Borrowed, Learned, & Thought (or BL&T) is a weekly newsletter sent on Mondays. In every edition, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Published posts do not include all details shared via email to subscribers. Subscribe here.
“Every feeling anyone has ever felt has been the right feeling at that time for that person.”
From “The Joy of Selling” by Steve Chandler [Book]
I'm the type of person who gets a lot of value and direction out of what probably sounds like cliché statements.
I remember coming across the phrase "Nothing changes if nothing changes" when I was early on in my fitness journey. In my opinion, it couldn't be any further from the truth. On exhausting days when I didn't feel like heading into the gym, this little mantra reminded me of the change and future I was after. Sure enough, I never regretted pushing through. Since then, I've carried it with me. Whether I catch myself going off track with a healthy habit or dealing with challenges at Barrel, it serves as the same reminder.
When I look back on my life, I realize that I've been accumulating mantras like this since I was a kid. No, I don't create rustic wooden signs to hang in my office, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that "Nothing changes if nothing changes" didn't fill my computer desktop wallpaper at one point in time.
These days, I've returned to a phrase I recall hearing when working at Wegmans for most of my teenage years. "The customer is always right," the Customer Service Manager, Nancy, would say. What draws me to this phrase lately is the mindset shift it inspires when faced with client pushback or critical feedback. In taking on a more formal leadership role on accounts these days, it's been helpful for me in guiding the team toward solutions. At the same time, it's easier said than done.
It requires everyone to put their emotions aside and look inward. "The customer is always right" does not mean the customer is right and we're wrong; it means that we can't dismiss the way they perceive our work or our collaboration. For the team steeped in the day-to-day work, it can be hard to see the situation this way. I often find this friction tricky to navigate.
As a hypothetical example, I might share feedback for the team that a client is confused about finding the final website design links. In frustration, the team tells me they sent a list of links to the client three times last week. In these moments, I try to see the situation like I'm watching a romantic comedy where it's clear that the main characters are in love, but they're not communicating. The difference here is that I can make an impact.
While I can empathize with the team and make clear that I'm not accusing them of anything, the fact is that the client is confused, and to them, we look disorganized. It's on us to change that perception.
Rather than defend our past actions, what can we do to make the client feel more in tune? The truth is we don't always know, so it's not worth sending the same links three times or guessing what might work. To get things on track, we end up having a chat to find out what works for them, and soon, we're off to greener pastures.
While "The customer (or client) is always right" is helpful for me, I hope to embed this mentality among the team through debriefs and everyday interactions. Greeting situations with this in mind will help us move more efficiently into solutions that work for the client and become better collaborators, communicators, and creative thinkers.
As a next step to rolling out utilization targets to our Team Leads, Sei-Wook (Barrel COO/President) has been reviewing the status of all of our projects and accounts. Similar to giving the team a weekly target, our next step is to create a system to better manage and track project health by looking at staffing, hours burned, and hours projected.
By doing this deep dive, we've surfaced a few alarming stats that made us ask: how did no one raise this? Well, no one raised these issues because we didn't give them the means to understand or do so. The more we discuss these topics with the team, the more I see the gaps.
"If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."
It won't be enough to create a system that fills the gaps now. We need to help our Team Leads and Client Services team understand why that system matters and how it helps our business. We need to teach them to fish.
There are several ways to do this and probably make it more complicated than it needs to be. For starters, I think having an honest conversation about how our business functions and the impact of these new initiatives will go a long way.
Culling the number of Slack channels I'm in can be a daunting task. I aim to do it frequently, but sometimes, I look on the sidebar and swear it tripled in a matter of days.
While helping out on a project last week, the team was pinging me every couple of hours on Slack. Every time I'd attempt to respond, I found myself spending time trying to find the original question. Sometimes, I just gave up and sent a DM asking the person to link me to the thread.
At first, I brushed this off, but the more I thought about it, I wondered: is this what people deal with every day?
Upon further investigation, I noticed most projects had separate Slack channels, often for design and development-related topics. When I asked around, the most common reason was to keep related topics in designated channels.
Meanwhile, the Partners are gearing up for our Quarterly Town Hall at the end of the month. One of the anonymous pieces of feedback submitted commented on the split between tech and creative teams and how it makes it challenging to collaborate. I'm not suggesting that separate Slack channels are the sole culprit of this divide, but I can't help but think that unifying things would help.
Experiences like this show me how important it is for the Partners and Team Leads to stay in touch with day-to-day functions. It's no doubt that everyone has the best intentions, but when they're focused on getting the work done, it can be hard to see what's getting in the way.
I chatted with the Account Director on the project that highlighted this issue and asked them to consolidate channels. They were game and excited. This week, I plan to announce the same to the broader team and roll this simple change across the rest of our projects.
When have I let my desire to be right get in the way of understanding what my client wants?