Power Essays 2017: Take care of your people and everything else will take care of itself – by Sasan Saeidi, Gulf CEO, J. Walter Thompson

If the headline above should hold true, then as organisations we should really think about this notion through a more humanised lens and ensure the phrase “people as assets” really stands for something. In a Harvard Business School executive education course I took part in, the notion of human capital as the biggest challenge for business leaders was brought into question. We simply are not taking care of it they way we should be.

I have been reading more and more about the notion of modern commercial economics, and the philosophy of considering a person as a unit of economic production. It started in the industrial revolution and has been the driving principle of our day-to-day modus operandi. This is not totally wrong, but the boundaries of decision-making have been completely misinterpreted and we have lost control and instead labeled our people as liabilities.

We count people as FTEs – full-time equivalents – in our day-to-day conduct. Truth is, our clients don’t have coffee or strategy and creative ignition sessions with FTEs, but rather with human professionals with a lot of value to offer. Day after day, the offering of our people is overshadowed by this formula and more so than ever before their hours and contributions are undervalued and under-priced.

It’s no secret that our business environment is getting tougher. We are working in challenging times globally and regionally. Hours are getting longer, business challenges more complex and share of voice harder to achieve. As such, the convergence of this machine-type thinking, as opposed to real life human contribution and best talent management, is constantly at odds and this is creating the biggest risk for our industry.

Keeping talent in today’s environment, maintaining a human culture and ensuring your agency is just as much about people as it is about business takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of sacrifice. It takes clear communication of priorities and it takes bold steps in managing expectations and external pressures. We need to step up our investments into our cultures and our human capital.

In the long run – and it is already happening – most communication companies will lose all their best people because they are not taking care of them. More so, agency cultures will not be able to pull in what they need more than anything: great talent and innovation. And in order for our talent to feel engaged and not to check out, we need to get creative with managing and running things. Here are some of my suggestions.

1 Be real. Be human. FTEs should turn into full-time human assets, and not be considered as merely a cost like other things. Let’s not reduce hours blindly. By this, I also mean defining true effective hours needed as opposed to invalid, retrofitted percentage allocation. This will give back respect to our people and they will appreciate it.

2 Manage your agency with your people not in silos. Your leaders and those who are doing the job know what it takes to manage business. If you want to keep people, involve them in the decision-making process. Hear them out and give them your time. Of course you may never be able to implement every suggestion, but let them know you value their input.

3 Promote experimentation and entrepreneurship. We are in the creative business so allow your best people to experiment and test new ideas and ways of working by giving them time and resources to innovate. This will provide them the engagement needed and break the routine.

4 The hardest thing to do. In any organisation there will always be people  who are holding others back. Whether it’s their performance or attitude, they are not helping the greater good. Great people need to work with other great people. So, as hard as it is, we need to ensure we remove what is holding things back.

5 Create a culture of meritocracy and friendly competition. Promote based on results and not anything else. Promote competition between your people. Great people are competitive, and rewarding small and continuously will keep people engaged and honest. When people see the right promotions based on merit, they will strive for it next.

6 Don’t micromanage your best people. Space is a desire that is inherently human. We don’t like it when someone is on our back every day. It will drive us away. As such our agency model needs to go towards a result-oriented approach, we should judge based on the quality of that delivery. How and where they do their task should be less of a concern. Focus on quality and give them room.

7 Discuss careers all the time. Reviews, career planning, fair compensation and ensuring we constantly have discussions on what could be next will make our people feel they’re going somewhere. Our people always want to go places, higher places, so let’s keep this point on top priority and not hide from it. Let’s also look inside before we look outside.

8 Burnout is a killer. Our business is tough. It’s hard. It’s non-stop. Our people suffer from this all the time. We need to do whatever it takes to have some fun and ensure our company is investing in a culture that promotes mental and physical health. We need to ensure we see the signs of burnout early, intervene, and help.

9 Train them for the future. None of us has all the skills for tomorrow. Humility is important. We can’t predict what will come, but we can certainly ensure we train people to be more prepared. Have you heard this management story? “The CFO told the CEO: ‘What if we train our people and they leave?’ The CEO replied: ‘What if we don’t train them and they stay?’.” Let’s remember the human capital notion.

10 Say thank you all the time. It’s a small gesture; but the impact creates big ripple effects for the entire culture. What’s wrong with thanking people every day for the long hours and great effort they are putting into their brands and for our clients? Humans love appreciation and emotional belonging. Promote a thank-you culture in your company and keep patting your people on the back.

Keeping our people happy will help your bottom line. Nothing else can save it and is more important.

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