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Nov 20, 2017    From the CEO

The Year of WTF


This year has shaken me. It has been a year of major highs and major lows. As an owner of one of the many advertising agencies in Austin, being recognized by my peers AND tons of people who are a LOT smarter than me has been fulfilling. But those moments, as important as they are, are fleeting. There is no “perfect enough,” not ever. There are things that still keep me up at night as a small business owner. The crazy employee turnover we had for the first time ever since I founded this advertising agency is what’s going to define the year of 2017 for me.

Talk about not perfect. I always tell my employees and clients that I hire for work ethic, character, and a sense of responsibility. The given when I hire someone is that the people I hire understand that even though I technically own this advertising agency, each client is my boss, and my employees respect that. That’s why I tell them business owner pain points all the time. Probably more than I should.

Starting this year my senior team and I decided to make our hiring tests harder. (We’ve always required our marketing, graphic design, and advertising candidates to complete one before we even bring them in for an interview.) We decided to spend money on Indeed ads, LinkedIn ads and one Monster ad. We were spending so much time on recruiting that we were stressed. We were spending time doing everything BUT what we are passionate about. I just gave up.

And I’m not a quitter. However, I’m also very aware of the things I am not good at, and at the top of that list is management.

I admit, when people — employees or clients — pass my BS radar, it makes me feel vulnerable. I know I’ve become more guarded, which is not in my nature. But I do know that part of my “millennial complaint” — don’t get it mixed with the respect I have for them (read my column, “In Defense of Millennials”) — is that they think once they come in that means I trust them.

I worked my ass off in my twenties to earn respect. In fact, the more people told me I couldn’t do it, the main driver of my ambition was to prove them all wrong.

We never had to deal with turnover before, back when my team was a third the size of what it is now. And if we ever did let anyone go, it was for behavior that was repeated over and over again. It was also isolated to one area. For example, two employees hating each other and kicking responsibility back and forth in Basecamp while they are sitting right next to each other. I can’t stand inefficiency because we all share the same amount of hours each day. The winner is the one who gets to do what he/she loves to do AND the one who gets more high-level projects done. That’s why advertising agencies should exist, to bring different views to the table. To bring innovation from agency to brand. But most importantly, we have to execute.

To return back to the topic at hand, I want to know how other business owners vet potential hires. These are people, in the potential employees, who can affect everything a business owner has worked so hard for, which is reputation. How does anyone, with consistent competency, hire people who will help the company and fit the culture? The main thing I’ve learned over time is:

1. One bad egg can affect the entire company.

2. I can’t hire just for character anymore. It can take years to reveal itself. And it may not be enough.

3. I am truly frightened if I feel like I’m the smartest one in the room.

Point number three is traumatizing to me because the company culture at my advertising agency is that people are way more likely to get a raise if they give me something that makes me nervous. I always say that to be an innovative digital marketing firm you can hire people you have to reign in creatively, but you can’t hire people you have to push out. And believe me, our clients have the buy-in and those rules of whether we will fit or not are laid bare as step #1 in a prospect meeting.

That brings me to transparency and actions. I am well aware that I’m not the “nicest” person in the world, but if you’re going to work for me and everything I take responsibility for, then you don’t have to like me but you damn well better respect me. You are in my house. I don’t care about off hours as long as I get quality work and they aren’t in the news the next morning for burning down an animal shelter or something. If I am transparent to recruits, and I mean a soul baring level of transparent. S what am I missing? They have already passed the test and met my interview requirements. So now what? I just hire for responsibility? Again, I feel vulnerable.

So what now? My answer is I don’t know. And I’d love to see if anyone can share their wisdom with me.

Call me at 512.291.7626 if you have “business owner” takeaways regarding recruiting the most efficient way, and hiring the best.

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