It was a crazy, crazy time in advertising in the mid-’80s. I miss it so much. The agency I worked at had not only taken me on as a junior Art Director straight out of Art College, but they served breakfast and lunch around the pool. The executive Chairwoman was amazing – a heady mix of commerciality, creativity and humour. For some crazy reason, I was able to work with an architect to design my office. Think the absolute antithesis of hot-desking. They let me go wild, so I had music and dimmer switches for mood lighting, because I felt I was more creative (and looked slightly better) in darker spaces and a huge sweeping desk that wrapped around two walls, and ended in a round meeting table so that I could “sweep around to greet people”. When the renovations of the entire agency were complete, the Chair brought some of our biggest clients around to meet us and see us at work, busily creating incredible campaigns for them. One of the clients happened to know my father and enquired after him. With a big smile of relief, I told the group that Dad had just had an episiotomy, but that he was making a rapid recovery. (My incredibly athletic father had, in fact, had an arthroscopy. If you don’t know what an episiotomy is, don’t look it up.) It would appear that everyone in that group had indeed had at least one child, judging by their bewildered expressions. The Chair, cool as a cucumber said that they all hoped my father would soon feel better.
We all want to feel better. Even before this extraordinary year, people have wanted to feel heard, appreciated, respected, safe, secure, empowered, informed, valued, loved. People yearn to have company or yearn to have some peace and quiet. The sick want to feel better, and workers want to do better. Parents want to feel that they can protect and provide for their children while protecting their jobs and providing for the family. Businesses need to do better, but the focus is too often on a stonking bottom line and not on the foot soldiers on the front line.
I’ve always had a simple remit for everything I say and do – my hope is that people feel better about themselves after having experienced me. When I give my keynote speeches, I don’t want the audience to think about me; I want them to feel empowered and emboldened. Same too with the businesses I advise – they should want their customers and staff to feel good about themselves having experienced the business, rather than feeling good about the business. My belief is that if we can make people feel better / happier / respected / informed / entertained / pampered / indulged / understood / served / or their expectations have simply been exceeded through their experience with our companies, there will be a resulting halo effect.
There’s an understandable stampede towards technology now. (Not least of all for businesses to catch up with their customers.) Angela Ahrendts (former CEO of Burberry and SVP of Retail and Online Stores for Apple) once said, “technology is the physical connector, but humans are the emotional connector.” In order to be agile and adaptive in such volatile and evolving times, we need to keep in mind the importance of nurturing, protecting, empowering and communicating with our stakeholders. The contagion of goodwill that is generated through positive human connection is as transformational as technology.
While not many companies can serve breakfast around a kidney-shaped pool, or provide dimmer switches in big private offices for junior employees as they did in the glorious 80’s, there’s much we can do to ensure that all of our stakeholders “feel better” about our companies. Having a clearly articulated and actionable purpose, and creating a culture which is inclusive and empowering, where success is shared, and failures are shouldered, and where genuine joy permeates and ignites goodwill, sets a stage for sustainable success. (Of course, if you could somehow introduce breakfast by the pool, the job would be so much easier.)