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14 lessons in 14 months...

Receiving a bottle of champagne in the post in October marked 1 year since joining Reason.

As I opened it on Jan 1st 2023 to mark the end of a 365 day no alcohol challenge (yeah I get the irony!), it prompted some reflection on the significant pivot in my career.

For context:

  • first perm role in 12 years, since building a career in agile roles as a contractor / consultant operating through my own limited company.

  • previous roles were all in the finance sector, so this was the first time working in an agency environment

  • not worked in a company with less than 100 employees for over 20 years

During some time off at the 14 month mark and reflecting on the journey so far, here's 14 things I've learnt:

  1. Less people = higher individual accountability. Pretty obvious, but it's easy to coast and be a passenger in large corporations. It's even encouraged in some places to just do your job and nothing beyond it. I've heard, first hand, people say 'Don't stick your head above the parapet' for fear of being noticed or singled out as a show off or trouble maker. Bonkers. So, being a smaller company means you are going to be called out if you commit to something and don't do it. And, you're expected to call others out too.

  2. Consistent demonstration of value is expected. In a small business it's not just about getting shit done. It's about getting the right shit done at the right time in order to keep moving the business forward.

  3. Smaller company + transparency = more invested employees. If there's a slow quarter with lower income and / or margins, there is a real risk of needing to reduce the number of staff. At Reason, the CEO provides a financial overview every month to all employees, providing full visibility. We can then make a direct connection between our work and the impact on the business, which acts as a natural incentive.

  4. Bill-ability vs cost is a primary metric at team and individual level. My job is not for my delivery team to break even and cover our costs, it's to become a profit centre within the business. In large orgs my experience has been a narrow focus on 'how long will it take?' and almost no focus on ROI.

  5. Despite being a strong sense of competition between agencies, the community is incredibly supportive. SODA (Society of Digital Agencies) and BIMA (British Interactive Media Association) in particular stand out through their regular events, mentoring programs and recognition awards.

  6. As a permanent employee in a senior role you're more able to influence. Again no surprise here, but as a contractor my experience has been of hitting a glass ceiling and being kept at arms length to big decisions. You're expected to act on them, rather than contribute to making them. Now I have a seat at the table.

  7. Cross functionality is not optional! Rarely are 2 days the same, and with a collective desire to drive the business forward, we cannot simply limit ourselves to our primary skill set. Days vary widely across sales, marketing, strategy, coaching, project delivery, training, loading the dishwasher, content creation, the list goes on...

  8. Creating and maintaining a culture requires deliberate effort. I've never experienced such commitment to this as at Reason. There's at least one lunch a learn a month covering topics from sign language to suicide prevention to climate change. We have a partnership with Variety pack who run tailored workshops on inclusive language, micro-aggressions and psychological safety. There's a DEI task force that reviews pay and gender equity. We celebrate diwali, mental health awareness week and more.

  9. Line management is hard. Whilst mentoring and coaching has always been part of my work, I’m now directly invested in the growth and career development of the 5 people in my team. This takes time, energy and the odd tough conversation.

  10. Yearly appraisals are still a pain in the arse. Despite having a monthly session with each team member to review and update their growth plan, I'm still expected to do a formal 6 month and 12 month review process. This feels impersonal and like output over outcome driven to me.

  11. I have to be more mindful of how I choose to spend my training budget (that has to be approved by someone else). This means being more selective and deliberate with my choices. I've not found this constraining so far, but know that I might as times goes by.

  12. Clients need lots of TLC. In a large org, when contracting, you typically have 1 main client, so now having to deal with over 20 is tough! Each has their own needs and preferences, so being able to connect with them on a human level, and providing data and insights regularly is key.

  13. My calendar is still clogged with meetings. There's often days where I'm stuck in front of the webcam for hours on end. Likely this is a symptom of me not protecting my time.

  14. White patriarchy is rife. Board rooms are still dominated by white men. I have worked with some brown men and some white women in senior roles, but where are all the black men and women?

I doubt any of these are a surprise. Even reading it myself I'm thinking "No shit Sherlock." but retrospection is critical.

You may do a similar exercise and realise you're not learning, enjoying your work or able to build meaningfully relationships with your colleagues. If that's the case, maybe it's time to move on.

Personally, I'm lucky enough to say I can't wait for another year at Reason.

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