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


Unmotivation …

A while back I wrote about how some companies offer incentives and bonuses to their staff to try and boost morale when the reality is all the employees actually want is the company to act in ways they can be proud of and believe in.

Values.
Standards.
Behaviours.
Ambitions.

The most depressing part of this is that in many cases, the companies know this but just think it’s easier to try and ‘buy staff off’, than to change how they act.

But if you think that’s bad, there’s some who are even worse.

The ones who believe their staff will be inspired and impressed by any gesture the companies shows towards them … even if it is an act that shows how little they really think of them.

Acts like this …

Or this …

Seriously, what on earth were they thinking???

Even if they were giving away a bunch of bananas rather than a single one, it would still be bad … but a postage paid envelope, that reiterates this is a ONE TIME act of generosity.

Either the people behind these ‘gifts’ are evil or utterly delusional … which is why the best leaders I’ve ever worked for have been the ones who are transparent and honest, whether for good news or bad.

There’s something really reassuring of knowing where you stand. Where there is constant dialogue with where you’re at and where things are. That even in bad times, you know what is going on, what needs to change and some suggestions how to do it … because the person telling you genuinely wants you to succeed. Not simply to make their life easier, but to help make yours bigger.

While there are a lot of benefits to management, it can’t be denied it’s a tough gig.

You’re dealing with a bunch of moving parts all at the same time.

Egos.
Colleagues.
Team development.
Individual growth.
Client satisfaction.
New business requirements.
Company reputation and profit.
And then your own, personal satisfaction and growth.

In some ways, each of these moving parts can act as a barrier to the other being successful … and that’s when a manager can get into real trouble, because pressure means they can end up choosing what ultimately makes their life easier rather than what makes everything better.

Now I am not saying I am a great manager.

While I think I am OK, I definitely have my failings.

However over the years – and with some excellent mentors and role models – I’ve definitely learnt there are some ‘rules’ that I believe can help companies ensure managers create an environment where good things happen can happen, for the work … the clients … the individuals … the team … and the company as a whole.

1. Stop promoting people simply because that’s the only way to give them a pay rise.

This is more than just about managing staff cost ratios – or keeping salary bands in line – it’s the reality that some people are just much better at doing their specific job than managing other people doing their specific jobs. Often they know this, but feel they have to accept the promotion ‘opportunity’ to get the money they want. The great irony of this approach is it ends up costing everyone more in the long term. Because the promoted person ends up stopping doing the work that made them – and the company – stand out and other talented people leave, because they are being badly managed. Until the day the company realises their mistake and lets the person go who didn’t really want the job in the first place, but did it as it was the only way to get fairly valued for their talent and experience.

2. Stop thinking being good at the job means you are naturally good at managing

Being good at a job doesn’t automatically mean you are going to be good at managing others doing it. Not only that, being good at your job doesn’t mean your approach will – or should – translate to how the entire department operates. Sadly, too many companies don’t think this way. Instead they promote without consideration to the ways of the individual or the needs of the department and company. Of course, sometimes the reason for that is because it’s a way to ‘keep’ talent from going to another company or because doing it makes things more ‘convenient’ for the company when someone has resigned. What makes that approach even worse is they then place huge expectations and judgement on people so that when things don’t go exactly as planned, they start adding additional stress and barriers. The reality is you don’t make good managers through a title, you do it by giving them training and time.

3. Every level needs training

It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to be academic. But it does have to happen.
Not just in terms of learning the company processes and org charts … but in terms of learning how to actually manage. What to look out for … how to engage … how to encourage and motivate. Not from a book. Not from an online course. But proper training with people who have done it very well rather than people who just hold the title. There are so many great managers who never got to realise that simply because they were thrown in the deep end and then kicked out because they weren’t given the support and time to train for their new position.

However I know the things I’ve suggested won’t be common, because too many companies see personal training as an expense and judge success as getting stuff done, regardless of the cost. Which is why after all the years I’ve had doing it, I still rely on 4 huge lessons I learnt from Dan Wieden and Chris Jaques.

+ When your focus is the work, every decision becomes easier.

+ Brilliant work sorts out almost every problem,.

+ Honesty and transparency is the greatest gift you can give someone.

+ The best way to stop complicity is to create an environment of openness and debate.

Sure, none of these are as easy as giving a banana or even a paid-return envelope … but I guarantee the positive effect will last a hell of a lot longer.



Matt Tanter. Not A Dick.

OK, I should start this post by saying I have only physically been in the company of Matt Tanter twice in my life, so I appreciate there is a chance I may be bombarded by people writing in and saying, “you’re wrong Rob, he’s a massive dick”.

But I doubt it.

Not because I think how people behave with me represents how they behave with everyone – and even if that was the case, they’d be likely act with me much worse than they would act with anyone else – but because of what he hasn’t done.

He has a big job at Mother.

He’s part of big campaigns for big clients.

He used to be the chair of the UK Account Planning Group.

And yet, while many would may let these achievement go to their head and act like they’re hot shit, Matt doesn’t. Quite the opposite in fact.

He doesn’t big himself up.

He doesn’t enter mindless twitter spats.

He doesn’t act like he has intellectual superiority.

He doesn’t do any of those things, instead he just gives a shit .. for his family … his team … and people in general.

Now I appreciate some may read this and think “what a wimp” … because for the industry likes to paint anyone who doesn’t spend every waking minute thinking about making ads as possessing some fatal flaw.

Obviously this is utterly stupid.

Not just because the standard of work out there means anyone spending every waking minute thinking about making ads is not making the work culture wanst to spend every waking minute watching, reading or tapping … but also because in my experience, the very best in the biz all seem to share one particular trait.

A love of seeking, understanding and learning from what’s going on outside the small bubble of adland.

Doesn’t matter what it is.
Doesn’t matter where it is.
Doesn’t matter who it involves.

They understand all of it contributes to their ability to make work that can shape culture rather than just adds to the cultural landfill so many brands are intent on polluting the World with.

Which leads to another trait the best in the biz all seem to have.

Being great people who are also very talented.

I cannot emphasise how important this is.

Because while these people are fierce about the standards of the work being made and hungry to push and provoke boundaries and limitations – rather than just wanting to be ‘liked’ by clients and colleagues alike – they find a way to bring people on the journey with them rather than just make it all about them.

Oh there’s loads of those others types too, but people like Matt help you grow rather than just be used up and for that, we should be celebrating them.

I have seen this first hand throughout my career.

Matt could talk himself up.

Matt should celebrate what he has done for the Mother planning team – because it’s ace.

But he doesn’t and he won’t.

Because Matt is a much better human than me.

God, what a prick, hahaha.



Teamwork Makes The Screams Work …

Teamwork.

A word used so much, by so many, to ironically control others into doing what they want them to do. It’s often got far more in common with production line subserviency than teamwork.

Then there’s the other version.

Where people spout teamwork with a big smile on their face while openly trying to fuck others over so they look better to the people who matter most. The boss, for example.

But what is even worse is when people are called out for not being a team player simply because they have a different opinion.

The great irony is they’re not doing it to be a pain or problematic or to express an ego. It’s to try and offer a viewpoint they think may help get an even better outcome so literally everyone wins.

But no.

They’re criticised, belittled, undermined and made to feel like they’re the problem.

Of course teamwork is important.

It can make a huge difference to the end result.

An exponential difference.

But to do that it’s not simply telling people to practice teamwork.

It’s about having the right people in the mix – by discipline, standards and character. It’s about ensuring everyone has clarity on what they’re all working towards beyond their individual discipline. It’s about ensuring everyone knows what is expected of them and how that works in relation to those around them. It’s about giving them the freedom to use their talent to push the standards and capabilities of what they are responsible for creating, while remaining true to the overall goal everyone is working towards achieving.

I learnt that last bit from the film director Michael Mann.

I found myself with him in a meeting so asked him how he makes films given the amount of different people and disciplines involved.

He told me he starts every project by sitting with the entire production team and explaining his vision for his movie.

The story he wants to make.
What is really important to him.
What he wants people to feel watching it.

He then added this vital element:

“I want everyone to use their talent to make this film better than I could imagine. But it’s has to be my vision of the film. Not one they think I should be making.”

I love that. I love it because his version of teamwork is encouraging everyone to play up to a standard rather than down to a tick box. Which all goes to show that real teamwork is so much more than just sticking a bunch of random people and companies in a room and expecting them to “be a team”.

But that’s what so many companies and managers do.

Either because they’re lazy or just want overall control.

Once upon a time a very good friend of mine went into his annual review.

He had done incredibly well and was hoping he would be recognised for it.

Instead he was bollocked …

Bollocked for having opinions.
Bollocked for asking questions.
Bollocked for not being a ‘team player’.

He listened patiently before replying with what is still the best fuck you, power play I’ve ever heard to that accusation.

“Oh I’m a team player …”, he said, “… I’m just the captain of the team”.

Forever proving – as the pic at the top of this post shows – that as much as people may try to tell you otherwise, there is most definitely an ‘I’ in team.

Legend.



Simple. Wins.

For all the money companies and agencies spend on trying to know their audiences better.

For all the systems and processes companies and agencies put in place to be reduce the friction of purchase for customers.

For all the data companies and agencies invest in and rely on to identify market opportunities they can leverage.

For all the investment in experience to drive brand consistency.

It’s amazing how simple it is for a brand to differentiate themselves from the competition … resonate with a specific audience … encourage emotional loyalty and build commercial value by simply having a point of view that is expressed by doing what people find important rather than what you want them to find important.

This brilliance is from Tesco in association with St John’s Ambulance.

Clothes that your baby will look good in and could – if the worst happens – help save their life.

No eco-systems.
No data analysis.
No additional experience layers.
No focus group idea blandification.

Just an idea where the value is undeniable to all.

A real idea. Not an ad idea.

A real idea where communication amplifies the solution rather than is the solution.

Done for real, not for ad award submissions.

Some agencies [and brands, like Timpson’s] do this sort of thing properly – for example the brilliant Tontine pillow [by the brilliant Mark Sareff] and H&M’s One Second Suit, not to mention the fact Colenso has consistently been doing this sort of stuff for decades – however if clients let their agencies partners solve problems without their dictatorial interference or obstacles … and if agencies listened to what their clients need rather than what they want them to want … we’d not only have more interesting, valuable, creative and effective agencies and brands, we’d be making more of a difference than all the pointless purpose statements put together.

I can but hope.

We all should, because it’s down to us.



A Reminder Of The Power Of Creativity …

Creativity is getting a bit of a kicking these days.

Oh, people talk about it.

They wax on about how valuable it is.

But then they dictate a ‘formula’ … something they say ‘optimises’ effectiveness and efficiency … conveniently ignoring they are actually promoting the total opposite of what creativity is and how it works.

Complicity.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided the value of creativity is not related to output at all … just input.

Now there is truth to that, creativity definitely starts with the mind, however that never includes an endless list of superfluous and superficial mandatories followed by dictatorial demands regarding terminology, talent and ‘category codes’.

You don’t liberate the power of creativity by weighing it down with factors that – at best – can come much later in the process.

And yet it is happening more and more.

Where success is people knowing your name and your corporate colours.

It doesn’t matter if they like you or feel something about you, it’s all function attribution.

And that blows my mind because creativity is capable of incredible things.

Making people care.
Creating value and intrigue.
Driving change and differentiation.
Literally open up possibilities that make people want you rather than you having to chase them down or brainwash them into submission with millions of dollars of spend.

That all these possible outputs are being dismissed in favour of following a pre-determined process and output blows my mind.

Of course one of the big reasons for this is control.

Creativity asks people to let go of comfort zones.

Asks them to be open to new ways to solve old problems.

Demands them to trust someone who isn’t at all like them.

I get it, that’s scary and hard … and there’s definitely a lot of people and organisations who have been burnt by other people and organisations who claimed to offer ‘creativity’ but weren’t really that creative.

[Though it you’re going to value creativity by price point or complicity rather than the impact it has on your business … what do you expect?]

However while everyone has some form of creativity, there are some who know how to harness its power in ways that can change how millions think or feel or want to live.

Sure that may include your brand becoming synonymous with a colour.

Or a set of words.

But it will be more than that, because they will find a way where people value you for what you have added to their world.

Not simply functionally … but how they see and feel what’s around and possible.

And while there is always a risk it might not end up quite as successful as you hope, it is still better to end up with something that means everything to someone rather than nothing to everyone.

That said, when you see the possibilities of creativity – like this magical mural by Brazilian artist Fabio Gomes – then you may accept people who see the World differently to you can create ideas that are far bigger and more powerful than your World could ever imagine.