How to gear up for success in an organization


A question that’s been on my mind a lot lately is how does one gear up for success in an organisation.
Most of us have read bestsellers such as “Good to Great”, “Blue Ocean Strategy” and “Eating the big fish”, all of which contain great nuggets on how to create commercial success.

But what I’ve learnt in my time as a leader is that the best advice often comes from talking to staff about what they would do if they were in charge. So, instead of reading more business books, I’ve taken to having lunches or a few beers with colleagues.

Here’s why:

1. Make the agency vision real

Many leaders come up with lofty visions that are hard to remember and irrelevant at an individual level, and therefore not sticky.

A vision is a picture of what success looks like. It has to be big, it has to be relevant and it has to be exciting. Given a choice between “being the agency of choice” and “the coolest agency to work with and for”, I’d choose the latter.

People get excited about visions that speak their language and visions that tap into their own aspirations. Everyone wants to partner with the cool guy.

2. Weave your agency values into your daily lexicon

Values don’t belong on your intranet. They are the glue that holds an organisation together. They are the code that shows others that you are a family.

At best, they are rules of engagement, which help us navigate complex human relations. This, they achieve, by transcending hierarchies and piercing through rank.

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Encourage the management team and key opinion leaders in your agency to popularise your values by making them part of daily speak.

3. Set clear stretch goals for everyone

We all know how margin-sensitive our industry is and, for this reason, no agency can afford ‘fat’ of any kind.

There is no room in any organisation for people who are walking around aimlessly without set goals.

To get the most out of people, we need to arm them with meaningful goals that will help them pursue personal and organisational goals.

4. Make accountability clear and personal

It’s important to have clarity around who’s responsible and accountable for what. Nothing great can be achieved if there’re too many chefs in the kitchen.

I’ve seen great ideas get watered down because there’re too many commentators giving input.

I also know that people are motivated by the knowledge that they own something and can therefore claim the success that comes with that.

5. Encourage an entrepreneurial culture

Entrepreneurs are hungry and are driven to succeed. They are not wasteful and are always looking for better ways to do things. They chase new business like their lives depend on it. Their passion for what they do is infectious and their authenticity is a magnet to prospective clients.

These need to be the standards that every employee aspires to.

6. Encourage a coaching and counseling leadership style

Coaching is about getting people from good to great, while counseling is about helping people get out of a negative frame of mind into a positive one.

Both are equally important.

You need to keep a constant eye on the energy levels in your agency. Weekly or monthly “fun” interventions are more effective than a once-off team building.

7. Develop a greenhouse culture

We are quick to shoot down ideas. And we are also guilty of making ideas the sole preserve of the creative department.

Yes, the creative team is accountable for producing creative ideas but we shouldn’t be precious about where a great idea originates. We need to encourage and reward creative thinking across the organisation.

8. Democratise information

Trust your staff to handle information maturely.

Some leaders do not believe in sharing financial information and business issues and challenges with staff. I’ve found that people prefer and appreciate honest and frank disclosure. It empowers them to make choices, and very often these choices are to the benefit of both the individual and the organisaiton.

It’s much easier to commit to an organisation when you know where it’s headed.

9. Learn from successes and failures

The agency world is a frenetic rollercoaster ride with some deep lows and major highs. We are constantly running from job to job.

We need to make time to pause and reflect on lessons learnt from our successes and flops. There’s great value in doing that.

If you are not a learning organisation, your future is bleak.

10. Use the power of positive self-talk

On a good day, your mind buzzes with positive thoughts and optimism. On a lousy day, the critical and pessimistic voices in your head shout the loudest. How do you ensure that your staff is psyched and ready to conquer the world most of the time?

You need to develop an organisational brand proposition that captures your organisation’s ‘best self’ and use these positive attributes as your agency’s war cry. It will soon travel from lips to lips and be your agency’s ‘truth’.

As you can see, most — if not all — of these tips are about going back to leadership basics. Leadership is a journey. Enjoy it.

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