Appearances matter

This time last week I was at the Creative Floor Awards, applauding outstanding creativity in the healthcare space. These particular awards are close to my heart, unique as they are in diverting a proportion of their profits – £65k and counting over the five years that the awards have been running – to charities focused on increasing diversity within the industry. Recipients of the Creative Floor Awards Talent Fund have included The School of Communication Arts 2.0, The Ideas Foundation, and the JOLT Academy.

Last year’s Talent Fund donations enabled The Ideas Foundation to help more than 370 kids from across the UK get exposure to the creative industries, including children from The Amos Bursary Trust which helps inspire and develop talented British students of African and Caribbean descent. It’s a rare example of a founder (Shaheed Peera) who has literally put his money where his mouth is, quite apart from the calibre of judges, which include Rankin, Trevor Beattie, Ben Kay from Apple and Tea Uglow from Google, as well as heavy-hitting creatives from healthcare specialist agencies.

Given all of that, the lack of diversity amongst those who took to the stage was striking. Bravo to Concentric Health for their fabulously female winners, and to agencies like McCann Health, Publicis Life Brands and Saatchi Wellness who appeared to take great care to share the limelight across mixed gender teams, but they were sadly few and far between. If you were a casual observer, or new to the industry, it would be easy to walk away thinking that opportunities for anyone other than educated white men are sadly lacking.

You may think that it doesn’t matter who goes up to collect an award, that they represent teams which are much more diverse than they appear, but it does, it really does. When you have a woman relegated to taking pictures from the sidelines for the company blog instead of up there on stage with the rest of the team, or the lone BAME team member sticks out like a sore thumb – I wish I’d been counting, it would have been a handful of times I saw a non-white face picking up an award (again bravo Concentric Health), you can’t help but go away with a view of the industry which is less than inclusive.

We have a responsibility as leaders to celebrate difference and to showcase diversity in all its forms. So when you’re thinking about who gets to collect the next award, or show up at an industry event, it’s worth bearing in mind that the best way to attract diverse talent is to demonstrate how open and inclusive your organisation already is or aspires to be. It’s not tokenism, it’s one of the ways you build the future.

Three things…

How’s it going with all those resolutions you made? You know, the ones where you were going to get to the gym four times a week, eat seven portions of fruit or vegetables a day, give up alcohol and sugar, and be nice to everyone you meet? Those ones. Chances are that whilst you’re probably still doing okay(ish) now, barely a week into January, by the end of the month most people are falling by the wayside, and by the time you’re halfway through February those promises will feel like distant memories.

The thing about New Year’s resolutions is that they’re often about deprivation, and there are usually far too many of them for any normal human being to stick to. Making new habits is hard, no matter which self-help books you’ve read that promise to make it easy to keep going with radical changes, so maybe there’s another way to look at it.

After years of well-intentioned but ultimately pointless resolution-making, this year I’m taking a different approach, streamlining the whole process into three key commitments – and guess what, they’re not all about me and the changes I want to make, they’re about promises I’m making to myself, to the teams I work with and the companies I engage with.

Let’s take them in turn. My personal promise is to be kinder to myself. In practice that’s going to mean making sure I’ve got a good balance between commitments to work, writing my novel (draft 3, since you ask) and juggling family demands, along with remembering to relax and have a bit of fun. Could be any of us, right?

For the people I work with, as individuals and teams, whether it’s as a consultant, a mentor or a leader, I’m going to ask them to be brave. 2018 is the year to step out of your comfort zone and do something different, maybe it’s something that scares you or means learning a new skill, or perhaps it’s about asking yourself the ‘so what’ questions. It might even be about being brave enough to say  ‘this isn’t for me’.

Being brave is just as important for companies and organisations as it is for individuals, but it seems to me that sometimes what companies need more than courage is someone to challenge their thinking in a constructive way, so that’s my company promise this year. It’s going to be about broadening business horizons, thinking about what the future holds and how organisations might need to adapt to best exploit what opportunities lie ahead.

I’m going to come back to these themes of kindness, bravery and constructive challenge throughout the year, and I’d love to know what your three words would be, if you could sum up what you want to happen in 2018 for you, the people you work with and the company that you’re part of.

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

 

Workplace Wellbeing

It’s unlikely that you’ll have missed it, but just in case, today is World Mental Health Day and the theme this year is all about wellbeing in the workplace. To their credit, numerous high profile individuals, including Lloyds Bank chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio and Geoff McDonald from Minds at Work (and former Global VP of Human Resources at Unilever) have been open about the difficulties they’ve encountered, largely driven by stress in the workplace.

Many big companies and professional organisations have called for a greater focus on mental wellbeing, but the stigma associated with asking for help is enormous. According to the PRCA, 59% of PR and communications practitioners say they’ve experienced mental illness, yet only 37% would approach their managers to talk about the challenges they’re facing.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to create the right environment for people to flourish and that means cultures which enable individuals to openly seek help when they need it, hopefully before they reach a crisis point.  It’s not rocket science – to be compassionate, to look out for people’s welfare and to identify those who need support – but it’s also not something that’s focused on in management skills training. There’s always an element on how to manage performance (usually how to give constructive feedback, swiftly followed by how to manage underperformers out of the business), but not on how to help people who really need it.

And, because once the subject of mental ill-health comes up in businesses, HR departments get anxious about legal liabilities and confidentiality in a way that physical illness doesn’t seem to provoke, it’s all conducted behind closed doors. People ‘disappear’ from work, returning a few weeks later surrounded by rumours, unless they decide to be open themselves about what’s happened to them, all of which adds to the stigma.

Let’s train our young managers and leaders on how to spot people who’re burning out, but more than that, we need to keep talking and sharing our experiences. Presenteeism continues to be a curse in our industry, particularly for the ambitious, so highlighting the successes of flexible working and insisting that people balance their lives is an important leadership task. Yes, we can lead by example, but we also need to take action so that at all levels, our teams are able to manage their working pattern and preserve their physical and mental health as they build their careers.

Want to take that first step? Having been fortunate enough to hear Geoff McDonald speak very eloquently about how to create “mentally and emotionally healthy and human workplaces where individuals can flourish and organisations prosper” I can thoroughly recommend Minds at Work as a good place to start: www.mindsatworkmovement.com

Let me know how you get on.

 

Marcel and AI – the future of agencies?

First up, a couple of disclaimers. I used to work at Publicis some years ago, and still have some extremely fond memories of the place and the people. And secondly, what I know about Marcel so far, the AI system Publicis has just announced it’ll be spending all its award entry and sponsorship money on for the next year, is what’s publicly available.

Still, from what I can see, the majority of the reaction to Marcel has centred on the likely impact that missing out on awards might have on the motivation of creatives across the business. If they aren’t going to be recognised by winning awards, how can they judge their success, so the argument goes. Marcel is described by Publicis as a ‘professional assistant system’, which will incorporate detailed profiles of every member of staff in order to pull together teams to address specific client needs, the idea being that staff can ‘bid’ to be involved in client briefs.

Hmm. Let’s just take another look at that, shall we? Whilst it’s heralded as a natural next step in delivering the “Power Of One” approach that has supposedly done away with individual P&Ls to facilitate cross-company working (tell that to the poor souls presenting quarterly numbers for which they are being held accountable by the way), in my opinion the real promise that Marcel makes is to remove the need for managing directors and business unit leaders altogether. Well, if you have the technology to match people to opportunities across geographies, time zones and markets, what’s the point of having managing directors to manage those people? If the promise of the work itself is strong enough, one presumes, there will be no need for traditional leadership of any kind.

It kind of fits, though, with what’s happening across the communications business as a whole. The exodus of mid-level and more experienced account handlers from the PR and medcomms business continues as people walk away from the always-on demands of agency roles to freelance. They don’t seem too bothered about any lack of personal development or growth opportunities, in fact some see not having to participate in company-led initiatives as an advantage. Loose collectives or groupings of freelancers happy to work together on projects directly with clients are springing up all over the place, as our work becomes increasingly commoditised.  It becomes about the ‘stuff’ we deliver rather than the value of the thought behind it.  To be fair though, talented creatives and planners have long been able to name their price in the freelance market, picking and choosing the work they want to do and the hours they want to work.

The days when clients relied on agencies as their institutional memories are rapidly disappearing, as the value of long-term relationships is continually degraded. In the race to cut costs, most agencies now have to repitch regularly even when the client is happy, because that’s what procurement requires. The influence of procurement on agency selection increasingly forces marketers to view all creative agencies as much the same, and the only way to differentiate between services becomes about chemistry and teams rather than the ability to do the work to a higher standard or think differently.

What Marcel offers, in my view, is the opportunity to remove even that differentiation. It promises to use predictive technology to match talent with client briefs, wherever it’s located. The problem for me is about seeing ‘talent’ (or as I like to call them, people) simply as a series of building blocks, albeit with varying characteristics, rather than in all their rich diversity. Amongst other things, this limited view provides procurement with the opportunity to more clearly specify which blocks it wants to buy, at what price. So, I foresee a future where procurement will specify the use of x hours of y shaped talent at z price (not that different from what happens now), and the beauty of individual creativity will be lost in translation. If you’re a freelancer, you’ll be forced to fit into that mould too, whether you’re under the radar or not.

And if you don’t fit those specifications, if your creativity isn’t quite the right ‘shape’, or if you need a different kind of opportunity to grow your skillset, well that’s tough because there won’t be a manager or a leader in place who gets you and is willing to fight your corner.  In the race for flexibility, we are at grave risk of losing our individuality, the ability to engage with and support real creativity that’s different and chafes at being put in boxes.  Winning awards is often the result of creating environments that nurture difference, that encourage creativity and enable people to be themselves.  You can’t wish winning teams into existence just by picking people from all over the world and shoving them together to answer a brief, they need leadership and support, and technology alone won’t deliver that.

Maybe I’m wrong, hopefully I am, but my worry is that Marcel heralds a future where the importance of the individual contributor within agencies becomes meaningless, certainly from an account handling and management perspective. And once this AI system has got enough data on board about what makes a successful campaign, how long will the individual creative be safe? Whatever happens we can’t get this particular genie back in the bottle, because where Publicis leads, others will almost certainly follow.  In ten years time, perhaps the hottest shops on the block will be agencies that offer a return to ‘old school’ working, with teams all together in one place rather than scattered to the winds.   What do you think?

Lessons to be learned?

As we brace ourselves for the election here in the UK, I thought it would be interesting to see what lessons our politicians could learn from three recent examples of how not to communicate.

First of all, the furore over the almost immediately withdrawn Pepsi ad featuring one of the ubiquitous Kardashian sisters. If you didn’t see it during its “blink and you miss it” moment of fame, the ad featured Kendall Jenner disarming a potential riot by presenting a beleaguered policeman with a can of fizzy drink. Made entirely in-house, without the benefit of any professional external counsel, the problem with the ad was that it was seen as trivialising the civil rights movement, prompting a sarcastic quote from the daughter of Martin Luther King amongst a torrent of other criticism. Bernice King tweeted a photo of her father being confronted by a police officer at a protest, saying “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi”.

I’m willing to bet that had an agency creative come up with this idea (and let’s face it, the path to the right idea is paved by the ones that get discarded along the way), someone on the team would have pointed out the obvious pitfalls way before it got to the client.  It’s a great example of how groupthink can blind perfectly sensible people to the reality of how the outside world will interpret their actions. Mind you, once they realised they’d got it wrong, Pepsi pulled the ad and apologised absolutely everywhere to absolutely everyone, so full marks for getting that bit right at least.

Next, of course, there’s the United Airlines saga, which saw a paying passenger quite literally dragged out of his seat in order to make way for United flight attendants. To the protests of other passengers, he was hauled up the aisle like a sack of potatoes – all of which was captured on film and uploaded via social media within a matter of minutes. This was compounded by an official statement which spoke of “re-accommodating” passengers, failed to apologise and was then followed by leaked internal emails which appeared to blame the passenger in question for not giving up the seat that he had paid for.  It’s laudable to want to protect your staff, but seriously, did nobody from the CEO’s office even watch the videos before sitting down to write the press statement?  As a communicator, one of the most important things to do in a crisis is to take a step back and look at events through the eyes of an ordinary person, not someone bound to the organisation you work for. It doesn’t help to just blindly defend yourself and your people in circumstances like these. Be a person – a real person – and act like a real person would.

Last but not least, there is the shameful example of Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, seeking to explain why missiles had been fired into Syria by dint of ‘ranking’ the misdeeds of dictators. This was, it appears, his way of establishing just how bad Assad really is in the opinion of the current US administration.  Leaving aside the idiocy of this approach, and the vile nature of the comparisons made, did it never occur to him that the people watching and listening might also be aware of the lessons that history teaches us? Or that such attempts to categorise suffering merely serve to insult those who have experienced it?  It is foolish in the extreme to discount the intelligence of your audience, the depth of their knowledge and the intensity of their engagement.

Shocking as these three examples are, coming hot on the heels of each other they do provide important lessons for politicians as we move towards a June election: 1. Think about how the outside world, the real world, will view your actions and revise them accordingly; 2. Be human – put yourselves in the shoes of others, empathise, understand when to stand down, say you’re sorry and find a new way forward; 3. Never underestimate the people you’re talking to – chances are they know more than you do, and they certainly won’t hesitate to tell you when you’ve got it wrong. If nothing else, it’s going to be an interesting few weeks.

Fake It Until You Make It

I’ve read quite a few articles recently about Imposter Syndrome, something that apparently many women in particular suffer from. The theory is that regardless of how successful you are, on the inside you regard yourself as something of a fraud – even though to the outside world you seem to be a high-flyer.  It is rooted in low self-esteem, and it can get worse the more successful you become, and the more you mix with other talented individuals.

It’s all about comparing yourself with others and finding yourself wanting – not a pleasant place to be.  Instead of being able to accept that you might, just possibly, be good at what you do, Imposter Syndrome means that you tell yourself that no matter what you achieve, those achievements are somehow fraudulent compared to those of others.

Well, I’d like to propose a different approach. How about, instead of deciding you’re successful despite your shortcomings, why not just decide to be successful and then worry about whether or not you deserve to be afterwards. In short, I’m recommending the “Fake it until you Make it” approach. Act as if you are already a winner, already on the path to success and soon enough you probably will be.

Last year I went to a masterclass on how to write a bestseller, run by The Guardian. One of the speakers was Clare Mackintosh, whose first novel “I Let You Go” hit the bestseller lists right off the bat. I’m over simplifying this, obviously, but she talked about how she’d essentially just “decided” that she was going to be a writer, quit her job and then got herself work as a freelance journalist by telling editors that she was already working as a freelance.  What Clare did was to become a writer through the power of living a writer’s life, rather than wait for someone else to tell her that she was one.  I found her really inspiring because of the clarity of her vision and the decisiveness of the actions she took. Also, her books are incredibly well written and definitely worth reading.

When my business partner and I set up our own communications agency, we didn’t agonise for months about whether or not we would be successful, we got stuck in and acted as though we were already there. That confidence meant that clients were able to trust that we’d deliver, right from the off and I am sure was a huge part of our ultimate success. We used to talk about it being our “field of dreams” strategy – you know, if you build it, they will come (and they did…).

I know this sounds obvious, but if you’re feeling like an imposter, try not to give in to the self-doubt. When you’re not feeling confident, try acting as though you are until you’ve developed the skills and tools you need for that confidence to be real.  You’d be surprised how quickly that can happen.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that we are all of us to one extent or another playing roles that we feel are expected of us, so spend your energy making sure you’re performing with confidence instead of agonising about what others might think.  It’s like wearing a dress that you secretly think is a bit too short. Style it out and nobody will know that you’re worried it’s too short, they’ll just be wowed by how fabulous you look.

Writing Awards Entries? A Few Pointers

It’s Monday March 6th, and I’m willing to guess that in many healthcare communications businesses, minds are being concentrated on final drafts of Communiqué Awards entries. Given that there are only a few days to go before the deadline (9 March, with a late entry deadline of 16 March in case you’re really struggling to get them written), that seems reasonable. As the Chair of the Judges for the 2017 Communiqué Awards, I thought I’d share a few pointers based on my experience both as an entrant and as a judge. Hopefully these will also apply for other awards schemes.

Probably the first and most important thing to do is to follow the entry guidelines – because they are designed to help the judges to make fair comparisons between work which can vary hugely in scope, budget and approach. We score against the criteria which are provided to you, so make sure you’re giving us something to judge you on against each one that’s listed.

Do remember that each judge is reviewing entries on top of their day job, often after a long day in the office or over a weekend, so make it easy for us to spot what’s great about the work you’re submitting. Think carefully about layout. Consider using tables to show how you met your objectives (which must be SMART) and make sure you are clear in your own mind about the difference between objectives, strategy and tactics. Yes, I know that sounds really obvious, but you’d be surprised…

Tell us a story – the best award entries aren’t just a collection of facts and figures, they bring the work to life, giving context, colour and texture to the work. If you encountered significant challenges along the way, tell us about them and how you overcame them. Likewise, if serendipity played a part then acknowledge it. For example, many years ago, a well-known author spotted an article off the back of a campaign we’d run about access to funding for a new cancer drug, got in touch and offered to pay for a course of treatment for a particular patient, which then resulted in another huge tranche of press coverage. Yes, we (and much more importantly, the patient) were lucky, but it was award-winning because we knew how to effectively maximise that unexpected opportunity.

Get a fresh pair of eyes on your entry, preferably someone who wasn’t involved in the campaign. They will invariably spot something you’ve missed – perhaps a question they ask will highlight something you’ve failed to include that might be the one thing which makes a judge realise how great the work is. Make sure that you’ve checked with the client that they’re happy with what you’re going to say – and that where their own internal process require it, your entry has been ABPI approved. Bear in mind that the executive summary will be in the public domain, and that all the judges sign strict confidentiality agreements before they see a single entry.

Write, edit, rewrite, repeat.  The process of writing should always be an iterative one, and award entries in particular really benefit from this approach. Your first draft will always be too long, the sentences too wordy and the narrative somewhat jumbled (in my experience anyway) – but at least you’ve got the salient facts down on paper. As you refine it, you’ll add information you’ve forgotten, take out what’s superfluous and hopefully, hone your language so that it’s crisp and clear. Remember, your goal is to make it easy for the judges to love your work.

Finally, be honest with yourself about why you think your work should win an award. Sometimes it’s because it’s an exemplar of its kind – a well put-together, well-executed programme that achieves solid results, and there are campaigns like that which (deservedly) win every year. Don’t rule something out just because it’s not earth-shatteringly innovative – but do think hard about how the work justifies its place in an awards programme.  And if you have got something that you think’s really new, tell us why it’s different and why that should matter to the judges.

Last but not least, focus your efforts on that two-page entry, because if it doesn’t tell the judges why the work is a winner, all of the supporting materials in the world won’t make a blind bit of difference. Don’t hold anything back on the basis we’ll be wowed when we see it on judging day – it helps to have a great backup package, but it’s your two-pager that has to do the heavy lifting.

Good luck!

Turning points

The last couple of weeks before the Christmas break are often a time of contemplation (in the midst of an insane workload centred around the need to a) work the budget that the client found behind the sofa cushions and needs to spend before year end and b) field endless new business pitches so that the client can come back in the New Year to a new agency).  My particular favourites were always the clients who, when told that a pitch on December 23rd wouldn’t be possible, requested that you came in with a sheaf of fabulous ideas on January 3rd instead. Because of course agency people don’t need time off with their families…

But I digress. The point is that for some people, the break between Christmas and New Year is time that they spend considering whether to look for a new job at the start of the year. They will have found themselves in the dog days of December, wondering whether they are really in the right place – whether it’s the role, the agency or even the office location.  They’ve hoped that December would be quiet because they’re exhausted after a busy year, but inevitably it’s been busier than ever. They’ve waited for their Christmas bonus (if their agency is offering one), they’ve finished off the project or programme that they really felt passionate about, and now it’s time to stop and think about what to do next.

If you’re one of those people, the question you need to be asking yourself is whether your feet are itchy because of the time of year, or if you’ve come to a turning point. When you’re at a turning point, there’s no going back – there’s an inevitability about how you feel and you’re in a space where whatever your employer offered, you know it’s time to go.  And, it’s important not to get confused between the usual end of year malaise and the knowledge that you and your career are better served elsewhere. How do you know whether it’s itchy feet or the real deal, then?

In my experience, if it’s itchy feet you can usually sit down, pen and paper in hand, and work out the pros and cons for change in a highly rational manner.  You can envisage staying put if certain aspects of the role change, or perhaps if you can have a bit more flexibility in your working pattern. It’s something you could talk to your employer about – which is great, so go ahead and plan that conversation.

But if you’re at a turning point, you can sit and stare at your completely reasonable arguments and just – feel – that something’s pulling you in a different direction. Perhaps you can’t even articulate it, you just know that it goes beyond a feeling that the grass is greener elsewhere. Turning points are critical moments in your career, and I’ve often found that they come at times when you could, with a little effort, make your current situation work for you, or even go back to it if your new path doesn’t work, but the opportunity that faces you is singular. It’s the Carpe Diem moment.

Mine came when I had the opportunity to go into partnership with a former colleague and set up my own business. I could perfectly well have found a role within an agency and been successful there, but the chance to be my own boss was one that I couldn’t walk away from – it was my turning point and I’ve never regretted it. We all have those moments throughout our career, where the choice you make will predict the course of our future. Be brave, choose wisely, and whatever path you take, make sure you put your back into it.  I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a successful 2017.

Looking the elephant in the eye

There’s an elephant in the room, so what are you going to do about it? Do you address the issue head on, or do you skirt it because you’re afraid of conflict? Do you do your best to stop people from talking about it, or do you find a way to have an open discussion? How can you find a way to agree to disagree when tempers are running high?

Don’t know what I’m talking about? I bet you do. In the space of a few short months, two popular votes that didn’t go the way that they were predicted to have had a seismic effect on relationships between friends, within families and in the workplace. I am of course talking about the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election, both of which polarised opinions, sending shockwaves through our respective nations.

The problem is, regardless of which way you voted (or indeed would have voted had you been given the opportunity), we all have to live with each other after the votes have been counted, but that’s easier said than done when people’s emotions are so actively engaged.  I think it’s fair to say that both the referendum and the election campaigns were hard-fought, highly emotionally charged and many untruths were shared online and offline.

People have developed passionately partisan views, and it has sometimes felt (certainly in the UK) that those who disagree with the outcome of the vote are being pushed to accede without protest or further debate. For me, the truth at the heart of any democracy is the belief in freedom and equality between people, and that must mean the freedom to express one’s opinion whilst being open to constructive challenge.

As it happens, I think that’s at the heart of great teamwork and great businesses too, because people don’t work well in teams unless they feel listened to and that their views matter.  Teams don’t work well if they’re at each others’ throats either, and as leaders we need to help our people find new ways to work together after these difficult months. I don’t think anyone’s under the illusion that all of a sudden we can wave a wand and we’ll be skipping along hand in hand as though nothing’s happened, but we do have a responsibility to our colleagues to address the elephant in the room.

The big question is how? Well, for starters it’s probably not a good idea to stifle debate or close down discussion of the topic, that way it goes underground and can become even more divisive. I’m not suggesting you hold forums to debate which way the vote(s) went and whether people agree with it or not, more that you set the tone for any discussion. Personal abuse is not acceptable in any environment, and if that’s happening then it needs to be addressed regardless of the views being expressed.

Leading by example is also critically important in these difficult times, and that means showing through our own behaviour that outdated attitudes are just that – outdated. We must actively address any instances of sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination, not simply for the sake of the individuals concerned, but also because of the wider impact it has on the world around us, including our workplace.

I realise that for many this is preaching to the converted, but in these troubled times we need to speak up rather than staying silent. Listen to what people say, acknowledge their point of view, but then stand up for what’s right, because if we keep ignoring that elephant it’ll never leave.

Where did all the trust go?

What’s the most important ingredient for business success? And the single thing without which no business can succeed? Trust. Trust is at the absolute heart of any relationship, large or small and without it failure is an inevitable consequence of whatever endeavour is undertaken. And it’s a big ask.

Recent failures of trusted company pension schemes, where workers have invested not just money but the hopes of a happy retirement; mis-sold payment protection insurance, where financial institutions willingly misled thousands of borrowers; social services failing to provide care for frail elderly people who paid their national insurance ‘stamp’ over a lifetime’s work – is it any wonder that trust is in short supply right now? And don’t get me started on Brexit, or indeed the current turmoil surrounding the US Presidential Elections.

In an environment where trust is thin on the ground, how can businesses and leaders engage to build a firm foundation from which to grow? The truth is that trust is about shared human experience, about interactions that deliver what they have promised and that truly engage. As agencies and as practitioners we build trust by the way we work with our clients, by keeping our promises and by being open and honest about what’s working (and what’s not).

As leaders, we build trust through authenticity of speech and action.  It’s all very well saying the right things but if you don’t do them, trust is lost. If you set yourself up as a listener and then you don’t listen (or act on what you’ve heard), it’s over for you.  Sounds really simple, doesn’t it, but it’s easier said than done. And it’s not black and white either.

The thing about trust is that it’s not infinitely flexible – but then again, it’s not so easily fractured. At its simplest, the bargain between employer and employee is based on trust that each will play their part from a transactional perspective, but when companies come under financial pressures and ask more of their people, the expectation is that trust is emotionally rather than fiscally driven. It’s a basic human need, to want to believe in others whether they are organisations or individuals, otherwise the world is a very lonely place indeed.

Perhaps then, the route to building trust as a leader, a manager and an employer, is to remember to be human above all else. That’s not simply about empathy, it’s about understanding people’s fears and frailties as well as their strengths. Trust is about predictability, reliability and confidence, about reassurance and integrity, but it’s also, and most fundamentally, about responsibility.

At its most basic, the crisis in trust afflicting our society is about responsibility or, more properly, the lack of it. At the heart of the client-agency partnership is an agreement that we take responsibility for delivering what we’ve promised. If we fail, then the partnership is up for re-negotiation. When we stand up as leaders, we take responsibility for our teams not just when it’s going well, but more importantly when it’s going wrong. You can’t buy it, you’ve got to earn it, and the best leaders I’ve worked with have it in spades. So the next time you’re faced with a colleague or a client who’s finding the going tough, take responsibility for working through whatever the issue is with them and trust will grow exponentially.