Why your next hire should be an Imperfectionist.

Why your next hire should be an Imperfectionist.

To build a great business you need to collect great people.  But what makes people great, and thus collectable, is certainly a topic of debate. I am sure you have your own trait that you think makes you a valuable addition to an employer. You’re organized. Or energetic. Or creative. Or not easily bored.

I spend a lot of time interviewing candidates for our ad agency. And there’s one label I have heard more than all others. In fact I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard people proudly state, ‘I am a perfectionist.’ This proclamation makes me want to throw up. Because I believe that in an idea business like advertising perfection works against you.

That’s why I proudly consider myself an Imperfectionist. So what does that mean? It means I value progress in any form. I am quite comfortable dreaming up and then sharing half-baked ideas. Or writing a first draft and passing it around for a reaction. Why? Because unbaked and half-baked ideas are available faster than fully-baked. And often times a team simply needs a ‘for-instance’ to get moving in the right direction.

I enjoy sharing ideas that are still in a moldable state. They enable others to help form, modify and improve the ideas before they’re finished. As an Imperfectionist I embrace the process of creating, testing, learning and improving. I love working in an environment that recognizes the great value in being aggressive.

Today, speed is king. In the agency business we need to act quickly to help our clients take advantage of short-lived opportunities and to thwart threats.  This puts a premium on quick thinking and swift action. We no longer live in an era that rewards you for sitting alone in your office making sure your ideas or your presentations are bulletproof.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Once our team has determined a direction and we move into the execution phase, every detail matters. I will question the kerning, analyze the delivery of a line, and poke at a transition until I’m absolutely convinced we have it right. There is a time and place for this type of scrutiny.  And I believe it’s at the end of the process.

So find yourself more Imperfectionists. Explore more. Fail fast. And improve faster. It is the difference between doing and dreaming. Action and inaction. Talking and walking. It may not be the perfect approach for everyone. But it works perfectly for me.

 

The first step to make your team work.

The first step to make your team work.

Organizations are messy. Because they are made of humans. And humans are unpredictable animals. If you work in a business that trades in creativity, like I do, you deal with even more interesting dynamics. One of the challenges of professional creativity is that it tries to combine professionalism with non-traditional thinking and behaviors.  These can make for strange bedfellows. (Why do we say bedfellows?  Why couldn’t it be umbrellafellows? Or picnicblanketfellows? Or pewfellows?)

Sometimes teamwork is magical.  Other times it is, well, not magical.

Because when humans are involved things go wrong. In fact, there are things that go wrong in organizations every day.  It is not the avoidance of mistakes that makes a company great. It is how we respond to those mistakes that determines the health and strength of the organization and its culture.

I have discovered a very simple guiding principle that helps organizations thrive, even when things go wrong. It’s The Assumption of Positive Intent. It requires that everyone on the team assumes that the actions, choices, statements and decisions of others were made with positive intentions.

It comes down to believing that your teammates are good people who mean well. Even when their intentions aren’t clearly understood.

At the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the Assumption of Positive Intent is core to our culture. This simple assumption has a number of positive effects.  First, it makes us all see each other as good people. It makes me feel better to feel like I am surrounded by good people who want to do good things. High morals and ethical standards are important. We should believe in each other and support one another until we have irrefutable proof that we should not.

The next benefit of the Assumption of Positive Intent is that it encourages people to take action. Make a move, make an impact, make a difference. We’ll support you. We won’t crucify you if it doesn’t work out perfectly. Because we assume you want to make great things happen. Even if an attempt fails. So go ahead, introduce New Coke. Have Kendall Jenner hand a cop a Pepsi. Or stick your chocolate in my peanut butter.  One of those things will work.

The word assumption often has a negative connotation in business and other performance-oriented environments. Because it indicates that we make judgements or decide without knowing. We’ve all heard the saying that when you assume you makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.  While that is a clever word play, the statement fails to recognize an important reality.  When you assume positive intent, you give people the benefit of the doubt. You presume the good. You believe in the best or most optimistic scenario.  And when you believe in good, you believe in people. This builds a culture of trust.

A Simple 5-Step Formula.

When you encounter an action that you don’t understand try these 5 simple steps:

  1. Assume positive intent
  2. Talk about the issue with the person or people involved.
  3. Make it clear that you assume they meant well and seek a better understanding.
  4. Listen for understanding
  5. Play back what you heard.

I believe in people. I think we all want to be part of a great team  The best way to set our teams up for the greatest success it to minimize the stress on the relationships between teammates. If we assume positive intent at all times, we will get the best out of each other. We will enjoy the attempts. Even when they #fail.

5 things I’m thankful for at work.

5 things I’m thankful for at work.

Like my fellow Americans, today I’m reflecting on my blessings. I enjoy a very full and well rounded life (although I expect to be even fuller and rounder in a few hours).  I have so much to be thankful for I can’t possibly mention it all. So here is a quick overview of 5 things I’m thankful for this year at work.

1. I don’t have to wear a collared shirt with my company’s logo on it. 

logo shirts

The relaxed advertising agency dress code is one of the top reasons I chose this profession. I was reminded of this yesterday as I had lunch next to four guys who work at the local John Deere dealership. I know this because they each wore a shirt with the name of the dealership embroidered on it. I expect the shirts make them feel as if they are part of a team. But I’m thankful to be on a team that promotes individual self expression. (Plus, I know that logo shirts are ad units which warrant compensation in exchange for prime placement.)

2. Our Coke Freestyle Machine.

When I was a kid I remember going to my Dad’s office and thinking it was so cool that they had a vending machine that sold Cokes in glass bottles. My office now has a Coke Freestyle machine that lets you create over 125 different drinks whenever you want. The drinks are all free with employment at Moxie. Which makes my kids think I have the coolest job ever. Even thought we have grown used to it I certainly don’t take this boyhood-dream-come-true for granted.

3. Video Chats

video-chat

 

For the past 8 years I have managed a team spread across multiple offices. Many managers and teams struggle with the distance. One of the most valuable tools I use to bridge the space between our offices is video chat. I use it almost everyday, often multiple times a day.  It offers valuable, face to face communication that allows me to recognize nuances in communication that you just can’t detect through email, IM, text, phone calls or smoke signals. Note: I also get a lot of strange looks from coworkers when they pop into my office and find me telling stories to my laptop.

4. Frequent Flyer Miles.

IMG_6420

I have a lot of frequent flyer miles from work travel. This fall my Mother In Law was diagnosed with cancer. Those miles made it easy for my wife to fly home to Wisconsin to see her mom and be there as she went through surgery and treatments. The miles are a nice bit of compensation for all the time I’m away from home. And they made it easy to support our family members when they needed it most.

5. Moleskine Notebooks

2015 was an unprecedented year in my accumulation of these amazing notebooks. I had numerous meetings and conferences this year where these books were part of the swag. I have a hard time turning off my thinker. These notebooks are the perfect receptical for me to store the thoughts and ideas that pop in my head before they disappear into the ether. Sure, I use Notes on my phone and Evernote and other digital tools. But nothing gives me the satisfaction of holding a hard covered book full of my own words, sketches and ideas.  I have a vision of my offspring making a fortune off of the ideas they find in my notebooks after I die. Or at a minimum they could set up a cart selling corny t-shirts and bumper stickers to pay for their therapy.

I hope you all enjoy your time off and recognize all you have to be thankful for at work. Even if somedays it feels like you’re surrounded by turkeys like me.

 



I’d like to hire the fly that landed in my ranch dressing.

I’d like to hire the fly that landed in my ranch dressing.

Finding great people to improve your team is one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership. But how do we really know who to hire? I recently read that Jim Koch, Founder of Boston Beer (maker of Samuel Adams) said that each new hire must raise the overall average. But a resume only tells us part of the story. References come from people who say nice things (I always use my Grammy). And softball skills only add value between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

So you have to be prepared to recognize great talent wherever you see it. Recently I was having an excellent restaurant experience in Nashville. My family and I ate at one of our favorite restaurants near Vanderbilt (no, not Cracker Barrel). It was a nice day so we ate outside. The food and service were great. My kids behaved. But near the end of the meal a funny thing happened. A fly dive-bombed into my ranch dressing.  I was too surprised and amused to be mad at the little fella. But needless to say his appearance pulled the plug on all chicken dippin activities.

I quickly discovered that you can learn a lot about someone when they are up to their neck in dressing. The longer I watched him (I assumed he was a guy and named him Flynel Richie) the more I admired this little bugger. In fact, before I paid the bill I saw three of the most important attributes I see in great co-workers in little Flynel. So what do great teammates do that lesser teammates do not?

1. They go for what they want.

Flynel knew what he wanted. You must too. You need to know exactly what you want in your career. Write it down. Focus on it, dream about it. Whether it’s a better job, more money, or a nice crunchy crouton, set the image in your mind.  Then when you see the opportunity to make progress towards it you dive-bomb your goal like my little guy.

2. They keep on moving

Rodney Atkins had a hit country song in 2006 called, “If you’re going through Hell keep on going.” Since we were in Nashville I assume the fly had heard that song.  Because that little guy was motivated. He kept moving. Kept working. Kept pumping all six of his little multi-jointed legs. He never gave up.  And he kept making slow but steady progress.  Flynel was the kind of fly you’d want to share a foxhole with.

3. They build connections.

The thing that ultimately saved Flynel was his networking skills.  As I watched him work his way across the Great Ranch Lake he kept looking at me. Seriously. In that moment I was his only friend, his cheerleader and ultimately his lifeline.  He looked up at me as if to say, ‘Hey Sport, imagine if you were me.  Pretty rough, huh? Just a fly who saw some delicious ranch dressing he knew he wanted, went after it, and got in a little too deep. Yeah, I see you sitting there with your wife and kids. I’ve got a wife and kids. And I’d sure like to make it out of this dressing to see them again.’

So I lent him a hand. Actually, I lowered him a butter knife.  He walked on. I airlifted him out like the Ranch Dressing Coast Guard. I wiped him off.  And set him on the ground. The little guy Tebowed for a moment and then took off.

I took a moment to reflect.  I have a strong vision of what I want in my career.  I am careful not to lose my head in the dressing. And you’re not likely to find me giving up. But I sure hope I’m making personal connections strong enough to ensure that when I need help someone will lend me a butter knife.

 

 

The A-holes Rule.

The A-holes Rule.

I’m not a huge fan of rules.  Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them.  But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture you need some rules to guide you.

When I joined my first agency executive team our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No Assholes’ rule. For those not familiar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.

Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters.  So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?

You just get rid of them, right?  After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole makes things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.

But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies.  Among the employee your retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.

Of course the worst problem of all occurs when the A-hole develops a close relationship with the client.  Because then the agency has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.

I recommend a proven 2-step process to handling such problem employees.  First, ask a handful of cross functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole.  If the consensus is yes, put on your scrubs and perform the Assholectomy.

There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that it’s okay to be an A.  That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the jerk anyway.

After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. And the culture, vibe, productivity  and love for the organization improved as a result. That’s why the ‘No Assholes’ rule will be printed on page one of The Perfect Agency Project handbook.

The perfect agency could be like the DMV.

The perfect agency could be like the DMV.

Advertising agencies talk a lot about change. And with good reason. Over the past 19 years I have seen the flavor of the moment hop from Full Service to Media to Interactive to Digital to CRM to Experiential to Social to Mobile to Data to Omnichannel to Dynamic Messaging. I’m probably missing something. Wasn’t there a Nano-Wow moment?

So how does the perfect advertising agency avoid getting caught flat-footed?  In Ken Blanchard’s book, Customer Mania he shares a story that provides a potential blueprint. Ken visited the DMV in San Diego, and to his surprise, the experience was quick, efficient and pleasant. Which prompted Ken to approach the director and ask how he had transformed this typically unpleasant environment into one that offered outstanding customer service.

The director replied, ‘My job is to reorganize the department on a moment to moment basis depending on citizen need.’  To accomplish this he cross trained the staff so that everyone was flexible enough to absorb customer demand at any given moment.

 I love this thinking. Because it puts the client need-of-the-moment in the spotlight.  No one is focused on what they used to do. Or what they would like to do. Rather, they are focused on a very dynamic reality.

With the DMV example in mind the perfect agency must do three things to handle the constant shifts on the marketing landscape.

  1. Train employees to have a wide variety of skills. This means teaching brand-focused team members digital skills. Teaching digitally focused team members CRM skills. And teaching content-focused team members design skills. That way we can swarm to the demand, whether it lasts for the day or the decade.
  2. Morph daily.  Stay flexible, pliable and stretchy. Move people around. Explore new technologies. Encourage team members to work on a wide variety of clients. Experiment. Don’t create ruts.  The stretching stimulates the brain. Which leads to creativity and innovation.  In short, create motion to keep the agency in motion.
  3. Poll your clients.  Ask them what kind of expertise they expect to add to the mix next. Find out what current efforts they expect to swell. This gives you a weather forecast. And if you can get in front of it the wind will fill your sails.

So let’s be like the San Diego DMV. Let’s stay on our toes.  Keep our ears, eyes and minds open.  And let’s be the resource our clients want us to be.

The Perfect Agency Project

The Perfect Agency Project

I am an advertising enthusiast.  Well, technically I’m an advertising professional since advertising has been my primary source of income for almost two decades.  But I call myself an enthusiast because I’m enthusiastic about the industry and energized by its ever-increasing potential to help businesses grow.

I’ve had a pretty decent career so far.  I started as a copywriter.  And at 37 years old I became the Chief Creative Officer of a 275 person ad agency with four offices.  Recently I was asked what challenge I want to take on next.  The answer is simple.  I want to spend the rest of my advertising career creating the perfect agency.  No big deal, right?  Just perfection.

To be successful I’ll need two things.  First, a vision of what the perfect agency looks like.  And second, the drive and determination to narrow the gap between the idealized vision and where we stand at the end of each business day. I believe that the ideal can be achieved at any agency, as long as the team is committed to continuously absorbing and implementing the best ideas.  I expect this to be a stimulating journey.  And I’m sure feathers will be ruffled.  On this quest, I also expect to have a lot of fun, to create a lot of interesting work, to develop deep relationships with my clients and coworkers, and to make a lot of money for the agency and our clients.

I’ll share my learnings, experiences, challenges, conversations and successes along the way.  And I want to hear from you.  So I am calling on the experts, the newbies, the peanut gallery, and even the clients’ wives, and husbands. I want to hear as many perspectives as possible.  Because if I’m to help create the perfect agency it’s going to have to work for everyone, employees and clients alike.  Oh, and by the way, in the perfect agency we might not call people employees or clients. Oh snap! That’s called foreshadowing.