Is your agency innovating or simply delivering?
Companies hire agencies to bring them fresh perspectives, unique experience, specialized skillsets, and a forward outlook on what is trending. So let me ask you this, what happens if your agency isn’t innovating?
If the agency doesn’t stay ahead of the curve, they are left repeating patterns, processes, and tactics that start to lose their value over time. If things don’t change they are in danger of being commoditized. Soon, they will be left picking up the scraps.
A common misconception is that innovation needs to be transformative or something that changes the game. In my experience, that’s not the case. It’s better to start with small things and build on them. Something your team can successfully start, complete and implement. Success is more important than scale.
It all starts at the top
So how do you get started? The answer here is easy, your leadership team. Put their heads together to educate, makes space and build the habit of innovating. This is muscle that is exercised over time and will take a while before you see results. Your teams should know that innovation is important and how to contribute.
Room in your calendar is needed to innovate in the first place. Your teams are already busy and don’t have a ton of time to add anything else to their plates. For Solid Digital, figuring out when we could dedicate time was the first challenge. We knew that before we could add something new, we had to take some things off. Here were some areas we focused on:
- Internal meetings: Evaluate everything on your team’s calendars. Find long meetings and shorten them. See if weekly meetings could be every other week. If you have department meetings evaluate the agenda and see how that already scheduled time could be refocused to innovation special projects. Lastly, cut all unnecessary items getting in the way.
- Client meetings: This one is more tricky because we would never sacrifice customer service to serve our own agenda. You should do the same exercise as you did with internal meetings but prioritize your customers first.
- Events: Use your company’s all-hands as opportunities to include innovation agenda items. In our case, we took a weekly meeting and changed it to a once per month innovation forum.
Anything new will take some time getting used to. With any habit, preparation, predictability, repetition and follow-through are key.
- Kickoff: Included everyone on the team to be included in the purpose. Express why innovating is critical to your business and clients. This is your opportunity to set the stage.
- Schedule: Any regular sessions should be on the schedule, in advance and at a predictable time. In our case, we meet monthly at the same time and everyone knows it’s coming.
- Training: Your team will most likely have different strengths and not everyone will have the same experience working in a big group. We created small mini exercises and for the 90 days it was just practice. The group performed real working sessions on fake concepts so everyone could learn how to best participate. One pro-tip, get used to breaking up into small groups with separate assignments and then come back together with big results.
- Be patient: This is new, it will take time. Trying to rush the process or being overly critical will submarine your efforts.
Create a framework that gets things done!Remember, you are trying to get the most out of the minds of your team. That doesn’t happen by accident. Prepare with your leadership team and define your system. It doesn’t matter what your system is, as long as you have one. Here is ours:
- Queue it up: Every session we bring the team together with a theme. Something we want to accomplish, not fully bakes and plenty of room for creativity. We take turns setting up what we are trying to get out of the group and then break up into small teams in order to divide and concur.
- Create mini-goals: Big conversations and big ideas can take a lot of time. Break down big topics into smaller ones. Present the smaller goal and get after it.
- Make it easy on participants: There isn’t a lot of time for these sessions, so waste is an enemy. Prepare ahead of time so that the time everyone is together is super productive. Adding value to the experience.
- Make it achievable: Plan on finishing whatever is started. If you can’t finish something because it is too big, break it down into smaller parts and finish those. Teams feel good about the process when they see progress.
Test before you invest
Most likely some big ideas will come out of the woodwork. Some of them might seem like great ideas, so awesome you should stop everything you are doing and jump right in. STOP! Slow down and test your assumptions before jumping in feet first.
- PR/FAQ: A PR/FAQ is a process to write down the vision of your idea like a customer would perceive it. A press release accompanied by a list of internal and external FAQs (frequently asked questions). If you can write a compelling case and think through some of the hard questions, the initiative is easier to evaluate.
- Committee Review: Not all ideas should move forward, not even all good ideas should move forward. We typically like to start with initiatives that have a high business value and lower effort. 99% this discipline is followed, 1% something is so awesome it has to be done.
Keep doing it!
Something I hear after EVERY innovation forum at Solid Digital is “I can’t believe we did all of that.” It’s crazy to think how productive, fun and engaged our team is during these events. And as a leader in the organization, I get to learn something new about the people we are working with. When you get to see your team members contributing beyond the day to day it is very rewarding.In closing, keep innovating or we are coming for you.