Though he’s not honoured in Cooperstown, Gene Mauch has a tremendous legacy in baseball. Credited as one of the first managers to approach his role more as a tactician and use analytics to make tailored adjustments against certain teams and players, Mauch was equally known for his big mouth and fiery temper.
At the pinnacle of a three-year comeback from a last place finish and a season that saw them lose 23 games in a row, Mauch looked poised to take the 1964 Phillies all the way to a World Series Win. That is, until, in the final weeks of the season, Mauch let his behaviour override his good sense, believing, as some said, they could win by sheer will. What happened? Known as the "Phillies Phold," Mauch effectively burnt out several star players and the team collectively choked.
You could argue that was all a fluke or say it's just how it goes in games of chance. Except, Mauch talked smart baseball through the ’69 season as he coached the Expos to an epic losing record. And again in ’82 and ’86 as he led the Angels to repeat chokes, making decisions so closely mirroring the famous Phold two decades before, you'd swear he was attempting to prove he had been right back then.
What does this tale of victoryless baseball woe have to do with your agency?
It's this: you, Gene Mauch, and every other person trying to achieve success have an unending internal scrimmage between your rational self and your emotional one. Better explained by Chip and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, your ability to change requires a threefold framework that involves directing your rider (getting clarity), motivating your elephant (understanding and communicating impacts beyond numbers for you and your team), and shaping your path (picking a few clear, easy to adopt ways to change).
The reason you, like Mauch, aren't reaching your endgame is because, despite your interest in changing how you react to pressure, you keep behaving the same way. You're paying a fortune in lip service to the problem, but sheer will is not going to change the outcome of continually focusing on short-term gains.
If that seemed too philosophical, don't worry, we're about to break this down into actionable steps.
Let's make sure we're working on the shared understanding you've already answered: "why you exist as an agency" and committed to focusing on your specialisation. If you missed the first two articles in this series, stop now and give them a read.
Designer and all-around awesome dude, James Victore, offers the simplest starting point for overcoming the lip service problem.
"Free yourself from making sh** up."
Too many times we see creative agencies rationalise intense pressure as "just part of agency life" and even go so far as to suggest it's the secret sauce that brings out their "greatest work." That sort of churn and burn strategy has absolutely zero chance of helping you win the long game. Stop kidding yourself and allowing your circumstances to dictate what you do.
This means you're going to make a sacrifice - maybe even a few - to step back and get a handle on how you're actually behaving. Get over talking in "official" mission statements or waxing eloquently about the vision you set out for your agency. Operating on the default setting like that masks underlying issues.
I'm not saying that defining your agency purpose, values and positioning is unimportant. But, what do you think happens to a building with an impressive blueprint and half-baked wiring and framing? Sooner or later, it’s either going to start crumbling or straight burn to the ground.
One of the reasons change is so tough to achieve in an organisation is that we, as leaders, don't want to admit a problem exists, because that feels like a knock on our expertise. If you ever listened to David Foster Wallace's "This is Water," you know it has next to nothing to do with your expertise and everything to do with awareness.
You can't move forward without clarity. And clarity begins with you.
“The revolution is you.”
– James Victore
OK, you've cast off the shackles of affectation and are ready to take stock.
Since you can’t effectively get where you’re going if you don’t know where you are, your next step is to get everything out on the table.
What's broken? How broken is it? Answering that means you've got to get some baseline measurements, e.g.
Bring your team together and share the findings. Transparency is the key to getting your team to join you in the campaign to turn things around. The more honest you are, the greater chance you'll have at knocking down those obstacles holding you back.
I love sports rituals as much as the next avid fan and amateur participant. There is, however, one sporting practice I loathe beyond words I’m permitted to use here. I’m talking about the postgame conference.
Sean Braswell captures exactly why they're so terrible: "Because sports should be about action, not canned reactions."
Same for your agency.
While I commend you for getting through the reality check, stopping there is the same as saying "well, we had some ups, we had some downs, and ultimately we were out-competed," as you remove your carefully-considered creed printed in Eames Black Stencil from the wall and shutter your creative agency.
Review your list of answers from the series of questions above to find what problems exist now. Of all the broken things, which aspect appears most broken?
Pick that thing and start dissecting the parts that go into it - the people, the processes. Commit fully to figuring out how you really handle it, not just what you say you do.
Fixing your support setup is often a good place to start because it tends to be where our activities are most reactive. When you reduce the time, energy, and self-control your team is collectively expending on short-term focused work, you create a massive free space for long game winning projects.
Another area you might prioritise revamping is collaboration, both internally and externally. The right communication systems can pay off in spades as you reduce errors from miscommunications and reap the benefits of improved trust, accountability, and efficiency.
I’m 100% confident I was instrumental in seeing my Cubbies through to the championship last season because of my fastidious dedication to performing exacting routines before each game.
That is, each game for almost three decades.
This whole process of hurdling lip service is just that - a process that you'll need to remind yourself of and repeat regularly. It is not a one-time easy fix. It requires you to do some work outside of what you consider the daily essentials. It mandates that you do not give up at the first sign of setback.
Your best chance of sticking to it is to involve your team and schedule regular reviews as you would a key client meeting. In this case, you're the client, and missing the meeting means you're leaving good business on the table that you're not likely to win back.
Keep your focus on the long game. It's not easy, but you're worth it. And that's not lip service, it's why we do what we do at Endzone Software.
Join us for the next post where we’ll get you past that perfectionist complex.
You can't hit a home run if you don't step up to the plate.
We're not paying lip service to long-term goals. We're talking with some of the best web agencies about their challenges and giving out actionable advice from expert specialists to reach your agency endgame. It's all happening right now on Twitter.
What are you still doing here? Don't just sit there, bust a move. #AgencyEndgame.
This post is the third in our series examining the 7 reasons creative agencies are not winning the long game and what they can do to overcome those obstacles.
Here's our roadmap.