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Podcast Transcript

Episode 107, Season 1

How to set your business goals the same way Google does, with Michael Back


Fraser Jack (00:00):

Hello and welcome to the Goals Based Advice Podcast where I have conversations with pioneers of the new world of financial advice. I’m your host, Fraser Jack. I want to thank you so much for tuning in. I’d also like to thank our supporting client, Advice Intelligence for powering this podcast. If you’re enjoying this show, then please help me spread the word. Find your colleagues that don’t currently listen to podcasts and teach them how you find and listen to your favorite shows. I would also love it if you could leave me a review on your podcast platform.

Fraser Jack (00:30):

In this episode, I chat with legendary business coach, super nice guy and a returning guest, Michael Back. In his business, Human to Human, he helps facilitate, advise businesses set and track towards their own goals. In our chat, we cover off on the business process Google uses to set goals, how it can be applied to small business and how Michael uses it to help financial advice businesses grow. We also discuss what Michael sees as a must-do for advisors in 2020 and beyond, which is quantitative before and after data on your client’s feelings, the way they were feeling before your meeting and after, so you can produce tangible statistics on the value of your advice.

Fraser Jack (01:17):

If you or any of your colleagues want to make sure your business planning process is world-class then this episode is a must. If you’re looking for the show notes and links discussed in this episode, which is number 107, go to www.adviceintelligence.com/resources. Let’s hit play now on my chat with Michael.

Fraser Jack (01:41):

Welcome back to the Goals Based Advice Podcast Show, Michael Back.

Michael Back (01:46):

We’re five seconds in and we’ve already got a last name pun. Well played. Well done.

Fraser Jack (01:51):

Welcome back, Michael. I got your name the wrong way.

Michael Back (01:57):

It’s really cool to be given a second invitation.

Fraser Jack (02:00):

I think you should become a regular because every time we talk, we could just talk and talk and you come up with all this amazing gold and I think, oh, that would be good if we recorded that.

Michael Back (02:08):

I’d love to be regular. I love the podcast. I listen to it as regulars. It’s nice to just hear different perspectives from them and go deeper on things they’ve said. I really enjoy that. I’d be very happy to be a regular.

Fraser Jack (02:20):

Fantastic. You heard it here. Now you have to do it. It’s 2020. It’s a new decade.

Michael Back (02:27):

Yes, it is.

Fraser Jack (02:28):

It’s pretty incredible to think and there’s a lot going on. What have you been doing the last year?

Michael Back (02:34):

Well, I think it’s pretty much 12 months since I did my first episode, which over a coffee this morning you told me that, was it 15 months you’ve done 100 episodes?

Fraser Jack (02:47):

Yes, 15.

Michael Back (02:47):

Kudos for that. That’s unbelievable.

Fraser Jack (02:48):


Michael Back (02:49):

That’s incredible. I’d say the theme of that 12 months for me has been going from say in the EMyth, they talk about a great technician had an entrepreneurial seizure, and the idea being you get these skills going and you go start a business, but then you just act like the doer, and you soon realize that’s not the best way to scale a business. The thing for me over the last 12 months has been putting my business owner pants on and going, I’m actually owning a business here and I need to think more strategically and not just do good work for clients and help them, but also make sure that my business is growing at the same time.

Michael Back (03:25):

That’s taken me to some wonderful places this year. I’ve done a lot more presenting. I’ve done a lot more articles. I’ve been writing for the IFA Magazine, which has been really cool. Even just my own social media recording videos, just creating versions of value from my IP, which has been really, really cool and I’ve really enjoyed that process.

Fraser Jack (03:44):

I can’t help but notice that some of the stuff that you’re doing in your personal business, it would be the same stuff you’d be telling your clients to do.

Michael Back (03:50):

Exactly. That’s the thing. It’s about practicing what I preach, and that’s something that has never sat well with me, is businesses like an SEO business that say, “We’ll get you to the top of Google,” and then you type in SEO Brisbane and they’re not even on the first page. Come on. Why are you telling me that this is important if clearly you’re either not good at it or you just haven’t done it yourself? In my case, I think I was running around and telling a lot of people what I think they should be doing in their business and it’s been hopefully valuable to them. This was a year where it was time for me to do more of it myself. I’m really happy with how that’s played out this year. It’s been awesome.

Fraser Jack (04:28):

That’s a really good point that we all make about working in the business versus on the business and the time spent and if you don’t work on your own, then you don’t grow, I suppose.

Michael Back (04:37):

That’s exactly right. It’s this whole thing of what does Brene Brown say? There’s a reason why on the airplane they say fit your own oxygen mask before assisting other passengers. The business equivalent of that is that you’re running around, keeping your team happy and your clients happy, but if you’re not at least giving yourself a basic amount of attention and care and growth, there won’t be a business in five, 10 years’ time. It can feel a little bit selfish, but if you really play it out, it’s probably the most selfless thing you can do.

Fraser Jack (05:07):

Yeah. Fair enough. Your business of course is helping other financial advisors’ businesses.

Michael Back (05:11):


Fraser Jack (05:13):

How have you been helping them?

Michael Back (05:16):

That’s been an evolving concept, which has been really cool. In the past, I was I suppose known for social media and digital and got the glasses so had the reputation that’s been the young nerdy guy who can work out how this tech stuff plays out. It’s still a big part of what I do for businesses. I think since starting my own business, it’s really been about just taking a step back and going, “Okay, so what are the problems that my clients are facing and how can I help solve them?” I’d say my business has evolved more to being just a business coach, I would say. I don’t mean just in terms of minimizing what that is, but having a more holistic approach to going you’re a really good business and you want to be a great business. Whether I am 100% responsible for delivering all the things that are going to take you from good to great, it doesn’t really matter, as long as I help you have the focus and make better decisions and have some accountability along the way.

Michael Back (06:11):

The analogy I like to use is it’s like being the conductor of the orchestra. I can play keyboard and I can play a little bit trumpet. I don’t play all the instruments, but as long as I’m the conductor and I can keep other people on track and help the business move towards a shared vision, that will ultimately mean that they’re more successful.

Fraser Jack (06:29):

Out of that sentence, I’m going to the pick the “making better decisions” comment out of it. How do we make better decisions as I guess humans, as businesses and help our clients make better decisions?

Michael Back (06:40):

There’s this wonderful tool that I came across once called a Magic 8-Ball. You just ask it a question, you shake it, it just gives you your answer.

Fraser Jack (06:51):

Fantastic. Simple.

Michael Back (06:52):

It’s going to be a pretty short podcast, but that’s my advice, is I think everyone just needs to buy a Magic 8-Ball.

Fraser Jack (06:57):

Can we have one for the financial services industry to be given out to everybody? That would be great.

Michael Back (07:01):

Yeah. What a great idea, just helping people make financial decisions significantly affecting their future with an 8-Ball. I like it. What was the question again?

Fraser Jack (07:11):

Decision-making process or concepts around how do we as human beings make decisions and what should we be doing?

Michael Back (07:17):

Look, there’s no silver bullet with stuff like this. I suppose taking it to a business context, I find that every business that I’ve ever worked with, particularly at the start, their work ethic is without question. Everyone is working hard. Everyone is putting in long hours. The frustration is often that that hard work hasn’t necessarily generated results. Sometimes that’s a bit of an impatience where it’s like, no, you’re doing all the right things. Just this is the journey of business. This is the JACO. Just keep going. At other times, it’s not so much about the amount of effort as much as the direction of effort.

Michael Back (07:55):

Your question around how do we make better decisions is I think moment by moment in business, we’re making decisions about what should I be focusing on? What do I do next? What do I need to achieve today, this week, this month, this year? Without what I’d call a North Star so without an endpoint where it’s like, well, here’s what we’re all trying to achieve here. It’s almost impossible to make those better decisions. I’d say the first step in either personally making better decisions or having a team that make better decisions because you can’t make them for them all the time, you need to empower them to make great decisions, is helping them realize what the point of all of this is and what’s important to the business.

Michael Back (08:35):

We all want to grow our businesses, or at least the vast majority of us want to grow our businesses, but the way that the business is going to grow varies significantly business to business. Sometimes it’s about reducing cost. Sometimes it’s about efficiency. Sometimes it’s about leads. Sometimes it’s about conversion. Sometimes we’re actually doing all those things well, but we just can’t keep clients. The levers of growth, as I’d call them, vary, but you just want to make sure that your team have the right version of here’s what we need to be focusing on. Every minute, every day, every week, every year, they’re making better decisions to help get closer to that.

Fraser Jack (09:11):

It sounds very much like you’re talking goals-based advice as in you’re saying focus on something, the long-term outcome of what you’re actually trying to achieve here, not just the short-term, what is this going to do for me today, tomorrow and the next day?

Michael Back (09:23):

Absolutely. That’s it. As the financial advisors listening to this would inherently know that if you have a savings goal for a client, they’re going to make better decisions about what they do with their money on the weekend. If that goal is really important to them, they’ll make some sacrifices. It’s exactly the same in business. I think it’s just important that we as leaders of businesses make sure that our team from the bottom up have that connection to what success looks like so all those right behaviors happen.

Fraser Jack (09:50):

You say the bottom up. You mentioned it in the last sentence as well. You talked about all the staff making the right decisions. I know that a lot of your work that you do is around culture. It’s around making sure that every single person in the business is included. You’re not just talking to leaders. You’re basically trying to empower all staff to be leaders within their own personalities and bringing those out. Am I right there? A lot of your stuff that you do with your businesses is around the whole of the business, not just the leader.

Michael Back (10:21):

Yeah, absolutely. I think it can be a pretty lonely place at the top of a business, but in a practical sense, there’s only so much you can do. There’s only so many hours in the day. The best businesses in the world have ways to ensure that their whole team are spending their time wisely and adding as much value as possible. I’m a huge fan of Seth Godin, one of my absolute online mentors. I’d love him to be a physical mentor, but I’ve never met him.

Fraser Jack (10:51):

He’s coming on the show. Did you know?

Michael Back (10:53):

Oh my, gosh.

Fraser Jack (10:54):

No, he’s not.

Michael Back (10:54):

Oh gosh. I’ll hold your cables during that one. He talks a lot about the future of work and what’s changing. The one that really hit me between the eyes, and without trying to exaggerate, literally changed my life was in his book called Linchpin, which for any of you out there with support teams who you want to step up more and own their value and bring more to the table in your business, it’s a must read. A lot of my client teams, as soon as they hire a new team member, I will buy that book and send it to them. It’s just that important.

Michael Back (11:30):

The whole concept is that anything that can be documented like a job description and any job that can be broken down into processes and systems is either going to be automated or outsourced because there’s a very defined set of tasks and you can either train a computer or a person to do them and so that role will become redundant. If you want to stay relevant as an employee or in business, you need to do things that can’t be necessarily summarized in a Word doc or solve problems that haven’t been solved before.

Michael Back (12:03):

The level of thinking that needs to come into business now for everyone, but particularly support team members who perhaps haven’t been told through the education system that they need to think this way, is to be brave and to take risks and to leave their comfort zone and to dance with the resistance, as Seth would say. You’ve got that voice in your head saying, “This is impossible. We can’t do this. I’ve never done this before.” To not just fight that or ignore it or just silence it through responding to all your emails and feeling like you’ve done a good day’s work, but actually leaning into that and ensuring that every single year of your career, you’re looking back and going, “I’ve done things I’ve never done before but my style has risen and my value to the business has grown.”

Michael Back (12:48):

I really think that’s the big opportunity for many businesses out there, is if you’ve got a team that for the next one, two, three years are going to do things that are roughly similar to what they’ve done in the past, your business is probably going to struggle because there’s other businesses out there who are constantly lifting the bar, redefining what that is. We’ve all seen industries where that’s happened, businesses that were doing well all of a sudden stopped doing well. It’s a combination of if nothing changes, nothing changes, but also, you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it so you need to bring a new level of thinking to everything that you do.

Fraser Jack (13:24):

What are some of the strategies that you use or your clients use to bring forward those opinions and those ideas of those people who are in the leadership positions of the business?

Michael Back (13:37):

For a couple of years, I’ve been following the way that Google set goals, and it’s called the OKR system. Before I start, I don’t want to come across as someone who is like every single business should be using this system. I feel like the vast majority of businesses would greatly benefit from using it, but there are variants of this. There’s a book called the Rockefeller Habits, which is roughly similar, but they are essentially operating systems for your business where you have a shared focus on what’s important and then a series of actions that help lead to that. The way I deal with it is through OKR.

Michael Back (14:10):

The OKR framework, it was invented by a dude in the ‘70s called Andy Grove, which any business nerds out there, he’s regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time from Intel. He wrote a book on it, and the book actually didn’t really take off or have that much success. It was just this legendary manager had this great idea, rolled it out at Intel. It worked really well, but it wasn’t something that the rest of the world really knew about. It was in the ‘90s where a dude called John Doerr, who you may have heard of him before, legendary venture capitalist, multi-billionaire, was one of the advisors to Obama on how do we reverse this economic downturn? Just a legend of business growth and economic prosperity. He was working for a company called Kleiner Perkins and that they were venture capitalists to Google.

Michael Back (15:08):

These two dudes called Sergey and Larry, who were these crazy guys who were like we want to take over the world and we just don’t know how to run a business. That was when John, who had worked with Andy back at Intel, went, “Well, actually, I’ve got this crazy idea from 25 years ago called OKRs. If you’ve got no other alternative, I say we just give it a crack.” They gave it a crack and the rest is history when it comes to Google.

Michael Back (15:33):

Intel still use it to this day. I’m not sure if they kept using it or if they started using it again since Google did, but Spotify, LinkedIn, Airbnb, some of the best businesses in the world are using OKRs as the way that they align the people in their team to a bigger version of success and to the version of success that they’re looking to achieve.

Michael Back (15:53):

I had been looking at this for a while and I had been taking elements of it and building it into my client businesses and my relationships. It was early in the year, I was planning an offsite with one of my clients, Corey Wastle down at Verse Wealth in Melbourne, and he stumbled upon a version of OKRs that this guy in America called Felipe Castro had created, which was pretty much here’s how Google do it, but I’ve now broken it down for a small business. It was just incredible. He had this 50-page ebook. For all of you out there, we’ll put the link in the show notes. I highly encourage you to read it. It was one of those moments where you read it and I was just like, yeah, my client relationships are never going to be the same again after reading that. You know when you’ve been playing with something and using it for a while and then you just see a version of it that you go, oh, it’s so much simpler than what I’ve been doing and I can just automatically know that this will work.

Michael Back (16:50):

We rolled it out at Verse this year. They’ve had stunning success with it. Since then, I’ve rolled it out with all my client businesses, and every single one of them has had a great success story. They’re all different success stories but it has worked so well in all of those businesses. Going back to your original question, I know I went on a bit of a tangent there, but the whole concept is this is business planning that can happen in maximum six hours but usually about four hours based on a series of 90-day plans. It isn’t decision-making that comes from the top and is just passed on to people in the business going, here’s what we’re doing now. This is important. It is top down, bottom up. It’s collaborative. It’s basically let’s get the whole team involved in deciding what we as a business are focusing on with the knowledge of why that’s important.

Fraser Jack (17:39):

I’m just going to ask a quick question around this. Is this four hours a quarter for the team?

Michael Back (17:44):

Yeah, good question. You probably need let’s say a day. It wouldn’t be eight hours. We need a day at the start of the year to decide what the year looks like and then you just reset that in probably four hours. It can be less sometimes. It depends how many OKRs. I’ll explain what OKR stands for in a sec, but it’d be four hours every quarter. Probably every month, you probably need about an hour to check in on it. We’re really talking, if you want to add it all up, what’s that, 12 hours plus a day plus 12, so you’re probably looking at 30 hours over the course of the year to keep you on track with this.

Fraser Jack (18:18):

Having the structure behind how those 30 hours are spent.

Michael Back (18:22):

Absolutely. Look. The O in OKR stands for objectives. These are bigger picture versions of what we want success to look like this year. Common ones that I see across businesses are build a remarkable client experience or a world-class client experience. It might be build a well-oiled machine. Some businesses have things along the lines of become a financial powerhouse. You can see that the last one there was growth. The well-oiled machine is about efficiency and back office. Client experience is about how we’re treating clients, how we’re building word of mouth and retaining our clients.

Michael Back (18:58):

The idea here though is that they’re tangible and you know what they’re like but they’re not necessarily achievable. As you know, with most things, it’s not like you go, “Oh, I’ve got a well-oiled machine. We don’t need to do anything.” There’s always better versions of a well-oiled machine that you can build and there’s always another level of your client experience. The idea is it’s very clear what we’re trying to achieve, but it’s got to have some energy and it’s got to be exciting to the team.

Fraser Jack (19:22):

This is your direction, your North Star you’re talking about.

Michael Back (19:24):

That’s exactly right. At the start of the year, we decide what that is across a bunch of areas, but then over 90 days, you might go, you know what? We’re doing pretty well on the growth side. The client experience is pretty good. We’re getting some really great numbers in our surveys. Really I think where we’re struggling now is efficiency. For the next 90 days, our sole focus will be say the well-oiled machine OKR.

Michael Back (19:46):

That’s the O, but there’s no point having these if you can’t measure them. That’s where the KRs, which stands for key results fall underneath, and they are specific numbers that are 100% measurable, 100% verifiable, that will help us know if we’re on track to achieving our objectives or not.

Fraser Jack (20:07):

How hard are they to come up with?

Michael Back (20:08):

That’s probably the bit where I would say that’s where you need to come up with them at a strategic level. Maybe bounce them off key people in the team whose opinion that you value. Ideally, you want to get the OKRs in a format where they’re pretty much good to go and then use the team to brainstorm the actions that will help you achieve that. Look, there are some common ones which with the businesses I work with I’ll help shortcut, here’s the types of measurements, which ones are most important? That can be quite easy because often you come up with an objective because there’s a pain.

Michael Back (20:45):

Let’s go back to the well-oiled machine. If you go, right, we want to build our business to be a well-oiled machine, you can instantly in the team go, where is another well-oiled machine? Where do things get stuck? What are the roadblocks? What’s taking too long? People say things like implementation. Great. How long is implementation taking now? How long do we want it to take? Cool. That’s our key result, is to reduce average implementation time from six weeks to three weeks, something along those lines.

Michael Back (21:10):

Where there’s a pain involved, it’s pretty easy to come up with the key results. When it’s more aspirational, that’s probably where you need to do a little bit more thinking. Often, where I start with businesses is they go, “Yeah, look. It will be nice, but we’re not measuring those things.” That’s where often the first action in the first 90-day cycle is. Let’s work out how to start measuring retention, conversion, all those things which are so important to be measuring in business.

Fraser Jack (21:35):

Do you go into milestones for that?

Michael Back (21:38):

That’s where the monthly and quarterly check-in comes in. Usually, monthly would be too often for measuring along the way. It’s probably just too short a cycle, but every 90 days. You’re setting your key results at a 12-month level. You’re going over the next 12 months, we want to achieve that, and then you check in every 90 days to go, are we on track, etc.?

Michael Back (21:59):

This is where, I think going back to your earlier point around what the future of an employee mindset needs to be. I think that every culture that we’re seeing in the world thrive and the businesses that are growing and just reaching heights we never thought possible. We come to inherently understand this. They have this culture of experimentation. They’ve got this culture of, look, we’re not sure, but we’re reasonably smart so we can make some pretty strong hypotheses on this. There’s almost this de-stigmatization of failure. We know this in the startup world but also some of the most successful businesses, is that they try things and they don’t work and they don’t dwell on it. They just roll forward and try again.

Michael Back (22:42):

I think most businesses understand this, but then building a bridge between that and what you’re doing day to day is hard. You see team members who aren’t taking risks or aren’t making decisions and they’re always defaulting to the leader, what do you think? They’re waiting to receive instructions on what to do rather than just coming up with an educated decision and doing it themselves. A lot of that is because they haven’t had to do it before. Like I alluded to before, a lot of it is the education system, which tells us that we’ll be told what to do, we’ll be told there’s a syllabus, we’ll know exactly what’s expected of us. As long as we just follow that bouncing ball, we’ll be successful and our parents will pat us on the back and say, “Well done for getting a good mark.” The big bad world of business isn’t like that anymore.

Michael Back (23:28):

We need to really change our thinking, and that’s where this system is a great bridge because it gives people accountability for projects that we don’t know if they work. After 90 days, we go we thought that would help our conversion, this project that we’re working on. It hasn’t. That’s okay. What have we learned? Cool. We’ve learned a lot through that. What are we going to do differently in the next 90 days? Over time, those hypotheses get better and better informed through data because you’re putting stuff out there and seeing whether it works or not. The quality of those actions get better as well.

Fraser Jack (24:02):

It also feels to me that with these key metrics, if they’re just kept within the management structure or they’re only focused on in the management meeting or whatever it might be, then they get lost in the process but having all staff members understand the metrics and how they’re tracking. Like you said, when you’re making those small decisions going forward, they’re across the actual metrics. They don’t have to be numbers about whatever ... They don’t have to be numbers about profits or anything like that. It could just be it’s just the metrics. Right?

Michael Back (24:32):

Yeah, that’s it. I call them the levers because it’s literally just these things that if they all happen, success is guaranteed, profit will happen, revenue will happen, whatever those bigger metrics are. It’s almost the inputs to drive the right outputs.

Fraser Jack (24:48):

In my opinion, they should be goals under the management of goals. The amount of goals that we’re helping solve for each client should be a big part of it, but I guess it’s different for every business.

Michael Back (24:59):

That’s exactly right. I think as well, one of the biggest ... Something that I’m really proud of and that I’ll never stop doing is I always want to have a really deep connection to the leaders in a business but also the rest of the team. I’m fortunate because I used to be a paraplanner. God bless all the paraplanners out there. I think you’re heroes. It wasn’t for me. I hit this point in my mid-20s where I was like, you know what? My career is not heading in the direction I want it to, and I need to make some pretty big decisions and try some different things in order to get a different outcome. That has seen me completely change careers within the industry, seen me help set up a business in Brisbane that’s now seen me start my own business. I’m still really connected to that journey of what it’s like to be an employee. Whereas, I think after you’ve been a leader or an owner of a business for 20, 30 years, you forget what life was like.

Michael Back (25:55):

My point here is that I’m really connected to, and I don’t like saying the top and the bottom because a lot of structures these days are very flat, but I’m connected to people at all levels of a business. The biggest gripe that business owners have is that their team aren’t thinking commercially enough that they’re not focused enough on the right things. That’s because they might not have grown up around business and understand what ... They just think that there’s this big pile of money sitting in a bank account and they get their pay and they’re not seeing the connection between revenue coming in and costs and salary and all those things.

Michael Back (26:30):

This is the bridge. It’s like the way that business owners go, well, here are the things that are really important to me, so let’s break that down into practical action. That means you’re focusing on the right things. Also, it’s almost like a great empathy tool because it just means that the people at the top can appreciate what the people at other levels of the business think and feel and how they see success and where they see the challenges in the business, but then also that the people at all levels of the business can understand what’s required to make sure that the business just is more and more successful every year.

Fraser Jack (27:04):

This is interesting. I’m going to go off in a bit of a tangent. We’re down a rabbit hole here.

Michael Back (27:08):

Let’s do it.

Fraser Jack (27:09):

Let’s talk about this concept of the org chart, the top and the bottom. I’ve always lived by the process that your client is at the top. The very first person that they speak to or their key point of contact, if that’s the person answering the telephone or sending the messages or whatever it might be, that’s the next person at the top. Do you know what I mean?

Michael Back (27:33):


Fraser Jack (27:35):

Not the manager or the shareholder or the owner or whatever or the person with the most letters after their name. It’s the client, then the people who they have the most contact with, and then from there, I guess down from there, not up from there.

Michael Back (27:51):

I’ve never thought of it that way, but it’s so true and it’s so consistent with the way that a system like this plays out.

Fraser Jack (27:58):

Essentially it’s going, okay, this is the most important person, our client, they’re at the top. Then, whoever answers the phone or whoever welcomes them at the door or whoever helps to produce their information, and everybody along the process then filters down to the person who they would spend the least time with, whatever it might be. You’ll see it on everyone’s website. Everyone’s website is a hierarchy of status on there. It’s like, well, that’s really self-directed in a way, but it’s the way it’s always been done instead of putting actually who’s looking at the website, the client or the possible client. Who would be the most important person for them to get hold of or talk to?

Michael Back (28:39):


Fraser Jack (28:41):

Anyway, that’s just a theory.

Michael Back (28:42):

No, I love it. I think it’s a really cool way of ... because a lot of the work I do, and probably one of my known fours in the industry is around the client experience. When you really break it down, if you don’t have a great client experience, you don’t have a great business. It is so integral to everything you’re doing. The best businesses in our industry and in most industries, I’d say all industries, I can’t think of one that it doesn’t apply, put the client at the center of everything they do.

Michael Back (29:10):

The classic case I see is that some excited leader or manager or just an advisor in the business goes to say the AFA Conference or the FBA conference and Congress, FBA Congress. Sorry for the FBA people out there. They will see an idea and they’ll say some tech tool and they’ll be like, “Oh yeah, we just saw this great session on video and we’ve just got to start doing more videos.” The team just cringe going, “Right. Another thing on the list.” If you look at the content of video, do I think video is a valuable tool for businesses? Yes, but there’s an asterisk. It depends. It depends what your problems are. It depends what you’re struggling with. It depends where you want to take your business in the next 12 months. That’s probably been the biggest shift in me since I’ve gone out on my own, is that I think social media is one of the most amazing tools that businesses have at their disposal, asterisk.

Fraser Jack (30:03):

It’s a tool.

Michael Back (30:04):

It’s a tool. That’s right. It’s not a strategy. The issue with, say, the person, the business coming to the team and going, “We’ve got to start doing more of this,” there’s a couple of issues. The first is it lacks context. It’s like, well, it’s a good idea, but is it the right idea based on exactly where we’re at? The subtext of that is a lot of the time, employees and team members are very aware of what the problems are in the business. They hear an idea like that and go, “Why the hell are we screwing around with video when we can’t even implement advice in less than two months?” There’s no avenue. There’s no follow through. The whole team are aware that that’s a problem, but there’s no sharp focus and decisive action taken towards it.

Michael Back (30:50):

We have all these problems that are in our business and they sit there but they’re fuzzy because we know if we bring them into focus, we’ve got to do something about them and that’s a bit overwhelming. A system like this is like saying, well look, video might be a good idea, but let’s run it through the test because we are agreeing through OKRs what’s important to us, what metrics we’re trying to change, what our problems are that we need to solve in the next 90 days? If video is going to help us achieve one of those things, absolutely. Let’s throw it on the list. If it is just one of these things, which is a good idea but maybe for next quarter or next year, great, let’s park it. It’s there. We acknowledge that it may be useful, but right now, we’ve agreed as a team that this isn’t useful. That’s a much healthier conversation.

Fraser Jack (31:33):

Yeah. It’s really around making sure that the foundations are in places that we’re doing the things that we need to do to get the business strong.

Michael Back (31:40):

That’s exactly right.

Fraser Jack (31:41):

Then, we’ll do the shiny stuff.

Michael Back (31:43):

Yes, that’s right. You talk about the first question that you asked was around decisions. That’s how you make better decisions, is you have better conversations because you’ve asked better questions from the outset.

Fraser Jack (31:55):


Michael Back (31:56):

The program, the OKR, the K and the R is key results.

Fraser Jack (32:01):

Is there an S or is it-

Michael Back (32:02):

No, that’s just the plural. Yes, the OKR system.

Fraser Jack (32:06):

Key results.

Michael Back (32:07):

Yes. You’ve got your key results and as a team, you go, “Right. For the next 90 days, we’re focusing on this.” Then, it’s about brainstorming actions. This isn’t getting into the minutia of a project plan. What are the things that we need to start doing or change or stop doing? What are the 90-day behavioral changes or things that we’ve got to start focusing on in order to achieve those key results?

Michael Back (32:31):

The way I suggest doing that is you sit with your team, 10 minutes, get them to come up with as many ideas for shifting those numbers, those key results as they can. One idea per Post-it Note. For those of you who want to give this a crack yourself, I would always recommend 3M high-stick Post-it Notes because they don’t fall off the wall. You’ve got all these ideas up on the wall. Obviously, they’re not all achievable within 90 days, so then it becomes about the team standing up around there and just deciding which ones are just a no-brainer like awesome idea, not that hard to implement. Let’s get that done. Which ones are you know it’s a great idea but we’re not going to do that in 90 days, or it’s probably just a bit misguided? Now is not the right time. You have discussions around the other ones and filter them into the 90 days or filter them out.

Michael Back (33:17):

It’s really a good exercise though because when you’re filtering stuff out, it’s not to say that will never be a good idea. You still document that, bring that back in, in your next 90-day sprint when you’re trying to shift those same key results. You essentially just get a list of we’ve agreed that this is what we think is practical in the next 90 days across the team to achieve. As you would be aware, when you get people into that environment where the phone is off, the computer is shut down, as I’ve discovered recently though, you’ve also got ask people to take their Apple Watches off because you get rid of all tech and they’re still getting SMSs on their watches. It’s like, gosh, where is this going to end?

Michael Back (33:54):

You get them in that environment that there’s this detachment from reality and a bit of optimism. That’s really essential for them to come up with great solutions to these problems that businesses are trying to solve. Sometimes we lose a bit of practicality so we go, “Yeah, we can achieve all that in 90 days.” What had happened a couple of times was a month in, we’re like, “We really bit off more than we can chew.”

Michael Back (34:15):

What I now build in, and I’d suggest anyone out there who wants to give this a crack builds in, is one week later or even a few days later, give yourself a weekend. Come back and go, “All right. We said we could achieve all this in 90 days. Is this really realistic? Is there one or two things we can take off this list?” Because we always overestimate what we can achieve in a small amount of time.

Fraser Jack (34:35):

How important is the location as in finding a neutral space, a creative space, maybe not your workspace for doing these sessions?

Michael Back (34:44):

Great question. I’m going to give an answer which sounds really vague, which is if you can do it, it would be hugely beneficial. I think environment is so important. Even if you’re doing this and people are sitting at their desk, just the fact they’re on the same chair that they’re at day to day and with the same surroundings, they’re going to have a similar level of thinking. The problem I’ve seen a lot of businesses is things like that, it’s like video, they go, “Oh, but I don’t have a good backdrop.” It’s still better to do a video with a boring backdrop than no video.

Michael Back (35:14):

I’d say that with the OKRs, if you can find a nice space and ... Actually, I spoke to a business yesterday who use a referral partners office for their OKR days. That’s a quick win. If you’ve got other businesses, you can just do a little swap. Even just that shift in environment where it’s like we’re in the new office. We got coffee from a different shop on the way up this morning. We’re going to go somewhere different for lunch. Even that can shift your mindset. If you don’t have another space to go to take your team to, it doesn’t matter. It’s still going to be better to do it than not to do it.

Fraser Jack (35:42):

I think getting creative, you don’t have to pay for a space to certainly be creative. Especially this time of the year in the summer, you can find an outdoor zone.

Michael Back (35:52):

Yeah. This may be the bit of the interview where everyone thinks that I’m a weird hippie and a bit woo-woo. I went to a Tony Robbins conference last year with one of my clients. I got a lot out of the content, but the best thing that I really took out of it was the power of an immersive experience. Tony Robbins, deliberately in his auditoriums, dials the temperature down to about 18, which they say 23 is the comfortable level, so it’s cold so you’re alert. You don’t go for an hour and then have a break. He sometimes takes you five, six, seven hours without a break. Minimal food on the outside. It’s an uncomfortable experience, but it’s an immersive experience, and it definitely takes you mentally to places that you don’t usually go.

Michael Back (36:40):

With one of my beautiful clients who let me treat them like Guinea pigs, we took something that I had learnt on a retreat that I went to this year around finding flow, which is around deep breathing and Wim Hof is the champion. He’s that crazy dude.

Fraser Jack (36:54):

The Iceman.

Michael Back (36:55):

The Iceman, yeah, holds his breath for five minutes underwater or maybe 10. I’m not sure. It’s insane. He climbed Everest just wearing a pair of shorts, and it’s all about the power of breathing.

Fraser Jack (37:07):

No shoes, wasn’t it?

Michael Back (37:07):

Yeah, no shoes. He’s just a madman. He’s a beautiful madman. We actually were doing just a deep breathing exercise. It’s like a meditation, but it’s just two minutes of really deep breathing and then you just let it out and then you just sit still for a minute. We did that in between OKR brainstorms. The reason we did that was by the end of that 90-day reset in the previous quarter, energy levels were very low. Everyone was like, “I’m tired.” You know that feeling, that brain fuzz of I’ve just been thinking too much, making a lot of decisions. When you operate strategically, you don’t have eight hours of energy.

Michael Back (37:46):

We brought the breathing in. Let’s just give this a crack and see if we just do a little reset in between sessions whether that makes a difference. It made a huge difference. Someone in the team said, “I could do that whole day again now I’m feeling so energized,” and that was the end of the day. Things like that.

Michael Back (38:03):

Every business has a different appetite for that. Some of the younger startup businesses would probably jump on that. Some of the more established businesses will go, “That guy is doing Wim Hof breathing in our boardroom.” The principle is you’ve got to bring some different energy and ideas into these sessions in order to get a different outcome.

Fraser Jack (38:21):

That could be an easier transition for people to make if they weren’t in their existing environment where they always do what they always do.

Michael Back (38:30):

That’s exactly right. This is the whole principle behind the Wim Hof breathing. I did not expect our interview to go into this space, by the way. The whole principle is that everyone can breathe. Everyone does breathe. Just breathe better. It really isn’t one of these things where you’re like, I don’t know how to meditate or I don’t know how to do this. It is something that’s quite accessible to everyone.

Fraser Jack (38:49):

Have you seen the sports teams doing it now? They get together and they huddle and they do the breathing.

Michael Back (38:54):

Yeah. That’s it. Some of it could be a placebo effect, but as you know with the placebo effect, even when people were told that they were taking a placebo, it still makes a difference. If you’re trying to get an outcome, whether it’s a placebo or not, it’s still works.

Fraser Jack (39:08):

All of our brains crave oxygen, so it’s got to work, right?

Michael Back (39:12):

We should do a deep breathing meditation right now just to make it the most boring 10 minutes in podcast history.

Fraser Jack (39:18):

Do you want to teach people how to do it? Is that what you’re saying? Yeah, let’s give a quick version. If somebody wants to fast forward through the breathing, they can. If you’re interested in knowing how to reset your brain, take us away.

Michael Back (39:34):

That forward 30 seconds, just hit that 20 times and then you’ll get to the end of the meditation.

Fraser Jack (39:38):

Can we do a short version? How would you do it?

Michael Back (39:43):

It starts with 30 to 40. Wim is so funny. I did one of his on YouTube. I had learned how to do it myself and then it’s like learning how to use the camera then reading the manual and, oh, I’m going to listen to how he said it. He’s like, “If you’re focusing on the number of breaths, don’t focus on the number. Just keep breathing.” When I say 30 to 40, just do it to a point where you are feeling an effect. You should be sitting down, not driving because you can feel lightheaded. Some people have really interesting reactions to the deep breathing. They get cold extremities. They start twitching. I went through a 45-minute version of the deep breathing meditation at that flow retreat and it was crazy some of the reactions people were having.

Fraser Jack (40:28):

He does [crosstalk 00:40:29], doesn’t he? He will do a two or three-day thing.

Michael Back (40:31):

Yeah. It’s mental. We’re doing the light version. It’s not going to be that crazy, but you should just be in a place where you’re not driving. You literally just breathe. Wim, I think he’s Dutch and he says, “Fully in.” Then, out, but you don’t go fully out. That’s what he always says, “Not fully out. Just fully in.” You go fully in until you feel that breath in your belly. it even helps to put your hands on your belly. Your tummy comes out. If you’ve had too many beers around Christmas, it’s very easy to know if your tummy is coming out enough.

Fraser Jack (41:07):

Too much Christmas pudding.

Michael Back (41:07):

Yes. You don’t let it fully out. You do that. What I just did ... like that. Hopefully, the listeners can hear that that’s a very deep breath but then a tiny out or just enough of it out. You do that in a circular motion so you don’t pause in between. You just keep doing that 30 to 40 times. I usually do it until I feel a bit lightheaded. It just feels like you’re a bit tipsy. On the last one, you just take one extra breath so your last breath is a really deep in.

Fraser Jack (41:38):

Completely filled your lungs. There’s nothing left.

Michael Back (41:40):

Then, you sit. You’ve done 30 to 40. You might be feeling a bit lightheaded, but you might have another reaction, but roughly two minutes, and then you just sit in that for as long as you can. You breathe out. You’re not holding your breath. You’re just dead silent sitting in that. You get better at it over time as you start oxygenating your brain. You usually can get to about a minute and a half or two minutes without taking another breath in, which is really surprising to me because I’m not a particularly fit guy, but it’s just amazing when you oxygenate your brain that much just how much oxygen you store up.

Fraser Jack (42:16):

The residual.

Michael Back (42:16):

Yeah, the residual, exactly. You then get to a point where you start going along and then need to breathe soon. Particularly when you’re starting out, Wim says, “Don’t be hero. Don’t fight it. Just take a big deep breath in, but that’s when you hold your breath.” When you’re starting to feel like I need a breath, you go ... Hold it, 10 to 15 seconds, let it out, and then that’s one cycle. He says you do three cycles of that. Just what I described there, do that three times.

Fraser Jack (42:43):

Fantastic. If you don’t feel something then please send Michael back an email.

Michael Back (42:50):

This could become a whole new business for me.

Fraser Jack (42:53):

There you go. It works. We know it works. The science says it works. As in sports science, they’re using it, so why not give it a go?

Michael Back (43:02):

Yeah. I use it as a bit of a reset button. You know when you’ve had that meeting that’s gone over time and you’re rushing to the next one and you’re just feeling like a little bit frazzled and you’re like, “I’m not ready for this meeting.” Just slow yourself down. Just do some deep breathing. I’m talking 20 to 30 seconds. It all helps. You don’t need to follow that formula every time. Just stopping, slowing down and breathing, it’s a really great reset button. Have you read a book called The Third Space?

Fraser Jack (43:27):

I’ve heard a talk on The Third Space.

Michael Back (43:29):

Dr. Adam Fraser.

Fraser Jack (43:29):

Yeah. I’ve heard Adam Fraser talk about it at a presentation. I haven’t read the book.

Michael Back (43:33):

Yeah, really cool idea. I know he’s done a lot of the conferences, but this concept of our lives are crazier than they’ve ever been before. We’re making more transitions from moment to moment than we’ve ever had to. The quality of your life is a function of how well you manage that transition from meeting A to meeting B or bad meeting to husband, wife, parent, etc. He gives you a bit of a formula for how you push that reset button.

Fraser Jack (44:01):

Put a little bit of space in between those two meetings or those quick meditations if you like.

Michael Back (44:05):

That’s it. That’s the third space. It’s actually one of the simplest tools that I’ve used with my clients to help them make better videos, is to say to them, “Do not have anything booked directly after this session.” It’s just that cognitive load of going, “Oh gosh, I’ve got to do these videos and I’ve got this meeting. What if I stuff up the videos and then I don’t have enough time?” That pressure, there’s some type of people who get fuel from that pressure, but most people when they’re doing something like video, which is very uncomfortable, it actually really stops them being at their best and just relaxing into it. The more of that space you can create around your meetings as well, it’s better.

Fraser Jack (44:46):

That’s a great suggestion, having that little third space between all sorts of meetings.

Michael Back (44:51):


Fraser Jack (44:52):

Tell me, 2020, what should people be focused on apart from OKRs, of course, which we’re all going to start taking up now? What should people be focused on in 2020 [crosstalk 00:45:01]?

Michael Back (45:01):

What should people ... Yeah, right. Something that I’ve been playing around with a lot lately and it’s working really well, and I don’t think it’s something our industry has done particularly well, is before and after data, and obviously you can do that on a financial level but something that I’ve been playing around with a lot is more quantitative feeling data. We are now in an era where the theme of our industry for the next half decade at least is going to be for a lot of people this isn’t an issue, but for many is I’ve never really had to connect to the value of what I’m doing and articulate it to people. How do I do that? How do I explain why they should pay this money to sign up?

Michael Back (45:50):

I think the more that you can ... because some people just make decisions based on gut and vibe and trust and word of mouth, but there’s a lot of people who need the tangible. I think creating that tangible through before someone comes in for their first meeting, how are you feeling about how clear you are, how in control you are with your finances, how stress free you’re feeling, etc.? Then, measuring that again after you’ve gone through the first round of implementation or before your review meetings. It’s a really interesting conversation to have with your client, but it also means that when you’re going to articulate the value to a potential new client, you can go, “On average, our clients improve their sense of control over money by 48%.” I think it’s compelling, but it’s also the right conversation to have with clients because you’re getting that constant gauge on how they’re feeling.

Fraser Jack (46:36):

Having some way of just testing the waters to say how you’re feeling on a scale of one to 10 or whatever it might be. Now, how are you feeling after we’ve helped you with demystifying it or whatever we’re going to do?

Michael Back (46:50):

That’s exactly right. I think it’s not necessarily something that people are sitting there and going, “Oh, this is going to be the theme of 2020,” but I think capturing before and after data helps you at a micro level in having better conversations with your clients, but at a macro level, it also helps you paint the picture of what the difference is that you make.

Michael Back (47:09):

It’s funny. I met yesterday with an IT company. We’re walking to a cafe to have a meeting and he’s like, “Oh, so tell me about your business.” I told him about the types of people I have. He goes, “Okay, so they’re all people who are selling intangibles.” He’s like, “They don’t actually have things to sell. They’re just selling intangibles.” I went, “Such an interesting way of looking at it.” A little bit overly skeptical, but at the end of the day, there is a huge amount of what we do for people as trusted voices and guides in their life that’s intangible. Same as me as a business coach. Same for all the advisors out there. Anything you can do to go, well yeah, it’s intangible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t add a layer of tangibility around it.

Fraser Jack (47:50):

It’s not really intangible. It’s more transformative or like moving from one state to another state.

Michael Back (47:56):


Fraser Jack (47:57):

Yeah, you’re right about the data. If you’ve got the data to show it, it’s not intangible. It’s only intangible if you don’t have the data.

Michael Back (48:04):

That’s so true. It’s also the thing though, you become ... We’re adaptive beings as humans and we just become so good at adapting to our surrounds. I’m sitting here now, lifting the curtain for the listeners. This is before Christmas, but you’re going to hear it in January. I’m sitting here now so like, “Oh my, gosh. I’ve got all these things to do and blah, blah, blah.” I forget how I felt this time last year, but I’m sure if you put me in a time machine, took me to the end of 2018 and said, “Hey, this is where things are going to be in a year.” I’d be like, “That’s fantastic.” All the people who’ve helped me get there along the way, I’d be like, yes, fantastic. The problem is that you adapt to your new norm and you forget where you’ve come from.

Michael Back (48:49):

I think this is part of the challenge that any relationship based business has, is that their clients are, they’re going, what’s next, what’s next, what’s next? You sometimes got to look back and go, well, actually, this year seems like it’s been quiet because we haven’t invested that much. We haven’t done this, but at the start of the year, you felt like this and now you’re feeling like this. It’s been a pretty big year. Don’t forget where you’ve come from.

Fraser Jack (49:12):

You constantly got to capture that data. We’re up to right now even though it may not seem significant at the time.

Michael Back (49:19):

That’s exactly right. I’m talking simple online survey tools like Typeform. Having a system where that gets sent out and completed before, say, a review meeting or before our first client meeting. It’s not a huge bridge to cross to get that type of data.

Fraser Jack (49:36):

Fantastic. Well, thanks, Michael for coming back. See what I did there?

Michael Back (49:40):

I do.

Fraser Jack (49:42):

Let’s have you back on again soon. To me, the OKRs was a great topic to talk about because people can then go off and do some research or maybe try and implement themselves or get one of their team members to start taking the charge or they can talk to you about it.

Michael Back (49:58):

Absolutely. Look, I firmly believe that if you are motivated and had the right people in your team, you could do this yourself. We’ll put in the show notes the link to that book that will let you find Felipe Castro and just go down this rabbit hole. There are so many free resources. If you’re a DIY kind of person, you will absolutely love his stuff. If you wanted either someone to just do the heavy lifting for you or you value your fresh perspective in your business who might be able to come up with some different actions in your OKR plan that you would have thought of, I would love to help out. You can check out my website, www.humantohuman.com.au or find me on LinkedIn. I usually hang out there quite a lot.

Fraser Jack (50:35):

Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming and hanging out.

Michael Back (50:38):

I’m actually going to hijack the outro.

Fraser Jack (50:42):

There you go. You do the outro.

Michael Back (50:43):

It’s the second last working day of the year and-

Fraser Jack (50:47):

As we record.

Michael Back (50:48):

I just wanted to give you a Christmas present.

Fraser Jack (50:50):

Look at this. Merry Christmas to me.

Michael Back (50:53):

This is one of those awkward podcast moments where you can’t see what’s happening, but I’ve given him a gift, and the envelope says pod god on the front, which if you didn’t know, that’s Fraser’s nickname [crosstalk 00:51:04].

Fraser Jack (51:04):

It actually says hashtag pod god.

Michael Back (51:08):

I think Glen James came up with that one, didn’t he?

Fraser Jack (51:09):

Yeah, he did. He started it and other people picked up on it, and I’ve been trying to get rid of it ever since. There’s a fantastic, wonderful note inside, which I won’t read it.

Michael Back (51:18):

If Fraser’s mom is listening, he opened the card before the gift so he is still a good boy.

Fraser Jack (51:24):

Is that a-

Michael Back (51:24):

Oh yeah, it’s just rude to go straight for the present and not open the card.

Fraser Jack (51:27):

No, I like the card.

Michael Back (51:29):

I got smacked for that [crosstalk 00:51:31].

Fraser Jack (51:30):

I’ll have to get my mom to start listening to the podcast so she knows I’m still a good boy.

Michael Back (51:34):

Is your mom one of those moms who doesn’t really understand what you do?

Fraser Jack (51:39):

Of course. She asked me how she could watch the podcast the other day. Fair enough. Oh, lovely and beautiful quote. Look at that.

Michael Back (51:46):

It’s a Seth Godin quote. I’ll read it out because I think Seth has just this beautiful way of helping people realize that even if they’re starting a financial advice business, that is a form of art and that is some beautiful vision they have within them that they want to bring to the world. Even though it doesn’t sit in a museum or on the wall of an art gallery, it’s still art. I’ve given this to a bunch of my clients but I thought was very applicable to you this year because I see what you’re doing here and it is your art. I think the industry really, really appreciates what you’re doing.

Fraser Jack (52:18):

Well, thank you, Michael. We’ll end on the quote, but I just wanted to thank you so much for coming on the show again, and we look forward to having you back again.

Michael Back (52:26):

Thank you.

Fraser Jack (52:26):

Let’s listen in on the quote.

Michael Back (52:28):

Art is what we call the thing an artist does. It’s not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human. Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist. Seth Godin.

Fraser Jack (52:58):

If you haven’t already, I’d love you to subscribe to the podcast on your podcast platform of choice, and to continue the conversation, head over to our social media channels. We’ll catch you next time.



Disclaimer: This document is a transcription obtained through a third party. There is no claim to accuracy on the content provided in this document, and divergence from the audio file are to be expected. As a transcription, this is not a legal document in itself, and should not be considered binding to advice intelligence, but merely a convenience for reference.