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Gary Sharpen – Why Agencies Need to Invest Time Developing People

Excellent piece by the experienced creative director Gary Sharpen in this week’s Campaign, on the issue of hiring and developing young creative talent. He relates how a creative director at a top direct agency told him “We don’t do placements and we don’t hire juniors – we don’t have the time to develop them”. Sharpen then goes on to describe the business case for investing (not spending) time developing junior people:

Time is, of course, money. When we invest time, we invest money. We may have to spend that little bit extra time with juniors, but the return on that investment is substantial. They will give you a fresh angle on an old problem. They will suggest media that you didn’t even know existed. They will enthuse the senior members of the creative department (and give them some healthy competition). They will bring an excitement to a project because it isn’t the umpteenth car insurance or charity brief they have worked on, it’s the first. All of these things, and more, create an energy that is infectious and which will be felt throughout the agency. They will deliver great work and, after all, its great work that our clients are paying us to come up with. It isn’t just altruism we are talking here, it’s business. This use of your time will deliver a very healthy return on investment for your company.

“I don’t have the time” is probably the single most common reason I hear from managers and directors for not coaching their teams. And it doesn’t just apply to graduates – people at all levels can benefit from being challenged and supported by a manager with good coaching skills. But as Sharpen points out, it’s not just the recipients of the time and attention who benefit – there is also a lot in it for the company.

Fair enough, you might think, I can see the benefit for the team members and the company, but if I’m the manager I’m the one who’s got to find the time and I’ve got plenty of other things on my plate. What’s in it for me? Here are some of my usual answers:

  • Better performance from your team – as a manager, your job is to get the best out of the team, it’s hard to do that without investing time and energy in helping them improve.
  • More commitment– think of the boss who was most interested in and supportive of your professional development vs the one who took the least interest. Who did you work hardest for?
  • Knowing what you need to know – it sounds obvious, but if you don’t stop to listen to people, you could miss valuable information about the people, situations and problems you are working with.
  • More and better ideas – people notice what you are interested in and respond to it. If you show that you value their ideas they will bring you more of them. If you take the time to help them understand why some ideas work better than others, they will start bringing you better ones.
  • More capable people to delegate to – you can’t do everything, so the more people you can trust with important tasks, the better. The more time you invest in development, the more of these people you will see when you’re looking around the office.

None of this is rocket science. Listed like this, it looks like common sense. But it can be hard to keep it at the front of your mind when you’re under pressure.

Yet it needn’t take all that much time. More often than not it’s a change of mindset and behaviour that’s required, rather than freeing up a whole day for ‘training’. Like stopping and asking a question to unlock someone’s thinking. Or taking five minutes to listen to that ‘half-baked’ idea to see whether something can be done with it. Or making the effort to find out about someone’s ambitions and interests and how they relate to what they are doing in your agency right now.

You probably do some of this already – when you feel you have the time. You might not realise how much time, energy, enthusiasm and creativity you could create by doing it a bit more.

Comments

  1. You are spot on here, Mark.

    Since I spend the bulk of my life immersed in companies who are intent on developing people, the first thing that I find is that managers don’t believe they have the time to do it. Yet by virtue of most definitions of “manager”, the role is theirs to play.

    There is another aspect to this: even though I find that a high level executive may bring me in to work with managers on how to develop others, the executives don’t often take a firm stand if a manager says something like “Do you want me to make money or train people?” That’s the point at which one finds out whether this was just a politically-correct idea or a commitment on the part of the executive.

    Keep writing!

  2. Thanks Steve. To be fair I understand it’s harder for managers to find time for development than for us as consultants – they have to balance developing people with delivering stuff ‘by yesterday’. But I agree wholeheartedly that ‘making money or training people’ is a false dichotomy. John Whitmore makes the point that if you’re coaching people on the job, you can do both at once.

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