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Introducing NOVOS’ Think Tank Model

Sam Hurley from NovosSam Hurley in Team

13th June, 2022

Introducing NOVOS’ Think Tank Model

As an agency, we’re very proud of our growth to date, especially considering we’re so specialised and bootstrapped. That’s why we’re sharing the processes, learnings, and models we’ve implemented that have helped contribute to our growth journey. The first of which is one of my favourites: our Think Tank Model. 

This model has transformed the way the entire company contributes to the direction and growth of the agency, giving everyone a voice to contribute to business ideation. 

It has also improved the completion of quarterly goals from 20% to 80%.

So, I’m hoping this post will help inspire leaders to get more buy-in from their wider business or teams to continue boosting growth.

While this concept has been created for an agency business, there’s no reason why it can’t be adapted or built upon by in-house marketing teams and large companies. 

Business ROCKS

This post assumes you know the concept of quarterly business ROCKs (also referred to as KPIs or goals). If not, I highly recommend reading Traction by Gino Wickman. 

This post will outline how we’ve adapted & built off the above Traction process to improve inclusivity within the business and to get a higher rate of goals being completed each quarter. 

Power of Scale

Our leadership team is only 4 people, so if it’s only the Leadership team working on bigger business ROCKs, we’d only get 12 goals completed a quarter. 

But if we could get the wider team of 40+ all contributing, we should be getting 120+ business ROCKs (or KPIs) being completed every quarter. 

So the challenge we faced with scale, and that you will also face, is how to communicate this message and direction, and how to structure workload in order to achieve fast growth.

Taking influence from Gino Wickman’s book, we plan our agencies growth as follows:

  • Annual planning: Big-picture goals + what you want to achieve over 12 months
  • Quarterly ROCKs: Tasks or projects over the quarter that contribute towards the 12-month goal 
  • Monthly check-ins: Micro-reviews and progress of ROCKs to ensure they’re on track and can be achieved in the quarter.

We adapt this model for agency workflows, working across different projects with the leadership team project managing sales/marketing/people, and so on (more on this in the next section).

The key part to the above is the Quarterly ROCKs that are the middle ground between monthly workload and 12-month goals.

We allocate every team member 3 ROCKs, or ‘Business KPIs’, to achieve a quarter. These can be anything from:

  • Process creation to process clean up 
  • Blog writing or thought leadership
  • Completing training courses and giving training to the wider team
  • Creation of a new tool or platform
  • Syncing and workflow between partner agencies 
  • Defining a new service 

The Goal

If we could get a model to work where everyone achieved their goals, we’d be achieving 10x more projects completed, and in theory 10x more growth.

That all sounds good, however, the challenge we had (and you will have, too) is that day-to-day work always comes in the way of these quarterly ROCKs. Especially the agency side where, rightly so, client work comes first. 

As a result, only 20% of our quarterly business ROCKs were getting completed. So we needed to develop a model to get this number up. In the short term, we set the goal of 50% completion. 

How the Model Has Evolved

The first step was to find a way to project manage 100+ goals each quarter. To achieve this, we used Click Up (if you’ve not used it, it’s a more customisable version of Asana – more on my recommended tech stack in this agency blog). 

Think tank model

Next, to avoid crossover and maintain accountability within the leadership team, we broke up tasks into different departments: Acquire, People, Deliver and Value. Each member of the leadership team then owned each ‘department’ and was responsible for project managing the completion of these goals. 

With the platform and way of managing the goals sorted, the next step was to introduce a reward scheme. We introduced a 5% annual bonus on annual salaries, which looks like the following:

  • If a team member achieves annual goals in Q1 they would get a quarter of their annual bonus, if they achieved them again in Q2 they’d get another quarter of their annual bonus and so on. Each goal would be allocated a percentage each quarter. 
  • So if you were on £30,000 p.a., your annual bonus could be £1,500. Each quarter your bonus would be £375 (£1500/4). Each goal or KPI you were allocated also made up a percentage of the bonus, e.g. if you get 3 KPIs in Q1 your manager can allocate 50% of the bonus to the biggest goal and 25% to the other 2. If you only complete the 50% goal you’d get £187.50 of your quarterly bonus (50% of £375).

The introduction of this bonus helped increase the completion of ROCKs to 55%. I’ll be honest: we were expecting much higher. We thought the introduction of monetary benefits would get us much closer to 100%.

However, it wasn’t until we introduced the Think Tank Model on top of the above did we manage to get an 80%+ completion rate of our ROCKs.

The Think Tank Model

Below is a visual we used to communicate how our Think Tank Model would help to drive business direction and get the entire business more involved in ideation and the direction of the agency.

Think Tank Model

From the above, you can see the process starts with a Think Tank (more on what this means below).

The next part illustrates the parts of the agency each member of the leadership team managers e.g. ‘acquisition, people, delivery and proprietary value’. It’s important to note that the leadership team overlaps in each project, however, one person is responsible and accountable for getting ROCKs in their project complete within the quarter.

Once we have these outlined, we feed them back to the individual team members with their business and personal KPIs (or ROCKs). This way the individual team members are completing goals they already have buy-in, as opposed to just getting an idea delegated from the leadership team. 

What is a Think Tank?

In sum, a Think Tank is a monthly event where we randomly allocate groups across the entire company, and all are assigned the same topic to brainstorm ideas, solutions, and suggestions around.

The process is as follows:

Stage 1: Annual ideation

We start the year by getting the team to brainstorm topics and ideas for Think Tanks across the year. These typically fall within marketing, training, thought leadership, culture and more. 

Stage 2: Monthly ideation

Once we have these topics, we use them as inspiration for the Think Tank discussions each month. Recent monthly examples include:

  • “What blog posts do you think we should be writing?”
  • “What new process can we introduce to improve hybrid working?”
  • “Who are your dream clients you want to work with?”

Stage 3: Monthly teams

The groups spend a designated hour a month in a meeting brainstorming ways we can improve in these areas, and then present to the rest of the team in Slack for all to see

Stage 4: Team reward 

The most innovative and detailed group, as chosen by the leadership team, wins a reward!

Stage 5: Leadership team review

The leadership team then stores these ideas into Notion (our favourite tool) and logs the top ideas.

Stage 6: Allocation back to the team

The best ideas get migrated into ClickUp, where they are referenced by the management team when allocating business KPIs (or ROCKs) to the team each quarter.

Benefits we have seen of Think Tank:

The Think Tank structure and process completely transformed inclusivity within our agency. There are many more benefits:

  • It’s the team’s chance to be creative and to have their voice heard within the business.
  • 80%+ consistent completion rate of company quarterly goals/ROCKs since introducing this model over 12 months ago.
  • These ideas & improvements give individuals a voice to help guide the kind of company they want to be a part of.
  • Improves cross-team collaboration and hybrid working. As the Think Tank teams are randomised, it’s often the case that groups involve individuals that very rarely work together or people who may never have chatted together about non-work-related matters before.
  • Allows us to dream bigger if we’re smashing bigger and larger goals each quarter as the team grows 

Our Think Tank model has helped massively in keeping the momentum going for our continued expansion. To date, that stands at a team of 2 to 40 in 3 years, closing in on a £3m turnover, and an ever-expanding, incredible client base. 

To conclude, we’ve found the introduction of our Think Tank model to make the concept of quarterly ROCKs a much more inclusive and efficient process by adapting the structure and getting more buy-in from the wider company by having their voice heard within a fast-growing business.

Note: the whole model wouldn’t be possible without our leadership team of Antonio (co-founder), Olivia (Operations Director) and Dan (Client Services Director) who have all contributed massively to the creation and generation of this model. 

Sam Hurley from Novos
Article by Sam Hurley
Sam is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of NOVOS. With nearly a decade-long experience in organic search, Sam has helped many eCom brands grow. His area of expertise includes SEO strategy, Magento, international SEO, and headless CMS with Javascript.

Introducing NOVOS’ Think Tank Model

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