The Voice of the Underdog®
If you’ve spent any time in an advertising agency (or frankly, breathing air on this planet) you know there are few things that can instantly improve any situation more quickly than M&Ms. Regular. Peanut. Almond. Peanut Butter. Pretzel. Caramel. Take your pick. I’d have to check the AAAAs, but I’m pretty sure we’re forbidden from having a brainstorm session or focus group without them. Chocolate M&Ms are the very definition of happiness.
But this blog is not about M&Ms chocolate candy. Like most things in the universe, where there is light, there is also dark. And in the culture of every advertising agency, marketing firm, digital services agency, or company with more than one employee, there are also the kind of M&Ms that are absolute culture killers.
Those M&Ms are Meetings and Management.
Think back over the course of your career. What percentage of the meetings you’ve attended were worth the time you invested? If your answer is 25%, that would be tragically ineffectual, but I’m betting your number was a lot lower than that.
It’s estimated that American companies hold more than 11 million meetings every day. Yet, for their frequency, most meetings seem to be highly inefficient, a beating for all involved and, in many cases, a waste of time where nothing really gets accomplished. Even the word “meeting” conjures a negative reception.
Admittedly, there are leaders who have tried to make meetings more effective. In his companies, Jeff Bezos advocates a “two pizza rule.” If two pizzas can’t feed everyone invited, he’s not coming. Legend tells that Ross Perot used to allow 30 minutes for a meeting, and if you weren’t finished at 29:59, the meeting was still over.
While there’s no absolute correlation between the titans of business and their philosophies on meetings, you have to believe it plays a role in their success.
At LOOMIS, we’ve studied leaders like Bezos, Perot, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and others to improve the productivity and length of our own meetings. Granted, there are certain situations that require meetings to run a little longer – long-range planning sessions, pitch run throughs, etc. But to keep from “getting burned” by our own inefficiency, we try to adhere to a meeting protocol we call – SPF30.
S stands for SHORT.
P stands for PRODUCTIVE.
F stands for FOCUSED.
30 is the max length of any meeting.
For any meeting to be effective, it has to begin way before everyone walks into the conference room and sits down. For each of our meetings, the owner is required to have an agenda with a meeting objective that should be sent to every attendee at least a day before the meeting, along with any background material required to get up-to-speed on what’s being discussed.
In a 30-minute meeting, every minute is precious and there’s no need to take up everyone’s time reading an agenda when you could be solving problems. If the agenda is too robust for a 30-minute meeting, there is too much on it. Culturally, and for many of us, clinically, we live in an ADD world and trying to hold the attention of a group of eight people longer than about 30 minutes is, at best, difficult. Besides, like real SPF ratings, more isn’t that much better. SPF30 suntan lotion blocks out 97% of UV rays. SPF50 only knocks out 98%.
Next time you’re sitting in a big meeting, look around the room and add up everyone’s hourly rate. If you’re got 10 people in the room at a blended rate of $120/hour, that meeting is costing you $1,200 an hour. Is it worth keeping your team another 20 minutes to be 1% more effective?
Keep things focused, productive, short, and sweet and watch how efficient your meetings can be.
The second half of the ugly M&Ms one-two punch is management. More specifically, mismanagement. If you’re a genuinely effective manager who actively listens, coaches, mentors, and looks out for the people who work for you, congratulations. You are way ahead of the curve. If, on the other hand, you’re a manager with one or more blind spots, fear not. You’re in good company and it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.
Here at LOOMIS, lifelong learning is built into our culture. As a management team, we’ve leaned into that and made a concerted effort to read as much as we can about how to be better leaders. By no means are we perfect. But our long run as a top Dallas ad agency and the fact that our average employee tenure tops 11 years, leads us to believe we’re doing something right. Here are four of the guiding management principles we work hard to employ with our own team:
GREAT CULTURE IS THE FIRST STEP TO HAPPY EMPLOYEES
As we’ve noted in numerous blogs, we strongly believe creating a great culture is foundational to creating a great company, or, in our case, a great advertising agency. By far the best book we’ve ever read on the subject is Daniel Coyle’s “The Culture Code.” In it, Coyle says there are three requisite skills every leader must master to create a healthy and thriving culture. First, you have to BUILD A CULTURE OF SAFETY where people feel valued, heard, and enabled to deliver truth without fear. Second, you have to FOSTER VULNERABILITY and a selflessness that puts team before individual. Third, you have to ESTABLISH PURPOSE, so everyone feels empowered, and that they are pulling in the same direction. If you can do those three things, you’ll not only build a great culture. You’ll be an extraordinary manager.
MOVE THE SPOTLIGHT
Don’t hesitate for a second to move the spotlight around to best serve your greater good. Every chance you get, and certainly when you’re celebrating big wins, shift the spotlight onto the people who work for you. Do that as common practice and they’ll run through walls for you. When news is bad, or criticism is heavy, shift the spotlight back to yourself. Take the bullet. That’s part of your salary package. Your people will appreciate the leadership and if there is blame to share, there will always be time to hold others accountable in private when the world, or the rest of the company, isn’t looking.
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
You cannot effectively manage everyone in your company the exact same way. Some people understand things perfectly the first time you talk to them. Some need a little repetition. Some are extremely intuitive. Some need things spelled out completely. Some need constant affirmation. Some are more self-motivated. Where most managers fail is they don’t take the time to forge a real relationship with their people to learn who they are and what makes them tick. Every person is a little different and understanding nuance takes time. Take it. Investing time and sharing moments of personal vulnerability with your team is an investment guaranteed to pay dividends.
LISTEN TWICE AS MUCH AS YOU TALK
This one speaks for itself.
AIMEE BOVE’ is the media director at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top ad agency in Dallas. For more about challenger branding, subscribe to our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog
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