Ultimately, agencies are known only by two things—the work they produce and the experience people have in working with us. Although it sounds trite, in the industry we’re in, we really have no assets other than our people.
You’re only as good as your last campaign, and while we all get caught up in the nuclear arms race to innovate new processes and technologies, the truth is that no brand or campaign is ever remembered because of that really great circular chart or data visualization the agency came up with. (Although arguably, they can help get us to the idea, but I digress.)
There’s a reason why ad agencies large and small are made up of people’s names: from Ogilvy, Saatchi and J Walter Thompson (JWT) to friends in my neighborhood—Pereira O’Dell, Venables Bell, and Butler Shine & Stern. Great talent begets great work.
Time to rethink.
Yet, I find it tragic that as an industry, we do two things completely wrong with our talent. We burn people out as if hours worked were some grand symbol of achievement, and we take an approach to performance reviews that dilutes people’s potential.
A typical performance review goes like this. David, here are all the things you are doing great—thank you and keep it up. Now, here are the things that you don’t do so well, so now let’s craft a performance plan to address these shortcomings, and let’s check back in a month to see how you’re progressing.
Focus on the talent.
Look, I believe it’s important to be aware of our shortcomings and to address them. But it strikes me that a disproportionate amount of time is spent focused on shortcomings, instead of on zeroing in on the gifts that each person has to offer. Great managers know this. They spend more time identifying potential and nurturing talent.
If David was a horrible presenter but might just be the next Picasso, I’d say buy the man a massive canvas and an endless supply of paints, and have someone else present his work. He’d fine-tune his skills, be fueled by his passion and we’d groom an incredible art director that would conjure up incredible work.
But, we don’t all do this because performance reviews tend to be designed around achieving a perfect balance across all skill sets. The truth is, that isn’t a human reality; we cannot possibly be equally good at everything.
No wonder this industry burns people out.
A shame, because the kind of talent I see myself surrounded by these days is truly humbling. I hope we do them…and ultimately brands, more justice.
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