A neighbour's 7-year old daughter teased me about my clothes recently: "Why do you ALWAYS wear a black t-shirt?"
I told her, and she thought I was mad. So here's why — and how on earth this could be useful information for agency CEOs right now.
You may have read here before that I prepared for the pandemic in January 2020.
Apart from the obvious preparations — pausing growth plans to build up our cash reserves instead, briefing clients (I still ran an agency then) and getting them to do contract renewals early to avoid lockdown disruption in their procurement teams, helping them get ready to work fully remotely, and so on — one of the things I did was to buy 10 identical sets of clothes.
This then became my condensed pandemic wardrobe. I didn't have to decide what to wear each day, I just took from the top of the pile.
On it's own it's a small change, but removing many small decisions from my brain like this left me with more headspace for the bigger thinking.
When there is a crisis, or any intense period of life or work, our brains become overloaded with decisions. Things we do on autopilot every day, like sending our kids to school or going shopping, suddenly become a myriad of decision-making.
Decisions are mentally taxing. They use energy just like physical exertion does. And the more complex the decision is — if have to consider multiple factors, options, consequences, or risks — the more energy it burns.
At the moment, many agencies are experiencing a slowdown with decision-making from clients. The sales funnel has slowed to a crawl, signing off plans and deliverables takes forever.
We warned about this over a year ago in the Agency Radar, branding it 'decision hesitancy'. It's now one of the biggest frustrations I hear from agency founders.
Decision hesitancy happens because clients are overloaded with decisions and surrounded by uncertainty.
On the back of the peak of the pandemic has come inflation, recession, a cost of living crisis, political upheaval, armed conflict on our doorstep, and more. The complexity of everyone's daily lives is high. The complexity of the environment clients operate in is high.
Therefore, it's particularly hard and particularly exhausting to make big decisions.
If you want people to decide something in this environment, reduce the options and show them a route through the uncertainty step by step.
Reduce the risk of decisions by breaking projects down into smaller bite-size chunks, with clear progression between them. Like climbing a mountain by going from basecamp to basecamp.
Make a strong recommendation with supporting arguments rather than setting out a menu of options and asking them to choose.
And show you understand the complexity they face. Talk with them about it, advise them on handling it, and show how your work can help reduce the uncertainty.
Most of all, be their trusted advisers. Lead them rather than wait for instruction.
That's what everyone needs right now, someone to take charge.
And this is when clients need their agencies to lead more than ever.
Have a great (simple) week,