BL&T No. 073: Endpoints & Progress, Defining Priorities, Team Utilization

Agency Leadership

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"There are five areas in which I need energy. Most likely, they are much the same for you. I need spiritual energy, physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and business energy."

From "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, Dave Jenks [Book]


Last Thursday was one of those days where I woke up and thought to myself, let's get through this. My day started with a triple header of meetings. I led a quarterly planning session with my team, then went right into hosting our team-wide Monthly Team Meeting, followed by Barrel Management Forum. If you include one-on-ones and other priorities that stole my attention, it was back-to-back talking from 9:30 am to 5 pm. Yes, I ate lunch — while talking :)

I'm not complaining. Days like this happen. In this case, I scheduled most of these meetings, so I was ready. As I went to sleep Thursday night, I reflected on my mindset from that morning. Since the day had gone well, my desire to race through the day seemed silly and pessimistic now. I wondered if a brighter outlook could have better served me.

Over the years, I've become accustomed to ending every workout with a high-intensity session that usually lasts 8-15 minutes. Maybe it's five burpees and 20 kettlebell swings at the start of every minute for 10 minutes (aka EMOM for fitness enthusiasts) or non-stop push-ups and ball slams. Whatever it is, it's brutal.

The only way I've learned to keep my energy high and enjoy myself through these workouts is by reviewing the movements in my head before I begin and focusing on the endpoint as I go. When that endpoint comes, I never regret getting started and pushing through.

Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. Thursday was like a high-intensity workout, and if I could do it all again, I'd go after it just the same. I realize now that I wasn't wishing the day away on Thursday morning; I was looking ahead to the endpoint, planning my moves, acknowledging potential hiccups.

When Dana and I sat down for dinner on Thursday night, I told her about my packed day. She replied, "You must be exhausted." Sure, it felt good to relax, but, like a good workout, all that mattered was that the day ended in a more progressed place than it began, and I kept up the energy I felt was required at every step.

CMS Leads Quarterly Session

The purpose of the 2-hour quarterly session with the Team Leads on my team, Creative Marketing Services, was to define our priorities for the quarter.

Our session was first thing in the morning, so I was looking for a fun way to get everyone loosened up. We started with an energy check. Then, I shared my screen, and we played Wordle together. It took us a bit longer than expected, but the laughing and smiles were well worth it.

The agenda of our meeting was simple. We kicked off by reviewing the Barrel partner's priorities this quarter. From there, everyone came prepared with at least five pieces of feedback for Creative Marketing Services. Points could include current challenges or vision statements about what we hope to achieve. My goal was to unpack any unsaid feedback on my team and address it head-on. This brainstorm laid the groundwork for defining two priorities for each Team Lead.

We ended our session by reviewing the feedback and aligning on what was a priority for each Team Lead and achievable over the next 90 days. For each initiative, we defined the details and a clear outcome. This part was more challenging than it might sound. It's easy to say "get this or that done," but what do we hope THIS or THAT action achieves?

Overall, I'm happy with how the workshop went. It was my first time leading it with this group and agenda. Initially, I planned to define priorities in one-on-ones with each team member; however, I thought the group setting might be more helpful. It turned out to be a great way to align on feedback as a team and hear how each other was feeling. In addition, I know that pulling initiatives from the group brainstorm led to stronger results than if we had defined them in silos.

Team Utilization & Team Structure

This morning, Sei-Wook, Barrel COO/President, walked through a new initiative focused on team utilization with all Team Leads. The partners worked with Sei-Wook to iron out the details last week, and Peter, Barrel CEO, gave the team a heads up via email on Friday.

At a high level, each Team Lead (including partners) will be responsible for reporting on their team's utilization and helping them hit their targets weekly. Each team's target is based on how their team is structured. For instance, a team with one mid-level and one senior employee will have a different group utilization target than a team with multiple junior, mid-level, and senior roles.

There are a few reasons for this initiative:

  • To give our Team Leads real data when making decisions around hiring employees and staffing projects.
  • To identify gaps in achieving our business goals and performance and create a strategy on how to tackle them.
  • To provide better insights on the team's availability and bandwidth when discussing new business and account growth. We're aware that the team can only be billable if they have the work to take on, this will help us see where there's opportunity.

Starting this week, we'll be meeting with the Team Leads to review utilization each week. I'm looking forward to seeing how these conversations evolve. For instance, we're already discussing the potential of creating an internal design role to handle all creative marketing needs so we can free up our designers' time for billable work.

The utilization initiative is very timely, given our latest focus in Barrel Management Forum. In our session last week, each manager's shared how they were progressing on defining a Best Fit Activities Diagram (BFA) for their teams.

The BFA Diagram activity helps clarify which tasks are best suited for every role on a team. Having this in place not only contributes to increased employee engagement and retention; it also ties into team utilization and margin/profit.

  • Utilization: If we expect a Senior team member to be 75% billable so they can support internal efforts (such as training and mentoring interns), we need to make sure we're clear on how they participate in projects.
  • Margin/profit: The aim is to avoid senior folks working on junior-level work and vice versa. Generally speaking, in our type of work, if a team is too top or bottom-heavy, chances are that margins or work quality are suffering. The BFA establishes how a team can leverage each role to get the work done effectively while keeping each member engaged and growing.

Between the utilization efforts and progress happening in Barrel Management Forum, I'm optimistic about what we can accomplish as a team in the coming months. There's a lot of work to be done. It may feel like a roller coaster at times. In this case, it's not so much the endpoint, but the thought of what we can create is what keeps me energized.

Thought Starter

What project has been bringing me or my team down? Where might it help to pause, review the plan, and focus on the endpoint? What kind of energy will it take to get there?

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