We often hear from ad agency managers regarding the difficulty of getting people to fully adopt and use agency management or workflow systems. Managers want people to toe the line and become super-users of the system, because that makes managers’ jobs easier. But many individual users tend to selectively use agency workflow systems, cherry-picking the sections that help them in their own jobs, and ignoring all the rest.
System, Meet System Resistance
Each agency culture includes many personalities with varied learning and work styles; and many of our people are determinedly individualistic—or just plain stubborn about being asked to fall into line and conform. Creative people tend to be rule breakers—that is why they work in the agency business, rather than making much better money in financial services or a law firm.
Systems are great tools, but managers need to remember that the primary function of an ad agency is to help clients sell stuff. As long as people are fulfilling that function to clients’ intense satisfaction, managers may want to rein in their frustration and reconsider their internal systems… and how those systems are used. Here is some food for thought.
Watch Geese Flying in Formation
In storybooks, geese always fly in a tight V-formation. But watch actual geese flying across the sky some autumn afternoon. They don’t fly in tight formations. The leader changes; those following break off and move to new positions; others break off into smaller groups. Sometimes there is a long, raggedy row on one side of the V, and a short, stable row on the other. There are constant changes in which geese are in which angle of the V, and always a few stragglers hurrying along behind the main flock.
The thing is, their alignment is fluid, constantly adapting to changes in airspeed, wind speed, wind direction, updrafts and downdrafts. It’s not about perfection, but about collectively getting to their destination, stragglers and all. Obviously, a perfect formation would achieve that goal more efficiently; but there are many variables affecting the flight, so perfection is not a priority—it’s about being responsive in the moment, and still keeping the goal in view.
Keeping It Fluid
An ad agency’s workflow must also function fluidly. People shouldn’t have to be in lockstep, but able to move “out of formation” to answer the needs of the moment, and slip back into alignment as that need is fulfilled.
The same idea applies to culture, hiring and management. In fact, the idea of alignment with flexibility is applicable across all agency functions. Your system outlines the steps, but should not dictate exact compliance. People should be free to eliminate unnecessary steps, and yes, sometimes bend the rules.
Agency managers need to monitor their AMS to ensure that the most important steps—time sheets, POs, estimates, approvals, CCRs, etc.—are being entered into the system. But they also need to understand that the fluid nature of agency workflow will always encourage people to work around those parts of the system that are more burdensome than helpful. As long as you are getting to your goal of delivering quality creative product that helps the client achieve their goals, and making a profit doing so, you are doing well. The system should be adaptable to the people who use it.
We love to hear how agencies are shaping their internal systems to improve efficiency and be more agile. Share your stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, and keep on flying.