037: Every Touchpoint Matters with Ben McCraw


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How does a brand present itself to its audience or potential buyers? Beyond your logo and marketing efforts, your brand manifests itself in every aspect of the business: how you treat your employees, the systems and tools that you build for your internal processes, the products you present to your customers, and how you interact with your customers.

It is important, for leaders within an organization especially, to become more conscious about the ways in which they are building (or potentially breaking) their trust with their stakeholders. Obviously, businesses are even more concerned today about the added challenges involved in maintaining relationships with existing clients and making new ones. But this new reality also increases the likelihood of a common culture-related mistake that already had a tendency to happen in pre-COVID times: an eagerness to please or save face with the client at the expense of the team. To thrive for the long haul amid crisis, it is important to prioritize the needs of the customer at the same level as those of your people.

Ben McCraw and Steve Chaparro discuss how to cultivate trust between team members in a work-from-home environment, and how to uphold structure and consistency within your organization while continuing to leave room for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Common challenges in working remotely and possible solutions
  • How leaders and employees can build trust between one another
  • Differences in how members of different generations perform their work
  • Building design teams for success
  • Stepping away from being ego-driven to being value-driven as a company
  • Co-creating with your client

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

About the Guest:

Ben McCraw is the former Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer at Accomplice, a strategic experience design firm that thrives at the convergence of digital and physical. Ben brings over 15 years of creative leadership to the table, including his previous role as Chief Creative Officer at Chaotic Moon Studios. He strongly believes that a brand relationship with his followers includes all touchpoints.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Studio Art + Graphic Design + Communication at Florida Southern College.

Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai


Welcome to The Culture Design Show where we feature conversations with leaders and thinkers who are passionate about culture and design. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Steve Chaparro 

This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio. This is where I help creative organizations transform their cultures, from being controlling to being collaborative. Now, here are some of the things that I’ve learned. Your creative talent demands a co-creative culture in order to produce their best work. But there’s a problem. So let’s see if we can recognize some of these signs.

There’s no framework to move your culture forward. You have high turnover and low morale. There’s increasing toxicity across all levels. There’s team engagement and satisfaction that are on the decline. There’s a misalignment between the employer brand and the employee experience. And there’s poor communication about expectations and values. So if you want to learn more about how I provide facilitation and coaching for your creative team, reach out to me at CultureDesignStudio.com.

My guest today is Ben McCraw, Chief Design Officer and co-founder at Accomplice, a strategic experience design firm that thrives at the convergence of digital and physical. Ben brings over 15 years of creative leadership to the table, including his previous role as Chief Creative Officer at Chaotic Moon Studios. He strongly believes that a brand relationship with his followers includes all touchpoints. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that today. Ben, welcome to the show.

 Ben McCraw 

Yeah, great. Thanks for having me.

Ben, I know you’re in Austin. I was in Austin, back in February, just about two weeks before kind of the world shut down, almost. I’d love to hear a little bit about your journey, your professional journey. What did that look like? Where did you start designing? How did that lead to this point today?

You know, I think early on in my career, you know, I’ve always been a designer. I mean, that’s, that’s who I am. That’s how I grew up. That’s my education. And that’s the majority of my career.

It’s always been brand-focused, I think even before I could articulate that what I really cared about was how a brand presents itself to its audience to its customer, to its buyer to its follower. Now, you know, on the surface that sits, that’s how it talks. That’s what you look like this might present yourself, you know, sure, your logo and your language, but much deeper than that. It’s every aspect of what you do.

It’s how you treat your employees, the systems and tools you build for your internal processes, the products that you present to your customer, the way in which they interact with those products, the way in which you greet them, or are we already asking them a whole bunch of questions up front before we even let them become a user? Or is one of your sort of pillars is you know, we’re going to get them in the door quickly. And sorry, my alarm went off, I apologize.

So I’ve always been focused in the digital space. And you know, and I think that’s just where the world is. And that’s where the industry has been. And, you know, about five years ago, we started talking more and more with a friend of mine that started a group called Designing Manufacturing and Design Manufacturing, purely focused on experiential. So a lot of that was South by Southwest installations, or, you know, AWS used to do a bunch of stuff in Vegas for that, or CES and just big brand activations.

Well, my partner Tyler and I started talking and you know, the customer journey, the brand experience, touches more than just the physical space, obviously, but we were seeing very few instances where those were consistent, where that customer journey from being a curious observer, to being a brand evangelist, and all those touchpoints in between, from, you know, learning about the brand, being interested in what they provide, going through whatever sort of services or product they provide, to being so blown away and bought into it that you’re telling all your friends about it.

That includes how you talk in the social channels that include how you pull something into your brand, but the physical spaces so important to that, how it answers the promise that the brand makes in the digital space.

So we started thinking about retail, as more of an experience, rather than just a place that you run in and run out. And obviously, we aren’t the first ones to think of this. But how do you legitimately pull that together? So my digital and my physical experience within the brand is consistent, and a seamless journey.

So you get into this year, and all that kind of hits the fan. So now where my brain is, is how do we still create the value that we used to receive within those physical spaces in a digital space, and I am working with a few clients on trying to figure that out these days. And then, you know, my introduction as Chief Design Officer of Accomplice, I am still technically the Chief Design Officer of Accomplice. But, you know, Accomplice is sunsetting, we are, unfortunately, shutting down.

We thought that was the right call for our company, in the right call for our employees and our awesome talented staff, as most of them have landed in really good spots, and been able to, you know, use their talents in other spaces, which we’re very, very grateful for. So, you know, just in context, everything we’re talking about today, you know, these are strange days.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, I appreciate that your willingness to share that part of your story, because I think, more and more we’re hearing from leaders across different domains, being able to have these really candid, vulnerable, in fact, courageous conversations about how this whole environment, this whole COVID environment, this whole disruptive environment has just disrupted, obviously, what would the world that we knew it and I think, when we talk about brand experiences.

And there’s so many things that are firing off in my head, as you’re talking about, all of these touchpoints in the brand experience is not just what you say, but it’s literally what a follower will experience at every touchpoint along the way. I had the opportunity in a previous episode two interview, the former Global Head of Employee Experience at Airbnb, and he was talking telling me how the founders, you know, coming from at least a couple of them were coming from a design background. And that this idea was taken from film, that every frame matters, it almost thinking of, in this case, a brand new experience every touchpoint matters.

And how do you cohesively think about that from the very beginning to the end? And even in the area of the workplace? You know, I think many times even there’s a lot of architectural firms when they’re helping these corporate environments design their physical workplaces. They’re thinking about that, how do you transform a creative workplace so that it enables culture? But now, the question that we’re asking ourselves, just like you’ve mentioned, about the retail area, is now how do we make the digital workplace a place where we can still thrive and be creative and still be connected? So it’s very interesting that you’re talking about brand experience in terms of physical activations of brands, but the very same, you know, principles apply to our creative teams and our creative organizations as well.

Ben McCraw 

You know, we’re all in this very exploratory learning phase right now. You know, Accomplice had always been primarily a remote force. You know, our thought process was we’re gonna hire the best talent anywhere within the country. Now, we did stay mostly within the United States. But, you know, when we started doing the experiential stuff that obviously challenged that approach, and we did end up having a pretty substantial headquarters here in Austin.

So when this all started happening here, and you know, March, my mentality was like, we’ve always been remote. Just recently, we’ve sort of shifted a bit, but my entire career has been remote. This is easy, no big deal. I feel differently about that now. There are the majority of the workforce has not primarily been remote in their career. So you know, it’s not as easy as, hey, let’s just do this. There are learning curves, there are expectations that need to change. There are tools that need to change. And, you know, we’re starting to see a lot of that happen now. I don’t have the answers, but I’m very curious. What does 2022/2024 look like within the workforce and where organizations going to be putting that budget that traditionally is facility budgets?

Right. So let’s talk about some of those transitions, even if all we have right now are questions, what have been some of the challenges that you’ve seen in one taking your team remote, or when you’ve worked with brands, where even their teams are transitioning to become remote? What are some of those challenges that you’ve seen?

 With our team directly? It’s been, you know, like I said, fairly seamless, just because we kind of initially had that culture. But, you know, clients is definitely a challenge, you know, you know, we’ve had even before we’ve been forced to leave the offices, clients that want us on-site in the office working, and the mentality was, well, if I can’t see you working, how do I know you’re working?

And, you know, and I think that’s bled into the manager, employee relationship, and in many cases, so, you know, you absolutely have to trust your workforce. Now, from a design perspective, I believe, actually, it’s probably all disciplines. But I’ll speak from, from what I know, from a design perspective, that trust has to be there.

Somebody’s not going to take risks, to follow their gut, to do their best work if they believe that you’re kind of over their shoulder, not trusting them. And that is a direct relationship, a direct sort of translation into this work for us all this silly, little illustration? And it was the manager and all of his anxiety around is my team performing. And then the and then it was the employees’ anxiety around why is my manager always watching me? And it’s this, like, it’s just a circle of anxiety that’s starting to happen. So that trust is gotta be there.

There are obviously different types of employees, different types of people, different types of personalities. But I do believe in order to be successful at home, there, you have to be that self-starter, you have to be self-motivated. You know, I think it’s super easy to tell the difference in person. Am I doing exactly what my manager asked me to? And that’s it? Or am I performing based on my potential and what I can do? That latter type of person typically has no problem at home, because they’re always going to perform based on their pride and their own work, results.

But even those people, there’s definitely a challenge. I mean, we got to be disciplined. You know, if you’re the sort of OCD type, I feel like, I fall in this category, sometimes like my entire house has to be cleaned and vacuumed before I can read my email. Yeah. And it’s two in the afternoon before I get to anything like you have to have to curb those tendencies and be disciplined about your hours. Something I’ve seen that really works is, you know, you got to be careful about this one these days. But leave your house in the morning. Go get coffee, go for a walk. Do something and when you’re walking back to your house, you’re walking to work. And you’re transitioning into that work mindset, you’re going to your desk and you’re working. You’re not at home, you’re at your office, and I found that really helps a lot.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, that was interesting. Because we had in the last episode or two, we had that very same conversation about how you can just discipline somehow tell your mind and your body that you are going to work. And I’ve seen videos of a guy who basically, you know, his daughters videotaped, and while he was exiting his front door, you got on a skateboard, you know, skated to the street and then up the driveway, and then inside the back door to his office, and it was just literally, it could have only been, you know, 10 feet if he was just merely traveling inside his house, but he literally changed to a breakfast, skated outside.

That was his little fictitious commute, but it really sets the mood for you know, this is work time. This is my workspace, I’m dressed for success, not so much in a suit, but like I’m in my work mode. It’s very interesting that I totally believe that and I think that’s really necessary to help us be successful.

Now, I think I totally agree about the trust factor. Like that’s the biggest thing. But I’m hearing in this whole work from home environment, which is a really good thing. And that is that there is this need for trust and that micromanagement going away and really learning to trust. So if that is the end goal, I truly believe that is also a two-way street trust, you know, leaders need to trust their employees. And what are some ways that they could demonstrate to their employees and their team, that they trust them?

But also, conversely, there needs to be some level of trust. And maybe it’s only earned trust, that the team members need to trust their leadership. What are some ways on both sides, what are some ways that you have learned, maybe by trial and error, about ways that you can demonstrate to your team that you trust them?

Ben McCraw 

Real quick, before I get into that because this barely related to it is, you know, I’m approaching 40. Here in this phase of my life, I think it’s the first time I’ve ever sort of started learning from my mistakes, and not just learning from my successes, which I’ve started to find very valuable, and have been a lot less shy about speaking to my failures as well.

Where I’ve seen myself fail in this space with trusting my team is within my own brand. You know, what are we doing within the Accomplice brand? How do we talk about ourselves? How do we present ourselves? What are we selling? How are we selling it? What do we stand for? The team has done an awesome job, and I’m really proud of where we are. But I’ve always felt like the client in that situation, as opposed to the manager or the leader.

And so I, fortunately, I think, fortunately, this point, maybe, unfortunately, for the team, the team at the time, yeah, but unfortunately, or fortunately, at this point, I’ve got those sort of pros and cons that I can sort of learn and grow from, but you know, the, from a leader, gaining the trust of your team, I don’t think it’s something that you can necessarily like write a game plan for, or build a process for, or have it be a part of your, you know, employee performance plan or something like that.

It’s about relationships and showing who you are and getting into the work. Like, I think it’s, you know, as a leader, and as a manager, you can’t micromanage everybody, you can’t jump down and tell your directors what to do. Tell your creative directors what to do, tell your leads what to do, or even tell your team members what to do to every last minute detail.

But what you can do is you can sit down next to them and do it with them, and ask them, ask them, where can I help? What are we doing here? What’s the next phase? Are there any blockers that I can help from? If like, I’ve never had to ask my team to work late, or we’re going to have to work all weekend. They work late or they work all weekend because they know the deadline? And they know what’s what the ask is. My job is to make it where they don’t have to work nights and weekends. Because we’ve managed the client appropriately and we’ve managed the project appropriately, we will fail at that from time to time there will be snags in the system.

But you know that you’ve got a team that trusts you and that takes pride in their work when they’re working nights when they have to. And they’re working weekends when they have to. And there hasn’t even been a conversation about it. But where you get the trust is when they see you there as well. And like I’m not above this, we’re all in this together. This isn’t about our egos. This isn’t about some hierarchy. This is about we have a job to do. And where can I add value to that job? And it could be sorting through images, whatever, whatever that might be. I think that trust is a long term game, that trust can also be lost when they start seeing you making decisions that are in your best interest and not their best interest. And things like that.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, that’s so interesting, because I think it as a leader and I completely agree with you. I’m 46 now and I look back, I love what you said, maybe before this, you know at a certain point we learned from our successes, but as we start to mature really come into our own leadership, we start to also learn from our mistakes and I can look back, and I can definitely say that I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and some of my leadership roles and I’m so grateful for some of these folks that I’m very much still friends with and that we can laugh about some of those things, but when I think about that trust and about what you’re saying about being able to protect our team.

Because I’ve seen examples where leaders, there, they are such the wooers of their clients that it’s almost like the first their first priority is I get client experience, I get delivering that great client experience, but sometimes it can be so frothy, that we over-deliver at the expense of our team.

And then when we fail, we can also throw our team under the bus because we value the relationship with the client more than we do our team or so I think sometimes that can be about ego, sometimes it could be about prioritizing the relationship with a client over your team. But when your team really does seem that you’ve got their back, and as you said, use the term managing the client, and sometimes say, no, here’s where the boundaries that, you know, we need to either hold this line or come to a different understanding as we move forward. And I think that earns leaders so much kudos when they can hold the line to protect their team to ensure that they’re going to do their best work or, you know, like we said, come to a different understanding.

Ben McCraw 

I’ve always seen my role as part of a team, and the sort of conduit to the client. But you know, I’ve had to sit down at my, you know, the executive table with my peers and fight for my team repeatedly. And I’m super happy to have that fight. Now, I might also go back to my team and fight for the executives.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, it’s a blind allegiance or blind trust. Yeah.

Ben McCraw 

Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Chaparro

So what are some things I know you as you’ve grown in your leadership, you’ve also at one point, you weren’t always a leader? So you at one point, you had to learn from others. And so as you’re thinking about the younger generation of designers and creatives that are coming up, is there something interesting or nuanced about the younger creatives as they’re coming up? Are they approaching their work any differently than your my generation did when we first started,

Ben McCraw 

What I’ve seen and been very impressed with is their drive. And I think it’s more of a cultural thing than just design. But you know, you get a, a 22-year-old and they’re thinking about their career path. Like, I want to work here because I want to learn these three things. And after I learned those three things I want to do, I want to move on to this space into this space. And I want to they seem so much more intentional about their career path, and the growth and what they want to learn and how they want to contribute, and where they want to fit into a team.

And I can only speak from my personal experiences. But when I was that age, that was not my mentality. My mentality was like, Where can I do cool work? Who can I work with, absolutely and there’s just this like level of, like strategic thinking that I’ve been very impressed with. But it bleeds into their discipline and the way in which they relate to their co-workers and clients. And there just seems to be an intentional desire to learn, what their weak in and to put themselves on a path that gets them to where they want to be.

Secondly, I’ve read an interesting article. I wish I could remember the source it was months ago, about, you know, folks coming up in their career young in their career now are not going to have one career in their life. The industries are moving too fast, technology is moving too fast. Who knows what’s going on right now. But just we aren’t, we aren’t going to have a sort of single focus career throughout our entire lives. And I see a huge desire to broaden one’s skill set.

Not just be a visual designer or UX designer or 3d designer or emotion designer, but understanding the principles of design generally. And then taking advantage of moments in their career when they can deep dive into a specific discipline and learn that man I’ve literally seen, like, a priority list of skills I want to learn. And you know, right now when they have free time, their hands or their learning, I think that’s awesome.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, it’s interesting, because I almost like, you know, I think of myself. Yes, I’m 46. But when I think of the mindset and approach that I’ve had with my own career, it’s been almost like this great experiment, this great journey of self-discovery. And that you know, for me, I started in architecture went into real estate development, then became a financial adviser with when the market crashed, and then back to real estate development back to architecture now, in the area of working with creative companies, but every single one of those was a learning experience.

But even now, my approach is more of a portfolio approach. It’s not anyone single thing that I’m doing at any one given time, I’ve got three or four things that are going on almost like a portfolio of work that I’m doing. And it seems like that is probably more than a mindset. It’s not just like, I’m going to be here for two or three years and then go to this place for two or three years, I’m literally going to be doing two or three things at the same time. Is that something that you’re seeing be more common with some of the folks that you’ve been working with?

Ben McCraw 

We have employees? Well, we know, historically, that you do expect a level of focus, right? I’ve always, and I’ve always found it hard to prevent employees from doing freelance inside work. And I know, that’s not directly your question. But my rationale with them was always you’re putting a lot of energy into what we’re doing here, you also need to put energy into you. And if you’re going home, and working with another client, your burnout is inevitable.

So like, if that’s what you want to do, let’s talk about a contract position where you can have a better sort of work-life balance. But you know, we also have worked with lots of contractors over the years and will continue to do so. And I treat them just like team members. From a cultural standpoint, if they’re a, if they’re a contractor working with us on a fairly regular basis, you know, we’re, we’re having them come to our, our quarterly parties, and our weekly cookouts and things like that, because we want them to be integrated in with the team.

But those are the folks. Those are the folks that are really, absolutely spreading across multiple projects and multiple disciplines than multiple initiatives. And, you know, you were talking about, you know, sort of early on my career, I’ve never really had a job, you know, at a office at a single studio until Chaotic Moon. So that’s how my whole career has always been, you know, focused either on real estate stuff, or even music industry stuff. And I was in Brooklyn and Nashville, but always balancing, you know, multiple clients multiple initiatives and multiple disciplines as well.

Steve Chaparro 

So Brooklyn, Nashville, Austin, I’m starting to get an idea of the types of cities you like to live at.

Ben McCraw 


Steve Chaparro 

I would imagine if you were in Nashville, you were you in East Nashville?

Ben McCraw 

That’s exactly.

Steve Chaparro 

Yes. I’m getting the picture for sure. I’ve got nice, awesome, awesome spaces, awesome places to, to work and live at for sure.

Ben McCraw 

Absolutely. It was fun.

Steve Chaparro 

Well, one of the things you so we as we were talking before, this call, you mentioned that one of your great passions is building design teams for success. And we’ve talked a lot about that already. What are some other thoughts that you have about what it takes to really, you know, build and create a culture where these creative and design teams can thrive and do their best work?

Ben McCraw 

Yeah. So just real quickly on the things, we have hit on because I think its important part of the whole is that trust factor. And that’s not just trusting you as a human, as a manager, but also as a discipline. So, unfortunately, I’ve seen many sorts of executive-level managers not being too in tune with the discipline that they’re managing. And it’s, you know, it’s more about productivity or, you know, all great stuff, tools and operations and things like that. But I think first and foremost is they need to view you as part of the team.

When you give feedback, it’s respected because they believe in your opinion, they respect your opinion, they’ve seen they’ve seen you produce work that they respect, I think that’s kind of baseline necessity. Now, not all designers think the same, obviously, I think I personally fall on the side of I’m fairly organized, some would say I’m overly organized. Some maybe would agree the other way, actually, you know, it’s a spectrum and it depends on where we fall on it. But this is one of those areas that I’ve learned from, I’ve done it right and I’ve done it wrong. A lack of process, and a lack of defined tools will serve your team very poorly. But what I think is almost worse is when you overdo it, and it becomes this cumbersome sort of bureaucracy.

So I think simplicity within the toolset is super important. But you got to leave room for people to make their own decisions to make their own calls, what I’ve always said is, we should build an infrastructure, where people have the freedom to think, and the freedom to do their best work. And let them do the thing that they said, I want to do this when I grow up, not, I want to learn how to manage 16 logins and track my hours and learn how to use multiple cumbersome CMSs or workflow management tools, or whatever the case may be. So keep it simple.

I had so many people come to me and say, oh, there’s this great new tool. And I’m usually like, get it away from me. Adding on a great new tool is usually very disruptive. I need, I need two tools, they need to work together, they need to be lightweight. But I do want to be very disciplined in the way. This is our file structure. This is where we say files, this is how we name files. This is how we share files. I don’t want the same team send me Dropbox, you send it and Google links, I want them all doing it the exact same way with the exact same naming file.

But once we get kind of below that surface, it’s let each individual employee do their thing, the way they do it, yeah, I’m not gonna get too caught up. If you’re using sketch, or Figma, or Photoshop or Illustrator. Ultimately, by the time we get to the end of that creative process, it all needs to go into the same package. So there’s consistency. But let the designer do the thing in which you hired them to do. And everything around that is where you need to provide them structure.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, I think those are some lessons that I’ve even learned, you know, to that point, even in the world of architecture, where we were, we were responsible for obviously designing the documents and telling them what the end product needed to look like, say, in the term, we would use this to convey design intent. But as far as the actual means and methods of construction, we had to leave that to the contractors, we could not dictate to them. What that actually meant, as long as the end outcome was accomplished.

And I think in the same way, you know, in design leadership, you know, I had somebody tell me, we were trying to do some strategic work, and we say, Hey, we’re not going to lead by consensus, we’re not going to lead where everyone make decisions to the point where everyone is 100% in agreement, we have to lead where everyone says, I’m on board at, like, I agree with 80% of this. That’s enough. Yeah, let’s move forward. And I think even in design leadership, when you talk about creating margin and room for people to do their own thinking, and have their own creativity, it’s almost as if in design leadership, we say, Okay, I agree with about 80% of this, that extra 20%, I would have done something different. But that’s the room we’re giving each other to be creative.

Ben McCraw 

Absolutely. And as long as we’re all doing that thing. together in unison is what matters. I mean a process and efficiency and simplicity is important. What I think is much more important is consistency. Like three people on the team can’t be doing it three different ways. We all need to buy in, specifically in do the one and be a team. That’s how teams work together. I’ve got a lot of points on this question. Don’t mind me keep going?

Steve Chaparro 

I interrupted you with the thought. But keep going, please.

Ben McCraw 

No, no, that’s, that’s really cool. You know, we talked about the trust of the teams. But that’s super important. People are going to do their best work when they have the ability to own it, to put their name on it, to have pride in it. And they won’t have that if you’re micromanaging every last aspect of that, of that outcome. The core values, you know, so many people see those as, Oh, that’s sort of what the marketing stuff. That’s the thing you put on your website. That’s something you can talk about during the recruitment process. But it needs to be taken very seriously. And I think additionally, it needs to be kept very simple just like the rest of this stuff.

I don’t want to create some large document that I’m expecting everybody to learn verbatim and giving people pop quizzes on what’s our third core value. What I mean by the importance of it is it just needs to be a part of your culture, and everything you do. You should hire based on it, you should fire based on it. And they should be very clear as to, hey, this isn’t working out, because these things are very important to us and we don’t see them happening, but manage to them as well. And I don’t think you should ever verbatim say, hey, you’re not doing great on core value number three, when I’m talking about reinforcing core values on a regular basis, I don’t think you need to represent those things verbatim, they need to be just part of natural vocabulary, natural language.

So if the way somebody is treating their co-workers, the way somebody has sort of positioned themselves to a client, their work ethic or their work quality, or decisions they’ve made, you can always have, like a mentorship level discussion with them, and include the ideas of the core value into those discussions, rather than treating the core values as like, you know, our, you know, Code of Conduct or something like that. So, going through those, what I’ve always found, what uh, over the years have sort of whittled down is what I think is most important is, and these are the core values of Accomplice, by the way, and I did not come up with them by myself.

But grit. Grit is super important. Our employees need to have our team members, our contractors, everybody needs to have the attitude that we are in this together, we are going to succeed, this isn’t going to be easy. But if we persevere and push, when it gets tough, we can succeed. I think you’re doing a huge disservice if you try to sugarcoat everything and say, This is easy. Not lately, because lately, I’ve been able to control who’s on my teams. But in the past, and often working with, with large organizations, no offense to large organizations. You see people quick to find the blocker. I can’t do that, because I’m blocked by this person. Well, you know what your next job is to go help that person.

So be solution focus, always bring new ideas to the table. You know, I always say like, it’s fine. If you come in, tell me that you can’t accomplish something that you’ve been asked of. But I need you to also come with a solution or recommendation on how to how to solve that and how to get through it all be helpful, goes along with that, allowing people to step outside of their role and combine them into one space. But no matter what needs to be done, we can all work together to get this done. have a voice I think is one of the most important ones, you know, the highest-paid person in the room is not the most correct person in the room.

I think as a manager should give their team the space to feel like their voices heard. They should contribute to the solution and not just be the foot soldier after the solutions decided upon. But the the the designer, whether you’re an intern, junior designer, senior designer, engineer, project manager, copywriter should always feel like they’re part of the team and they can dictate the solution just as much as you know, the program manager or the product owner.

So that have a voice thing is so important to all these other elements of having grit, being solution-focused, and owning it. So owning it is one of them, they have to have ownership to have their best work come out. And then we’re here as a team to build value, not to build ego. And I think that one’s really important to me because I’ve just, I think we’ve all probably been around people who are driven by their ego. So we always need to keep ourselves in check our weeding driven by our ego. what’s more important to us the work we’re doing for our client? Or how we’re being perceived against our competitors? And just be a bit humble in that space?

But also, what’s our client’s motivation? Is our client trying to provide a legitimate service for their customer? Or is our client trying to stroke their own ego? And let’s surround ourselves with the right people on both sides. And let’s treat each other as we’d like to be treated. And let’s focus on the end value and not will I get credit for this is something I think super important for longevity within teams.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, those are not easy things to hold a balance in balance right? Do it you know, when you either one when we see ourselves on our teams that you know, maybe we’re starting to be a little bit too much driven by ego. There’s that’s one set of things we can probably figure out how to readjust. But what are some things that you’ve learned about when you start to see some of your clients start to be tempted, in fact, the waiver into the realm of being ego-driven versus value-driven? What are what are some? How do you approach that conversation,

Ben McCraw 

You know, the very beginning of a project, whether or not the clients paying for it or not, we need to do a discovery and strategy session. And that could be as short as a week and a half. But it could be as long as a three month period, depending on what we’re trying to do. It’s so easy to put so much energy and effort into that document. Now, we’ve defined what the problem is, who we’re trying to solve it for, what the solution is, how we’re going to approach it, you put it in a document I’ve seen so many times a document goes into a folder and it’s never opened again.

I’d like to bring that back into our weekly scenes, bring that back into our discussions on a regular basis and remind the team, what it is we’re doing here about where I found that document most valuable is with clients. Okay, client, you know, this is what we said, we’re going to do this is how we’re going to approach that. What have you seen that has changed? And if they can give me a good answer, then we can readjust often, they just need that reinforcement. And it’s not me telling them they’re wrong. It’s them being reminded of what our goals are here. And so you can often get people back on track.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, that’s so good. I mean, that’s a lesson that I probably interestingly enough, I learned the most when I was had a few years as a financial advisor. And when we would do the financial planning the strategy, it was all based on what you described as the discovery in really identifying what the goals were, and what the priorities were in those specific goals. And then, you know, the inevitable happens, where they have, you know, a small windfall, 20, you know, maybe $100,000, and all of a sudden, they want to buy that Harley, that was actually number eight on the list. And then you say, no, no, no, you got to come back to this document that we all talked about at the beginning, did something change? Did that Harley move up to number one all of a sudden, like, is that real? Or do we have to make different decisions?

And that, that learning for me carried over into the creative world of being almost a fiduciary advisor to our creative clients? Like you’re saying, like, I think that’s, I wholeheartedly believe that. And I think that that’s the reason why that initial work of saying, Hey, this is what we defined. If things have changed, then let’s change the goals and objectives. Otherwise, we need to, we need to make a different decision. And so I’m looking at your, your website, and I think a lot of what you’re talking about is oozing through some of these things that you talked about, in terms of how you work with clients.

And I think there’s vision alignment, and I you know, in, in the world of architecture that I was in, we would talk about vision, erosion, we want to eliminate vision, erosion, so that alignment always takes place. But I love what you said here, under define objective, you say, together, we operate in line with your team, co-creating with you toward one goal, yours. What’s, how did you arrive at that? And was there an evolution where you came to that realization that co-creating with the client was the right way to go? Have you always felt that way?

Ben McCraw 

Probably gotta say, No, I have not always felt that way. But it wasn’t intentional, it was probably ignorant. My current business partner, co-founder at Accomplice had a lot to do with that. His approach has always been very client-centric. The client is the partner, he’s gonna do whatever it takes to sit down with them, and figure out what their problem is and figure out what the solution is, when he and I started working together. You know that that language is kind of a thing, combination of both what he and I brought to the table, but I don’t believe that a client is going to truly adopt what you’ve done if you’re just throwing it over the fence of them.

I also don’t believe that a designer of any level of talent knows the customer’s business, as well as the customer, does. So what we always say is, you know, we know, we know what we know, and you know, your business, and we can work together to build something great here. So we, as often as we can, which usually worked out very well is the team that we put together for any project was probably, you know, 75% Accomplice 25% client.

Often we would try to say, hey, can we use a copywriter from your team? Can we have a dual project management that works with our project managers to drive these initiatives forward? You know, Tyler, my business partner referred to, he had this great methodology that he still uses, which is we’ll be the product owner up to a certain date. And then we want to employ a product owner within your organization. So we specifically hire somebody, put them within the client’s organization, and they’re going to own the thing that we are still building and really treat ourselves as a single team. Yeah, who cares what our email addresses and who cares where we sit our butts each morning we are for right now. We are a single team.

Steve Chaparro

Yeah, I love that there’s so much synergy with the way I’ve come to realize too, and I think I’ve talked with some Creative Directors of different agencies. And they’re saying that that is a shift, not just from the agency side to the client, but the clients now are saying, hey, before, we were happy with you doing the work for us, now, we want you to do the work with us. And that’s creating some different learnings and different skills. How do you equip your team to co-create with the client? What are some skills that are necessary to make that a success?

Ben McCraw 

Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, I think you have to sort of drop the barrier that we were naturally put between us in the client, like, you can talk to the client, we you can have direct communication with the client, you’re allowed to challenge the client, you’re not allowed to be belligerent and tell them point-blank that, you know, whatever. But again, that documentation that I was talking about is such a friendly tool for the team to use.

Hey, let’s review our priorities. Let’s review where we are on the roadmap, let’s review next steps, and you’re no longer having a conversation. Like I feel this way. And you feel that way. It’s a conversation around we are doing, you know, this thing together. The Slack, Google Drive, all the tools that we use, are just as much the clients’ tools as they are our tools. So every discussion, every decision doesn’t have to be a meeting a pre-scheduled meeting with an agenda.

If you’ve got a question for the client, slack them right then. Treat them like a team member. You know, just work in unison on a daily basis at a regular flow is probably that last point about Slack, it’s probably the most important actually. And it just removes the formality. You know, I need to prepare my statements and ask you a bunch of questions. And you give me these official answers. We’re a team, we are working together.

Steve Chaparro

Yeah. So good. Man, I have so many more questions. We’re running out of time here. But there’s so many questions that I’d love to, you know, continue the conversation with you even offline. Because I think there is so many things that we both agree on about these know, enabling our teams to do the best work, how to create those cultures, and how do you engage with clients and there’s so many different things. But, Ben, I appreciate you being on the show. This has been a blast time in the conversation.

Ben McCraw 

I appreciate you having me and it has been fun. I hope you have a great day.


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