How to Successfully Manage Agency Talent
October 12, 2022
If you follow trends in higher education, you’ve probably heard of “experiential learning.” But what is it exactly? According to Kent State University, experiential learning is simply defined as ‘learning by doing.’
Experiential learning is anything but your average group project. In fact, research shows time and time again that experiential learning provides a wealth of benefits to those who participate in it.
But what if we took experiential learning and made a whole business out of it?
Enter Made in July (that’s us!).
So fun fact: our entire business is a product of experiential learning. How? Well, every person on our team - from founders to freelancers to interns - was trained via hands-on (aka “experiential”) learning. It’s such a special topic to Made in July that we now provide experiential learning consulting services to student-run agencies across the country.
Additionally, and most of all, Made in July came to be because of experiential learning. Our founders met while working together at Orange Umbrella, the premiere student-run communication consultancy in the country headquartered at the University of Miami.
But we’re not here today to talk about our origin story.
We’re here to talk about how the foundations of experiential learning taught us some of the most effective and efficient management strategies.
You see, we’re great at what we do because of who we are.
Because our team members are well-trained and highly successful products of hands-on learning, our business, our management processes, and our culture all thrive.
As a business, we’re founded on the principles of experiential learning, so it’s only natural for Made in July to take that foundation and build upwards with the same bricks.
In this article, we’ll focus on how we use foundations in experiential learning to manage our talent. 🤝
It only takes four easy steps.
Our team has spent years taking invaluable classroom training and practically applying it in the workplace.
Each project galvanized our management style and taught us how to ensure our teammates were operating at their best, all while fostering professional growth in the workplace.
It turns out, for us, successful team management can be broken down into four steps. They’re so simple and fundamental that we believe any manager could put them into practice in their workplace today.
Introducing, Made in July’s four easy stages of effective management:
- Educate + equip
- Ease back
Psst: Can you tell we have an affinity for alliteration?
First, we educate + equip.
“The first step to learning is admitting you don’t know.” - someone who really knew what they were talking about.
We don’t expect everyone on our team to know everything. So what do we do? We recognize that we are all educators - even in the workplace. We also recognize that we’re here to teach the tricks of the trade and equip all of our team members for success.
Sometimes that looks like meetings to explain how something works. Sometimes it’s a helpful Instagram post.
In fact, we believe we’ve crafted the art of the “educational creative brief” at Made in July. Meaning, our creative briefs are just as instructional as they are inspirational. And we do this by breaking creative challenges down to the absolute basics.
Q: How do we know when we’ve educated our team thoroughly?
A: When they’re fully equipped to find creative solutions that are unique, impactful, and always on-brand.
In fact, when starting out at Made in July, our social media design intern Allie “was nervous to begin the post-grad stage of [her] life in the career world.” But she didn’t let that stop her.
Allie continues, “I learned that it wasn't as intimidating as I thought. With clear instructions from MJ and Alain, helpful feedback, and constant positivity spread throughout our Slack channels and Zoom meetings, I quickly felt comfortable and confident in the work I had ahead of me.”
And that’s where it begins. But what happens after our team has the “know how” to do the job?
Next, we empower.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
The second, lesser-known half of that idiom says this: You can lead a man to knowledge, but you can’t make him think.
Once our teammates are equipped with knowledge they need to be successful, we don't immediately take a hands-off approach. Instead, we lean in further and offer encouragement, invigoration, and clear feedback to our team.
Why do we do this after educating? Because when we lead with positivity and honesty, our team knows that we care about them and that we want them to succeed. Our investment triggers their confidence.
The truth is, when a team member is actually held accountable to their fullest potential, they don’t ever meet it. They exceed it.
To MJ, our co-founder, “everyone at Made in July is like a mini-startup of one. They’re filled with big dreams, unstoppable energy, and an abundance of dedication to thrive in the workplace. Experiential learning taught each one of them how to succeed, and we can expect the best from them because they’ve been operating at that standard for years. They have a natural thirst for achievement. That’s why we hire experiential learning students and alumni, but more importantly, that’s why we love working with them.”
When you have a team of high-performers like ours, empowering is almost easy. But, there is a finesse to emboldening someone so much that they feel confident enough to run with an idea or find solutions on their own.
Here are some ways we like to empower our team members that you can put into practice:
- Give plenty of time for concepting and problem-solving. Most great ideas happen away from the desk or after a Zoom call.
- Answer questions with a question. This often produces answers that are intuitive and trains employees to trust their initial instincts.
- Praise all successes, but especially small ones. Confidence is earned - not learned - through the recurrence of positive results.
- Delegate with great expectations. Don’t be afraid to make big statements like, “We know you’ll come up with the best idea the client has ever seen.” When you plant visions of accomplishment in your team, the likelihood of achieving them soars.
Then, we ease back.
Once they have the goal in mind and the confidence to get there, we ease back on how intensely we manage them. What does this mean exactly? We “take our foot off the gas” and we give them room to work.
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating someone based on their age or experience level. Many managers assume that young professionals need constant guidance, hand-holding, and check-ins. But that micromanaging approach can smother the momentum and confidence of a talented, young employee.
For instance, at Made in July, our team ranges in all levels of experience - from undergraduate students and graduate students to those well into their professional career. Yet, with each team member, we make sure to give them plenty of space to thrive on their own.
They show us - in new ways each time - that they are capable of producing professional, efficient, and downright jaw-dropping work when given the tools, the confidence, and the freedom to get there on their own.
We’ve seen this approach work for both client-facing and internal projects.
Jack, one of our freelance copywriters, says:
“The catalyst for great copywriting is research, often through a project brief. However, creative freedom and insightful inspiration allow the true magic to happen. It’s important to be given a little room, so your work can really shine.”
And it’s with this approach and appreciation for autonomy that allows our team at Made in July to produce stunning work.
When the work is done, we evaluate.
Once the dust settles, we circle back and evaluate the performance.
One of the terms we’d use to best describe our internal process is high-touch. This means our founders are involved in every project at every step of the way. We have multiple sets of eyes reviewing the fine details to ensure that we’re proud of everything we share with clients and put out into the world.
The evaluation stage takes many forms, but here are a few other ways we implement it:
- Monthly meetings to assess the status of all internal projects and goals
- Addition of “What Worked Well” and “What Could Be Improved” sections to all feedback documents
- Regular team performance check-ins and reviews
- Providing post-project evaluation forms for our clients
Our team propels us forward in so many ways, and we want to serve them further by offering constructive feedback when we can. This process is never just generic keyboard strokes and a smile.
Instead, we craft thoughtful, targeted feedback. Why? Because we want them to understand that we’re here for their growth.
Our Co-Founder Alain says:
“Receiving constructive feedback is one of the most important ways of improving your skill set. Though it may not be all praise every time, it’s important to hear criticism to understand that the person telling you isn’t trying to pick apart the work. It’s vital to understand this, and it sets employees up for success.”
Alain’s insight is another example of the powerful lessons our team gained from their pedigree of experiential learning. Because he served as the Vice President of Creative Development at Orange Umbrella, Alain saw the benefits of providing constructive feedback - often to his peers - while still a student.
Truths like these are what set him apart and make him such an effective, yet approachable, Chief Creative Officer at Made in July.
It’s a core tenant at Made in July to see the value and potential in each of our team members - AND - to treat them as such.
Management, the Made in July way.
To us, effective management really is just four easy steps. And it’s how we’ve seen our team succeed time and time again.
It’s abundantly clear that everyone at Made in July is full of knowledge, expertise, and more creative juices than the world could attempt to bottle. This is because each of them are a product of the magic and effectiveness of experiential learning.
However, the core practices we use to succeed - the same ones we adopted from the experiential learning arena - can be applied to any group of professionals or team. Truths are truths, and it’s our joy to share what we’ve learned along the way.
We’re also especially grateful to all of our Made in July employees, and we're grateful for the opportunity to further build them into confident leaders and high achievers in their fields.