In the past 10 years, SHIFT Communications has grown from a small, boutique agency to a well-respected, prominent player in public relations (including being awarded 2012 Digital Social Agency of the Year). One of the biggest challenges that SHIFT – or any growing agency – faces is adopting best practices for operational management of the agency, but in a way that respects its unique culture and agency size. Questions such as:
- How do you balance retaining an independent, entrepreneurial mindset with the necessary disciplines needed to manage the business?
- Which ones are absolutely necessary as guideline for the agency, and how would you implement them?
Amy Lyons, President at SHIFT Communications, offers some useful tips on how to overcome these challenges:
1. Leadership. There needs to be agreement from the top of every organization around priorities, focus, and vision. Without that, it is too easy for conflicting agendas to work their way in, and it can become very difficult to overcome challenges that crop up.
2. Collaboration. We have a lot of really great minds at SHIFT – really smart people with different perspectives and experiences. The best way to overcome any organization challenge is to tap that vast knowledge, working together to solve problems. There can’t be a hierarchy, since great ideas come from everywhere!
3. Communication. As you grow, it can become challenging to keep the lines of communication open, especially with remote offices. Over the past year, SHIFT has taken several approaches to ensuring we remain connected across the country. First, the senior management team commits to meeting in person twice a year to discuss pressing issues in the various offices and ways to overcome them. Secondly, we help our employees to stay connected by encouraging cross-office travel and utilizing technologies such as Salesforce Chatter to have an ongoing dialogue across the offices. It is important to find ways to get your teams to talk. Email is a great efficiency tool, not a collaborative one. By getting together and talking – both about work and their lives – it builds both a trusting and productive environment.
4. Focus. Too often we succumb to “shiny object syndrome.” If everything is a distraction, however, nothing can really be accomplished. It is important to identify the end goal, create a plan to make it happen, and then remain focused on that plan moving forward.
5. Be open-minded to solutions, different approaches, and new perspectives. Many of the programs SHIFT has put in place over the course of our growth came about unexpectedly. They weren’t the definitive “answer” at the outset; we came upon them through sometimes tough conversations and reflection.
Finally (bonus tip!), an agency should always keep in mind their reasons for continued growth. Whether that means expanding to a new geographical location or hiring more employees at a current office, further growth and development should never happen “just because.” Expansion should always make sense for the business and directly support the agency’s overall vision.
SHIFT has always taken a measured approach to growth. We never want to expand out of vanity or emotion, or hinge the success of a new office on a single anchor account. Instead, we ensure that any office slated for expansion has a track record of stability and profitability, along with a very strong and encouraging pipeline of new business. In doing so, we set up our expansion project for success, enabling us to easily continue growing a great agency.
Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how to tackle the related and equally challenging question of establishing a strong agency culture (and learn more about why it’s great to work at SHIFT!)