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The Practical Tactical Side of Growth

In her post “Don’t Let Growth Become Your Kryptonite,” Cindy Ponce effectively captures many of the strategic considerations that need to be taken into account when you’re planning for growth. There are also a number of more tactical issues critical to the successful expansion of your business on which you should place focus. The most important tactics include: scaling up your SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), asset management, studio policies and guidelines and onboarding best practices.

If you’re like most in-house creative team leads moving from a small team (≤ 6 people) to a group above that threshold, you likely haven’t had to, nor have you implemented, robust practices in these operational areas. There’s nothing wrong with this – in fact, smaller teams can, and do, operate more efficiently without a lot of process. This is because the lines of communication and the resulting level of coordination and collaboration among your team members are strong and constant. But as your group grows, the opportunities for this level of interaction diminish quickly, necessitating the need for more structure.

SOPs are the foundation on which your operational growth rests. They include the steps of your creative workflows, who is engaged in each of those steps and when. Without them, your team will invent their own processes, and they’ll differ from member to member and project to project. Everyone will be reinventing the wheel as they make it all up as they go along. This is a recipe for operational disaster and a good reason to go through the labor-intensive process of creating SOPs.

With more projects come more assets. It may have worked to have used a loose document titling and folder system when you were churning out 100 to 200 projects a year, but when your jobs start creeping up to 300 or more, your team is going to spend more time searching for assets that are being repurposed than doing the actual design if you don’t establish consistent file naming conventions, a clear organized archiving infrastructure and the accompanying policies.

In your team’s early years, when someone in your group was confused or unsure about anything from how to handle a change order to dealing with a Procurement directive, they could most likely pop their head over their cubicle wall and ask you for guidance. That becomes less likely as your business grows in both team members and complexity. This challenge necessitates the creation of documented policies and guidelines that are easily accessible to everyone in the department. Initially approaching this as an FAQ exercise and then adding to the knowledge base as new questions arise will help avoid repetitive requests for advice or worse, people coming up with their own ad hoc responses.

Finally, the development of detailed documented onboarding guidelines and procedures are essential to your team’s ability to quickly adapt to new business opportunities that require bringing in new talent. The double hit you take without them is that both the new recruit and the person doing the onboarding spend more time than necessary getting the new talent up to speed on how your group operates.

None of the practices mentioned here are easy to implement. They require extensive planning, disciplined rollout and long-term attention to compliance to ensure they become ingrained in your team, but the consequences of ignoring their implementation will hobble any attempts at successful growth. Conversely, paying attention to these issues will position your department for ongoing long-term growth and success and underscore the value you bring to your organization.

Andy Epstein

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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