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Leadership Lessons with Mike Robb, Co-CEO of Boldspace

How planning is more crucial than ever, implementing tactics to move the needle on DE&I, and how to attract clients with a committed ESG strategy. We recently spoke with Mike Robb, Co-CEO and Founder of Boldspace about his leadership style and journey with the agency.

Take a look.
What do you see as the key role of a CEO or MD, and how do you think this has changed from previous years?

The CEO and MD roles are very different. And ultimately, it comes down to three key factors:

Firstly, people. It is your job at the top of the business to hire the best people, retain the best people, motivate them and drive that culture of achieving great things. Whether it be work or growth or anything in between. For me, that sits with a CEO. If you want to hire the best people, you need to be seeing the best people.

Secondly, planning. It's not rocket science but clear planning and business management, and having that crystal ball to see what's on the horizon in the market in the next 6-12 months, that's key.

Thirdly, the CEO drives change. Organisations constantly need to evolve, particularly as there are new agencies coming up all the time with different ways of working and thinking. So as a CEO, it's driving that change, then securing the internal buy-in to bring your people with you.

What do you think are the key qualities needed for leaders to thrive today?

Empathy, and as a leader, having the compassion to understand what people face day-to-day that you may not see or even understand. Transparency, and understanding its role in employee engagement. That fosters a better workplace culture overall. Constantly challenging decisions - not just others' but your own. And boldness: despite the need for everything to be fully thought-through and considered and planned, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith.

How has your leadership approach adapted to recent economic uncertainties?

Planning more than ever before. Better and constant planning. Particularly in the last 12 months, we've had to constantly review our plan for the year ahead, and look critically at whether or not it was still viable in the current climate. It's not fun or easy, but managing expectations about what you want to achieve is key.

Employees' demands are changing beyond salary and benefits. What changes are you seeing, and how can leaders meet these demands whilst fostering a motivated workforce?

One thing we did really well when we set up Boldspace was communicate the problems that we saw and wanted to fix in the industry - and those happened to match with a lot of what existing agency professionals felt at the time. For talent, you want to either work for an agency that's doing something you believe in, or working with clients you buy into.

Equally, the more you can offer from a benefits standpoint, and ensuring that's tailored to different talent within the organisation. There's a lot you can do, even if you're a smaller business.

With the increasing focus on workplace mental health, what approaches have you seen the industry adopt to support the wellbeing of its employees?

The approach across the industry is still varied. Some do very little, some do a lot. A lot of the things we do is being proactive when we do see it: providing time off, support, additional mental health support through private health care that we pay for extra.

There's also a big difference between having a stressful job or going through periods of stress, and not being able to get up in the morning. When it's the latter, that's when intervention is needed. The minute you speak about something, it can be improved.

What skillsets do you think businesses will be looking for in the coming years? And how has this been influenced by industry trends and tech advancements?

There are some that won't change at all. Especially client service and people skills. I think creative skills won't necessarily be impacted by technology in the short- to medium-term, and will still be led by people.

Similar for strategic comms. You can't replace the experience of someone who's done that for 30 or 40 years. No technology has ever been in a crisis situation, whereas the ability to think strategically and advise is very people-led.

How do you foster diversity, equality and inclusion, and what have you learned from your efforts?

It's something we thought of from the very start - and expanding our idea of diversity to capture diverse thought, backgrounds, experiences, education and so on. Having differing skills and thought is equally as important, so having that mindset enabled us to be proactive from our very beginnings.

This year we've launched an inclusion council which brings people together from across the business to focus on awareness, DE&I programs, current issues and more. It's also about recognising and marking cultural moments.

We also launched 'Women Who Rise' where we host a monthly external speaker from Boldspace to discuss their specialisms, how they progressed, how they climbed the ladder, how they dealt with challenges, and specific and non-specific issues.

But we also have other events as a team where we share our interests and passions and hobbies, and that really does a lot to unify individuals.

There is increasing expectations on companies and CEOs to champion sustainability. What progressive ESG strategies can leaders adopt to advance this agenda?

The B Corp process has been a big part of it. But even before that, we knew there's no point in running a business if there's no planet to run it on. So when it comes to the environment, how do we set it up in a way that is as minimal impact as possible? We think about our clients and our supply chain and how we work as a business as a whole.

We don't and won't work with clients in the fossil fuel industry. We've also put a scheme in place where we offer any business seeking to address one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals a 15% rate card reduction.

But the most interesting thing is that it's commercially imperative to think about ESG now. Whether you secure a client or a partner or an investor or the best talent, all of that could come down to your ESG strategy. If you want to prioritise growth, that's a priority.

For more information on our talent services, or to find your next quality candidate, speak to a member of our team today.

Posted on 18.06.2024

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