COVID ESSENTIALS EDITION 3
It continues to be a challenging time for many - but we’re here to help. In this edition we've shared some perspectives and pointers on leadership, roles and content to help you get ahead. We hope these will guide your own thinking and help shape your plans. But if you’d like to talk more about any of your own specific issues, we’re available and more than happy to talk. [21 April 2020]
LEARNINGS FROM THE FRONTLINE
Most of us have valued those on the frontline in our society for as long as we can remember, but never more than we do right now. And we’re showing our appreciation loudly and proudly for the people making things happen to keep our country safe and moving forwards during this difficult time.
Quite right too. But our own attitudes and expectations will be different because of the current frontline battles and behaviours - and this applies beyond the here and now. There are some fundamental truths for business leaders to learn in terms of the roles they play and how they motivate others to play theirs. This is especially true for agencies where people are the heart of the business. It’s about attitude and it’s about action.
So, if you’re running a business that you care about and you’ve put a great deal of effort into having the best team around you, you’ll have your own frontline team to inspire and mobilise. Yes, your first priority as a leader may be to keep calm, act rationally and have a plan. This is expected of you. But you will never succeed in the future unless you respect and utilise the skills, efforts and knowledge of those who are delivering the now and next of what gets done.
So, let’s look at what can be adopted from society’s frontline experience and how this will serve you well in the future.
Good leadership isn’t exclusively the purview of those with fancy titles. There are informal leaders in every agency who make a difference on a daily basis. Lessons from the frontline tell us that many do so without being asked - but too often go unnoticed. They are present, in touch and dig to solve the complex problems in the way of survival, or success. They are relatable, resourceful and optimistic. And if you haven’t already, recognising the power of these people is your secret weapon.
LOOK AT YOUR OWN FRONTLINE
Look at your own people. Who has stepped up and stepped forward in the current environment? Recognise them but also consider what their new, or more apparent, strengths might mean in a post-Covid era. Start with what your business will need, map that to the skills and strengths of these individuals and give them the support they will need to potentially realign their roles and progress.
MEASURE THE TEMPERATURE
Having an accurate and regular measure of how people feel about what’s ahead, is critical. The heroes on your own frontline are likely to be very well networked and well placed to get a read on sentiment as well as playing back what’s working and not working. They are also a trusted source better able to get messages to the majority of agency and client teams and credibly reinforce them.
STAY CLOSE AND HONEST
One thing we can learn from the here and now is that facts matter and empty promises do not – even if made with the best of hopeful intentions. Don’t let a desire to lead allow you to mislead others to the point where you lose goodwill and momentum. Share what you don’t know alongside what you do – especially on matters of job security and future investment. And take the messages directly to your frontline, don’t rely on antiquated cascade systems. It’s all about stability.
FREEDOM TO ACT
Few businesses will be able to crack on as usual, so leverage the eyes and ears you have to get a closer read on emerging client needs – importantly what will best serve them in the future. Creating a culture that empowers people to improve whilst always delivering is what being frontline is all about. So feed the appetite to innovate and give your people the freedom to make things happen.
POWER UP PURPOSE
The word ‘purpose’ has had a good wash over the last few years and to the point where even the believers doubt its metal. But dressed up words aside, it’s when we’re being tested that who we really are shows up. The trick is not to lose sight of it when the current test is over - because it never will be. Let what you really believe in lead the way and shape your priorities as you move from defence to offense.
So, if you aren’t already, it’s time to get on the front foot. This isn’t about a ‘new normal’ - whatever that really means. It’s about remembering who will really win your battles every day and harnessing these heroes so you can be at your best well into the future.
IS IT TIME TO CHANGE YOUR ROLES?
In the past few weeks a lot has been said about the importance of focussing, prioritising and having a clear plan of action. As agency leaders you’ll have received suggestions that you should concentrate on clients, new business, employees, financial management, long term strategy – and everything in between. But are you crystal clear on who should really be responsible for what at the top level within your agency? It’s now time to take a good hard look at who’s doing what – and why.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
Many small to medium sized businesses have operated quite happily for many years without defined roles at senior management level, especially where they are a group of founders. The ‘all hands on deck’ approach has created flexibility and spread the load but as the business grows the need to clarify roles has often remained unconsidered or ignored.
In recent weeks, many agencies with clearer role allocations have also lapsed back into the ‘all hands on deck’ approach. But coming through the current challenges and thriving as a winner in the post Covid-19 business environment will require top level responsibilities to be focused like never before.
Without this clarity, there are some risky consequences:
- Key areas may be under-resourced
- Too many people spending time on the same issue
- A lack of accountability reducing commitment and effectiveness
- The long term sacrificed for the short term, or vice versa
- Failure to achieve a reasonable level of ROI
- Inability to survive in the longer term
So now is the opportunity to ensure every member of your senior team has a clear remit. You should consider the size of your senior team and define responsibilities where the required clarity has been absent. Or change responsibilities to put you in the best place to succeed in the future.
But don’t expect do this from a management textbook. Recognise the need to play to people’s strengths and to define appropriate roles to which the individual can adapt and in which they can excel.
FINDING THE SWEET SPOT
Very few people are perfectly equipped for all aspects of a senior role, so it’s a question of finding the right balance. One model we use to help do this is the Japanese concept of Ikigai (which translates literally as Life Meaning). Used for many years on a personal level by the Japanese, it’s been increasingly adopted to help define organisational purpose.
The model helps find the balance between four key factors that drive satisfaction and motivation: passion, expertise, demand and value. Let’s take a closer look at how this can be applied to the definition of roles.
Passion. For an individual, it's what they are passionate about, what they just love to do – project work/ client relationship building/exploring new ways of working/ team management/ winning new business/ setting the vision for the company. The tricky bit here is that though there may be many things people love to do, only some of them will also meet the other criteria below.
Strength. While an individual might love to do many things, they will only actually be good at some of them. This is where Ikigai departs from the common advice to just "do what you love and love what you do". In fact, just doing what they love won’t optimise impact. They need to be good at it too.
Need. For an individual or a business, if the focus is on something that isn't really needed a lot of time and effort is going to be wasted. Individual’s roles and responsibilities can’t just be based on the things they are good at and love doing – they need to be focused on the areas that are vital to the success of the business.
Value. Many senior team members, often with many years of experience, will have the ability to turn their hand to all kinds of things. And to make a positive contribution. But where do they add the most value to the business?
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Now how do you make it a reality? Once you’ve done the thinking, decided on the shape of your senior team, identified and aligned on the key areas for each person, it’s vital to define things precisely and communicate to everyone in the business. You’ll also need to decide how success will be measured for each role depending on the specific responsibilities.
And finally, as the new world evolves, so will your business and the people within it. Be prepared to monitor and hone your thinking around roles regularly to ensure you’re deploying your talent for maximum impact.
IS YOUR CONTENT HELPING OR HINDERING?
It’s hard not to miss the amount of content being shared by agencies in the last few weeks as the pressure to engage increases. Insights and ideas, e-mail campaigns, webinars and online events abound. Sadly, as the volume increases the quality is declining. The high-quality pieces stand out, but the majority seem to be getting lost in the noise.
Brands and businesses are under pressure and are busy working out how they will adjust to new marketplace dynamics and different customer demands. But while in lockdown mode, the individuals you want to connect with are more accessible and they have more time to engage with both their existing and new agencies. So, there are certainly good opportunities to deepen client relationships and to open up new ones.
But while your targets are easier to reach, they are more discerning about what they engage with, partly because their need is heightened in the current environment and partly because of the volume of things they are receiving. They will only engage with the very best content. Anything that is bland, ill-informed or lacks insight is likely to create a negative impression.
And let’s not forget that your time is precious too. For many agencies, resources are stretched and budgets are tight. All your activities need to work harder than ever before. It’s no time for being a follower or just being average.
So, here are some practical suggestions to overcome these challenges.
It’s a basic requirement that you demonstrate an understanding of the client’s business and current situation. And you need to have genuine ideas that are relevant to the challenges that matter to them now and in the future. Your ideas need to be original and authentic, not just a re-hash of the same predictable things that everyone else is talking about. You should have strong points of view, which ladder up to your proposition. Draw on all your knowledge and creativity. Leverage your agency’s full experience and reject anything that’s not special.
Virtual has become the everyday reality and many agencies have jumped on the online events and webinar bandwagon. Not a problem if you know how to use these formats or you can get help from someone who does. But many agencies don’t - and consequently they have delivered poor experiences. Existing content needs to be adapted to work in different media, presenters need to be well practiced in the virtual environment and audiences need to be given the chance to interact. Everything should be produced to high quality, reflect your agency personality and be branded.
LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED
Commitment and preparation are key. Don’t leave anything to chance. Ensure that all the details of your content are correct. Check that none of your competitors are saying the same things. Think through all eventualities. Technology is never 100% fool proof in communication or presentation. If you’re trying to engage a live online audience, have a pre-recorded version in your back pocket. That way, if you have a technical glitch you can follow up immediately with the content, not days later when you are already old news.
CHANNEL AND AUDIENCE PLANNING
Doors may be closed but other channels are very much open. Email being the most obvious to reach clients. This is where it pays to have a system that is synced to your CMS and a well-built database. You don’t need to venture into fancy online events and podcasts if your written content is stunning. Remember that most content fails because it’s not properly tailored for the client. Don’t fall into this statistic. Be clear on your targeting and think hard about the different personas and roles in the client organisation. Be prepared to evolve, edit and tailor for different audiences, sectors and regions - and then distribute through all your channels.
Being the voice that remains is important but be careful not to alienate clients by bombarding them. The aim is to open up discussions, to engage and build relationships. It’s about nurturing not prospecting. Don’t rush to get content out for the sake of it. Pace is important but quality comes first. Build a programme which runs over time, with each piece (delivered in whatever format you decide) focused on a particular pain point. Make sure every impression you make is a good and lasting one.
The message is clear. Choose your audiences, subjects, opinions and tactics carefully. If you haven’t got anything good to say – don’t say anything until you have. You might just stand out because of it.