Health tracking is essential because of how you can measure the effectiveness of your company’s processes. That’s why on this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast, with Dr. Jeremy Weisz, he profiles COO Sarah Shepard. She is the COO at StringCan Interactive, a company that believes in putting strategy before tactics, and helps clients navigate the intimidating world of strategy.
She discusses company health-tracking characteristics to consider when hiring a COO, maintaining healthy dialogue between integrator and visionary, and lagging and leading indicators of company health.
0:26 – Dr. Jeremy Weisz shares the best solution that makes documenting standard operating procedures drop-dead easy, highlighting a 14-day free trial. No credit card required.
1:44 – Dr. Weisz introduces Sarah Shepard and the company she works at.
2:24 – Ms. Shepard explains what it means to track a company’s health.
3:46 – Ms. Shepard expatiates on the scorecard, and how to implement it.
5:40 – The guest explains how often they monitor the company metrics.
7:21 – The guest speaker gives examples of times she changed metrics on her scorecard.
9:27 – The guest expands on what she meant by “ROI (return on investment) is tricky.”
13:29 – Ms. Shepard gives more examples of leading/lagging indicators.
17:00 – The guest gives examples of good characteristics to consider when hiring a new COO, using the relationship between her and her CEO as an example.
21:17 – The guest talks about how she manages to maintain a healthy dialogue between her, the integrator, and her CEO, the visionary.
25:11 – Ms. Shepard shares more on how she connects deeper with her CEO by checking in on a more personal level.
27:12 – Ms. Shepard talks about work manufacturing marketing, and how she works with clients who don’t understand strategy before tactics.
Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now let’s get started with the show.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, host of the Process Breakdown podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done. Michael Gerber of the E-Myth and many, many more. Check out other episodes. Before I introduce today’s guest, Sarah Shepherd with StringCan Interactive, this episode is brought to you by SweetProcess. And Sarah, I don’t know if he could relate to this, but have you had team members ask you, this a rhetorical, have you a team member ask you the same questions over and over again and it’s maybe the 10th time you spent explaining it? There is a better way, there is a solution. SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: And I was talking to one of the founders, Owen, not only do universities, banks and hospitals and software companies use them, but actually first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations. And you can use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time, your team’s precious times. You can focus on growing your team and empowering them, so you can sign up for a free 14-day trial, no credit card is required. You can go to SweetProcess.com. It’s sweet like candy, S-W-E-E-T process.com. I’m excited to chat with today’s guest, Sarah Shepherd. She’s the chief operating officer of StringCan Interactive. And we’re going to go deep on some really interesting topics. And they believe in putting strategy before tactics and strategy can be a scary world that sounds expensive and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. And that’s what StringCan helps you do. Sarah, thanks for joining me.
Sarah Shepard: Thanks for having me Jeremy.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I want to talk about lagging leading indicators and how do you monitor a company’s health? And can you just start there? What do you mean by that lagging and leading indicators and tracking companies health?
Sarah Shepard: You really have to start somewhere. So, when people say, “What does success mean?” It’s actually sort of the first step that we took to figuring out our scorecard as we call it, because we run on EOS. And so it’s like, how do you know if you’re successful or not? Well, I have no idea, it’s just a gut feeling. Well, people, especially like me, if you’re in the operation’s role, you love data and metrics and you really want to know what’s successful. And so I think, making sure that every person in the organization has a number, it drives accountability, it makes people feel like they’re actually successful in their role. And if they’re not hitting those goals or the metrics, then it’s a way to give them help in a really specific area versus trying to solve something that’s not the problem, which often a lot of us are led down a rabbit hole of figuring out how to solve something and it really isn’t the root issue.
Sarah Shepard: And so, trying to have a mix of the lagging and leading, which can be a little tough, but just kind of recognizing it’s a living thing. We change our scorecard maybe once or twice a year, but we always audit it every single quarter.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Talk about the scorecard and how you implement a scorecard.
Sarah Shepard: Yeah. So really just getting started. Can you make sure that every single department, maybe you just start there versus every person having a number. So if you’ve got a leadership team of an EOS or three buckets, finance, sales, and then your sort of services department. Can each of those have at least one number that would help you identify if it’s a healthy department or not? And so, some people just pick some numbers, there are tons of templates out there. You could start with discovery calls or client projects overdue or cash in the bank, but then you kind of start thinking about, “Do I have control over any of those numbers?” Are you giving someone a number that they don’t actually have any kind of control over? And we’ve gone through that quite a bit with our sales and marketing team.
Sarah Shepard: And we really just nailed it down to one number that we could create an issue out of if it. It was off-track, for example. And so, just kind of making sure, does your team need to know how much cash is in the bank? Is that something you could share with the operations and the CEO? So not all of those numbers have to be shared across the whole leadership team, but can you have at least one, and is it just enough? Is it just enough that it gives you a headstart on an issue? So for example, if you’ve had zero discovery calls, four weeks in a row, your pipeline is probably pretty dry. So that’s an issue, then nail it down. At least you know where to start, that it’s maybe not that process. Let’s go back a few steps and kind of start auditing your process as you go along and get yourself some solutions before that number hits zero again.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: How often do you monitor that, the discovery calls?
Sarah Shepard: Weekly.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Weekly.
Sarah Shepard: Yeah, weekly. We have a leadership team, every single Monday, a leadership team meeting every single Monday. And so, every Monday we have a handful of numbers. There are seven numbers currently that are reported. And then I have a same page meeting every Friday with the CEO and I report so many finance metrics and you can do them weekly, monthly, annual, or quarterly. And so I report, I try to have at least one number for each of those time periods. Our CEO loves to have a dashboard of sorts and so this is how I give him visibility into the company’s health financially, so that he doesn’t feel like he has to ask me questions. He can pop in there anytime. And worst case is he’s a week behind. And I think it’s really helped us stay focused.
Sarah Shepard: Last year. We actually had our quarterly meeting was supposed to be right when COVID hit. So we kind of waited a few weeks when everything settled down and our implementer actually insisted that we stay on track with our goals. He said, “It’s not the time to kind of edit your goals just because this is happening. See what you can do, just see how far you can get make it a BEHAG and let’s was roll with it.” And our scorecard really helped us, I think, feel better about the situation, because there were numbers we could still control and it wasn’t so spiraled out of our reach.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: What was an example of, can you remember Sarah of an example that you had a number and you changed it or not what the number was, but what was it on the scorecard?
Sarah Shepard: So we have a couple of goals related to, we’re also a member of AMI, Agency Management Institute, and it’s four agencies, digital marketing and traditional marketing agencies. And so, we operate through a couple of their metrics. I actually use them in my scorecard. So I sort of double dip. That they have a formula that’s 99.9% of the time it means this is a healthy agency. And so, one of those was hitting a billable percentage for our client services team. And that number actually went interestingly enough, on the high side, it was almost like our team was too billable. They were just doing a lot of extra 1% to help keep our clients healthy and dealing with a lot of the stress. But we let it go on. There’s sometimes you have to kind of evaluate, is this working for us? And how do we keep our clients feeling happy and successful?
Sarah Shepard: And so, recognizing that you can go the last 1% and we were feeling really good about that number, but it also helps you dial it back, because sometimes that can be an avalanche of continuing to go down and almost delivering more than you’re charging. And so, it was very helpful for us to kind of get on the same page with our clients like, “Okay, we’re getting through this together, let’s now refocus and get things back on track in the marketing world.” And a lot of them did really well or at least maintained through most of the crisis.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: We were talking before and you mentioned talking about the different lagging leading indicators, and you mentioned saying ROI is tricky. So, I just wanted you to expand on that and have a conversation around what you mean by ROI is tricky?
Sarah Shepard: Yeah, marketing just changes so much. It’s almost impossible for a business to keep up with anything other than a partner or an internal team. It’s like a kid, they could just grow so fast and before you know, they’re going off to college. Marketing is kind of like that and trying to keep up with the changes in privacy laws and algorithms and just your competitors. So just the system itself, it’s not as simple as just picking some keywords and throwing them out there. So ROI is, it’s kind of backing up with our clients and finding their scorecard. What do you need to feel successful? What are your client goals? And sometimes it depends on the stage of their brand. So potentially it’s not just getting new customers. Of course, that’s always, the end result is making sure our clients make money and that they’re successful and they grow.
Sarah Shepard: But is it, “Hey, we just launched this brand new brand, we really need recognition.” Is it just getting more traffic to your website? So some of those things, a return on investment implies a financial component. And so things like content, for example, is typically very traditionally hard to justify the ROI on blogs or lead magnets or any type of content, because it’s just a part of the funnel or the buyer’s journey. And so that particular piece is really contributing to your SEO, your web traffic, your newsletter lists, just a million other things that it’s really hard to pin down ROI. And actually there are a couple of articles out there recently that if a marketing agency can promise you ROI, watch out.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. I mean, that’s like a top of funnel thing where it’s someone hits the page, they interact with it. At that point, they may opt into an email list and let’s say that company’s sales team is not that great or, well, then the article may have done its job, which collects a email or someone contacting them. But the rest is kind of up to that company to execute on. Is that kind of what you mean?
Sarah Shepard: 100%, yeah.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So there’s all these moving pieces. Did that one piece do what it’s supposed to do? Yes. But did it produce something on their end? Well, that’s out of someone’s hands at that point, there’s other departments or teams or things that will lead to that turning into a client or customer.
Sarah Shepard: Yeah. And the number of touches it takes now, it’s actually, I think increasing, because the touches are almost smaller, because the attention span and if you ever watch someone other than yourself scrolling through their feeds, it’s insanely fast. And just think that they’re scrolling through Instagram, how many ads they saw in a minute, and that potentially could have considered a touch. If they click on the ad, obviously that’s a real touch, but maybe it takes them four times as seeing that ad before they click on it. And so, it’s kind of funny seeing yourself as a marketer and you really want to click on that Instagram ad and oh no, now they’re going to show me more of these dresses. I don’t know if I want to see more. So, I’m just kind of a little patience and recognizing that all those pieces are puzzle pieces tying in and that your sales team can actually execute when you’re getting those leads.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: You talked about discovery calls, billable percentage. What are other examples of leading or lagging indicators?
Sarah Shepard: Yeah. I find leading indicators, we really evaluate this so often that it’s almost a little tough, but what we’re really looking for are issues. I’m actually looking to create issues. So, a healthy organization is one that can have those tough conversations. They’re actually creating issues. It’s actually not a great sign if you continue to not have, I’m using the EOS term issues, issues in your leadership meetings. If you can’t find things to make those tough conversations happen, there’s probably something going on. So our client services team has three numbers. I have three numbers and they’re actually not related to finance. My numbers are related to hours, because team health is really important. We were finding that trying to predict time in an agency, there is no silver bullet for a project management system right now. If anyone ever comes up with one, there’ll be set for life. Statues would be made in their honor. There have been proprietary systems built. So something I’m looking at is our team health and tracking hours, which does eight things.
Sarah Shepard: So it tells me how healthy our team is, how utilized they are, if they’re over-utilized, are we ready to hire someone? Is that an indicator of hiring? Because there’s always that chicken egg conversation happening. Do you have enough work for someone, but it takes at least eight weeks to find a new hire. In that time will your team get burnt out or will you have just enough work and do they have the time to train? And so, I actually can also find if there are issues within our partners or our network of freelancers, if reported hours for planning and then actual, if there’s a huge discrepancy, is there a client delay or an issue with a project or because of course in marketing, nothing ever goes according to plan, no matter how good your intentions are. So those are a couple of mine. And then our sales team, really discovery calls is the biggest scorecard item for her.
Sarah Shepard: It’s really something that gives us super-visibility into splitting her time in half and saying, “Okay, past the discovery call phase, we nail it.” We really resonate with the client at that point, they’re ready to move forward. So it’s anything before that filling the pipeline, is it, and she reports monthly on other indicators and our marketing tactics for within the agency. So, those are really, and we’ve kept it simple and it works.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. There’s just three numbers and that is hard. I mean, it’s hard to predict the hours piece and do we need to hire, do we not need to hire? Because if someone gets a big project, if you get a big project, well, all of a sudden everything changes potentially. So it’s very hard. So what should a company be looking at is they’re hiring a perfect COO like yourself. Okay. What would be a good, some of the characteristics if someone’s looking at hiring a CEO?
Sarah Shepard: Oh, what I think, one thing that worked for Jay and I, so I actually started at StringCan as his part-time administrative assistant. And I’ve held this maybe in my own mind. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this with anyone out loud, but I think finding someone and initially starting that kind of relationship, because if they’re a CEO and they’ve never, for example, maybe if they’ve never had someone as their right-hand man, you sort of have to pull the delegation piece out of them, especially entrepreneurs. They are just, it’s their baby, they really don’t want to let anything go. And that’s kind of how I got this role was really asking for forgiveness versus permission, because I saw how busy he was. And so, I kind of got a sense-
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Just taking stuff off of his plate.
Sarah Shepard: Exactly. Yeah. And I got a sense for the things that gave him energy and the things that didn’t, and we’re very lucky that naturally the two of us are very different. We’re a yin and yang. I am 100% an integrator and he is definitely a visionary. But making that relationship work is finding a mutual sense of respect. And we’re very good about one, we recognize that we’re both coming from completely different places. And if we want a solid answer to an issue, we both come at it with passion and we hear each other out and there’s always this awesome middle ground that comes out. And sometimes, you learn to pick your battles and acquiesce when it’s appropriate and learn from each other. So, there are actually cool groups, you can find what’s called a fractional integrator. So, I think of an integrator, it’s not always a COO type, but it’s that you’re really looking for that second opinion and to round out… It’s like having a sandwich with no meat or, no cheese.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Sounds terrible.
Sarah Shepard: Right. It’s just bread. And you’re only getting one side and you’re full on bread and you’re not holistically healthy and feeling satisfied. And so, you can kind of start with a fractional, which is a part-time type of integrator and finding out, is that something… I say that, because a lot of CEOs are visionaries, but not always fractional visionaries are very rare, but finding your gap I think is probably the hardest piece, because nobody wants to admit what their gaps are. But if you’re lucky, you’ll find those CEOs who are like, “Hey, I stink at integrating or doing the stuff. I hate doing this stuff. I just want to be in my whiteboard room and think all day have cool ideas,” and we call them shiny objects. And just making sure that that person, that you find really respects your vision. Sometimes we’ll go off on a tangent. And so, I really learned to ask Jay like, “What’s the end result here? What are we doing with this giant project?” And so, it really creates some healthy dialogue.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Just kind of want to talk about is how to best communicate if you’re an integrator and you are working with the visionary and to have that healthy dialogue. And I love that question. But I want to point out too, one of my favorite books, Rocket Fuel by Mark Winters and Gino Wickman, I think you could go on and take a test for free on their site somewhere. Maybe it’s a Rocket Fuel site or Mark Winter site on you get a score. If you are what your score is for integrator or visionary. It’s very interesting. And it’s called Rocket Fuel, because you combine the integrator with a visionary and then go to the moon, right? So talk the communication, Which is I love that question you asked, so you let the visionary talk, you want to have a healthy communication, there’s going to be a wake left behind on some of these projects where that you probably have to pick up the pieces is as integrator.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So one was, “What’s going to be the end result of this?” Are there any other things that you use to create a healthy dialogue and not that kind of, where you’re in each other’s space and feel like, “I’m not being heard.”
Sarah Shepard: Yeah. I’ve worked at roles where I’ve had that, where you just kind of feel like you’re talking to a wall or you’re not even asked your opinion. And I think probably one of the most important pieces of the Rocket Fuel methodology and EOS is the same page meeting. What’s interesting is Jay and I had actually adopted that unintentionally before we’d even heard of EOS and implemented it at the organization. We just started naturally having these weekly meetings and I found some old agendas and it was great because the same page format gives you a really specific set of things to go through. And the first thing is the segue, which is really both of you checking in on a personal level. And I think that’s really helped us both sort of break down that one, we feel like you have to be perfect or you’re suffering from imposter syndrome where something’s going on in your life you can’t share, because it means you can’t handle anything.
Sarah Shepard: So, just being able to check in on a personal level really sets the stage for, okay, now that that’s going on, you sort of have a peek into how the person’s going to respond or react or how they’re feeling. So, if someone’s going through a lot of really tough stuff personally, or they’re really busy, maybe they’re a little thinner than usual. And so, is that really the time to talk to the CEO about changing over your entire project management system or your billing system? Probably not. So, pick and choose and treat it like a relationship. It’s probably one of the most important relationships you might have beside a spouse or a really intimate family relationship and just being respectful. So, it did help us to take a couple of assessments. We did do the Rocket Fuel. What’s funny is Jay scored very, very high on the visionary, also high on the integrator. So, he gets my world, he just doesn’t want to be in it.
Sarah Shepard: And so, I found that very helpful, but we also took a Kolbe and a DiSC assessments, which helped us realize that the differences probably getting the Kolbe comparison was one of the most eyeopening, where I’m a huge fact-finder and he’s a huge risk-taker. And we’re both the opposites in the ones where the other’s strongest. So saying, okay, I recognize that you need all the facts before you’re going to make a decision. We have learned-
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: And that can be frustrating for a visionary CEO.
Sarah Shepard: Oh, and they hate it. They absolutely hate it. “They’re slowing my role, you’re killing my shiny object buzz.”
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I’ve taken the Kolbe. My wife took the Kolbe. We had actually a consultant do a joint session where they explained both of our Kolbe scores. So I think it’s amazing.
Sarah Shepard: I found that to be more helpful than trying to decipher it myself. It was actually through Strategic Coach they had suggested that. What’s interesting too, is that because I want the facts and I want to think about the answer, I actually, we develop RBF, our resting face. And so, Jay has kindly asked me to explain that. He goes, “When you’re in meetings, you look really upset about this topic.” I said, “No, not at all. I was really thinking there was a problem presented and I thought, “There’s got to be a solution,” and my mind went into solution mode.” He goes, “Okay, can you share that next time? Because I thought you were really upset.” And so, that’s been really helpful for us to just kind of say, “Hey, your body language means a lot. Can you share what’s on your mind?”
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So same page meeting, you guys did the assessments just so you can communicate better, but you check-in on a personal level, what else do you make sure to do in the same page meeting?
Sarah Shepard: We get to the issues. Typically, I think through the EOS model, you’re supposed to manage your same page meeting as long as it takes to get through those issues. But we have a standard one in a half hour. We’re a smaller organization, so time is very valuable. We actually just did a meeting audit and saved ourselves, I don’t know, probably 30 hours a month across the organization, but in that meeting, we really get to the heart of what’s going on. So, we’ll talk about what’s coming up, what’s happening, how’s the team doing and sort of ideate the future of the organization. So it’s never very long where we aren’t talking about the next quarter, the next year, the next five years, the next 10 years.
Sarah Shepard: Of course, we do that in our quarterly plannings and annual meetings, but really to keep the needle moving and make sure that we’re both on the same page, we literally do check that we’re on the same page in those meetings. And so, we end up going, “Okay, are we on the same page? You rate the meeting, how do you feel?” And what’s interesting is I always feel like he’s got to be overwhelmed in these meetings. I’m coming at him with all kinds of stuff, legal, finance, tax and he loves it, because it gives him a peace of mind that everything’s operating smoothly or if it’s not, he knows about it and that he can trust me to do my job and that he can go and find some shiny objects for us.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: So I want to talk about manufacturing marketing with profile precision extrusions, just to highlight what I mean by not everyone can understand, oh, strategy before tactics, what that looks like. So as that, as an example, can you talk about some of the things you did with them?
Sarah Shepard: Yeah. I think it’s kind of like a gut check for a lot of clients and businesses that come to us. Usually your marketing isn’t going well, or you have sort of outgrown your internal department and you really need some help. And so, it’s kind of like, “Help, I don’t know where to start.” And what we need to start with is what do we know? Where are you in the world? How are you being found? Are you being found? And so, there are a lot of these questions that clients may or may not have the answer to or at this point it’s probably outdated, because marketing’s moving so quickly. So, we do a lot of, put a lot of energy into the audits, where are you? If you don’t know where you’re starting from, it’s really hard to move forward. And then also to judge, if things are successful or not.
Sarah Shepard: And we are not fans of wasted spend, we’re very thoughtful about what we’re going to suggest to our clients. And nobody believes in everything is going to work for you. So I think really finding where’s your audience, which is your personas. And so, developing those personas is a lot of effort and energy and research, especially now with privacy laws and depending on the industry you’re in. Real estate, for example, housing laws and sort of navigating all of those nuances and then what, right? So once you have a then what? What are the tactics that I’m implementing? And so, starting with something to judge success. And typically, once we do that audit and find the roadmap for the business, then they know what to do next. And so, then it’s a way to get clients to understand where they are. And we typically will just start with a strategy project.
Sarah Shepard: If they’re interested in a long-term contract, that’s amazing, but we do recognize that it can be overwhelming for us to say, “Hey, here are all the things that you could possibly do be doing. Here are some suggestions.” And typically clients are like, “Wow, I really don’t like the flow of that,” and they’ll want to make changes to their website or they’ll recognize that other things are a priority. So it’s really eyeopening experience for clients.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Yeah. So they come in, whatever the issue is, you get a nice audit, as you can see where all the moving pieces going, what are the possible solutions to this problem? And then, kind of lay out here are the solutions, whether it’s, a website or Google ads and content or lead magnet or consultant, there’s a lot of things I know that you guys do as an organization. And then from there, kind of put a fix in place and it could lead to a longer term strategy and longer term solutions, but just start with something, because everything can be overwhelming. Is that about right?
Sarah Shepard: Yeah, aha, for sure.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: I want to first of all, to be the first one to thank you. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. This has been great. I’ve taken a page of notes on all these things and I want to encourage people to check out the stringcaninteractive.com. Are there any other places we should point people online Sarah, that’d be good to check out what you and the organization are doing?
Sarah Shepard: Well, check out our newsletter. We actually put a lot of really fun content out and we’re on LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram. Our Instagram is pretty fun. We keep it focused on our culture, but yeah, keep an eye out for us. We’re always looking for new people and growing, and exciting. I really appreciate you having me. It was really fun conversation.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: Awesome. Check out stringcaninteractive.com. Check out more episodes of the podcast. Check out sweetprocess.com. Thanks everyone.
Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up, go to sweetprocess.com, sweet like candy and process like process.com. Go now to sweetprocess.com and sign up for your risk-free 14-day trial.
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