I’ve a friend who’s a safecracker. Unusually, it’s an entirely legitimate business. Profitable too as he’s in regular demand from property developers who discover old safes in their newly acquired properties and are keen to see what’s inside them.
He tells me even the most hardened property developer gets excited at the thought of what it might hold. Jewellery? Cash? Bearer bonds? Most are disappointed when my friend opens the safe to reveal nothing more than old property deeds.
I was reminded of my friend recently when I thought about which documents would represent the most important ones to an agency, i.e., which ones would you put in the safe or grab first if the building was on fire?
Here’s my list, ranked in order of importance, starting in third place.
The business plan
Top of most people’s lists - but third in mine - would probably be an agency’s business plan. Personally, I don’t consider these worth as much as the paper they're written on as most are either exercises in vanity, ie, very laudable but have no chance of being put into action, or lengthy ‘To Do’ lists that have no strategic value. Either way, most end up in an office drawer not a safe.
At Selbey Anderson we’ve adopted the 1-3-5 Action Plan approach which gets the plan down on a single sheet of A4. Very handy when legging it to the emergency exit.
In equal second place - The mission statement & agency values
Now I know some agencies would consider their mission statement and agency values to be such important documents that they’d have to be kept in a fire-proof safe. My view is that although these are entirely laudable documents, times change and the sentiment that caused them to be written changes to.
Call me an old cynic, but I suspect that very few agency values we sign up to today would be the same as those used even ten years ago. These have to change to reflect the wider society in which we live and work.
In first place - Roles & responsibilities (yes, really)
My vote goes to the humble roles and responsibilities document. And the reason it gets my vote is because of its critical importance to the agency, providing, as it does, each member of staff with a navigational tool that helps them maximise their contribution to the agency and gives them a sense of direction and purpose.
Less than two seconds to change your tyres
Consider the pit crews used in Formula One races. To my mind these are the ultimate in teamwork where every member of the crew is aware of their role and practices relentlessly to get better at it. Minimal improvements in individual performances can have a major impact on the collective effort of the team and can help them win the race.
The fastest-ever recorded pit stop in Formula 1 history was set by Max Verstappen’s pit crew during the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2019. The time was an awe-inspiring 1.82 seconds*. If you want to see poetry in motion then see below and remember, this involves changing all four tyres!
Consider any high-performance team, be it sports, the military or emergency services and you’ll see that each and every team member is critically aware of the role they play and practices relentlessly to get better at it. If need be, team members can also step in and swop roles at short notice.
All these organisations put a premium on training (upskilling), regular feedback and team debriefs or wash ups.
The famous Red Arrows display team is chock full of the RAF’s finest pilots, expensively trained and generally known to be on top of their game. Yet the first thing they do after every display is to go into a team debrief to identify where they went wrong and how they can further improve. In this way, newer members of the team are encouraged to improve in a psychologically safe environment.
Regrettably, far too few agencies follow these examples with the result that more inexperienced team members often watch – no doubt in silent frustration - while their more experienced colleagues do all the work.
Continuing the racing analogy, this is the equivalent of the agency management team changing all the tyres as well as refuelling the car themselves. In their cases, you could count the pit stop time in hours!
Having a roles and responsibilities document in place for each staff member is not too difficult. As is giving that same staff member regular feedback on their performance and helping them upskill where needed.
*Its salutary to think that by the time you have read this blog (say, two minutes), the Red Bull team could have changed tyres sixty four times!