Start from zero, and connect the ‘right’ dots. #Asays

Don’t run after labels. Instead, create labels of success at every step. | PC: Insta/@arifkhan7

Hello there, ‘sup? It’s been quite some time here and trust me my work hasn’t allowed me to blog, which often ate me from within. But I have an ocean of experience to share this time, so sit back, and grab something to much on. Before I begin, have you watched the LEGO Batman movie? This movie has all the life lessons you need to cope, focus and move ahead. You must, GO. And here’s why? I’ll tell you in a bit how I used something from this in one of our team meetings.

Let’s roll back to November 2016; in my last role as a Digital Planner at Cheil India I was doing well helping my set of clients lead on digital, undertook several new pitches, award projects, etc. I was in a rather comfortable position and everything seemed sorted, yet something was missing — the excitement of creating new things. And that’s oxygen for me. While I was planning, I wasn’t exactly creating which would often make me feel that I’m under-utilizing my creative energy and it’s trapped somewhere deep inside. I would often bring it out but was once questioned “Why are Planners thinking Creative?” which was a kind of a letdown. In fact one evening I jokingly asked my then Boss if I could move to Creative? He smiled back. (BTW, I’ve actually received a job offer for a Creative Lead role). Sometimes it gets tough to explain but that’s alright as long as you have enough on your plate and are doing well.

Fast forward to January 2017; there were some changes planned because of some past movements. My Super Boss, gave me the mandate of h̶e̶a̶d̶i̶n̶g̶, wait I’d rather call it as building and strengthening the social practice at Cheil India. For me, this was a unique opportunity to advance from strategy to the implementation side, aka creation in my mind. It was a new challenge for me as all these years I was a part of small team units where we could give all our time, effort and energy to assigned projects, prioritize work and perform. And then, things changed suddenly — it was as if a whole bunch of new responsibilities came crashing down with a ‘thud’ on me, and now I not only had the responsibility of my own work but also that of 10 other colleagues reporting to me. I don’t think this was a jump, it was rather a shift of sorts. In fact, one colleague questioned “Why did you take up this role? There’s too much to-and-fro and running around, and you’ll end up getting frustrated.” Sure, point taken but all I could recollect that moment was what a senior colleague once told the younger me in my first job “If everything was in place, why’d we be here?” It made full sense to me. Without challenges, we can never grow. I’m very grateful to my current boss for throwing this role to me. He himself, is a creative thinker and I had a good understanding of where he wants to take digital in 2017. Social was the li’l baby I got. Did it worry me? Not really as I discussed my plans and asked for some time to reorganize and put the house in order. If we wanted to build something greater, then I had to seamlessly step in, and let go of my past baggage and accomplishments. Here, it was a new team waiting for me, with a different way of operating, carrying different expectations. And just like how I used to do with my Lego assembly all these years — it was time to start from zero, and connect the right dots. For this, I put down three goals for self.

Goal 1: Getting the house in order.

Hello Week 1, January 2017. It’s not that anyone was new to me and I’ve worked with most of the social team colleagues in the past, if not all but now it was a different thing — as I had to take ownership of everyone’s work, and output. And, that was heavy. I decided to spend good time listening to all my team members one by one and take stock of the good things — not so good —and their pain points. All this while, being transparent definitely helped in making my team comfortable and open up so that I could get to the root-cause of prevailing issues. In fact, we have ‘The Glass Room’ where you’ll often find me with some team, it helps.

During this time, my little letternote diary on which I have “do epic shit” engraved, became my best friend and I would often take notes and scribble possible solutions. It’s like my satellite brain going around everywhere with me. Within a week of the announcement, everyone came crashing down to me with their truck load of problems one after the other, compounded with a few informing me of their decision to move on. It was actually a tough start. Coincidentally I was receiving a lot of job offers too perhaps due to an excellent 2016, however I chose to stay, dig, and take on problems one by one. I’m a firm believer of spending some good time at one place, and in turn producing high-quality work to leave a mark. I call this, to #BuildAwesome. Now, it was the time to ensure the team too has solid directions and builds awesome in 2017. Challenges, here I come!

Within a week, I realized there were too many interactions, emails, meetings crossing over and it was getting difficult to keep a track of everything. So with my Six Sigma green belt experience from my first job, I decided to create a Social WorkView — a living document of sorts which the team would update every Tuesday and which in turn served as a central reference point and provide a one-view of all the campaigns running along with what stage they are at, flagged green (steady) or red (requires attention).

Social WorkView to track multiple projects in one-view (illustration).

On first count, there were 9 open projects and I’m not even counting the smaller/topical stuff. I would carry this print wherever I’d go and my Client Servicing and Creative partners would be stunned how I stay updated with most things. No matter how small, this was some good start.

It took me almost two weeks to absorb what’s happening around and while I was doing everything I missed working standalone like in my earlier role as a Planner where I had a control over my work. Here, there were too many dependencies — Planning, Servicing, Listening, Media, Creative, and our beloved Client. It became like one giant maze in my head with constant flow never ending information. To give you a sense of things, the average number of emails I would receive in December 2016 were 40–60 a day which shot up to 120–150 a day in February 2017. Not kidding, that’s almost 3–4X and it’s just rising. And I’m not someone who skips emails as I read all emails, which means more processing, and more time. It was crazy AF.

As we were in January 2017, it also meant coming up with the Social Strategies of 2017 for almost all clients one after the othe. This was a herculean task and now I had some 13–14 clients in front of me. The only way I could drive this was by giving adequate time to all teams one by one where I’d listen to them, discuss, jot down directions and draft actionables on the white board, and move to the next team. It was a stretch, and I was prepared.

But, there were calming agents too like my Boss. He’s one of the most practical and realistic thinkers I’ve ever worked it and would often call for a small chat when he’d spot me running around, and end with some inspiration. One evening, he told me “don’t be afraid to make mistakes”. That was the best advice ever, as it also reflects the trust you have in your employees and their capabilities. Once again, thank you Sanjeev!

Goal 2: In search of 5 creative gems in 2017.

Now that I moved into Social, I could freely talk and work with Creative in the most effective way. There’s always something to learn from these guys, and I value their patience and creativity a lot. I’m all for creativity — and its one reason why I moved from the client to the agency side back in 2014. I feel so restless in typical marketing roles where you sit back at your workstations, order tea and snacks, and watch YouTube videos. That’s just so not me.

Here, we have a separate Social Creative team which creates content for social. They’ve been working for quite some time; however I realized that because of the work overload, the quality of output was not always 100. Now, I’m quite strict and can be brutal too when it comes to being a 90 or 100. If it’s 90, it’s a 90 and not a 100. If we were to champion social for our clients in 2017, then this team was my key bridge between social and the final output. I decided to sit with the team and took them through the 2017 vision in their language — much more simpler and with many references. It turned out to be a long meeting with many discussion areas, especially around creative formats, new content and what the best brands are doing right. From that day, I’ve really seen more energy, enthusiasm and better creative outputs. In fact, for the Republic Day topical content I rejected two different creative outputs before the third one finally went up. They now know, what I seek. And I seek what they know & beyond. I understand not every creative will receive high-engagement, however I’ve asked each member of the team to produce at least 5 gems in 2017, i.e. ‘moonshot’ pieces of content which will hit the roof.

Now, the team feels much more inspired and I know one day they will give me those 5 gems. It’s only a matter of time. In this quest, at least the level of commitment has shot up from where we started. I make it a point to keep meeting them whenever I’m going by their bay, off to refill my water, or just like that. The constant discussions around the copy, creative style, shapes, text overlays, mobile action keeps us involved and I’ve assured the team that they can walk up to me anytime for issues or inputs. Being accessible to the team has worked well, & built trust among ourselves. In fact, I find patterns — some like emailing to me, some will walk up, some DM me on twitter at mignight, while a few also Instagram IM me. They know, all lines of communication are open with me and this comforts them. And, this shall only get better.

Goal 3: Bringing the A-team together.

It’s been 50 days in my new role and I realized being a boss is certainly no joke. *Respect* to all my bosses till date. Now, it’s not just work alone but you have to deal with a whole world of problems your team may face, right from their leaves, admin stuff, training requirements, and even resignations along with their proper handovers. While we have a steady team out here, it became my responsibility to ensure that the replacements who join our team were optimistic, brought diverse skill sets, tremendous energy and were a good fit for the growing team. While individually they may be sound, I had to figure out their degrees of collaboration — a must for our success. Thus, started our search for Social, Community, SEO, ORM & Influencer Marketing roles.

For me, every new recruit had to be nothing less than a superhero in his/er domain (blame it on my visualization of individuals. I can be found imagining a few of you in capes, masks with flowing powers!). In my interviews with them I told them that their JD is one word — “Creators.” Whatever the role be, I was looking for creators. This was very critical for me as I couldn’t afford to hamper an already stable team with below average talent. I had to bring the best, for the best in here and that was priority for Jan — Mar 2017. This exercise was nothing short of bringing an A-team together and was all about connecting the ‘right’ dots. And this would work in everyone’s interest. Who wouldn’t want to work with those who bring fresh energy, creativity and are here to create (oh, I love this line by adidas!).

If I’m not mistaken then I think I’ve taken 10 interviews at office for various roles including 3 more in early rounds who later declined to join. And, the interesting part here is that one recruit has come via LinkedIn, one via Twitter, one on way via Twitter-Snapchat, another via Facebook, and one semi-via Instagram. That covers almost 90% of the landscape! Can a social guy ask for anything more? While we didn’t have multiple openings for every profile, I must say most of the folks whom I interviewed were talented and displayed high levels of enthusiasm. If you’re reading this, then thank you for coming — it really was great knowing you. And just by chance if you didn’t make it — don’t worry. You should not give up. Just focus, & do great work. There must be something better planned for you. That’s how I always believed.

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Last week, we had two new joinees and our #SocialSquad is growing big which means I’ll have to up the number of interactions in order to bring some method to the madness. For me, the squad is a matrix of specialists coming together with their expertise, energy and enthusiasm with a common goal of doing great work.

In our team meeting last week, I popped out a my Lego Batwing piece and asked everyone what they thought about it — to which some said “it looks great”, “wow, seems to fly high”, “can I have it?” (Nope, to the last one!), and later broke the pieces and dropped them on the floor. Everyone looked shockingly as if I’m gone mad but I was trying to tell that “the Batwing looks awesome when all the blocks are together. You are my blocks, and unless we unit, we can’t create something better.” I think — they got me. And a few of them later reverted with “Loved the way you presented this whole block thing. Really inspired to think in a different way.” Inspiration? Much.

In all this, the greatest pleasure is to see your team get kicked about mapping what’s new and digging deep, identifying the endless possibilities on social, brainstorming to unlock new ideas, constantly cross-learning from each other, and collectively grow as one unit. We’ve moved from zero to ten, and still ninety more to go . Despite the challenges, I’m confident we’ll pull this off. Off-late, I hear many positive voices echoing within the organization and good things being talked about the team. Whether I’m around tomorrow or not, I’m hopeful that this team has the right firepower to create for the future, and clearly the best time to work in Cheil’s #SocialSquad is now.

Let’s start creating.


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