How Agency Leaders Can Ensure the Success of Their Staff

John Bonini
John Bonini



agency-leadersSuccess is much like creativity; in order to expect it, you first need to foster an environment that allows it to exist.

Many agencies learn this the hard way, as they view success more as an expectation rather than the undertaking that it is.

Just as the most blazing fire can be smothered of its oxygen, so too can talent be smothered of its ability to succeed. But this post isn’t about that, because you’re here reading this, so you’re one of the “good guys.”

This post is more about ensuring your team is working in the environment necessary for success to take place.

But first...

Defining Success

In order to ensure the success of your staff, you first need to define what it is that this means. In your agency ecosystem, there are ultimately two types of success in relation to your staff.

  1. Organizational – The employee does great work for the company, and as a result, the company prospers.
  2. Professional – The employee does great work, and through organizational structure and opportunity, builds a strong personal brand and prospers.

If you’re leaning too far in one direction, success becomes a one-way street, and by default, is no longer defined as such.

Great agencies achieve both, as the personal and professional gain of each individual staff member makes for a stronger organization. Professional development shouldn’t be recreational, but rather woven in the fabric of the way your agency operates.

So let’s talk about how to make that happen.


Real success is largely dependent on the environment and process (or lack thereof) we work within.

If this weren’t true, coaches wouldn’t be necessary in sports. Producers wouldn’t be necessary in music. Directors wouldn’t be necessary in movies.

In order for any group to realize its full potential, the environment needs to be in place to support that. So how?

Each person needs clear direction from day one.

Too many agencies hire new talent and adopt the “sink or swim” mentality based on a new hire’s previous experience or perceived IQ. Even the smartest, most experienced people need time to learn a new system. What’s expected of them? What are the company’s core values?

Document a game plan for everything.

What happens if the client needs to make a drastic change to the site hours before launch that could negatively impact the value your company is contracted for? How should people handle frustrated customer calls? Document every conceivable scenario for quick access. People should never have to resort to guessing.

Make success repeatable.

Your staff is organizing a networking event? A webinar? An email campaign for all current customers? Anything executional that’s also proven to work should be documented as a repeatable process. What’s worked in the past? What hasn’t? This is the equivalent of a quarterback following the playbook.


Whether it’s an internal wiki or a chat platform, open communication should be kept with the entire staff in an effort to ensure support and transparency.


Nothing stunts progress and innovation quite like micromanagement.

For people to truly succeed at anything, they need to feel passionate about it. In order to feel passionate, they need to feel ownership. As long as you’re recruiting great people with good judgement, trust that you’ve made the right moves, hired the right people, then get out of their way.

Your team will succeed to its highest degree when it’s functioning independently.

Enable your staff to:

Make important decisions.

When your staff is empowered to make decisions, they’ll also be more accountable for them. Again, it’s about hiring great people with good judgement and allowing them to flourish in the system.

Take creative liberties.

When it comes to creative direction, let go. It should never be about your opinion versus that of the team. Let the people you’ve put in place take responsibility for the creative, as when they own it, they output will be more impressive.

Manage themselves.

As long as the job is getting done, let your staff manage themselves. This one is tough for the more traditional executive, but if you’re punching the clock on your staff, expect them to punch it on you right back come 5:00.

Create opportunities

Success and professional growth should be synonymous; for the former to occur, you need the latter to be happening. There is only so much you can learn at your desk, so if you’re serious about enabling your staff, you need to create opportunities out of the office for them to learn, network, and flat out get inspired.

While intrinsic motivation will drive growth for the right people (which you hired, remember?), it’s also up to the agency to facilitate this growth.

Here are some great opportunities:

  • Conferences related to each person’s role
  • Networking events in line with each person's skillset
  • Classes at an area school to help further their education

All of these require both an investment of time and money, but if you expect your staff to be drivers of your business, it’s both necessary and money well spent. Some agencies I know will actually segment their team throughout different conferences throughout the year, this way you’re never left shorthanded in the office, and the cost is spread out evenly over 12 months.

Most importantly, everyone is getting their opportunity to improve.

The Realization

Success is an undertaking, for every member of your staff and you as an agency leader. And this is hard work.

Everything we touched on here is hard to implement but even harder to maintain. It’s why company culture isn’t simply something you build, but also work to protect and maintain.

It’s easy to keep the big decisions for yourself. Or to micromanage accounts and do things the way you’re used to doing it. However, if you’re serious about ensuring the success of your staff, this requires more work on your behalf than it does theirs.

Not an easy realization, but then, is success ever easy?

Topics: Leadership

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