom.


Debra: I have chills right now as well. I remember that moment. And my mouth dropped when you started to share your story. And for me, it was having parents who didn't take good care of me, how a child would like to be treated, taken care of, and my mom was ill, and continues to not take good care of herself. And it came out towards me and my brother. So, I ended up being the one who protected both of us. And crazy stories like my mom, taking us to go shopping, and she would steal whatever she wanted. And then we would go, be taken off to the police station. And then the students at school that I went to would know about it, or my parents would be fighting, and the police would come to mitigate and take care of us or we'd go running out of the house at night to be safe from my mom and dad trying to kill each other with knives. So, it was like living in a warzone pretty much every day. And I never knew what was going to happen. And I realized that I had to become ultra sensitive to my wisdom, of my intuition, my feelings, be one step ahead. It helped me be safe. It helped me achieve it, brought me to being the winner, seeking acceptance from the outside of my life. And it's so foreign, because I really learned to love my parents. But they're just doing the best they really could. And I believe we all are. We're really just trying to do the best we can. And the best thing I can do is love them and love myself and keep loving myself. And that's what I've been learning through that whole journey.


Kelly: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. Yeah, it's interesting. So, just want to kind of put a pin in this idea that, listen, none of us had a perfect childhood. Some of us just had a little bit more of a difficult time than others. And I know that that's a very light and blanket statement. But the reality is none of us escaped that childhood unscathed. Right? There was either neglect or abuse or this or that. And, unfortunately, that's normal, right? Like that's, in some way, how we learn how we develop coping mechanisms, all these different things. But something that you said, was that you sought it externally. So, this idea that I need to validate my sense of self from the external versus having that self-validation or that inner validation. I think that's really important, because I don't think a lot of people even if you're pretty self-aware, I don't think a lot of people really think about that. And realize that, how that comes out, and how that shows up in the way that we talk or think or behave. So, can you talk a little bit more about that? That validation sense and like how that shows up for leaders?


Debra: Yeah, so I love that. So, for those of you who are Enneagram trained or know about that, I'm just going to mention that. I'm a three on the enneagram which means I'm a winner. I'm an achiever. I'm not going to fail. And many leaders, many CEOs are in that type. They're going to win. They want their team to win.


Kelly: Was that like a two or a three?


Debra: It's three. 3s and 8s typically are leaders of companies, not always, but typically in HR, the active controller, they're called. And so, the reason I mentioned that is, we have all learned, we've been taught since we've been going to school, maybe invite our parents to be winners, to be achievers to get that A, to reach something in order to get to the next level, to graduate from high school, to go on to college to get to the company you want. And we're always looking outside for that. And then we have this temporary head of I made it, oh, I made it. Oh, I made it. And there's this angst typically, that is driving, driving, and it's never enough. And I felt that insatiable, and I felt that as a child, I had this pit in my stomach. I was first chair violinist, I was the best track runner, whatever it was, but there was this thing inside of me that would never let up. Because I was looking out here. And I've noticed with leaders, when I really get to know them. And I'm talking about multibillion-dollar company leaders all the way down to startups. They'll have the same want. It's, can I be accepted? Am I enough? And do I have enough? And the ones who really strive to have enough and be enough on the outside usually are the ones who are seeking that approval, like myself. And until I learned that it won't be enough. And it has to be me. That is enough and believe that, feel my feelings, accept myself, learn. And that we're all reactive, all of us, like even when I think about my parents just now as you talked about them. And everyone has a reactivity, right? No matter what it is, we all have a reactive mind to keep us safe. They're just being reactive. It's no different. They just maybe did extreme things, but they're just being reactive. And that's how we all are and looking outside of ourselves is a reactive phase. It is a can I be safe out here if someone measures me or deems me as being the gold star, and you can move to the next level. And so, letting go of that, and really doing the inner work of how am I enough? And do I have enough right here right now? The presence of that being in the present moment is what really changed me and the work that I do with people right now.


Kelly: Yeah. So how does that translate, right? So, we're talking about self-awareness and deep personal work and all of that kind of development. Right? How does that translate into conscious leadership? And maybe also why more people are even waking up to conscious leadership right now?


Debra: Yeah, thank you. So conscious leadership is about being present. It is about being very aware, conscious, the opposite of being in a coma, which I very well know that I was put in a coma because I had a brain injury. And I woke up to consciousness, being aware of my feelings, being aware of my body intelligence, being aware of my thinking. What am I telling myself? And so I've just been floating along and being reactive to my behaviors. I've lived pretty much my whole life. So, I believe now, which I love, seeing the growth of consciousness around even the younger generation. And they are my story, my belief, my experiences that I'm going to say 40 and younger have seen an experienced people my age and older suffering. They see us trying to get there and they can. There's an energy around that as kind of icky, and they can feel it. It's not that they don't care for those people. But they're like, I don't know what that is over there. But I don't want it. I don't want it and I want to do things differently. And so, they come up with this word, purpose. But I think it's even been kind of like, I don't know, diluted, where people think it's about, I'm going to serve a company or underprivileged, or whatever it is, for once a month. But that's not what these younger people are saying. They're saying, I want to live who I'm called to be. And so, I see that yearning inside of them. They're really searching for how I can have that? How can I be who I am because I'm being told one thing over here at school, like this is what I got to do to be here. But yet, it doesn't really align with me. And so, when I work with Vanderbilt and Belmont University here, and when I talk with these younger people, they're so curious. And so, consciousness to me is can I get curious as to what's here right now? And what can I learn right now versus just being reactive? And when we're conscious, we want to look at the results if we're not getting the results we want, especially now, people are feeling more fearful than ever. People are overwhelmed. People don't have clarity. They've never had to navigate a situation that we've all been in, how do we do this beyond Zoom, not be on Zoom, be together not be together. And now we're getting a different round of the variance. So, when people try to figure out what to do, I'm out of reactivity, we will never get the result we want. So, seeing how people can step back, take a deep breath and look at like, how could this be for us? Just like our childhood for me and you. It wasn't for us? Or it was for us in the time it wasn't. And we don't believe COVID is really for us. But really, I want to encourage people like, how is it really for us to slow down and look at what hasn't been working, even though we've been a hugely successful nation? And how do we shift around being who we want to become and become with each other versus what we accomplish? Right?


 Kelly: So it sounds to me that it's kind of like conscious leadership and the idea that people are waking up to this now. It's like, for some people, the way that we've historically been going has worked, but that some people are a very small percentage. It's not most people. It's a small percentage. So, what that actually indicates is that the way that we have been operating as individuals and as organizations is not sustainable, right? So, if we boil it down, conscious leadership is about trying to create sustainability within the self and the organization. Like that's probably if I boil it all down, that's what we're after. And, some people talk about it in the context of valuing the people, the humans in the organization, valuing the planet, any kind of impact from that standpoint. And profit, not profit over those things, profit as part of those things. If it was sort of like a little Venn diagram, maybe profit, might even be the bottom circle. But somewhere in the middle, where there's overlap is something called sustainability. Right? And so yeah, I just think that people are realizing that we can't keep going like this. Right. And, you mentioned that it's more people, younger generation, like 40 and under, right at that cusp. But I also notice in my coaching work that it is people who are actually a little older than that, that are also starting to wake up because they're in a little bit of a different mindset. They're not looking at the folks older than them, and saying, like, oh, I don't want to continue to do that. They're actually having some kind of experience themselves, where they're starting to do what you said, which is to dial up that curiosity. Why don't I feel happy? Why do I feel like I'm not sure if I am doing this? I thought it was going to be more beautiful than this. I thought I was going to be happier than this. Right? So, they're starting to ask those questions. Yeah. Just curious, what do you think about that?


Debra: Yeah, they definitely are. Some of those for sure. I see that there. My experience has been that they're still very still attached. They might be curious, but it's really hard to let go. If you're making billions or millions, it's really hard to let go of trying, maybe the opposite, even of thinking and feeling and doing. But yes, I agree. And I love that you brought that up. Because I mean, I think you all have a note about consciousness. So, when we're not conscious, we're living in fear. We're living in toxic fear. We're living at oh my gosh, be careful, watch out, that might be wrong, you are wrong, or I'm wrong. And so, we will never create a result we want from that space. And so, I think some of these older people are looking at me like, oh, my back hurts. My body hurts. Now, I just had a heart attack and I'm 50 years old, or and they're starting to realize that they've been storing a lot in their bodies even and that's taking a toll on them. And there's always this little niggle in them looking for some sort of fulfillment. And I've actually coined a word. I don't know if we talked about this last time but it's called genius-ship. So, my work is to move us from excellence, which I believe is killing us, to consciousness, to waking up to, we're more than achieving and winning to our genius that we all have this purpose, calling, skill, talent all lined up beautifully, because we're all unique like no one else. And if we are put into that, if we create that for ourselves and our people, the sky's the limit and talk about creating something greater than we could just by trying to achieve something. Talk about sustainability and engagement. Right? So that's my desire is that we start to really wake people up to consciousness, taking radical responsibility for I think, feel, respond or react, we're going to react, how do I like to continue to move through that to responsiveness? And then can I start to wonder, what am I doing here? Like, what's my purpose? It's got to be more than achieving. And I do see people asking and looking for that.


Kelly: I love this idea that excellence is killing us. Did you write this book yet? That's the title of the book. 


Debra: Actually, I'm going on sabbatical in September, and I'm going to be working at it.


Kelly: Amazing. I didn't know that. But hopefully, that is the title.


Debra: That is totally the title. It's called Excellence is Killing You.


Kelly: Oh, my God. That's really interesting. I really didn't know that. Yeah, because that for someone who identifies or has previously identified to be clear, as total perfectionist, total type A, everything that you've said and so many people listening and watching can identify with us, right? You are the leader, or potentially owner, or both of an agency or some type of marketing creative technology firm. Right? And so, have you ever stopped to wonder, what is it that's actually driving all of that? For me, I can only speak for myself. But for me, I have come to realize that it was my need to prove to myself and to the world that I was valuable and worthy. I needed that affirmation. So, my drive, like you talked a little bit about that thing underneath, right? My drive was to prove worthiness because I didn't get it as a child. I wasn't taught that I was worthy for just simply who I was. For me, it was like, if you get the straight A, if you are captain of the sports team, if, if, if, right? If you do all these things, conditional love, then I might love you. In my case, it was like you could do all those things. I'm still not going to do it. But that's a whole other conversation.


Debra: Yeah. I know that one, too.


Kelly: Yeah. But this is the thing, right? Like we are inadvertently taught and it's not our parents’ faults, right? Like, that's probably what they were taught. It just is. But it is a good question like, what is the driver behind you owning an agency or taking the initiative to start something to start as a practitioner and say, yeah, I could do this, I could prove to everyone really to myself, but prove to everyone that I can do this. And I'll get that external validation back to what we were talking about before.


Debra: Totally.


Kelly: So, what you just said, that's what a three is. They're seeking their worthiness from outside of themselves. And they're afraid that they're not valuable.  


Debra: Yeah. It's really interesting because I find the same thing like knowing your motivation. And for those of you, I’m just going to make a plug for the enneagram. And to get it assessed appropriately because it really is a great tool to notice through that. What is your motivation? It does really highlight your motivation and how to stretch and grow out of that. I call my 3 as my delusion, my delusion to safety and my delusion to enoughness.


Kelly: I love that. That's an awesome reframe. Because it also takes the attachment to it as like a crutch, like, oh, well, that's just how I am. It's like, well, no, that's actually I'm calling myself out. That's my delusion. And now I'm like, I love that. So, Debra, as we start to wrap up, you mentioned enneagram as one tool, but I'm sure that there are a couple more in your repertoire that you use probably on a daily basis. So, any of that you can share with the audience?


Debra: Yeah, so for sure. You all when we are triggered, we don't breathe fully, our muscular system tightens. It pulls in to protect our body, and we only breathe a very short amount and from that space, we're not able to even think clearly, and then it doesn't feel good in our body. So, I have learned the major thing that has changed my body and my whole being is learning breathing practices. And just one simple thing that I do is breathe through my belly as deep as I can, slow as I can, in the midst of me being triggered, and just feeling the rise and expansion of my belly all the way up through my chest where my nose is, slowly as I can and then even slower, exhale all the way out. And I do those three or four times. And I practice that even when I'm not triggered. Because then I remember oh yeah, come back to your breath, come back to your breath. So that actually does change your nervous system and actually the chemistry in your blood when we breathe. The other thing I do is once I've felt my feelings through, and I'm clear-minded, I asked myself, wow, that thought I had that really got me going, could the opposite of that thought be true, or even truer than what I was telling myself? And that's neuroplasticity, really starting to think of another way. And whoa, it brings you to curiosity, because when we're triggered, we're not curious. We're just right. And it then brings me to a state of peace and calm. Just asking the opposite. Calm slows me down.


Kelly: Yeah. Do you have a specific example in let's say, the last couple of weeks where you used one of these tools, and it totally changed your emotional regulation or nervous system or something along those lines that allowed you to kind of come back to center?


Debra: Well, I've really been triggered, we talked about this earlier, around COVID. And I have found that five people that I know have COVID, and they all have been vaccinated, and I got angry, because I'm like, why are you doing this? If people are still getting COVID, and they're not wearing masks, and so I had fear. I had anger. I had this, like, what are we going to do now? There's nowhere safe to go. Like, I feel myself sparling down. I can't go on here. And there's a limit. And so even this morning, I could feel that this happened last night. So, I said, okay, just breathe. I noticed. And I said out loud. What's here? I said, there's fear here, is one of the main things. So can you just welcome fear and breathe with it? Allow it to be here instead of pushing it away. And there's anger and frustration here. So, I'm kind of just welcome at three, and just be with what is instead of also trying to push away the frustration. And this morning, I woke up later, and I just kept walking and breathing with whatever was there. And I'm a new person for sure. Yeah, I'm able to have a clear-headed conversation now.


Kelly: Yeah, I really appreciate that as the example because I think a lot of people are definitely dealing with that. Definitely, that resonates a lot with me as well. So, it's helpful. And hopefully some people can take that away as well.


Debra: This morning, it popped up on my phone. It's the great resignation, which I know you know of, of these leaders, CEOs who are like I'm out of here. I'm checking this out. Is this too much for me? It's not what I want. I don't want this on my plate. I don't have the answers, whatever it is. I don't want to be a part of this anymore. And my story that I make up around that is that they're going to think that if they leave, things are going to be okay. And then they're finally going to have whatever it is. And my want for us is for you and me, the people who are conscious supporters of this is to support them and like, let's take a step back. What if you still are the answer, but we look at it from a different path. We take a breath and take a look at how this situation is for you as a leader. So I just wanted to share that.


Kelly: I'm really glad that you did. That's a beautiful way to wrap up. Debra, thank you so much for being with me today. I love talking to you and I look forward to the next time.


Debra: Thanks, Kelly. You too.
















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Episode 103: Employee Ownership as a Business Model, with Jennifer Briggs


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Jennifer Briggs discuss how creative firms can use employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) or co-ops as a business model, both demonstrating equity and planning for succession.




Episode 103: Employee Ownership as a Business Model, with Jennifer Briggs

Duration: 18:38


Kelly: Welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Have you ever thought about employee ownership as a business model for your agency? I know when I had my agency, I definitely considered it but I had no idea how to go about it or what questions to ask. Well, joining me today is Jennifer Briggs. She's the Senior Strategy Consultant at The Beyster Institute, which is actually within the University of California at San Diego. Jennifer, we're going to dive into this conversation. I'm really excited about it. But welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.


Jennifer: Thanks for having me, Kelly. This is great.


Kelly: So, can you tell us a little bit more because I'm sure most of my audience is not really familiar with The Beyster Institute. Tell me a little bit more about the work that you do there. And then a little bit more about your own background?


Jennifer: Yeah. So, The Beyster Institute was started by Dr. Bob Beyster and his family inside the University of California. But our big purpose is to help employee ownership grow and have this public will to grow even bigger. It's a way of helping more people become capitalists by helping people own stock in the company that they own. So basically, employees become your shareholders through a trust in an ESOP. So, we focus on ESOPs at The Beyster Institute. ESOP stands for Employee Stock Ownership Plan. So it's a trust that holds stock, and then the employees are participants in it. And so, the big part is, the people that work in a company sharing the value they help create. And that's it fundamentally. We grow value in our companies, which is something we all want. But your audience for that value growth is your own employees. And so, it's a really cool thing, but it is a qualified retirement plan. So, it acts like a 401k. But it's just different in that way. But I do want to mention that there's other forms of employee ownership. So, there's employee-owned cooperatives, which is another form. You have ESOPs and then some companies start building an employee ownership culture just by doing broad based gain-sharing plans, which are cash and it gives you a way to help grow employee ownership culture, as you grow large enough to become an ESOP.


Kelly: Great. And so, before you were at the institute, you were on the internal teams at a brand and then also had some agency experience. Can you tell us about that if it's not going too far into the ghosts of the past?


Jennifer: Yeah, the ghosts of the past. I think it's an important part of the story though. My first big corporate job where I cut my business teeth was inside WPP. I work for a company that got acquired by WPP. And so, I was working inside that organization. And I kind of started feeling like I was the evil HR person, and I didn't really want to be there anymore. And just because of the type of work I did, it was really fast-paced and fun. I learned a lot there. But then this little brewery in Colorado called me, who was tiny at the time, and said, “Hey, you want to come work here?” And of course, I said, yes. And so that brewery is New Belgium Brewing. If you haven't heard of New Belgium, Voodoo Rangers, kind of the hot brand right now. Fat Tire at the time.


Kelly: Fat Tire. Yeah, of course. Every beer drinker, every craft brew aficionado loves Fat Tire.  


Jennifer: Yeah, so I became an executive. I was VP of organizational development, human resources there. And I think what's really important is, what a lot of your other speakers have talked about is that, the voice of the brand, the authenticity. One of the references, maybe to learn a little bit more, is any book by Douglas Holt that he's written. But it's the brand culture cycle and the environmentalism that we had, the employee ownership that we had, the distributed leadership and participative management. How did all those things show up in terms of the relationship with our beer drinkers, on authenticity that we had and that connection to it, which really did lead to, I was there for 13 years, and most of those years were double digit revenue growth. So, we increased jobs, we increased revenue, we increased profitability. And so, it was just a really powerful experience to do that. And so now, in addition to The Beyster Institute, I also work as an independent outside director for ESOP companies. And we really do look at brand strategy as a way to, we all have the vanity metrics, the likes on Twitter, and the Instagram vibe, and all that kind of stuff. But it all has to be for the point of growing the company. And again, when you grow a company and an ESOP, the people that work there that helped grow that value are the ones that participate in it, and that connection is really, really important.


Kelly: Yeah. So, using New Belgium kind of as a case study, can you talk a little bit specifically about the brand image and the impact of brand image as they kind of adopted this strategy?


Jennifer: Yeah, I look back to the growth years of Fat Tire, for example. When we were working on that project, we had this brand persona. We called him the Tinker. And it was somebody who just had this more bohemian attitude, Colorado lifestyle, love to ride bikes in the mountains. We actually did some TV commercials, and I still love those commercials. And the thing was, how that feeling emanated to the drinker's was actually how we were living inside the company. We all have this passion, regardless of what job you were and had this passion for what we were doing, but we were also admittedly kind of a little bit rough around the edges.


Kelly: Humid in other words.


Jennifer: Yes. It wasn’t as polished and posh brand image. It was hopefully playful, in that authenticity, and then, jumped forward to where they are now with Voodoo Ranger. That is another connection point to the consumer of a voodoo is a persona. He's a character. And so, the brands were these characters that really came from, what did the company stand for? What do we look like? And if you look at the change from the tinkerer persona, to the voodoo persona, it really represents the generational shift in the drinker, and generational shifts and what society was doing. And so, this is, when you look at cultural brands, everybody's hoping to jump on this. We want to ride that way. But it also won't show up. It'll show up as disingenuous, right? If it's not matching how you're living as a firm, right?


Kelly: That's a great point. That's really a great point. I want to stick a pin in that. One of the things that you and I had talked about before we jumped on here was that these professional services firms, specifically for our contacts, like marketing, advertising, creative technology firms, who are servicing clients, they are actually only number two behind manufacturers in terms of creating ESOPs, which was like mind-blowing to me. I had no idea. Can you talk a little bit about that? Maybe share an example of a recent situation that you've heard of?


Jennifer: Yeah, so professional services firms in the context of this can also be like engineering firms. So, they're the firms that are a wonderful fit for ESOP because of their design, and the levels of compensation of the people that work there. And so, a good example of an ESOP is Butler/Till in this world, and they acquired Digital Hyve just recently. And so, this is another thing when we look at it, every business owner is going to come to a point where they want to kind of change their capital ownership where they're ready to orchestrate an exit. And you don't always have to sell to the big person, you don't have to sell to the WPPs. You can look for other ESOP companies as potential acquirers. And that's, I think the Butler/Till example is a wonderful example of doing that. And it is an option for smaller companies to do that if the company itself isn't large enough to become an ESOP. ESOPs do need to be kind of a certain size, have a certain headcount. Usually, it's about 50 to 100 people that we start looking at as a viable option. So, for some small agencies, doing it on their own might not be an option. But there's a host of companies out there that help a company really retain that genuine authenticity and that fierce independence a lot of agencies have, which is super cool.


Kelly: I'm just curious because like the 50 to 100 headcount might not necessarily be something that some of the audience members listening or watching this, like they may say, “Well, I never want to get to 50 or 100. Maybe I'm not 10, maybe I'm not 20 people, right? What is the feasibility for an agency of that size to be acquired by a larger ESOP?


Jennifer: I think the feasibility is really strong. What it's like any other acquisition that you would do with any other company, is you want to show your strong business performance results. And an ESOP acquisition acts a lot like any other one where you go through the due diligence, and you go through that process with the company and you get acquired. So, the process is no different. It's just at the end of the day who owns the company. It's the ESOP. It's the trust that owns the company. But another option is to become an employee of a co-op, and that there are a growing number of times companies that are cooperatives act differently, they don't have the tax advantages that ESOP does. But there are a lot of opportunities. And I guess that's the point, to look at exploring this, not exclude it from your menu of options. When you look at an ownership transition, this should be on that menu. And if it's not, well ideally contact Beyster Institute, but contact somebody. There's a lot of state centers that can help companies decide if this is a viable option. But get on the menu, contact people, network, find out what agencies are employee owned, and there are resources that can help with that.


Kelly: That's great. And then just as a follow up to that. You mentioned the co-op option. Does that have a lower headcount in terms of the parameter?


Jennifer: It does. It's just a different model in terms of how to administer it because it's not a qualified plan. So, the qualifications. Our government gives us some tax advantages for ESOPs. And anytime the government gives you some tax advantages, there's going to be something on the other side of it.


Kelly: You got it. Got to get back their money somehow.


Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. There's no way out on this. So, there are other options of doing this or coupling businesses up and figuring out how to combine resources and really make that a strategic advantage. But yeah, I think the big part for me is when companies start engaging a broker or an exit planning firm. A lot of them don't have this option there, or they kind of have some myths like ESOPs are too difficult. Well, there's a lot of really successful ESOPS. Cooperatives have too much democratic governance. You get to design that government. So, there's a lot of myths around this that are just fundamentally untrue when you get to figuring out how you are going to run this kind of business.


Kelly: Yeah, and the institute sounds like it would be an absolutely great resource to start uncovering some of that. Because I can hear my audience in my head, translating all of this into numbers. Talk a little bit about potential increase in revenue, maybe not, I don't know if you could talk to profitability, but certainly increasing revenue for agencies that might be considering moving to either an ESOP or a co-op model.


Jennifer: Yeah. So, there is an abundance of research primarily around ESOPs. I'm a fellow with Rutgers University. There's an institute for the study of employee ownership and profit sharing. And there's also the National Center for Employee Ownership. And these two organizations have done so much research around this. And so, employee-owned companies, ESOPs in particular that have a participative culture. So that means that people are actively working together in growing the business, usually with some kind of decision-making or distributed leadership. I'm a fan of open book management too. But when you combine those two things, we see higher performance than average companies. So, they average more in sales. They grow revenue faster. Their profitability is better. And more recently, with the pandemic, those have also been studied. And the companies that were ESOPs in the pandemic actually weathered it and they showed more resilience during the pandemic. So, they came out of it more successfully than non-ESOP companies. So, this is not new age or anything, it's just kind of been there for a long time. And a lot of companies see stable, sustainable growth. So that's one of the things that they've also seen. As our performance is more predictable, it does tend to be more stable and sustainable. So, these are long-term durable companies that we're looking at which if you're a volatile company, and just kind of want to ride the highs and lows of stocks, probably not a good fit for any ESOP. But most of the companies, your audience wants that durability. They want that…


Kelly: Predictability.


Jennifer: Yeah. And over and over the research has shown that to be true with ESOP and employee-owned companies. Yeah.


Kelly: I mean, the way that I sort of interpret all of this is that, it's really no different from the idea that I talked about often on the show, which is like, money follows value, right? So, what you're doing is you're supporting the employees, right? They're supporting you because they have skin in the game. Right? And so obviously, they're going to be more dedicated, they're going to just bring more to the table, for lack of a better phrase. So really what we're talking about, is this part of like conscious capitalism or conscious leadership? And like, what's the tie in there? Because for me, it seems very apparent.


Jennifer: Yeah. So, one of the things I think, or I know that ESOPs have in common is their long-termist attitude. So, they're not looking because they're not in the public realm. Even though you're measuring stock, you're measuring value over time. So, you're not going to have the same effect that you have in the public realm where you have this ups and downs and very short-termist attitude on the quarter. And living that one experience, these companies have a long-termist attitude. And when you have a more long-term outlook, I think that also drives a conscious capitalism of what are we going to be like in 5, dare we look at 10 years. And so, then that causes other things to come into mind. And the other part of this is Louis Kelso, who really helped get this law into place in the 1970s. His theory was that it's not that capitalism is the issue. It is that we don't have enough capitalists. And so, where a lot of people don't have access to, they don't have money in their pocket to be able to go buy a company or buy into a company. This is a way of getting more people involved in the capitalistic experience inside a company. And so more people are growing equity, obviously, stock equity, but also, it has a ripple effect of possibly more equity for more people to own things, and to own stock where a lot of people don't have access to that. And so that also, we know that more diverse companies are higher performing companies, right? So, you have all these. It's a multifactor effect.


Kelly: There's a lot of overlap that I'm hearing.


Jennifer: So much. Yeah. And so, you're thinking long-term. You're thinking about diversity. You're thinking about stakeholder effects. You're thinking about the environment now. I'm actually sitting in Colorado as I talk to you and the western slope is like burning in drought. And so, it allows for these things to be part of the consciousness of a company, because you're not just thinking about, well, I have to get my number for the next quarterly return.


Kelly: Right. Well, I'm going to leave it there, because that's a great soundbite. We know that numbers are not the be all, end all. They're just part of the people and planet and profit sort of triumvirate. So Jennifer, thank you so much for being on the show. I really enjoyed this conversation, and you are just like a wealth of information. So, I'll put all those resources that you mentioned into the show notes and thank you again. 


Jennifer: Thank you, Kelly.







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Episode 102: Actionable Analytics and Client Retention, with Iris Shoor


On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Iris Shoor talk shop about how Oribi takes the guesswork out of customer journey analytics and campaign attribution to help agencies improve performance and retain clients.



Episode 102: Actionable Analytics and Client Retention, with Iris Shoor

Duration: 20:48


Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. We're going to get a little more analytical today than we usually do. My guest today is Iris Shoor. She's the founder and CEO of Oribi, which is a software company that offers a little more insightful information as an alternative to Google Analytics. So, I'm really excited about it because I always felt like Google Analytics had a little bit of a monopoly in the industry. And there was a lot of data that wasn't necessarily actionable, especially for my team when I had my agency. So I know if that's been an issue for you, you're really going to love today's conversation. Iris, it's a pleasure to have you on the show and welcome.


Iris: Thank you.


Kelly: So, let's talk a little bit about this idea that as a startup, as a founder, you saw this incredible gap in the market, as we all see some of those things, but you actually went ahead and built something that could actually address some of the issues that we've all had with Google Analytics. So, I'd love to hear what you were seeing in the market and how you went about building Oribi?


Iris: Sure. So Oribi is my third company. I had two different startups in the past. The first one was acquired. The second one is still going and doing well. Each one was very different. The first one was around 3D modeling. The second one was for developers. And in both of them, I led the marketing. I was always very, very passionate about marketing and always found it amazing how hard it is to be data driven. I believe that all marketers, the more data savvy we want and the more creative we want, we all want to be data driven. And we all want to understand if what we're doing will have an impact. And today, it's so hard to measure it. So I was always amazed by how hard it is to ask the very basic questions just to understand what's unique about the user segment to sign up to a product. And what happens on a specific page that most people leave it and so on. And with my previous company that was always about using lots of developers and using Google Analytics. I would say, it's a very rich tool. There is a reason that editing dominates the market. But most people don't really like it. So it's very technical. It's pretty complex. And you need to have the resources in order to collect all the data. And we felt that the window changing and editor is a place for a much leaner and easier tool and it doesn't rely on developers and it will enable the marketing team to be more agile and more independent and to analyze things themselves.


Kelly: Yeah. All music to my ears, right? Of course, as marketers, we want to be more agile. We don't necessarily want to rely on our developers. We love our developers, but we'd rather utilize them for the heavier technical lifts.


Iris: Yeah. We love developers. They're not crazy about the marketing tasks. That’s the issue.


Kelly: Right. So talk a little bit about this no code approach, because there's so many beautiful benefits to Oribi, but like the developer cost savings, and the ability, from a resource allocation standpoint, to use your developers for what they are most skilled at, as opposed to dealing with Google Analytics, like attribution and event setup and things like that. Talk a little bit about that no code approach and how you've seen marketing agencies really lean into that.


Iris: Yeah, definitely. So when I first asked myself what is wrong with marketing analytics today, I think some of these answers were about the user interface, analyzing data, getting more insights. But definitely the first barrier is just collecting the very basic data error and being able to see all the data was around using the developer. So most of the companies and that's also an experience that I experienced myself, don't manage to collect all the data. So usually not the very low number of events. So we know who signed up, who purchased the product, but everything in between is kind of like a blind spot to us because of this issue. And I think there are different types of companies. SMBs usually don't have dev resources at all. And therefore, when they set up Google Analytics or another tool for the first time, do some events, but never changes, sense of setup. And for other companies and more address companies, they always hear the same, that there is a bottleneck around dev resources, that it usually takes weeks to months until they add a new event, and that the data is limited. And that's why I decided to focus with Oribi on building a technology that will enable us to collect all the data in a cordless way. In a way it's like Shopify or Wix that we managed to disrupt the industry by allowing everybody to create your own website. Even though you could have said before that it's pretty easy to build a website. You just need a WordPress developer for like a week or two, a really huge gap of allowing companies to do it themselves and that is what we are trying to do for the analytics world. And if you were to try out Oribi, you can see that we have this beautiful event builder. We track all the events that happen on the website. Everything is also retroactive. So at any given moment, you can say, okay, I want to see who explored my new products, who decided to sign up, who read my content. And another thing that we do that is very unique is that we really translate all the actions and buttons into meaningful events. So usually, you're not interested in understanding how many people clicked a certain button. But you want to see how many people had high intent, how many people read your content, how many people decide to purchase, and it can have, like different ways to show up on the website. So, part of the core technology is about smart grouping and understanding of the key actions. And you have this catalog of all the different events on the website, and you just choose them. And then you can see which visitors performed each event to the finals based on this information to create reports, and to analyze campaigns, analyze email marketing, to really see that entire visitor journey without all the hassle of using developers.


Kelly: Right. And so, from an agency standpoint, a lot of us have employed more junior employees who may not necessarily have the experience to let's say, when they were looking in Google Analytics to understand like, well, this data that I'm looking at, this actually is interpreted this way. And these are the actions that I need to take on the front end of the website in order to increase conversions, or in order to better understand that customer journey. So what this does, and I think, there again, there's so many beautiful benefits to this. But what this does is it actually takes all of that guesswork out of that, so that it's very plain to see this particular customer came to this page, this is the action that they took, here's where they fell off. And there are actually some, I guess you would call like recommendations, or some suggestions that come out of Oribi to say here, if you were to do this, this might increase this number, which is brilliant, right? I mean, that's what we all need.


Iris: Yeah. So the way I see marketing analytics is really taking all the tests that you perform the last week also and really understanding the impact. I think the main question that we need to ask ourselves as marketers is, how is this campaign converting? What is the impact of the last email blast that they send? What is the impact of the last video I produced or the last article that they sent? And with Google Analytics, their design is a bit outdated and it's more about metrics, like time on site, bounce rate, and how many people visited each page. And what we're trying to change is the concept of fast impact. So there might be a lower time on site for certain campaigns, but people could revert it beautifully. So it's more about asking how each action impacted my key goals such as selling the products, getting signups and so on, and understanding the visitor journey. So it's less about those website parameters. It's more about visitors and the behavior and about impact and about really connecting the key use cases and the key things that you've been working on to results.


Kelly: I'm smiling because I remember having some of these conversations with clients of my former agency, and it was like, well, if one of our KPIs is to lower the bounce rate, what are we actually talking about? Right? Because if someone was googling, let's say, this is a silly example, but googling, like the name of the company and the phone number, and the contact page actually came up in the search results, right? And Google, they clicked it, they went to that page, they found the phone number. And they either wrote the phone number down or clicked if they were on their mobile phone, or what have you. And the bounce rate is incredibly high on the contact page. And that's because they actually got exactly what they needed. So in that case, the bounce rate was not negative. And so, when you think about what these KPIs really mean, I think your approach takes so much more of the actual human behavior and the impact into consideration, whereas you're right, a lot of Google Analytics, the way that they're measuring things, and by the way, those measurements themselves have not changed in a very long time, right?


Iris: So you've seen that these metrics represent the web for like, 15 years ago, when it was mostly about how many people visited my website, which pages they visit. And today, most of the transactions happen online. And that's what we're aiming for. And for understanding user behavior, so it's not about page views. It's about conversions.  


Kelly: Yeah. No, I love that. What you're really doing, essentially, what I'm hearing is that you're tying humanity into technology, as opposed to technology for technology's sake. And that's where everything is going. So this is a really pertinent conversation. [Commercial]


Iris: Yeah. That's like one perspective that we're trying to implement within the product, that is to have the aggregated view, as well as individual view. So it seemed that there are always like two angles of viewing the behavior. One like 30% of the people that read my content eventually signed up, but you also see how individual users use the product. So you can actually see how people are reading your content, what they're doing later, to really understand where they came from, what they have done in different sessions. And it's really like peeking across the shoulder of your users and trying to understand what they're doing. And I think that's also something that we're missing. So we're so much into the high level numbers. And it's also important to understand what users do. And to really see what they're seeing.


Kelly: Yeah, so important. Yeah, it really gives you that insight. And so talk about that a little bit from the standpoint of integrations. So if you're looking at this aggregated view, obviously, there have to be, I would imagine lots of integrations now, and I'm assuming ones that exist already. And then I'm assuming there are probably a lot of other ones kind of in the pipeline.


Iris: Yeah. So okay, just to make sure that we rely on you speaking about integrations of data coming from Oribi to other tools, right?


Kelly: Yes.


Iris: So as I mentioned, the main part of Oribi technology as differentiation between Oribi and other tools is being able to collect the entire customer journey in a tagged way without using code. When we started developing this technology, it was more about Oribi. So how to use marketing analytics in a better way. You don't need to use developers. And then we started to get lots of requests for customers asking, okay, this is an amazing event. And I want to create a lookalike audience on Facebook using this event. How do I do it? Or I want to create a segment on MailChimp. How do I do it? Or a new field on HubSpot. So that's one direction that we took during the past year, and we're going to double down on it during the next year, sending data to other platforms as well. So we have a very strong partnership with Facebook in which you can create cordless data to export to Facebook and create look-alikes, and conversion events. Based on age you can mix and match. So for example, you can say like I want to create a lookalike audience of all the users that signed up or used a chat or contacted us. So to create more accurate look-alikes. With all the recent changes of iOS 14, I wouldn't say that we're resilient to it. As we're doing everything on the server side, we are able to collect more data to match the data more accurately, and everything without any privacy issues. So, we're just imitating and sending the data as if it was created by using developers or code in a smart way and on the server side.


Kelly: That's great. And then other integrations that are planned going forward.


Iris: Yeah, so probably that Klaviyo segment, Zapier, Salesforce. We're trying to get to all the marketing tools and to enable this prebuilt customer journey data layer, without all the hassle around it.


Kelly: Yeah, it's so amazing. So I hear that's sort of like the next year of what you have planned. And then this past year, but really, this has only been, I guess, you’ve launched about two and a half years ago, and there are already 10,000 companies using this platform. It's just really, really amazing. And also speaks to the benefits of it. So even though Google Analytics might be “free”, when you start to add up the cost of developers versus the cost of this, it's kind of a no brainer.


Iris: It's the cost of developers, but also the insights. I see so many companies today that spent tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars in mass marketing, as they don't really understand what is the impact of each channel and each campaign. So every minor optimization, even if you are able to optimize your marketing efforts in like 2%, or 5%, if you're not able to see the entire picture with your marketing analytics tools, it has a huge impact.


Kelly: Yeah. So let's talk a little bit about that impact because most of the agencies, the leaders and owners who are listening to this or watching this, what they actually care about is not so much the like, how did we get here, but it's really more about how are we retaining clients? Like, is this something that can help them retain more clients simply because the results that they're achieving for their clients are going to be that much better?


Iris: So yeah, what we had in mind when we built Oribi, was the main marketing use cases. So it's paid acquisition, email marketing, content marketing, and using different channels for the website, website optimization. And what we're emphasizing at Oribi is really about all the different touch points of visitors with this type of content. So let's say for example, that you are producing lots of content marketing, and you don't have many readers to the articles, and clients might say that you're not doing a good job, you have only like 200 people a week reading the new articles. But if you're able to show them that out of these 200 people, 20 converted, and you have this amazing match rate to conversions. So this is incredibly important. If you're able to really understand, especially with all the mess that happens there right now with paid acquisition, attribution, and each platform attributing in a different way, those impact and it's also things that are important for the marketing agencies themselves. So if for example, in writing amazing content, you have lots of failure. We're able to drive a lot of visitors, but none of them convert, then you need to understand how to build a different strategy. And so one of the main pain points between agencies and clients, and the topic that we hear a lot is how to measure things. And if you're able to show the results in a very simple way, and in a very clear way, it's not about guessing and it's not about different arguments, it is about how you see the numbers.


Kelly: Just the data.


Iris: Just the data, and then you're able to show how much value you contribute.


Kelly: Yeah. Well, this is great. I definitely want to invite everyone to sign up for the seven-day free trial for Oribi. And if you would like to subscribe, once you are blown away by how insightful the data is, you can get 20% off of that subscription. You can either just mention it when you're talking to someone in the chat or by phone, just mention Thrive. Or you can actually just go directly to in order to pop onto that landing page. So, Iris, this is so great. I am so excited that you were able to join and talk a little bit about this. It's an amazing tool. And thank you so much for building it and thanks for your time today.


Iris: Thank you.







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