Who is running your business?

Written by Jon Ross
25 May 2022

As the leader, your goal should be to spread responsibility for growth over a deep, capable leadership team that can effectively and efficiently sell and service the agency’s value proposition. You should not be overly involved in everyday client work, every new business pitch or most day-today decisions or you will be forever overwhelmed.

The client-focused leadership team should be built around the knowledge and expertise promised by your value proposition. It then must be properly supported by the core business functions of talent and operations.

A strong senior team across revenue streams, specialty services and core business functions ensure less reliance on the owner for the agency’s overall success. Your agency’s ability to operate, grow and profit without you will also be critically important to both the firm and you personally when you ultimately choose to leave.

You need clear role descriptions for your leaders

How to ensure that your leaders can be successful.

Of course, you’ll recruit people who you believe have the ability, experience and personalities to succeed. But that’s not enough.

You need clear role descriptions for your leaders detailing their areas of responsibility, authority and accountability. It’s extremely important that each leader understands how they fit into the agency vision and value proposition.

Develop specific targets or success metrics for performance. Then develop corresponding incentive plans with meaningful rewards for achieving success. Don’t be tight with senior incentive plans. Yes, it’s your money… but a highly motivated senior leadership can help you make a lot more money than you can on your own.

Finally, make sure that each leader has the resources required for success. Support them with the talent and tools they truly need to succeed.

The most successful agency owners have transitioned from being do-ers to visionary leaders.

Ultimately, the owner should put the agency’s senior leaders in a position to succeed, provide them with ongoing support and counsel and hold them accountable for results.

As the leader, your goal should be to spread responsibility for growth over a deep, capable leadership team

For owners, the process for moving from do-er to leader is evolutionary. It follows these incremental steps:

  1. As soon as possible, hire client service leaders to get you out of being responsible for client program tactics.
  2. As your time becomes freed up from client work, hire senior support for business development.
  3. As the firm continues to grow, hire a senior leader for talent management so the agency is constantly teaching and building a leadership pipeline.

The characteristics of a fully evolved agency and its leadership structure.

Fully evolved agencies generally have the following roles under the agency owner/CEO:

  • Practice or revenue stream leaders (Client strategists with deep sector knowledge)
  • Specialty leaders (For example: Creative, Digital, Media or Research)
  • Business development leader
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Head of Operations

As noted earlier, these leaders must be assigned the resources required to be successful. As the agency owner, you’ll work with each leader to develop a plan of activities to execute, establish success metrics, agree on the talent and tools needed and then hold her or him accountable.

As CEO, your own leadership role has shifted from running accounts and addressing day-to-day issues to keeping the agency’s mission, vision, values and strategic plan relevant (and adhered to) in the minds of your staff.

Finally, while growth has a way of sustaining itself, it won’t happen without strong and visionary leadership. And this begins with the agency leader delegating key responsibilities to a leadership team.