Lessons learned

November 4, 2020

David Kaiser 

Is the pace of change increasing, or is that just the consequence of getting older? As a child, I remember summers lasting forever and the holidays never arriving quickly enough. Now, I blink and a decade has gone by. As our agency enters its tenth year, I thought it would be worth putting pen to paper (yikes, another outdated concept) and reflect on lessons learned. 

Change brings opportunity. Of course, there is nothing wrong with incremental success. Each year, we add new clients, welcome new team members and tackle new challenges. But with great change comes great opportunity, and jeez, 2020, you didn’t leave anything in the bag. With the political and economic turmoil this year brought, it would be easy to freeze and try and cling to what you have. Our own firm saw significant change this year, including the retirement of a founding partner from our agency. But freezing up would have been exactly the wrong response. We are in the business of leaning in! 

I am always fascinated by the paradoxes businesses face, in that many times leaders are so afraid of an outcome that they take the exact actions that guarantee its occurrence. Tackling change offers just such an example.  Leaders facing change may be so intimidated by the prospect of failure that they pull back and take no risks. Finances are managed tightly, hiring is slowed, and the business stops exploring new ideas. Staff and clients see this and are less engaged, leading to turnover, reduced budgets and the loss of interesting mandates – guaranteeing the failure they were trying so desperately to avoid. 

Embrace change.  It is hard, but instead of thinking in terms of trying to survive, we need to think creatively to win. Take risks. Do something new. And scary. Sure, failing is an option. But failing, and failing often, is a crucial part of the path to success. It is how we react to failure that determines how quickly we move down that path. Taking risks is a skill. How interesting or lucrative is the upside and how dramatic is the downside? How can things really go wrong? Are you really listening to the market (i.e. your customers and potential customers) and what it is telling you is needed? 

Relationships are everything. Here is the real secret: a business is just a collection of people that agree to work together. Sure, there are contracts and offices and machinery, but the real value is that we all (staff, clients and vendors) want to work together to create something we can be proud of. We take risks (see above), we try new things and yes, sometimes fail, but we guard those relationships with everything we have. My mantra when I thought about the reason for building this agency was always to our clients and teammates first. Be honest – always! And NEVER make promises you cannot keep. 

Bet on your team. So change brings opportunity, we should embrace it and we can rely on our relationships. When it comes to taking chances, the team you have assembled is your best asset, so trust them. People think of authority as binomial. You have it or you don’t. It is your job or it is my job. This is a dangerous simplification. We all need to work together and rely on each other, but that reliance is on a gradient. Some aspects of a project can be completely delegated, and should be, sometimes people have developed a number of options and need help choosing a path, and occasionally they get stuck and need a good old-fashioned brainstorm. But always grounded in the trust that they will get the job done successfully. 

That’s it. I am confident the agency will see even more success as Janine and our team guide us into the next decade, in ways we have yet to imagine. But I do know this. It will go by in a flash. 

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