An agency owner asked me for help—he was overwhelmed by email at work. He felt like he needed to respond to emails immediately, or fall hopelessly behind. During our two-hour coaching call, he was worried that 100 new emails had come in.
I recommended my concept of internal “Office Hours” as a way to help fix this. I’ve seen internal Office Hours help many of my clients—along with things like “heads down” time (where your team doesn’t interrupt you).
Tired of working late most nights? Try internal Office Hours and send me your results. In my experience, it can reduce your internal email volume by 30-50% once you and the team fully adapt.
Let’s look at how you’d roll it out to the team, including details to consider.
[EMAIL TEMPLATE] Launching internal Office Hours
Here’s a suggested email template to introduce the team to the concept of internal Office Hours. Feel free to edit where needed.
SUBJECT: Get faster signoffs: My new internal Office Hours
Hi team! I know I’ve been hard to track down. I’m trying to a new approach to help you get the signoffs you need with a concept called internal “Office Hours.”
Do you remember in college you could go to your professors with questions during their Office Hours? It’s a little like that—and it’s designed to reduce my internal email workload while also getting you answers faster. Here’s how my Office Hours will work:
- Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be in the kitchen from 3:30-4:30pm.
- Come by (in person) with questions, signoff needs, and anything else where you need my help.
- I’ve scheduled this timeslot so that if you need to send things externally (e.g., by EOD), you’ll be able to act on my advice/decision.
- If you need advice, please bring as much of a solution (instead of a problem) as you can. My goal is to do 3-5 minutes per signoff; if we need significantly more, I’ll recommend you come back with more details or schedule a separate meeting.
- I won’t have my laptop/phone out (bring your laptop if you need me to review something) so that I can give you my undivided attention.
- My assistant, <Name>, will sit-in on the Office Hours to help me work through actionables. I’ll also meet with <Name> afterwards, to help get things assigned out as needed.
- Sometimes, I’ll recommend that you make the decision—especially when it’s something you can evaluate better than I based on your role.
We’ll start <two weeks from now> and do a one-month trial. Depending on how the meetings go, I may change the schedule to add or subtract days. But let’s see how it goes—my goal is to make things less crazy during a crazy time.
If you need something from me and you haven’t heard back, stop by my Office Hours; I can probably share the answer there sooner than via email, so you can move forward faster. My goal is to cut my internal email volume by 30-50%.
Let me know what questions you have about the new internal Office Hours concept. Thanks!
<Agency Owner Name>
You’ll want to customize that template to sound like you, of course!
Doing the Office Hours without your phone or laptop may be painful at first, but it’s important to show your team you’re focused on them while you’re there. Seeing is believing.
I recommend bringing a magazine or book. Be aware you may feel some technology withdrawal symptoms. (If you find no one’s coming much at first, you might try bringing your laptop, but close it immediately when someone shows up.)
Concerned about more emails coming in while you’re in Office Hours? It’s going to happen. But if you follow the schedule above (3:30-4:30pm, plus a delegation meeting with your assistant from 4:30-5:00pm), you’ll have 5:00-5:30pm or 5:00-6:00pm to reply to any truly urgent emails. (And if you find you really need more time, you can always move Office Hours an hour earlier.)
Still dealing with too many emails? Check out my advice on handling a flood of emails, from helping an agency owner who was getting 200+ emails a day.
You might also consider tools like Slack—but ultimately, this is about re-training your team about how you need them to communicate. That’s true regardless of the tool.
Question: How many internal emails do you get each day?
Writing a job description before you post the job is important, because the description will guide your agency’s search. Even if you are hiring internally, the job description will help people transition smoothly into their new roles.
Here’s a brief overview on my strategy for writing your agency’s next job description.
Start with your goal
Begin with the end in mind: What do you want to accomplish by hiring this person? Your job description should cut to the heart of why you need someone for this role. Explain how they will contribute to the agency, the strategy behind their responsibilities, and why their job is important.
My grandfather was a business professor and management consultant from the 1940s to the 1980s. One of his specialties was helping companies work more cooperatively with employees.
I recently came across a lecture he gave in Washington, DC in 1953. He shared an employee empowerment story that’s still timely almost six decades later:
Two years ago I worked for the New York Central Railroad observing some of its operations. … It was a hot August day. This fellow was sitting in this tower with the sun shining brightly. I said, “What is it you don’t like about your job?” “These d— blinds. See how the sun is boiling in the window?”
[I said,] “Have you asked anyone to get blinds put in? Why don’t you speak to somebody about it?” He pulled out an old envelope and said, “Here are all the people I talked to. They even came out here and measured them. I still haven’t gotten the blinds.”
Then he said: “Do you see that car? It has 60 tons of explosives on it. I’ve got the brake clear back to the fourth notch and I can’t stop the car. Every once in a while a car goes off the track and ties up the whole yard.” “What is wrong?” “It is this [emergency] brake. It just doesn’t work.” “Have you asked anybody to fix it?” “H—, no. Why should I? They didn’t do anything about the blinds. Why should I bother them about the brake?“
Empowering frontline employees leads to happier clients. But while marketing is important, it isn’t life-or-death. When frontline operations employees don’t feel empowered to report problems to upper management, it can lead to terrible, avoidable consequences. And there’s no excuse. We’ve known that for 60 years.
Question: What would it take to better-empower your employees?
Want this to be your agency’s best year yet? Raise your right hand and repeat after me…
- I will focus my time and energy on my best employees, not my worst employees.
- I will focus on my agency’s best clients, and fire our worst clients.
- I will make my agency’s marketing as good as our clients’ marketing.
- I will put on my own oxygen mask first.
- I will create and follow a personal strategy as an agency leader.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these. [Read more…]
Want to stop wasting time and get more done at your agency? You should know two time management concepts—yak shaving and bike shedding. I bet you can start using these today.
Yak Shaving: slowly nibbling your way from A to B
Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.
Yaks are pretty cute, but you need to be sure the interim steps are worth it.
Or, as my friend Alison wrote about “Scribbles,” a yak in Montana (see right), “She likes to be petted, though sometimes she forgets to be careful with her horns.”
An Example of Yak Shaving
Spending too much time yak shaving can be bad for your projects’ long-term schedules—and a yak’s horns might be sharper than you expect.
For example, if an existing client calls one of your account managers to ask how much it would cost to do a particular thing, the following steps might be yak-shaving rather than productive: [Read more…]
When you’re on a plane that’s preparing for takeoff, have you ever wondered what the term “cross-check” means? It’s about the flight attendants double-checking each other’s work.
For instance, “arm doors and cross-check” means to arm the safety slides and then confirm your colleague across the aisle armed their slide, too. “Cross-check complete” certifies that it’s done—and the plane can’t move until it’s done.
As agency leaders, part of our role is to cross-check others—and to accept cross-checks ourselves. Great leaders welcome cross-checks. Yet sometimes we get in our own way, instead of encouraging employee feedback.
Cross-Checks in the Cockpit
There was a pattern of plane crashes in the 1970s and 1980s where the co-pilots were afraid to question the captain’s decision. Due to seniority—and often their military background—captains didn’t want to hear anyone question their choices.
As a result, co-pilots learned to keep their concerns to themselves—often until it was too late. The consequences of pilot error could be fatal for everyone on board.
To fix this pattern, airlines and regulators created a concept called “CRM”—crew resource management. In an airplane cockpit, CRM creates a way for people to communicate about what’s important—and makes it safe to speak up when something’s wrong. [Read more…]
Do you have an employee who takes too long to complete certain tasks? You’re not alone!
A coaching client reached out for help with a slow employee:
When speaking with “Roger” regarding his workload last week, he mentioned that it would take him 4 hours to draft an account brief. I can do it in 2 hours, and his fellow Account Managers can do it in 2-3 hours max.
4 hours is a long time—it’s half a day! I haven’t gone back to Roger to address that 4 hours is too much time yet and I wanted your advice on the best approach.
This comes up a lot—when an agency owner or manager can do work faster than their employees.
Sometimes that’s OK—the point of delegation is that employees do low-value work so managers can do something high-value. But other times, that’s wasting clients’ budget.
Process for Fixing This at Your Agency
iCiDIGITAL is a digital transformation firm that combines technical expertise, creative talent and integrated solutions to create better digital experiences and more profitable customer interactions. They work with big-name clients like Panera Bread, United Airlines, Time Warner Cable, Hyatt, and NASCAR.
Greg and I covered the benefits of technology for agencies, how to scale, agency mergers & acquisitions, talent development, challenges for agency leaders, and much more.
Interview summary: My top 5 takeaways
Here are my top takeaways from speaking with Greg:
- Technology expertise gives marketing agencies an advantage in getting hired, delivering work, and being profitable.
- Stretch your team past what they believe they can do today in preparation of what you need them to do tomorrow. You will never grow if you are scared of tomorrow.
- There must be a clearly defined vision and goals in any business you run. Otherwise your team won’t know where you are going and the business won’t succeed. There is an old saying: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will definitely get there.”
- The one thing that is consistent in business is change. Change is inevitable and you have to plan for it. Clients and employees will move on. You should be both comfortable and confident that there is more opportunity over the horizon.
- Big clients want to personalize customer content and then track which marketing dollars worked and which didn’t.
Technology Meets Creative: The Importance of Implementation
Q: What’s the difference between a digital marketing agency and a company like iCiDIGITAL, which describes itself as a digital transformation firm?
What I like is the marriage between marketing and technology. We provide services that can help the creative and strategy side, but we come from an engineering heritage. We have the development skills to actually implement the complex, high value technology we recommend. [Read more…]
Like it or not, you are the “dictator” of your business.
Yes, you depend on clients to provide revenue, you rely on employees and vendors to provide services, and the government expects you to pay taxes.
But as long as you aren’t doing anything illegal, you can do effectively whatever you want in your business—as a business owner, what you say, goes.
This level of absolute power is good—if you’re a benevolent dictator—and bad—if you let the power go to your head.
Let’s look at the implications of your being your agency’s dictator. [Read more…]
A recent New York Times article discussed a recent employment trend that hurts employee retention:
FOR many Americans, life has become all competition all the time. Workers across the socioeconomic spectrum, from hotel housekeepers to surgeons, have stories about toiling 12- to 16-hour days… The people who can compete and succeed in this culture are an ever-narrower slice of American society: largely young people who are healthy, and wealthy enough not to have to care for family members. An individual company can of course favor these individuals, as health insurers once did, and then pass them off to other businesses when they become parents or need to tend to their own parents.
I wrote the following Letter to the Editor. Since they didn’t publish the letter, I’m sharing it here. [Read more…]