Start By Starting

The great enemy of a Growth Culture is busy-ness.

When we first work with clients, the pattern looks like this: They love the idea of investing in their people, there are definitely some arenas that need serious attention, and people have been asking for this stuff for a long time. It's just... you know... there's a lot going on right now... we just brought on a new client... we're merging offices... there are some restructures happening with the creative team... as soon as we get through [fill-in-the-blank] then we'll be ready to get going.

Don't fall for the perfect timing trap. It will never be the perfect time. You will never have the perfect plan. And if you wait for perfect, you will never start.

Want to know a secret? The best time to start a Growth Culture is precisely when things are crazy.

A Growth Culture, as we've described it, is fundamentally a sense-making process. It helps you make sense of what's happening in your business, learn from it, and change the way you operate.

When things are calm, sense-making isn't that important. When things are crazy, a Growth Culture helps you respond more effectively to the chaos. People feel more grounded and connected. Problems are sorted with greater insight.

You don't need a comprehensive plan to get started. You don't need to conquer this entire process all at once.

Instead, embrace "permanent beta". The process will never be complete. Your Growth Culture will always be a work in progress.

Your agency is not a mechanism—it's an organism. It's not a machine you fix only when it breaks down. Like the body, it requires regular exercise to stay healthy. Like a garden, it must be tended daily.

Pick some small part of the process and run some experiments. Set a simple cadence for running these experiments—somewhere between two weeks and two months—and then retro what you learned. Write it down. Update your plan. Then run another experiment.

If you're stuck for places to start experimenting, here are a few suggestions.

  • Establish some baseline data. Create a simple survey and send it to everyone at the agency. Ask their opinion on the current state of the Growth Culture. Include multiple-choice questions that will give you objective data to compare over time, and some open-ended questions that will generate ideas for improvement. As a bonus, the survey sends a signal that you're serious about their development.
  • Update some role descriptions. Pick one team and try to rewrite their role descriptions using skills and activities. Then group them around the value chain of the team or agency. Three or four job descriptions should be enough to learn a whole lot about this process. Share the updated descriptions with a few people outside the team and get feedback.
  • Prototype some mastery levels. Create a simple, 5-level framework of mastery levels. Give each level a name and a description of about 25 words. Then sit down with 3-5 people and use this framework to talk through their current job. Is it helpful? Can they clearly identify their level of mastery? Does it inspire them to get better? Adjust the language as needed every time you do this until it starts to work for everyone.
  • Introduce a new practice to one team. Hold a Journey meeting. Create a commit. Write a daily reflection. Pick some practice described in the Developing section and ask a team to try it out for a couple weeks. Check in with them often. Ask them what they're noticing. Document that. Tweak as needed until it's effective. Then have them introduce that practice to another team.

The fastest way to get started is to just start. Another approach is to...

Find Your Constraint

Consider each of the 6 arenas as they exist today in your agency. Which one feels most ineffective? Where are things backed up the most? Which one generates the most complaints or frustration? Which one has the most "traffic" or backlog of issues to resolve?

That's your constraint.

Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a process is only as fast as its slowest stage. So find your slowest stage. Find your constraint. And start there. Ignore the other arenas for now. Only devote your attention to the constraint. Why?

  • Progress: Try to improve several arenas at once and you spread yourself too thin. Focus on a single arena and you'll improve it faster. And that sense of progress will increase your forward motion. You'll accelerate.
  • Impact: By going deep on a single arena you understand it better. You have greater insight and thus create more effective solutions. This means your outcomes will have a bigger impact.
  • Compounding: Improve one arena and you start seeing benefits. The sooner you improve it, the sooner the benefits start... and the longer they compound. Try to improve three arenas at once and it takes three times as long for the benefits to start.

You never remove your constraint. It just shifts. If the Hiring arena is your constraint, fix it. Once hiring is fixed, Mentoring becomes your constraint. Fix that, and now Developing is your constraint.

As the system improves, the constraint shifts.

That's the game: follow the constraint.

This becomes a never ending process of discovering the constraint in your people development system and improving it... discover, improve, discover, improve, etc.

How We Can Help

If you want to create a Growth Culture fast, CultivateMe can help in the following ways:

Growth Culture Snapshot. Get an objective measurement of the Home, Edge, and Groove in your agency, with analysis and suggestions for improvement. Use it as a baseline to measure your growth over time. The snapshot captures open-ended feedback on what's working and where people are getting stuck. And it sends a powerful signal to your people that you care about their career development.

Talent Strategy Workshops. Half-day and full-day sessions with your leadership team. We introduce new mental models, help you find your current constraint, prototype some new practices, and build a clear people development strategy aligned to your business goals.

Targeted Coaching. Build better managers, establish new practices, and develop specific skills for anyone in your agency. Coaching is the best way to hold your agency accountable as you build your Growth Culture. And coaching is a shield against the "busy-ness" that strangles change efforts.

Iris Platform. Our online platform makes learning visible and supports growth practices across your agency. It helps you map everyone’s role and calibrate everyone's mastery. It gives managers insight to their people and creates focus and clarity for every individual in your agency. People take ownership of their growth and turn their jobs into journeys.

Full Service Support. CultivateMe can be your agency-of-record for all things Growth Culture. We provide a suite of ongoing services, including access to Iris, regular Growth Culture snapshots, and ad hoc consulting on your learning system. And we offer targeted quarterly projects to build skills and practices across your agency, as well as improve the tools and processes in each of your six arenas.