Innovation has been a central agency theme for years, but the founder of Australian martech business Triggerfish argues hiring a head of innovation won’t lead to agency innovation.
By Ben Shapiro, founder and managing director at Triggerfish
While “pivot” was the buzzword of 2020, innovation has been a central agency theme for many years, as agencies across the entire marketing spectrum battled to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market.
And this is especially true now as many businesses focus on rebuilding and possibly redefining themselves post-COVID-19.
However, as an entrepreneur and agency founder in an industry driven by innovation, I would argue that the biggest mistake agencies make when trying to promote innovation is to hire a head of innovation or a single person whose sole responsibility is innovation.
The problem with this approach is that innovation is not a top-down job and rarely does one person have all the smarts to propel the agency forward. Instead, innovation needs to be cross-functional with every member of the agency being accountable for creating the culture that fuels it.
In fact, I believe that it’s an agency’s culture that drives innovation, and if you want to be a business that innovates, then business leaders should focus more on creating the space and culture to promote creativity, independent thinking and business transformation, rather than focusing on the innovation itself.
How do you create the right agency culture to fuel innovation?
In my experience there are five key fundamentals that successful and innovative businesses follow.
Strong purpose and vision
This may sound simple, but it’s surprising just how many businesses don’t have this and it’s especially important for purpose-driven younger generations.
To drive innovation, every member of the agency should have a clear understanding of the business vision and what it stands for, as this will fuel their daily sense of purpose.
In fact, a recent study by WeSpire in the United States found that Gen Z is the first generation to prioritise purpose over salary. The study found that they read mission statements and values documents to select where they work and want their employers’ values to match their own.
Closer to home, figures show that by 2025, 31 per cent of the Australian workforce will be from Gen Z. So if agencies want to attract the next generation of talent, it’s important they get clear on their purpose and vision.
Promote autonomy and accountability
The best way to stifle innovation and curb creativity is to micromanage. Instead, business leaders should focus on building a culture of autonomy by holding people accountable and focussing on outcomes. Put simply, be clear on what is expected of people, and what needs to be achieved and when.
Then ensure that everyone in the agency—from top to bottom—operates by this philosophy on a daily basis.
Say ‘No’ to clients
A central tenant of promoting an outcomes-focussed culture is learning to say ‘No’ to clients. What I mean by this is ensuring you’re always working on the right things to drive client outcomes, and saying no to anything that doesn’t, or isn’t strategically aligned.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t be agile when required. Rather, focus only on the things that matter (things that drive ROI) and say no to the things that don’t. It’s a pragmatic approach that works.
Encouraging mistakes is one of the best ways to fuel creativity in an agency. However, it’s important to ensure they’re not made twice and to instead focus on the lessons learned.
At the end of the day, we’re all human, and to promote a standard of perfectionism only creates a culture of stress, avoidance and fear of failure—which is the antithesis of innovation.
This is especially true in the MarTech industry where too many businesses chase this idea of perfectionism which in my view, is unattainable. Instead, the key to success—and driving client outcomes—is to create a culture of continuous improvement.
Executions may not always be perfect, however, having an ongoing process of testing, learning, adapting, and improving not only delivers better results over the long term, but team members also feel more empowered and inspired which also helps fuel a culture of innovation.
To truly drive innovation in an agency – or any business for that matter – requires ongoing investment.
Creating the right culture needs to be a long-term and strategic business focus. Because when it comes to innovation, there is no such thing as ‘done’—it’s an ongoing journey of remaining true to your vision, holding people accountable, being laser focused on client outcomes, all while promoting a culture of learning and growing.
It’s only when you invest in this strategic vision over time, will you start to foster a culture of innovation, and only then will you reap the commercial benefits of it.
Ben Shapiro is the founder and managing director of Triggerfish, an Australian CX and MarTech company.
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