Reinventing Reinventing The Wheel

Having morphed in recent years from an impulsive “shoot from the hip” creative to a process and operational geek, I’ve jumped wholeheartedly onto the efficiency train. Now while I don’t want to entirely jump back off it, I do want to slow the engine down a bit. There are, I believe, times when it is appropriate to sacrifice short-term efficiency for other long-term organizational benefits and business gains.

It was a minor epiphany for me a few months ago when I realized that my complete commitment to never reinventing the wheel might be impeding the progress and strategic business growth of a group of teams I’m responsible for leading. Our roster of in-house managed services organizations were at varying levels of maturity, and we had a vision of creating a standardized set of “starter” operational processes, policies, forms, documentation, etc., etc. etc. so as not to have the newer groups recreate what had already been established at some of the more senior organizations.

From an efficiency perspective this was a no-brainer, however there were some not-so-obvious downsides to this generally accepted business practice. First, handing a team a group of predefined directives can potentially disempower them. They don’t have a significant level of ownership of their business, and there is an implicit lack of autonomy that can subtly encourage a culture of dependence and passivity that can cripple a creative team whose very success relies on its resourcefulness and capacity for innovation.

Second, placing a team in a position where they have to assess a business situation and develop an operational or organizational response rather than be told how to respond can lead to new and even better strategies not previously considered, as well as solutions better suited and more customized to the unique issues and nuances embodied in the team’s specific business environment.

Finally, by having to develop their own operational infrastructure, the team will more quickly embrace and internalize the practices, policies and procedures associated with that infrastructure than if it had been handed to them on a platter. This is very similar to a creative team’s tactic of involving clients at a deep level in their projects knowing that this level of ownership ensures client advocacy of the creative team’s concepts and execution.

All this being said, it’s important to position the team developing best practices for success by providing a veteran “consultant” to advise and guide the team through the process of developing process and to vet the final outcomes to ensure they’re reasonably in line with industry best practices.

In addition, the group should be coached to expect and act on the fact that much of what they put in place may need to be modified and refined when put in practice and that an iterative process is appropriate and not a sign of initial failure. The “process guide” might even suggest piloting new processes on a smaller scale before a full rollout is implemented.

What I’m promoting is the old adage that it’s better to teach a hungry person how to fish than just giving him or her a fish and while this may take more time and effort in the short-term, the long-term benefits of creating a culture of continuous improvement more than justifies the initial investment.

Andy Epstein Head ShotAndy 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 three 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, an association dedicated to providing support to in-house designers and design team managers, 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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