Stop Defending Your Business and Start Building It

By Tim Williama

By Tim Williama

There are two kinds of agencies: the Defenders and the Builders.

The Defenders are the ones that are hunkering down, “taking care of business,” “getting the work done,” and “paying the bills.”  They can’t be bothered by changes in business strategy because “now’s just not the time – don’t you know how hard we’re working just to survive?”  It’s likely that the buggy whip manufacturers were also extremely busy taking care of business just before the demise of the horse-drawn carriage.

In fact, business history shows that industries are almost always at the “busiest” just before a precipitous decline caused by disruptive changes in the marketplace.  While they should be busy reinventing, they are instead just busy making and maintaining.

The Builders, on the other hand, are in “test and learn” mode.  They are performing small experiments every business day, adjusting and reinventing their approach and business strategy as they go.  They know that the only effective way to meet change is with change.  They’re every bit as busy as the Defenders, but they know that unless they devote at least a portion of their time to working on tomorrow that they’ll always be stuck in yesterday.

The Defenders are so busy working on “the urgent” that they never devote the time to work on “the important.”  More to the point, they lack the will, faith and discipline to work on “the important.”  There’s a whole class of work and development that never acts on you – you have to act on it.  In that regard, you can put off the work of transformation forever – and some agencies do, believing that working harder is all that’s needed to turn around an unprofitable business.

The Defenders are also characterized by leaders who are so busy taking care of client business that they aren’t paying attention to agency business.  If the top executives of the firm aren’t leading the charge to transform the agency’s business model, who is? Likely, nobody.  Leaders in Defender agencies usually exhibit a set of behaviors that in effect excuse the agency from working on its own brand.  Business observer Robert Schaffer enumerates some of these behaviors as follows:

  1. They fail to set the right expectations.  This includes failing to spell out specific goals, saying who’s accountable, or setting clear deadlines.
  2. They excuse associates from the pursuit of these goals.  Managers allow associates in the firm to narrowly focus on their own immediate areas of responsibility instead of involving them in accomplishing larger company goals.
  3. They allow preparation to substitute as accomplishment.  They wait while associates prepare, prepare, prepare.  But preparing isn’t the same as doing.  Preparation only masquerades as progress.

The ultimate difference between these two types of agencies is that the Builders act, while the Defenders react.

The fortunes of the Defenders rise and fall with the fortunes of the entire industry.  The Builders create their own destinies.  And unless you make a conscious choice to be a Builder, you will be a Defender by default.  As author and management thinkerStephen Covey puts it, “Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.”