Why your marketing agency needs a flat organisational structure

The next 12-months is going to be incredibly different for people who work at Marketing Eye. After years of working hard at establishing a product and service that is unsurpassed by industry standards, driven by technology, systems and processes, we are now working tirelessly on how to build the right culture going forward.

There have been many hit and misses and lots of unnecessary frustration, but finally I think as a team we have hit the nail on the head and I am about to test it to the nth degree.

Flat Organisational Structure

Weaning employees off hierarchy-driven decision making has been a test of both patience and perseverance. Gen-Y's have been told that they need leadership in order to be successful, yet some of the most successful companies in the world, like Google, are saying quite the opposite. Their investment in a flat organisational structure has not only shown dividends on the balance sheet, but it has created a workplace and culture that the world-over admires and respects.

For smaller companies that have an established organisational structure, driven largely by an entrepreneur, it is more difficult to adapt to a flat organisational structure with the primary reason being that both parties; the entrepreneur and the employees, find it difficult to let go.

I have been travelling the world growing "my small business" and have found that it is almost impossible to be the leader I would have hoped to be, living the life I do. I certainly am no role model in this department, nor do I follow the many books I have bought over time on "how to be a good leader" no matter how much I try but ultimately fail in my pursuit.


If nothing changes, nothing changes

We learn most from failures, and it is with these experiences that we equip ourselves to adapt our ways to do things better and hopefully learn from our lessons.

The past two years in particular have been interesting. I have changed significantly and am a much better entrepreneur due to these changes. The business is more successful, profits are up and our ability to innovate and implement has increased ten-fold. 

In that time, we have not lost any good employees, just the one's that are not suited to our culture or have competency levels that are not in line with that of their position within the company.

Our model is simple; if we implement successful marketing strategies for clients, they are happy, I am happy and the employee managing the account is happy. Fairly basic stuff, but harder to achieve than it sounds - I can assure you.

The two biggest issues faced are;

  1. Employee competency levels: Unlike many other industries, checking an employees competency levels when recruiting them in marketing is near impossible and no amount of training can change the fact that some marketers are not creative, don't think outside the box, are not across all marketing disciplines, lean towards what they know rather what is best for the client, are not organised, miss deadlines, don't follow procedures, have not yet learned the English language or how to spell, and are not client-focused enough to understand that if we do not give them value, then we are not being ethical. 
  2. Attitude: It's true, they want instant gratification. They don't want to wait for the payrise, or to see something through to ensure that it is successful or in fact, a failure. They did it, so they want to be rewarded as such. In fact, they constantly want praise of how good they are (even if they are not) in order to justify whether or not they work hard and do a good job.
Clearly there are many exceptions to the rule and I have a team right now that is exactly that - an exception. In fact, they are exceptional in every way. They deliver, take responsibility and without even knowing it, don't have a real "leader" in place. Occasionally they call to bounce ideas off me or for a chat, but ultimately they make the decisions that need to be made and follow it through to the very end.

What they haven't realised yet

Without knowing it, they are all working under a flat organisational structure. There have been many issues that have risen due to this and people who have complained that they "want a manager" but for our business to work it is imperative that all employees are self starters, collaborative in their approach, take charge, feel responsible for their own decisions and that of the company's overall success.

The reason they were not told, is that without realising it, I was doing this. For some, it didn't work, but I can honestly say that we have not lost a single person who I would want to see take the company forward. 

We have a very different business to what we had two years ago. Marketing Eye is more technology driven with most of our marketing managers able to confidently take to the title of Marketing Technology Officers. They know the difference between sales automation and marketing automation, how customer relationship management integrates into workflow management tools and web scraping technologies, driven largely by intuitive e-marketing campaigns and ensuring that our customers know their customers more intimately than ever before.

In order to succeed, flat structures requires fully competent staff

This is more tricky than you can expect in marketing. There are so many disciplines to conquer and few marketers ever get it right. The ability to collaborate so that any shortfall a marketer may have is picked up by their more competent counterpart is essential. Team work and collaboration is the only way in which a marketer can truly be successful and Marketing Eye's structure of having all services in-house with no outsourcing is beneficial to achieving this.

Training and more training is critical but remembering that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force them to drink it is always something an entrepreneur should keep in the back of their minds.

Our staff pick their own teams, with only two people at Marketing Eye in the past two years having been picked by myself. Keeping out of the loop is imperative to employees taking ownership of who they employ, how they train them and what support they give to ensure that that person is as successful as they can be.

What's next

Letting our team realise that they have a flat organisational structure and that without knowing it, have embraced it. This I hope will take away much of the fear they may feel given that many are Gen-Y is critical to moving forward.

Losing their "leader" even though they have not had one in place for two years is a blessing. Their jobs really can be anything that they dreamed for them to be - they just need to take ownership and steer it in the direction that they need it to go.

Keep dialogue open and encourage people to work together, share ideas and build the dream company that they always hoped to work for is going to be a challenge, but its a work-in-progress and something worthy of an investment, particularly if it can work.

What it means for me


My dream is to be an innovator. I have no desire to be the best leader in the world, have the most staff or the biggest revenues. Instead, I want to live life, and explore how my mind works and what my "ideas" can do to shape the marketing world of the future. With a flat organisational structure this is possible.


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