Blog Culture/Agency Life

Lead With the Heart, Not with Threats

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Phil NardonePresident & Chief Executive Officer

Richard Branson once said, quite eloquently, that “employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” That quote has always resonated with me and words I live by 27 years into running PAN. That sentiment came front and center for me over the past week, reading the coverage of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

We’ve all seen the stories of how the world’s richest man laid off half of Twitter’s 7,500 full-time workers, fired dissenters, cut back on remote work and told the remaining staff they’d have to work “long hours at high intensity” to meet his expectations. He gave them an ultimatum: Commit to “extremely hardcore” standards or agree to leave, with severance, in 36 hours.

Talking to a few of my peers in the PR/marketing field, we were taken aback by the tone-deaf message Musk delivered to his “new” staff. Is this any way to run a company in 2022? These tough-guy tactics just don’t cut it today — not if you value your team and look to build them into your strongest advocates.

Taking care of your employees is the right thing to do. Not only that — it makes good business better. Companies are still struggling with a talent shortage, even as the economy slows. It’s far less expensive and disruptive to keep capable employees than to find replacements. Plus, it’s well documented that happy employees are more productive than unhappy counterparts.

As CEO, I set the tone. I believe leading with heart sets the foundation for productivity. When people know you care about them and their well-being, they want to do their best work for you and the company — and in turn remain connected to your culture.

At PAN, we put Branson’s message into action each and every day.

We’ve embraced a “HyFlex” policy. This gives employees the flexibility to split their time inside and outside the office; or to work 100% remote. We let the employee decide whatever works better for them. We’ve gone so far as to establish PAN Virtual, a group of 75+ team members who are part of our virtual office community. They train, collaborate and celebrate with everyone at PAN — we call this #onePAN.

I have an anonymous email box — it’s a way I create a safe space for our team to share what’s on their minds. In all of my years running PAN, I’ve never had a more positive response than what I hear about HyFlex. Team members who feel that this approach to work has allowed them to find a work/life balance that is ideal for them. It means giving employees the option of flexing a few hours here and there during normal work weeks to attend parent-teacher conferences, take walks or tend to family situations. In other words — we’ve evolved (not stepped back) and adapted to new ways of work by enabling the employee how they choose to approach the work week. I’m so proud to see PAN contributing in a positive way to not just their professional experience but their personal experience.

When people know you care about them and their well-being, they want to do their best work for you and the company.

As for Musk’s comments on “long hours at high intensity”? “Extremely hardcore” standards? We prefer to adopt a different approach, which boils down to this: “Work smarter, not harder.”

That means a lot of things, like, for instance, avoiding meetings on Wednesdays afternoons to create intentional space for deep work and thinking. It means closing the offices early on “Summer Fridays,” to take time to recharge in the short summer months. It means offering the staff two “mental health” PTO days each year on top of holidays and vacations. Mental health is so critically important to supporting and building a healthy and productive team.

Working smarter means trusting your teammates to work to the best of their abilities and to deliver the best output they can for their clients. You don’t have to require that employees come into the office every day so you can look over their shoulders and ensure they’re doing their jobs. To get the best work, you just have to empower them.

Working smarter doesn’t remove the need for accountability. Blending personal and professional goals becomes essential to our employees success.  I believe deeply in accountability, and we have a process in place to manage performance through our dedicated team approach. Building a healthy work environment doesn’t come at the cost of output and results. In fact, I’d argue that creating that environment is the very key to what drives success for both the agency and the employee.

Elon Musk has had a successful career, opening up new markets at Tesla, SpaceX and PayPal. But the leadership style he’s brought to Twitter is so vastly different than my own. Today, it’s important to lead with your heart — to lead with empathy rather than with threats. After all, your people are your most valuable asset and if they’re not happy, you’re not succeeding.

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