Agency Doctor: clearly define a framework, then set your staff free within it

Your junior staff might think they already know how to run your agency, but give them some respect and responsibility and they might surprise you.

It is hard to rely on hierarchies when you have a generation keen for access to all aspects of agency life, says Richard Houghton
It is hard to rely on hierarchies when you have a generation keen for access to all aspects of agency life, says Richard Houghton

I wasn’t the best employee. By the time I was a senior account executive I had decided I knew better than the board of the consultancy I was working for and wasn’t shy in sharing this view. I had a full 24 months of experience after all.

My MD, with hindsight a very patient man, let me run off at the mouth for a couple of months and then quietly took me to one side and explained I had 20 minutes at the next board meeting to outline my views on what needed to change.

As you would expect, it was not my most successful presentation and I left realising I knew very little about the business of running an agency. But the more important thing was that my MD had given me the chance to learn the lesson.

I was a better employee from then on once I knew I had the freedom to act within a clearly defined framework. I believe that this is the best approach for motivating your junior consultants as they move from apprentice or graduate trainees to fully-fledged consultants.

You will not be able to keep all your junior consultants – under 30 years old – for their whole career (nor would you want to) but you can extend the time they do spend with you.

If you have recruited well, these new consultants will push you and be demanding, and they will be ambitious.

Along with this, they will not give you loyalty without proof it is a two-way street. They will be looking for work/life balance and will not be excited by repetitive tasks. Plus, they will expect you to treat them and all of their peers equally.

This might seem to be a long list but you can start by getting the basics right.

Make sure your technology works and is current – they are a connected generation. Make sure that your comms are both on- and offline, clear, convenient and efficient.

Be clear on how you handle equality and diversity within the firm and, where you can, customise how they are handled rather than taking a blanket approach.

This will probably mean a change in how you manage.

It is hard to rely on hierarchies when you have a generation keen to get access to all aspects of agency life, not just those that the senior management deem appropriate.

Try assigning a senior mentor to the new joiner from their first day. Get them involved in the pitch process and give them access to senior management meetings early on. The mentor needs to be listening as well. Ask them to give you a formal change report after three months and, if their performance deserves it, a financial reward after six months.

Creating a clear framework for your under-30s to work within, treating them like adults and having high expectations of them – while dropping your old-school management preconceptions – can be a winning combination.

It’s a competitive sector and you need to attract, develop and retain the under-30s. What’s the worst that could happen – you have to listen to them present in a board meeting?

Richard Houghton is a business consultant:

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