Hello there, new agency hire! For years, I’ve admired a book called The First 90 Days. It is, in a word, brilliant. Written in clear, simple language, it is loaded with great advice. You should buy it.
It also feels very professional service-y. Someone billable wrote it. And now that I’m helping agencies find talent, I finally have the chance to write about this book as it relates to helping agency professionals succeed.
Today’s writing will take summarize Chapter One of the book, Prepare Yourself, and add some agency context. This chapter is all about stuff you’ll need to consider as you leave one new agency job and go to another.
There are two basic premises explored by the book’s author, Michael Watkins: getting promoted and starting at a new company.
Getting promoted? Congrats! Change your behavior to reflect your new situation.
It’s a little bit of a balance, right? You’re being promoted because you’ve been awesome. You’ve done good work and you’re not a knucklehead. However, don’t for a second think this alone will cut it. Because your gig is new. The “new” is in many places: new role, new responsibilities, maybe new people with whom you interact. And yes, new expectations. They’re now higher.
Typically, when you get promoted, this means you’re giving up something in your day-to-day world. Depending on your level of seniority, as you give up things, are you delegating tasks, projects/processes or entire revenue management pools / brands? You may have the chance to think more coach than player on your department’s specific billable deliverables. Often the best coaches ask the best questions.
In the agency world, no matter what department or the position, it means you’ll be doing more strategic and/or conceptual work versus execution. You’ll also be leveraging more of your people and leadership skills as your level of influence and impact grows.
Agency politics will also become more important. Because your actions now get more scrutiny. Building and sustaining alliances around the agency (up, down and across disciplines) becomes more important. Perception and relationships become just as valuable as the reality of your situation.
I wonder if there isn’t a chance here to take a lesson from the First 90 Days book and develop new ways of communicating with your team(s). This idea — like the delegate idea above — is scaleable depending on your level of seniority. For example:
- Is this new way simply a twist or two on what’s happening with your client initiatives and the business?
- Or have you been promoted at a more senior level, and you’re now wrestling with more inner-department, agency and growth issues?
- Are you communicating in town-hall type situations, or are these one-on-ones or small groups?
- Is there an opportunity to make a digital / shareable version of this? Many agency leaders like CEOs, GMs, and discipline heads often develop some agency-wide communication.
I wonder what your status report will look like in this new position — and how it’s contents might drive a new way of communication. Said in another way, what are you shaping at the agency?
How is your role changing with clients? They play a critical role in your success. What is the agency’s expectation there? How does that relate to the client’s expectations?
The book gets at something the author calls, “exhibit the right presence.” This is another really important aspect. Now that you’re at a different level, how does leadership look and feel? What can you bring to that? How might you be different — in a good way — that can help the agency?
Starting at a new company? Congrats! Your challenge is harder than the promoted soul
Instead of starting at a new agency, I should write “onboarding” in a feeble attempt to please the SEO gods. But no matter what we call it, your situation is different than the person that was promoted from within. Because as a newbie, you don’t really know the cultural and political natures of the agency. Which makes everything a little harder when it comes to those first 90 days.
Michael Watkins writes about four pillars that make for effective onboarding:
Learn from how and where the agency makes money. Your mission, no matter what agency department or discipline, is to make more of it.
Get very familiar with the agency’s elevator speech, capabilities and “unique, proprietary process” and procedures for making work. Become interested in new business. Either pitching business, or leveraging and growing existing relationships.
This is about building relationships with those that matter inside the agency. Not just your boss or other members of your direct team, although that’s critical. But the other connected disciplines at the agency. Get to know them as fellow human beings.
See what I mean by smart, concise writing? Hard to add more than an enthusiastic head-nod. However, I guess I’d add two things: that those expectations shouldn’t be much of a surprise (as you should know what the expectations are BEFORE starting the job).
And you should definitely check in with your boss from time to time during your first 90 days to make sure all are on the same page. This is particularly important if and when you learn new things about the role and the agency AFTER you get hired. The things that make meeting any expectations more challenging. Like, say, a difficult client or agency personality. Or a very common problem: an internal lack of resources and commitment.
Yup. Pretty important. You’ve already picked up a thing or two about the place when you were recruited and interviewing for the job. And you think fit within the agency’s culture, or you probably wouldn’t have accepted. (Unless you’re the change agent, which is a whole other post.)
But now that you’ve spending time there, you’re going to add to your learning about the agency and how things really get done. Get your cues from the professionals around you and how senior leaders behave in meetings and through internal communication.
When you’re billable, there’s a level of client business-speak and authenticity / reflection of who you are inside and outside the agency. Where are you at on that spectrum? Where is the agency? What’s the difference between you and the agency and how does that feel? How does this change when in front of a client? Clearly, things like this impact your happiness index.
But wait, there’s more
There’s other stuff to think about, too, as you take on this new job. And more reasons why this book has been a bestseller for many years. Here are some highlights:
- Put your old job in the rear view mirror. Don’t burn a bridge — end your old job well. But then, put yourself in a new headspace because you’re now doing something new. Exciting new challenges and learning opportunities. Good stuff. Because of your you. An agency spin I must add here, though, is to make sure you stay in contact with your old client(s) and the agency. Please know I’m NOT saying you should immediately solicit them. That’s not cool and might put you in legal jeopardy. You don’t wanna be that person. However, there’s value for all concerned to remain in touch – even with your old shop.
- Understand your strengths and weaknesses. I love what the author suggests about the tools you can use when being aware of weaknesses (and potential blind spots). Those tools? Self-discipline, team building and advice & counsel. Keep in mind that investing in these tools takes some time and energy.
- Don’t go it alone. Look to your posse for help. There may be two groups here: your professional network, which can include some new people who work at the agency (to give you some advice and perspective). You have a new gig. Is this a chance to get a new mentor for some new perspective? Your HR team might be able to suggest a few people inside the agency you should get to know. There’s also the other group: your personal connections: friends and family who can listen, cajole and help you through this transition in different ways.
So again, I offer up my congratulations. Good on you! It recognizes your past accomplishments and success. Getting a new agency job is exciting. I’m psyched for you.
Your new agency job is also full of challenges and opportunities to be a happier human being at work. Hope this writing gives you some food for thought on how to be more successful in your new agency job.
And should it spark a question or two, feel free to contact me. Thanks!
Other articles of interest: