For most agencies, creativity is the lifeblood of their business. It's essential to be innovative and create great work. But you also need structure and processes to ensure that clients get the results they need when they need them. A truly great workflow enables creativity, rather than holding it back.
On the most recent episode of "In Systems We Trust", I spoke with Jessica Steed-Brown. Jessica is a talent and business advisor based in Whitby, Ontario. She consulted with professional services for over a decade before making the jump into the industry. Nowadays, she practices what she preaches as the Director of Talents at the global creative design firm Yabu Pushelberg.
Jessica and I talked about all the things she learned about process development during her consulting years and how she puts that knowledge to the test in her new role.
If you want to hear our entire conversation, check out Jessica's episode of "In Systems We Trust." Here are four key points from that episode!
Getting to the Root of the Problem
When clients reached out to Jessica for help, she knew she was not their first call. "When clients come to me, there's usually a core issue, something that is so impactful to their business, that they're now willing to raise their hand and say, okay, I've tried everything else."
"Everyone tries to fix it themselves," Jessica told us, "They institute a policy, they change a rule, they hire a different person thinking this will fix it. They try all these solutions and come up with the same problem."
To Jessica, this is because they're not addressing the real problem; they're just addressing the symptoms.
One of Jessica's first steps is listening to her client's issues. They talk her through a list of concerns, typically covering everything from high turnover to accountability within the organization.
"A lot of times, all of these problems or challenges stem from the same root cause," Jessica said. Her next step is to do her research. She talks to employees, sends out surveys, and gathers as much information as possible about the organization.
The result? She can boil down the 20 problems the client thought they had to only 2 or 3. And unsurprisingly, most companies suffer from the same issues. Issues like...
"Communication is always a factor," Jessica told us, "Whether it's not having governance, tools, policies, and processes (which to me is a form of communication) or not having that transparency and trust."
Good communication is an essential tool in achieving productivity and maintaining strong working relationships at all levels of an organization.
In Jessica's experience, organizations that invest time and energy into developing clear communication lines will rapidly build trust among employees. This leads to increases in productivity, output, and morale in general.
Clarity of Roles
According to Jessica, role clarity comes up "120% of the time" when clients outline their organizational issues to her. "People really overestimate how clear expectations are across the board, top to bottom."
For many smaller creative agencies, each member of the team wears many different hats. This may work out fine when the agency is small, but it can become more of an issue as they grow.
On paper, each role might be defined, but team members often find their daily duties unclear in practice. Without specific guidelines outlining where one responsibility begins, and the next one ends, actions may overlap, creating confusion and duplication of efforts.
Finding the Right Project Management Tools
After joining the staff of Yabu Pushelberg, one of the challenges Jessica immediately encountered was resourcing.
"In a creative agency, how do you allocate your resources? How do you know when those resources are being effective or not effective?" Jessica said.
Her first instinct was to create a spreadsheet. Individuals could use it to manage their workload and estimate how long a project was going to take. At the end of the week, she would look back on the spreadsheets and see if the estimations matched the results.
But after reading "Creative Inc.", Jessica realized that creative resourcing wasn't the linear process she thought it was. So she turned to her team for help!
Jessica sent out a message asking all of her project managers to tell her about their planning tools.
"I got a folder across all our teams, submitting their planning tools. And that was eye-opening! From Excel to Calendars, to OneNote, there were all these different lists and ways of visualizing the data to Evernote. It was really fascinating."
Jessica's plan is to use this folder to choose a planning software that everyone at Yabu Pushelberg can use. "We want a single source of truth. We want a single database, ideally an ERP type system, because you want all your data to talk to each other."
With this added clarity and direction, your creatives can focus on the quality of deliverables — and consistently achieve the high standards that will set your agency apart.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Jessica and can't wait to have her back as a podcast guest!
If you want to learn more about how Jessica brings structure to creativity, then listen to her episode of "In Systems We Trust" today!