Managing Change in a Creative Agency – New Ownership

A new owner often may bring up confusion and anxiety for the rest of the team. Transitioning towards a new owner involves reassuring staff’s doubts about the company, their roles and their needs. In this blog post, Business Coach Roberto Erario talks about how to get your staff on board and embrace a change in ownership.

The Compelling Issue From Our Customer:

Our agency is in the middle of transitioning from our previous owner to me (a senior manager), after I stepped up to the plate and decided to acquire it. The transition was supposed to be quick but it’s taking much longer than expected and the negotiation is becoming more and more difficult. The internal relationships with the team have been negatively affected by this situation. I risk having to end up buying an “empty box” if I don’t manage to keep people on board. I have already heard that some of them are considering leaving and are complaining about the heavy atmosphere and the uncertainty about the future. Any suggestions? – Mike, Orlando, FL

The Powerful Answer From Coach Roberto:

In moments of transition, people feel disoriented and uncertain about what is going to happen next. They look around for leaders, situations, and companies that can give them clarity and security. In a situation like the one you are in, you must avoid the risk of putting all your energy and focus only on ending the negotiation in the best way possible and “forget” about everything and everyone else.

To end negotiations in the best light, it’s important to be aware you need to divvy up your efforts into two parts. The negotiation with the owner is one and managing your team is the other one. Keep these two parts separate and have different strategy in place for each one.

Negotiations With the Owner

Since your question focuses on how to keep the team on board, I will not expand on the negotiation too much. Just make sure you use a generative negotiation instead of a distributive negotiation. In other words, go for a win-win solution and find ways to “expand the pie”. Manage the entire process carefully by yourself only if you have the knowledge and the capabilities. Otherwise, hire somebody to help you. Too often people get caught up with emotional and ego battles, and they keep their focus only on the price of the transaction, and forget all the other costs/benefits connected to other aspects involved. (eg. The company’s reputation and how the transition will impact the workflow, keeping skilled staff, etc).

Managing Your Team

Let’s talk about the other part: how to manage the team during this time of transition.

The two enemies you need to fight are uncertainty and confusion. You need to eliminate (or reduce as much as possible) both of them when it comes to the future of the company as well as for the future of each individual who works in the company. Here are some key points:

1. Focus on the Influencers

As a first step, focus primarily on the influencers in your agency and make sure you bring (and keep) them on board with the transition. You still want to have conversations with everyone else, but your extra effort needs to be on the influencers to facilitate the process.

2. Paint a Clear Vision

During the conversations with your team members, paint a clear, inspiring, engaging vision for the company. The purpose of this is to give people a better idea of what you have in mind for the future of the agency, the main changes they need to expect, and talk about anything else that can add clarity and make them feel more and more comfortable about the upcoming change.

3. Smooth the Transitions

Focus on acknowledging and addressing your staff’s individual needs. Specifically, listen to your staff more carefully than before and identify their doubts, fears, different perceptions, and challenges about the situation. Reassure them as often as possible on everything you can and be honest. During transitions, people often deal with irrational thoughts. Only your attitude of being fully present, your understanding towards them and your confidence can reassure them that everything will go as well as possible.

4. Focus on the Why

When you talk about the future of the agency and their role, speak to their minds, but don’t forget their hearts. Conversations based on the “why”, the values and their deeper motivations are way more powerful than just rational conversations on money, career path and effective operational strategies.

5. Plan the Communication

Be well prepared about anything you want to say. You want to avoid on improvising and most importantly, not being impulsive with your answers. Be aware that during these periods people weigh every single word much more than usual in search for any clue that brings them to a better understanding.

6. Reassure Their Future

Last but not least, if you already have strategies and plans ready to go, present them in a specific, realistic and exciting way. Ultimately, your team cares about the company but they also care about their future. Make sure you answer the “what’s in it for me?” question that often runs in their mind.

People tend to get disoriented, so this is your opportunity to reinforce your leadership with your team by connecting with them even more and creating a deeper level of trust that will make you and your company succeed. While you’re in the middle of a transition, it can be easy to let things, like going above and beyond for your clients, slip.  Check out our client engagement worksheet to make sure you’re wowing clients from start to finish.

Know a friend who would find this helpful? Let them know and share this article! If you have any additional questions on this topic, or need some agency advice, comment below.

Roberto Erario

Business Coach

A former executive in the banking industry, Roberto Erario holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and a Master in Corporate and Executive Coaching. He’s a Licensed Business and Life NLP Coach, a Certified Master NLP Practitioner, and he’s been training and coaching executives and business owners in Europe and North America for the last 11 years. Major past clients include the following: Accenture, Siemens, Hilton Hotels, Dun & Bradstreet, Dorchester Group and Verind – Durr Group.

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