INBOUND 2015, HubSpot’s industry conference for all things related to inbound marketing, was a massive and exhilarating event with more knowledge sharing and motivation than could be consumed by any one person over three days. That’s why we sent 6 WSOL team members to fan out and absorb all we could. There was something for everyone, including tracks for users, strategists, innovators, partners, and business owners. I spent my time in the latter track to get a sense of what other agencies are doing to stay on top of the rapidly evolving digital agency world as well as glean other tidbits of knowledge from those that have been there and done that, usually to great success.
At the end of the conference, there were two major themes I repeatedly heard that resonated with me personally as I continually look to expand and improve our company. As the title of this blog implies, these aren’t something you’d expect to come out of a super high-energy, future-focused conference like INBOUND, but these were lessons that are incredibly important to focus on and aren’t as negative as they sound.
The first was fear, or more specifically, the need to overcome your fear of failure in an always changing industry and not let it keep you from achieving success. Author Seth Godin’s keynote speech addressed the paralyzing nature of fear being the result of a basic instinct present in all of us that dates back to our primeval fight for survival; for early humans, if they did something that went against the norm or wasn’t known to be safe, they could quite literally die. While death is not necessarily a factor in most business decisions today, that instinctual aversion to risky behavior remains and continues to influence our actions. Being able to recognize that fear and still move ahead in a bold way is what differentiates the true leaders and innovators from the also-rans. Yet failure is still an ever present risk. In fact, failure should be expected. But how you bounce back from failure defines more about your future potential for success than the original effort you put in. Will you revert to the safer options after failing, or will you continue to be bold, or even bolder?
Knowing Who to Fire
The second theme I took away from the conference was the importance of firing employees. This doesn’t mean firing for firing’s sake or to improve the bottom line, or even firing for poor performance. Rather, it’s the realization that the company culture is a huge part of the success or failure of an organization, and not eliminating the bad apples that don’t align with your desired culture can have a serious detrimental effect on the company. While we often think of “company culture” as beer Fridays, free lunch Wednesdays, and bring your dog to work day, it’s the collective attitudes and personalities of each employee in the company that contribute to an environment that fosters these other characteristics. Therefore, if you want a company culture of collaboration and distributed leadership, you do not want to hire people that work better alone and require tons of hands-on management. If your vision for culture is based on positivity, passion, and a willingness to support others, hiring or retaining employees that spread negativity and a disdain for the company’s mission, whether they are high performing or not, is a destructive endeavor.
In one of the more dramatic moments in any session I attended during the conference, Cameron Herold, founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, called on every executive in the room who knew of an employee in their company that detracted from morale or didn’t uphold the perceived values of the company, i.e. bad apples. After more than half of the room stood up, Mr. Herold challenged them to return back to their businesses the following Monday and immediately fire the employees identified. Nervous laughter and quickly sitting down aside, he made a very important point that the failure to remove the problems in a company can be far more costly than trying to “save” employees or keeping them around out of loyalty or friendship. In the end, if the employee is a bad fit, you are not helping that employee or their career by continuing to keep them around. Better to fire them quickly and help that person find the right position elsewhere than to slowly drain them of passion and motivation for their work. Furthermore, relating back to company culture, you cannot expect a culture to be a certain way if you do not have employees that align to that culture. Removing the misaligned people and hiring carefully to ensure cultural fit is the surest way of building the company you want.
Aside from these themes, there was plenty of fantastic knowledge sharing to be had on all things inbound marketing. The scale of the INBOUND conference requires a team to divide and conquer to get the most out of it. We are definitely excited to send a team from WSOL again next year to see how the movement has progressed and what our place in it will be.