The Rapid Way to be Transformative? Be More Human.

Debbie Ellison headshot

We all want to transform business creatively. But why is transformation so difficult?

Especially as the last 18 months have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can respond successfully at the speed of light.

The pandemic impact has hit hard across people, technology, commercial models, investment and operations. Conversely it has activated a force of brilliantly innovative leaders, completely open to different ways of doing business, all operating in a highly pressurised vacuum of change.  

Yet, this has been a forced transformation and at a speed we’ve not experienced before.  The big question for creative businesses today is how do we continue to accelerate at a pace that keeps us agile and responsive to change?

The answer is to treat transformation as a journey that puts people at the centre of the business.

1.    Look for resilience and innovation in people

When we look to build our teams, we may have tunnel vision trying to spot specific and proven expertise.  The smart bet is to consider people who are comfortable with business change, who have brought new products and services to market and navigated teams successfully on that journey.  Not everyone adjusts well to change, but, in my view, iterative revolution not evolution is now intrinsic to the DNA of the most successful of businesses.  Build your high performing squads with this in mind.

2.    See technology as a differentiator, not your only USP

Technology can streamline processes, aggregate and analyse yottabytes of data, getting you to the right answers faster, it can now even help test creative.  What it cannot be is your only USP.  The People Need + Technology will be the winning combination, delivering great service, results and business standout.  Microsoft Teams launched in 2017, and by 2019 it had 13 million active users.  By April 2021 that number rose to 145m.  The need to work from home and to continue to be collaborative and productive spearheaded the platform to success. A beautiful example of tech being relevant and placing human need at the centre of its business.

3.    Protect your core, but spread bet the future

In my experience, businesses should regroup, go back to what they do well and find ways in to do it even better. Yet, that alone won’t result in transformational change.  To truly activate transformation, you need to look at new operational and commercial models to offer customers.  It’s the Blockbuster vs Netflix model.  The Uber vs Taxi. Identify, craft and provide products and services people don’t know they need yet.  Amazon cite one of its “peculiar ways” as being willing to make long-term investments—sometimes at the expense of short-term gain. Note the use of plural in that statement and people at the core.

4.    Commit to DE&I as a business imperative

Harvard reports that 70% of diverse companies are better positioned to capture new markets and increase profitability.  If businesses truly want to realise the benefits of transformation, they need to attract and retain diverse talent. Especially in creative industries where we act as mirror to society. According to Monster research, 86% of candidates strongly value diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and 62% of people admitted they might turn down a job offer if the company culture didn’t support a diverse workforce. Build it and transformation will come.

5.    Humanise your approach, both across your business and beyond

The pandemic has changed what we value at a human level.  A recent Accenture survey reveals that 50% of consumers say the pandemic caused them to rethink their personal purpose and re-evaluate what’s important in life. 80% of people believe that brands should be more active in making the world a better place.  My 24-year-old daughter, for one, ruthlessly examines ethical and sustainability credentials behind a brand before she decides to purchase. Achieving real business change will be a result of putting people first and making business more human centred.
For businesses to be truly transformative, simply being seen to step change will only go so far.  Businesses need to respond to what people value, they need to do better by the communities and people which they serve, their own people and humanity needs to be at the centre of all that they do. The door is open, let’s all step inside.

- Debbie Ellison is global chief creative officer at VMLY&R COMMERCE

Originally published in LIA.