Rena: You were asked to lead the creative services department. Did you want to take on this role, and did you feel prepared to do it?
Amanda: I have to be honest I was very hesitant about taking on this position of management. I was resistant, especially because it didn't feel like a safe opportunity. My manager and I discussed the possibility of closing the department down, and I was told that this was an option under consideration. That made me ask for 12 months to turn it around, and I received the approval. Once I was given that time commitment, my thoughts switched from "No thanks" to "Well, ok. Here's the opportunity for me to actually make a difference."
At first I did not feel prepared. When I found out I was going to take the department over, I told my manager that I wasn't thrilled about it, and that I was being put in a difficult position, but if I were going to do it, I was going to do it right. I explained that I needed a coach and that if my budget couldn't pay for it, then I'd pay for it out of pocket. That was when he saw how committed I was. It gave him the confidence that I was going to make it happen, and he funded the coach. Having an objective partner, a coach, gave me the confidence to trust my instincts. I had come up through the ranks at large global companies, starting as a production artist, and knew the pain points in the whole creative process. Though, I didn't realize how much I knew until I was given the opportunity and the insight from my coach, and then all the pieces started lining up.
Rena: What were the challenges you faced?
Amanda: One of the biggest challenges I faced was working to transform how the rest of the corporation perceived the department. The department had a reputation as a production shop, and I knew it had the potential to be so much more--we could become an internal integrated agency. It was at this point that I knew the department needed a vision and goals that aligned with the overall company strategy. With my team, we started to develop processes, documentation such as detailed SOWs, and branding for our creative department. We're now called "The Hive" and have a full brand identity within Saint-Gobain.
Rena: What changes in culture have you seen?
Amanda: The department is much more upbeat and collaborative. We've moved to a more trusting culture. When we added account management, it took pressure off creative and forced everyone to realize they had to work together in order to get projects done. The biggest thing we emphasize is that we're a team; it's not about one individual succeeding. If one person is failing, we're going to help him or her because we work as a team.
Rena: What were the tools you used?
Amanda: I took notes, tracked everything and reported to my manager weekly--in person at first and then in PowerPoint. I made sure he didn't have to ask for updates. He was informed, and therefore he was able to keep the executives informed. I made sure he always had the answers right at his fingertips. I also partnered with HR and legal and kept them up to date on every move. It's important to figure out whom you need as an advocate, whom you can trust, and whom you need to inform.
We created detailed SOWs, just like an agency. We acted as a true agency by doing the due diligence up front for free. We included research on our client's competitive landscape, we branded our RFPs per client within Saint-Gobain, and we proposed thoughtful solutions. Every communication showed, and continues to show, that we are a talented group and we're on our customer's team; we want them to succeed because we all work for the same company.
Another tool was hiring a coach. The benefit of a coach was having an outside opinion of someone who knew my industry, someone I could bounce ideas off of, I trusted, I knew I could say anything to and who'd help me figure it out. Someone to look into the organization with complete objectivity made such a difference because I was too close to it. Talking via phone, rather than onsite, was good because I didn't want to be behind a shut door with a consultant when there was so much tension already. Plus, having a coach gave me confidence that I hadn't had before. I was tentative going into this and working with someone who was a kind, direct and knowledgeable advocate was empowering.
Rena: How did Saint-Gobain react?
Amanda: The initial reaction from customers was surprising. Those customers who had been complaining before the reorganization began to call complaining about the changes. I thought I'd either get positive or no reaction, I never expected the negative emotional response that people had in response to the changes we were making. I caution other leaders to expect change to scare people, even the ones you expect to be thrilled may not initially react as you anticipate.
I then spent months sitting down with customers and not focusing on the past but explaining where we were going in the present and future. I, and the other managers on my team, went on a campaign to build relationships and stay in constant touch with our customers, in person or via phone. We were transparent about saying "We're at the point of building a new relationship with you; please teach us how to earn your trust." That gave our customers comfort and we began to build trusting connections.
When our customers started realizing that we really were a different group and that we had a lot of capabilities they hadn't known about, it was exciting. With every win, we were able to showcase our abilities. Every little success meant so much. If we had a setback, we fixed it and moved on. And we've kept evolving our processes, documentation, and communication style.
After the department reorganization, the Paris headquarters, to learn more about what we were doing, contacted my manager. They had heard about [our change] through the grapevine. We had an initial phone call, and then they flew in from Paris to meet with us. All of a sudden we went from being this unknown department to the focus of headquarters as the team that just did something totally transformational. We had never had interaction with Paris HQ, and now we're on the Corporate Communications Global Team. We partner on the company brand guidelines--they want our insights! And they've asked us to be trainers for the digital marketing training program across North America.
Rena: Hindsight, what would you do differently next time?
Amanda: I felt so passionate and took it home. I worked 60-70 hours a week, when I could have worked a little less and maintained a better balance. There were some things I should not have let affect me personally. Some of it was that I was so determined that I let it be too much of a priority. Even a break for a day or two would have been smart.
Rena: Any wise words for folks who are considering doing this?
Amanda: It can be done!
** Learn more about the transformation of Amanda's team at HOW Design Live. Amanda is speaking on Wednesday, May 6th at 10:15. Then stick around for the release of the In-House Creative Services Industry Report presentation by Jackie Schaffer and Conor Smith at 11:30am the same day! **
If a business coach is of interest of you, learn more about Cella's coaching program.