We’re All in This Together

Ad agency owners often have difficulty transitioning employees (who are accustomed to doing their “own” work each day) into working within a full-on agency management system. The free-wheeling atmosphere of genial chaos needs to be reined in at about the time a smaller agency reaches 15 employees and 100+ active projects. At this point, smaller ad agencies and marketing firms move from manageable process to daily insanity, struggling to schedule conflicting projects; apportion the workload fairly; avoid making errors while trying to service accounts; hunt for new business; and still squeeze in time to complete the billing.

Resistance to a new system is inevitable, of course. Accustomed to managing their own days, many agency employees can find it burdensome to adopt the daily habit of using management software. In other words, expect to hear a fair amount of whining, grumbling and bitching. This is where you offer your catch phrase:

“We’re all in this together.”

This phrase is not to be used as a way to defer dealing with problems or issues reported by employees (one possible perceived translation: “Aww, quitcherbitchin’, everyone is having issues…”). Don’t utter the phrase with a shrug of the shoulders, or be dismissive of the employee’s complaint. Individual needs are important because unhappy people can disrupt the system for everyone else. Managers should listen, sympathize and offer suggestions and support… but the goal remains to encourage adoption of the system, not to allow people to sidestep participation.

Collective System Adoption

Systems are supposed to make everyone’s job easier. If not, you need to identify the “clogs in the gears” (one of my favorite malapropisms) and remove them. Bad processes institutionalize inefficiency. Correcting unhelpful steps will take a process in itself. Commit to monitoring how the system is working, not just who is or isn’t using it.

Try it, you’ll like it. Reassure users that the system must be learned before you can discuss dispensing with steps or segments that are not necessary, productive or efficient. Test the overall system to see what is effective before paring anything away. Encourage people to keep a journal of issues and problems to be discussed during “system function” meetings (see below).

Identify the early adopters. Ask people who embrace the system to become in-house trainers for employees who are slower to adopt. These champions are your best hope, Obi-Wan, for making the system work as it was designed to do.

Use system support whenever necessary. Most systems can be purchased with short-term start-up support. Some AMS systems offer user groups to help with ongoing adoption, and often sync’ update rollouts with increased online support. As you progress, encourage your in-house system champions to create quick tutorials for new shortcuts or trickier parts of the system. Create a tutorial library and share it. (These tutorials also become a fine training tool for new hires.)

Regularly discuss system functionality. Make a function discussion part of a monthly check-in meeting; hold meetings weekly at first, then phase back to bi-weekly, then monthly. Have employees share their journal issues and ask champions to respond. Focus on reducing or eliminating less valuable, time-intensive tasks. Where some functions simply must happen to ensure the system works properly, clarify their value to the agency team. Give them the “whys” for the most tedious “whats.”

An AMS is a big investment for a smaller agency, so making it work is important. Try to remember, and communicate to your employees, that you are all in it together, and model the behaviors you want your employees to embrace. When employees stop fighting the system and find value in participation, the system will start serving your agency goals, and help you be more efficient and profitable.


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