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The Modern Workplace and Why Values Matter

January 21, 2022

Helping the next generation of creative minds find fulfilment and alignment through transparent conversations

Happiness in the workplace has a lot to do with an alignment of values. Unsurprisingly, Forbes1 points to it as the most significant factor impacting job satisfaction. The tricky thing is that personal values are fluid, ever evolving. Attaining alignment is like trying to hit a bullseye on a moving target - difficult but feasible. Getting it right every time is a tall order. 

Joe Sen, Head Strategy Monk of Media.Monks SEA, has it dialled in. This media and advertising company aims to change the industry for the good. Joe contributes to this directly on a daily basis using his experience with some of the world’s most recognisable brands such as Disney, Google and Visa to nurture the next generation of creative minds. He takes us through their journey of finding fulfilment and alignment through transparent conversations. 

Regenerative Approach to Talent

Few companies can still offer careers spanning decades. Most offer jobs. Attitudes towards long term employment simply have changed. A recent survey of millennials and Gen Zs showed that their job loyalty peaked during the pandemic and even then, half of millennials saw themselves moving on within two years.2 Knowing that staff may not be with us for very long, Joe says “You've got to change the way you ask a team member to sacrifice and you've also got to look at leadership as a service”. 

People are a finite resource and Joe acknowledges that businesses are, to a great extent, shaped by their people. If a company wants to accomplish much in a short period, serious thought needs to go into maximising the potential of each individual contributor. To do this, satisfaction, growth and performance must be within reach of employees in immediate terms. Joe sees the process as a balancing act, one of managing tension. In the words of his fomer colleague: When you're too relaxed, your work is terrible. When you're too tense, your work is equally terrible. Joe recommends circulating staff through different projects. There has to be a mix between those that offer a good measure of fun and those that require more grit. Tasks and projects that are tougher need to be reframed, put in the context of a growth narrative, so that staff are motivated to see them through. 

Joe’s strategy is not a clever rouse to get employees to swallow organisational goals as if they were bitter pills. He lets us in on a secret saying “something clients don't realise is we might be selecting work based on how that nurtures our talent as well.” Jobs that drain the life out of teams will cause organisations to lose people which isn’t good for business. Joe understands that they may lose some accounts in the short term but choosing projects with the wellbeing and growth of their teams in mind allows them to stay competitive and turn out better work consistently. The perspective mirrors the ethos of regenerative business and it’s a refreshing take. Managing human capital with care and intention is a force multiplier and an essential ingredient to businesses truly giving back more than they take. 

Keeping Values Aligned

Aligning values is a continuous process. It helps a great deal to start with a baseline, as early as the recruitment process. Joe begins by asking questions to unpack the motivations of candidates, including interns. Find out what inspires them, what they know about your business and why they’re drawn to the industry. Skill sets still matter but upweight passion for and interest in being part of the bigger picture. From there, it’ll become a match making exercise, pairing up people and projects to help teams lean into interests and leverage their strengths. 

There is no one size fits all approach to keeping teams singing from the same hymn sheet. Things will vary with different organisational structures, business models, project life cycles, products and services but it all boils down to tracking goals. Joe clarifies that it’s more than just KPIs. He stresses the importance of having real conversations fleshing out individual, team and organisational goals. These are different from performance discussions which largely tackle how a person ladders up in the team or organisation. Too often, leaders neglect to pose meaningful questions to their staff to explore personal development. What are your career ambitions? Why? What attracts you to those roles? Who would you want to work for?  

Realistically, a leader’s span of control might not permit them to go on this journey with each team member. If that’s the case, consider how your staff can get the attention they need from another source. This can be particularly challenging in flat organisations. Joe suggests that leaders create structures for coaching. For example, deputising experienced staff to act as coaches for junior team members or establishing a buddy system can create space for these conversations to happen. These systems work as guardrails that prevent people from falling off the wagon or being neglected in their tenure with you. 

Investing in the personal development of those we lead is hardly an altruistic exercise. As people you’ve mentored go on to pursue new opportunities in the industry, they become an extension of your brand. Done right, it creates a sense of assurance for future employers (and sometimes clients) that these individuals have been vetted and trained for the industry. This reflects positively on a leader and their company. They develop over time and we continue to carry the people we’ve nurtured as part of our network, even as we move across roles and organisations. 

Nuances for First-timers

There are few entry-level roles when it comes to strategy making it a particularly hard career path to get on. As most opportunities are mid or high-level positions, people would start in other areas of business like account servicing or creatives and work their way up from there.  

This came to Joe’s attention a few years back and as someone constantly on the lookout for talent, he set out to carve out space for fresh graduates. Feedback from the industry indicated that internships would make these new hires more appealing for junior positions so in 2015, Joe set up a programme. He tells us a bit about what he’s learned from running it over the past few years. 

Welcoming fresh graduates into the fold comes with some caveats. For one, they need to shift their mindset and get accustomed to not being the focal point. Unlike the academic setting that often caters to their learning needs, work will not adjust its pace to accommodate them. Joe correctly points out that whether you get it or not work still needs to go out. Stepping into a high-performance environment means they need to cast their focus on the job. Colleagues are neither professors nor taskmasters so if they can’t trust the freshie to get things done, less work goes their way. It’d be wise to maintain resourcing to keep the wheels turning as if interns weren’t part of the workforce. In the early stages, Joe finds that they’ll be speaking to interns about their linguistic register and the different modes of delivery but they eventually contribute back to that. Around the halfway mark, interns start introducing some of their thoughts and perspectives. If they’re performing really well, they inject themselves into the job, taking ownership of certain projects and proposals. 

Joe’s internship programme has a no coffee, no photocopy rule. Instead of being the stereotypical gofers doing menial tasks, interns here are given real opportunities to hone their skills. After about two weeks of training, they start interacting with live work and projects. In his discipline, interns begin learning about research methods, information sources and quantitative and qualitative analysis. A team comprised of people in insight and strategy support them. The approach is effective and the proof is in the pudding - he has a 100% success rate with interns. They return to school, or are placed in jobs in the case of graduates. Joe’s amusement is apparent as he thinks of instances when press releases have gone out making it sound like someone’s poached a strategist when the reality’s that these agencies offered their former interns jobs. 

Final thoughts:

Joe’s cracked the code to balancing organisation goals with personal. He’s created a system for maximising the contribution of individuals at different levels by tapping into their values and sources of fulfilment. 

  • Consider accepting projects and accounts based on how it nurtures your talent. Work that makes your team come alive will bring out the best in them and create great results for the business. 
  • Regularly check in with individuals to see how they’re progressing against personal, team and organisational goals.
  • Create space and opportunities for new talent to grow and find their voice. 



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