Author Archives: Barker

Managing Great Minds

Managing Great Minds

Rare  and beautiful creative thinkers

I love planners.  I worked alongside them for 15 years in my agency career and then spent 10 years helping find them jobs.  Not to mention the fact that I’m also married to a planner who has been flexing his giant intellect in my world for well over 20 years. 

I have learned a huge amount from these clever, eccentric, hard to pin down, almost always humble and fascinating people but they’re a bugger to manage!  And whilst I wouldn’t dream of ‘managing’ my husband, the marital imperative to get on has certainly meant I’ve given a lot of thought to how to best co-exist with these rare and beautiful creative thinking beings.

Why are they so hard to manage?
In contrast to their client service brethren, most planners tend not to be focused on their careers because they are much intrinsically interested in the work they do, endlessly looking at in the world and people and how it all fits together.  Ask them about their ability to manage upwards or broach the subject of money and they will tend to run for the hills.  Of course, many planners and strategists are commercially focused, but the nitty gritty of their own careers tends to be either of much less interest to or terrifies them.

Structurally there are fewer levels to traverse and for most planners the idea of running a department is about as appealing as producing a cost estimate in excel with pivot tables.  This means you can’t make the promotion or gaining power over people a reward and expect it to resonate

Thismy brain throws up quite the man management challenge for the industry to be able to successfully hire, motivate, engage and retain their best brains.  

How do you do it?
In short you have to be more imaginative, more empathetic and more gentle.

You have to listen and you have to ask the right questions.

You have to put in place ways of letting your sensitive and often introverted people speak their mind about themselves and what they want from life.  And believe me, it will be more about what they want from life than what they want from their illustrious career. 

Nearly all the planners I have met over the last 25 years have a vibrant and absorbing second string interest in their lives.  Usually this is something intellectually satisfying like studying for a Masters, writing a book or exploring remote tribes in a pith helmet (OK I made that last one up). 

They’re highly motivated by knowledge acquisition, help them feed this hunger. 

Consider what you can do that will meaningfully help them self-actualise because of all the people you employ, manage and lead, your planners will be the most likely to want to do this.  Consider asking them about their high-level ambitions for their own intellectual self-development. 

Give them things to think about, proper knotty problems about behaviour and attitudes.  Remember their work is their thinking not just the creative output or a better client relationship they contribute to.

Don’t ambush them by springing work on them at the last minute.  They aren’t robots, or slot machines you can pop a brief in and they’ll spit out a wonderful set of mind bending ‘Strategy’.   I met a planner the other day who told me that the agency she works in has a traffic system for planning work, it has transformed her ability to do a good job because she can manage expectations of how long it will take.  I think this a splendid idea, after all if it can be done for creatives why not planners?

And let’s not forget the emerging breed of strategists that have grown up with social and digital.  For them it is more about “what’s next”, “what’s new’ and “how can I innovate?”.  They will happily work on your cash cow clients but if you don’t let them loose on your quirky boundary pushing clients or let them do proactive work for pitches in this space as well, they will sure as eggs is eggs, up sticks as soon as you can say “LinkedIn Profile”.

A final plea
And one final plea with my ‘listening to so many exit interviews’ hat on.  Please, please don’t ask your planners and strategists be they data, CRM, brand, account, digital or UX to “find the insight in the data”.  It’s not in the data it’s in their heads.  It’s in their vision and hypotheses and the connections they make.  Sure, they can prove insights in the data but it doesn’t live in there.

If you’d like to know more about the practicalities of creating motivating work places for all your different and wonderful types of people, please get in touch with Sarah Barker for an initial chat  We welcome your feedback and discussion, please post your comments below.