7 Game-Changing Leadership Lessons in 12 Months (Part 1)

By Kent Lewis, an EO Portland member and president of Anvil Media

On April 16th of 2013, I had an epiphany about my business, which inspired me to write The Anvil Credo. The Credo, in essence, outlined 10 elements which define me and my marketing consultancy, Anvil Media. Since then, I’ve been living The Credo, and learning a good deal about myself, my teammates, clients and business. It’s been a difficult but rewarding journey, involving a complete overhaul of my company while trying to maintain client relationships.

The team’s passion and commitment to The Credo has helped us navigate the most profound shift in my career and Anvil’s fourteen-year history. While we’re still navigating the process of change, I’ve identified seven core lessons from this unique twelve-month experience.

Accountability is Key
When I first unveiled The Anvil Credo to the team, it created a visceral reaction. At the time, I felt that there was a shortage of accountability among the team. In the ensuing months, I realized the accountability issue was at the very top, rather than lower down in the ranks. As the founder, owner and president, I was unable and unwilling to accept the fact that the significant team turnover was all on me. I had failed to connect with and inspire the team and they had lost trust and faith in my leadership abilities.

In the past twelve months, I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on the situation and making an effort to change my perspective and approach to leadership. Lesson: when looking for the culprit, start by looking in the mirror. Resolution: while I’ve instituted increased levels of clarity and measurability for each role in the company, my primary focus has been on my own accountability. I’ve added a critical layer of accountability in 2014 with a mentor provided through Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Portland Chapter, while maintaining my advisory board and regular interactions with agency owners and members of the Portland Advertising Federation (PAF) Roundtable. I’ve shared my clearly-defined goals for myself and my team with my mentor and advisory board and look forward to their support (and tough love) in order to deliver on my commitment. Result: while still a major work-in-progress, feedback from current team members regarding my new perspective regarding accountability has been positive.

Profitability can be Dangerous
Perhaps the most powerful lesson I’ve learned over the past year or two was rooted in Anvil’s financial success. As a five-year veteran of Portland Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Companies, our profitability and employee retention was healthy through 2011. With strong lagging indicators, I didn’t feel the need to peek under the hood and “fix” anything when nothing appeared to be broken. That oversight was costly.After we fired our largest client and lost our second largest client, the significant decrease in revenue triggered a series of events that led to deeper analysis of the team structure in 2011. Changes that were made were not sufficient to alter the tides that led to The Credo.

Lesson: Don’t be lulled into complacency by success. Don’t let the destination (financial security) distract you from the journey.

Resolution: Create a series of checks and balances to ensure you have a clear understanding of your business operations at every level.

I have monthly check-ins with every employee and now receive monthly reports from my executive team that tie to company and personal goals, so we can measure and manage progress. Result: Feedback from the executive team indicates a high degree of trust and respect than previously. Conversely, I have a much higher degree of trust, respect and understanding of my core management team and am better able to empower them to be successful, which has translated to the company’s success in recent months.

Paint a Plan
A year ago, it was clear Anvil needed to make a change. Our services were outdated and we were not meeting the needs of our clients. Focusing solely on analytics, search engine and social media marketing was no longer providing value in a crowded market and we were no longer on the short-list of every new business discussion. The Credo helped me understand I was more passionate about problem-solving than digital-specific services, so I decided to explore expanding our offerings to include a fully-integrated marketing mix.

The next step was figuring out how to get there. Instead of spending the time to create a 50 page business plan, I elected to (loosely) follow the Painted Picture process I first learned about in EO. The concept is relatively simple, just paint a picture of what your business will look like at its pinnacle (anywhere from 3-10 years out) and reverse-engineer milestones by quarter, month and week back to today so you have a road map to get to your end goal.

Lesson: If the market is no longer talking about your solutions, change the conversation.

Resolution: To better serve the needs of our clients, we evolved Anvil from a digital to integrated marketing agency while maintaining our core focus on search, social and analytics.

We also merged Anvil and Formic Media in January to better service our existing and future clients. The combined team participated in a retreat in January that helped foster engagement, inspiration and alignment.

Result: Through the expanded service offering and merger, we’ve achieved new levels of elevation and delight with current clients and have experienced tremendous success with new business.

Take Care of Business
With a new team and expanded service offering, it is easy to get distracted by the details of operating a larger entity. Fortunately, I’ve learned to maintain discipline and follow my own best practices outlined in the article, The Three F’s Every Successful Entrepreneur Should Master. We’ve built  new processes into our business (meetings, documents and tools) that force us to stick to business fundamentals of producing quality work and getting paid for the value we create, while focusing on delighting and elevating our clients and future.

Our Process and Documents Committee is completely overhauling our existing infrastructure. We’ve developed an internal search marketing certification program that rivals third party programs available in the industry. To maximize client and employee retention, we also continue to solicit feedback and make sure we have fun throughout our journey. Recent examples in-the-works include implementing a formal 360 employee review program and a client advisory board.

Lesson: Take care of the fundamentals and don’t get distracted by shiny objects.

Resolution: Develop a robust set of tools, processes, documentation and training to ensure your team and clients are in alignment regarding expectations and that workflow processes are smooth, consistent and efficient.

Result: Client feedback and retention has improved, especially among newer clients we’ve put through our new process.

Fear is the Enemy, not Change
One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned the past year is that people (particularly clients) fear change.

Read on tomorrow to learn how to concure fear–and more– on Part II of  Kent’s 7 Game-Changing Leadership Lessons in 12 Months

Categories: Entrepreneurial Journey Inspirational members

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