A few years ago, we made the strategic decision to double-down on developing Analytics as its own division and specialization to generate both new revenue opportunities and efficiencies internally.  One guiding principle for this evolution revolved around something I learned a lot about by attending Gartner’s Business Intelligence conference in 2015. 

The folks at Gartner posed this question:  Do you Centralize or Decentralize?

  • Your talent
  • Your business processes
  • Your data and analysis
  • Your leadership and management
  • Your decision making

They then argued that you need to do both simultaneously.  That when you really think about it, whatever the context, you don’t have a choice when you consider the benefits (and necessity) of doing both.  I completely agree with this idea and think it boils down to a commitment to purposefully blur the lines between traditional roles, responsibilities and workflow. 

Here are three ways to put this into action in an agency environment.

Dig into how teams spend their time in terms of activities.

In an average month, how much time is spent doing X, Y and Z?  Interview folks across accounts at the functional level.  Ask questions like “what are your top 3 pain points” or “if you could waive a magic wand, what would you stop doing today or make better, faster”? 

You’ll find that as you grow and change as an organization, so does the variety of ‘stuff’ your people accumulate over time.  Some of this makes sense, some of it may not.

The answers and patterns can help you determine a few things.  For example, let’s say your account team is spending an inordinate amount of time on budget tracking and reporting back to clients on the financials.  How customized is this reporting?  What format does it take (decks, excel, etc.)?  What about frequency?

If you add up the total amount of time across the account team (plus other factors), chances are you’ll have enough work and variability to standardize the process and output. 

A great way to tackle this is centralizing with 2-3 people vs the entire account team.  This small group should consist of process oriented / technical people in other departments (Analytics, Project Management, Accounting) and at least one account manager as the subject matter expert.

The group can collect all internal and externally facing documents and reports, isolate commonality across the board and develop one or two standard solutions or templates that focus on speed, accuracy and consistency.  Then decentralize back to the teams.  You may find that by simplifying and standardizing the process, you may not need veteran folks to manage that activity anymore.  Perhaps they can oversee a more junior employee. 

This is great for a lot of reasons.  You’re potentially freeing up time for veteran talent to concentrate on other responsibilities, you’re creating comfort with consistency where the task is the same regardless of account, which makes it easier to train and develop junior folks to take on more responsibility.

Leading benefits of big data usage according to agencies and brand executives in the United States.

Source: Statista

Within a single team or department, proactively move the work around.

Set up “tours of duty” for certain accounts or functions and then transition every 6 months for two years.  The idea is you’re prioritizing cross training and normalizing process, communication and documentation.  After the 2nd round, you’ll see that it gets easier and faster to shift. 

Be careful about doing too much at once.  You don’t want the work or your team to suffer.  Pick one or two responsibilities per person and hook them up with a tag team partner to swap.  Each employee will have consistency in the work he or she has been doing, while nudging out of the comfort zone with the other responsibilities. 

Going through this process can be hugely beneficial.  You’ll uncover best practices and share them.  You’ll nurture employees and help them think critically about the work that they are doing to the point where they need to train others.  It can also uncover your rising stars.

Identify a small group of talent that has the passion and ability to develop into “hybrid” roles.

Every agency needs these people.  You’ll know who they are off the top of your head.  They are the people that need to know how things work.  They need to understand the ripple effects of what they do and how it impacts others.  They embrace change.  They’re adept communicators.  They know how and when to customize based on the audience.  They have both the soft skills and the technical skills so they can navigate the entire workflow and understand what everyone is up against.  They put out fires and stay cool under pressure.

Once you have them identified, set up a plan to move them into another department, account or discipline.  The change should have some connection to the previous role so that they can leverage that experience in some fashion right away and start connecting dots.

And here’s the trick:  do this based on your priorities as a manager, leader and organization. 

Don’t let the ebb and flow of client needs dictate when and how to implement this.  You’re making an investment in your people which will ultimately yield positive things for your agency and your clients. 

By taking these steps and experimenting, you’ll create a force within the agency that can effectively act as Swiss army knives, dissolving silos and leading the charge on critical cross functional initiatives. It’s not perfect and it’s tough to do all the time, but if you keep it at the forefront of talent management, the results can be truly amazing and differentiating.

Account Managers that have killer analytics and technical chops.

Media Buyers that can crossover into Accounting.

Data Analysts that can pull research, influence the planning process, be client facing and bridge all of that information to then build out analysis platforms.

And most importantly, creating deeper understanding, collaboration and empathy across the agency.

About the Author: Mike Della Porta is VP of Technology & Operations at Butler/Till.