Leadership Lessons with... Jake Davis, Managing Partner, Langland

This month we spoke to Jake Davis, Managing Partner, Public Relations & Policy, at Langland. Jake shared his thoughts on building and sustaining company culture, adapting to changing employee demands, and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the healthcare communications workforce.

Jake Davis

After two years of leading organisations remotely, what have you learned about virtual leadership?

It is possible to do it, and do it well.

We have learned different things at different points in time over the past 2-3 years, as opposed to one single thing. 2020 was all about nurturing – we were in a situation we had never been in before, and from my perspective it was all about how we helped the team. While we always want to be nurturing as a business, this went beyond the professional and was about how we helped individuals in their very different situations. We had to take on an almost custodian role – where we’d previously been having catch-ups every couple of weeks, we changed to team meetings twice a week. Employees were encouraged to talk with their line managers as often as needed and suddenly the intersection between personal and professional changed massively.

In 2021 we developed more of a tailored approach to leadership. We asked ourselves how we could move from surviving in this new reality, to thriving in it. It was, again, looking at the individuals in the business and asking how we could best support their unique circumstances. This year has been about how to embed all of our learnings and get to the point where we can sustain momentum in a hybrid/virtual world. And, critically, making sure that the team understand how they can succeed in this environment.

How is remote/hybrid working affecting your company culture and what can leaders do to sustain culture for remote teams?

It’s a real challenge: how do you maintain the culture that you had before the pandemic and evolve it for a post-pandemic working environment? For me, it’s about making the moments of connection as impactful as possible and Publicis Groupe guiding principles ‘Heads Up, Heads Down, Heads Together’ support that. Heads Down is when you’re working from home, Heads Together is when you come into the office to do the specific things that you need to do as a group or for professional development, and Heads Up is for those regular touch points like team meetings, or training which can be done either in person or virtually.

The crucial thing is to make sure that the ‘in person’ time is as impactful and valuable as possible – because we have fewer of those moments now than we did before. That means making sure that people are sitting with their peers when they’re in the office, ensuring that line management chats are happening face to face where possible, but also that those essential social elements are happening. These opportunities to connect make the office a destination. But it’s at moments of intersection that culture really thrives - it’s the conversations that end up saving you from wasting time on work that was in the wrong direction, changing strategy in the kitchen whilst getting a coffee, improving team dynamics, seeing a colleague who needs a fresh perspective on a challenge and being able to help, making connections that lead to great new ideas.

It's also about making sure that those who can’t make it into the office as often or to team socials feel seen, recognised and involved. It’s about being flexible and continuing to engage the team and listen to their needs and expectations of the company culture to ensure that we are still all in it together, even if we are not all physically in the same location.

Employee demands are changing beyond salary and benefits. What changes are you seeing and how can leaders meet these evolving expectations? 

The one thing that I think everyone is looking for is flexibility. Everyone wants to have their career shaped around their lives and aspirations – it’s bizarre to now think that we were in the office five days per week before the pandemic. More so than ever, people are looking for a work/life balance and now you can have it in a way that’s different to how you could ever imagine it before. It’s about understanding what the individual wants in terms of their working pattern and working style and building the role around that but understanding that the business also has needs. We’ve seen a departure from London being the only place you can live if you want to work in a healthcare comms agency but what we need is people to be open and honest about what they want when they’re at interview stage. We are flexible in a way that I could not have imagined in 2019 but in order to pivot and accommodate employee needs we need to know from the outset what those needs might be.

With an increasing focus on workplace mental health, how have you seen the industry supporting the wellbeing of its employees?

A lot of our clients are very involved in mental health and it’s something that we take very seriously as an agency. One of the great stresses in our industry is that we are in client service and that naturally means that there are times when deadlines are short and sometimes unexpected.

One of the good things about the pandemic was that everyone was in the same storm – those on both sides of the client/agency relationship were experiencing the same challenges and at Langland we seized that opportunity to have an open dialogue with our clients about expectations, which set a level playing field and demonstrated how we were taking our team and clients’ mental health seriously.

I have always been impressed by the mental health resources we have at Langland, which include mental health ambassadors, helplines, and support networks that employees can tap into. We very much encourage people to take advantage of these resources and cascade that messaging down through the business.

And whilst resources are fantastic, it’s also incredibly important to lead by example day in, and day out. Allow teams to take a breath (we have meeting free lunchtimes and Fridays to carve out ‘maker’ and ‘me’ time), reject the notion that working from home means ‘always-on’, encourage people to create new boundaries and step away for some downtime when needed.  We have seen success in this area and that is because it comes from the top and we all adhere to those rules.

Post the ‘Great Resignation’ era, what challenges do you think leaders face in 2022?

I think that the challenges may change, but the implications of those challenges remain the same. As a leader you are in a constant cycle of ensuring you have the right size and shape team, and that those people are happy and content, and feel that they are growing in their role and moving forward. We are in an industry that doesn’t have enough good talent and that is a problem that is going to remain for a long time. Until we start doing things differently, we’re always going to have massive gaps. Couple this with the general uncertainty we are all living with daily I think there is still a bumpy path ahead. The biggest challenges in the industry used to be foreseeable – patent cliffs being one example. Now, the biggest challenges we face are things we have no control over – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, a looming recession. The challenges are not going to go away overnight, so the focus for me is how we support our people and our clients through it all.

What do you think are the key qualities needed from leaders in 2022?

I think that there are three key qualities needed in leaders and the first is resilience. Everyone’s resilience has been challenged over the last three years but having the skills to pivot, find solutions and expect the unexpected is essential. Compassion is also hugely important. We need to cultivate a nurturing culture and be understanding of people’s own personal circumstances and the challenges that they might be facing. And finally, humour. A massive dollop of it to enable you to help your team see the lighter side of every situation. Humour gets you through and also makes you human and allows you to offer some perspective that, at the end of the day, it’s just a job.

What skill sets do you think businesses within healthcare communications will be looking for now and in the coming years?

For me, it’s not so much a skill set that you need but more the mindset that you have. A lot can be taught and learnt but people ultimately need to be inquisitive and curious and authentic. Over the last few years, we have learnt so much around diversity and inclusion, and ultimately healthcare communications needs to be for everyone. We need people who are authentic, open and represent the different communities that we are trying to reach with our communications - and that means people from different backgrounds who have different life experiences and perspectives.

What are your company’s objectives for Diversity and Inclusion in 2022 and what do you think leaders can do to drive diversity and inclusion within the workplace?

Firstly, we all have to admit that we’re not doing this well enough and acknowledge that more needs to be done across the entire industry. Whatever we do from a DE&I perspective needs to be 365 days a year, otherwise it feels rather superficial and like we’re just ticking a box. We need to look at how we tap into different networks and demographics to find the individuals who will diversify our workforce. It’s also about looking at how we set people up for success when they do enter the business and ensuring that they have the support necessary to help them thrive. Equality helps you find certain individuals, whereas equity allows you to equip them – it’s important to do both well.

We have several Progressive practices (anonymised CVs for applicant screening, unconscious bias training, grassroots initiatives) and policies (Family Friendly, Menopause, Disability, Domestic abuse, Trans inclusion, Carers & guardians) in place and these are all a great step forward. We have also introduced a new Early Careers programme that is a complete departure from the norm – with CVs axed and every application based on passion and potential. As we already discussed, healthcare communications needs more talented individuals, and so we need to be out there looking in different places and actively encouraging people to want to be part of this brilliant, fun industry. Healthcare touches everyone and is incredibly personal, therefore, different people will have different perspectives based on who they are – we need to bring those people in, for the sake of our business, our clients and, ultimately, outcomes in healthcare.

Posted on 20.09.2022

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