Below, I've included my portion of a group project for Media Management Leadership, Fall 2015.
David Ogilvy took pride took pride in unorthodox eccentricities — he was described by his peers as “quirky.” In 1948, Ogilvy founded a small advertising agency and invited “trumpeter swans” to join him in his mission to “sell — or else.” He led the company through 1975, an era when ad budgets went unchallenged and the Madison Ave. “Mad Men” were commoditizing the world. Though the next four chairmen of Ogilvy and Mather International were unimaginative, the company continued to grow unimpeded through the mid-1980s. Though the company was eventually able to recover from the losses it faced through 1992, failure to adapt, a toxic corporate culture, failure to revitalize the corporate vision, failure to roll out updated policies and tools, and a corporate structure with misaligned incentives slowed the eventual success of Ogilvy through 1994.
In the early months of Beer’s tenure as CEO, she positioned herself between Ogilvy’s impressive slate of clients and the account managers that handled them. Beers determined that O&M had “lost sight of Ogilvy’s still impressive assets,” and all that was needed was a resurgence of that energy to grow. Beers sought to uncover candid internal evaluations of her organization. After discovering the symptoms — flagging growth, stagnant strategies and the corruption of self-described fiefdoms (Hamel 101) — it should have been clear to Beers that a revitalized vision was needed to correct the decline of Ogilvy. “For both the individual and the organization, nothing can be more damaging than a confused and cloudy picture of where they want to go or what they want to become; in short, do they know what success looks and / or feels like? (Spearmon 1)”
Through the process of collecting feedback, Beers identified a group of likeminded senior employees who were “thirsty for change.” In meetings in Austria and England, the group gathered 22 urgent priorities and attempted to “re-invent our beloved agency.” It became clear that there was widespread disagreement on the path forward, even among these friendly participants. At Chewton Glen Resort, Beers stayed up all night to distill the 22 urgent priorities into three major themes: client security; better work, more often; and financial discipline. These strategies comprised an emerging vision, “The purpose of our business is to build our clients’ brands.”
Rather than shaping the priorities of the company around the vision, the opposite had occurred. By soliciting addressable priorities from only her “thirsty for change” group, Beers had saddled Ogilvy with a vision that was a short-term solution to only a subset of the company’s problems. Though she was able to get right back to winning big clients for the company, Beers had not actually set Ogilvy up for long-term success. According to Harvard Business School Assistant Professor George Serafeim, “Communicating a long-term vision for the business and providing both narrative and quantitative information is an integral part of building a sustainable organization that has a long-term-oriented investor base” (Silverthorne).
First, Instead of backing her way into a vision-setting exercise via a long list of priorities, we recommend that Beers craft a vision for Olgilvy directly. As described by James Collins and Jerry Porras in “Building Your Company’s Vision” featured in Harvard Business Review, her vision should comprise a core ideology — what Ogilvy stands for and why it exists — and an envisioned future — what Ogilvy aspires to become, to achieve or to create (Collins 2). In a decentralized and changing market environment, core ideology and values will act as glue to hold Ogilvy together. A 10- to 30-year audacious goal or envisioned future with a 50-70 percent chance of success would provide a vivid framework to engage and energize Ogilvy’s employees (Collins 11).
Second, we believe it is critically important that Beers enroll friendly and unfriendly Ogilvy employees from all levels of the organization in the creation of the vision. According to Theirry Nautin, “[the vision] must be broad enough to be recognized by everybody, even in a large and diversified environment” (Nautin 3). The best way to ensure that members of the organization can recognize the vision is to make them part of the process of crafting it. By participating in the creation of the mission, it is likely that Ogilvy employees will imbue it with meaning. “Why is meaning so important?” ask Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, co-authors of The Progress Principle. “Because when people find meaning in the work, they also feel a sense of ownership. The work means something to them personally” (Amabile).
Third, we recommend that Beers work with communications professionals within the organization to write a personal and corporate “transformation story” — a detailed communications plan that guides every stage of the roll out. The transformation story must reflect personal, heartfelt commitment and provide a flexible framework for varied priorities and personality types. “To be effective, the story must help people make sense of, and engage in, the changes they are being asked to make” (Nautin 5).
Companies with a clear articulated vision have outperformed the general stock market by a factor of 12 between 1925 and 1996, according to research by James Collins and Jerry Porras (Collins 1). By dedicating resources to the creation of a revitalized core ideology and envisioned future, Ogilvy has an opportunity to accelerate its turnaround and improve the adoption process. Though 1992 did mark a turning point for Ogilvy, Beers has an opportunity to develop strategy that would outlast even her tenure as CEO.
By enrolling the population at large in the development of the vision, Beers can help her employees find meaning at a macro level. According to Scott Keller, “when people take ownership of the work, they are more committed to it, more intrinsically motivated, more engaged. And that makes for better performance on all dimensions” (Amabile 1).
By collaborating with her team to create a transformation story, Beers has an opportunity to improve alignment and engagement with the vision. According to Collins and Porras, “Building a vision requires 1 percent vision and 99 percent alignment” (Collins). A transformation story can enable cultural change. “People see the effort that the new beliefs and behavior the transformation story will require, and they naturally resist. … If, however, the organization presents the changes as a way to help people meet challenges that they already face, people will start to want the changes” (Nautin 5).