MANAGERS OR MAKERS DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT MIX?
In today’s fast-moving digital world flexibility, and agility are prerequisites for agencies to recruit talent and win business. But too often, agency leaders talk a big game about agility far more than actively cultivating it. One of the most effective ways of actually instilling agility and emphasizing efficiency is quite simple: employ more makers than managers.
Makers are folks whose day-to-day involves actually making or producing the revenue generating deliverables. Strategists, Data Analysts, Creatives, and Producers are all makers. On the other side of the equation are the managers: for the most part, Project Managers and the various levels of Account Managers. (PMs and account leaders do make stuff, like scopes, but their primary responsibility is to manage, talk about the work, and sell.)
Both makers and managers are absolutely essential to the success of the business. But there needs to be a clear line between them, a delineation of responsibilities and ways of working that frees up the makers to make and puts the responsibility of management squarely in the managers’ hands.
Here’s the thing: there are only so many hours in any project timeline. Well-structured teams will devote the maximum number of hours to making and doing, because in the end it is the deliverable that matters most. One way to maximize the time spent by makers is to simply have more of them, at every level. This means the entire Creative Department, including all senior talent ECD or CCO, need to be makers. Senior folks, who are where they are because of their formidable skills, must do more than give feedback and critique; they should be given time to create, to brainstorm, and to work on projects where they’re needed.
The second part of elevating the work of makers is for all managers to be empowered to manage the work and to understand that it’s their job to cut through the swirl and confusion, and ensure the makers are buffered from any scoping or other manager functions. This requires vigilance; constantly scrutinizing meetings to ensure they are essential, minimizing the length of meetings, and making sure only those that need to be are on emails.
A metaphor I find helpful is to think of the operations infrastructure at an agency like the operations team in a surgical hospital. Most patients will research a hospital to see the ratings on the surgeon, The operations team that runs the hospital isn’t considered. It’s the operations team keeps the hospital running, they are involved in everything but they don’t get in the way of the surgeons or the nurses. This is precisely how managers need to blend the operational management of the agency thereby removing confusion, swirl, and chaos.
To accomplish this, agencies should have a defined Operational Governance or Project Management Organization (PMO): a process, governance, meeting cadence, and other tasks that Project Managers, or Operational Client Services people, own, and Project Managers need to be empowered. It should also be clear to Project Managers that their top priority is allowing the makers to do the work—to be makers—to the furthest extent of their abilities. This might mean leaving makers out of a communication that focuses on management tasks. Even if they’ve traditionally been copied.
For every minute that a maker is in an unnecessary meeting, or reading a process email, they are not making. And we’re back to—there are only so many hours in a project timeline and in a day.
This shift in responsibilities and flow I’m suggesting is no simple fix. It requires that both managers and makers recognize and value the other’s skillset. It requires deep trust between managers and makers, that each is focused on the task at hand and doesn’t need to be monitored, it requires of managers the unsimple task of getting out of their team’s way, and it requires the agency’s leadership to empower the Project Managers, or Operational Client Services team.
In today’s world for an agency to be truly nimble and efficient mandates the shift from a manager-heavy organization to a maker-focused company. Because the more that management work becomes agile and invisible—like that perfect hospital operations team—the more time the makers will have to think, refine, and actually create.