Friday, June 26, 2009

When Growth Stalls -- Read About It

At the recent PRSA Counselors Academy Conference in June, I heard Steve McKee speak about what happens when a fast-growing business (his own advertising agency) stops growing.

Steve’s own company problems led to two research studies and ultimately a great business book called “When Growth Stalls”, subtitled How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, & What to Do About it.

While external market factors – McKee calls them Market Tectonics – clearly can and affect the growth and health of a company (can anybody spell recession?), McKee’s research points out that external factors alone are rarely responsible for stalled growth.

Instead, his research identified four, what he calls, “subtle and highly destructive internal factors that conspire to keep companies down.” The four are:

• Lack of consensus among the management team

• Loss of focus
• Loss of nerve
• Marketing inconsistency

Lack of consensus among management is easy to understand. You and your partner(s) simply do not agree on direction, strategies, or actions. There is a loss of trust and maybe a loss of confidence. I have seen this almost destroy more than one agency.

Loss of focus often plagues agencies in recessions. Loss of focus does not mean not adding new services or even going after new markets. What it does mean is straying from the strength of the firm to pursue strategies or actions that distract management from what it does best.

Loss of nerve is an affliction that has plagued many a firm during this recession. McKee says that fear of taking a risk, resisting change, not investing in the business are all signs of loss of nerve. I have seen and spoken to agency heads that are almost paralyzed by economic uncertainty even though they know in their gut that things will be better. He goes on to say that loss of nerve is a common “wake-up call” but one that companies must heed to return to a growth mode.

Finally, marketing inconsistency. Pretty self-explanatory. Frankly most agencies don’t even have a real marketing plan to be inconsistent about. But, for the companies McKee researched, changing one’s marketing frequently is a sure sign of a company in trouble or looking for trouble.

There are plenty of lessons in McKee’s book for all leaders. It is well worth reading.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Traits of a Great Agency Leader: Part Two

Last week I posted three of the six traits that I have observed in great agency leaders. I asked the question then and it bears repeating: What are the behaviors that separate the great from the average? Can good CEOs become great? Can mediocre ones improve?

Here are traits 4-6. Comments and challenges are welcomed.

4. They live in the present but have a clear, compelling vision of the future -- they know exactly what kind of firm they want to become

• They have an unwavering focus and commitment to make the vision a reality.
• Their vision is a filter for decision-making. It simplifies and provides a strategic context for all their major decisions
• They are willing to take risks to achieve their vision

5. They are “star-crazed”
• They understand that a great leader needs great lieutenants not foot soldiers
• They invest in “stars”
• They don’t tolerate the “average”

6. They live by standards of excellence (external and internal)
• They set the standards
• They meet the standards

• They understand that standards of excellence are non-negotiable

In part three, I’ll show a simple scorecard to rate yourself as a leader.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Traits of a Great Agency Leader: Part One

As a former agency CEO who now advises CEOs and owners of public relations firms, I have observed great agency leaders, good ones, and some that are just mediocre. What are the behaviors that separate the great from the average? Can good CEOs become great? Can mediocre ones improve?

Here are three of the six traits that distinguish great agency leaders:

1. The “possibility” mindset
• They are committed to being great and wildly successful
• They always focus on the positive
• They understand that doubts will interfere with the outcome they want.
• Especially today, outstanding leaders think, act, and believe in abundance and prosperity. They are open to receiving it

2. Action-oriented
• They are doers – not just thinkers and talkers (motivate by actions not words)
• They are always moving their firm forward – not just treading water
• They work on their business, not just in their business
• They run their business like a business with an active business plans, marketing, business development and financial plans

3. Personal change agent (“If I am not part of the problem there is solution”)
• They recognize the need to change (awareness)
• They embrace the need to change (acceptance)
• They make changes in their own behavior (action)
• They invest in themselves and their firm

Test yourself. How do you rate against these first three traits?