Moving your department from order taker to strategic partner is an exciting journey. The prospect of being seen and valued as a partner is thrilling. But change is hard and requires a strong commitment to the end goal.

One of the biggest challenges in the transition from order taker to strategic partner occurs when your client base grows quickly, but resources, budget and ability to outsource remain the same. Managing the expectations of your creative team, your clients and management becomes challenging during these growth spurts. The solution is through numbers, numbers and more numbers.

The most important thing to do when your organization is understaffed is to collect metrics--time (hours per project), lifecycle (duration of project, e.g., 19 days), volume of work (# of projects, total hours across all projects). I know--during times of strained resources it's even more difficult to track these metrics. But if you want more staff, you need to be able to deliver a compelling justification. Some managers try to estimate these metrics. The problem is, if you're not 100% sure the numbers are reliable, no one will believe it and worse, you're credibility may also be challenged.

One of the most important responsibilities of the head of a creative services department is to be able to marry the business and creative sides in order to deliver reports with accurate and actionable metrics, as you see the need and upon request.

Like it or not, the business world speaks in numbers--creative leaders need to be bilingual or find someone who can help them. Hiring an operations person, even junior level, can be an efficient solution for those creative leaders who don't want to learn numbers language or just have too much on their plate. Or perhaps another manager on your team is talented in this area. Or you may need to become best friends with your Finance partner.

  • Want to increase staff? Show me the percentage of growth as compared to last year and the prior year. Explain why you believe the volume will continue to increase and in what area. Break it down by project type so I can see why you're asking for the senior, more expensive designer as opposed to the junior, less expensive designer.

  • Want to add a service such as multimedia? Describe the benefits of keeping this in-house versus outsourcing. Use numbers to illustrate the financial savings, the time savings and the brand management savings. Ask your clients to give you the numbers on the projected increase in customer loyalty as a result, if you can get that from them.

  • Want to upgrade your project management database? Show me, in percentages and dollars, why the investment in a new system is necessary. Show me why the one we have isn't good enough. I want to see as solid an ROI as you can deliver. And if the company you want to hire can't give you best practices ROI, I don't want to hire them. After all, the database is what we'll use to track these numbers.

  • And the dreaded question: Should we outsource the whole department? This question comes up all the time, and especially when a creative leader wants to shift from order taker to strategic partner. Often the response is, why should we up-level talent and tools when we can just outsource the whole thing to someone who already has the high-end talent? Numbers will end this conversation real quick. You say the cost of outsourcing is prohibitive--show me the numbers.

Numbers aren't your game? It's so important that this be done that I propose switching out a current staff member, temp or consultant to dedicate a spot for this responsibility. It's like brushing teeth. If we ignore the statistical aspect of running the department, the department is more likely to go away.

Pulling these numbers after the fact is too late. Proactiveness is the key to accurate and reliable numbers. The right consultant can come in and catch you up, set up protocols and train a staffer to take over.

Brush, rinse, collect data. You'll be glad you did.

**Rena will be featured at our Beyond the Creative 1 Training in Atlanta October 3-4. Only 2 spots remain so please make sure to register today!

Rena DeLevie, a Cella Consultant Rena DeLevie's nickname is "COO of the Creative Process." She has 25 years in the creative industry; first as an art director for 8 years, then in Creative Operations for the past 17 years. Rena has, and continues to, provide business coaching and mentoring services throughout her career and has successfully taught creative executives how to partner within and across departments. She works with clients to define specific and actionable steps towards their goals and ensures they're in alignment with the Company mission. Her passion is to help companies and people succeed by listening, analyzing and proposing solutions. She values creativity and business equally.