Agency Unfiltered - Ranya Barakat from IDS Agency

Hiring and Retaining Top Agency Talent

All the way from Santiago, Chile, Ranya sits in to share how she’s been able to build an effective team for her agency. We talk about her candidate pipeline, her interview process, and her focus on professional development.

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Episode Transcript

This week, Agency Unfiltered sits down with Ranya Barakat, co-founder and general manager of IDS Agency. IDS Agency is an inbound marketing and sales enablement firm based in Santiago, Chile and Diamond, HubSpot partner. Ranya shares how she's been able to build an effective team by finding and keeping the right hires. She'll be the first to say they learn the hard way. We talk about how agencies can use inbound for building a candidate pipeline, how they created their culture code, what interviews at IDS look like, and then once hired, what professional development looks like for their team. Do you need help sourcing and hiring the right talent? You're in the right place. Let's do it.

KD: Ranya hello, thanks for joining us.

RB: Thank you Kevin. Thank you for having me.

KD: Of course, happy to have you. Welcome to Agency Unfiltered. We were just talking about team structure, finding the right hires, and keeping the right hires. Sounds like IDS has a really strategic way of finding the right employees, so I'd be interested to learn more about it.

RB: Sure, I'll be happy to share that. So we learned the hard way our first year because we're based in Chile and my partner and I don't speak Spanish. So our method of hiring was do you speak English? Yes, perfect join us! And we thought that was the perfect way to do it. And then we came to our first INBOUND and we were like it needs a lot more than just English. We realized that keeping the wrong hire in your company is actually more damaging because bad attitude is contagious across the team. So we took a very, very brave decision and changed our whole team overnight.

KD: That's not easy.

RB: No, it was super scary. It was very well planned, though, and then we put in this new hiring process where we inbound HR’ed it. So what we did was we documented all cultural code, so that we could start pulling in the right type of people and we focused our searches more on attitude and mindset rather than skill set, because we really believe, as it says in the Inbound Organization book, to do inbound you have to be inbound. Inbound is kind of a mindset, a way of life. So we looked, we get on to LinkedIn and we search profiles. We look for what volunteer groups they joined. What companies they follow. What famous people they follow, like influencers, and then we send them strategic messages. And if they catch the hook, we pass that to our HR consultant that does the official thing and then we use a lot of psychology tests and a DiSC profiling test. We have a profile for every job description and we try and match them, and we have a company wheel that has everyone in the team. And that's what we follow for our hiring structure. It's worked super well the last two years which is great.

KD: That's great. I think oftentimes, to your point, about the pains of bringing in the wrong person, right? If there's work coming in or if you close a sale, how do you balance the quality of candidates versus the urgency of needing an employee? But obviously, as you said bad fit, bad attitude. It's contagious, right?

RB: It's contagious and the other thing is as an agency because we're boot strapping it. So it's always been I need to hire one more person. I need to close two more deals. So it's the chicken or the egg.

KD: Yeah, exactly. It would be also helpful too, for context, how has the team grown overtime since you incorporated the new hiring model? How big is the team currently?

RB: At the moment we're 15. When we started it was my partner and I in the living room, and then we hired the three English-speaking people for our first year. And then ever since then when we changed our whole team, we went from my partner and I up until 15 people.

KD: So you mentioned that if we’re going to this the right way, let's build out our culture code, our core values and then kinda hire around that? How do you build out a culture code? How did you determine which values you wanted to prioritize? How did you build that list?

RB: Well, we looked at what is scalable and if we're going to follow the soul for the customer that's kinda what we did. So we sat down, my partner and I, obviously we use the HubSpot One as a reference, and we looked for, we tried to document what makes you more human. So it's things like being honest, being transparent, accepting failure, learning from failure, and they're all small really obvious things but a lot of people don't take them into consideration. And so that's how we structured it where it's mostly around the human element. It's like bringing the human back to work. Why does the work environment need to be so rigid, so serious, so square, you know? And we all make mistakes and we all grow and we all learn and that's the way it goes.

KD: That's great. Now you mentioned DiSC profiling. So there's some psychological elements too to surface some of that. So do you incorporate that into the hiring process, the interview process? Are they going through the DiSC quiz to map them on the chart?

RB: The way it works is so our HR consultant who does that preliminary interview goes through skills and that sort of attitude. How do they respond? How do they answer? And then if he approves the hire, he then does the DiSC test for them. He then sends it to us and we read the DiSC profile. We match it to the job profile, and if they match then we go into the second round of interviews. So we use it as a filter actually. Because we realized you can have the right hire in the wrong seat. So they won't be productive and everyone loses.

KD: Sometimes, too, it’s tough. If you find that A player, it's like maybe I don't have the right role for them right now but you just want to bring that body in and try to find the right role.

RB: Try to find the space for them, and because inbound is flat and there's so many touchpoints to get one thing done. So there's always room for someone. What we're doing now is anyone who joins, joins as an inbounder per se until they find their specialization, so it's the T.

KD: When you hire for attitude or alignment to your values, the other half of that coin would be their skill, right? And how they are as a marketer, a digital marketer, sales rep, or whatever it is. If you're hiring for attitude and cultural alignment, how do you then put the right process in place to train them up in inbound?

RB: We have a very serious onboarding process, so when they first come in, they have to do the Inbound certification. Then they do the HubSpot Software certifications, then the Inbound Sales certification. So it's like a step process of what they go through until they find their natural calling. What we do, or what we like to do. I don't know if they like it, we like it, is we really stretch them. So we bring them in. The first month is training, training, training, training. And then month two we just load them with a huge range of tasks, and we kind of leave them to figure out just to see how they respond to it, and how their attitude helps them get through it. Do they ask for help? Do they say, "I don't know." Small things like that, and that helps us determine what the next step is for them.

KD: Would you say the onboarding program is two months or so? Month one, just training and full preparation where onboarding is the primary task. Month two, give them a little bit of everything to see how they respond, but also where does it seem to be like a natural fit in regards to skill set?

RB: Absolutely, and then come month three we start to experiment with them in specific areas. So if someone comes in as an inbounder and then after month three we realize that they lean a little bit more onto the sales side, so in month three they join us. They shadow our sales person into the meetings, and if it works we continue to roll it out like that.

KD: You would ideally hope this doesn't happen, but let's just say you're going through this progression. You find out this employee, because you've gone through this with the English-speaking folks from the beginning of our conversation, they're not a good fit. How do you draw the line or where's the cut off and say: yeah this might not be working out?

RB: Well ever since we changed our hiring process to this new process we haven't actually experienced that.

KD: That's great.

RB: Now that I think about it.

KD: So as long as you put the right processes in place...

RB: It works.

KD: Now for the interview process itself, how formalized is that? I know some agencies are pretty standardized like: here are the questions we're going to ask, and here's the worksheet we're going to fill in our answers. But then some other agencies are off the cuff. Where do you fall in that balance?

RB: The first interview that they do with our HR consulting is in a semi-formal environment, and then once it reaches us we prefer the very open, transparent cultural, sorry not cultural, easy-going environment. So it's more of a conversation, so I usually start the interview saying hey, how are you? Duh duh duh. The purpose of this is for us just to have a chat to get to understand a little bit more about who you are. What you like. What you don't like. In Chile, that's okay, because they usually expect really rigid questions.

KD: Yeah, right. That's what their expectations are.

RB: And so there's checklists, and we ask them things like what are your hobbies? What do you like to do after 7pm? If you buy a new laptop, what are the first five apps you'd put onto them? Nothing about inbound, and usually I can see that puzzled look, but it seems to be working okay.

KD: That's great. And so would you even say that kind of line of questioning and how you’re more casual in the way you interview, is that a differentiator against some of the other competing companies? Do you guys lean on that as selling IDS as the right place to work for these candidates?

RB: In Chile, or in most of the town, what I've heard, I've never worked at a company in the town, but from what I'm hearing from my team and other people around is that because we're very casual but we work very hard, they're very happy working. Because the management style is not control, it's more about growth. It's more about I hire you because you know more than me, and that's not very common in Chile. And so when we allow them to grow in that manner and empower them to do it their way, they stay. Their retention rate is high.

KD: With a team of 15, some folks that might be watching us are in the same boat you are: maybe two or three employees and they're trying to grow to 15. You mentioned that you hire for inbounder and then you try to find the right fit for specialization. Out of the team of 15, how does the team structure look across the board?

RB: Right, so we have five inbounders that stayed as inbounders. We have five journalists, because just content obviously. And then we have our user experience designer. We have our front end developer, and then we have our strategist.

KD: What does the strategist do that differentiates from an inbounder?

RB: The inbounder is more of the hands on. It's an overlap between strategy and customer success or customer happiness, and that's the guy or girl that goes back to bringing the customer back to the goal. So when they request something, it's always how does that affect your bottom line?

KD: So they're the go between the inbounder in what they're producing, the work that they're delivering, and then to the client reporting results and things like that.

RB: Absolutely, we tried the structure that the inbounder works directly with the customer, but what happens is it's just too many things happening at the same time. So we split them, so everyone has space to enjoy the job and continue enjoying here.

KD: Now you mentioned there's one strategist. You're at 15. Would your 16th hire be a second strategist, or where do you see growth going from here?

RB: No, I think our 16th hire would be a data analyst.

KD: Interesting. What would they analyze in particular?

RB: Reporting across the board, because serving 18, 20 customers—it gets a bit tiring to see all of that data.

KD: That's a lot, yeah. Now, is your agency one that has their employees track time?

RB: Yeah, we're using a tool that has time tracking in built, but it's not time tracking to measure how many hours they're working, but it's more time tracking so that we can go back to our customers with accurate data saying, "This task takes this amount of time. "Is it worth it?"

KD: So it measures the hours put into the retainer total, not necessarily what the hours were across the employee level?

RB: Exactly, yeah absolutely.

KD: I got one or two questions left for you. Are there any other parting words of wisdom or any other tips that you found to be effective as you've been able to scale your team up to 15?

RB: Process, process, process. You have to have an established process. Document everything, because the process in your head is not a process.

KD: Where do you keep all of your processes?

RB: Our knowledge base.

KD: Knowledge base. That's great, perfect.

RB: Absolutely.

KD: Last question: what would you say thus far has been the weirdest part of agency life?

RB: I think it's in one day dealing with so many different industries and so many different personalities. So when we started we were working with small to medium companies. Now we're working with big enterprise companies, so you're dealing with CEOs down to scrum masters. All of that is overwhelming because you keep saying the same thing over and over to different people, but it's essentially the same thing. You realize this whole hierarchical structure is just voided space. You know what I mean?

KD: It's a great answer. Yeah, I think going and learning about all the different industries you work with, you just start to gain a lot of miscellaneous information about the most random industries and businesses.

RB: Absolutely. We have a very interesting customer that works in a very interesting space, I personally learned a lot. It was, I don't know if I should say this on camera, but it's penis reconstruction. So when you're dealing with that content, a lot of visuals, it's like okay....

KD: I think that fits the bill for an answer to that question. Well Ranya, thank you so much for being on.

RB: Cool, my pleasure.

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