Is there any one way to lead? Unfortunately, things just aren’t that simple. There are too many different strategies to count, and then the question arises: is it better to stick to traditional techniques or innovate with something more modern? The tried-and-true or the experimental?
With their own takes on the matter, we hear from Chris Pearce, CEO at award-winning customer engagement agency TMW Unlimited and Russ Lidstone, CEO of The Creative Engagement Group.
Chris Pearce said:
“In today’s workplace, providing an environment where people feel valued, independent and yet part of a team is more important than ever. Wellbeing, culture and environment should be front and centre of any business’s priorities. To that end, progressive leaders should consider ‘hiring for culture.’ This approach is a far cry from more traditional skill-based selection techniques, but it ensures you build teams with team members that truly align with your vision and values and this, in turn, helps organisations to run more smoothly and be more productive.
There are two techniques that I would urge all businesses to consider: First, actively encourage diversity. It has been proven time and time again that a team with diverse backgrounds, passions and skillsets combined with an environment of ‘psychological safety’ will outperform all other team combinations. Second, adopt ‘sprint working’. Many office businesses seem almost designed to inhibit productivity. Most of us are encouraged to time-slice our days into endless meetings, catch ups, emails and phone calls. ‘Sprints’ allocate a fixed amount of time – say a week – for a team to complete a given task. Often this needs to be supported with a separate location or dedicated area for the team to work in uninterrupted. The days of endless grey cubicles for the worker bees alongside glass boxed offices for directors or management should definitely be left in the dust as these environments breed the worst kind of ‘them and us’ mentality.
A further simple technique to keep staff engaged with a company’s vision and operating rhythm is deploying different meeting formats for different types of information and/or participation. At TMW Unlimited we use the analogy of the way TV content is consumed. Sometimes you just want a rolling news headline, sometimes a half-hour comedy format or three-hour feature film. So many businesses fall into the trap of treating all meeting formats the same – one hour, book a room, order catering etc. Our approach mixes things up with daily 15-minute stand-ups (the equivalent of rolling news headlines); all company cascades (the feature film); and weekly leadership meetings of mixed lengths (hopefully not the comedy format!) In this way we aim to keep people fresh and engaged with the right format for the right type of content.”
Sharing his thoughts, Russ Lidstone added:
“There are many opportunities and techniques to make work a better and more productive experience for our teams. As the nature of work changes, so must our approach to leadership and management. There is not one right answer but many right approaches. My objective as a CEO is to try to help us build off new learnings, technological developments and best practice to iterate our approach in order to be a more successful company – both commercially and as a place where people want to work.
‘Command and control’ to ‘connect and collaborate’
We are a creative services business delivering innovative brand experiences for our clients. As such, a driving principle that shapes our approach to the workplace is to lead by connecting and collaborating, not old school ‘command and control’. Empowerment and respect drives creativity, professionalism, behavioural loyalty and effectiveness.
‘Their company’ to ‘our company’
From a commercial and operational point of view, my philosophy is to be transparent and to ‘over-communicate’. Both ensure that in an evolving and growing business, our teams understand our context, how we plan to grow and how we are performing. In essence, I share the things that are on my mind, the things we do well and things that we’re not doing so well. This way, everyone has a sense that it’s ‘our company’, not ‘their company’. And this translates into agency initiatives and communications where we encourage and back our teams to help drive and shape our culture.
CEO’s corner office to hot desking nomad
We have offices in different parts of the UK and the US and I believe it’s important to spend time in the agencies across the business and to be visible. I don’t have a permanent desk in any one place and aim to treat every member of our business in the same way that I like to be treated – with respect, fairness, support and fun. Being in amongst our teams gives me a better insight on how we’re doing, the notion of a corner office is long gone.
Workplace to workspace
In order to attract and retain the best talent – particularly senior female talent – we need a flexible approach to working hours, the workplace (as more than a physical location), and people’s career wants. We’re by no means perfect, but I do believe that our flexibility – in how we approach working hours, locations, sabbaticals, and how we utilise technology to make working life easier – makes us more effective and empathetic. As an employer, you now need to be both for all employees, not just millennials.
My overwhelming belief is that to drive innovation and creativity for our company, our teams have to feel that they have the support and confidence to think freely and act with the knowledge that they do not operate in a fear culture. That’s not to say that that we don’t have high standards and aren’t prepared to make changes when necessary, but there should never be any nasty surprises.
Soft benefits deliver hard benefits
I increasingly see the notion of what used to be thought of as ‘soft benefits’ – such as mental health or ‘operational necessities’ like health and safety – delivering ‘hard benefits’. Wellbeing extends across a wide range of areas from mental wellbeing to personal safety in our offices or on-site and social events. The better people’s wellbeing, the more loyal, committed and effective in their roles they will be.
Team members spend most of their waking hours working for us and I think this means we have a real obligation to help them grow professionally and, as importantly, we have a responsibility to look out for their welfare.
Annual appraisals to regular check-ins
We reflect the ongoing need for feedback, advice and support in the way that we manage our teams. We have regular line manager check-ins at the request of the employee. This enables managers to provide ongoing feedback – so preventing surprises. It gives people a better chance to learn and develop. And it ensures we get two-way dialogue with all of our team. We still have annual reviews, but this is not the main or sole opportunity for feedback it once was.”