We really didn’t know what we were doing to start — still not absolutely sure now. All we had to go on was a folder full of research and some insight from a bunch of conversations. What we did know was that something had shifted, really talented people were leaving the “traditional” workplace.
The data point that stuck in our heads was that by 2027 more people will be working independently (for themselves) than for companies. Not surprisingly, Gallup found that 87% of employees are not engaged at work. I personally witnessed this migration in advertising with some of the best talent walking out the door to set up their own shops.
Millennials approach work, and view success, very differently than my generation. They have wholeheartedly embraced “gigging,” with 1 out of 2 engaged in some side hustle. The concept of “work” has changed but few companies have taken notice.
Armed with these observations and information, we launched Carbon Design, a talent platform aimed at providing individuals with an opportunity to work how they want, when they want, where they want, on projects of their choosing. On Halloween, we celebrated our first anniversary. It’s been an interesting and exciting year.
Although our organization is still evolving we’ve learned 3 important things about how work and workers have changed.
The Secret Economy
There is a tremendous amount of under utilized talent in the 9 am to 2 pm economy. In fact, more than 11 million Americans stay at home with their children. A Reach Advisors study found that found 57 percent of moms would like to go back to work at some point.
The people we’ve worked this year have left executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, partner positions at management consulting firms, and leadership roles at big network agencies to pursue their entrepreneur instincts, take care of a sick parent or nurture their children. They seek to work part-time, 20 hours a week and often put in 40 but it’s THEIR choice, and that makes all the difference.
For years, I witnessed co-workers move to part-time after the birth of a child. Eventually, they would end up in my office feeling like they’re weren’t doing a good job being a parent and/or valuable contributor to the team. If fact, they felt they were failing at both, finding it difficult, if not impossible, to balance the demands of work and life.
After spending a year with people who’ve seemingly figured it out, there is a common thread they put the priority on life, and then work. Getting, or having their life in order by focusing on their most important priorities allows them to then use their time efficiently for things they want to do creating both a sense of control and peace of mind that results in happiness.
As Professor Daniel Sgrio of Warwick University found in his research on Happiness and Productivity, “The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.” In fact he found that happy people are more productive workers, 12% more according to the research.
Workspaces and Workstyles
Last week a colleague and I were onsite with a client. They had just moved into a new location and spared no expense to make it a great work environment. Lots of natural light, adjustable workstations, a cafe, top of the line espresso machines, craft beer on tap, and game area, etc. On our way out my colleague, who I worked with in an open office space with similar amenities said; “I don’t think I could it.” To which I responded, “Do what?” and he said “Work in an office anymore.”
My colleague is not alone in his feelings. Recent research has shown that open office spaces have failed, but that’s not the real issue. Given how unique people are (and their work habits), it seems naive to think that one type of office could possibly make everyone happy and productive.
In fact, more than 14,000 people have taken the online test “Is Your Personality Suited To Working Remotely Or In The Office?” The test revealed that only 24% of people who work in an office say they love their jobs, compared to 38% of mobile workers and 45% of telecommuting workers.
Additionally, Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom fascinating research (and entertaining TedX Talk) found employees working from home were more productive, more engaged and less likely to quit. He debunks the myth that remote workers are less productive. But as Dr Bloom points out in his research, not everyone was happy working that way.
The point is, working in an office, no matter how nice, will only fit the needs of a portion of the employee base. Our network of talent work from whichever location fits their life that day. It could be a shared workspace, a coffee shop or their child’s school cafeteria. Their office is “on demand” requiring no travel. Now, compare that to the one hour commute (each way) I had last year to get my office. By that math, they’re already 20% more productive than I was as an office worker — and a lot less stressed out!
What the research and our experience this year has shown is that the tradition idea of work — the M-F workweek, 8 am to 6 pm office hours, in an office are increasingly at odds with creating a productive, engaged and happy workforce.
With the rise of video and cloud based collaboration tools, talent is finding ways to work that better align with their work styles. Instead of bending their schedules around work, they are finding way to flex work around their lives.
For years we have been trying separate our work and our personal life when in reality, they are one thing.The people we’ve work with this year seem to recognize that work, like health, family and happiness, are all intricately tied together.
Getting life right, whether it’s planning your schedule to attend your son’s baseball game on time, or working from home to care for a loved one who’s sick, is different for everyone. Whatever getting life right is, as long as it’s first, everything seems to fall into place.
As educator and author Bob Moawad states; “The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.”
The NFL season has begun and three games into the season Kirk Cousins is once again one of the top passers in the league. This is a position he’s enjoyed consistently over the last three seasons by throwing for more than 4000 yards a year (becoming one of only 11 to do so) as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
Given the success, most quarterbacks would have been content to stay in an offensive system that produced those results. Cousins, backed by his stats, moved to Minnesota in the off-season, signing a history deal guaranteeing him $84 million over the next three years. Why did Cousins change teams? Because he had leverage. Kirk knew he was a consistent and proven performer in a very tight market for experienced quarterbacks in their prime.
At a recent Gartner meeting, Brent Adamson presented information on the US labor market, along with an outlook on the demand for sales executives. As the chart below illustrates, sales organizations (on average) have to replace a quarter of the sales force each year, in what is now a very tight labor market. In fact, it now takes an average of 70 days to fill a position, an increase of close to 20 days over the last two years.
Given these facts, is it time for proven sales executives to become free agents, like Kurt Cousins? Consider this …Cousins made $44M his last two years under the franchise tag. Making close to $24 million last year, which is more than he will make this year under his new contract. For Cousins, this wasn’t just about the money. He also wanted out of Washington, a team he viewed as never really wanting him (Cousins was drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 draft by the Redskins after taking Robert Griffin III with their first pick).
Consider these two points as you think about your career. You may be making great money but are you in an environment that makes you feel valued or wanted? For a short period of time top performers have leverage in the market.
Another consideration, the other members on your team. Is your bonus tied to the performance of the team, or the company? Cousins chose Minnesota over a richer offer by the Jets because it gave him a better chance at winning a title. Minnesota not only has many offensive weapons but it also features one of the best defenses in the NFC. Is there another team out there that could offer you a better chance of success, not only now, but also in the future?
One thing is certain, the market will change. For now the demand is high and the supply is low for top performing sales executives who can consistently deliver results. Currently, there are over a million open sales positions listed in Indeed.com, close to 200,000 alone with salaries of $70,000 or more. As they say, “sales is a numbers game.” Maybe it’s time to find out what your number is worth.
At first, I used to hide it, my dirty little secret. Someone on the call would say, “Is that a bird chirping?” Or they would notice that I didn’t join the video feed like everyone else. At meetings, they’d say I looked “healthy” and ask about my vacation even though I hadn’t been anywhere.
That’s right, I was a closet outdoor worker. At first, it started out of necessity. My office was on the second floor of a twenty-story building. The air condition ventilation system followed the elevator shaft up the building and my office was first from the elevator. It was an artic ground zero on a hot day. When I heard the air come on it literally sent chills down my spine.
By noon I had get out of my office or risk hyperthermia. I’d venture outside like a lizard seeking a warm rock to restore my body temperature. My time outside continued to lengthen and I noticed that not only was I more comfortable, but I was also more productive.
For years, I experimented with lighting trying to simulate natural light in my office. Incandescent and fluorescent lights were like kryptonite to me. The truth that I was hiding from was that I was a full on biophilist, a landscaper trapped in the body of an office worker.
But I never talked about it. Afraid others would judge me and think that I wasn’t taking work seriously (as if the mere fact of working in an office space made you more productive). After founding a company last year, I am now free to work where and how I want and that extends to our whole team. It’s part of our culture.
Our team video conference calls are open kimono. We wear our birds chirping, dogs barking, and background wind chime noise as badges of honor. No longer am I sneaking a snack of “sunshine.” It’s all out in the open, literally. Speaking of open, now that the research is in let’s stop hiding the fact that open work spaces were a mistake. They don’t work, but you know what does…outdoor spaces and there is plenty of research to prove it.
Hopefully, the outdoor work space concept will replace open space offices. Apple, Amazon and others have already incorporated in their new headquarters. Let’s also dispel the notion that you need an office to be productive. It’s time to accept that work is a mindset, not a place. Employees should be able to work when they want, how they want, and where they want.
Got to go, a bird just created a mess that I need to clean up…quickly. It’s not all perfect.
Clients have complained about it for decades. Agencies have been wrestling trying to find a new model for years, but yet it still exists. Partly because they know that abandoning it will require them to move to fixed fees, and most likely fixed timelines, and that is more risk than they can, or want, to stomach.
Before I start highlighting why the billable time model doesn’t work, let me tell you when it does — with a caveat. In my seven years working in this environment, I can say I have only seen the model work effectively for the client once. Here’s what it took to make it work.
- The client had a pipeline of projects – the client went through a process of consolidating marketing budgets to move to a single agency retainer. They then identified enough projects to fill the agency capacity and smalls one off efforts to cover production gaps when the priority projects were delayed.
- They put the basics in place – knowing that efficiency is essential for optimizing a retained relationship they had the foundational building blocks for developing campaigns. The client had their audiences defined, value proposition and messaging tested, and an approved media budget with CTAs. You want as much of your marketing dollars going to execution as possible. Don’t burn agency fees on the basics.
- Quarterly reviews – they set clear priorities each quarter and conducted quarterly reviews. Learning what worked, what didn’t and why/how to improve in the next quarter. Typically, no month goes according to the plan so they had budgets rollover month to month and a defined point to reconcile fees.
- Built in flexibility with “on demand” resources – a core client team was defined with “specialized” skills that were “on-demand,” not dedicated. They used contracts/freelancers on their team to pick up work that may come in “over the transom.”
- Strong management of the relationship and retainer – they took an active role in managing the relationship with the agency, with a dedicated agency team that included ex-agency people. One person prioritized and managed the work internally before it went to the agency. That person was the central point of communication, consolidating feedback and restricted others from contacting the agency with requests or changes.
If this doesn’t sound like your organization, let me share with you what you’re up against and why the billable time model is not in your favor.
- The production process – flexibility gives agencies problems once you’ve committed to a retained team and defined work. Think of it this way…let’s say you hire an organization to build a car. The company gives you a price to build it. Sticking to the production schedule the car will cost you exactly what you contracted. The problem in marketing is that few things go according to the production schedule. Issues with approvals and getting content or legal feedback within the defined time is often the exception rather than the rule. So, let’s say your car is making its way down the production line and it gets to the person who is handling the windshield install but the windshield isn’t there because the size and shape wasn’t approved. As a result, the entire production line is now slowed, or the car is taken off the line so other cars can progress. Either way, costs are now being incurred due to the delay. This is what happens when marketing assets are being created. A client doesn’t approve an image on time so when the agency production schedule has the image retoucher scheduled to work on the image, it’s not there. The image retoucher is then reassigned to other work and this task goes back into the scheduling pool, causing delays further down the line.
- “Microspecialization” – perhaps you’ve noticed that your team has blossomed with “specialists.” For example, content development; long form, short form, digital, technical writers, etc. A good writer is a good writer, or at least one would think. If you are working with a large agency they will have the luxury of having broad skill sets in house or contracted. These “specialist” are assigned to work on multiple projects. Their time being divided among 5-7 or more projects during the week. Let’s go back to the production line analogy. The work is progressing down the line, now there are twice as many stops as in the past because of the microsegmentation of the work and skill sets needed to complete it. This means we have twice as many people to schedule, coordinate calendars and manage handoffs. Let’s say the main copywriter creates the campaign content that moves to the digital copywriter to chunk it up for the website. Then, it’s off to the short form writer for emails, and the technical writer for the sales sheet. You get the picture. Each step is a handoff, an opportunity or risk to come off of message, change the tone, or lose the intent, etc. All which result in burning more hours to fix.
- Efficiency and creative – speed is the enemy of the good, not always, especially in a billable time model. Being more efficient is not necessarily aligned to a billable time model. There is no incentive (beyond due dates) to move work quickly or efficiently. If a creative is assigned to spend a half day working on a banner ad and can complete the task in a hour…“work expands to fill the time for its completion” as they say. Agency folks have to meet a certain threshold of billable time, similar to attorneys. This is not all bad. To be fair, you want to allow the creative team to have the time to well, be creative. Rushing the creative process can produce poor outputs but it is often times at odds with efficiency. More on this later…
- Revenue recognition – for an agency to recognize revenue they have to have time billed against it. If you have a $100K a month retainer, for example, you will get a large team. It starts out with good intentions. Agencies will assess the work to be done and then assemble a team to do it, that’s how the pricing model is built. But the model is built in a vacuum based on previous client engagements. It allows agencies to assign and/or hire resources. Once the team is constructed and the real work begins, the team may or may not be aligned to capacity needed. However, it is aligned to the capacity needed to fill out timesheets to justify the fees.
- You, the client – yep, you are complicit in this problem. To get the most out of your relationship (and money) you need to take an active part in managing and partnering. Consolidate feedback internally, force internal stakeholders to make decisions and tradeoffs. Stick to and/or set realistic timelines and expectations. Do your homework and have as much of the prep work done prior (more on this below) to selecting or working with an agency partner. You know that time is literally money (your money) so be active in finding ways to be more efficient. Agencies do their best work when there is clarity on goals/objectives and communication.
Here’s the funny thing — the billable time model doesn’t really work for agencies either. It restricts growth, creates rigidity, causes inefficiencies and counterproductive employee behavior. So why do they keep it? Because it protects them from you.
Marketing can be messy and managing clients can be challenging. You miss a deadline or change a deliverable, and here comes the change order. To abandon it would require discipline, analytic rigor, and STRONG client and project management skills, which few possess. The billable time model is the devil they know, but unfortunately, can’t kill.
The experience of selling our house has been a good reminder of the importance of goodwill in the negotiating process.
We were fortunate to get a couple of offers on our home. Hearing feedback from our neighbors and realtors, we learned that one couple with young children really loved our home, especially the trampoline in the backyard!
As we responded to the offers we made it clear to the realtor of a family with the young children that we really wanted them to have the house. Our children, now in college, were a similar age when we first bought the house. The neighborhood was a great place to raise kids and we thought it would be nice to “complete the circle.”
And that’s when the trouble started. Our counteroffer made it clear that we were negotiating in good faith trying to meet the couple in the “middle.” Except they didn’t. They stood their ground forgoing the traditional comprise an approach to pursuing a “we win, you lose” stance. As an emotionally charged seller, I can confirm that this tactic did not go over well.
The disconnect was that we were selling a home full of memories which we wanted to pass along to another young family. As the buyers, they were just making a purchase decision at the best price as possible. It was a transaction for them. And with that, they took out all of the goodwill.
For example, the family was moving to the area from out of town. We’ve lived in the area for thirty years, 14 years in our current location. There are things that would have been helpful to know about our home, our neighborhood and our community. Our children attended the school their children will mostly attend. Played on the soccer fields, and in the school gyms where their kids will play. Insights from a resident on teachers, coaches, neighbors are usually helpful to someone new to an area.
Because they changed the rules of the game none of that conveyed. The relationship had been killed. Think about that when you’re negotiating a business deal. Deals are made between humans so emotions are involved. In the end, you may get your price but at what cost? What goodwill may have been lost? What could the seller tell you that could help with implementation, use of the product/service, etc.
The secret to a good deal is that both parties feel like they gave up something but that they also got something in return. You may feel good about the short-term gain — but by making the other party the “loser” it might cost you in long run.
In my last post, I talked about the extreme highs and lows of my first 30 days in business, even threating to jump on a plane and run away from it all. Well, 90 days later I’m still at it, with no plans of catching a plane anytime soon.
We now have financing, clients, and a corporate identity. Still plenty of work to do but the focus is now on building the pipeline and less on losing my house, our retirement, and so many other things that will go through your head late at night while second-guessing yourself.
Fortunately for my sanity, our building has a gym on the ground floor. It’s a great way to start the day or take a mid-day mental break to recharge (I highly encourage it). On the back wall, there are inspirational quotes to help keep you motivated. One, in particular, has had a certain relevance to me during this phase in my life;” Leap and the net will appear.”
Here are 6 new things I’ve learned since taking the leap:
- Everything (and I mean everything) will take 30 to 60 days longer than expected – be it a loan, new project or client, even a business card order will take longer than anticipated (if you’re a novice). Add days to your expectations, push timelines out and start earlier than you planned. There are certain things out of your control and you may be less frustrated you if you keep this in mind…or maybe not.
- Get half decent at everything – if you’re starting a business you are obviously knowledgeable, passionate and perhaps even an expert at something. Similarly, you’ll lack knowledge or depth in other areas. What I’ve learned is it is crucial to get a working level of knowledge on just about everything. You don’t have to be the “expert” but you have to have a base of knowledge to give direction to your advisors/experts (like attorneys, accounts, designers). Fortunately, there are plenty of good resource sites available (for example, com).
- Trust your network – the “net” that will appear once you leapt will come from your network. You likely have more people in your circle that can, or will help you along your journey than you realize. One of my most trusted advisors turned out to be someone I’ve known socially for close to twenty years. It wasn’t until 60 days into this journey that I thought of him. You will be surprised by the support of friends, family and even acquaintances. If they can’t help you directly, there is a good chance they’ll know someone that can. Your network will be one of your most valuable assets, mine it.
- Surprising financing options – depending on how your business is organized you may be able to take advantage of your 401K to fund the business or give yourself a line of credit. If you establish the business as a “C” corporation you can use your 401K as capital to buy a franchise or business or to fund it. There are some potential downsides to consider, so please consult a tax attorney or accountant before moving forward.
- SEP IRA – speaking of 401K’s you may be deferring your 401K contributions like I am until the business is profitable. The Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) allows for a contribution of up to 25% of an employee’s pay up to $55,000 in 2018. As your business takes off your SEP gives you an opportunity to catch up on your retirement savings.
- Payment terms of 60 days or longer – are pure evil for a startup. It’s absolutely ridiculous for a large corporation to expect a small business to float them for any period of time after a project has been completed. Cash flow is king and it’s also a killer for small businesses. As soon as we reach a certain level of success, we will actively avoid contracts with payment terms of that length. The learning, make sure you invoice your client as soon as the contract is signed! Billion dollar corporation, encourage procurement to develop new payment terms for small businesses. You can, and should, support the growth of new businesses. We may end up being your innovation incubator.
There is another quote on the wall I mentioned earlier. It’s by Eleanor Roosevelt and I find myself staring at frequently,
“Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You.”
Yeah, I pretty much have that one nailed. Talk to you again in 6 months. #buildingcarbondesign