Mark Pollard: Why are so many leaders scared of improving their people?

Sweathead - Mark Pollard AI

“Training dares strategists and planners to take themselves further, and validates their value”

By Mark Pollard, CEO and founder of Sweathead

It’s easy to assume that training and development are part of the package of being a permanent employee, a guaranteed perk of the job. But in agency life this is rarely the case.

Right now, as budgets contract and agencies battle to balance the books, it’s no surprise that training budgets are falling off completely. But with burnout on the rise, a talent shortage, and cost of living impacting how far someone’s salary stretches, agencies need to work harder to keep their strategy and planning teams happy, or risk them leaving the company, or worse the industry, altogether.

In tight economic times, middle managers with experience are likely to face redundancies leaving younger employees without proper guidance, and that’s a tough place to be.

Whatsmore, people often get promoted too quickly, or too young, and are not being trained properly. They’re expected to fulfil a post they were never trained to do. Also, people rarely receive management training and don’t know how to manage teams. This can lead to toxicity and unhappy workplaces with vague leadership expectations.

Why is training so important?  

Learning and development is an easy win. It makes people feel valued at times when salaries are rarely rising with inflation, while also ensuring they’re better skilled. It supports people to scale new professional heights and reach their potential.

Strategists and planners want to feel like they’re progressing at all rungs of the professional ladder. Being offered the training they need to feel like they are growing, developing and can confidently do their jobs is a sure fire way to instil confidence, sending the message that, yes, we the company believes in you.

Learning is rarely just about learning. Training shows people that they matter and allows for time and space to connect and share ideas, while  getting to know their colleagues better on deeper, less superficial levels.

It helps to combat impostor syndrome. More people than not feel like professional frauds, and this comes down to not having the skills and experience to feel they can adequately do their job.

Training dares strategists and planners to take themselves further, and validates their value.

And it brings people and teams together. 

Better skilled people lead to creating better work which is, afterall, why agencies exist – to create the best creative work that they can for clients, underpinned by onpoint strategy. Many agencies continue to deliver mediocre work that isn’t meeting the brand’s objectives, and they aren’t questioning why enough. Could learning and development help people do better work? Why, of course.

Training is a nice carrot to get people into the office. It signals the positive sides of office life, and collaboration.

Training means people are working together. And having people do stuff together means they recognise the value of actually sitting at their desks banging out ideas, working through strategic and creative processes, which can foster the best creative ideas.

But our recent Sweathead report What Strategists Want From Work found that many strategists and planners don’t feel they’re learning and growing in their role, or being given the support in order to progress.

So why is training undervalued and under-resourced?

Alongside shrinking budgets there are other reasons.

When somebody puts their hand up for training, it can be a sign that they’re frustrated, ambitious, or seeking change. Essentially that they might be ready to leave. This can make managers suspicious. 

People then feel reluctant to ask for training in case it signals that they’re  ready to move on.

How to tailor training to today’s teams

Hybrid working requires different ways to work but people aren’t receiving support in order to manage the balance of office and home-working life like how to brainstorm and work collaboratively with those they don’t see physically day-to-day. So this is a great place to start.

For someone wanting to learn, they need to believe the training is personally significant to them. It needs to connect with their own sense of personal purpose, so leaders can ask people to define this before they decide on a training programme for them.

Ideally, training is a mix of in person and online. Research into teaching suggests that presence is one of the top elements that makes education effective, and true presence is difficult to deliver online. And there’s much to be gained from in person interactions. Training is a great opportunity for meaningful IRL experiences.

Most professionals don’t practise what they do outside of work, whether it’s pitching to a client or coming up with new ideas. So bringing people together for training is a great space to let them practise together. Deliberately practising a skill, or task has been shown to help people improve at a faster rate.

So really training may cost a company, but the outcomes will pay dividends. In the end an agency’s talent is its greatest asset, people are worth investing in.

Mark Pollard is the founder and CEO of Sweathead, a global strategy training company with a community of over 18,000 strategists worldwide and a podcast with over 1.3 million listens.

Pollard’s media career has seen him go from hip-hop journalist to radio host and now, a strategist. His career in strategy started in his native Australia before moving stateside, working for companies including Leo Burnett, Big Spaceship, and McCann. Pollard’s work with the global strategy training company has seen him consult for and train companies like Wall Street Journal, Twitter, The Economist, and agencies around the globe.

Top image: Mark Pollard

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