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Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agencies grow and thrive. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur. He shares the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

 

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

Recent Episodes

Improving agency employee retention

With the Great Resignation putting increased pressure on an already tight labor market, agencies are rightly concerned not just about recruiting new employees, but also retaining the talent they already have.

In this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, Chip and Gini discuss how agencies should be thinking about this challenge. They emphasize that it isn’t as much about finding financial rewards, as it is about creating an environment where your team wants to continue to work.

The co-hosts share some of the things that they have seen work — as well as some that tend to be a waste of time and money.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin, 

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin  

Gini, I want to see what we can do to keep you around here. I don’t want you to quit this podcast. So let’s come up with some strategies for that. Okay. Okay. Right after this. So I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a wave of people quitting their jobs right now in the United States that you have heard is hard to miss, because they’ve called it the great resignation. And there are all sorts of stories. And it was a huge story in August when 2.9% of people quit their jobs. And then the September numbers came out, and it was even higher than that. So clearly, this is a problem. And clearly, it’s something that’s on the minds of a lot of agency owners these days, because it’s hard enough to hire in the current environment. And the last thing you want to have to do is to replace existing team members, particularly if they’re good performers. So how can we focus on keeping those people on our team and not losing them to the great resignation?

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, it’s, it’s challenging, because you don’t know why we’re losing, you’re losing them. In some cases, some cases, it might be for more money, some cases, it might be for more flexibility. And in some cases, it might be because people were just bone tired and need a break, or because they have small kids at home, and they’re in the childcare, there’s also a childcare crisis. I mean, there are lots of reasons that this is happening that you may or may not be able to control. Certainly, if it’s a cultural issue, or it’s for more money or something like that, then those are the things you can’t control, but some of it is definitely outside of your control.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, absolutely, in the last two years have have caused a lot of people to take a fresh look at things for all sorts of reasons. Some of those that that you mentioned, maybe they’ve got outside pressures, maybe they are someone who has actually accumulated additional time to think about things or explore new ideas. There’s all sorts of reasons. And other people just sitting there saying, hey, life is short, do I am I doing what I want to be doing? Right, and, and so when you throw that into the mix, with all of the other pressures that agency employees typically have, and the reasons that they will typically leave jobs, you know, lack of advanced advancement, you know, lack of compensation increases, you know, the, you know, the stress of working in the agency, world, all of those things, it becomes challenging, but I think, you know, a key part of this is that, that as an agency leader, as an agency owner, you need to really be listening to your team, and we talked about that a lot, you know, that you can’t just tell them what to do. You can’t just give them instructions, you actually need to spend time using your ears.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, you know, it’s funny, because I, as an agent’s as the agency owner, it’s really challenging to get people to be honest with you, in some cases, you know, for all the reasons that there are. And so I spent a lot of time just building relationships, personal relationships with my team, so that they do feel comfortable telling me things, and it takes a long time, it takes a long time to get there. And I do hear things I hear things like, you know, I’m taking care of my, my toddlers, and I’m taking care of my parents. And that’s it’s a lot. I don’t want to go back into the office, my husband was just telling me last night that they are thinking about going back to the office and requiring vaccination. And he they did a survey and 30% of the team said, No, if if, if we if you require that we go back into brick and mortar office every day, we’re not going to be here anymore. 30%. So now they’re having to readjust, you know, and there are lots of organizations that won’t listen to that they won’t they do the surveys, but then they don’t pay attention. And then they’re surprised that 30% of their employees quit. So I think you’re right, you have to you have to listen, you have to get anonymous feedback, you have to be willing and open to feedback. And you have to actually take action based on that feedback.

Chip Griffin  

Right? Yeah. Look, I think you do have to be a little bit careful about surveys, because, you know, people have a tendency to overstate their their points, or the their commitment, shall we say, to their point of view? Let’s put it that way. So I think that it accurately reflects in that example, that 30% don’t want to do it. Would they actually not do it, though? I, I think until until they actually get the instruction? It’s hard to know. And I suspect them would be smaller than that. But it still is that a chance that you want to take, right? And a part of this is not just asking the direct questions. It’s just it’s being willing to listen and read between the lines because even an employee who doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable truly opening up to you, they’re still going to say and do things that will give you hints and what they’re thinking and hints at what their pressures are. And so you need to be you know, tuning into those as opposed to just focusing on this is what we need to get done today. Let’s get it done and move on.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and it’s there’s a lot of the I would guess the water I guess I would describe it as the water cooler talk that, you know, we may have that on Slack. Or you may have it in zoom meetings today in today’s world, but you definitely don’t do still hear things like I hear things like, Oh, my meeting schedule is so much that I’m supposed to be doing this and this and this this weekend. And you’re right. Okay, I got it. Yeah, like just even small stuff like that.

Chip Griffin  

Right. And this is why one on ones are so important. And I know I’m a broken record on that. And all my clients will tell you, I’m a broken record on that. But they are there because you know, particularly in this world, where most of us are doing at least a substantial portion of our jobs remotely. We’re not having the true watercooler conversations, yes, you pick up some on Slack or email. But having those one on ones with your direct reports really helps, because that’s where they have the opportunity to have an unguarded moment with you, where they they say something like that, that they might not bother, you know, typing out, or they might say, a group call, or all those kinds of things. So make sure that you’re doing those, and make sure that you’re shutting up long enough in them to actually have your employee talk and share what’s on their mind.

Gini Dietrich  

I also think that when you have one on ones, there’s you can read the body language too. So they may not understand something like I have a colleague that I can tell, just by the look on her face that something’s wrong. And, and you know, I will go through the one on one and she she always has an agenda, we go through everything. And then I’ll say, Okay, well tell me what else is going on. And it usually takes her a few minutes to open up and we’ll talk about you know, things like getting manicures or whatever it happens to be and then she’ll she will get to the point because I can tell just by looking at her that something’s wrong, or the fact that she’s being really short in her agenda, which is not typical of her I can that you can tell those kinds of signs. And it’s because I spend one on one time with her. If I didn’t have that one on one time with her, I wouldn’t be able to pick up those signs. So I think it’s, I agree with you, I think they’re extraordinarily important.

Chip Griffin  

And I think the other thing about this is that the one on ones help you understand what makes the individual employee tick. And I think one of the challenges that we have is we want the easy answer to a lot of things, but particularly how do we improve retention? And so, you know, when people ask me that question, they’re hoping I’m going to say something like, Well, if you just have a bonus program like this, you just do this kind of training, or you have this meeting schedule, or you go to a four day workweek or whatever, that’s going to be your, your magic bullet. The reality is that it’s different for each employee. And and you really need to understand is this someone who’s, you know, looking to move up and get more responsibilities is someone who’s driven purely by finances, is this someone who really just needs the flexibility to deal with things outside of the office. And as long as you accommodate that, you’re going to be fine. You need to understand for each individual, what’s motivating them.

Gini Dietrich  

You know, it’s funny, you say that, because I was laughing with a client the other day, because she, I’m working with her on this kind of stuff, like just leadership and, and listening and paying attention. And she said, so So and So employee wants to have extra time off extra pay time off, and I was like, okay, because we have unlimited PTO. And I was like, so just give her the extra days. And she’s like, That’s so weird. We already have unlimited paid time off. And I’m like, Okay, if that’s what she wants, just be like, Okay, here’s four extra days.

Chip Griffin  

Right? It’s like when your kid says, Can I can I can eat these vegetables? You say? Yes, of course you say yes. You’re right. You say yes. Like you’ve just given them something?

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, it’s pretty funny.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, I mean, it is. And different things motivate different people. I mean, I’ve had employees where, you know, if I put money on the other side of a wall, they would do whatever they had to do to get through that wall. It didn’t matter how bloodied or bruised, they were covered. And in dust, they would go through that wall to get that money. I’ve had others, you could put a million dollars on the other side of that wall. And if it wasn’t something they wanted to do, they weren’t going to do it. Now just need to understand that. And what makes them tick is not what necessarily makes you tick. In fact, it probably isn’t.

Gini Dietrich  

It definitely is not. Everybody needs to read Drive by Daniel Pink, because it talks about this. And he starts out by saying, okay, the, what you really want to think about is, if you if somebody said to you, I want you to sit on this fold up chair in the middle of this warehouse for eight hours a day, don’t do anything else, just sit here on this foldup chair for eight hours a day. And if you do that, I will pay you a million dollars in salary. And many people will go okay. And many people, most people will not make it even two days, let alone an entire like an entire year. And it’s because money is not actually a motivator. SURE that you there may and I’m definitely one of them that if you put a million dollars on the other side of the wall, I would definitely figure out how to get there. But I’d always be trying to figure out how to get them more money and more money and more Money, right? Because, right, you can’t ever. And so that that’s the point of the book is he talks about what, what motivates and how to figure out what motivates each individual. And for some people, you know, they never go out to eat. And so they may like a gift card to a really nice restaurant so they can take their spouse or partner out to eat, like those kinds of things, you have to figure that out. And once you sort of figure that out, it’s a lot easier for you to figure out how to keep people happy and motivated, and all those things that we should be doing.

Chip Griffin  

Right. But of course, part of the trick there too, is you need to know that they actually want to go out to eat, because they may not be going out to eat by choice. Because they don’t want to be tempted by a restaurant or you know, whatever. I mean, who knows? So, so you, but this is where listening really comes in handy. And being willing to hear things, even if they’re different than your own view of the world and your own preferences. And and it’s another reason why and we’ve talked about performance reviews before, you really need to use those performance reviews as an opportunity not to reflect on their actual performance, but instead to focus on where do they want to go? Where are they trying to take their lives and their careers so that you can figure out how to make your agency part of that plan, as opposed to seeing them headed in one direction you had it in another and just say, whatever. I mean, if you want to keep them, you’ve got to find a way to have those paths, merge.

Gini Dietrich  

Them smirking, which, if you’re just listening, you can’t see me speaking, but because

Chip Griffin  

you just assume I think it’s the safest. So yeah,

Gini Dietrich  

that’s pretty much all I do. Um, we have a client who is going through their annual review process right now, which is the end of the year make sense. And they sent over the reviews of the team that the marketing team that we worked directly with. And the CEO said, Hey, would you mind just looking at these and seeing if there’s anything you would add or or change? Because you work so closely with them? I was like, Sure. And I’m reading them. And they all have action plans in them, which is great. And it’s things like, take this course or do this like this. And I said that because there were a couple of action plans that didn’t make sense to me based on what I know about the employee. And I said, How did these action plans come to be? Did you work with the individual to figure out they were like, No, we just decided, and I was like,

Chip Griffin  

No. In fact, you have to work very hard to have it be the employees ideal, or at least have them have the perception that it was their idea of how to address it. And so you talk it through with them. And you say, okay, you know, you know, we see you in this kind of role in the future, it would be great if you had a little bit more in this particular skill area, you know, how do you think you could develop that best and sort of talk them through? And maybe you, you know, if you’ve got an idea in mind, you may be trying to steer them to it, but you if they feel like you’ve just gone to them say okay, you need to take these three classes. Yeah. And you need to do these five things in the next six months. Yeah, can we like, right? I believe I have to do this. Yes, like make it their idea, make them part of the solution, maybe they’ll have an idea that you didn’t even think of, I mean, I’m gonna shock you here. But you as the agency owner are not all knowing.

Gini Dietrich  

Yes. We have another client that does a monthly book club. And at first, I was really excited about it, that they invited us to participate. I was like, Okay, you’re gonna give me a book every month. And then we get to talk, we get to read it and talk about it because I read a ton. So I was like I’m in for this. But then it got to the point where it was expected. And even if it was a book I wanted to read, I started to dread it because I don’t like, I want to be able to have the choice if I’m going to read a business book or fiction after work, right. And then it got to the point where I had to read this assigned book. And I was like, This is ridiculous. And it was a really great lesson just for me personally to say, like, that may be something that people enjoy. But when you make it an expectation or part of the job or something and it’s outside of business hours, not gonna do it. They’re not gonna do it.

Chip Griffin  

Right. Yeah, no, I mean, I was just part of a conversation recently, with someone who was interested in making sports officiating, basically the main thing that they did, and one of the things that some of the people in the group who were part of this conversation said was, look, it’s a lot of fun when you’re choosing to do it. And it’s, it’s secondary, but when it becomes the primary thing that you do for income, it’s going to be a whole different thing. And you need to look at it very differently. It’s like photography. You know, we’ve talked recently about how I enjoy photography, I’ve been doing more of it lately, since I haven’t been traveling. I love doing it. Well, I want to make that my sole source of income, probably not because, well for a lot of reasons. And so, you know, those are things that you need to be thinking about when you’re talking with your team and understand, you know, what is it that they want? How can how can you be part of the solution but not dictating the solution? And those are things that will help you get people who want to work for you. I mean, the other thing I always say when it comes to things like retention is you have to understand And that, that you don’t want to do things that rope people into staying, you want to give them a motivation right to remain. And there’s a big difference there. There’s a lot of times where I see businesses put in strings or, you know, you know, we’ve got a bonus program, but we’ll hold it out there into the future so that you know, you feel compelled to stick around even like vesting arrangements that you may have. Not so much in the agency world, but in other businesses where you get options or bonuses based on impart like longevity and access to that based on longevity, those things are tough, because you’re convincing people to stay who might otherwise want to leave. Right. And that generally doesn’t lead to good outcomes.

Gini Dietrich  

Right. It’s the the age old end of your bonus, where it’s the end of your bonuses supposed to be surprised, because it’s a quote unquote, holiday gift. But everybody knows that it’s coming, right, everybody, everybody stays until January 3, to get their holiday bonus. And then they leave like I used to say to my boss at the agency, I was like, why don’t we do this? Like, because there was always a mass exodus after the holiday.

Chip Griffin  

Absolutely. Always absolute. Why do we do this? No. I mean, I once worked for organization that that gave out bonuses in March that was there, their timing into February, beginning of March. And so it delayed the inevitable, right? I mean, their idea is, well, that way, we won’t have that interviewer Exodus. No, you’ll have watch Exodus. Okay, great. Problem solved. I mean, I guess in some ways, maybe it is helpful, because the labor market is different, cuz you don’t have everybody who’s I mean, I don’t know, it’s like selling your house, right? You sell your house on the school calendar, your schedule, typically in order to, to maximize the buyers mind or whatever. But but you need to you need to understand these things. And you need to understand if a team member doesn’t want to be there, you need to facilitate their exit, right? Don’t Don’t, don’t say, Well, I’ve got skills I want. So I need to try to keep them you’re just just another three months, just another six months. If they’re ready to go, you need to find a way to make it happen. Because otherwise, you’re not going to get what you expect, what you want, and what they need. And so that’s just as bad all around. So, yes, you want to try to do things to reduce your turnover and to improve retention, but not at the expense of having an unhappy workforce that just feels compelled to stay with you.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, we have a client who get likes, loves to give retention bonuses. If you stay another four months. I’ll give you $5,000 I think that’s so

Chip Griffin  

terrible. I mean, I’ve been in a lot of businesses that like retention bonuses. 10. I’m not I don’t I don’t I don’t like them at all. I don’t. I’ve seen them oftentimes as part of m&a agreements. I don’t like them. They’re either. Yeah. Because almost everybody either leaves or seriously considers it whenever they get that bonus. Because if nothing else, you’ve made it easier for them oftentimes, right, right. Because because you’ve now given them extra cash in their pocket, which maybe they’re like, Oh, cool. Well, this, this gives me six months of runway to figure out, you know what I’m going to do next. And so now you’ve actually made it easier for them to quit. Not harder,

Gini Dietrich  

correct. Well, this is a good place for me to quit this podcast recording because I am going to go do a two hour workshop. And I have to pee.

Chip Griffin  

Wow, I mean, I am using the the one with the terrible segues from segment to segment and ending the show but You’ve left me entirely speechless.

Gini Dietrich  

That is my holiday gift to you chip.

Chip Griffin  

Cheese. I mean, yeah. On that note, this has been Agency Leadership Podcast really don’t know what to say here. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich  

I screwed you all up. I’m sorry. And I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  

and it depends, I guess.

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