ALP 34: How to help junior agency employees grow

Chip and Gini discuss how agency leaders can better engage junior employees and provide them with the training, resources, and guidance needed to succeed.

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From simple things like taking junior employees to client meetings to more formal training programs, a range of options exist to build better employees and future managers.

This is an episode that agency leaders will want to share with the rest of their teams because it offers lots of good advice for junior employees on how to find that training and guidance they’re hungry to get.

Quotes

  • Gini: ” I thought Kathryn Mason’s response on this was probably one of the most valuable. She said … I always take my junior employees with me to media interviews, radio interviews, press interviews, because they need to see what goes on after they’ve pitched and how it all comes together. “
  • Chip: If you help your junior employees advance, “not only are you going to have better luck with having them as future middle managers, you will actually be able to retain your juniors at a much higher rate. If they see that path to progress, if they see colleagues moving up, if they see that previous people in their position have moved up.”
  • Gini: “One of the things that I always say is, I don’t want to hear about a problem unless you have three solutions.”
  • Gini: “Look for reasons to have conversations with the people you’re not talking to every day that don’t directly report to you. Because they’re going to learn a ton, but you are too.”
  • Chip: “if you can teach them the way that that you want to do things, if you teach them the way that you look at things, you will be able to mold someone [and] you will end up with that more senior employee down the road who really is part of your culture, who thinks about things in a way similar to you, and carries out the mission of the agency in a consistent way.”

Resources

Transcript

CHIP: Hello, and welcome to the Agency Leadership Podcast, I’m Chip Griffin

GINI: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

CHIP: And we’re here today to help you improve your junior employees because they are the lifeblood of your agency.

GINI: They are, and they become the mid level employees, which is the hardest position to find, when you’re looking when you’re recruiting for that. So if you can grow them through your agency, you’re going to have far better luck than if you have to add somebody midway through your agency’s growth.

CHIP: Not only are you going to have better luck with having them as future middle managers, you will actually be able to retain your juniors at a much higher rate. If they see that path to progress, if they see colleagues moving up, if they see that previous people in their position have moved up. And this is something that’s particularly important, I think, for millennial employees who are always thinking about Okay, you know, how do I how do I get ahead? How can I continue to learn, you know, how can I reach that next rung, and agencies that don’t have some sort of path for progression, are going to have problems. So you need to be focused on how you continuously improve your junior employees.

GINI: Absolutely. And I mean, usually they’re very enthusiastic, full of passion, super creative and have a great ideas. So you need to harness that and bottle it, but also give them the path to success. We talked about this in the Spin Sucks Community a little bit and somebody posted Dear Junior Colleague, have you been to this site yet? It’s amazing. And then it’s let me Google that for you. Which I personally think is hilarious. I know. She thought it was pretty funny, too. Because let me Google that for you is the answer to that was really awful question you could have just googled. But I think it’s it’s important, both to help a junior colleague know that there is a thing out there called Google and you can research it, but also come to you when they’ve exhausted their research and can’t find the answer.

CHIP: Well I think that’s, you know, it’s it’s a balancing act that all managers have. And then that is, how much do you simply tell and explain? And how much do you help to educate so that someone is able to figure things out for themselves down the road, you don’t want to throw someone in the bucket where it’s okay, you know, use Google, figure it out, you’re on your own, right. But you also don’t want to spoon feed everything. So finding that right balance, I think it takes time, I think it’s one of the skills that new managers have to learn.

GINI: So one of the things that I always say is, I don’t want to hear about a problem unless you have three solutions. So that that teaches people that they need to come to me with the idea that they’ve already thought it through or brainstorm with other colleagues or gone to Google and looked, you know, done some research. And it’s always kind of fun to see what their answers are. I mean, I had somebody present me with a, quote unquote, strategic marketing plan from a client on the client side. And I looked at it and I was like, Okay, I can tell that he did a lot of research, and that he probably googled strategic communications plan, and then use that as a template for this. But at least he gave me something versus saying, I don’t know how to do this. So I think that’s one of the things that you want to keep doing is continue to do is, you know, how do you how can you come to me with not problems but solutions? And then…

CHIP: And I think the, the corollary to that is to explain the why. So it you know, you want your employee to give you solutions, instead of just complaining or saying, here’s the problem. But at the same time, as a manager, you need to be saying, Okay, this is what I want you to do. And here’s why it’s important or here’s why it matters, because a lot of times as a junior employee, they may not understand and, you know, obviously, if that you ask them to answer the phone, or something like that, maybe the Why isn’t as important there. But nevertheless, it’s trying to explain that is something that will help educate those employees as to how the overall business is working. And the more they understand that, the better that they’ll be able to make decisions for the business themselves going forward.

GINI: Absolutely. And I think there’s, you know, there were some, some other really good responses in as we had this conversation, in the Spin Sucks Community as well. And it included things like, you know, taking, going to workshops, going to conferences, actually presenting to your team, because that provides not just your ability to present an idea, but also gives you the public speaking experience that every single one of us, every single business person needs to have – taking online courses, reading books, you know, signing up and attending or joining and attending industry, organization events and things like that. There’s a lot of things that you can do. But I thought Kathryn Mason’s response on this was probably one of the most valuable. And she said, something I thought was the norm, but doesn’t always seem to be here is I always take my junior employees with me to media interviews, radio interviews, press interviews, because they need to see what goes on after they’ve pitched and how it all comes together. I sort of thought that was the norm as well. But I guess it’s not because I do the same, they need to see how this, how it all works cohesively, because then they can start to think strategically and top level about it, not just about their part in it.

CHIP: That’s absolutely critical. And it’s one of the real advantages I felt I had in my career early on, which is that I had bosses who would include me in those kinds of meetings, when I worked on Capitol Hill, I remember very distinctly that I would periodically get to go with my member of Congress to leadership meetings and things like that, that, you know, typically you wouldn’t be able to, but it’s, it really was an eye opener in helping me understand how everything worked. And same thing in the agency environment, you know, when I was there and able to go to meetings with senior executives for Fortune 500 companies, and see what the interaction was to watch them do media training, all those kinds of things. Really, really valuable. And it’s, it’s really easy to get caught up in the whole idea of profitability, which I preach all the time. And, yes, it is a bit of a drain on short term profits to put someone in a meeting that they’re not actually adding value to directly. But if you think of it in terms of training and education, now, all of a sudden, you’re making an investment, and you’re not simply eating away at profit.

GINI: Yeah, I totally agree. And, you know, stuff like that, I, if the junior employee is needed there, then I would bill the client for it. But if they’re not, if it’s a learning experience, then I would put that to professional development or something like that. You also I mean…

CHIP: And it’s important in your time, it’s important in your time tracking to have that distinction and be thinking that way. And that’s, it’s one of the things that I’ve worked on as a senior manager with organizations and as a consultant now is to say, Okay, look, figure out is this person actually needed in this meeting or are they learning and if they’re learning, you know, put it into that professional development bucket, because then A, you’re tracking it effectively. And B, you’re not then so worried about the profitability aspect. And instead, you’re looking at the investment side.

GINI: And I think that goes back to the conversation we had last week about metrics, which was, you know, if you’re asking employees to track billable hours against a certain client, then of course, they want to they, they want to bill the time that they’re sitting in a media interview, or they’re working with a client, or they’re watching media training, or whatever happens to be they’re going to want to bill that time. But if you look at KPIs that are more in line with helping the agency grow and best servicing clients, then you can take that – this is professional development, here’s what we’re helping you with, it doesn’t so much matter that you’re not quote unquote, meeting your billable hours, but you’re getting the training that you need to be able to advance your career.

CHIP: And oftentimes, they’ll get more learning and education out of simply going along to these meetings than they would going to a conference or a training session or something like that, because, A, because they’re seeing it very specific to your agency and to the way you’re doing things. But also, because they have that added benefit of feeling included. And, and so therefore, you know, they’re more engaged than they might be if they’re off sitting in a classroom thinking they’re back in school or something like that, which has its value too, I’m not in any way knocking that. But it’s there’s that huge value, I think in being part of the agency’s business life overall.

GINI: Totally, totally agree. New business meetings, everything, just I mean, and even if the directive is just to sit in the back and take notes, and listen, don’t open your mouth, that there’s huge value in having that kind of experience.

CHIP: And I think this is, you know, this is also where transparency within the agency helps as well. And so the more that you’re explaining to young employees, how is the business going? You know, what share, as we talked about, on the metric show, how are, how are the agency’s metrics tied into your individual ones? If they’re able to start seeing that correlation, and they’re starting to see the big picture, the neurons will connect, and they will start to become smarter, more educated, and hopefully, better employees.

GINI: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I can even you know, hearken back to my early days in my career, and those were the kinds of things that really helped me understand the full picture of what we were trying to do. And I remember sitting in meeting after meeting where I was told, you’re to sit in that chair in the corner and not open your mouth, take lots of notes, write down questions we’ll answer them later. But don’t open your mouth during this meeting, there were tons of those. But it helps you learn and understand it, to your point, everything that goes into what we do.

CHIP: And I think the other thing is, if you are the owner, or one of the top executives, you need to make one on one time available periodically for your junior employees and, and not necessarily with any particular purpose. And it might be that you take them out to lunch, or you have them into your office or whatever. And some of this will depend on the size. But frankly, I’ve seen even organizations of less than 10, where the owner may not have very much contact with the most junior employee. And that’s and that’s silly. I mean, I, I remember early on in my career, I was in an organization with a few hundred people in it, and periodically, say, every six months or so I had the opportunity to meet with the CEO. And I was just, you know, we had a half hour and actually we’d sit in his office and smoke cigars, it was pretty cool.

GINI: You can’t do that anymore. Not allowed anymore.

CHIP: It’s unfortunate. Not allowed anymore. But but it was, first of all, it was incredibly rewarding. But it was also a great learning experience, because you got to have a conversation, understand what was on his mind what was going on within the organization. And you know, it’s not like he was sitting there and sharing every little detail, nor would I expect that, nor would I say an owner should share every little detail with those Junior employees, but the more that they feel included, the more that you’re opening up to them and seeming human and sharing, you know, frankly, war stories are fun. I mean, most people enjoy listening to them, and they will learn things from them.

GINI: You know, when we do internal communications, this is one of the things that we really push leaders to do. And you know, we’ll do, you know, maybe you take every month you do a small group of people, and depending on how big your organization is, do your your walkarounds, you know, get up out of your office, and once a week walk around and actually have conversations with the people who work with you. We’re virtual. So I will drop in on Zoom on people. And this actually is – I have a mean streak. So this is my favorite thing to do. Because people always think they’re in trouble, especially when they’ve just started and I drop in on Zoom. And they’re like, gasp, am I getting fired? And it’s just, it’s just my version of walking around the office. Because I can’t walk around the office, we don’t have an office to walk around. But yeah, absolutely. Look for reasons to have conversation with the people you’re not talking to every day that don’t directly report to you. Because A, they’re going to learn a ton, but you are too.

CHIP: Yes, it is a manager, it’s amazing what you will learn from those conversations with Junior employees, because a lot of times, they may have insights about your business that you’re simply not seeing because they’re closer to the action in many cases than you are. And then you’ll start to – oftentimes it’s not that one conversation, but it’s you talk two or three or four juniors, you’re talking to the same Junior three or four times and you start seeing themes and, and the light bulb goes off in your head and you say, wow, this is this is maybe something I should think about whether it’s a trend in the industry or something that’s going on with clients or something related to efficiency or whatever, you will start to pick things up. So it’s mutually beneficial.

GINI: Yeah. And I always call that – it’s those are always can be tough for the owner, because sometimes they’re calling your baby ugly. But you also have to think about the feedback is usually pretty right on. And it is to your point stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily hear otherwise or know otherwise.

CHIP: Yeah, and I think that the other thing that that you as the owner and business leader need to think about is the the education for your employees doesn’t stop when they leave school. And they’re going to learn in a lot of different ways. But if you can teach them the way that that you want to do things, if you teach them the way that you look at things, you will be able to mold someone, particularly if you’re able to do the things that engage them and make them want to stay, you will end up with that more senior employee down the road, who really is part of your culture, who thinks about things in a way similar to you, and carries out the mission of the agency in a consistent way. So if you start thinking about it that way, that investment looks like an absolute no brainer.

GINI: I think it’s too, as we, as we combine this with last week’s episode on the KPIs and metrics, especially for your team, you know, as you start to build those metrics for the following year, really think about what are the skills that this person needs to advance in their career? What are the things that this person is interested in learning more about, and then let’s find some professional development and training throughout the following year to help them get there. I mean, today, you know, you and I didn’t have the great, the great experience to have online courses. As we were starting our careers and today, there’s just so much information available that you can become a master or an expert in things fairly quickly, because of all the online digital stuff that you can take.

CHIP: Well and you should also be encouraging your employees to listen to podcasts like this that aren’t necessarily aimed at them. But they’ll still glean insights, read blogs and books and things that are more focused on senior managers, because then they will learn more about how managers may be thinking and that may help them both for the future, but also for the present, as they try to figure out how to fit in appropriately. So look at it from the perspective of that future, as you say, and that’s how you will figure out what it is that you need to focus on with them don’t just live in the moment live in the future.

GINI: And I will say that Masterclass, Masterclass.com, has some phenomenal, phenomenal writing courses on it, I’ve taken some of them. And so if you have some colleagues who could amp up their writing skills, I mean, I think it’s $69 for a class, it’s like nothing. So the investment that you’re you’re making from a financial standpoint is not huge, but the investment that they’re making is going to affect both them and your agency long term.

CHIP: And I think the trick is, if you’re going to invest in particularly some of these online training things, they are pretty affordable, they are very easy to subscribe to. And I know a lot of businesses that have subscribed to some of these training tools or gotten employees access to some of these online courses, you also have to find a way to encourage them to be participating in them. Because otherwise, you’re just investing for nothing. And so you need to perhaps think about that, going back to our KPI episode, maybe that’s one of the KPIs that that someone is investing a certain percentage of their time in training, or they’re taking a certain number of courses that you’re making available or whatever. But you know, you want to make sure that they’re actually doing these things. And it’s not just being made available to them and gathering dust. I think that the other thing is a lot of agencies need to focus on the business training for their employees, because most agencies, just as the owners, they typically come out of a communications background. And so you know, a lot of agencies are hiring folks who are great at creative, or great at writing or great at, you know, doing general communications, but they don’t understand the business side. And obviously, this is a challenge, because a lot of business owners have a difficulty there as well. That’s one of the things we talk about regularly on this show. But you need to make sure that that your most junior employees understand what is a P&L? How do they understand, you know, how do they look at it? Why is it important? Why are contracts important? Why are statements of work important? And, and so if you’re if you walk them through the process and share as much as you can, I’m not advocating sharing salaries and things like that, although, as we said before, people know how much everybody around them makes roughly, it’s nobody is really surprised by it anymore. But you know, you need to be sharing enough information with them that it’s, it’s not just a concept, but it’s something that they can wrap their hands around and, and understand. So share that kind of information early and often.

GINI: Yeah, I mean, whenever a young professional comes to me and says, Hey, I’m thinking about starting out going out on my own, what do you advise, and I always, always, always say, either stay where you are, and get some business experience, or, you know, start taking some classes because you have to understand that stuff, or you will not you will not build a business, you just won’t.

CHIP: And I would argue that that the more you can do it experientially, the better. And, you know, some people are indeed classroom learners. But the problem with classroom learning is, I think back to when I was in college, and I took a lot of political science classes, and I had one professor in particular, who was a researcher with Congressional Research Service. And so he was through this whole, you know, how do committee processes work, how you know, how to bills become a law, all that kind of stuff. And it’s okay, now that I’ve explained all that, here’s how it really works. Right? And so you need to see how it really works in practice, and not just the theoretical that you get. So absolutely take some of the, you know, the more formal classes, but augment it as much as you can with experiential learning. Because that’s where you’ll see where the rubber meets the road.

GINI: Yeah, and to really try hard to get it wherever you are, before you go out. I mean, if if you’re, if you have, if you don’t have employees yet, then, you know, get that experience where you can, I mean, I was the typical, I didn’t know what P&Lstood for when I started my agency. And if you have employees, make sure that they get that experience, because it’s going to benefit you and them in the long run.

CHIP: And if you’re one of those Junior employees who are listening to this podcast, and you’re thinking about going out on your own someday, start planning it ahead of time, don’t just say, Well, you know, I’m just going to go start my own business or become a freelancer, whatever, start, start thinking about how you would like to see it, you know, visualize what that agency is going to look at, look like down the road, figure out what it is that you know, you already know you don’t know. There are plenty of things that you don’t know, that you don’t know. But there are some things that you already know, you don’t know, how about that? This is going to be fun for the transcript. But so start thinking. I mean, one of the things that I did very early on in my career back when I thought I wanted to run for office was I started writing my own campaign plan, way back when, and I was writing it for I think it was 10 years out from where I was at. And you know, I look back at it now, I still have a copy of it and I kind of laugh, you know, particularly because I trash consultants in there, which is kind of funny since I became a consultant. But you know, but but start thinking about that. Because if you’re if you’re thinking about what you want it to be, you will start seeing the holes and that will help you guide your own education because as much as agency owners are there to help the employees and point them in the right direction. There’s some onus on the employee themselves to help look for things that they want to learn and share that. And raise your hand and say, Look, I don’t understand this. You know, you as an owner, you need to be creating an environment where your employees feel comfortable saying, hold on, Mr. Kotter, you know what, what do you mean there? Can you can you explain that? And, you know, there’s the saying right, there’s no no such thing as a dumb question. Not true. There are some dumb questions. I’ve had plenty of them over the years, but most of them are not, most of them come from a place of someone just wanting to understand. So don’t create an environment where people are afraid to ask those questions, because then you won’t even know what they need to learn.

GINI: Totally agree.

CHIP: And I think we’ve covered a lot of things that people need to learn in this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, and I would encourage all of the owners out there, take this particular episode, share it with your employees, email it out, do an All-staff email, you know, you have that available right there to you. Tell people listen to the Agency Leadership Podcast, but particularly this episode, because it will help you as a junior employee, become a mid and senior employee down the road.

GINI: Yup, absolutely, do it, do it.

CHIP: And with that, I’m Chip Griffin

GINI: And I’m Gini Dietrich

CHIP: And it depends.

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