Joining as a Manager, First Absorb an Agency's Unique Culture

A New Boss Earns Respect by Listening Rather Than Showing 'I'm the Man'

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This is the last in a series of posts about leaving your own agency. (Part One; Part Two; Part Three)

I quit my job, leaving the agency that I had founded over 15 years ago for an agency I had always admired. I said goodbye to co-workers and friends and prepared to begin life in a new environment. I was about to be "the new guy."

It's one thing to create an agency from the ground up, building a team suited to your goals and plans. I've done that twice. It's another thing to walk into a successful operation as a part of the management team. And I was about to join my new agency, Carrot Creative, without having met the majority of its crew. Two things concerned me: would my new co-workers be receptive to me and could I assimilate quickly into Carrot Creative's culture.

Social media made getting past both these hurdles a lot easier. I began following my future co-workers on Twitter as soon as the job offer was finalized. This allowed them to get a sense of who I was, while I learned about them as individuals and about their collective culture. There's no better platform for building a relationship when you can't be side by side with someone, but aren't yet ready for the more complex interactions of Facebook. I was getting to know the Carrot crew even before I started.

Then came my first day. Some people will tell you to blow everything out in the first week -- establish yourself by shock and awe. For me this is an old-school approach for managers who lead by intimidation and fear. This is not the way to earn genuine respect. Things were working at Carrot, so I had no reason to jump in with grand gestures or dramatic changes. In the first few weeks I immersed myself in every new project that I could, to learn about teams' processes, clients, successes and challenges.

I've learned through personal experience and agency visits across the United States that every creative firm has a unique culture and operates differently. It's important to respect this. Why try to impose what you've always done before onto a team that 's already winning? I found it much more useful to try to fully absorb the new environment.

In the process, I've re-learned the importance of listening. David Ogilvy once said that an agency's chief responsibility at a client meeting was, "Above all, listen." The same is true with co-workers. I learned that it wasn't necessary at the start to be loud or prominent or make any earth-shaking contributions. I'm planning for a career here that will last a long time -- so the first few days were not terribly important in the grand scheme of things. I instead did my best to absorb.

My journey with Carrot has just begun, and there's plenty more to learn and build along the way. Joining an agency where "new" is not only welcome but embraced is making this path easy. Arriving with an "I'm a co-worker" versus "I'm the man" attitude helped me to appreciate the talent and culture that were already there. This made my entrance not about me, but about the agency.

Now, a month into my new position, I feel part of the team. We've won new business. We're proud, we're excited, and we're doing it together.

Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, professional internet surfer and executive creative director at Carrot Creative in NYC. He's one of the three super-hot bloggers that make up AdVerve, and admits to knowing just enough about the creative business to be dangerous. Keep your distance.
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