Bringing your whole self to work
“If it wasn’t so bloody awful, it would be a fascinating time,” James says steadily as she elaborates on the challenges facing leadership under lockdown. As the coronavirus continues to place businesses under pressure, every day we see high profile examples of both good and bad leadership played out in the media. The reality is, says James, that “everyone’s having to learn it on the hoof.”
But for James, who describes herself as “someone who’s not in that old school leadership vanguard of agencies,” exploring new styles and areas of leadership has been something that she was doing long before the crisis began. A process which has seen her “tapping into empathy, really understanding how you unlock brilliance from people in very difficult situations.”
James believes, when it comes to the leadership qualities that matter most to her, that authenticity is key. This is being made easier, she believes by the fact that team members of every level of seniority are all logging in from their homes, from kitchen tables, bedroom desks and, if you’re lucky, an outdoor table.
James says, “I’m generally interrupted by a kid every other Zoom; the fact that we can all see each other’s homes I think just creates a lot more personal connection and personality and means that everyone’s a bit more relaxed and a bit more themselves.” This allows for the phrase bringing your whole self to work, a subject of many cross-industry conversations over the last few years, to play out in real time. A shift which James believes passionately in. “I think this moment will allow us to move into a properly authentic way of working,” she explains.
The agency hosts a daily Zoom call with its leadership team to ensure, says James, that “we make sure nothing falls through the cracks.” This includes encouraging their teams to create some structure in their days, something that increasingly difficult to do in the current crisis. “There isn’t really a start and end to anything,” James adds. A shift, she believes, that means teams, and consequently businesses, need to accept that more flexibility is only ever going to be a good thing.
Shifting the pitch process
James is adamant that this lockdown will have lasting effects on the way we work as an industry. She believes that it’s important for people to communicate with one another about their expectations: “I think there is something in how we might get better at being upfront about what we need and what we expect in order to get the best from us and to get the best from others,” she says.
These lasting effects, James adds, will also force a change in the pitch process, which she believes needs to undergo a massive shift post-lockdown. She tells of how as the country was moving into lockdown, a client had to move a pitch from off to online the morning it was due to take place. Coming out of this, James hopes that there will be a “different way of pitching” which might extend to “taking a bit of that intensity from an agency and from a client point of view, out of the process.”
She believes that the beauty of an online pitch is that “it can be a bit of a leveller. Not coming into offices, not seeing ‘the pitch theatre’, the pizazz. It does put a lot more emphasis on the strategic and creative thinking and how an agency has properly solved and thought about a creative challenge.” Yet this virtual pitch process still captures and accurately represents the chemistry of a pitch team. Even though you’re not all in the same room, James says, “a team can come together” on screen.