Yearly In-House Reinvention, Does Not Equal Trust or Success
Author, Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, James Altucher said, "Every day, you reinvent yourself. You're always in motion. But you decide every day: forward or backward." This couldn't be truer when it comes to in-house agencies who constantly must redefine how they work as the business landscape shifts over time. But there is a difference when "O Captain! My Captain!" takes the helm and steers course for the exact point from which you came, rather than deviating slightly in a new direction forward.
YOUR NORTH STAR
The question that should be consistently asked is “What is the North Star?”. This is your reason for being as an in-house team. Think of this as less of a boiler plate mission statement, and more of an inspirational rallying cry to motivate the in-house team with intention and purpose.
Point the compass towards the business goals of the larger organization and carefully consider how the in-house can help further those goals and achieve the best results. The in-house agency exists because the larger business units depend on their brand knowledge, accessibility, quickness, and low-cost efficiencies. Your “clients" are your colleagues and they trust you to have their backs because you share the same interests, the bottom line of the company.
We surveyed an in-house that experienced the identity crisis that comes with not knowing your true North. One year this hopeful in-house was an entertainment long-form only based studio, and the next year, digital short-form only. The year after that, this now confused in-house was concentrating on e-commerce as the top priority, only to be followed by a fully integrated marketing agency the very next year. Now that’s some rapid reinvention! But was it responsible, and did it further the bottom line? Your clients won't be able to keep up or know what type of work to bring to the in-house, and your in-house talent will have whiplash figuring out what you want from them. The trust slowly erodes, even with your most loyal of clients and your most steadfast talent, as they are handed not just a different playbook, but a different business model with different processes, people, and work.
As trust erodes, so too does credibility. Our case study revealed that this same in-house implemented different charge-back models each year, another unfortunate result of the absence of a true North Star. Trust and credibility erode over time if you tell your clients that in-house services cost "x" one year and the next year it's "x" plus 25% plus "y" and the in-house team does not understand the math or reasoning behind the uptick in pricing, and therefore cannot effectively communicate costs to their clients.
In-houses, like any successful business, rely on good leaders, great talent, and keeping clients happy. If your in-house North Star is non-existent, or you have a tough time figuring it out, spending the time to find it might not right your ship immediately, but it will help set your team up for success in the long term. It may sound simple, but if you need help, just ask. That's what good leaders do. In a Great Resignation climate, and resulting shifts in leadership, coupled with steady increases in the overall growth of in-house agencies, it’s critically important for new in-house leaders to ask questions and listen closely to what’s been done before to better understand what worked and what didn’t in the past. Looking beyond the walls of the in-house is also another way to gain valuable perspective and insight. Swapping stories, trial/error tribulations and advice from others who have been in the trenches is a great starting place. Responsible reinvention and North Star navigation requires putting in the time, but the results can yield some incredible work, loyal teams and happy clients.
After interviewing several members of this in-house, we learned that leadership did ask for help on three separate occasions over the course of seven years, however, to the confusion and dismay of the team, the recommendations were never implemented. This involved the same group of people, being asked the same questions about their work, people, projects, and in-house, yet the outcome was the same each time. Nothing was done.
If changes were made the first or even second time around, or even if micro habits were made, baby stepping to forward change, would this group be somewhere else today? Would they have more trust, stronger leadership, better work because clients would continue to trust and grow with them? We cannot be positive, but we can be sure that even small changes in key areas can make a significant impact. We'd like to bet that if even a few foundational adjustments were made, and the North Star was aligned to the company's goals and needs each year, this little agency/content studio would be unstoppable.
Reinvention can signify a positive phase of forward momentum and growth for in-house agencies, but reinvent responsibly, or the team will lose faith in the mission, with diminishing returns on productivity and creativity as a result.