The New In-House Agency Success Story: Adapt or Die, Part Three

Adaptability is now the fourth pillar of the in-house value proposition along with cost, quality, and speed-to-market. Lacking the capacity to quickly pivot to address unforeseen business, technological or organizational needs or challenges will put your in-house agency at risk of irrelevance and obsolescence.

In the first and second posts of this series, I focused on the operational, structural and tactical foundation needed to establish your team as an adaptable organization. In this piece, I’ll review some of the more cultural and people-centric best practices.

Establishing a robust operational and organizational base, while essential to the creation of an adaptable in-house team, will only get the group halfway to that goal. This is because executing creative deliverables and services is a complex and nuanced process that cannot be completely codified with SOPs, policies, and workflows, and therefore requires that staff make judgment calls unique to project-specific circumstances. The need for those executing on a project to work with and address ambiguous challenges necessitates that the team be highly skilled, indoctrinated in the team’s culture and provided a level of autonomy that will allow them to customize their approach to process, client management, and creative execution.

In order to craft a working environment that creates and sustains this level of performance, it’s imperative that leadership, in partnership with the greater team, establish a team-specific Mission, Vision and Value proposition to provide a framework for the team to operate autonomously. In addition, it is critical that a robust professional development program is implemented to support the team in developing the needed skills and expertise to make sound judgment calls when operating within the framework.

On top of providing the needed guidance and training for an adaptable team, creating an entrepreneurial culture where team members feel empowered to take initiative will ensure that the group will not just reactively address new challenges but proactively look for opportunities to continuously improve the business.

Looking outward, in order for your adaptable and entrepreneurial team to survive and thrive, it’s critical to identify and engage advocates in upper management, key departments such as Procurement and HR, and peer groups with whom the team partners to help dissemble barriers and create a greater organizational environment that will allow the team to operate outside of typical organizational norms and processes that often are not aligned with the unique operational needs of an in-house agency.

In addition to corporate advocates, the group will also need to establish partnerships with outside vendors who can bring a level of expertise and competencies that will afford the in-house agency the ability to introduce new deliverables and services that it doesn’t have the skills and experience to execute on its own.

Finally, it is critical that the team’s funding allows for the group to:

  • acquire needed equipment and infrastructure,
  • expand the team as business needs dictate, and
  • provide the training and professional development support the team will need to evolve its expertise to execute on new services and deliverables.

This is arguably the most difficult of the adaptable team best practices to put in place, yet it is also the most important, because without it, the agency won’t have the time or resources to create and evolve its Mission, Vision and Value proposition, establish and reinforce an entrepreneurial culture or place focus on establishing strong relationships with external partners and advocates. To sum up this final post, adaptable organizations are driven by adaptable team members and it’s the team lead’s responsibility to ensure this occurs through selection and development of team members.

Creating and sustaining adaptable in-house agency best practices requires a level of focus, commitment, teamwork and partnership (as well as a huge dose of patience, perseverance, and luck) that can seem daunting, especially while the group is already engaged in day-to-day creative executional activities. Yet, if these initiatives are placed on the back burner, the group will slowly but surely fall out of alignment with the greater organization’s mandates, leading clients to turn to other options for meeting their communications and marketing needs. At that point, you and your team will be considering how to adapt to being unemployed.

Andy Epstein is an industry thought leader in the field of in-house creative. He currently serves as the Director of Studio Operations for Cella Solutions where he has oversight of the managed in-house agencies run by Cella. Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative,” a book on in-house design in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, the former Programming Director for the InHOWse Managers Conference, and a key member of Cella’s professional development team. Andy is focused on empowering in-house teams to raise their stature in the design and business communities.

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