Setting team capacity benchmarks for your agency

Do you ever wonder how many clients an individual account executive should be able to handle? How about what percentage of time should be client billable for all levels of employees?

Perhaps you’ve heard about metrics like revenue per FTE — what are good numbers for your own agency business?

Chip and Gini discuss these and other questions on this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast.

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 

and I am going to share so much about myself in episode right after this. Yeah, I was joking. I’m not actually nobody really wants a TMI start to the episode from me. So I don’t know, I kind of do. Yeah, no, it’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen.

Gini Dietrich 

I share something about you. Oh, God, okay. Good. You take really great photographs.

Chip Griffin 

And by that you mean, I use my camera? Well, not. The photographs of me are very good. Just Just to be clear. For those of you in listener land, yes, the photos of me are miserable. The but I but I have gotten semi decent, I think

Gini Dietrich 

more than semi decent.

Chip Griffin 

Thank you. I’ve, in the pandemic, I’ve had more time to spend out there doing photography, and particularly sports photography. It’s my the one excuse I have to get out of the house in a safe ish fashion. So

Gini Dietrich 

well, they’re very good. And I very much enjoy seeing them.

Chip Griffin 

Thank you. I appreciate it. So but that brings us to the actual topic of today’s episode, which is, how much should we be sharing with employees? And this is something that that came up? It’s a question I get periodically from clients anyway. But it was something that was inspired by a Harvard Business Review article that essentially posed the same question and suggested that in order to inspire your team, you need to be willing to share more of yourself. So how much should we share? How do we draw the line? And I’d like to include both personal and business side of things. Let’s Let’s start with the personal. But I think that you know, how much you share about your business goes hand in hand with this, particularly when you’re a small agency, and you’re the owner.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I mean, we build relationships with human beings, right? And in order to build relationships, and trust, and all those kinds of things that you need to have to have a great relationship, you have to share parts of yourself. It’s not, you can’t go into a meeting and be like, Okay, I’m going to talk about this and everybody share, like, we’re not robots, you have to actually build trust in being a human being. And you can’t do that if you’re not sharing about yourself.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, I agree. I mean, and I think people overlook the fact that, you know, whether you’re doing business development or employee relations, it’s about the people. Yeah, right. It’s not, nobody works for your agency, as a business, they work for you, as the owner, they work for their line manager, clients hire you, they don’t, they don’t hire the logo, right? You don’t work with the logo, right? I mean, you may, you may work for Apple. But you’re, you know, the client is whoever you’re working with there. And that’s ultimately what drives the relationship. So you have to remember that as a starting point, so I think that’s a great point.

Gini Dietrich 

So I have recently, I joke that I’ve taken a part time job, it’s not really a part time job, I’ve stepped in to help a client after their VP of Marketing resigned. And I’ve had to build trust really fast with a team very, very fast. I mean, I worked with them, you know, as an agency, but and we’ve worked with them as an agency. But I had like, because I was stepping I am stepping in as this role for now they have a dotted lines me. And so one of the things that we that I started doing with them is many of them are young, in their careers, and they haven’t had any experience presenting. And I’ve noticed that in larger meetings with the bigger company, people are often called on sporadically and spontaneously without any warning, and it makes younger professionals real very nervous. So one of the things I’ve started doing is I’m giving them a topic based on their passion. Like, one woman makes phenomenal cheeseboards Another one is running the New York Marathon. So there’s all these these things that they’re doing outside of work, and I’m having them give a five minute presentation at the start of our marketing meetings, just to get them accustomed to presenting to a group of people and, and their N word. But I’m doing it in a way that allows them to share things about themselves that the rest of the team didn’t know and it’s working really well. It’s it’s actually it came up because I was joking that Addie woke me up in the middle of the night, like three weeks ago and was like, our pencils made and I was like, I don’t know, it’s three o’clock in the morning, go back to bed. And so I was telling relaying that story and they were like, well, how are How are pencils made? And so I created a presentation to show them how fourth pencils are made. And then I said well wait This is a really started to notice that they were getting very nervous when spontaneously called upon. And so we started doing that. So it’s kind of a fun way to be able to engage people in what they’re passionate about, but also give them some professional development.

Chip Griffin 

I think that’s a great point. And there are a lot of ways that you can make connections with your team members. By having these kinds of conversations. Now you have to be careful, because you want to make sure that you’re not asking questions of your employees of a personal nature, right? So they should be volunteering things. And you also have to keep an eye out because sometimes these conversations can make people uncomfortable, right? So you need to get to know your team, again, as people and figure out, you know where those lines are. Because you know what, what you’re comfortable talking about may not be what someone else is either comfortable talking about, or comfortable hearing. So, so you need to gauge those things and continue to make adjustments.

Gini Dietrich 

So the HBr article talks about a couple of things, cultivate your top three stories about failure. I love that because it shows that everybody makes mistakes, and, or as Bob Ross would say, happiness to have accidents or happy mistakes, or something like that. Um,

Chip Griffin 

let’s, let’s stop on that one there. Because I think that I mean, overall, agency owners are afraid to talk about failure. They’re, they’re afraid to talk about it with each other with their teams. Everybody always assumes that all that other agency, they’re always successful, I see them doing all these great things. Well, yeah. Because people publicize their success. They generally don’t. You know, it’s the same thing, you know, people talk about, well, you know, I see all these great things on Facebook, but nobody ever shares the bad stuff. Well, yeah, of course, because I this is human nature. Right? Right. I mean, you know, you have people who will post on Facebook, you know, oh, I lost 100 pounds, you don’t have people say, Oh, I gained 10 pounds, right? That’s, that’s usually not what you see. And so so but I do think that the more comfortable you get in sharing your failures, with anyone, its benefit, I mean, there are more lessons to be had out of failure than anything else. And I always say that my role as an agency consultant or coach, is that, you know, really, the vast majority of what I do is just tell you what I did wrong in the past, so that you don’t repeat the same mistake,

Gini Dietrich 

it’s true that there is there is definitely value in failure, there’s definitely value in experience, too. So, you know, like we, we were talking offline last week about the gigantic mix mistake I made before the Great Recession, because I came out of a large agency. And I thought that I had to take a line of credit and borrow some money to be able to build my team, to be able to go and get new business. And all of a sudden, we you know, the economy, the bottom drops out, and I have all of this debt. And I can’t pay my people because we have any clients. And it was it was astronomical, like, I didn’t know, I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do those things. Now I do. It was a very hard lesson to learn. But I talk about that kind of stuff like $400,000 in debt is not not successful. That is not the definition of success.

Chip Griffin 

Not not general. Yeah, that’s generally not where you want to go with that. So so by all means, share those things with your team. Yeah, particularly the professional failures, because those are things that they can directly learn from. So you know, if you say, Hey, you know, I screwed up a pitch once by doing this. I mean, you know, one of the stories that that I always tell is that, you know, I thought that I could I could write a negative story into a positive one, yet not generally the best idea. And but I thought, I mean, because I was young in my career, I was probably 2324. And so I thought I had fun, just the angle to pick up on some bad news, not about my organization, but it’s sort of a macro story, and I could ride that into that’s bad news. But yeah, that doesn’t that doesn’t play. Now, particularly because during that news cycle, the news got worse. So that press release, like really stupid by the end of the day. Which my boss very helpfully pointed out to me.

Gini Dietrich 

That’s awesome. That’s a great boss. Incorporate vulnerability in real time.

Chip Griffin 

I think that is good up to a point. Yeah, I agree. All right. I think that it and as a leader, as, as an owner, as a manager, you need to help people understand that you’re human, that you make mistakes that you have vulnerability. You can’t go too far with it though because they have to still have confidence in you. So this is one where I think you really need to walk a tightrope, so that you are showing just enough leg but not too much. All right, it’s an old fashioned expression My apologies. Now might now My show is gonna get canceled.

Gini Dietrich 

Oh, okay. share what’s top of mind for you?

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. So sometimes was Top of Mind you shouldn’t share apparently. Sometimes it’s good to take a beat and say, okay, should this old fashioned expression be used or not? Answer No, no. Don’t do it. Well, yeah. So but I, but I think that it is, you know, one of the things that is valuable when you’re talking with your team in particular is, is sharing What’s on your mind? And and what are your current concerns? What do you see is the opportunities again, balancing it out, you don’t want people to panic. But look, if you if you’re sitting here and saying, okay, it’s, you know, it’s March of 2020. And you’re trying to figure out, you know, what the economic impact of these shutdowns and such are going to be, you know, that’s a conversation you should have with your team. Because your team is going to assume that you’re worried about this stuff anyway. Right? Right. And so if they’re going to assume it, it’s better to take those assumptions out and share what you’re actually thinking. Because more often than not, when you’re silent on things like that, they fill the void, with much more extreme potential outcomes. And this is both for good and bad, right? So if things look like they’re good, they’re going to assume that they’re even better than they really are. Right? Most of your employees, if you actually surveyed them, and ask them how much they thought you were making, I bet you that they would all bet you’re making more money, you are way more. Right. I mean, that’s that’s certainly been my experience. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. For sure, right. And so, you know, that sort of segues into the business side of the equation, when it comes to transparency, you know, look, you, you, I don’t necessarily think you should share all the financials, but you need to share a sense of the financial direction of the business, and you need to help the team understand how performances, because if you, if you don’t, if you’re if you don’t have that level of transparency, honesty, vulnerability, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. And you’re not allowing your team to help as much as they could.

Gini Dietrich 

You know, the pandemic is a great example of that, because I remember my husband coming home, right before the holidays in 2019, from a trip and he said to me, we were in the kitchen, I was making dinner, and he said, You know, I think we should be worried about this virus. And I was like, What are you talking about? Why should we be worried? It’s like, I don’t know. Like, there’s just something about it, the people in my circles are talking about, we should be worried about it. And so after the holidays, you know, of course, it it got more intense by mid January. And I said to my team, like, we don’t know what’s going to happen, this is what’s happening in other parts of the contrary, we should watch this. And I remember Martin Waxman saying at the time, I think we’ll be okay, unless South by Southwest cancels, if South by South southwest, Southwest cancels, then we have to go into like, Plan C, essentially. And then South by Southwest came

Chip Griffin 

along with everything else on the planet. So I remember

Gini Dietrich 

having that conversation with the team like figuring out what our plans A, B, and C were because, and we knew that plan C was the trigger for that was if south by canceled, and then they did.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, and and those are conversations that if you if you’re playing everything close to the vest, and you’re not sharing with your team, you’re not going to get that kind of input. And so you’re now guessing on your own and that sort of thing. And a lot of agency owners, particularly when they’re in stressful situations, will often turtle and, and not share but it’s again, it’s you’ve got to do it with the right balance, because you don’t want to freak the team out. But you’ve got to be willing to share that kind of information and and, frankly, your feelings about it. You know, I’m not a big feelings guy. But, but you know, you should be sharing your perspective. Let’s call it that. I feel more comfortable calling it perspective.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, it’s a great lesson for me was the great recession because I did turtle I took it all internal. And when I had to lay everybody off, which sucked and was the worst part of my career by far, I remember one of my young employees said to me, you know, you should have let us in we could have helped you find an answer. And I was like, No, I feel even worse. But she was right. That was a really good lesson for me. She was right.

Chip Griffin 

Right. So, I mean, let’s let’s veer back to the personal side, though, cuz I’m curious, your take on this. I mean, when it comes to the owner’s personal life, and I don’t necessarily mean you know who you’re dating or why your marriage is going or that kind of stuff, but but how much? On the personal side of things, do you think it’s appropriate to share with the team?

Gini Dietrich 

I think I mean, I think there’s a line with it, just like there is a vulnerability, right? I mean, I think we are all much more comfortable with sharing parts of our personal life after the shutdown, and having kids at home and all that kind of stuff. Like, we were joking the other day that it literally came to every one of my meetings for a year. And it was very stressful for me very stressful. But that isn’t something normally I would have shared, I wouldn’t have shared a hamster on my head or crawling down my face. But

Chip Griffin 

and I really wish you hadn’t. So you didn’t draw the line in the right place there? I didn’t, that’s something I did not need.

Gini Dietrich 

And it happens still, but it’s after school. So you don’t get to see it anymore. But

Chip Griffin 

thank God. Yeah,

Gini Dietrich 

I know, I agree. So I do think there’s a line, I think the line has moved probably for the better in the last 20 months. But I think that that it’s the same thing with vulnerability, you just have to be really careful about what you’re sharing. Like, we had a client who reduced everybody salary, and then showed up in a brand new Tesla to work. And we were like, you can’t do

that. Right? Yeah.

Gini Dietrich 

Don’t do that. So you have to think about from that perspective, as well.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. And I do think it is, it is something that’s evolving, it’ll be interesting to see, you know, how it continues to evolve, you know, are some of these temporary changes that will go back? I don’t know. You know, I do know, I mean, I’ve always been open, for example, about the fact that I’ve had an irregular heartbeat for decades. But I’ve had a couple of heart surgeries for it, and that kind of stuff. And so, you know, in, in each instance, where I’ve, you know, had that surgery, I’ve, you know, I’ve been public about it. I mean, because I figured, you know, I’m going to disappear for at least a few days, you know, if not a little bit longer, depending on on how things go. You know, I don’t want people to speculate. And so I always shared with my team and clients, those kinds of things. I will say that, that the first time I had that in the, you know, around 2008, I think was when I had the first one, I actually lost business as a result of it. Because there were clients who didn’t want to work with me as a result. You know, because then

Gini Dietrich 

you had to have heart surgery. Yeah. Is what you’re telling me?

Chip Griffin 

Well, they were concerned about my ability to keep up in the wake of that. And so I so I know for a fact that I lost some sizable business because of it, not business that I already had, I didn’t have anybody leave. But there was prospective business on the table when it came up, that that I know, I lost because of it. So I mean, so you, you do have to think about how will others perceive things and make sure that, you know, you’re you’re sharing and so, you know, one of the lessons I learned was that, that I needed to be perhaps even more transparent than I was right and talk about, okay, well, this is what it means. And this is how it you know, transpires afterwards and all that kind of stuff. And you’re basically back to normal and relatively shorter, because not open heart surgery or something like that out for a couple of months. And so, so being clear about those kinds of things, but you just you do need to think through Okay, if I share this, where does it go? What are the questions are going to be asked what what concerns by people have and make sure that you’re being thoughtful about it. So I certainly it hasn’t made me not want to disclose stuff. But it certainly makes me more thoughtful about, you know, how, when and why I do it.

Gini Dietrich 

For sure. I think that makes a lot of sense. I also think it’s really crappy that you wouldn’t you would lose business over that, but

Chip Griffin 

I think they thought they were being helpful. I honestly think that that they thought that they were doing the right thing. But yeah, but I think you know, it’s I think when you share things you know, with your team you share you know, share what your ambition is, right? help them understand where you want to take the business, help them understand what you want to do. I mean, if you’re, if you’re for example is a lot of my clients are trying to figure out how to get themselves out or some of the day to day so they can work on growing the business. Tell your team that don’t make it a secret. Yep, tell them I’m looking I’m trying to find ways to and they may have their own ideas about how you can do it. They may have some helpful advice and useful useful suggestions. Or they may be willing to step up to the plate and say Hey, boss, I got it. You know, you don’t need to deal with this. Yeah, and and so you don’t if your plans are secret, and you’re trying to execute them on your own, you It’s gonna be much tougher to do than if you’ve got your whole team rowing in the same direction with you.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. And then the last one is study, study inspiring stories from others, which I personally love that that’s one of my favorite tips.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, I mean, you can learn a lot from other people. I mean, again, going back to what we said earlier, remember, you’re only seeing the good stuff, right? It’s not, you know, you’re you’re seeing, you know, when you see someone have success, you’re not necessarily seeing all the failures that that happened leading up to it. Right, you know, you, you see the the entrepreneur who sells for a billion dollars, you know, you’re not seeing all of the missteps along the way, all of the stress that, you know, that came along with getting there maybe the failed attempts at businesses before that, right? That’s, sometimes that gets written about, but more often than not, it gets glossed over. So, absolutely take inspiration from what you’re seeing from other people. But remember, it probably wasn’t a straight line to that success. And so don’t, you know, don’t judge yourself harshly. If you have your own hiccups along the way.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, that was a very hard lesson for me to learn early on, because I would read ink invest company in HBr. And I’d be like, wow, these people were really like, doing it. And if I had that, keeping up with the Joneses mentality of Oh, I have to do that I have to do that. And what I didn’t realize was there was all those there were all those peaks and valleys.

Chip Griffin 

Can I just say, I hate the Inc 5000 list? I like Not only that, but it’s it creates this impression that you should be growing your business at these these astronomical rates, right? You shouldn’t Yes. Right. I mean, when I go into an agency, and I see that they’ve grown, you know, 500% in a year, I don’t see that as a success necessarily. I see that as maybe it’s good news. There’s a lot of there’s a lot of problems that come with growing that fast too, though, so and certainly it shouldn’t be your target to grow by those kinds of percentages, year after year after year, because it’s not sustainable, you know, in a way that gives you what you want is the owner. So, you know, be careful about some of this stuff. And I mean, I think the keeping up with the Joneses is is a great expression. It’s probably offensive to people not named Jones, though, so I don’t know. I mean, name Jones, maybe coordinate or name junk. Good point. Good point. Because it applies to all Joneses are successful. And if you’re a Jonesy you’re not successful, then watch. Oh, wow, that is tough.

Gini Dietrich 

we’ve really done it on this podcast

Chip Griffin 

we have we have gone around the band and over the cliff. So I think on that note, we probably have to draw this episode to a close before I get into even more trouble than I’ve already done in the last 22 minutes. Hopefully, I have not offended you too deeply. And you will tune in again next week. In the meantime, this has been the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich 

I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin 

and it depends.

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