Onboarding for change

We are always talking about change, whether it is change for our clients as we sell them new creative or try to get them to evolve their products, or change for ourselves as agencies as we see our market, region, and industry evolving before our eyes – but with all this talk, I wonder whether we are setting ourselves up for change to happen, I wonder whether we put the right people, processes or systems in place to allow change to live and take root? A major change in the advertising business over the last 10 years has been to bring on people from different walks of life – we have after all found this to be very successful and refreshing – be they from other related sectors like digital, PR or events, or from our clients to give us more depth of insight to an industry or finally from different lives altogether to change the way we think; but my question lies in what we do with these people once they join us.
How do we onboard new people, particularly those from outside the industry, to allow them to bring their skills to bear on a model that has not changed dramatically since the 1960s?

Firstly we must try not to put them in a box; particularly when we replace an existing employee and we bring in a different profile to drive change, placing them in exactly the same box, with the same tasks, clients and reporting structure means we expect the same results but differently – this reminds me of the definition of insanity by Benjamin Franklin (and more recently Gordon Gekko),

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

As this would appear to be exactly what we are doing. Just by putting a new different shaped cog into an existing machine, will likely initially slow down the process, but eventually we will wear them down to the same shape as the inital piece they replaced. Just as the film reminds us, doing the same thing yields the same results and if the end result is one of failure and destruction of a system, then this will happen over and over again until we can change something either at the input, or during the process, or both. We need to make sure that the organisation is ready to change, and the organisation is an ecosystem of people, processes and tools, each operating in their own way with their own objectives – so change needs to be handled at various levels:

  1. From the top to drive the objectives and vision of the organisation, this sets the playing field and gives everyone the same objectives – ‘singing from the same songsheet’ is critical for change to happen, as if everyone begins to pull in different directions then catastrophe and confusion are likely to be the only results.
  2. At a process level so that each part of the system creates the flexibility to evolve; as mentioned above, the processes themselves need to open up to change as this means identifying opportunities to test initiatives or simply allowing everyone to have their time to input.
  3. At a personal level so that everyone can make a difference – no one is just a king, or just a pawn, and everyone can make a difference, however small.

Google was a pioneer in a way of bringing change to the organisation based on an individual’s specific skills by offering them a certain percentage of their time to work on personal projects; this way they are driven by their own experiences and interests to focus on how they can make a difference – they are applying the 3 items above, by making it part of everyone’s work this is a vision for the organisation and by creating the opportunities for employees to develop their own ideas and then integrate them (Gmail was a product that grew in this way) means giving space to people and process – but how can we apply this to a service based industry model where there is a not a specific product to develop? This is not an easy challenge, but a solvable one nonetheless, and we must simply keep in mind the three steps, a clear objective, flexibility and the value of the individual.

So what does this mean for onboarding?

For onboarding new employees this becomes quite simple, we need to make them special so that they can understand that they have a purpose and then support them going forward as part of the overall change process. Don’t let them get worn down by the machine but make everyone evolve, little by little, in babysteps we can allow evolution to take place in the industry. It also means building some ambiguity into everyone’s position, whether it is through how they manage their time as Google does above, or in their remit and responsibilities – don’t put them in a closed box… that is simply insanity.

By Lex Bradshaw-Zanger

A digital native and integrated brand marketer with a passion for marketing-communications and product design, Lex has a truly international outlook and experience, having worked both in major marketing agencies and client-side brands across Europe, the US and the Middle East.

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