Advertising, we have a problem

Sarah Jones-Palmer
By Sarah Jones-Palmer | 29 May 2023
Sarah Jones Palmer.

Workplace disruption has over the past few years placed a heightened expectation on the role of managers - that they are doing everything in their power to support their team and organisation.

Yet managers now operate in environments where they are required to not only stretch across hybrid ways of working but also manage an increased focus on employee adaptability, flexibility, mental health and wellbeing - all the while rebuilding agency culture.

A new study by The Workforce Institute at UKG sampled almost 4,000 people from 10 countries including Australia and New Zealand and revealed that almost 70% of employees feel their manager has more impact on their mental health than their doctor or therapist.

Additionally, more than half of employees (56%) felt that supportive management or a good boss is one of the most important reasons for remaining in their current role.

As a manager, it’s not unreasonable to be alarmed by this heightened level of influence, especially as only half of the managers surveyed in a separate manager effectiveness study said they had received zero training in basic people management skills.

This aligns with the feedback that we regularly receive from managers across the advertising industry. The sector is great at promoting people who are talented at their craft, but then puts them into management roles with no training or competency in the soft skills required to manage people effectively.

Team leaders have also had to step up and play a critical role in steering and shaping company culture. Every agency's culture is distinct and while the vision and strategy are typically set from the top, culture is primarily influenced by mid-level managers.

Agencies have realised that culture requires attention, innovation and investment and that managers are the daily reminders to individuals about what the acceptable and required behaviours are.

Often some of the ‘rules’ include unspoken ones, and it’s part of a manager’s role to teach and embed these behavioural expectations in their teams.

Yet, these are the very same people who have not had training in foundational people management skills. How can we expect them to succeed?

The ad industry needs to upskill its managers to effectively lead teams and drive success in our agencies and organisations. The development of future leaders needs to be part of their own development too - critical to the sector's longevity.

Identifying opportunities for learning and development is an important first step - with new programs like Manager Fundamentals run by groups like AdSchool designed to fill a gap in the market for industry-certified courses that actually give advertising professionals an opportunity to succeed as managers and learn the right way to deal with people and leadership.

Other key steps include listening, learning and adapting to your team leader’s needs, creating more meaningful connections with your direct manager reports, and bringing them on the performance management journey so that they are confident in setting expectations and linking their team’s contribution to the goals and strategy of the agency.

The pre-pandemic advertising workplace may be a distant past, but it has presented Australia’s advertising industry with a very real problem. In teaching managers the skills involved in effective people management and leadership, they not only feed into the values of an agency, but become incredibly valuable assets that help to build company culture, improve behaviours and drive productivity.

Sarah Jones Palmer, Co-Founder and Director, The HumanCo

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