How to Change the Agency Climate Crisis

Webmaster note: This article was written by VeraSage Senior Fellow Tim Williams.

In the hustle and bustle of servicing demanding clients, many agency professionals have lost their bearings. They no longer distinguish between what is urgent and what is important; everything is urgent—or at least it appears to be.

Account executives spend their day in a reactive mode, waiting for the next e–mail or voice mail to tell them what to do. They often end their work day feeling that they kept up with their inbox but didn’t accomplish anything important. It’s no wonder that many talented people are simply leaving the agency business altogether, because they’re not getting the sense of achievement that is at the core of why professional people work in the first place.

What can be done to change this climate of reactivity and low professional satisfaction? The first step is realizing that as an agency leader or manager, your primary responsibility is to create the right conditions for your people to succeed. This includes:

Help your people understand that you are paying them for value created, not hours worked. If your people are held accountable for achieving important outcomes for the client rather than logging a specified number of hours on their timesheet, it has a big effect on how they spend their time.

Engage in professional development for all employees. Agencies are not professional service firms, they are professional knowledge firms. Unless your people are constantly learning, they are not providing the value clients are paying you for.

Provide a better orientation for new employees. Instead of assuming new people know the ropes, show them the ropes—not only your systems and approaches, but your beliefs and principles.

Teach your people to prioritize. Unless agency professionals act on what’s important rather than just react to what’s urgent, they will never achieve the sense of satisfaction they seek from their work experience. Here’s a useful way to think about time prioritization:

Which quadrant do most agency people go to first? Quadrant C, because it’s easy. But that’s not where they add value to client relationships, and it’s certainly not where they’ll find the most professional satisfaction.

You, as leader or manager, can be the catalyst for an important climate change in your agency. But you’ll have to lead by example, as all successful agency leaders do.

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