Last week an agency founder messaged saying a concept I'd presented in a speech had really resonated with her, and she'd been thinking about it since. This particular idea is really simple, but it seems to get that reaction a lot. It creates an 'aha!' moment for leaders.

I've written about it before in What Are Agencies For?

It's the idea that agencies are the shock absorbers between the straight-edged unchanging box of client organisations, and the zig zag crazy changeable world.

This is the reason life can feel particularly intense in agencies. On one side of the agency we need to anticipate, prepare for and respond to the big changes in technology, society, culture, the marketplace, the economy and more — to absorb them. Then on the other side of the agency we need to present structured project plans, predictability, stability and reliability — packaging up selected changes in controlled amounts for clients.

So what does it take to be a good shock absorber?

Agencies in the start-up phase (0-10 people), or who have grown beyond 10 people but not matured their approach alongside growth, simply do this by the seat of their pants. They rely on riffing off the top of their heads when a change suddenly presents itself as urgent — abandoning other parts of their life to work all hours. These agencies have that rollercoaster ride feeling, finding it hard to grow sustainably. Every now and then they drop the ball amid this chaos and clients quit, staff burn out and leave, and they drop back only to have to start trying to grow again.

Agencies who have matured as they grow take a different approach. Their leaders mindfully design the agency to ensure continuous evolution is baked in. The business is constantly learning, sensing change, and being ready to explain it to others and lead them through it.

Achieving this not only makes the agency run more smoothly, it also puts these agencies in high demand with clients and able to command high margins.

So, this week, how can you design your agency to evolve continuously? How could you be better at exploring ahead, going off-road? How could you ensure you have a good radar? How can you position your agency to be better able to teach and lead others through the coming changes? What would continuous improvement look like?

I'll share some more ideas on that in a future newsletter.


This week:

  • We always advise agencies to have an internal playbook as part of building a really slick Agency Ops approach. Our friends at UK digital transformation agency Create/Change have just blogged their own advice on developing internal playbooks.
  • And if you wish there was a playbook for how to run an agency business, then you need to sign up for access to our Agency Leaders Playbook!
  • Last week I wrote about how we need to improve the 'on ramps' bringing new talent into agencies. Jonathon Colman, who leads content design at Hubspot, has posted this presentation on Transparent Recruiting, which could be part of these on-ramp improvements.
  • If you're about to kick off a new financial year or you're in the first few months of one, we highly recommend having a structure Owners' Retreat to ensure you think with the owner's hat on, and set the agency up to work for you more than just you working for the agency. We can facilitate a guided retreat for you.