Timesheets. The word alone sends shivers down all of our spines. We’re told they’re a necessary evil to keeping any profitable business humming. And that is in fact true, but they’re also the jumping off point for creating change in our industry. Why? Because timesheets are a reflection of what we’re spending our attention and energy on during working hours and beyond. They’re a source of insight into today’s marketing landscape and should be thoroughly examined because as we all know, time is a precious resource.
Look back at your last couple of timesheets and do your best to answer the following:
What percent of your time was spent actually producing work (vs talking about the work)?
Did you spend any time learning new skills, evolving your expertise, or contributing to initiatives that you’re excited about?
Where did you turn for inspiration and “data”?
What was your role in the team’s broader output? Are you proud of said output?
What you’ll likely find from your own self reflection is what I too came to realize: more often than not (if I’m being honest it’s more like ‘all of the time’) I’m no longer able to focus on growth, on inspiration, on creation, on one or two projects at a time. The sad truth is that the process in which we have all had a hand in creating, combined with the frenetic world that we operate in today, has completely killed our mojo. The discipline of strategy (and other creative endeavors) requires deep immersion, processing of thought, discussion amongst diverse perspectives, thoroughness of output and inspiration from the world around us. Strategists — we are under a [metaphorical] attack and it’s time to take collective action in order to protect and advance our profession.
In no particular order, I would recommend that we start by tackling the most destructive invaders first:
Maniacal focus on profitability: Due to increasing industry fragmentation, prioritization of specialty skill sets, and decreasing budgets (to name just a few), Strategists have become more directly tied to company profitability. We need to continuously prove out our value beyond attributable profitability, ensuring that we aren’t just wedging ourselves deeper into any given specialty but allowing for space to pick our heads up out of the sand and expand our skill sets beyond that of the needs of our existing clients. We are so much more than just ‘billable hours’.
Leadership support: In my experience, leadership generally supports the discipline of Strategy; however, their understanding of the value of strategy is limited in scope. As cross-pollinators across the organization, having visibility into and influence over other teams and disciplines, Strategists need to showcase our value as the Trojan Horse to creating healthy company culture, and ask leadership for their support in the form of morale-boosting time, inspiration and other resources.
Role as support staff: Too often we’re considered as a supporting role to creatives, technologists, designers, etc. Taking a back seat inherently means that our role exists to serve and to prove out any concept, product or campaign that our coworkers have dreamt up — whether it’s a sound business solution or not. The shift is instead towards partnership, collaboration, creating a culture of mutually beneficial stimulation and growth, and ultimately helping to steer the ship in the direction that the brand should go to best serve their consumers and their business (not to win industry awards).
Resources & outputs: How is it the case that after being in the industry for 12 years, myself and my peers are still using some of the same research resources that we did when we first started, and our outputs are often limited to slides and decks? Our syndicated resources are in need of disruption, whether through new tools or through an evolved way of thinking that is less reliant on old, large data sets. Our pool of resources needs to expand beyond written content that we can subscribe to, to include experiences outside of our office walls. We need to be okay with being scrappy, see qualitative research as true data, and act (read: test and learn) as much as we think.
This is just the beginning. I fancy myself a realist and therefore know that change will not be immediate. There’s no silver bullet, but experimentation is better than stagnancy. So join me in pledging to create the change that our industry and discipline so desperately needs. Please comment below to keep the conversation going.