COVID revealed the gaps in our knowledge, and we’re all better for it

While the world saw a crisis in COVID, Tangram managing partner Helen Johnson saw an opportunity - but only if we are willing to learn from it.

One of our industry’s great strengths is adapting to changing requirements: client requirements, competitors and the constantly changing media landscape – and 2020 has served up plenty of challenges for us to adapt to.

For many agencies, platforms were already in place to allow us to easily transition to working from home. Cloud-based architectures have kept files, processes, collaboration and projects ticking along.

If this had happened ten years ago, we may have been in a very different situation, but we have evolved with our technology and for some, without even realising it.

COVID has vastly increased the reliance on technology; management systems need to be a reliable source of self-service information.

Waiting for a monthly reporting pack doesn’t cut it for the speed projects need to move at. And so, during COVID, the lack of accurate, real-time, business information at an agency’s fingertips has become much more apparent. All of this has shone a light on a very specific gap that has always been there: training.

Learning, learning, learning

Now that most of us can’t tap a colleague on a shoulder for some help, or walk across and ask a question, how do we continue to develop knowledge and skills in the more commercial and operational aspects of an agency?

With Zoom fatigue being a very real challenge and 100 unread threads on your Slack channel, an ad hoc approach emerges sub-standard. Agency folk are expected to learn by collaboration and experience…

For many topics this works well, but what about the more technical skills that so often get swept aside?

Developing operational skillsets

The gap in evolving some of these skills is more apparent when we are all in separate buildings, chasing answers from our management systems.

In particular, financial acumen, commercial and project management skills, and knowledge of the technologies that help us deliver projects on time and budget.

Particularly in our market, we rely on everyone knowing the same shortlist of incumbent technologies. This creates a very real risk of assuming people know how to operate effectively through these systems.

Even on those platforms, I’ve sat next to finance staff who aren’t sure where numbers are coming from. In these cases, how can the account and project management teams – who negotiate price, review costs, and accurately scope projects – be expected to hold their own?

Of course, I’m generalising. We work with some brilliant agencies who have recognised these challenges and put things in place to address them, setting up robust and ongoing training programs and skills development initiatives.

Those that have developed WFH-friendly initiatives will certainly continue past COVID to better equip their staff in the future. But what about those who haven’t, who still have staff frantically scrolling through figures and tabs to make sense of them?

What can agency leaders do today to set up these critical skills for the future?

Recognise different people learn differently

  • Learning happens in a multitude of ways and is a very personal characteristic. Learning programs needs to provide variety, from documenting the way you work for those that learn by reading, to interactive training for new employees and those that learn through discussion. Provide hands-on learning for those who like to get stuck in. Provide dedicated time and space for people to ask questions and nominate operational champions who can help guide those people.

Make training part of peoples’ job roles

  • Just because someone has come from a similar agency or used the same tool, doesn’t mean you can skip the teaching aspect.
  • Leverage the knowledge of your best people and task them with being a part of your agency’s learning and development platform.

It’s not a one-off

  • Just like creative, strategy or code skills, project management, management technology and commercial skills don’t just get taught once. Knowledge and skills are developed through time, experience and changing circumstances. Put ongoing programs in place that develop and grow these skills.

While COVID has exposed the gaps in our knowledge, acknowledging the problem is the first step to moving forward. Our working landscape is not a fixed point, so we must be willing to learn, adapt and grow in order to effectively manage our projects, clients and budgets.

Helen Johnson a managing partner at Tangram.


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