Futurist, author and former ad Agency C-suiter Rishad Tobaccowala offered advice about managing change and reinventing leadership in a world turned upside down by the one-two punch of the pandemic and resulting recession. In a thought-providing keynote address this week at the virtual Radio Show, Tobaccowala challenged the industry to come up with new ideas to meet changing audience and advertiser needs.
Tobaccowala spent more than six years with ad agency giant Publicis Groupe until January 2020, including as its chief growth officer. He predicts it will be at least six months before Americans emerge from current lifestyle restrictions and suggested steps the radio industry can take during this period of time.
In his second Radio Show appearance in three years, Tobaccowala started by identifying three emotions to keep in mind “before we emerge from our constrained lives.” First is the fragility of both human life (more than 211,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19) and of businesses (thousands have shut down). Second is resilience: “How is your company helping their customers be more safe and secure and be more positive about society?” Tobaccowala asked. The third is resurrection, or restoring and rebounding from the pandemic. This, he insisted, hinges on identifying new customer needs that your station or company can meet.
As employee teams conceive new ideas, three constraints must be kept it mind. Whatever the concept is, it has to be legal, technologically possible and be able to financially break even in three years or less. “When you have those ideas, ask yourself why you’re not doing them,” Tobaccowala said. “If you don’t do them and you think they’re good, someone is already doing them or will do them.”
Before companies can achieve resurrection, they must weather the difficult and uncomfortable process of change management. “Change sucks,” Tobaccowala deadpanned. It makes people feel unmoored, uncertain and anxious. But a company can’t move forward without it, even though “the process itself is pretty ugly,” he said.
To successfully manage change, Tobaccowala encouraged leaders to take three key steps. First, they need to communicate to employees that change isn’t only good for the company, it’s also good for them. The second step is to provide an incentive for employees to endure the pain of change. While today’s business constraints may not allow companies to reward employees with increased compensation, they can still offer incentives like the opportunity to try something new, and to learn skills that are important for the future to help grow their careers. The third criteria is to provide training. “Change doesn’t just happen, you have to be trained to change,” he explained.
From there, Tobaccowala talked about how to lead in today’s environment, identifying what he sees as the five essential traits of leaders:
Capability: Being a leader means being capable in your field of work or craft. You have to know your business and keep improving your skill.
Integrity: Trust and transparency are key ingredients in decision making. “Are you facing reality as a leader or facing fantasy?”
Empathy: This requires leaders to see and understand other points of view and care about their employees and customers. “No one is working from home. They are living at the office and they are doing this under duress.”
Vulnerability: Great leaders acknowledge mistakes, are open to criticism and correction and “surround themselves with smart people.”
Inspiration: “Eventually we choose with our hearts and we use numbers to justify what we just did,” said Tobaccowala. “And so people look for leaders who, through the force of example and storytelling, can inspire people beyond the current challenges we have.”
Watch a recording of the session HERE.