Four Pillars for growth
While the last couple of years have undoubtedly been difficult for almost all agencies, many businesses have performed far better than others. There seems to be a common trend that underpins these successful businesses, which I would like to share with you.
The first is having clarity of Purpose, which means knowing where you are going and having a plan for how to get there. Now undoubtedly, I'm not the first person to have told you this, but the vast majority of businesses I meet have not even taken the first steps to achieve this clarity, let alone communicate it.
Having clarity of Purpose must ultimately be more profound than a 5-word statement or a PowerPoint presentation. In fact, it's nothing to do with a statement; it is more fundamental than this and has to transcend everything your business does and how you approach the challenges you face.
The author, Napoleon Hill, once said: "There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is clarity of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it."
Clarity of Purpose eliminates distractions and makes you proactive rather than being reactive. But, be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to predict the future (obviously, that's not possible); it's about defining the future you would be proud to achieve.
The next is a more profound attention to your People. Not only your most expensive asset but ultimately your competitive advantage. The question that many businesses struggle with is how do you unleash the full potential of your team? In his book "That Will Never Work", Marc Randolph, founder of Netflix, recounts when he worked at Borland. He describes its landscaped acres, restaurants, health club and, of course, an outdoor hot tub. But even a Jacuzzi wasn't enough to ensure that everyone was happy.
One day, returning from lunch, he noticed a group of engineers soaking in the company hot tub and overheard their conversations complaining about their situation, yes, while sitting there in the company's hot tub.
Setting aside the mental image of a group of engineers in a hot tub, you must ask yourself the question, what are the factors that drive employee satisfaction? Or, more importantly, what does it take to get other people to sign on to help you with your dream – and be happy doing it? What they found was surprising. And surprisingly simple.
What people want is freedom and responsibility. They want to be loosely coupled but tightly aligned. They want to be treated like adults. Achieving a balance of freedom and responsibility creates innovative organisations that collaboratively focus on results and have a drive to achieve a collective purpose.
Now the third area of focus, which has never been more important, is Planet. You have probably heard the Greek proverb, "A society grows great when its elders plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit." I'm currently working with several companies supporting them on their journey to become B-corp certified. It is an approach to demonstrate their belief that sustainability must happen from the ground up. It reminds you that it is a businesses' responsibility to consider the impact of its decisions on its employees, customers, suppliers, the wider community, and the environment.
But I would warn you this cannot be a tick box exercise or a way to win clients. You must genuinely believe that business can be and should be a force for good. Yes, B-corp provides a framework to measure success, but it must become part of the ethos of the business. Otherwise, it is just a flawed vanity exercise.
The fourth and final area is a focus on Prosperity. I believe the whole mindset of profit in agencies needs to change. Profit is too often seen as a dirty word and something that gets in the way of creativity; it is seen as a stick and not as an enabler.
To start this shift, you need to focus on prosperity rather than profit; this is about the collective success of all stakeholders, not just the success of the shareholders. To achieve this shift, you need to improve transparency and education around the business's financial performance and how small day-to-day inefficiencies can affect the prosperity of the whole team. The whole team needs to recognise that prosperity does not just happen; it must be anticipated and planned for.
Now, of course, the triple bottom line is not a new concept. It's been over 25 years since John Elkington coined the term, but that does not mean that it is not a good time to remind ourselves.
It is through balancing People and Planet but with a shift from profit to Prosperity and with the additional focus on Purpose that good agencies can become great agencies and as an industry, we can not only meet but surpass the challenges we face and unleash our full potential.