Right now, many agencies struggle with the same serious problem. This issue can drag down profitability, lower employee engagement and harm the reputation of the offending company, and in almost every case, the owner of the agency is the biggest offender.
Unfortunately for clients and teams, some agency owners struggle to keep their promises. We might be busy — and we usually have valid excuses — but those excuses don’t change the facts. Every time we fail to deliver something on time or on budget, whether it’s for an internal client or an external one, we erode a bit of the trust in ourselves and in our business.
Does this sound like a problem your agency is experiencing? Don’t worry. Many agencies (and agency owners) deal with this issue at some point. I know I have — as have other owners I’ve worked with in the past few decades. You can change yourself and your agency’s culture, but to do so, start taking accountability seriously.
Bad Things Can Happen When Bosses Break Promises
Most agency owners I know are beyond busy: They have too many events, meetings and projects to handle, and every day adds more to their plates. Unfortunately, that never-ending pile of responsibilities can allow a lot to slip through the cracks.
As the boss, you may be guilty of bottlenecking your shop’s work at least some of the time. That’s not great when you meet every deadline, but it’s often even worse when you don’t. The same can be true of meetings: If you arrive late or unprepared, you can set a tone that says people within your company don’t have to respect one another’s time.
Accountability struggles can create cultures in which team members learn to pass the buck. The owner teaches employees to make excuses and push deadlines — but then lacks the ability to call out employees who take it too far. After all, how can you reprimand someone for being unreliable when you started the trend?
We can make accountability a priority in our agencies. No matter how valid our excuses might be (or how accustomed we may have become to accepting the excuses of others), we can do better.
Revitalizing Accountability In Your Agency
If all this talk about missed deadlines and excuses has made you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Many agency owners have made excuses for promises they failed to keep. Fortunately, you can change course and create a culture in which you and your team hit every deadline with ease. Here’s how to get started:
1. Don’t make promises your calendar can’t keep.
The simplest way to keep promises is by putting them on the schedule. These days, I never make concrete promises unless I can look at my calendar and answer the other party with a firm “yes.”
Start being more specific about your needs, and encourage your team members to do the same. For example, if you tell someone you need copy by the end of the day, don’t expect to get that copy until 5 p.m. Associate every request with a specific time, and get the other person to agree to that time.
Keep in mind that almost everything takes twice as long as you think it will. For instance, if a task will most likely take 30 minutes, don’t commit to it unless you can carve out an hour on your calendar.
2. Measure your internal benchmarks.
Some agency owners boast that they never miss client deadlines. But pressed further, they’ll admit to missing a few internal ones. Sticking it to your teammates is not a viable long-term strategy. Honor your internal deadlines like you honor client commitments.
Every agency has the capability to stay punctual and on budget at least 95% of the time. Review the last few months of projects you completed, and discern how frequently you missed deadlines. Then, get together with your team at the end of every month (or whenever your team meets) to share results and hold one another accountable. Share real metrics so you can improve on them together.
Don’t just measure, though. Reward and celebrate the people who keep their commitments. People love praise and prizes, and those who honor their promises to teammates and clients deserve recognition more than anyone.
3. Designate a traffic manager.
Not everyone is a scheduling wizard. Most people make their promises in good faith, only breaking them after realizing that they bit off more than they could chew. It can help to have someone inside your agency — someone who isn’t you — take ownership of the responsibility to keep everyone on track. So designate a traffic manager within your agency to oversee your project management tool.
Smaller agencies may not have the budget for a full-time traffic manager, though larger ones can probably find the money. If you can’t afford a full-timer, find someone within your agency who’s great with schedules. Then, assign traffic responsibilities to him or her. To give your new traffic manager enough time to handle new responsibilities, distribute some of the individual’s duties to others on the team. Encourage your traffic manager to be less of a deadline cop and more of a helpful watchperson to prevent employees from overcommitting.
Even if you make these changes, you may still fail to fulfill the occasional promise. A deadline will slip or an unexpected budget item will inflate a project’s cost. When that happens, own it in a big way. Call yourself out, and promise to do better. Make your agency a place where people respect one another enough to keep their promises, and everyone — owner, employees and clients alike — can reap the benefits.