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“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.”

These are the words famously uttered by Warren Buffet, and my word has the tide gone out. Some agencies are going to be very exposed.

Radical solutions have been proposed left, right and centre – to not only beat the pandemic, but to learn from it and build a more sustainable future. The agency world should do the same. My sincere belief is that the agencies that emerge with their modesty intact will be the ones that have truly focused on their most valuable asset: their people.

It is inevitable that many people, if not treated well, will become increasingly disenchanted and demotivated over the next few months. As client spend drops by up to 30%, the agencies that will emerge stronger than before will be those that can reform, sustained by cultures that are tough, unified and open to change.

People and culture were already important; now they have become business-critical. We will only succeed as an industry by strengthening the emotional bonds when the physical cease to be effective. I propose we use this opportunity to at least explore some more radical ideas – a truly people-first manifesto.

  • Having everyone’s voice heard in these uncertain times is critical. Boards should give representation to junior management at every other leadership meeting to create a mouthpiece for the masses and ensure all voices and challenges are heard.

  • While it’s impossible to put a value on it, colleagues’ happiness is a priority. Teams should be rewarded on agency values, employee engagement and happiness, rather than purely revenue.

  • Now may be the ideal time to nurture skills and invest in training. Make sure that learning and development become the last budgets to be cut instead of the first.

  • The standard command and control methods will no longer work. Allow people to feel empowered, trusted and educated by exploring flatter structures across your agency.

  • The camaraderie that is built in an office environment will be altered forever. Increase budgets to bring people together and focus on making the bonds between colleagues even closer to traverse greater physical distances.

  • What an agency represents will have to be truly meaningful. Give people greater opportunities to co-create a culture that drives them collectively towards higher achievement.

  • And if people are ultimately our product, the chief people officer must have a voice as important as that of the managing director. Bring them into the earliest point of any strategic discussion.

  • To be truly democratic across the entire agency, we should test giving employees a range of binding votes on matters such as setting the vision and values.

  • Make everyone an owner; whether large or small, having a stake in the business you work for changes the dynamic of the relationship between the employee and employer.

There is still a huge amount to do, but laying the foundations of open dialogue puts us in good stead for the future. As we seem to be turning a corner in this challenging new world, I wish all agencies the best to be successful in tackling what may come before us.

Emil Bielski, is UK managing director at Croud.