Institutional Pros Meet Outside Hires

In its 2021 Productivity and the Pandemic study, IHAF reported that 47% of in-house agencies increased headcount in the 14-16 months prior. To meet demand, added staff enables teams to identify new talent internally and bring in external hires.

With growth comes change. And while some team members welcome it, it’s important to anticipate some resistance as well. Caterpillar’s in-house agency, Ironworks, lived this scenario. The last two years have been marked with an incredible growth trajectory in account management and creative roles with talent sourced both in and out of house.

As the leaders of Ironworks’ account management team, we found navigating cultural differences and perspectives to be key to a strong partnership. The two of us have very different backgrounds—Michelle, with twenty-eight years of institutional knowledge, and Barbara, with twenty-two years of external agency experience. Both are essential to maintaining a healthy in-house agency.

Below are five strategies that we have found effective in building our partnership and setting an example for our team.

1. Integrate empathy into team culture.

External perspective: Enable visibility with long-standing team members as well as outside hires; there may be concerns about change on both sides. Create safe spaces and language to help manage the situation. We call it the stinky fish. When “stinky fish” gets brought up in a meeting, the reference light-heartedly indicates a tough conversation must be had.

Institutional perspective: As a leader, encourage different ideas. Acknowledge that there are new ways to get things done and ensure everyone has a safe environment to voice their opinions.

2. Give those with institutional knowledge a place to educate outside hires about processes and ways of working.

External perspective: The toughest challenge when stepping into a leadership role from the outside is learning new processes and ways of working within an organization—and, needing to get up to speed fast. Identify those within your organization who can help you close the knowledge gap. Be a quick study. Share with them that there are tradeoffs: you bring a unique perspective and they help you navigate.

Institutional perspective: When teaching processes that have long been established, be humble in answering questions. When asked “why,” you never want the answer to be “because we have always done it that way.” Allow outside perspectives to challenge you and your processes.

3. Enable credibility building for outside hires through team introductions.

External perspective: Establishing credibility is one of the most critical elements of a new leader’s charter. You earn it by sharing your path and connecting your past experiences with the opportunity at hand. Then listen, listen, and continue to listen until you are ready to act on what you have learned. And remember to give credit to those from whom you learned.

Institutional perspective: It’s taken many years and helpful people to establish a robust network. As a leader, it is with honor and duty that you share your network with others. The broader the network, the broader the opportunity.

4. Acknowledge tension.

External perspective: When a new leader comes in with different expectations or ways of working, the situation can create immediate tension. Acknowledge it, own it, talk about it, and find a path together. You were hired for your expertise and approach. Find a way to infuse it within the existing culture.

Institutional perspective: Communication is key. Listen so you can understand where your employees are coming from. Show empathy and patience; some people adapt quicker than others.

5. Upskilling and reskilling.

External perspective: The skills and experiences that result from your new role may not be the same as those that set you up for success. Identify what skills and behaviors are important within the organization. If you find gaps, make it a priority to close them.

Institutional perspective: You may put your employees in situations where they feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Reflect on those times as opportunities for growth rather than failures. Lean into your manager’s experience for guidance.

What strategies have you found successful within your in-house agency team?

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