The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

When You Realise You’re The Joke …

Great advertising ideas – like any form of success – tend to have a thousand authors.

Of course, we all play a part in the journey to something being awesome, but it’s fair to say some play a bigger part than others.

What makes me laugh is when people who had nothing to do with the work suddenly – and publicly – start associating with it.

Not just in terms of being employed by the same company, but in having some magical, pivotal role … even though when the spotlight turns off, they’re back to their usual obstacle-creating, idea-destroying self.

But there’s something worse than that …

It’s the people who were pivotal in developing the idea but are not acknowledged for it.

They tend to be young teams …

Too junior to feel they can say something, surrounded by people who think this is just part of the right of passage.

And it is. But it shouldn’t be.

For me, this is where management need to take responsibility.

Ensure their people share the spotlight.

Let them enjoy the feeling of doing something good.

Make sure they understand the responsibility they have, not just the glory.

But too often that is not what happens …

Too often, they see their manager take the credit – and while they definitely played a role in helping their team play to that level – the real rewards should be saved for those who did the work, rather than those who happened to be in the same room when the work was being made.

A friend of mine has recently experienced this.

Ideas dismissed, then slightly rephrased by another, more senior person, to take the praise and credit.

And the people around them all knew it was happening but they let it continue happening.

“It’s just their way” they say.

“They made it better” they claim.

What makes it even worse is the reality of the situation soon gets forgotten and it’s the person who claimed the work who gets placed on a pedestal for all the great things that happened.

Leaving the originator behind.

Wondering what the fuck just happened. Questioning their ability and talent. Losing their confidence to keep going.

I’ve seen it happen.

I’ve seen it not that long ago.

Hell, I’ve had it happen to me … and when I stood up to the person doing it, I got in trouble with my then boss for being a ‘disruptive force’.

This taught me a valuable lesson – reinforced by some of the amazing leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with – and that is the true value of management is ultimately defined by how well the team does.

Not personally.

But collectively.

And by well, I mean in terms of the work that is created, rather than the documents written.

Don’t get me wrong, decks have an important role to play – but I’ve seen far too many managers only care that their ‘bit’ goes down well with the client, forgetting if it doesn’t help those around them get to better, more intriguing or provocative work, it’s nothing more than self-serving vanity.

Which is why I believe a managers role is to create an environment that lets their people be vulnerable, audacious, experimental and exploratory … as well as forging a culture that ensures the team feels backed, supported, acknowledged and pushed – rather than ignored, misled or stolen from.

And if they do that, then they’re doing their job.

Not a great job. Just their job.

Please do not mistake this as condescending compliments at all agency meetings.

Nor patronising pats on the back at team get-togethers.

I mean they actively fight for the career development of their team individually and as a whole.

Not just money or title or promotion …

But exposure, experience, possibilities and opportunities. So when a member of the team leaves – and everyone does at some point – they get a job that is better than they ever imagined they’d get.

One where they’re hired for how they look at the world rather than just filling a position.

Now you don’t get this easy. People have to earn it. They have to graft for it. They have to have awareness about what they’re doing and where they’re at.

But if they do that, the least a manager can do in return is back them, support them and push them on every step of their journey … even when they fuck up.

Which they will do at some point, because we all do.

And frankly, if they don’t … then they’re not trying hard enough.

The young of this industry are often used as cannon fodder.

Run to exhaustion.

Given huge demands.

And while not everyone will be the same in terms of skills, ability or outlook (which is a good thing or you’ve got a department of one dimensional robots) … they all need to be protected, nurtured and supported, because the future of this industry will be built on the standards and experiences we pass on to those we are responsible for, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves with all that they do.

23 Comments so far
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This is brilliant Robert. So much great advice. Look after your team and they will look after you. Simple but many companies teach management as command and control, which leads to the excellent cannon fodder analogy you make.

Comment by George

👏 👏

Comment by Jemma King

What a great post. You have just explained the difference between a company who gets results because of their culture and a company whose culture is results.

Comment by Pete

Creativity vs optimisation.

The great irony is you need both to be successful – but, for me – the difference between a great and good company is where the emphasis is placed.

Anyone who starts with optimisation is focused on convenient solutions … often following what others have done before. Basically using a white-label answer with a little tweak to claim individuality.

Lots of companies who claim to be ‘innovation’ use this approach … when really all they’re doing is putting the no into innovation.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with this but I’d rather not go down that route … I much prefer starting with an attitude of creation because not only can that change behaviour and make everyone else want to follow you, it attracts the sort of people who have the capacity to make those in the shadows feel seen and scare the crap out of those in the spotlight.

Comment by Rob

That companies use terms like MVP, minimum viable product, says all you need to know about their ambition to make something great versus OK.

Comment by DH

Any manager who labels someone a troublemaker for them attempting to stand up for their rights is not a manager.

Comment by Pete

Though I think in Rob’s case, being labelled a trouble maker and standing up for your rights are 2 separate things.

Comment by Bazza

As many faults you have, you know how to build great teams. The difference I experienced working with you was you wanted variety in your teams. Different skills, talent and opinions. That doesn’t seem to exist much in departments anymore. Companies like hiring the same sort of person. They say it is for “cultural fit”, but it is for control.

If your friend has colleagues who acknowledge they’ve been wronged but make them feel they’re making a big deal out of it, then that is a culture of toxicity.

Comment by Bazza

Hahahaha … that’s a backhanded compliment if I ever got one. But thank you … I think.

I do agree with you on companies liking to hire the same person over and over again. I get why …. but for me, it means you end up in the same place over and over again versus finding ways to push things forward.

It can be a nightmare.
It can lead to tension and bickering.
But I’d choose that every time over rinse and repeat.

I remember one time at Wieden Shanghai where all the team were passionately expressing their point of view about something I had put forward. Something they disagreed with. It was a major headache but I remember at the time also thinking how great it was … especially in a culture like China, where the unspoken rule was to follow whatever the boss was saying.

It was then I felt I had genuinely achieved something special. A pain in the arse for me at the time … but special.

And finally my friend.

I too had something like that. Very, very recently. And was met with the same response from those around me as they did … writing off someone’s toxic behaviour as simply being the individuals ‘way’.

Colleagues said it. Management said it. It was – quite frankly – pathetic, especially as they knew it was wrong and divisive.

But then I realised the reason they took that approach was because if they admitted it needed to be dealt with, they’d have to accept they had been complicit in allowing it to happen for so long … and if there’s one thing people suck at, it’s publicly acknowledging their own flaws.

Comment by Rob

Denial is complicity.

Comment by Bazza

Complicity is denial.

Comment by John

Basically … unless you’re actively fighting it, it’s all complicity.

Comment by Rob

If your old boss is still around, I bet he’s happily describing himself as a disruptive force these days.

Comment by John

It wasn’t a he. It was a she.

And they are still around but not in the same industry.

Years later I met them at an event and I called them out about it. The fact they remembered was actually comforting to me … it meant they knew they had done wrong … and they apologised.

There were a lot of circumstances going on in their life that led to them making choices and decisions that – they admitted – they wish they hadn’t.

Frankly, that’s not an excuse – especially when you’re a manager – but I appreciated their honesty and apology and so it was all good. But I’m a lucky one, many wouldn’t have that and – let’s be honest – many would have bosses that wouldn’t think labelling someone a troublemaker was wrong.

Comment by Rob

Years later, she was no longer talking to a junior planner. Context is everything.

Comment by John

Hahahaha … that’s a good point.

Comment by Rob

Sometimes the gift of a bad manager makes you a better leader. It’s taking their “feedback” and their performance and reflecting on it against personal values and beliefs.

Comment by Nathalie

This is gold. It’s career limiting, but it’s still gold.

Comment by DH

He’s done far worse and got great gigs.
But if anyone else did a fraction of what Rob’s done, they’d never work again. Which is why everyone needs to aspire to be lucky more than rich.

Comment by Bazza


Comment by Pete

if he ever won the fucking lottery i would kill myself.

Comment by andy@cynic

Don’t make declarations he will make you keep.

Comment by DH

This is truly excellent Robert. Important advice for how management should be behaving and what employees should be demanding. I particularly like where you write any manager doing this is simply doing their job. Bravo.

Comment by Lee Hill

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