By Tim Williams

By Tim Williams

Because most agency leaders want to create an environment in which ideas can flourish, they go out of their way to grant as much freedom to their staff as possible. Most of the time this takes the form of a relaxed workplace, a relaxed dress code, and relaxed personnel policies.

But a laid-back environment, by itself, isn’t a very powerful catalyst for creativity. Otherwise, every stress-free work environment would be a hotbed of innovation.

Putting energy into the right things

Sociologists have shown that the best way to create a sense of freedom in your people is to instill a sense of purpose. A former worldwide creative director for Ogilvy & Mather, Norman Berry, once said “Give me the freedom of a tightly-defined strategy.” Once you know the strategy – or the purpose – you have the freedom to solve problems rather than wonder about which problems it is you’re trying to solve.

People in purpose-less organizations spend much of their energy wondering what it is they’re supposed to be accomplishing (beyond their day-to-day tasks).

The primary unspoken question on the minds of most agency people is “Where is this agency headed? What are we trying to become?” Imagine the collective power of an agency focused on a common goal and vision of the future.

Defining purpose

While most business organizations seem motivated mostly by external factors — the “competition” — purpose is about being motivated from the inside. It involves questions like:

Why does this agency exist? Why was this agency started in the first place? What did you expect to accomplish that was different or better than other agencies?

What is the meaning in what we do? Beyond providing a paycheck, what rational, emotional, social or psychic benefits does this organization provide to its stakeholders?

What significant contribution does the agency make to the industry, the profession, or the world? Is there a “greater good” served by the agency?

A calling beyond employment

Most advertising professionals realize that they didn’t just land in this business. Rather, they were called to it, much like teachers, artists, or civil servants feel called to their line of work. Defining the agency’s sense of purpose is largely a matter of remembering why you all got into this business in the first place, and what you expected to be able to accomplish by devoting yourselves to a career in advertising and marketing.

You know you’ve been successful in defining your purpose if:

  1. It’s inspiring.
  2. It’s about meaning, not money, and
  3. It’s very difficult to fully achieve.