The greatest challenge with agency culture is that we are built around the undying desire to please our clients, often on a moment’s notice. To make our clients the stars in their own right. We are also financially built that way. Every 15 minutes is a billing. Every hourly rate is up for debate and discussion. Which, if you interpret this quite literally, leaves little room for team members to indulge their individuality, their independence and their own needs and wants. After all, we are “open for business” because our clients want and need us. And with this awesome amount of responsibility, it means that agency team members can sometimes feel like a hamster on a wheel, without autonomy and without control.
So how, as agency leaders, do we help bridge the gap for employees so they stay motivated under intense stress and pressure cooker timelines, yet also feel they have enough control to stay ahead and enjoy life, while still making their clients and client deadlines their first priority?
My answer today is ROWE. Veritas is currently undergoing a pilot of sorts for the next couple of months. A Proof of Concept that is applying a Results Oriented Work Environment within agency life. This means that effective Jan. 1, every member of my team has been given permission to come and go as they please, no matter what level they may be at. To use our client’s Microsoft technology to allow real-time file sharing and Skype. And to set hours and a working style that works for them – as long as clients and team members are okay with it. No more being tethered to desks or traditional modes of communicating – but we remain vigilant in staying connected with more focus on in-person or “live” discussions, and less email. Even our work space has been modified, with an open concept NASA-like social and media newsroom that is the centre of our universe.
To ROWE at Veritas also means everyone is being “brought in” on what we need to achieve in terms of financial goals for the agency, and most importantly, for our clients. It means everyone will be able to see each other’s progress in a supportive way to ensure rapid course correction for out of whack hours and over-service. Soft goals sharing by team members is mandated (yes, mandated) including citing and posting client compliments, strategic and creative wins, networking successes and executional excellence.
To ROWE means a high level of trust and accountability is given to every employee, with the reward being more flexibility and respect – and applause – as individuals within a greater team and purpose.
As part of this pilot, we have agreed as an agency to poll our clients at the end of Q1 about our service level, our communication style and discernable improvements. If our clients feel we have stayed on course or progressed, ROWE will be adopted permanently.
There have been many interpretations of ROWE by scholars, business leaders and industry jet setters; some of them glowing (highly motivating, progressive), and some of them cautionary (lonely for those who like to work and miss the company of others, lacks leadership).
But the value of ROWE is not defined by what the acronym stands for. It is how the concept is applied and customized to an agency setting that, by the very nature of what we do as client service first, resists any type of employee-centric approach.
As a Gen X leader who has always typified what it means to ‘go above and beyond’ for our clients, and one who is always ready to make the final decision, I am resisting my need to have the last word – in this article or on our pilot. And letting go has actually been much easier and more freeing than I ever imagined.
To ROWE or not to ROWE will ultimately be decided by those who matter the most: my clients and my employees. And that’s why – whether or not we decide to ROWE forward past March –in my books, it has worked regardless.
Krista Webster is president of Veritas Communications