Our guest today is The Narrative Group’s President, Rebecca Coleman.
Rebecca holds over 20 years of experience in building great relationships with clients and even better campaigns for their brands. Currently, she is President at The Narrative Group, an award-winning creative agency that specializes in people-centric and earned-led brand experiences for some of today’s biggest brands including McDonald’s, Harmless Harvest, and Universal Pictures.
Prior to The Narrative Group, Rebecca founded Something Massive, a strategy-led advertising agency and video production company behind ad creative and campaigns for brands like Plum Organics, Oikos, KIND, and Bolthouse Farms.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- Setting yourself up to become more scalable for rapid growth
- Rebecca’s experience as President coming from an entrepreneurial background
- How a person’s capacity is different and how to gauge this and set expectations
- What companies look for in selecting a marketing agency
- How to balance supporting your team and ensuring tasks get done
Connect with Rebecca Coleman: LinkedIn
The Narrative Group – https://thenarrativegroup.com/
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Our guest is The Narrative Group‘s President, Rebecca Coleman. Rebecca holds over twenty years of experience in building great relationships with clients and even better campaigns for their brands. She’s President of The Narrative Group, an award-winning creative agency that specializes in people-centric and earned-led brand experiences for some of today’s biggest brands, including McDonald’s, Harmless Harvest, and Universal Pictures.
Prior to The Narrative Group, Rebecca founded Something Massive, a strategy-led advertising agency and video production company behind the ad creative and campaigns for brands like Plum Organics, Oikos, KIND, and Bolthouse Farms. Rebecca, thank you for joining us on the show.
Happy to be here.
I appreciate it. When people name some of the brands that they do work for, I’m often curious how deep those relationships go? When you’re doing work for McDonald’s and Universal Pictures, is it a franchisee of McDonald’s you’re doing work for? Is it all of McDonald’s US? How deep are you working with some of these brands?
When it comes to McDonald’s, we actually have worked on a global scale. It is mostly US day-to-day, but we have launched global campaigns. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Travis Scott campaign that came out during pandemic. That was a campaign that we played a central role in, including doing the deal with Travis Scott and planning his surprise experiences, the merch, doing strategy for the rollout, etc.
Our success with that led to quite a few meals. The beauty of that program, and the thing I love most about it is that we took existing menu items, and put them together based on the order that these famous people make when they go into McDonald’s. The reason that that really worked for us and for the brand is because when we work with McDonald’s, it’s always working off of this idea that no matter how famous you are, everyone has a McDonald’s order.
It’s funny, you could have gone and ordered the Travis Scott meal yourself at any time. It’s not a limited-edition item. You could go in and order it. That’s the idea. Was it People who used to do, “Stars, they’re just like us?” It’s that idea. It humanizes the experience. The success led us to do a global campaign. We did that global campaign with BTS, the Korean pop band, and that was in 50 countries.
Pretty deep integration with some of these brands. It’s not real surface-y stuff. You’re right, everybody does have a McDonald’s order. What was your McDonald’s order?
My McDonald’s order is fries and a Coke.
The fries are pretty damn good.
They’re the best fries in the world.
I was invited to speak to all of the female franchise owners of McDonald’s a few years ago. There were about 450 of them. I was the only guy in the room. It was a cool opportunity to get to speak to them. My McDonald’s order, I had two. One was a quarter pounder with cheese and a medium root beer. I would get that every time I drove back from the airport, which thankfully I stopped doing that every drive. They had these hash browns, but I used to dip them in maple syrup. I would get their hash browns and coffee, and dip them in maple syrup. That was pretty damn good too.
I love that food hack right there. I am a big fan of an egg McMuffin, no meat. That’s the breakfast order that I love.
I like their sausage McMuffins. There you go. We can be on their menu now. With your team at The Narrative, what’s your team look like? Walk us through who reports into you and what your focus is on day-to-day as President?
We have this moniker that is earned-led creative agency, and really that came to be because I had a creative agency. I met the Founder of Narrative who had a PR and experiential agency. We met through Women’s Entrepreneur Group. We met very regularly about what it was like to be a female leader in a male-dominated industry. Then the pandemic hit and we were talking all the time, just about how much things had changed and really the unknown day-to-day and what was going to happen.
During that period of time, as many people did, we had this constant conversation about how she was being asked for creative all the time, and how I was being asked for earned-led ideas all the time. Eventually, I decided to leave my agency, and I called her up, “This seems like a good partnership,” and so we partnered together.
A big part of this coming on as President, so much of it was figuring out how we integrate these two ideas. The company already had a PR team and an influencer team, and I brought a creative team along. We had a very small experiential team because it had been a very big team, but during pandemic, it shrunk quite a bit. We had to figure out how all of those things came together in a way that was very different from any other agency because most agencies really aren’t a combination of creative and PR. Those are usually separate. We had to figure out how we were going to do that. That is really what I’ve spent the better part of the last few months doing.
You were both leading your own agencies. By the way, which group were you a part of? Was it Chief?
It’s actually called HeyMama. It’s for moms who run companies.
It’s amazing. My sister was in that world in Toronto. She had 78 employees and had 3 kids and was pulling her hair out, started her own company. She was looking for something as well, and that one didn’t exist. That’s a really cool opportunity. I was a part of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and part of YPO and around these entrepreneurial groups. When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s a very different DNA than now partnering with someone or being president of an organization. What got you to change that? Was it to have a partner or to have a counterpart? What was it that got you to shift?
I felt like it was my third act. I felt like I had worked for an agency, worked my way up to President at that agency, sold the agency, and then stayed on for two years as GM for this very big organization. Then I left and started my own agency. I had that agency for more than ten years. I was a mom with two kids, and that my kids were at the age where they had become more self-sufficient. I was trying to figure out what my third act would be. I thought that I had a unique perspective because I had run my own agency before. I thought that I could come in and have an understanding of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, but also be able to contribute in a way I hadn’t contributed before. That has been a lot of the joy that I’ve gotten out of this job.
Why do you think she was willing to partner with you? Again, it’s now an entrepreneur looking at another entrepreneur. What was it that made her say, “This would be a perfect fit?”
We had years of meeting up every six weeks to talk about how our organizations worked. I think she understood the way I think. She also understood that I had an expertise in something that she didn’t. She felt like we could add that into the mix and be successful quite quickly.
It’s interesting when you said you had a six-year interview process. When I went in as the second-in-command for 1-800-GOT-JUNK, Brian and I had been in a EO forum together for four and a half years. He’d seen me build two other companies. He’d been my best man at my wedding, and then I joined him as his COO. You already had the trust. You already had the relationship. You guys really hit the ground running then.
It’s so funny to be an entrepreneur looking at other entrepreneurs and being able to have perspective. One of the things that I worked on quite a bit when I got here is getting everybody to up level their participation in the company. When you’re an entrepreneur and you start doing everything sleeves rolled up, hands-on, you feel there’s a lot of value in what you do, in being involved in so much of what’s happening.
When I got here, they had never had a president before. I was taking on some of the things they were doing. Much of my first 6 to 12 months were explaining to them how much value they brought to the company that didn’t have to involve day-to-day elements. That we would be more scalable, better equipped to take on bigger clients, and grow faster if their expertise of their experience is what they contributed, and their understanding of clients and their relationships is what they contributed more than being in the weeds.
I don’t know if I could have told myself that in my own company. Being at somebody else’s company, I was able to step in, know what it feels like, really have empathy for being an entrepreneur, and know why they have that feeling, and also have a different perspective and be able to explain to them, “You have value outside your hands-on participation in the company.” That has been the best part of our partnership. It’s because they’ve been able to grow and step away and do more and contribute in a bigger way because they feel confident that the work is going to get done because I’m here.
Your first act when you were the President of a company and you helped build and sell the company and then you stayed on as President for a bit, what do you think you learned in that first act that you carry with you today? What were some of the skills, the leadership skills, the wisdom that you now have?
As leaders, we’re in a very different place than we were when I started in my twenties. The reason I say that is that we used to be very focused on the bottom line. It was very business-focused. There wasn’t as much mixing of what’s going on in your personal life, in your emotional life as there is today. Having come up in my twenties at a time when it was harder for women to make it to a C-suite, and it is still not easy now.
I’ve told this story many times. I had an employee who reported to me that made a RebeccaColemanSucks.com website. I was very tortured as a female leader. For the same thing that men were considered bold with big ideas and smart, I was bossy. It really prepared me for this new wave of leadership because the new wave of leadership is so focused on empathy. So much about understanding who your people are, what their life experiences have been like, and how that comes to the table. I can’t claim to have the same experience that marginalized groups have had.
Right, but you have yours.
I have an experience being an outlier in an industry and figuring out how to gain respect, and how to have a thicker skin and how to find my way. I feel like that’s what I bring most. I try to think about what that experience and hazing was like. I’m bringing it every day to my job that I’m in right now.
First off, I’m extraordinarily jealous because no one’s ever made a CameronHeroldSucks.com website. That would be just thank you. That’s a next rung of the ladder that you ended up. I don’t think you’re old enough to remember, but did you ever see Fucked Company? Do you remember that?
That was amazing. That was like 1998, ‘99, the rise of the dot-com era. I just remember it was like a real bad version of Glassdoor. It was like the flip side. It was like how bad the company was. I need you to pretend for a second that the person who did the RebeccaColemanSucks.com website was right. What was one thing that they were right about that you’ve changed? We all sucked at some point. Where were you too hard or too mean or too bossy?
The number one thing that I’ve learned is that not everybody has equal capacity. What I mean by that isn’t skills or ability to be developed, but just capacity to take on the stress of day-to-day work. That means that you have to adjust expectations. I had the expectations that I had for myself, for everyone, and I think that I determined they weren’t good if they didn’t have the same as I had.
My creative director who’s been with me for many years used to do this thing where I would ask him about something, and I’ve worked with creatives my whole career. I used to ask him about something and he would say, “I want to sleep on it.” It would drive me crazy because I’m like, “You just don’t want to make the decision.” I felt like it was just deferring the decision. What I realized eventually after I stopped letting it bother me, is that when he slept on things, he actually did come back with a more thoughtful response and a more considered approach. At first, I would just push him and I’d be like, “You can sleep on it, but tell me what you think right now.”
“Sleep on it later.”
When he’d tell me what he thought right now versus sleeping on it, it was very different. I realized he doesn’t have the capacity to think through all of the parts right in that moment. The way his brain works is that he needs to think, give it a break, wake up, think again. He has a much more interesting take than he would have had earlier if you pushed him. That’s a really important lesson, and I see it.
That is the thing I see most in young managers today. They have people that report to them, and there’s all this work to do because remember, our parents waited for a return phone call sometimes for days. We have clients that get frustrated when they emailed us in the morning and they haven’t heard by noon. It’s very different.
You have employees, young managers, they’re managing talent and they’re frustrated. The talent hasn’t responded by noon. The email comes in, they’re frustrated that they haven’t responded by noon because they would have responded by noon, but the subordinate didn’t respond by noon. It’s the same kind of thing where I find myself teaching that lesson often, which is that sometimes they’re not quite there yet in managing all the parts. They just don’t have the experience or capacity, and they have to build capacity. They have to figure out the way to manage all of those items and that comes with experience. People can be very black and white. They’re not good. They’re not responsive enough. You can learn to be responsive.
You can totally learn to be responsive. It’s funny that if I think back to that, I remember my old business partner years ago said to me, “Why would I need an email?” Forget about getting a response back. Now, it’s a $900 million company. It was a huge auto collision chain. “Why would I even need an email?” They’re a different breed right now, for sure, that we’re having to work with.
My first agency, we worked in entertainment, and we would have to film what the internet looked like on a computer to show entertainment executives on tape because they didn’t think they needed the internet on their computers.
That’s hilarious. You get to video it for them and send them a video through cassette tape. Then COVID hits, you’re running your second company, your second act. You were running an experiential marketing agency at that time?
No, that’s what they had. They had a PR and experiential. We had a digital creative agency.
Her business got slaughtered on the experiential side then. What was that like then doing the merge during COVID? You’d gone remote. You weren’t remote before that, were you?
No, we had big office space and 10,000 square foot studio to shoot things. We were very much based in physical location. It was probably easier. That’s the best way to say it. People say that even good stress is hard. Getting married, even though you’re excited, it’s still really hard. It’s stressful. Moving, even if you’re moving to a new house, that is your dream home that you could afford. The physicality of it is very stressful.
Working in a remote environment allowed for us to focus on how we were going to work together and really over-communicate because we weren’t thinking that there would be nonverbal cues. We weren’t thinking, “I’ll see you at the office.” We were thinking, “How are we going to do this in this primitive way?” I think it made it easier.
Do you think companies are planning differently now that we’re all remote? What do you think has changed for the better with working remote for your business?
One thing I know for sure is we always had a New York office when I had my own company. The New York office always felt like they were on an island, and they were because New York is one. They often would be on that little triangle in the center of a room, and we would be swirling around especially with an idea agency, and that’s why creative agencies have always typically been together. We’d be swirling around with these ideas, and a little voice would come out of the box. A little squawk would come out of box. Sometimes they’d be heard and sometimes they wouldn’t.
Let’s be honest, sometimes they gave up. Sometimes they stopped talking. They just took notes. This is exactly why I thought this will never work for a creative agency. It’s fine for other things, if you’re in performance marketing or other industries within marketing. I thought it would never work, but I realized in pandemic that we didn’t orient ourselves around it working. We worked the way we normally did and then dialed in a couple people in another location. Those people were always the outlier versus everyone being distributed. It really forced us to figure out, “How do you brainstorm where everyone can contribute?” What we’re doing right now being on Zoom versus being on the phone is one of the big factors that helped us get there. Everyone being in the room.
What tech tools are you using to collaborate and brainstorm? Are you using stuff like Stormboard? Are you using any virtual whiteboarding software? What are you doing to actually tactically brainstorm creatives?
This company that I joined is owned by a small holding company based in Canada, actually. It’s called PlusCo, and they own Cossette, which is the largest agency in Canada. They’re very small compared to US advertising holding companies, and lovely. There is nothing that we fought harder for than Slack. Slack is our main tool.
The reason Slack is our main tool is because so much of what we do is based on what’s happening in the zeitgeist. It is 110% essential to our business, and not only internally, but also in dealing with clients. It has a lot of tools. First of all, obviously the immediacy of it, but it allows us to huddle very quickly and also allows us to attach documents but not have to sift through email.
Obviously, it’s almost got its own file system because it’s separated by client. Those client groups join those channels, and you always know what’s going on. You did ask me earlier about Universal. We launched the Minions brand on TikTok a few months ago. We are about to hit 3 million followers, and we got there with the help of Slack. This is not a sponsored ad.
We really got there with the help of Slack because we pride ourselves on understanding the velocity of trends. To hit a trend at the exact right moment, you have to have people being responsive immediately. You can jump on a trend at any time, but if you don’t get it on its way up, you’re going to miss the wave. You’ll just be another brand that jumped in but not get the momentum that you want to build.
I’ve got to go back to where I want to go with the marketing side. Here’s a question for you. How do companies select the marketing agencies that they should work with? I know that’s a really broad question, but what do they look for? How do they decide? I was just asked by a client who’s looking for not the kind of stuff you do, but more on paid search and some video stuff. I’m like, “I don’t know. Your budget is not big enough. You’re $50,000 a month and the people I know are $80,000 to $100,000 a month minimum.” How do you go about selecting agencies if their budgets are bigger or smaller?
Most of the time they issue an RFP. It will ask overall questions. In our case, it’s going to give you a sample challenge or initiative, and ask how we would approach it. That’s their process for selecting. A lot of what we do in our response is say no to things that we think won’t work, which is I think a part of what matches us with the right clients for us.
If they trust you and they’re okay, then we won’t do those things and they’re deeper down your funnel already. They’re trying to listen to as an expert then.
What happened is people really love earned media. People love earned because it feels, and I’m going to say it for lack of a better term, free because it’s earned. You’re not paying for every impression you’re getting. Earned has changed so much. We used to all read newspapers and magazines, and consume these more physical publications, and TV used to be more consolidated. Now, as you know, there’s a million streaming that don’t really even have commercials, and then there’s skippable commercials and all of these things. Even in digital, there are fewer places that have mass audiences than there used to be.
People come to us. Let’s say, you have a product and you come to us and you say, “I’m really coming to you because I want earned, and you guys say you’re an earned-led creative agency.” Let’s say it’s a product that has technology. No one really wants to write about products and their technology when you go out there and pitch earned. Sure, you can get a couple articles if there’s a differentiator, but that’s not the space that earns in anymore.
Even if they came to us with an $80,000 a month budget like you’re talking about, we have to say to them, “We could take your $80,000, tell you that we’re going to get you earned, then in six months, you’re going to say, ‘You didn’t get us enough earned.’” We have to say to them, earned works differently now. What you’re getting earned media on is creating programs and earned-led campaigns that you use to build amplification. The amplification is a combination of pitching those stories based on what you’ve created and supporting it with, let’s say, influencer or social or other elements that help create that groundswell of amplification that we’re trying for. If they come back and say, “No, we really just want PR.” We oftentimes say, “We really don’t want to take your money.”
I’ve got a friend of mine who owns a PR agency in Vancouver. She’s got about 80 or 90 employees right now. It’s called Talk Media. She used to run my PR team at 1-800-GOT-JUNK. She’s been talking the same thing that PR as I knew it is completely changed. It almost doesn’t even exist anymore, pitching journalists.
Exactly, it’s such a small part of the job.
Talk about what you’re focusing on day-to-day then. How do you and your partner at The Narrative Group divide and conquer? How did you decide to split up tasks?
There are two founders at The Narrative Group. I met the second one when I was brought into the fold when this idea came to be. They each have an expertise that I don’t have. That is probably why this works so well. One was a PR expert and the other was an experiential expert. I’m the one that came with creative experience. We each have our ability to contribute in a way that is very identifiable for the entire team. That said, probably the best part of coming on board was for me to learn those two parts of the business that I never knew I needed, but now I really love, and I love integrating into the work that we do.
In terms of day-to-day right now, I don’t know if you’ve heard this from people, but I feel like so much of my time is spent on what is going on in the world and how much it affects people and the brain they bring to work. I send a lot of all company emails and have a lot of forums for talking about those things that are affecting the people that work for us.
It really has become that relevant, hasn’t it? For leaders to have that EQ, that people are just human and we’re going through this human condition and struggle, and none of this crap actually matters. If you’re not completely in tune with that, they’re not bringing them their best selves. How do you balance the need for being aware of what’s happening in the world and what’s happening in their lives, and being there and supporting them and making sure that leaders are aware of that and getting things done?
It’s really hard. We have two things happening right now. We have our own version of long-haul COVID. We have been in this. There is a wide spectrum of feelings about it. There are those people who want to get back out into the world and are very bullish about it. There are those who are very frightened still of human interaction and feel that we’re not over the hump. On top of that are all the things that are happening in the world, mass shootings and the racial reckoning that’s going on in our country and continues, Roe v. Wade decision, both the leak and the recent Roe v. Wade actual decision. It’s catastrophic for many, and they have a hard time working.
I’m a very empathetic leader. I used to say that the hardest thing for me with running a company was people because I like and care about them too damn much that I had to do all my work at night so I was there caring for people. How do you help them compartmentalize? Or is it just because you’re empathetic then they can have a voice and they can then get to work? Is that the balance? Is that the lesson here?
I don’t have all the answers. I’m still learning in many of these cases. There are two main factors. One is listen, being a great listener. As I said with my story about sleeping on things, sometimes people have a perspective that you didn’t think of. The second is action. I don’t send emails anymore or have forums for discussion that don’t have an action element involved. When there’s a mass shooting, it isn’t, “This is really tragic. Our thoughts and prayers go out.” What we try to do as an organization is say, “We want to offer opportunities for us to make a difference as an organization.” It’s a lot of work because just saying thoughts and prayers is easier as a leader saying, “I’m empathetic. I know this is going on. I know you’re thinking about this.”
What we want to do is offer information, ideas, the opportunity to contribute, and something action-oriented. Right immediately after those two back-to-back shootings, and I’m talking about the one that happened in New York and Buffalo and the one that happened in Texas in the school. There was a coincidentally coming right up, National Gun Violence Awareness Day. As a part of that day and weekend, there were events that you could get involved in almost every state in the country.
We offered to help people find events. We offered people the day off on the Friday, which is the day it kicked off for participating in those events. You were supposed to wear orange on the first day of it to build and drive awareness. Every single employee could get either an official T-shirt or an orange T-shirt of their own, and we would reimburse them. It’s very small. We’re not making as big of an impact as we want to make, but we have decided that taking action makes people feel empowered to take their own action and not just helpless while the world burns around them.
Similarly, with the Roe v. Wade decision, we assured our employees, and we do have employees in states that are affected, that our coverage covered therapeutic and elective abortion, that they were covered to fly to another state for medical procedures. As a part of the holding company, we had made a $30,000 donation to Planned Parenthood to really try to help the marginalized groups who don’t have a company who is saying, “We’ll fly you to another state.” Again, $30,000 is a nice size but very small in comparison to how much is needed.
I want to be clear. I’m not trying to get accolades with you or the people I’m sending these emails to. I’m just trying to have people feel like we’re not just in this swirl of feeling helpless and just giving us an opportunity to try to make even some small difference in the cards we’ve been dealt.
I have a feeling you’re an amazing leader to work with. I want to pretend that there was another blog post that just came out on the RebeccaColemanSucks.com website today, and there’s a new thing that you suck at. What are you working on? Because we’re always working. Ray Kroc from McDonald’s said, “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you’re rotting.” What are you working on today as a leader that you’re trying to get better at?
I don’t know if this job will ever be done, but I am continuing to try to better understand how to be an inclusive leader, especially as it relates to DEI. We are working very hard and have committed to have 50% of our staff be from historically underrepresented groups by the year 2024. We have made a commitment to get there, and we are doing our part. Obviously though, hiring people and having a staff helps because they can contribute to the efforts, but that’s only step one. People need to feel they are heard and are developed and have growth potential and belong. I’m working on that.
You know what I love about what you just said though was a goal that your company is working towards is the timeline on it is only two years out. It drives me crazy when I hear government officials say, “By the year 2035,” I’m like, “You’re going to be dead.” That’s several years from now. Put a goal in place that at least is close enough. I love that you actually have an initiative that you’re focusing on that the window is not that far out too.
In terms of the operational day-to-day, I’ve always believed that the leader’s job is to grow people. I launched a course called Investing Your Leaders. I’ve always been there to try to grow people’s skillset and grow their confidence. With the people that you’re working with that are your direct reports, let’s just say that you’ve got your management team. Where do you find yourself working with them the most? Have you got core areas or skillsets that you focus with them on? Or are you just very situational?
I have to tell you something about me that sounds similar to something about you. Our Head of Accounts and Strategy has worked with me for 20 years, and I’m only 29. You do the math on that one. I told you our Creative Director has worked with us for nine years, our Head of Brand Experience, which is where experiential sits, worked for me for quite a while, left, and then came back to work with us again. We have a small media practice, and the person who runs that is on year seven of working with me. I brought people with me who, I think in this world it is rare to have that much loyalty and that close of a connection of people.
I balanced that humble brag with what I’m about to tell you I’m working on, which is the turnover is insane right now for all companies, especially in our industry. It is really hard because it used to be, if you gave people opportunity, if they had cool stuff to work on, if you were a good leader, if you were empathetic, that meant people were staying.
That was 5 to 10 years for sure.
Now, we have people quite literally crying, saying, “This is life-changing money. I love it here. I’ve got to go stockpile. Maybe I’ll come back.” We’ve had a couple of boomerang employees. We’ve had people leave for the money and come back. I never tell a person not to take a role. I might make an offer. I might say, “Is there anything we can do to keep you?”
I need to put myself in their shoes, “Is this life-changing money for you? Is this going to fundamentally give you an opportunity that fundamentally changes the way that you live?” Which I guess is the same as life-changing, I just said that in a different way. If it is, I get it. When you have an employee being offered $50,000 more, the books just don’t work that way. Here, I can’t just make $50,000 materialize, and I can’t make it materialize for the number of people coming in and saying that. A one-off is a one-off, but that’s not what’s happening right now.
I like your approach of just saying, “We can’t really stop them.” You just have to understand and sometimes let them go and come back.
What I’m working with my managers on is, first of all, not being too hard on themselves about it. You’ve seen all the LinkedIn posts, “People don’t leave good companies.” That was the mantra. That’s just simply not true anymore.
I built the number two company in Canada to work for us. I understood what company culture was like and how strong it was. I coached the number two company on Glassdoor. It’s different now partially because COVID has accelerated it. Now, we’re competing against every Bay Area company worldwide. They’re now hiring in Iowa, Florida, everywhere. We’ve got to build way better companies. We just have to also draw the line in the sand, and sometimes let them leave and come back. It’s a weird time.
My approach now is I want managers to continue to work on themselves, continue to work on their relationships, continue to understand the needs of their employees and develop them, of course. Recognize superstars, know how to stay ahead of their needs, and that’s a really big theme that I have. It’s like, “How do you stay one step ahead? How do you offer something before someone asks? How do you know where they are in their thought process?” All of that. Of course, I want all of that. I also want our managers to understand that sometimes this is bigger than they are, and that they can’t let it bog them down in changing everything they do to try to orient themselves around keeping people.
It’s destructive for them to think that there’s something so wrong with them as a leader because of the past narrative for sure.
The other thing I’m asking them to do is to figure out how to build better matrix, the work, so that one person leaving isn’t leaving us high and dry. If we know that ten years are shorter, how can we plan for shorter ten years? If we can’t effectively change that, if right now the moment we’re in is that people spend a year, 18 months, 2 years, then we need to plan for that cycle, and be surprised and delighted when it lasts longer than that. How do we plan for that cycle? How do we have more people touch the work? I’ve been banging this drum, more people touch the work. McDonald’s is our biggest client. If you have one person touch McDonald’s and that person leaves, not only are we all scrambling, but McDonald’s might leave.
It’s like you said, it’s not if they leave, it’s when they leave because we know they’re going to because they’re moving faster.
We just have to adjust.
You’re the first leader I’ve actually heard speak that way about it as well. It’s like, “Why fight it? If that’s what it is, let’s just plan for it and be ready for it.”
You asked and I did not say this. My dad worked for IBM for 40 years. He went to Vietnam for the US government because he was ROTC in college. He came home and he worked for IBM his whole life. My father was a person that I talked to all of the time about business. My dad died in 2019, right before pandemic, and that’s probably part of the reason I made a change in my life because it was a very big change in my life to have that happen.
One of the things he used to ask me about all the time was turnover and loyalty. It was a thing that was obviously very important to him. He stayed at the same company for 40 years. What’s so interesting about that is because of that, because I grew up in that way, it took me a long time to let go of that. That’s why my thinking is so radically different now, because I’m like, “I can’t solve that piece. It’s out of my control now. What is in my control?”
It’s really super intelligent way to think about it too. I remember taking, I think it was judo when I was really young, and it was like, “If the big person comes running at you, you can’t push back at them. You just turn sideways and put your leg out and they’ll trip over it.” You use the momentum against themselves. It’s what we’re doing now. If they’re going to leave, why fight it? Let’s just be ready for the trend. The last question, I want you to go back to the 21, 22-year-old Rebecca Coleman. You’re just getting ready to start out in your career and business. What advice would you wish you’ve known back then that you know to be true today?
Worry doesn’t change outcomes.
I’m the biggest worrier out there.
This is a mantra that I have only come into in my 40s, which is you can be the greatest worrier. You can be a prized worrier, Guinness Book of World Records worrier, it will not change outcomes. The worry does not change outcomes.
It’s huge. I love it. That’s a good one for me to listen to as well because I am the world’s worst at it at times as well. I will work on letting that one go. Rebecca Coleman, President of The Narrative Group, thanks so much for sharing with us on the show.
I love talking with you. Thanks for having me.