This is a tough, slightly reflective post to write.
It’s very much a brain dump, the start of some thoughts rather than anything resolved. I’m hoping that some of the smart people out there on the internet will add to it and help these thoughts to develop…
There’s a lot of chat about what we’re all doing right now. How the agency of the future might work. What the roles in that agency might be. What it’s going to produce. What it ought to produce (in a world where making people buy more disposable stuff is a bad thing). And so on.
So in a world where we don’t know what we are now, let alone what we’re going to be next year, how can you possibly make a call on the kind of people you need to hire. Which means that we’re all seeking flexible multi-skilled people who are going to be useful regardless of how things change.
Coupled with this there appears to be a general perception of a skills shortage. I’ve been having conversations with all kinds of people (mainly in the ‘agency’ world, but not exclusively), and everyone seems to be saying similar things. Namely that all of the really good people seem to have their own game going on. They’ve either started their own small companies, or they’re freelancing and living the life that they want, on their terms. (Or they’re heading that way fast and using their next jump or two as an experience-farming exercise). Which means that it’s quite tricky to get them to come and work for wages in a company.
But I think there’s something else at work here. We’re all starting to fish from the same pool of people. Probably because we all need these incredibly flexible and adaptable people. We’re all looking for a few mythical people who have a similar set of experiences and skills.
At Poke we keep having these odd cyclical conversations about a couple of key senior people we’re trying to hire. We’re looking for entrepreneurial, operationally aware, client facing, creatively minded, inspiring, strategic folk with an interesting set of past experiences – oh and they need to love digital which is our specific bit (simple huh!).
The long and short of it is that we’re trying to find creative mini-CEOs. And I don’t think we’re the only ones.
Lots of agencies can probably offer this type of person a job that will keep them challenged, amused and stimulated. But the kind of people that we’re looking for want more than ‘just a job’. But no matter how you wrap it up most roles in agencies are just a job – OK they may end up being a way-of-life or a divorce-inducing quest, but that’s just because it’s an big, important and stressful job.
I think what Anomaly is doing is interesting because (from what I understand) it’s actually got a structure and a remit that would be attractive to this kind of mini-CEO. Even though they’re working on clients’ business they’re actually becoming part of a business not just servicing one, which is an important distinction for entrepreneurial types. But we can’t all be like Anomaly (nor should we be).
So what’s the answer?
I’ve got absolutely no idea. Otherwise I’d be running away with the ball and leaving everyone else scratching in the dirt. But here’s a few thoughts, based on personal experiences:
- Collaborate more, employ less. This is an obvious, but very difficult thing to do properly. If all the good people are doing their own little things we should all join together and work as virtual teams for the benefit of all. But it’s just not that easy. There’s loads of blurring and loads of overlap which always causes friction. Friction generally causes problems.
- Wear a hat – This one’s for all those multi-skillers out there. Figure out what your real strengths are and stop confusing yourself and everyone else. Admit weakness and failings and try to find other people to fill those gaps. (I really need to heed my own advice here).
- Hire brilliant single-skillers – who cares if you’re chief geek hasn’t got the greatest client handling skils. As long as he loves technology to bits, that’s what counts. Someone else can do the other stuff. If you need an operations person, it doesn’t matter that their brogues don’t match the easy-going-trainer-slacker vibe of the rest of the gang – and it doesn’t matter if they’re as creative as a housebrick. As long as they can work with everyone else and they love what they do, that’s the way it should be. I think there’s can be a tendency to try and create a team that all fits into a similar mold, which feels right, but is wrong.
- Cast your net wider. Another tricky one. It’s really hard to validate whether or not someone’s skills are genuinely transferable. It’s much easier to look at a bunch of achievements that are directly analogous to what you do. Taking on a proper outsider is a big old punt. But when it works it works brilliantly. But taking that risk on a piece of valuable client business is dead scary…
This isn’t just an elaborately wrapped up recruitment ad. But Poke are always looking out for great people, and if you’re one of those mini-CEO types I mentioned and you’d like to come and work at a very nice digital agency for a while then give me a shout, confidentiality guaranteed. We are looking for someone with a few years experience – sorry juniors, next time :-)