Regardless of what it looks like, we are big believers in the power of rallying your team and taking the time to revisit goals. This usually looks like carving out time for a team retreat but in these times just about everything looks a little different. Join Speak Creative's VPs for an off topic conversation about the importance of a team reset and how we do it.
Rally and Reset | A Little Off Topic by Speak Creative
David: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us. Once again, you are listening to A Little Off Topic, one agency's water cooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things that get in the way, presented by Speak Creative. So as we're recording this episode, we are approaching the last weeks of 2020, which for us at Speak means we're very close to our annual company retreat we call "Speak Week." Every January, we like to take a week off to regroup with our team, reset, and plan for the coming year, which just so happens to also be the topic for today's episode. My name is David Caffey. I'm Speak's Digital Marketing Manager and the host of A Little Off Topic. Joining me this week and every week is Speak's VP leadership team. Kindra Svendsen is VP of Client Partnerships. In addition, we have our duo of "Matts".
First is Matt Roberts, VP of Marketing and Sales, and last but not least, we have Matt Ervin, VP of Creative Services. So our tradition of regrouping for a week each year started out as a necessity, since we have remote team members scattered nationwide. But now that the realities of 2020 have resulted in more folks working from outside the office, setting some time to reset and plan with your team, even in a virtual setting, may be more critical than ever. We'll start today talking about Speak's processes for regrouping and resetting. Next we'll discuss some benefits and best practices for taking time to map out your team's future. Finally, I'll ask our panel how they choose to relax and charge on their own time. So lots of great info today. I think you guys will enjoy it. As always, we thank you for taking the time to listen to our show today, and I hope you enjoy today's episode of A Little Off Topic.
It's going to look a little bit different this year, but we are gearing up for Speak Week 2021 and I guess as of when we're recording this, it's less than two months away. But nevertheless, whatever it looks like, we are big believers in pausing and getting the team together to reset and revisit our goals. So today, we're going to dive into the importance of this practice, why we do it, and what we see are the benefits of it. So what this looks like for us are our two times of the year where we stop and pause. One is, as I just mentioned, Speak Week, which is at the beginning of the year, and then we have Half Time, which can take many forms, but that usually is sometime in the summer. So let's start by telling our listeners more about this, what the purpose of it is, and what do we think we gain from it? And maybe even some of the history of it, if some of you guys know how it started.
Ervin: So I was there for the first one. I think the idea was that we had DJ Brad Rush, who was in charge of support, who had moved down to upper Alabama and then we had Nikki who was in Maine, and Brian, who was somewhere near one of the great lakes, because he used to bring photos of the great lakes.
Roberts: He was a Michigander.
Ervin: Yeah, that's right and it's beautiful up there. I had no idea Lake Superior was so pretty.
Roberts: Well it's superior.
Ervin: We brought those three in for the first Speak Week. It was not impromptu, but I don't think it was anywhere near the form that it's taken since then.
Roberts: I think it started just with the idea that back then, as Matt just said, we had this local crew here in Memphis and we were starting to do the remote work thing, hiring folks that were not from Memphis and we just felt like it was worth getting everybody in the same room to just exchange ideas and talk about where we wanted to go with improving our services and processes. We felt like that was worth flying our folks from out of town in, so that we could have that face time and all get on the same page. Now we have the Nashville office and folks from all over. A portion of our staff works remotely and up until this year, the idea has been to continue the practice of bringing everybody into the same space. I think it started off as maybe a 2 or 3 day thing and now it's a full-fledged week that we carve off to just talk about where we've been in the previous year. We break off into teams and talk about things that we feel like we've done well and challenges that we've come up against, and meet together as discrete groups of people trying to do specific tasks and get better. But then, they also allow us to meet with other teams as part of our operation to say, "Hey if you guys did this, then we could do that which would create a win for both of us" So those conversations are pretty typical all throughout the year, but just to set your work aside and be able to say, "okay, let's spend a week together solving problems and coming up with new processes that are going to help us and help our clients" is a really healthy thing.
Kindra: One of the things I'm not necessarily looking forward to, I'm sure it'll be great, but I just enjoy the time off with each other at Speak Week.
Roberts: Yeah. That's right.
Kindra: Like just being around each other and learning about each other as friends and not just coworkers, especially with those remote team members, when you do jump on zoom calls or meetings, it's all business or 2 minutes of small talk beforehand and so you really get to learn about people and learn how they tick and that I think enhances our work the rest of the year. So there's always a nice place to like meet people, but really get to know them where we'll see if we have it in the virtual sense this year, because it is something that I will certainly miss.
Roberts: That is the thing that I will miss the most and I'm sure we will have different ways to try to create some of that in a virtual context. But there's just no replacing being able to sit across the table from somebody at lunch or getting to hang out in the evening and just play some stupid card game and just hang out and get to know each other as people and as friends. I feel like our work is better when we feel connected to our coworkers and I feel like Speak Week has been a really great way to create that connection.
Kindra: For sure. It's the water cooler chat, right? The stuff that you don't realize you miss when you're not in an office with a person.
Roberts: And when you don't have a water cooler.
Kindra: For an extrovert like me, that's really important because I soak up other people's energy, you know? I know that sometimes it's overwhelming. Matt Ervin, I'm sure by day three, you're just done talking.
Ervin: Yeah. That's pretty true.
Kindra: But yeah, it's energizing to me.
David: So obviously there are a great deal of social benefits, as we've mentioned here, for a team like us that's spread apart, to all have a retreat and get back together. But when we do get here and this year, we might be on the zoom as we said, but when we are here together, we also get down to business a little bit with planning and strategy for the year. If we were to extract anything from Speak Week or a Half Time-type retreat meeting, we do that we might say another team could benefit from implementing in their beginning of the year planning, what are the types of things that we do at Speak Week that are great ways to reset and plan for the year?
Kindra: For me, it's stopping the work to talk about the work. We get really busy in the day-to-day of our process and are in the rhythm of churning out work for other people. So the idea that we can reset and look at our process and what's working and what's not, and take time to fix it before we jump right into client work, that's really helpful. We don't often get to pause just to say what could be working a lot better and fix it. So that's the best way for me to reset and our team to reset on the Digital Marketing side is to go through how we work, not what we're doing for work.
Roberts: So Speak Week is great to be able to take a step back and do exactly what Kindra just said, which is pause from your work and then talk about the work. One of the things that I think makes that possible, or maybe helps you get into that frame of mind is the first day of Speak Week is almost always Jacob getting up and talking a little bit about the year before that we just completed and where we landed and what our goals were at the beginning of that year and how we did related to those goals and it lets you just close the book on a chapter of time and effort and it gives you a sense of completion and the ability to really step out of your work. So I think that first day actually creates a little bit of a psychological advantage for us to just be able to say, "okay, that year is done. Let's learn from what we feel like was really successful last year" and we don't feel a lot of pressure to keep things going in any particular direction because we have this discrete moment in time where we get to say "cool, what worked last year? What do we want to do this year?" and we don't necessarily feel burdened by some of the need to just keep doing the things that we've been doing.
Ervin: Now for me, I have weird perspectives and perceptions of things, so one thing that's helpful is getting some of those fixed. People have ideas and thoughts that can make us better. They have ideas about things that are pain points, they have ideas that are new, that aren't something we're considering now, and getting together face to face with people is the best way for those things to come out. You're not sitting behind a muted microphone and having to unmute and then fighting for your ability to speak and talking over people with the "no, you go first" stuff we do on zoom. So I think that helps a lot and where I see that the most is when we get different teams together. So one of the things this year that we're going to do, virtually I suppose, is get the Front End Development team and the Full Stack Development team together and let them talk about the things that we could do to make their life easier, that the Full Stack team could do to make the Front End Dev's lives easier? And then what are the things that we can work on together to get faster and more efficient? I believe we're going to do the same thing with our business strategists, to say, what are some things that we could make our products do that will help? But getting those cross teams and letting people who don't normally work tightly together mix it up a little bit is really helpful because it gives you new ways to think about old things.
Kindra: Well, for instance, we did that last year with the Full Stack Development and the Digital Marketing team, and we asked, "how can we make it better for SEO? What are the pain points of our CMS that we could improve?" Pretty immediately it was an action plan of what was an easy fix, like "We'll knock that out next week!" and we saw quite a few big steps pretty immediately.
Ervin: It's funny. There's no reason that something should come out of that meeting where we're like, "Oh yeah, that's no big deal. We'll get that done in a couple of hours." Like we should already be fixing those things.
Kindra: We just don't get the chance to sit down.
Ervin: Right. There's not a time for us to just stop and ask those questions and say, "Oh yeah, that's a problem? We can fix that easily." If you come out about a week long meeting with half a dozen of those things and you get them fixed quickly and that's a great way to kick off the year.
Roberts: You know, obviously a company is not a group of people in stasis. We're constantly adding new people and occasionally folks move on from their current roles to somewhere else. So there's just the idea of getting together as a team at the beginning of the year to say, "Hey, this is who we are and we want to make sure everybody knows each other. I've only ever experienced Speak Week having already been here. I'm not new to the team. So would be curious to hear from somebody who has a little bit of that outsider perspective. But I would suspect that there's some amount of how it feels nice to get grounded into who the company is and who the people are and hopefully it's an encouraging thing where folks would say, "Oh man, this is encouraging that they really do care about getting better and about making each other's lives better and improving our work product and improving the relationships with clients that we have and removing pain points" and those kinds of things. So it's easy to get caught up in that strategic and tactical. How do we as a company improve and what's the value of that? But then I also think there's just this human element of folks who are new to the team get a sense of our culture and hopefully that's a really positive thing as well.
David: So another big focus of Speak Week traditionally for us is setting goals and trying to get a plan for the year related to goals for our teams. As leaders and as top line leaders who are going to probably oversee some of that goal setting this year and a half in previous years, what are you keeping in mind as you're going through those goal meetings? I think when we're all together in most years like we are, you can be very positive. We're all together and we've all got a lot of good pride in our team, but how do you go about making those realistic and achievable and measurable when you're setting those in a Speak Week- like environment?
Kindra: Well, I think it's important to not just set goals, but to talk about losses and challenges. It's a really important time and place to be transparent about what sucked the previous year and to give space for people to talk about that, because then I think we do have a chance to reset, but if we're pushing forward strategy and pushing all these new agendas without really revisiting what didn't work, we're leaving emotion on the table. We're leaving unanswered process questions or turmoil. So for me, the best way to really start out and hit the reset button is to just simply give it time to breathe and say, "okay, so what are we not going to do?"
Roberts: I'm sure this is true for a lot of people's world, but it kinda boils down to numbers. Usually the last couple of weeks of December and the very early part of January are pretty slow. So I have the chance to get into a lot of our data and build out questions like how do we do with different markets? Where, what was our lead volume? What was our where did they come from? What was our success in different vertical and geographic markets that we operate in? I just start to compile a bunch of different numbers in different areas and see if there are any trends that show up and then compare that to where we started the year and where we wanted to be. We're indexing along all year, but I get that chance to still everything down and get a picture of how we perform. Having that picture lets you meet with some folks individually on the team before Speak Week to say, "Hey, here are the things that I'm seeing, can you look at this data with me?" Maybe ask some questions and get their input and get a sense of how they're feeling about different areas, where we're working in and begin to shade in some goals that hopefully carry forward progress in the direction that we feel like we've got areas of strengths. Ultimately, I'm responsible for our top line revenue and our sales numbers, so obviously, you know what to boil it down to the simplest answer is let's make that number bigger by some measure. But to actually do that involves really taking a look at a lot of different, smaller numbers that are easier to digest. Because if you look at our total revenue number for a company like ours, it feels a little bit at the beginning of the year like how are we going to get there? But it's made up of small wins in particular areas with particular services and so bringing it down to just bite sized chunks, I think is really valuable. Being able to say, "Hey if we have a 10% increase on this particular metric, it ultimately is going to have a big increase year long" So you can break it down to individual team members and be able to say "If we can increase our effort here, if we can create just a little bit better capture of margin here, all that adds up." So, but you can't really get there without doing the homework ahead of time. So that's kind of how I think about goals. It's a very numbers driven thing. I think what Kindra said is really valuable in the sense that there are some things that just don't work and if you just run right past them, you are going to leave frustration unaddressed and you're not necessarily going to have full buy-in to the goals that you are going to set as a team.
Kindra: Not just like personal frustrations, but admitting "we really messed up in this area" being really transparent with what won't be acceptable this year, or this is what we don't want to see. Talking about our failures, not just our frustrations, but actual failures helps turn it around too, because then we can diagnose what caused what and ask what we can do differently. That really helps us shape the goals because we are doing the opposite of what didn't work.
Ervin: To me, that's where I live. The number side of things. I always gravitate toward the tactical first. I have what's called "crippling pragmatism" and so looking at how our numbers weren't where they should be, my approach is always to say, as Malcolm Gladwell says, let's descend into the particulars and figure out where we went wrong and then let's work on tactics to fix those things. So my prep for Speak Week is probably not as numerical numerically focused as it should be. It's not really at all. It's more of asking what didn't work and where can I get examples of those things that didn't work. Then when we get everybody together and we talk about stuff, what do we need to talk about? How are we going to figure out where the problem was and what the solution is? So my goal setting is usually more around "let's not have these things happen again" or "let's make sure that we've eliminated these problems by this time next year"
David: So prior to Speak Week, we're going to have holiday time off with Thanksgiving and the time at the end of the year. What are your personal favorite ways to recharge and reset prior to Speak Week?
Ervin: You mean like to gear up for Speak Week or other than that?
David: In general.
Ervin: Well, I'll go first because you know, why not? For me, it's a couple of things. I would say I probably do this twice a year. But one of them is that my wife and I'll go on a vacation somewhere, maybe big, maybe small. This year will be 20 years and so we're going to go somewhere nice for our anniversary. So that's one, completely disconnecting even from kids, from family, and going somewhere and just letting everything just relax for a while, where you don't have anything you really have to worry about other than making sure you get on the plane home. That's one. The other thing that is really cathartic for me is driving my tractor.
Kindra: Of course it is.
Ervin: I'm not kidding. My dad, brother, and I own some tree farms in Carroll County, Mississippi. Two tree farms. They need lots of work and so every year around the holidays, we usually end up taking 4 or 5 days. Riding a tractor for an entire day is a good way to recharge. Ride a tractor and listen to a book at the same time. That's actually one of my favorites.
Kindra: Not a bad answer, but I'll take your first answer. That sounds lovely. I'd like to do that also, the vacation. Truthfully, for me, we're talking about getting away a little bit after Christmas and talking about my vacation time versus my husband's and he's like, I might not be able to take as much vacation as you and I just was like, "well, that might not be bad. That'd be okay" No, for me, I think just little things like needing to reset the day, not really a big reset. Sometimes all it takes is a nap. But I like to go shopping, just do something that's completely by myself, just a reset for me and only me and I don't have to be responsible for anyone else. If I can get like a good hour and a half or so of time to do whatever I want, then I'm good to go.
Roberts: Yeah. I think I think your question is good, David. I think with the holidays, obviously we have the chance to have some focused time and a little bit longer periods of time where we can choose to recharge a little bit more. Going back to the broader question, I'm just a big believer in, Liss and I are both this way, just creating margin for yourself on a regular basis. You've got a daily rhythm that makes sense. You've got a weekly rhythm that makes sense, that lets you not feel like you're running at max capacity all the time and so, just the rhythms that you create as a person or as a family really matter. We've got four girls that love to spend time with friends and do different activities and everything else and just like anybody else, your schedule can rule you. Liss and I try to arrange our lives in a way that gives us margin that lets us spend an afternoon or an evening just sitting down and reading a book or whatever. Just having, having that downtime.
Kindra: David, do you have any specific ways to reset?
David: I have found this year with all the free time I've had, my favorite thing to do is go to sleep. I sleep and then I wake up and then I'm really not reset, but I feel like if I get to a point where I've slept enough, I'm still trying to get there, but I figure I'm just right around the corner. Need to get that hour count up there. They've also legalized betting on sports here last week, so I've been watching a lot of football.
Roberts: Do you have some money on the ponies?
David: I've done quite well. Thank you very much.
Roberts: Nice. Good for you.
David: Sleeping and betting on football.
Ervin: Sleeping and gambling.
Roberts: Okay, don't take David's advice.
Ervin: Hey, you do you, man. If it works, it works. Also, if you want to learn how to drive a tractor, I can teach you. It's not hard.
Roberts: But you can't sit with Matt apparently.
David: I've listened to a lot of Kenny Chesney songs about tractors though, so I feel like I'm ahead. There's only one. Isn't there a Kenny Chesney song about a tractor?
Kindra: Yeah. There's a few.
Roberts: I liked that he tried to back off his knowledge of Kenny Chesney. He was like, "Oh... Oh yeah... Is it Kenny Chesney? Oh, I don't know." Oh! Producer Jessica Freeman from the chat has just told us it's Jason Aldean.
Kindra: Well, there is a Kenny Chesney song. It's a very different brand than the Jason Aldeen tractor song, but we'll put that in the show notes.
David: Well, that is it for today. I hope you guys enjoyed it. As we get closer to the end of 2020, I hope you have some plans to relax and recharge before the new year. Even if it doesn't involve riding around your farm on your tractor. If you liked today's topic, you'll find even more great stuff on our website. We have a ton of content that touches on the various facets of web design, digital marketing app development, and even more on our blog head over to madebyspeak.com to check out the latest and greatest. As always, if you have questions or feedback for today's episode, we'd love to hear from you. How do you prefer to relax and recharge before getting back to work? Speak is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, whichever social media platform you prefer. We are there. If you enjoyed the show, I'd ask you to please subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice. So from myself, our panel today, and all of us at Speak, thank you once again for getting A Little Off Topic with us.
Want more A Little Off Topic? Listen to last week’s episode about how facing failure leaves space for others to be vulnerable.
If you find yourself in need of a reset a little too often because of digital marketing headaches within your organization, let us know. We'd be honored to help.
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