Dealing with agency change
"The only constant is change." (Heraclitus, Greek philosopher)
Change comes in all shapes, sizes and frequency, and AgencyLand is certainly not immune to its effects. As a capable account manager you should be able to roll with the punches and accept a few surprises here and there. You will be used to change happening on a regular basis (especially with your projects) but it can feel like a whole different ball game when change affects you personally.
Of all the change that can happen within an agency, changing your client accounts can be the most difficult for an account manager to deal with. If you have taken the time to build solid client relationships you will - inevitably - form close friendships as well, which makes changing accounts that much more difficult.
Account shuffling can happen for a number of different reasons, including:
- Changes to the number and level of account managers approved under a retainer agreement.
- Team members leaving an agency.
- New team members bringing in specific skills and/or experience.
- The promotion of one account manager which requires the other team members to shuffle.
- A move from an operational role (with day-to-day client contact) to an oversight role (with sporadic contact).
- Loss of accounts, or the acquisition of new accounts.
- Balancing out the workload of a team.
- A restructure of the account management team.
- Account managers requesting to work on specific accounts.
- Account managers who are promised certain accounts as part of a promotion package.
Whatever the reason, saying goodbye to a client can be hard. The best way to handle the situation is to remain as professional as possible; help your colleagues manage the handover period; and put a positive spin on the situation in front of your client.
A change in management is a highly unsettling experience for an agency. As the essence of an agency flows down from the top, new management can mean a change to almost everything - structure, staff, systems, seating, and - the all-important - agency culture.
For this type of change it is best to take a wait-and-see approach. Even if you fear the worst, you may be pleasantly surprised. There is no sense in using energy to worry about something that may never come to pass; and - you never know - new management may be just the thing your agency needs.
Agency staff members will come and go (faster in some agencies than others). Just when you feel you have built good relationships with your colleagues, the dynamics will quickly change.
A colleague's resignation can mean a shuffling of your team and a shuffling of accounts. In agencies where that person is not replaced, it can also mean an increased workload and added pressure on those who remain.
The best way to handle a staff change is to keep communicating with your line manager so that you understand what's happening, and where you fit into the new landscape. They may not have an answer for you until they have had time to digest the situation themselves, and to figure out their next steps. If a change in staff is having a personal impact on you, then you need to ensure management understands how you feel.
Have you ever watched a PC person learning to use a Mac, or an iPhone user trying to tackle an Android mobile phone? The wailing and gnashing of teeth can be deafening.
We are creatures of habit and lovers of comfort zones. Being thrown outside of our technological cocoon can be daunting, and downright frustrating at times, but a change of technology will come to us all at some stage or another - either via our own agency making a change, or by moving to an agency which runs a different system.
Once you have recovered from the shock of mastering a different operating system you should find that it's really not that bad after all (and, if it is, you could ask your boss for an early Christmas present - it's always worth a try!).
Changing systems and processes
A new system may be tougher to conquer. Just when you think you are comfortable with your current job control system, CRM, or accounting system, management decides to introduce a better, faster, shinier system to the agency. Even if you didn't particularly like the old system, learning a whole new programme can still be a major challenge.
Like learning anything new, it helps to keep your mindset positive and focus on all the benefits that you will see once you are up and running. It's also OK to learn in a step-by-step fashion, taking one small bite at a time until you are confident that you understand each part of the process.
Remember, no matter how flashy or sophisticated a system is, it will likely never do every single thing that you want it to do. You may have to supplement your system with support systems of your own (e.g. a spreadsheet or three). Knowing that should remove some of the frustration you may feel during the changeover period.
Changing agencies, getting a promotion, or changing roles due to an agency restructure or opportunities opening up, are all instances where you will be thrown into a state of flux and newness. You may have new responsibilities, new direct reports, new level of seniority, and new clients.
Getting promoted is a well-deserved nod to your hard work and capabilities. It's a time for feeling happy and validated, but it can also be a time of anxiety and angst. It is highly probable that you will go through times of self-doubt, wondering if you are really capable of doing the job - a feeling that is totally normal and can hit anyone at any level (even senior management).
It is possible that you have already been operating in this role, or at this level, for some time, and so the transition will be relatively easy. If the role is brand new, then you will likely have to FITYMI (fake it 'til you make it) until everything becomes second nature. It is a challenging time, but can also be an exciting time depending on the way you decide to approach the change.
The best way to handle change is to learn to roll with the waves rather than swim against them. Though change can be unsettling and scary, it can also open up opportunities that did not exist before.
Those who embrace new challenges with an open mind will learn more quickly and come through the change process relatively unscathed. Those who dig their toes in and complain loudly are only making things more difficult for themselves (and others), plus the learning curve will be unnecessarily steep.
The impact of change can also be minimised if you adjust your focus. When you base your workplace enjoyment solely on transient things (such as client and staff relationships), you could be in for a whole lot of disappointment when those things change. It can be easier to find your raison d'etre (reason for being) in something with more longevity - such as the type of work that you do, the industry, creativity and creative thinking. The transient things then become the icing on the cake.
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