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January 1st, 2010

Being the compass



How to build and sustain a vision and direction for your company

By Erik Cassano Smart Business | January 2010

Developing a long-term vision for your company and sustaining that vision are two different jobs that require two different skill sets. Tim Brokaw, who shares managing partner duties with brother Gregg at 26-employee advertising agency Brokaw Inc.,knows all about it. Crafting a vision takes creativity. Putting that vision in the minds and hearts of your employees is a little less poetic. It requires a lot of speaking and listening to employees. As the leader of your company, you have to be proficient at both. Smart Business spoke with Brokaw about how you can start and sustain a vision and direction at your company.

Q. How do you and your brother work together on your agency’s vision?

My brother Gregg and I are managing partners, so we’re leading the agency together. The agency was founded by my father on April Fool’s Day, which should definitely tell you something about our agency. So should his three business goals, which are to do great work, make money and have fun.

Today, my brother and I have taken the reins from him, so when I describe a leadership style, I have to refer to both of us. We are kind of a two-headed monster that focuses on different areas of the company, but we still have to stay focused on promoting the same vision throughout the agency.

Q. What goes into building and maintaining a vision for a business?

That is what the CEO’s role is, to be that visionary, to have a clear vision of the future, of where you’re trying to take the organization. Then, it’s being able to communicate that vision to the rest of the organization, to make it actionable. The CEO needs to surround himself or herself with other leaders who are living that vision. To put it simply, you have to provide that vision and provide leadership that points the company in the direction of where you want to go.

In our case, we have several Brokaw tools, one of which is our agency manifesto, which we call ‘How to Brokaw.’ It has our purpose and our values written in a way that is true to our brand personality. We make our employees read it, memorize it, live it. We used to have agencywide pop quizzes that everyone had to take, and we’d post the results in the kitchen, which was sometimes embarrassing.

We also created an employee review form. It is just to get our employees to live our brand. It states our vision and goals for the organization, then turns it around, asking them what their goals are, what they’re most proud of in the past year, where do they want to improve, what do they want to achieve in the next year. But instead of just having them answer with words, we want to have them paint a picture. This is a new tool we’re implementing. We’re going to give them 11-by-17 sheets to show visually what their goals are for the next year, spending 10 minutes drawing, painting, cutting and pasting, whatever. Our mission is to help our clients’ brands rise above the blah-blah, and that starts with our own brand. To do that, your communication of your brand, mission and values has to rise above, as well. You have to practice what you preach to your clients.

Q. What would you tell other leaders about defining a direction for a company?

Be relentless in your communication; be transparent and be clear. Live it, don’t just say it. Practice it every day. A key is to overcommunciate, which means being completely transparent and accessible and, as leaders, being accountable ourselves. It’s not putting yourself above anyone. You want your people to know that you’re right there for them and you’re in the trenches with them. Gregg and I both think that it’s just so important to make time for your employees, just like you’d make time with one of your clients or customers. You have to be disciplined about that. You have to make the time. That means doing whatever it takes to make that time, whether it’s scheduling time in your Outlook calendar, taking your people out for coffee or lunch. Just don’t put it on the back burner. You’ve probably heard the cliché that our best assets go down the elevator every night. At Brokaw, it’s more like a 16-foot spiral staircase.

Q. How do you make time to focus your employees on your vision?

Face to face is the key. Making time for face-to-face communication. Especially in this world today, where there is a thousand ways to reach someone, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Skype or whatever. Face to face is still the most effective way to communicate. It all goes back to making the time, being accessible to your employees, letting them know that the door is always open. In the case of Brokaw, we’re a small shop and our physical space is very open. I’m often out in the open with our employees. We almost share a little too much information, if that’s possible. We have two closed-door offices in our space, which we use for private meetings. Having open space in the office shows your people that you’re not above them, that you’re working with them. It’s another thing that speaks to our leadership style, being open with our communication and having an open environment, as well.

How to reach: Brokaw Inc., (216) 241-8003 or www.brokaw.com