"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together." -Vincent Van Gogh
If you're looking to continually improve your in-house agency, you must consistently optimize every operational and organizational aspect of your business. The key to doing this effectively is to maintain the successful practices you've already established and make gradual, steady improvements on top of that foundation. It can't be done in random inconsistent spurts, and attempts to improve your organization all at once will most likely create stress, opposition and confusion that can easily lead to failure. It's far better to opt for consistent, incremental and well-planned improvements that will yield positive results for your agency. To illustrate this point, I'll share a recent experience I had at an in-house agency in a large, global company.
A Phased Approach to In-House Agency Change
I recently worked with a team to launch a project management tool that would help us define and document the agency's processes and create a more seamless way of working across multiple locations. Prior to my joining the group, implementing the tool had been repeatedly delayed by all the work required to deploy it, the staff's limited bandwidth and their fears about how disruptive the rollout might be.
Knowing the difficulties and roadblocks that could surface during the launch, I worked to gain critical feedback from the project stakeholders beforehand. My intention was to establish a sense of ownership among them, so they would champion the tool and advocate for its deployment. As the launch date drew closer, I could sense a rise in the department's energy. To leverage and build on that excitement, I decided to approach the rollout in phases. This allowed me to communicate the launch in a way that articulated the benefits of the tool, kept the team engaged and prepared for the launch, provided progress updates and reinforced the positive impact the tool would spark.
Little by Little, a New Culture Takes Hold
As the momentum grew, I put my best communication and change-management strategies to work. Soon after, the team began to adopt and embrace my ideas about how the tool could be used. There was a level of engagement within the group that was missing in the previous launch attempts. My change management tactics provided them a sense of having greater control over the process and they had a better understanding that the tool would not become roadblock to their workflow. On the contrary, they began to believe that the tool would actually make their jobs easier.
I had also identified and groomed internal champions and stewards to own the processes and procedures associated with the tool. With the help of these individuals and others who volunteered to assess the tool as it was developed, the team not only embraced how the tool functioned but also started to uncover ways to improve it. The team was adopting a culture of continuous improvement without even realizing it.
We launched with several days of training and support to help ensure everyone was comfortable and confident about using the tool. Ultimately though, due to its complex nature, we found that the best way for the team to be fully acquainted with the tool was by actually employing it in their daily activities.
Now that the tool has successfully launched, our focus has shifted to leveraging it to help us consistently make incremental but important and sustainable operational improvements throughout our organization.
So how can we all best implement this practice of making steady and cumulative improvements to our teams' operations and organization?
1. Don't resist.
Instead of pushing back on the idea of change, we, and our teams, should embrace it. We can start by committing to a flexible way of working and accepting that while change may be beneficial, it can be uncomfortable at times. We all seek the security of stability. Often this causes us to avoid the risks associated with change and, unfortunately, to lose out on the benefits that change might bring to our teams. Rather than spending most of our time trying to maintain the status quo, it's in our best interests to yield to the reality that there is no permanence, that change is inevitable and that we must proactively look for ways to adapt to and even leverage change to our advantage. Once we adopt a pro-change mindset, we become empowered to plan for it and encourage a similar mindset within our teams.
2. Commit to change.
Having embraced change, we then need to create a change management or continuous improvement plan and actually do what we have committed to--implementing the incremental tactics that will enhance the team and its performance. These improvements don't need to be huge, but they do need to be executed consistently. Positive strides forward could be as simple as uncovering and addressing operational pain points such as poor file handoffs or inconsistent archiving of projects. Instead of starting with your most difficult problems, look for the quick wins. This way, you and your team don't feel overwhelmed or inclined to give up on progress. Keep the steps small, but noticeable and beneficial. This is how we can encourage lasting and sustainable improvements in our agencies.
3. Assess progress.
Self-evaluation is a critical third step. Through assessment we can identify additional opportunities for improvements--and almost more importantly, identify reasons to acknowledge our teams for their accomplishments. This recognition will help motivate them (and others) to look for more new ways to improve the organization. Without self-evaluation, we put our teams at risk of becoming complacent or frustrated and more likely to slide back into old habits.
There are many ways to evaluate progress, but simply starting by soliciting feedback from our teams is a great first step. For example, if we change a project management process, we can ask what went right? What was improved? What could have been done better? Consider holding reviews or feedback sessions on a monthly or even weekly basis. The more frequent the cadence, the easier it will be to stay on top of what needs to change and teams will be more apt to redirect their focus and efforts when necessary.
By identifying what areas need attention through assessment, we're empowered to implement appropriate and measured changes that result in long-term improvements. It's critical that we be especially cognizant of the fact that gradual improvement is hard to see in the short-term, but very obvious in a longer-term view; so in addition to more immediate assessments, we should be sure to provide a broader context in which to showcase our team's successes.
4. Measure success.
Lastly, it's important to measure improvements. This allows us to have a much better understanding of the efficacy and efficiency of the changes we're implementing as well as being empowered to communicate our progress to upper management. Quantitative measurements far outweigh best guesses or anecdotal evidence as they provide clearer, more accurate insights to the results of our efforts. When establishing continuous improvement initiatives, it's critical to establish associated goals and desired outcomes up front--and determine how best to report on them.
In Conclusion . . .
It bears repeating that long-term growth will most often only come from focusing on steady, incremental and consistent improvements. By embracing, committing to, assessing and measuring change, we're empowered to proactively and powerfully adapt to varying business needs, industry trends and operational/organizational opportunities in ways that consistently transform and enhance our businesses and teams.