Are you your agency’s biggest roadblock to success? Before you balk at the idea, ask yourself a few questions: How often are you the bottleneck for getting projects completed? Are you perpetually late, running from meeting to meeting? Do you keep promises to your staff, or are you chronically breaking them (unintentionally or not)?
If your cheeks are burning right about now, know you’re not alone. As a longtime agency CEO and consultant, I talk to countless agency owners guilty of breaking their promises to staff (and to clients, too). Accountability failure is chronic in our industry; it’s a tricky culture issue that causes us to lose our best employees and revenue opportunities.
Breaking promises affects your entire agency; no one has respect for anyone else’s time. If your employees aren’t keeping their promises to one another, that likely translates to missed client deadlines or a failure to deliver what your team agreed to. Consider the impact of just one project coming in late: Someone downstream won’t have enough time to do the work properly, or they’ll be frantically working nights or weekends to deliver.
Accountability Starts With Us
As agency owners, we have too much on our plates. That’s never going to change, so we must implement internal systems that help us keep our promises. Accountability should be baked into the agency culture, and it has to start with us.
I’m working on this in my own agency. If one of my employees asks me to review an RFP response and tells me it’s needed by a certain time, I commit to meeting his deadline. But first, I look at my calendar so I know what I’m realistically capable of delivering. Then I put that task on the calendar, slated as work time, so I can get it done.
The last thing I want is for my people to think they’re stuck putting out my fires, letting lower-quality work slide, or sacrificing work-life balance because of me. My example has helped them hold each other accountable, too. Trust is at the core of my agency’s culture; we’ve all learned to honestly assess our capabilities and set deadlines based in reality, not optimism.
Four Ways To Cultivate Accountability
Cultivating accountability isn’t an easy task, but it’s well worth it. The culture shift will impact your work, which will impact your relationships with clients. They’ll trust you to meet your deadlines and deliver excellent work as promised. Here’s how to get started:
1. Give your calendar breathing room.
Accept that everything takes longer than you think it’s going to take, and build that time into your calendar. Every meeting or phone call is going to run long. Every time someone asks whether you have five minutes to chat, it’s going to take at least 15. We know this, yet we still book back-to-back meetings and find ourselves behind schedule by lunchtime.
When I first began my podcast, I scheduled interviews back to back. It didn’t occur to me that I may need breaks to get a drink, make a call or respond to an email. Every interview ran late. I felt hurried and stressed, and the interviews weren’t as good as they could have been. Now I build in a 30-minute buffer between podcast interviews, and we almost never run behind.
You can also give your calendar breathing room by blocking out proactive and reactive blocks of time. The former is for getting tasks done (reviewing that RFP, writing that project brief, etc.). The latter is for unexpected interruptions, such as client fires or last-minute brainstorming sessions.
2. Create and maintain accurate timesheets.
By default, timesheets will never be 100% accurate. Doing them daily, however, will ensure at least 95% accuracy. Many agencies are on the sloppy side with their time tracking, but learning to keep accurate timesheets is one of the most effective ways to set realistic goals and deadlines. Otherwise, you won’t know how long projects actually take, the right number of people to staff on projects or how quickly you can deliver.
3. Measure on-time and on-budget delivery for client and internal work.
You likely already track your percentage of on-time and on-budget delivery for client work. But to cultivate a culture of accountability, start measuring this internally, too. Are your deadlines realistic? Or do certain tasks take much longer than you anticipate?
First, set a percentage goal for on-time and on-budget delivery. Then measure how well you’re doing monthly, and share the results with your team. Discuss your goals, request input on ways to improve and celebrate whenever you hit the mark. Your team members will better understand expectations, timelines and how their work contributes to the agency’s overall success.
4. Implement a traffic system for your internal team.
Once you’ve set realistic on-time and on-budget delivery goals, invest in a traffic system. This is a project management tool that tracks projects, including deadlines and deliverables. It’s invaluable for helping everyone hold themselves accountable (and to be efficient and productive).
If you have the budget, consider hiring a traffic manager to make sure that projects run smoothly and everyone has enough time and resources to complete their work and do it well.
Stop holding your agency back. Make accountability one of your core values — you need to live it, recognize it, reward it and measure it. By implementing these internal processes, your agency will become a place where everyone keeps their promises and delivers excellent work on time and on budget.
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Author: Drew McLellan, CommunityVoice