In Rough Times, Look Back and See How Far Your Agency Has Come

Is the Business Poised for the Future? If Yes, That's Reason to Be Upbeat

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The year is winding down. Typically, people look back and evaluate. With a languishing economy, a lot of planned spending was pushed off. A lot of projects were shelved. This could be something for a business to pine over, but that wouldn't be productive. I made a list to help me evaluate how we did. I suggest you do the same because it really helped me to see that through it all, my agency actually has matured and become better prepared for the future.

1) We picked up business. This is a very positive thing, considering that many clients cut back on spending or remained flat. This kept our people energized and looking forward, and it gave us confidence that our marketing program is working.

2) We were recognized for our work. Though output declined, we won industry awards. I'm never satisfied with our success in this area, but our clients and employees feel it shows that we are not compromising the quality of our work for the sake of the bottom line.

3) We improved capabilities. For the past five years we have invested heavily in improved technical capabilities and expertise focused on providing better integration plans for our clients. A positive side-effect of this effort was better coordination of branding efforts between digital, media, creative and planning functions. We were brought closer together as teams and have become more symbiotic in our work.

4) We streamlined processes. The last three years have been brutal for businesses. Our employees have worked harder. Some have overworked themselves, and the frayed edges are showing. In an effort to become more efficient, we created leadership teams for every client, so the extra burden of managing and producing the work is shared. Though this organization refinement began recently, we saw immediate results. People are re-energized and feel more in the loop with the decision-making process. Those who previously carried the management load alone feel they have advocates to help them overcome obstacles and solve problems.

5) We started a book club. I know this one sounds odd. You may remember me mentioning in one of my previous posts the book, "Leadership and Self-Deception" by the Arbinger Institute. This book and others are now available for our employees to read. We use them to encourage staff discussions about how to improve our relationships. More importantly, it gives the principals a chance to learn what employees need most from us. Already there is less tension in our work environment. People smile more.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Taking a look back at the positive things you have achieved during trying times will help your company move forward with optimism and confidence. Sure, the economy is probably going to be a problem for the foreseeable future. But Americans have a spirit of tenaciousness that helps us get up from our skinned knees and become better than we've ever been. Best of luck in 2012.

Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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