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Client-agency evaluations often fail - here's why, and how to ensure they succeed

by Kim Walker

February 8, 2023

Workplace stress is at a record high. According to the latest State of the Global Workplace report from Gallup, 44% of employees ‘experienced stress a lot the previous day’.

The reasons for this stress are easy to ascertain – layoffs, a changing workplace, the cost of living crisis and the after-effects of the Covid pandemic. What’s also easy to ascertain, and the Gallup report confirms, is that teams with thriving workers see significantly lower absenteeism, employee turnover and accidents.

As is so often the case, we can see this replicated here in the marketing industry when it comes to client-agency relationships. As business relationship experts, our core premise is that stronger relationships build stronger business.

And just as job engagement surveys are a valuable tool for employees to improve the well being of their employees, evaluations are equally valuable for improving client-agency relationships.

The big question

Why then, in an age in which job engagement surveys have become more frequent and high-tech, would it appear they aren’t working?

The New York Times has posed a compelling question in this recent article, which asks: ‘Are surveys the wrong tool? Are employees not telling their managers the truth about their dissatisfaction? Or are the bosses not listening?’

In my opinion, it’s probably a bit of both – and more. Let’s look in detail at why evaluations, whether team or individual, often fail.

What’s going wrong?

In my experience, problems begin when participants start to doubt the value of evaluations – whether they are employees and management, or clients and agencies.

Unfortunately there is little to no large-scale research looking at whether companies follow up on employee responses to job engagement surveys.

In an era where just about everything is measurable – and measured – and when we’re asked to rate our interaction with almost every purchase, survey fatigue can become a real problem.

But when individuals are compelled to respond to evaluations that seemingly go nowhere, the risks are even greater, and the value of these evaluations simply diminishes.

Have a plan

Recent research conducted by The Internationalist among leading marketers and agencies found that action plans derived from evaluations were the most common way in which evaluation results were used.

This is good news for the marketing industry – at the very least, we know results are being used.

As the report authors conclude in their book, Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times, conducting a survey and not taking action is ‘like pulling a pin on a grenade and not throwing it’.

Worse still, it’s demoralizing and undermines the faith teams have in their leadership.

Putting insight into action

At Aprais, we’ve developed the 'stop, start, continue' technique as a method of getting to an action plan. This encourages participants to come up with practical ideas for team-based improvement.

We build this into many of our questionnaires to encourage action planning.

  • Start – things the team believes would have a positive impact, that aren’t already implemented;

  • Stop – things within the team’s workflow or process that aren’t helping to achieve goals, and need to be stopped;

  • Continue – things that worked well in the previous evaluation and should stay in the workflow to ensure future success.

Four vital questions for marketers

We have to be bold here. To truly embrace performance improvement, this involves behaviour change from all parties, whether individuals or teams.

Within client-agency teams, clients are generally in the driving seat of relationships. Therefore these four questions are essential for clients to agree to in order to make sure evaluations are used as a means of constructive improvement – rather than being weaponized as carrot and stick.

1. Do I truly believe that client-agency relationships should be a partnership as opposed to a master-servant relationship?

2. Do I accept that opening up and finding out new things about my organisation could be the best way to ensure that it learns what it needs to do to get the best out of the other party?

3. Am I committed to acting on the findings and investing the necessary resources in terms of time, people and money, to ensure meaningful progress is made?

4. Do I embrace the statistical robustness of large-scale data and external benchmarking to underpin confident decision making?

In our experience, holding these questions in mind is the first step to ensuring evaluations do what they are created to do – create stronger relationships that build stronger business.


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