In a previous post, I shared that many agency leaders feel that it’s become increasingly tougher to maintain and grow their business. For some, their agency’s financial performance has plateaued as a result of their growth. For others, they feel their quality of work, speed, and culture isn’t what it needs to be. If this feels familiar, your agency’s operating model may be failing you.
Other Agencies Have Been Here
There is a common set of challenges agencies experience when their operating model no longer serves its purpose. That purpose is to facilitate the execution of your agency’s business strategy. Let me be clear — your operating model serves your strategy.
If thoughtfully designed, your operating model will — and should — also balance the needs of your clients, employees, and the realities of your business. Otherwise, your leadership team will find itself pulled in different directions to address a related mix of problematic issues.
Here are the challenges your agency will experience when your operating model is no longer doing what it should:
|FINANCIAL CONCERNS:||CONFUSION ABOUT PROCESS:|
|• Compromised margins (< 20%)||• Unclear roles and responsibilities|
|• High costs from rework||• Misalignment around client priorities|
|• Late or over-budget projects||• Inconsistent or absence of process|
|QUALITY ISSUES:||COSTLY MANAGEMENT STYLES:|
|• Poor digital-first or integrated thinking||• Too many people involved in meetings|
|• Inconsistent quality across the agency||• Too many wasteful meetings|
|• Too many internal revisions||• Not enough time for actual work|
|LOW EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT:||LOW CLIENT SATISFACTION:|
|• Lack of accountability||• Client concerns about turnaround time|
|• Low team morale||• Clients’ expectations are misaligned|
How Other Agencies Have Overcome
Challenges like these cause what I refer to as “aspirational tension.” Your employees will begin pulling the current state of your agency (“what is”) toward their vision for how it could be better (“what could be”), but they will be fighting the model you have in place to fulfill that vision. That’s aspirational tension.
Agencies that have overcome these types of challenges have evolved their operating models to harness the power of aspirational tension.
Tension is good. It means your people care about your agency and that they are looking for ways to change it for the better. Your job as an agency leader is to create an environment where those changes are allowed to happen. For many, this requires shifting the way they think about how work should get done within their agency. That’s why a cornerstone of your operating model should be a set of operating principles.
Operating principles shape your employees’ mindset and behaviors in support of your strategy. I share more on principles here.
The other components of your operating model should include:
- Structure & Authority — providing guardrails that guide your people’s day-to-day decisions and actions down a pathway that supports your strategy.
- Leadership & Talent Development — reskilling senior leaders to ensure supportive leadership styles and employee development are central to their work.
- Practices, Processes, & Tools — designing ways of working that foster consistent team alignment, effective collaboration and coordination, and uninterrupted productivity.
Start With Where You Are
For most agency leaders, the work of transforming an agency’s operating model is new territory. It can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to. With a pragmatic and systematic approach, you can begin reshaping your agency to achieve ideal performance outcomes. Start with where you’ve observed the most tension, and go from there.
If you’d like help uncovering and addressing the tension within your agency, we offer an introductory assessment and planning service for this purpose. Reach out to learn more.