Rework Growth

“Rework”: Learning Growth that Works

Dan Rowland | Thinking | March 14, 2017

This post is part of our ongoing series “The Rowland Bookshelf” featuring the books, resources, and ideas that have changed our game.

This past year was a big year. We added four new people since last February (more than doubling our previous staff), expanded our offerings, and fully transitioned from being a design agency to being a strategic marketing agency.

I used to read one little section of the book, “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (founders at 37Signals, the makers of Basecamp) every morning before I started the workday. A book like this seeps into your thinking in a really brilliant way. Chapters aren’t long or complex. You leave each idea saying, “Heck yes! Absolutely!” And then, over time, those ideas start to take root and show their impact.

One major way this book influenced what we do is how we grow as a business. One of our new(er) employees, Dana, read the section and observed, “We do every one of these things!”

So I wanted to share a few of the things we’ve stolen straight for 37Signals and seen the benefits in our work!

Chapter: Do It Yourself First

“That way, you’ll understand the nature of the work. You’ll know what a job well-done looks like… You’ll also be a better manager… you’ll know when to criticize and when to support.”

It was just me running the show for years. I did all aspects of the business. I did my own business development and my own design. I wrote my own emails and I managed my own calendar.

I’ve had every job I’ve now hired people to do.

And it’s been useful. I know where I’m weak and I’ve hired to fill those holes. I know what I want the work to look like, feel like, accomplish—and I can effectively evaluate when we’ve hit that point.

One huge need we had was promoting our business on social media and doing effective research for business development. I knew a few basic things about social media; but, honestly, it wasn’t in my wheelhouse. Sydney Katona joined us this year from a great agency in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition to great client account skills, she’s really talented at both strategically generating content for our social media platforms and connecting those efforts into business development. Our ability to speak directly to the needs of the B2B tech in our region has progressed in fascinating and powerful ways since she joined the team.

This move lets me be most effective in my role as creative director and boss.

Chapter: Hire when it hurts

“The right time to hire is when there’s more work than you can handle for a sustained period of time.”

If you hire too soon then it’s easy for roles and jobs to be confusing. Who is doing what? Is there really enough work for everyone? But it’s easy to hire at the perfect time and easy to hire the right person when it hurts. Everyone is clear on where the gap is and what it will take to fill it. And it helps the new staff fit right into the process and know how to contribute.

David was my first hire. I’d gotten into a corner and knew I needed help beyond what a freelancer could offer. It made sense to start expanding what I could do to meet the needs of clients. Then Brad came on a few years later as we approached a new batch of projects. We had been co-workers before I started my own thing.

Recently, all our additions were to relieve pain. Last spring, a big impetus to bring on Sydney and Dana was for better client interfacing and freeing up the designers to do what they do best. Most recently, Gavin came on the team in response to an uptick in big projects. He’s an experienced designer with experience in both print and media and fit right into our work process at a critical time of growth.

 Chapter: Don’t trust years of experience alone

How long someone’s been doing something is overrated. What matters is how well they’ve been doing it.”

Our team is made up of people who’ve been in this industry for 20+ years—and people who made a career shift to marketing just last year. I didn’t hire them based on their years doing a task but on what I knew about them and what I suspected would be their greatest strengths and benefits to the team. Dana is a good example of this. She has no formal marketing background but instead came from English and creative writing. But she free-lanced for us for a year as a writer so we knew her pretty well when a job opened up. The person with the right skills for the job won’t always have the “right” resume or the “right” years of experience. We have to see beyond that in our business strategies.

We hire more for where an employee is going than where they have been.

 Chapter: Hire Managers of One

“You want someone who’s capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through… work more and manage less.”

My favorite part of my job now is working with a team that cares a lot about the work that they do. They are also go-getters. We’re looking at a re-brand right now and the team has identified each piece that needs to happen—and they are taking care of it. Without my management, my team completed competitive reviews, content benchmarking, and internal value documents. They see needs for both our business and for clients–and it gets done.

I don’t have managers for my team. My team manages their own, individual work.

Chapter: Test Drive Employees

“Interviews [and resumes and cover letters] are only worth so much…[Instead], hire them to do a mini project…You’ll get to judge them by their actions instead of just their words.”

When I can, I “test drive” new partnerships.

Jeff, our marketing strategist, is a great example. Quite frankly, I just made up the title in that last sentence because he doesn’t have a title. It doesn’t even touch his experience and his contributions in the business. He came on board last February (happy 1 year, Jeff!) after we worked as partners for five years. We’d gone through complete rebrands with him and found a dynamic addition to our work. It was a natural fit. And as I looked to expand our strategic offerings, it was easy for us both to see the win-win.

It doesn’t seem possible that Jeff has only been an official part of our team for a year. The impact is that profound. It was an easy transition because we already knew his capabilities; and he already knew our personality. Haven’t looked back.

Brad was another “win” for the business. I knew him back in my pre-Rowland Creative days from working together for several years. Here, the “test drive” happened years before. I already knew the quality he’d bring, seen most recently in major website projects for Penn State.

Growth that Works

Sometimes it’s best to throw out the rulebook and use your common sense when it comes to growing a business and a culture. That’s one of the things I love about 37signals and their products and their writing; and it’s changed how we do the work we do.

The real winners here are our clients. Each person on our team brings unique experiences and perspectives that rounds out what we offer.

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