Anyone who runs an organization or business can tell you that balancing the needs of clients and customers with your own internal needs is a challenge. This is especially true for B2B agencies like marketing firms whose success is measured by client satisfaction.
Delivering value for clients is what drives your business, but success can only be built on strong internal foundations. A cohesive team that works well together and benefits from shared institutional knowledge is essential.
As a digital agency grows, though, focusing solely on client satisfaction while neglecting to build strong internal structures will hinder its success in the long run.
For instance, we all know that turnover is a major problem to be avoided. The costs (in money, time, and attention) required to onboard new team members can quickly become overwhelming.
Human resources should be your first line of defense against turnover. But this doesn’t mean you need to immediately prioritize building out a formal HR department. Young agencies and smaller teams often simply don’t have the time or resources to devote to this yet.
However, for organizations of any size, incorporating a few HR strategies into your day-to-day operations can go a long way to strengthen your team. Here are a few interrelated strategies from the world of HR that you can adapt to suit your own business:
At Astron Solutions, we specialize in human resources consulting and support for nonprofits. Working across the nonprofit sector has shown us firsthand that tighter budgets and limited timeframes don’t have to hold you back when it comes to your internal needs.
After all, developing internal structures to strengthen your team and support employee retention will help you save time and money in the long run. Let’s get started.
An organization’s compensation strategy is integral to its long-term success. For small and large businesses alike, employee compensation plays a very direct role in their ability to develop stronger teams.
However, it’s important to note that compensation consists not just of how much you compensate employees but how you compensate them in a more general sense, too.
How does your business express gratitude to employees for the value they generate? Compensation can and should be actively used as a tool for boosting employee engagement beyond simply paying them for their work.
When developing strategies for our own clients, we recommend taking a holistic approach to compensation. This means breaking it down into direct compensation, which includes salaries, and indirect compensation, which includes more intangible rewards, like these:
We call this the Total Rewards approach to compensation. What forms of indirect compensation do you already provide? What could you provide more of? What free or inexpensive benefits could you offer to improve the experience of working at your agency? Can your forms of direct compensation better incentivize engagement?
By thinking of compensation in terms of both its direct and indirect elements, you can more strategically adjust them to support specific internal goals. A supportive culture that both encourages and recognizes achievement is much more engaging for employees than one in which everything feels high-stakes and contributions go unrecognized. It’s also a lot less likely to contribute to disruptive turnover.
You already set KPIs for your engagements with clients, so try doing the same internally. To get started, brainstorm ways that you might quantify improving your culture and employee buy-in or engagement. Then list out all of the forms of compensation that you already offer employees, looking for areas where improvements or adjustments can make a difference.
For smaller businesses or agencies that rely on their employees’ creativity from project to project, buy-in is everything!
Think of it this way: Team-building exercises can be effective, but they don’t particularly help build a structural foundation for long-term employee engagement and retention.
Updating your Total Rewards strategy will help to strengthen your team in the long run because it focuses on what truly matters — how you return value (both financial and intangible) to employees for the work they do.
Working with a compensation consultant can be a smart move for young businesses that are growing quickly and need some external help.
This is another way to prioritize the indirect elements of your Total Rewards strategy by building a stronger internal culture.
Marketers already know all the moving parts that go into building a brand and its external perception. Businesses of all sizes have begun approaching their own internal perception as employers in terms of branding, too.
Putting it this way may sound a bit buzzword-ish, but it’s a solid strategy. For creative agencies and younger companies, it’s a game-changer. When you brand yourself as a communicative, progressive, thoughtful, or simply engaged employer, your team will be proud to take part and contribute to the culture.
Perceptions of companies’ brands and internal cultures are major factors in where Millennial professionals (and upcoming generations) choose to work and for how long.
One of the most effective ways to begin developing your agency’s brand is to focus on giving back to your community. Corporate social responsibility doesn’t just refer to large companies engaging in expensive, highly-visible campaigns and partnerships. Companies of any size can build reputations as socially responsible employers. It’s easy to get started:
Matching gift and volunteer grant policies are among the easiest ways to show that your business gives back without requiring you to develop extensive programs and partnerships. Explore the AFSP’s matching gifts page for an idea of how these policies typically work.
The main idea is that even small agencies and growing companies can easily take part in corporate social responsibility to strengthen their brand as a socially-engaged employer in the community.
A positive reputation and providing simple outlets for giving back (plus holistic compensation strategies as discussed above) can go a long way to strengthen your agency’s culture and ability to engage employees.
Remember that the new norm in many sectors is for younger professionals to bounce between jobs fairly frequently. This is terrible for building teams that feel invested in the long-term success of your agency. By paying attention to how your work is perceived by the broader community, you can turn your company into a destination for engaged employees rather than just a stop along the way.
We’ve touched briefly on this strategy throughout the previous sections, and it ties in closely with HR and management best practices more generally.
A thoughtful approach to internal communication can have a ripple effect of benefits for your company’s culture. Communicative direction makes for a more engaging, productive, and rewarding workplace, and it contributes to your brand as a responsive, organized employer.
Many growing organizations, especially young creative agencies, take a fairly ad hoc approach to communications. For very small teams, this is understandable. However, concrete communication strategies should be developed as you begin to scale up and grow your team.
The main idea is to avoid creating an internal culture of either over-communication or under-communication. In both cases, you open up more risk that your team’s work will derail and priorities will become misaligned. Focus on these communication strategies:
Think about your audience. It works for email marketing, and it works for internal communications, too! Not every group of employees in your agency needs to be looped into every message or big-picture development. Communicating new updates or initiatives to different groups of employees in different ways will keep them more engaged with what you’re saying in the long-run. If you’re sending an agency-wide update, for instance, recapping implications and next steps for each department/group will help clarify your message and give employees more insight into how their work fits into that of their team members all across the agency.
Prioritize openness and transparency. It can be surprisingly easy for growing companies to lose sight of these priorities. By focusing on them, you’ll strengthen your team and build a reputation as a responsive employer. Transparency is particularly important around compensation and performance management. In addition, for B2B firms, openly communicating new developments around clients or accounts when appropriate can significantly boost a sense of team belonging.
Don’t underestimate the value of developing strategies for internal communication. They don’t necessarily need to be concrete policies, but keeping your communications focused and transparent will seriously strengthen your company’s culture and employee engagement.
Your team members should never feel bombarded by irrelevant messages or intentionally left in the dark about important updates that relate to their work. Both of these situations can make anyone feel disrespected, and they’re entirely avoidable!
Marketing agencies or other B2B firms, especially small or growing ones, don’t need to invest tons of time and resources into building out full HR departments in order to benefit from HR best practices.
You may decide that working with a human resources consultant is a smart move for your organization. However, if you choose to do it alone, remember that developing sturdy and scalable foundations for your team is essential.
A holistic conception of compensation, careful consideration of your branded perception as an employer, and your approaches to internal communication all play important, interrelated roles in your ability to form a cohesive, highly-engaged team.
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