Agency Rules

We thought we’d share some rules for hiring and working with agencies (us included) that we’ve developed over years from seeing some truly dysfunctional agency relationships.

  1. Task few with thinking and many with doing.
  2. Manage agencies directly, never letting an agency get between you and an agency.
  3. Take the time to get clear; the clearer the input, the more efficient and effective the output.
  4. Make measurable performance metrics and review those metrics regularly. (See rule 23)
  5. If you are going to choose not to listen to them, then don’t bother hiring them.
  6. When it no longer works, move on. Agencies are not marriage material.
  7. Be of high value to the agency’s image or bottom line, or be fun and interesting to work with.
  8. Make sure you are getting the nerds, geeks and weirdos; the “cool kids” are just for show.
  9. Don’t pay double or triple or quadruple for entry-level talent, hire your own 23-year-old and have the agency tell them what to do.
  10. Get your own references, not the ones they send you.
  11. A worthy agency will push you to the edge of your comfort zone and show you the results of their recommendations, the good, bad and ugly.
  12. If they treat their team like commodity labor, you will not get great work. You will get done work.
  13. If it’s a lifestyle agency, designed for employment while playing in the mountains or ocean, you will never be their priority.
  14. Provide them with challenges they need to solve, not solutions to execute.
  15. Ask lots of questions in order to learn to fish, if not tactically then strategically.
  16. They need to understand your business model (how you make and spend money) and how you operate.
  17. You need to understand their business model (how they make and spend money) and how they operate.
  18. The bigger, nicer and more prestigious their office, the less work you receive for every dollar you spend.
  19. Don’t hire an agency when a good freelancer can do the work just as good, cheaper, and with better customer service (because you mean more to their reputation and bottom line).
  20. Communicate as needed, not just weekly and at a set time.
  21. Play devil’s advocate, -red team blue team- to understand solutions from all sides.
  22. If they are doing work you and your team don’t understand, you need to get educated or get a second opinion to gain that understanding.
  23. Good work is not just pretty work; it’s effective work. (see rule 4, but be careful what you measure)

 

The Power of “I Don’t Know”

When was the last time you heard, “I don’t know” in a meeting? Or, “Let me do some research and get back to you on that.” Instead, what we typically are encountering is the opinions of others.

Opinions spur debate because they are based on our own limited experience of the world. When we try to influence from the point of opinion, we are assuming everyone else in the room shares our same life experience or has the capacity to relate to it. They don’t.

Not only are these opinion-based debates ineffective, they are corrosive and time-consuming, eroding trust between team members and fragmenting the brand platform into personal interpretations.

Saying, “I don’t know” short circuits these debates. It creates a void, nothing to push against. It creates this space by stating anyone in the room might be right, but we don’t have enough clarity to make a decision. “I don’t know” calls into question the equation being used, without directly questioning the individual’s math. In this temporary opinion ceasefire, we can take a step back from promoting our answer and discuss how best to find an answer.

“I don’t know” does not end debate but creates a more constructive one by shifting the team away from evaluating the answer and towards evaluating how one came to an answer and why that’s the right approach.

“I don’t know” is so rarely said during these debates because not knowing puts us in a vulnerable place. After all, our job is to know, right? Wrong. Our job is to figure it out. Let that sink in for a moment.

Your job –at every level, in every department–is to figure it out. Your job is to gather, test, learn, discover, unearth and see what happens. The more experience we have, the better we get at this process and the better we get at figuring it out. The reason the beginner’s mind is so powerful isn’t because of beginner’s luck but because the novice comes to the problem knowing they don’t know, and this forces them to figure it out. The only path forward is to gather, test, learn, discover, and unearth, constantly scanning the environment for clues.

“I don’t know” lets everyone in the room off the hook from having to be a wise, all-knowing sage on the mountain top. It frees us to be scientists, questioning the world and conducting experiments to find answers to those questions – sometimes falling on our faces in the process, but sometimes discovering a breakthrough.

“I don’t know” has the power to transform the culture of organizations, exchanging the massive amount of time once spent debating, for time spent researching. That research shifts teams from designing experiences for themselves to designing experiences for their customers

“I don’t know” has the power to build more cohesive teams by steering individuals towards the pursuit of answers that are aligned with the brand’s principles and values, not their own.

The “I Don’t Know” Process.

  1. Listen
    The first step is not to state that we don’t know; the first step is to let the fly. Again, these opinions are insights into the speaker’s perspective, born from their life experience. So let the team put their answers on the table. Ask questions to understand how they came to those conclusions to better comprehend their point of view and approach.
  2. I Don’t Know.
    State in some form, “I don’t know the right answer” or, “I’m unclear about how to evaluate the answer.” Making yourself vulnerable creates permission for others to be vulnerable. But you can’t leave that vulnerability hanging out there, or the opinions will devour this opening to promote their answer.
  3. Zoom Out.
    Disagreement on an answer is a sign of a lack of a clarity further upstream. Either the team is not clear on the objective, the strategy being used to achieve that objective, how tactics are best utilized or the context in which these are being applied. Quickly pull the conversation back from the “answers” and discuss these clarifying elements; the objective, the strategy, the tactics, the context. Again, be vulnerable by saying, “I need to make sure I’m understanding the project (or decision).” Then you can shift the conversation into clarification further upstream.
  4. Design The Path.
    With clarity regarding where the disagreement or confusion lies, the team can then focus on identifying the best path to finding the best answer possible (the right equation). Note, this isn’t determining the perfect answer. This is figuring it out as best you can given the resources available. Unless decisions need to be made immediately, this usually involves research and reporting back to the team with analyses and findings.
  5. Regroup, Informed.
    Information and data is reported to the team and reviewed prior to regrouping to make a decision. With everyone on the same page, working on the same equation, using the same data, a constructive discussion can be had to determine the best answer.

P.S. This post is most definitely a note to myself

Brand Loyalty

A customer’s dedication to repeatedly purchase the same products or service now and in the future from the same brand, regardless of a competitor’s actions or changes in the environment.

Trust It, Or Fix It

 

Trust the Vision. Trust the Plan. Trust the people. Trust the process. Trust the system. Or fix it.

In building a high-functioning organization, there is no in-between when it comes to trust. You’re either focused on doing your job, trusting others will do theirs, moving forward in lock-step on a clear path towards a shared vision, or you’re not. Organizations that lack trust have an innate level of dysfunction at their core. This dysfunction acts as an anchor dragging on the power, speed and agility of the organization. So growth slows, talent leaves for more fertile ground, competitors begin to catch up or pass by. And if the rising tide of a growing market begins to ebb, the organization begins to collapse.

Trust is the glue and the grease. It’s what creates the bonds between individuals and teams and can often last a career. And trust is the grease that moves information through the organization. It enables that lock-step action, concentrating the full energy of the organization behind the tip of the spear while remaining agile enough to learn and adapt.

The Warning Signs
When trust is lost, our instinct is to centralize control. This is a clear sign of broken processes, systems or relationships. This clamping down constricts the flow of information, either by design or as a byproduct of natural bottlenecks.

Information empowers individuals to decide, act and collaborate. When the flow of information is slowed- or altogether stopped, individuals become disempowered and unable to influence or make decisions. Or, at best, they will lack clarity, often leading to poor decisions and further degrading trust.

To avoid being disempowered, or as an immediate fix to a failing process, system or relationship, our instinct is to grab some control ourselves. While sometimes well-intentioned, this triggers the cycle to repeat, creating silos and fiefdoms of control.

How Trust Is Cultivated & Lost
As Steven Covey described it, building trust is like putting deposits in an emotional bank account. It grows slowly over time, action by action. However, withdrawals happen quickly, with a single act able to undo months or years of deposits.

Because trust is built slowly and lost so quickly, it’s critical for leaders to create fertile ground for trust to grow and reduce the emotional volatility that leads to large withdrawals. When leaders sow seeds of distrust or ignore clear signs of its presence, the rate and size of withdrawals increase exponentially as it spreads to the entire team. This is why the saying “a fish rots from the head down” still rings true hundreds of years after its inception.

When “the fish” is alive, the head initiates all action throughout the body. Likewise, leaders must be hypervigilant in cultivating and monitoring the level of trust in the organization. Again, back to Covey, in his research studying leaders that build trust, he identified thirteen key behaviors:

  1. Talk Straight
    2. Demonstrate Respect
    3. Create Transparency
    4. Right Wrongs
    5. Show Loyalty
    6. Deliver Results
    7. Get Better
    8. Confront Reality
    9. Clarify Expectation
    10. Practice Accountability
    11. Listen First
    12. Keep Commitments
    13. Extend Trust

It’s important to note that it’s the combination of these thirteen behaviors that builds trust. For example, talk straight, but do so with respect and after you have taken the time to listen (#11).

The Process of Building Trust
There is no quick path to building or restoring trust. It is a way of being, a practice. As Covey defined it, “Trust is confidence born of two dimensions: character and competence.” What is the process for developing character or any aspect of ourselves? That is a topic for another day. However, the first step is always the same, START!

Identify trust as a problem. Make it our focus. Become a student: Read about it. Observe it. Measure it. But most of all, let’s act to correct it. We can’t let distrust sit and fester as we work on our character. If there is a process that is creating a lack of trust, let’s make it a priority to fix it. If a leader is cultivating a lack of trust, let’s bring them into our process or remove them. If a system is causing issues, leading to a lack of trust among the team or with the customer, let’s fix it.

A few places to getting started
The 7 Habits of Highly
The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey
The Advantage

Benevolent Dictator

As strong and principled leaders with a clear vision for the company and its way of being in the world, benevolent dictators drive business strategy and culture from the top down. They are often found behind brands where attention to detail, innovation and customer experience are considered key to success. Benevolent dictators are not to be confused with dictators, as the former’s approach is driven by an abundance of passion and purpose to recreate the world better than they found it, to share their secret with the world and do not derive from an absolute and unrestricted desire for power.

Why Our Name

The Literal – Realizing Full Potential
Full Stream describes, quite literally, a waterway running at maximum capacity. Not flooding, but moving at its maximum beneficial volume and rate. This is also the most productive state for a brand, organization and individual. Our objective is to develop maximum beneficial growth, the realization of full potential.

The Metaphorical – Stepping Into The Stream
We can stand on land or we can be in water; those are our choices. The side of a river is safe and still, the ground beneath us known and stable. It’s a beautiful place that changes slowly, giving us a front-row-view of the perpetual motion of the river. When we step into the river’s full stream, we can no longer stand. Panic, and the river takes full control. Relax, and we find ourselves able to read the path ahead, maneuver through rapids, rest in eddies and flow with the river. When growth is our objective, we have no choice but to step into the stream, embrace uncertainty, harness change, read the subtle and not-so-subtle signs ahead. Having the understanding and tools to flow with the river is what allows us to leverage its energy while enjoying the ride. This is what it means to step into the stream.

Cut ‘em back

Take the dying limbs, the diseased branches, the dried up shriveled stems and chewed leaves and cut ‘em all back. Cut ‘em back till you have the seasoned, proven limbs and branches with a few strong new growths heading in just the right direction. That’s how you support Nature in producing a bountiful harvest.

Some years, when rain and sun are plentiful, we may let things go wild, allowing for new growth to become established. Other years, the tree tells us it’s been all too much and it needs to hunker down and carefully select how limited resources should be put to use. If we listen, if we allow for a step back after two forward, She will provide. If we fight it, if we push for two steps forward, then four, then eight, despite the weather, ignoring the rain or drought, we’ll see the consequences of our imposed imbalance.

These are the laws of nature. We are provided all the signs to diagnose and time our push forward or pruning. The underlying skill this all requires, the one farmers have cultivated for generations, is observation. Farmers know what to look for, where to look for it, and they have the conviction to take decisive action when the data points to clear answers, whether they like those answers or not. Because for thousands of years, the survival of their business has depended on it.

Understanding   

Understanding is seeing clearly what is on the surface and grasping the underlying meaning. Understanding leads to insight because we are able to see a person, place or thing more completely, to see it for who or what it truly is, as well as for how it’s perceived.

Insights and understanding fuel one another, each providing fertile ground for the other. This symbiosis occurs naturally once the mind is trained to shift from its default narcissistic state to being present, truly listening and inquiring.

Insights

Insights are moments of clarity that arise from deep understanding. It is through this clarity that we craft solutions and navigate the various paths forward.

Insights and understanding fuel one another, each providing fertile ground for the other. This symbiosis occurs naturally once the mind is trained to shift from its default narcissistic state to being present, truly listening and inquiring.

Our approach.

Our approach to a project is guided by the state of the organization: the people, processes and systems that generate the brand experiences which, in turn, cultivate brand loyalty (or hinder it.)

People
Organizations are living, breathing organisms, made of living, breathing people. A simple but a powerful notion when an organization must evolve in order to grow. This is why we work with individuals throughout the company from leadership to the front lines. We work in one-on-one, group and company-wide settings to provide clarity. Clarity of purpose. Clarity of place. Clarity of path.

Processes
Organizations prove Aristotle’s assertion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Processes create the synergy that fuels this outsized impact. We collaborate with individuals and teams to design and implement these processes, creating linear pathways for information and actions to flow smoothly through the organization and trigger the needed downstream action or effect.

Systems
Organizations have the ability to scale beyond their physical size by leveraging IT systems. When sourced, architected and implemented with the end in mind, these systems amplify the impact of a single individual and increase speed of processes. We collaborate with internal teams and vendors, working cross-functionally, from procurement to launch to align systems with people, processes and the path forward.

This approach requires us to customize projects to fit the organization and leadership’s desired rate of growth. It requires us to go deep, roll up our sleeves and work hand in hand with your team to build your future state, from the ground up and inside out. This building of foundations from deep within the organization cultivates an individual and collective sense of purpose, autonomy and, if supported, mastery. This allows us to step away while remaining intimately connected to the DNA of the organization – leaving our clients autonomous, but never alone if our advice or services are required.

There are companies building the movements that will lead us towards a healthier and more sustainable future. We help these companies grow their market share so they can grow their impact.

We fuel growth by developing an organization’s ability to generate, at scale, consumer brand loyalty based on the brands core purpose and principles. In its simplest form, these are the services we provide:

1. Research. Clarify where we are.
Define the state of the business and consumer brand loyalty through multi-level company and consumer interviews, data analysis and market analysis.

2. Strategy and planning. Define where we are going and how we will get there.
Uncover and articulate the vision: the brand strategy, growth strategy and roadmap, while building tactical tools for organization-wide implementation.

3. Organizational Development. Build the capabilities of the organization to lead the way.
Partner with individuals throughout the organization to build the teams, systems and processes needed to execute the plan and achieve desired growth and impact.

Vans, GT Bikes, Santa Cruz Skateboards, Powell Peralta, K2 Skis, Burton Snowboards, Transworld Media: these were the first brands I remember coveting. Their logos tattooed my every possession, their athletes covered my walls. These were the brands that shaped my view of the world beyond the suburban upstate New York life I knew. They inspired an unrelenting pursuit of fun, passion, creativity and self-expression, making it not only okay to be myself but a badge of honor to stand out from the crowd.

If brands have the power to influence people, as they did me, they can affect the choices individuals make, initiating a chain reaction that impacts people, places, culture and the environment the world over. If we have the power to influence people, we have the power to change the world. This is why we’ve devoted our lives to building and scaling brands.

This power brands possess – to connect with individuals on an emotional level, to paint a worldview that unites the tribe – has always existed. However, today’s brands have more power to influence than ever before. Brands are now media organizations with the ability to produce engaging content, scale reach, hyper target and optimize messaging in seconds, to ensure maximum impact. And these tools are no longer reserved for only the largest and most sophisticated organizations. This power can be tapped at will by bootstrapping startups in garages around the world.

The table is set. The tools exist. People are hungry for real solutions to the myriad  challenges we’re facing. There is a craving for authentic connection, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Brands have the potential to be this vehicle in our lives. So together, let’s change the world.