What does leadership mean to you?

March 2nd, 2021

As we enter week whatever it is of lockdown, even with a roadmap in sight and yet with the winter wind still chilling us to the bone and the sunny spells alternating with rain drizzling outside our windows, it is more crucial than ever to look after each other.  We are personally being tested in all kinds of ways emotionally and mentally.  Relationships are under strain because we have never spent 24 hours a day with each other for such a prolonged period before.  People living on their own, who might normally prefer this, are vulnerable now that they are on their own all day and all of the night.  Checking in on mental welfare and ensuring that we really talk about our feelings and our vulnerabilities is crucial.

Of course this doesn’t just mean asking your team how they are.  Although this is more needed now than ever.  You need to actively manage their workload too.  It means for instance never setting a deadline without ensuring that the person it is set for has the time, within their working day, and given their other commitments, to deliver the task and to deliver it well.

In adland there is too much emphasis on managing upwards and in normal times that might be ok.  At the moment it definitely is not enough.

A good enough leader today needs to go further.  In fact, it might be possible to help your team cope with the stress of modern life by giving them reassurance about work.  Bayer general manager Oya Canbas has said: “I don’t want anyone to be anxious at work.  Can work create a sense of satisfaction that even helps people to deal with such difficult times?”

This type of management might well not come instinctively and may not be your own experience.  There is, however, a type of working practice where this is embedded.

This is working in an Agile way.

There are several ways in which Agile transforms work.  With references to scrums, sprints and burndown the language of Agile and its ceremonies can seem very foreign.  The entire rhythm of the week’s meetings is different, meetings have different names and purposes.  Progress is continuous and done well Agile cannot fail to improve effectiveness, efficiency and positivity.

Agile also changes the very idea of a leader.  An Agile leader is a servant leader.

What does this mean?  It means that as the boss, you do not act like the boss.  You are there to serve the team who work for you, not the other way round.

Servant leadership is the practice of leading through service to the team – so in other words you’re the leader, you’re the boss, but your immediate customers are actually your team members.  As a servant leader you’re there to serve them as well as you can and help them get what they need so that they can do the best job that they possibly can.

Agile leadership means not just reassuring your team emotionally, it means actively ensuring that their working day is no longer or more stressful than it should be.

In these difficult times to lead is to serve.


The unexpected impact of football without crowds

February 16th, 2021

The inability to fill stadia with fans has had a terrible economic impact on clubs of all sizes.  However the lack of fans may have had another effect too.  This season there is less of a divide between how the top teams are doing at, well, the top, and how the rest of the pack is faring.

Lowly placed Burnley ended Liverpool’s 68-match unbeaten home run and bottom-placed Sheffield United beat title-challenging Manchester United at Old Trafford.

These performances together with transformations like John Stones’ metamorphosis from an erratic, often-criticised performer to being arguably the best English centre-back in the league raise the question: Is the lack of a jeering opposition crowd boosting some players’ performance?

We do know, from a famous behavioural economics experiment, that the absence of a crowd means referees make better decisions.  Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim in their book Scorecasting, look at common behavioural biases that effect the outcome of sports games.

The authors prove statistically that referees make different decisions depending on the crowd.

“We’ve found is that officials are biased, confirming years of fans’ conspiracy theories.  But they’re biased not against louts screaming unprintable epithets at them.  They’re biased for them, and the bigger the crowd, the worse the bias.  In fact, officials’ bias is the most significant contributor to home field advantage.”

In the current lockdown are we seeing the effect of the missing crowds on how teams play?

What if top clubs pay big bucks to top flight players mainly because they are better at dealing with the stress of a hostile crowd or the pressure of expectations from the home crowd and not because they are actually more skilful?

It is obviously very intimidating to face a top team’s loyal fans if you are on the opposing team. Or the jeers of a misstep from your home crowd. A bit like a talented team member in the office who has to face constant banter or micro-aggressions for being different.

If you eliminate this unnecessary pressure you allow talent and skill to rise.  You enable everyone to contribute.

This is why when the workplace has a culture of belonging for everyone, not just a single cultural fit, you get better decisions, better work and better talent.

When I was interviewing people for our new book one top creative told me that for much of her career she has felt embattled: “Usually a battle against white masculine privilege.  When can I breathe out?”.

Another top ad exec told me that when they joined the industry they felt that they had gone back in time to a culture more prevalent in the last century.

We can change our sector.  We can make the workplace kinder and by doing so we will make it better.  Of course, this takes active effort, as we explain in our book Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work.  Active effort to antidote micro-aggressions with micro-affirmations.  And active efforts from everyone in leadership to eliminate banter and unfairness.  The new All In industry census launched by the Ad Association is crucial to building a better more inclusive workplace.

This kind of environment does not toughen people up.  It reduces the ability for people to grow their skills and talent.

Let’s take a learning from the current culture experiment on the football field and allow creativity to rise.




What do successful digital transformation and business culture projects have in common? Extreme ownership

February 2nd, 2021

Extreme ownership by everyone is essential for success in terms of both Digital Transformation and a true culture of Belonging.

There are two items to prioritise for most businesses in 2021.  The pandemic has given added importance to both.

  • Digital transformation, in light of the fact that excellent delivery of goods and services via digital is obviously a game changer for every business in lockdown.
  • Belonging, because having a better and kinder culture in every workplace, while always important for the well-being of employees, is even more crucial when we are working remotely (and will continue to be as we reinvent the office for blended working).

They might seem very different issues, but there is one significant differentiator to the success or failure of them both across business.  This is that everyone needs to take ownership, not just specialist teams.

Let’s start with Digital Transformation.  Ashley Friedlein, founder and president of Econsultancy, comments that business must “Double-down on Digital Transformation.  He goes on “Digital transformation is a mega trend that I’ve covered previously.. whilst far from new, the Coronavirus pandemic has given the need for digital transformation a new urgency, that for many businesses, is existential.”

Ashely and I have the shared experience of being part of the Government Digital Advisory Board when GDS (Government Digital Service who created and run gov.uk) was run by Mike Bracken and many of the team who now work at Public Digital helping government around the world with digital transformation.  His book “Digital Transformation at scale: why the strategy is delivery” written with Tom Loosemore, Ben Terrett and Andrew Greenway, is endorsed by Malcolm Turnbull who points out that dealing with government online “should be as easy as ordering from Amazon”.  That’s not a bad benchmark for every digital interaction that we have at work.  Is every digital interaction by you, your employees and your clients and customers that easy, user friendly and instinctive?

One of the key issues described in the book in achieving this is the problem of leaders who don’t think that this is their job and are unconcerned with the impact of technology on everything that they do.  “They set a cultural expectation that tech is no more than a question of plumbing… that can be ignored while the ‘grown-ups’ deal with the real strategic issues.”   Of course, the impact of tech on everything is the real strategic issue.   Businesses need a great CDO to lead.  But silo-ing the impact of tech on everything to that CDO only and their department can be severely limiting.  Instead every leader in the organisation needs responsibility and vision for digital transformation.

The same is absolutely true of the other top agenda item Belonging.  Culture is the beginning and end of best practice in business.

With a culture of Belonging you will retain great people

With a culture of Belonging you will reap the benefits of diversity

With a culture of Belonging you will recruit people who will make your culture even better

Belonging doesn’t just happen however – it needs work and leadership from the top, but also from every seat, particularly during lockdown, with remote working, and when blended working becomes the norm.

A great head of diversity and inclusion, or a brilliant chief people officer is useful and essential.  But silo-ing the effort of creating a culture and behaviours of Belonging to them and their department is severely limiting.  Every leader in the organisation needs responsibility and vision in this respect.  And in respect of a culture of Belonging there is a leader in every seat in the organisation.

Specialist leads have their crucial value, but to achieve true transformation you need everyone to take extreme ownership responsibility for change.








Instead of segmentation, try inclusion – it will get you more sales.

January 5th, 2021

For years the marketing industry has been busy segmenting.  For a couple of decades it has been common best practice to segment customers into types of people to target everyone else who falls into the same segmentation.

These are often expensive exercises and can take months to complete.  They may be of huge use to the brand, although all too frequently they are conducted in isolation of media and therefore channel intelligence has to be merged on separately after the first party analysis, and digital behaviour cues now often are better signals of intent to purchase.

The naming of the segments seems to be crucial too and often involves alliteration.  There might be a “Savvy Sally”, an “Apathetic Annie” or a “Careless Katie”.

Segmentation like this has been challenged.  Firstly the Ehrenberg Bass institute advice is not to segment your audience.  So from “Hungry Henry”s and “Thirsty Theo”s some brands have instead moved to target for example “Anyone with a mouth”.

The Ehrenberg Bass Institute’s Professor Rachel Kennedy and Dr. Rachel Beal state that targeting should prioritise the buyers a brand hasn’t reached before.

Contrary to the view that marketers should target likely buyers by segment the EB Institute has found that brand share bears very little relationship to the segments that brands may try to appeal to. Instead, Beal said, “we really see it as a size game”.

“As brands grow they bring new people into their brand who have not bought from them in the past. This has really important implications for your priorities as to who you need to target,” Prof. Kennedy states.

“If you’re using targeting to get to people you haven’t got to in the past, fantastic. If you’re targeting at scale, the evidence supports that.” She continued: “If you’re using targeting in any way that’s limiting who you’re talking to … you are limiting your potential for growth.”

A second challenge is that these segmentations don’t take into account how the audience self-defines in terms of profile.  This information is available in the UK in terms of diversity profiles.  It is not uncommon for brands to be unaware of how they profile with different communities and therefore to not know if they are resonating or not even if they are being reached by advertising.

There is plenty of data about diverse audiences in Britain, and whether or not they buy a brand.  MediaCom analysis, spearheaded by Claire McAlpine and John Beardsworth, has discovered significant growth opportunities where a brand is not resonating with a minority ethnic community for example.  Or where they are underserving disabled people or LGBTQ+.

These opportunities can be worth millions in some cases, in terms of potential sales.

Sometimes the opportunity here may be because the advertising doesn’t include representative images of modern Britain.  This in turn may be because the creative team behind the advertising doesn’t do that either (a recent composite of UK creative directors images looks uncannily like Danny Dyer).   There is a long way to go in terms of change in this respect.  That’s why Project ADA – the Advertising Diversity Analysis tool that is piloting in Q1 of 2021 is so crucial.  That is also why we have detailed how to create a more diverse and inclusive working environment in our new book Belonging, the key to transforming and maintain diversity, inclusion and equality at work.  Creative chief Vicki Maguire is quoted on her previous experience of working in agencies saying: “Every day the battle came out of the blue, usually a battle against white masculine privilege”.

Resonance with diverse groups goes beyond who is depicted in advertising to how the campaign is built, what advice is taken at early stages of the work, and who the senior decision making team includes.  It may be that a partnership with a team of experts, for example at Scope the pan-disability charity, is crucial to ensure that the campaign really resonates with everyone who can be attracted to the brand.

First be inclusive.  For brand growth it is far more crucial than traditional segmentation.  Make 2021 the year where the strategy is to include everyone.




Get active, be EPIC.

December 15th, 2020

One in three people at work have personally experienced bias, harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work.

Do you think that this always happened when they were on their own with someone?  I think that we know that this isn’t the case.

Our unique research, by Dynata, for our new book Belonging, states that 39% of the workforce overall acknowledged that they have witnessed such behaviour, but this rises to 57% of people who work in marketing or pr.

We have surely all, at some point, been bystanders.  We have all perhaps been in the position where we have not felt able to speak up when someone more senior than us, perhaps the boss that recommends when we get promoted or get a pay rise, says or does something that makes a fellow employee feel like an outsider, as if they don’t belong.

It isn’t easy to speak up sometimes, for all kinds of reasons.  The question is how can we change this to a better, kinder, culture where everyone feels they belong?

There is a new kind of training being piloted in the police force in America.  EPIC stands for Ethical Policing Is Courageous.  The New Orleans Police Department is running this peer intervention programme, in collaboration with community partners, to promote a culture of high quality and ethical policing, policing that “educates, empowers and supports the officers on the streets to play a meaningful role in “policing” one another. EPIC is a peer intervention programme that teaches officers how to intervene to stop a wrongful action before it occurs.”

The programme was inspired by holocaust survivor and professor Dr Erwin Staub.  Now in his eighties, after an academic career focusing on understanding violence, he became concerned about excessive use of force by police in the USA.  Based on his own experience of active bystanders – allies – who helped to save his life, he originated a training scheme that redefines what being a good team player is: sometimes it’s not standing by your colleague at any cost; sometimes it involves staging an intervention to prevent harmful actions.

The point is that all current police training teaches officers how to react decisively if they feel at threat.  There has been no training at all to teach officers how to intervene if they feel that their colleague is not behaving appropriately, or to teach officers how to accept that intervention when adrenaline is spiking and they feel under threat.

This is ground breaking, and we can learn a lot from it.

At MediaCom we have all had Allyship training this year.  It was useful and enlightening.

Every executive in every business would gain greater understanding from a similar programme.

Across our industry, marketing, advertising and pr, we need to introduce the role playing of staging interventions when we find ourselves a witness to bias, harassment or any kind of inappropriate behaviour.  And we need to role play taking criticism and feedback to our own behaviour whatever level of seniority we are at, or whoever the feedback is from.

We can make our industry better.  Only when everyone feels they belong at work will we really harness the talent around us for the benefits of our clients and customers.