At the end of last year, Simon Sinek posted a YouTube video to try and answer an often-asked question: why are millennials considered a ‘tough group to manage’? Viewed over 5 million times to date, Sinek’s video clearly hit a note. And he poses an interesting challenge to businesses to adapt and build the right environment and quality of leadership to enable young talent to thrive.
Iris’s growth from 6 to 1,000 people in 14 offices worldwide in 17 years has been based on a collective of talented, ambitious, entrepreneurial and empowered individuals. We’ve succeeded because we’ve encouraged people to lead their own adventures, growing offices and clients around the world.
We also succeeded because we had seven founders, still (impressively) friends and actively involved in the business, and a partner system that meant that people around the network were invested in the agency and its success.
But we had no real legacy plan. We had no real definitive approach to leadership, or how to create, build and inspire young talent and give them the freedom and confidence to believe in themselves as (and become) future leaders of the business. And our churn rate was higher than we wanted it to be.
Leadership training was minimal. Good leadership happened by intuition and, sadly, poor leadership was either quietly encouraged out of the door or swept under the carpet.
This prompted our decision to challenge ourselves to do more to recognise and reward quality leadership and not stand for bad leadership or behaviours. Inspired by the concepts explored in Liz Wiseman’s ‘Multipliers – How the best leaders make everyone smarter’, we looked at the kinds of behaviours the best leaders use to enhance the performance and potential of the team around them and then had a good and honest look at ourselves.
We gathered feedback from over 70 of our most senior leaders globally on their leadership style, straight from the horse’s mouth - the people they manage. The questions were frank – does your manager give you ownership and accountability; do they empower you to make decisions; do they challenge you to stretch yourself, help you plan your path? Do they inspire you? It gave people a safe (and anonymous) forum to talk about what inspired or demotivated them.
The results helped give us a clear picture of our existing leaders areas of strength and some common trends we could use to build our next generation of agency leaders.
There are certain behaviours that we’re all guilty of from time to time that may be well-intended but cause frustrations among a team (e.g. over-protecting a team from internal politics, micro-managing, throwing out too many of our own ideas, jumping in too quickly to solve a problem that arises).
We found that the biggest personalities or highest performers don’t necessarily make the best leaders, but often find themselves in leadership positions as a result of their success or confidence in a particular area of the business.
We made a promise to commit our principles to action. With a senior team that had held positions at the helm since the agency was born – we made a step to identify the next generation of leaders who had grown through the ranks - demonstrating some of the best examples of natural leadership, through their own performance and success in driving the business forward, but also in bringing their teams along with them.
We promoted these ‘multipliers’ into leadership positions for their respective offices:
Chris Marlow – who started as a grad in 2004 and is now the Managing Director of iris London;
Sorcha John who joined as an analyst in 2011 to MD of iris Singapore;
Dave Griffiths who joined as an Account Manager in 2011 to MD of iris Sydney;
Lara Burniston who joined as an Account Director in 2012 to MD of iris Sao Paolo.
The quality of our creative product continues to improve and we’ve seen progress in reducing our total churn rate – from an average of 30% in 2015 to 24% in 2016.
Our continued growth relies on having multipliers in leadership positions throughout our business. We know our success depends on it – our people are purpose driven and determined to make a positive difference, and millennials are five times more likely to stay at a company where they feel a strong purpose.
Agencies attitudes to leadership need to change. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Are you promoting for performance or leadership qualities? Do you really know how your leaders are perceived by the people they are leading? And maybe most importantly - are they able to multiply the talent around them to create successful leaders of the future?
The ambition should be to ‘multiply your multipliers’. Bring more of the right people in, make sure they are in the right places and positions, play to their strengths, give them clear responsibility and ownership and give them support and the right structure around them to make sure that they can succeed.
As Sinek encourages, now is time to evaluate your approach to leadership. The marketing industry has never been more dynamic. Make sure you are creating the best conditions to let people thrive and take advantage of it.
Katie Scotland is global head of people at Iris Worldwide