How has the context of leadership changed? Mike Doyle, President and CEO at Ketchum, discusses the shift into more genuine and human communications. He offers advice on increasing and maintaining employee engagement. Mike also shares some ways of developing empathy in the workplace.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: MIKE DOYLE
DOUG: President and CEO at Ketchum. It’s a huge role and congratulations to you, can we start by having you just share a little bit of the path that got you there?
MIKE: Sure, I’d be happy to, and I really appreciate the chance to be here, Doug. It’s great to be doing this with you. I’ve long admired the work that you do in the industry, so it’s really a pleasure to have this chat. I just celebrated my 26th anniversary cumulatively at the agency a couple of weeks ago. I have been very, very lucky to have had such a long career at the organization. Path is, I think is not unlike a lot of other folks, I really fell into my role at Ketchum as an Account Coordinator. I started entry-level, I had a cart table and one of those weird lamps with the hooks that clicked on a side of your desk. And I was just so fortunate. I was most recently the President of the North American region for Ketchum. And then when Barri was tapped in the summer of 2020, a tumultuous summer for everyone, she was tapped for a huge job to take on communications at Wells Fargo, and Omnicom called and said that it was time and offered me the role. And so, I’ve been very, very lucky to be sitting in it now for a little over a year and a half.
DOUG: You and Barri are two of the people I respect the most in the industry and both with such huge jobs. Really down to earth and grounded, which is really cool, which can play a big role in leadership. So, why has leadership gotten so important and what are some of the implications for PR. We can take the second part as a separate question, but why has it gotten so important?
MIKE: It’s a great question, and I don’t know that it’s necessarily more important now than it ever has, right? It always has been, always will be. But what has changed and what I do think your question speaks to is the context in which we’re all trying to be leaders right now. For the past, 18, 19 months. And I think for the foreseeable future, we are so often leading and have been leading in two dimensions. I’m thrilled that now that’s changing. And thanks to science, we’re getting in a better place with that. But this sort of two-dimensional leadership or at least the channels for which we’ve been leading for the past 18 months, has really made it difficult to lean into the qualities that I think often make compelling leaders. The ability to read a room, the ability to understand how someone’s body language is reflecting how they’re engaged in a conversation or what might be thinking, what might be in their mind that they’re not necessarily sharing in a room or in a conversation. It’s also forced us to lean into a more sort of genuine and human interactions with our colleagues, with our clients to actually really take the time to ask thoughtful questions that can then lead to a leader’s decision or leader’s indecision, right? So, I think the context of living in a two-dimensional world has made leadership that much harder and that much more important for all of us.
DOUG: It’s interesting that you say that because I look at part of it was, we used to do a lot of conference calls which have mercifully gone away, which were one dimensional. So, you really had no idea, and compared to that type of connection, Zoom brings you so much more because you do pick up on the nuance when uh oh, they’re not buying what you just said. That’s not a good path to go on. And you can see they’re disengaged, or they’re really engaged and active. So that is good. So, you touched on employee engagement being such a challenge, obviously heading up a global organization with thousands of employees. What are some of the approaches you’ve taken to both increase engagement, maintain it, and improve upon things lessons that might even last past the pandemic, hopefully, which will end at some point?
MIKE: The first thing I will say is that I might be one guest on this chat with you today, every day I’m so grateful for the many leaders across the global organization at Ketchum who are showing up every day for each other and for their teams. There are some practical aspects to the way that we are trying to handle employee engagement every day at the agency. We have, I’ll call them formal, but they’re easy, they’re not laborious, but at least three check ins every year, almost quarterly with our whole global firm where we ask the tough questions. We get thousands of verbatim comments that I read. I read every word of them, as does my whole executive team. And then we execute against what we’re hearing from our global colleagues. And so, it’s that transparency that has helped us make some dramatic improvements in categories like diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the balance of the way that our employees, our colleagues are able to handle their work and their lives. And they’re not binary anymore, certainly not in these times. So, what kind of programming or balance can we lean in to help make sure that we’re reacting to the feedback that they’re giving us?
DOUG: But how about, I’m sure your clients are coming to it early in the pandemic? What’s some of the counsel that you’re giving them about employee engagement? I would assume that’s one of the faster growing parts of your portfolio because the need is so strong, especially when you hear a worker shortage, keeping and attracting people. It all ties in. So, how do you go about advising them?
MIKE: Absolutely. We’ve seen, honestly, I think at times triple digit growth in the portfolio in the way that we are counseling clients. A couple of things, so many of our clients are very big, complex organizations, big industrials that have manufacturing sites or retail and stores plus a corporate office, right? Folks that are showing up and working in many, many, many ways, not just sitting at a desk, with a ring light, right? So, the council we’re often providing, or at least the collaborative work that we’re doing with clients is how do you make sure that you’re communicating with the same kind of clarity and empathy and real sort of impact, but using channels that are not just assumed but that are deliberate and intentional. So, that’s a big part of it. That sort of the channel strategy is actually more important now, we think, for employee engagement than ever. The second thing that I’ll say is, we’re providing a lot of counsel to clients and reminding them or in this space that reminds them that in a world where so much of our lives are not really able to be controlled anymore, right? It’s a little bit better now. With school schedules and travel restrictions, all of the things that are around the human being, right, often the employer, the workplace, wherever that is, is where we are looking to for some confirmation, for some stability, for something that gives us not just a couple of days confidence, but a couple of months, six months to a year. So, we are counseling clients to be really clear with their people about where the business is headed. Give them that sense of confidence, that sense of transparency. Because I think again, in a world where we’re all just clinging to some sort of concrete information that gives us assurances, often the workplace is where we will naturally gravitate.
DOUG: Yeah, that is important to have that as a comfort zone. Looking ahead in your crystal ball, you’ve talked about people who want to be in PR and communications. There might be a skillset reset going on. So, can you talk about what that means? And I thank you for letting me steal that term.
DOUG: No, please use it. Listen, I’m sure that I inadvertently stole it from someone else. Yeah, so much is being discussed right now about the great resignation. In my head, with my folks, I’m trying to talk about it. I’m not ignoring it by any means, but it’s not just the resignation. It is I think about the skillset reset. Where should we be looking for great talent to join this industry to better this industry? That has to start, full stop, has to start with a greater emphasis on hiring and recruiting diverse talent, it absolutely must. So, where can we be expanding our aperture and bring folks into this industry who are skilled at the things we know have always been important? Relationship building, great storytellers, great writers, people who really, really do the work really want to build relationships with clients, with media, with influence, with influencers, with all the stakeholders that matter to our clients in this sort of modern world of communications. But we’re doing it in a way that I hope is opening up the industry in a way that welcomes and creates a great working experience, a great career experience for diverse talent. That’s the only way that we’re going to continue to grow and sustain it. So, the great sort of skill reset, let’s lean harder into skills that can be learned. Again, greater empathy, a greater reliance on data and analytics, and folks who really can apply those analytical brains to the challenges that we are faced with clients. I’m telling you anybody who’s watching this, and you want to pursue a career in analytics, get yourself to Ketchum. Get on my calendar. Get your resume to our recruiters. We are hiring like crazy in that space because so much of where we are going, and where we’re taking the industry and the clients that we’re working with, it’s all got to be born in analytics. So, kind of giving you a bunch of different flavors for the way that we’re hiring and recruiting and hopefully changing the workforce, but that’s where our heads are at Ketchum.
DOUG: Well, that’s great. And I think we can even include with this post, a link to where people can submit information if they’re interested in being part of the Ketchum team. Because keeping and attracting the best workforce is really such a key to success. I like to say that I learned that after I had my business for eight years, and it served me well for the next 27 on that. Mike, it’s always great to talk to you. And one of the things, the last thing, because this might be tricky, and I perceive you as someone with an incredible amount of natural empathy.
And that’s always been my experience in talking with you about your generosity and your humility. For people who that doesn’t come naturally to, what’s a way to get them to open up, like, how can that be taught, especially in this world right now where it’s so fraught, so polarized on so many levels. How do you try and encourage empathy and even teach it in a way that people find acceptable?
MIKE: Well, first of all, you’re very kind. Thank you for your kindness. The experts would suggest, as they have to me, as many have to me, that empathy is a learned behavior. It requires, though, the individual, any individual, to appreciate and accept why empathy matters in whatever interaction they are choosing to have? And so, I think this is one man’s perspective, and by no means am I an expert, but I think it requires a lot of self-awareness. Spend the time, we counsel each other at Ketchum, we talk to each other openly about this, spend the time, sort of taking stock in how you show up in the room. Do you show up in a room, and you naturally are the one that talks the loudest, or you’re the one that dominates where the conversation is going? Sometimes that’s not what you should be doing. Sometimes it is. Check in with yourself and sort of figure out where you might stand on the empathy meter. We push each other, certainly at the agency, to ask other people tell me a little bit about how I do show up? Do you regard me as an empathetic person, like sort of figure out where your baseline is? And I say this to lots of folks, and I don’t know, it might sound a little goofy, figure out where you are on that scale and don’t be afraid to figure out if you need an empathy buddy or an empathy partner.
DOUG: Alright well this conversation should have helped a lot of people and may even help some get a job. So, that’s pretty cool. Mike, it’s always great to talk to you. Thanks so much. Congrats on your continued success.
MIKE: Thank you, Doug. I really appreciate it and to you. Thank you.
DOUG: Thank you.