Below CEO Today hears from Luca Senatore, author of new book The Agency and the director at multi-award-winning digital agency Genie Goals, who explains why transparency is absolutely key to succeeding as a business.
A few years ago I had a meeting with one of our large customers to tell them that we should move from a performance-only charging model, whereby they paid us according to the performance we drove, to a fixed retainer. My new proposal meant the double-digit monthly fee they paid us, was going to more than half. The MD of the brand looked at me and asked me if I’d lost my mind. I explained that the new fee was proportionate to the workload required to run the account and that the performance model was no longer suitable. The reason was that the risk balance when we first started with this brand, was heavily leaning on us. They were still trying to grow their brand awareness and the channels we managed were the main business drivers. By the time I had this conversation with them, their brand was well-known with many physical stores and good brand awareness. The channels we managed were still important but heavily supported by other activities. So, our risk was a lot lower and taking a big fee which was disproportionate compared to the workload was no longer the right thing to do.
This was three years ago, after three years of service with this brand. They are still a customer today.
Being transparent pays off not only when talking about fees to customers. It also pays massive dividends when selling to new customers, not overpromising, when mistakes are made running accounts, and with the staff in our organisation.
Clients love to see a team that’s engaged and not afraid to admit failure. One of the things that most retail brands said to me during interviews I carried out while writing my book, THE AGENCY: BUILD – GROW – REPEAT, is that one of the things that most annoys them is when, during meetings or pitches, agencies focus excessively on the small wins, which are of arguable value, and try to hide or underplay the mistakes and things that didn’t go well. Customers want to see transparency and are far happier when we admit that results are not good if we give them good reasons and a strong narrative, and tell them exactly what we are going to do to improve performance.
And with employees, whenever organisations begin to hide the truth or change the facts, perhaps because they believe their staff aren’t ready to know whatever it is that’s being kept secret, bad things happen. People lose trust. People disengage. People lose passion and stop caring. It’s better to be frank. And if there’s stuff you can’t say, try to find a way to make people understand that you can’t share the information, and what the reason is. There aren’t, or shouldn’t be, many things that need to be kept from staff anyway.
I had the bad tendency of not communicating all the things that were happening, often just because I thought that if things were not agreed or confirmed then there was no point in sharing them with the staff. Wrong. People want to know, and if you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. If they are to buy into the mission, then they need to know stuff. I started talking more, sharing more during one-to-one catch-ups and if I’m away, I record video updates telling all staff what we’ve got going on, even if it’s not confirmed. Everyone loves it.
At Genie Goals we have monthly staff updates where we share the numbers, the plans, the wins and the failures. We have a pay structure that is public within our organization which gives people a clear view of where they are, where they can go and how to get there.
Does this mean you have to share everything with staff and customers? I don’t think so. We share the stuff that people want to know, the stuff that we feel would help everyone understand the objectives and the stuff that helps us collectively to achieve such objectives. If people ask about stuff we can’t share, like other customers’ information, staff personal details etc, then we’d simply explain why we can’t share such information; in effect, we’d be transparent about our reasons.
If you have adopted a different approach in the past but are now interested to give transparency a try, my advice would be to plan and do this gradually. Start including in your staff meetings something you’ve not shared before. Put out a questions box where people can ask questions anonymously for you to answer. Run a staff survey and ask them what they’ll like to know. Ask your customers how they feel about your transparency to them.
You might be surprised to see just how much people love this stuff, and how much you might love it too.