President & CEO, Vision7 International / Chair of NewCo Canada's advisory board
The marketing communications industry is a people oriented business and our currency is the ideas our employees come to work with everyday. And yet, it was my venture outside the marketing world that taught me my most valuable lesson about people.
After leading the "I am Canadian rant" campaign, I left Molson Breweries to pursue something entirely different – a startup focused on what today would be recognized as visualization software.
It was a step into relatively uncharted territory for me, but I was comforted by a singular vision to create a perfect product. That was my guiding light.
Many successful companies obsess about perfection. Some of today's corporate titans are famous (and even infamous) for a commitment to perfection. Armed with that goal, a small band of colleagues and I went to work on joining their ranks.
Early success followed – we grew quite rapidly from four employees to 40 in just six months. We were laser-focused on improving our product; updating the software and releasing new iterations on a monthly basis. Anyone that goes through the process of almost completely rebuilding a product from the ground up every month will attest to the strain it creates. We felt strongly that our success hinged entirely on the quality of our offering.
We were only partly right.
Yes, our product needed to be perfect, but what about all those people we were hiring? Where was the quality control there? Looking back, we simply didn't appreciate that we needed to be as uncompromising in establishing best-in-class human-resource policies as we were in our pursuit to create the best software.
We needed people to help us build the plane as we flew it, and they needed to genuinely feel as though they had a vested interest in our goals. Our greatest failing wasn't that we couldn't articulate our vision; it was that we didn't let others articulate theirs.
That experience has shaped human-resources policies at Vision7 International, the holding company for Cossette Communications, Citizen Relations PR, V7 Media and the digital/advertising agency network The Camps Collective. At Vision7, employees are assets to be leveraged, rather than commodities to be deployed.
This concept is also a major tenet of today's NewCos – the new companies that are fundamentally unrecognizable from the OldCos (old companies) that preceded them. Google, Facebook, Airbnb and others all prioritize talent.
NewCos challenge traditional paradigms of how a company should operate. Talent management is one area, and there are others.
NewCos forgo mass consumerism and embrace markets of one at scale and continually introduce product/service iterations rather than adhere to a 12-month development cycle. They also prioritize the flow of information over expropriating raw materials, favour trust-based management styles over hierarchical ones and are driven by purpose and profit in equal measures. NewCos are the complete opposite of companies born from the Industrial Revolution in every way.
These NewCo fundamentals also provide the blueprint for how to manage the next generation of talent. Flexible human-resources policies that address individual needs are better than a one-size-fits-all approach, and more frequent performance check-ins with timely examples of progress toward professional-development goals echo the constant development cycles common to NewCos. It's also important to trust your employees and give them room to contribute ideas, and you'll find they are especially motivated to do that if you can convey a grander sense of purpose.
NewCos are changing the way we do business and will usher in a new era of industry (and clients), which is why I'm helping to bring the NewCo Festival to Canada with an initial stop in Toronto on September 13-14.
Companies that are intrinsically built on NewCo principles will leapfrog established organizations – and do so with ease. Just look at how Uber has disrupted the taxi industry. But even if your business isn't discoverable through the latest app, it can still benefit from adopting human-resource policies based on the NewCo blueprint.
The spark that ignites the next phase of your company's evolution is unlikely to come from a material discovery. You can't drill for intelligence, mine for creativity or build curiosity. That's why it's important to emphasize the value of human capital over working capital. The degree to which you invest there – on people – is a better indicator of how successful you'll be.
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.