Getting Ahead by Becoming a T-Shaped Ad Agency New Business Exec

Some new business execs shine in their role, but fail to contribute across the agency. In decades past, this “lone star” trait could lead to a successful career as “chief rainmaker”, but nowadays it can lead to a dead-end job.

Morten Hansen, professor at U.C. Berkley and at INSEAD, France reports in a recent article that companies today require:

…a T-shaped manager that delivers excellent performance in his unit (the vertical part of the T) and contributes across the company (the horizontal part of the T).

In order to excel at T-shaped management you need to:

  • Believe that you have two responsibilities: achieve high performance in your own department/function, and contribute to the performances of other departments. For example, strong new business performance while also helping account execs grow existing clients.
  • Be an expert in your area: “Think of the vertical part of the T as your area of deep expertise” – it takes hard work to become an expert.
  • Know about other areas: know about all the areas of the agency so you can contribute effectively. Strive for what Morten describes as “modestly adept expertise” in the other departments. The more you know, the better able you’ll be at collaborating and forging effective partnerships. This is the horizontal part of the T.
  • Have the right network: Build contacts within and without your agency. Offer your help to others and deliver on your promises. This will create power and influence without needing to have rank or power.When you need them you’ll be able to call in favors.

How do you do this and still ensure high new business performance? It takes very effective time management, delegation, and “saying “no” to questionable cross-unit activities.”

We’ve probably all witnessed examples of the person who always performs above expectations and is almost always available to help others be successful. I’m with Morten on this – it takes very good time management, delegation, and saying no. Which is easier said than done, but well worth shooting for.


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