Often, agency owners get focused on the work of serving clients: the SEO, content marketing, PPC, and social media marketing side of the business. Yet to grow as an agency you have to work on the business itself.
That’s where a focus on systems, teams, and general operations comes in. Today on Agency Ahead, Haley Bryant, recently-promoted Chief Operations Officer at Animalz.co, joins Garrett to share some insights on that process and the impacts it can have on your agency.
- (1:00) The nature of people ops, and what’s going on at Animalz.co.
- (3:07) Looking at processes, team building, and developing frameworks.
- (5:00) Advice for remote companies.
- (8:17) Leveraging Slack and other tools.
- (9:15) Fostering ongoing learning initiatives.
- (11:51) Organizing communication without overwhelming employees.
- (13:57) Dealing with organizational growing pains.
- (19:08) Communicating during tough times.
- (23:50) Hopes for the future.
- (26:12) Haley’s causes.
Evaluating processes, building out a team, and developing frameworks
Haley says one of the great things about working for a content agency is everyone writes, so things are obsessively documented, which is very helpful for a remote-only organization.
She also says that any start-up has to master the art of continuous improvement every day. “Just trying to make things better and better one step at a time.”
She says she had to start with what already existed.
“A lot of it was just centralizing information and laying it out in order to make it more accessible to other people. I think as leaders, one thing we have to do is help other people see and solve problems, and just structure them a little more clearly.
So my initial time here was spent largely with those customers and team onboarding, and revising those processes to make them better for our customers.”
Haley also stresses that it can be valuable to look at any individual process or system, and then to think about the original problem it was trying to solve and why that system exists.
“If you’re still trying to solve that problem, and if it is still a high-priority problem, [think about] how the problem changed and how we might solve it differently with the team and tools we have available.”
How can a remote organization effectively disseminate structure, documentation, and processes?
“If you already have a ton of documentation, awesome. You might think about implementing drips internally,” Haley says. “A lot of people do this for marketing, but doing it for the team is huge.
I was really excited to join Animalz and get an email in my inbox for the first 8 weeks I was there just schooling me on content marketing and SaaS, and one of our team members actually owned updating that drip a few months ago.”
Haley also talked about using a Slack-integratable knowledge base called Tettra.
Tettra allows you to ask a question on Slack and have Slack answer that question by referencing the knowledge base, rather than forcing a new team member to go to existing team members with that question.
“This makes information really transparent,” Haley says. “We value transparency at Animalz, so almost everything happens in a public channel.”
She does note not everyone is a big fan of using the public channel.
“But what’s great is you always have a point of reference to go back to and say, oh, you should look at this conversation from 2 months ago where we had a customer with exactly the same issue.”
Still, Haley says, culture is as important as systems…if not more so.
“You have to have a culture of ongoing learning, and one where people feel comfortable taking ownership.
The same team member that updated our onboarding drip also offered to form this learning management team and think about ways we can continue to bring all this documentation to the surface for team members, and make it more accessible and help people kind of ramp up faster.”
Developing employee training programs and nurturing a culture of engagement
“We’re all knowledge workers,” Haley says, “so we’re learning every day. I think information silos can blossom so quickly in an agency because so much information is being shared, so it’s really about finding the highest-signal information and then sharing it in a way that’s helpful for people.
We do monthly Lunch-and-Learns. We have team standups every week, and all of our middle managers are amazing people with the most creative ideas, and they will host mini-workshops for their teams.
We do documented training.
Anyone’s invited to share resources like great articles they’ve written or read. And then the leadership team tries to provide updates in written form as well that give people an area of focus and offer ongoing learning, too.”
Any or all of these may be ideas that our listeners might want to incorporate into their own agencies! Haley credits this culture for contributing to content quality at Animalz, as well as to creating a stronger team overall.
Promoting listening opportunities and focus while slicing out the noise of internal online communication
Haley says it’s all about giving people the opportunity to listen or not listen.
“There are some Slack channels everyone’s in, but we have over 50 of them. You’re not expected to participate. They’re optional. They’re extracurricular. Side projects, where everyone shares their side hustles, or our reading list where everyone shares articles, or book club where people share books they’re reading.
You tune in if you want, and participate in the conversation.”
Haley also says the way promotions and advancement are structured can make a big difference in whether people see participating in this conversation as an important thing to do.
“We created really explicit development levels. So, thinking about each role as a collection of competencies and at each level of development, there’s a certain expression of those competencies that is success, and means you’re ready to move on to the next stage.”
By way of example:
“Okay, I’m at this role and this level, and to move on to the next level I need to be this good at SEO. That means when something comes out in Slack or in Tettra or through the blog, you’re going to tune into the resource because you’re incentivized to.
It ties back to your goal, it ties back to your development, and so I think that’s a big part of helping people not be overwhelmed by communication and stay focused.”
Growing pains and lessons learned at Animalz
Don’t be discouraged if you have an idea for how something might work only to roll it out and find out it just isn’t. This is something that Haley has encountered on a regular basis.
One way to combat this, she says, is not to be in a hurry to make decisions. “Sometimes making a just in time decision is better.”
Here’s the example she gives:
“Some summer we tried to roll out a new CRM and we ended up with Asana, which is so not a CRM as you know. We needed a process, we needed to centralize information, we all need to help people through these systems. Then I rolled out Asana and it was crickets.
Why are we using this tool? I needed this for one month of the customer relationship. Why am I still using it a year later?”
She says, “If you don’t understand the problem well enough, slow down. Come back to it later. Reprioritize. I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years in building out a company roadmap and being very successful in some things and less successful in others.”
Communicating effectively and creating a culture of safety in the context of Black Lives Matter and COVID
Haley had quite a few things to say about how Animalz did it, and it’s all about communication.
“One of the things Devin and I decided on really early when COVID hit was the importance of communicating consistently with the team to create some psychological safety to continue to work, but also to just be human. To stay in touch with people.
She does a Wednesday update every week. It’s like getting a newsletter. I look forward to it. She’ll share what she’s thinking about, what we’re thinking about, and what we’re thinking about, and what’s happened to the business in the last week, which I think just gives people a sense of security, right?
Like there is someone thinking, big picture, who’s in control, who’s helping the company stay safe, stay stable, and this is something I do with my team of managers too, just writing something down every week and trying to be even more communicative and transparent.”
As for Black Lives Matter, Haley, a Black leader in this company, has thoughts.
She and Devin immediately decided to talk to the team about George Floyd’s death, and they decided to tag-team a memo. She said she shared some personal thoughts on racism and anti-racism, and Devin talked about short-term and long-term actions and systems.
They’re talking about how they can launch an internship program that will bring more people into the community, make them more aware of them and allow them to hire a more diverse array of people.
“We’re systematically working on getting better vs. just talking.”
She also mentions that content providers play a role in helping to end institutional racism.
“We’re encouraging our customers to include more diverse examples of people, [to look at] what they’re highlighting, quotes they’re pulling in their content, pictures, how we are looking at bias in the language we use within content and then how are companies that are in those spaces advertising to their customers. There are so many levels to this.”
Haley says she has a lot of hope for the positive efforts being made by other companies and wants to see everyone speaking up and doing things.
“Lip service is not enough. I think that the brands that successfully navigate this will not just say things, but really make change.
And I think it will be cool to see the companies in six months or in twelve months giving a retrospective: here’s what we did, not just here’s what we’re going to do, but here’s what we did, and here’s the impact.”
What’s your right now cause?
Haley encourages everyone to subscribe to the Anti-Racism Daily Newsletter. This newsletter has been out since 2017, and it gives a daily action item that you can use to help dismantle systemic racism. It’s a great way to make sure that today’s issues don’t get pushed to the back burner once more while we all try to navigate our daily challenges.