By Kent Lewis, an EO Portland member and president of Anvil Media
This article is a continuation of 7 Game-Changing Leadership Lessons in 12 Months (Part I)
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. The real enemy should be fear itself, not the inherent act of change. Unfortunately, this has been a costly lesson, as the entire purpose of The Credo was to upgrade the quality of work we produced for clients. Despite our best efforts to delight and elevate, a select number of clients left anyway, citing “too much change” as the primary reason. Essentially, a few of our larger clients would have preferred status quo to the alternative potential of greater overall success.
Client retention has been so critical for Anvil that I’ve written an article on that very topic, Four Strategies To Keep Your Clients From Firing You.
Lesson: Making change, however well-intended, can have adverse short-term effects. Plan accordingly.
Resolution: The Credo states “do what is right, not what is easy,” so we made changes and will continue to do until we feel we are able to provide the best service and results in the industry. In order to shore up lost business, we also aggressively ramped up sales and marketing efforts.
Result: Clients that have stuck around indicate they are glad they did, as the overall levels of delight and elevation are at an all-time high. Anvil has also seen a greater influx of new business in the past few months than ever before.
Leverage Strengths & Styles
As an agency owner, I’ve learned turnover is a part of doing business. That being said, I’ve never been comfortable with it. For years, I was losing talented individuals because of shortcomings in myself as a leader and the structure we had in place did not allow them to maximize their potential. To address the second component of the equation, we modified our organizational structure to play to the team’s strengths as a relationship manager or subject matter expert.Unfortunately, it only works if we get team members in the right seat on the bus.
The first step was for each employee to take an Insights Profile assessment in order to understand how to communicate and motivate them. The second step was to have each employee take a StrengthFinder assessment to understand their strengths and talents. The third step was to host an all-company workshop to ensure everyone shared their insights and results with each other. The fourth step was to map the teams’ experience, interests, strengths and communications styles into a matrix and use it as a management tool. We also evolved our hiring process to evaluate a potential employee’s fit within our structure and culture based on their strengths and style.
I’ve outlined key elements of our hiring process in this article, Hire for Culture, Talent and Traits, not Skills, Knowledge or Experience.
Lesson: get better results when you play to strengths instead of working on weaknesses.
Resolution: build process and structure that helps identify and celebrate strengths.
Result: since incorporating the Insights and StrengthFinder knowledge into our organizational structure and hiring process, turnover has reduced and employee satisfaction has increased dramatically.
Keep the Faith
Having been an employee, co-founder and founder of various organizations, I’ve seen it all. That being said, I’ve never had to navigate a situation like The Credo experience. While I’ve learned a great deal and am better for it, it has been extremely taxing, both personally and professionally.
There were dark days where everyone seemed to question my sanity, logic and commitment. For example, I’ve recognized that our industry has evolved and Anvil hadn’t kept to the forefront. We are now competing with hundreds if not thousands of digital and traditional agencies for work, which requires us to elevate as outlined in this article, What Matters when Selecting a Digital Agency: Get Beyond Clicks and Conversions.
We’re also competing with the trend of building teams in-house. Of course I’ve written an article about that topic, In-house Agency vs. Outsourcing Digital Marketing. Fortunately, my support group and team have helped me navigate the Abyss and now I look back grateful for the humbling experience. I was able to keep the faith in myself as a critical few maintained their faith in me. It helped to have a well-defined purpose, vision, mission, values and of course The Credo to aid in navigating troubled waters. On my “hero’s journey” I’m not yet to my defining moment, but it feels good to know I’m on that path. As the saying goes, when you see a fork in the road, as I have, take it.
Lesson: being a business owner is one of the loneliest and challenging careers on the planet.
Resolution: build a support network around you that can help you through the particularly trying times.
Result: rather than give up and walk away, suffer huge financial losses or lay off talented and dedicated employees, I used the Credo as a guide to navigate and motivate me to rebuild my business.
I enjoy going to work now more than I have in years and am proud of what Anvil has become and where we are going. While most entrepreneurs see their business as more of a lifestyle or child, it is just a business, which means you have to be able to make the difficult calls and be able to step back or move forward when it feels impossible to do so.
I’m somewhere in the middle, as I do see Anvil as my greatest achievement (and failure) yet, It’s Just Business and a means to an end: create a lasting legacy as well as financial security for my family and those around me that choose to join me on this journey.