Interview with Lesley Donnelly, Neon Nelly
With so much said in the trade press about how marketing service agencies will need to change to survive, there are many concepts going around how to do so that it's hard for agencies to know where to start.
Lesley Donnelly is CEO at Neon Nelly. For most of her career she has worked as a management consultant, but now she consultants with agencies to help them become less fragile in today’s environment by designing robust modern structures. She also improves their capability by borrowing from the consultants’ tool box and training agency staff in the new skills that are needed maximise the value they deliver to clients.
We asked Lesley what her view was on what agencies can focus on today, rather than in the future, to improve their profit?
"That's actually a fairly easy question for me answer. People, and how you use them still makes the difference between profit and loss in agencies. Companies spend thousands recruiting the right people but it is harder than ever to maximise their potential.
Business is now so complex that instructions on how to do things can no longer be designed solely by a department head. The best approach is often prototyped on a daily basis by those teams delivering on the front line. I love the quote:
‘If you want to kill innovation within your organisation, incentivise it, install a steering committee, and hire a business development manager’ Niels Pflaeging
Can you give any practical ways that agencies can improve profit by people?
"Here are three ideas to cause some disruption, all of which involve solutions being generated by staff, not designed by management:
1. Reduce your headcount. “But clients will suffer!” I hear you cry. Well it may not work in all areas of the business but you learn by trying. The constraint of fewer bodies allows the teams to start from scratch and build a fresh approach, not just patching up what was there already. It’s cheaper because there are less heads, but amazingly if you work differently it can be better for clients too. Starting from scratch is producing new types of teams.
2. Reject systems and governance. The French are so much more productive than the British that they achieve the same in 4 days that we do in 5. And they have lunch! 70% of that underperformance is due to poor management practices. Organisations are running hotter and hotter with systems and ways of working that are not modern enough. Trust your people to experiment in new ways of working and you will start to realise the benefits of agility at scale.
3. Remove managers for a week. Give them a lapel sticker that says ‘coach’ and advertise around the agency what their specialist knowledge is. Then people can seek out the best coach (not just their line manager) for the problem they have. You are not removing quality control, you are widening the skills base available to work on client business and you are properly leading, not telling."
Why do you think agencies are falling behind when it comes to generating profitability from their people?
"It's not just agencies, it's companies in general. The way we control people in the company system is a 100 year old design. It lacks many things including trust and autonomy that are needed to deliver value to clients in today’s economy. What got you here will not get you there - that much we know.
The tough bit for business leaders is that there is no single replacement. In a VUCA world solutions need to be flexible and swift. If business problems are so complex that you can’t figure out the answer in advance, you need your people to be constantly thinking and inventing new approaches on a daily basis. You may have to adjust the strategy and design of your agency over the next few years, but if you have focused empowered people solving client problems in an agile fashion rather than being limited by a ‘system’, then that will support any growth agenda."
Lesley will be speaking on this topic on Feb 27th at The Art of New Business breakfast talk series on 'modern ways to grow an agency'. Tickets are now available here.
Published by: admin in Agency Growth